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An Exclusive Club

The British literary critic, Terry Eagleton, recently said of Graham Greene that the novelist belonged to that exclusive club of "lapsed or unorthodox " Catholics. He went on to comment that no organization in the world is more effective than the Catholic Church in allotting honorary membership status to "semi-outsiders." So, fellow bloggers, a little challenge: nominate a well known person for membership in that club. No credit for those who put forward James Joyce (too lazy a selection) or too ephemeral a celebrity (Madonna).

About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.



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Camille Paglia, atheist and lesbian, is not shy about the virtues of her Catholic upbringing and appears very fond of the Church, its history and contributions to ethics science, political philosophy, art and literature. She applauds the Church as sometimes the only patron of the arts for centuries and, when critical, limits her criticisms to the "hierarchy," not the Church itself.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, baptized, attended Catholic school, was even married in St. Patrick's Cathedral, but was not known for being a "practicing Catholic."

I'm not sue if Hans Kung would fall into this category. He's certainly not lapsed, but he could be considered unorthodox. His bio "A Struggle For Freedom" is a wonderful book, even if its a little too much Kung.

I am not quite sure if he fits but a favorite of mine is Charles II King of Great Britain, France, Scotland and Ireland, Richard Porson said of him: atheista vivebat, papista mortuus est.Then of course there is Eagleton himself.

Ted Kennedy, Rudy Giuliani, John Kerry, Antonin Scalia--to represent all the Catholic politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative--who publicly use their faith to their political advantage while simultaneously publicly disagreeing with some key aspect of Catholic dogma (and you may consider that a compliment or a complaint however you wish--it's probably a little of both .. and yes I consider Supeme Court justices politicians ...)

What "key aspect of Catholic dogma" do the people you named disagree with? If the first three are on your list because of abortion, it seems clear to me that politicians who say they are personally opposed to abortion but uphold the constitutional "right to choose" are not disagreeing with dogma. They are disagreeing with the Church's current theory of the role of politicians in a pluralistic, democratic society. There's a big difference.And what dogma does Scalia disagree with?

I nominate Simone Weil, who always seemd to be almost ready to convert. I imagine her standing in the vestibule of a church, unable to enter the sanctuary. She's often discussed in the same sentence or paragraph with Dorothy Day.

Jack KerouacOne of his biographers said the following: "In short, [Kerouac] believed; and because he believed in the classic teaching of Catholicism, he found himself lacking and longing for spiritual purification in the midst of certain human folly. If he were, say, a lapsed Unitarian then there would be nothing left to write about. But a lapsed Catholic pre-Vatican II figure with pagan impulses and a medieval load on his conscience, let loose amid the secular strife of the modernist era -- now there we have at least a basis for spiritual struggle."Sorry, but I'm still laughing at the notion of a "lapsed Unitarian."

Wnat about Franois Mitterand? whose funeral, with full pomp and ceremony, took place in Ntre Dame, followed by internment in a churchyard? Perhaps he was a Catholic, but I think not; born into an RC family, he called himself later (I think) and agnostic.Or does ND serve the same role in France as Westminster Abbey or the Episcopal -- yclept National -- cathedral in Washington? Perform the rites, without asking too many questions.

Origin, Tertullian, Erasmus, Mary Magdalene, Ives Congar, Charles Curran, Edwina Gately, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Johnson, Rosemary Reuther, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assissi, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, Roger Haight, Raymond Brown, Garry Wills, Thomas Gumbleton, Martin Scorsese, Theresa of Avila, Richard McBrien, James O'donnell. The Asian Bishops. To name a few.

Joe McFaul: re: Camille Paglia. Being an atheist most certainly qualifies her, but what does being a lesbian have to do with it?

I would add Ludwig Wittgenstein. He was brought up a Catholic and I believe he had a Catholic funeral, but there was some question as to whether some of his Catholic students were "pushing the envelope" in organizing that ceremony.How about Martin Heidegger? A certain Jesuit told some of us that Heidegger had said, or at least was said to have said, that but for his wife--always blame the wife--he would return to the Church. Of course, but for his wife, I suppose he would have married Hannah Arendt? Or would he have?

Does anybody else on this blog actually think that Raymond Brown, to name but one on Bill's list, was either lapsed or unorthodox? The list verges on the libelous. Or am I missing some profound point?

Joseph,Whatever Bill's point, it's a very distinguished list, and if for some reason he had put my name on it, I wouldn't feel I had been libeled.One theme I see running through the list is a willingness to speak the truth boldly (or at least what one sees as the truth). I can't claim to have read much of Raymond Brown's work (although I have a fairly large collection of his books that I hope to get to), but what has impressed me is his respect for the Biblical text and his willingness to explicate it without shoehorning Tradition into it, but nevertheless respecting Tradition and making it clear what Tradition is. Consequently, non-Catholics can read his work without feeling they are being given a distorted interpretation of the text, but Catholics can read it without fear that the Bible is being used to challenge their faith.If you Google Raymond Brown, it is not hard to find people who accuse him of heresy, and yet all his books have an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat, and he was on the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I would say he must have been unorthodox in some sense of the word to have been so orthodox and yet to freak out people who thought THEY were orthodox. Merriam-Webster gives this as its first definition of "orthodox"1. a: conforming to established doctrine especially in religion b: conventionalFrom the little I know about St. Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila, they were certainly not conventional, and while they may not have departed from established doctrine, they certainly departed from established practice, and Church authorities felt the need to rein them in.

Jimmy,I would disagree that being an atheist qualifies Camille Paglia as a lapsed or unorthodox Catholic. She is clearly not an unorthodox Catholic, since she is no longer a Catholic at all, and as I understand the term "lapsed Catholic," it would not apply to someone who deliberately moves to another belief system. If Catholics become Lutherans, they are not lapsed Catholics. They are ex-Catholics. Similarly, I think Paglia is an ex-Catholic.Also, she's not a lesbian, she's bisexual. (Wikipedia says she has described herself as "a feminist bisexual egomaniac.") Being a lesbian or bisexual doesn't necessarily mean a person is "unorthodox," but a prominent person who is as frank and vocal as Paglia about not being heterosexual is a rarity, so I would say she is unorthodox (meaning "unconventional") for that reason, among many others.

I normally ignore Bill M's off the wall excesses but to think that Raymond Brown (at whose First Mass I served as an acolyte - we graduated from the same high school) was a Catholic outsider (i.e. self consciously outside the church) is worse than a canard; it is a smear on a supremely devout Catholic priest. I think Mazzella needs to sit in a corner and meditate at length on Matthew 7:1.

Prof. Cunningham, I'm not sure I understand what makes Madonna ephemeral. I'm not really a huge fan of hers by and large (especially her more recent stuff) but she's been around for over twenty-five years and has been very influential (I think) in contemporary music.The only reason I ask is because my list may be pretty much in the same category, but I'll over it for whatever it's worth. Some of the best film directors have been lapsed Catholics. Hitchcock and Scorsese (who said that religion and movies were about all his youth revolved around) certainly top this list, but I also wonder about people like Francis Ford Coppala and John Ford. They were raised Catholic, and the influence is obvious in their work, but I'm not sure they would be considered particularly devout. I'm not sure if Frank Capra would appear in this category or not, since I honestly don't know much about him personally.

Professor Cunningham,I think Bill's list is something akin to the G. K. Chesterton quote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." I suppose that could be taken as a slander of everyone who has ever called himself or herself a Christian, including all the greatest saints, but obviously it was not intended to be, nor do I think Bill is saying anything at all negative about Raymond Brown (or St. Francis or St. Teresa). I don't pretend to know in every case what Bill is getting at, but it seems clear in this case that the people on his list are "unorthodox" in the sense of being unconventional or far removed from being average. You certainly know far more than I do about Raymond Brown's standing in the world of Biblical scholarship, but it is my understanding that he was a pioneer in Catholic Biblical scholarship, and also that "conservative" Catholics were harshly critical of him and his work. And since he was a Catholic pioneer in the historical-critical method, I would say that he was not "conforming to established doctrine," but making advances. So in that sense (as with all pioneers), it's fair to call him unorthodox.

Andy: What I meant by "ephemeral" is that, to borrow from an old joke, Madonna uses Catholic props rather like a drunk uses a lamp post: not for illumination but for support.Your list of film directors is interesting (although Hitchcock was a practicing Catholic) because it brings up another thread: do they all in general exhibit what has been generously called A "Catholic sensibility." Defining that sensibility is not always easy but it has been widely used in a number of different contexts. One example: the writings of Mary Daly. She despises the church (she does create some of the most clever titles for books [e.g. and ] ) but her rage reeks of her Thomist background.

David Your defence of Bill's list is unconvincing.On the main topic:I believe that Charles Laughton was brought up a Catholic. I do not know whether he was a practicing Catholic as an adult. He was a remarkably fine actor at his best.

It is an interesting question on whether a Catholic sensibility is demonstrated. All of the listed filmakers have made movies that have included Catholic rites, activities, and people, but that in itself may not qualify as Catholic sensibility. I wonder if the very medium does though. I read once (and for the life of me I can't remember where or who said it) that Catholics have been far more successful and drawn to film as an art form than have, for instance, evangelicals. People with evangelical background are often drawn toward literature and writing, whereas Catholics are drawn to the more visual medium. Obviously this is vastly over-stated, but in the United States at least, it certainly seems to have some truth to it. Could there be something to the one group being drawn to the more 'Catholic, sensual' mediums and the other the more 'Protestant, textual?' And that doesn't even consider that huge numbers of Catholics/lapsed Catholics who make up the geniuses of European cinema.Though it has nothing to do with the current thread, and I know we're trying to avoid this, I have to share my favorite "Catholic" scene from the above artists (though it's close between this and 'The Godfather's' baptism scene). I am admittedly a Catholic geek, but the scene in "The Quiet Man" where John Wayne cups his hands and fills them with Holy Water so the woman he's enamoured with (Maureen O'Hara) can bless herself from them rather than the font still strikes me as one of the most quietly romantic scenes I've ever seen in a movie. But again, I'm unsure as to whether Ford practiced the faith or not by this point (I'm still unsure about Hitchcock. He went to Mass when his daughter Pat was young, but my impression is that once she was out of the house--having married a grand-nephew of Cardinal O'Connell, no less!--that that practice stopped).Apologies for the length.

Seems to me that there is an awful lot of finger pointing going on here. "Was he or wasn't he devout? Did he go to Mass regularly?" and so on. Sounds like someone standing on the church steps and checking who is going in and who not?

Yes, I put Kennedy, Kerry, and Giuliani on the list for their support of abortion rights despite personal objhections (an argument which large parts of the Church hierarchy certainly do not condone) and Scalia is there because he supports the death penalty, the war in Iraq and other conservative views that don't really jibe with the Church's positions ... in each case, these men seek or gain some advantage in politics because of their Catholic backgrounds but they are also quite willing to break with the church over certain issues (and as I said, that's not necessarily a bad thing--it's just a realistic depiction thaty I felt was in line with the thread's intent)

And my use of "dogma" was in a more colloquial sense, not a strict theological definition (even the Merriam-Webster dictionary waits until its third definition of dogma before specifying something that is a church's official doctrine)

I guess I thought the category was to identify those who identify themselves as LAPSED Catholics, for whatever reason, not those whose idea of Catholicism you find unappealing (or worse), or maybe appealing but unorthodox (think that's what Bill M. was getting at). I think several contemporary Irish writers qualify: Edna O'Brien.(It's also interesting that a number of Irish literary luminaries weren't actually Catholic at all: Yeats, O'Casey, Beckett, and Synge . . . all Protestant, I believe.)Mary McCarthy ("The Group") was definitely a lapsed Catholic. Commonweal earlier this year profiled Daniel Callahan, as definitely a lapsed Catholic. I think Pedro Almodovar qualifies as a lapsed Catholic (openly gay Spanish film director whose family sent him to a private school with the hope that he would become a priest).Did you know that the Catholic Church (or some relevant arm of it) refused to let F. Scott Fitzgerald be buried in a Catholic cemetery.

Barbara: Regarding the use of the word "lapsed." When I was a junior in college, I studied for a year at the Divinity School of the University of Edinburgh. The Dean of this divinity school in the heart of Presbyterianism (think John Knox), was James P. Mackey, a "former" priest, married with two kids. Once, after telling us that he made more money on horses than he ever would teaching theology, he told us of a friend of his who got very angry when called a lapsed Catholic. Instead, he insisted that he be called a "bad" Catholic. He thought the term lapsed suggested some kind of lack of effort, whereas "bad" made clear that the condition was quite intentional.

In addition to lapsed Catholics, there are also collapsed Catholics (the self-description of Bill Keller of The New York Times), recovering Catholics, and escaped Catholics. I suppose all the former are outside the Church. Then on the inside there are cafeteria Catholics.And of course there are those Catholics who must consistently pay high cell-phone bills because they are Roamin' Catholics.(I'd just like to point out that there's a writers' strike going on, so I don't want any complaints.)

I think most lapsed Catholics are what David called escaped Catholics: those who intentionally reject doctrine. Calling yourself a bad Catholic suggests you accept it but know that your conduct doesn't qualify. I do know people like that, they're the rare few who go to mass weekly but consciously refrain from taking communion. Helen Vendler is a lapsed Catholic, also used to be married to a former priest (I think I've read interviews with her to that effect).

And don't forget Commonweal Catholics. Some would say we're lapsed...or worse. :)Barbara's mention of Mary McCarthy reminded me of the famous dinner party attended by many New York literary giants, including McCarthy, and a young Flannery O'Connor, where talk turned to Catholicism and McCarthy stated that the Eucharist is "a pretty good symbol." The up until then quiet O'Connor surprised everyone by responding, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it!"The writer Robert Ellsberg explains O'Connor's response in this way:"An insubstantial sacrament, like a disincarnate Christianity, offends O'Connor because it empties the Eucharist of meaning. A mere symbol lacks presence, and for O'Connor the Eucharist is the very real presence, which is always personal of a personal God. O'Connor realizes that, given the Manichean bent of the modern temperament, we find it easier to relate to the idea off things than to things themselves. The mind can seemingly shelter us from the hard facts of life. Abstraction accompanies and spurs our inclination to escape the body that suffers pain and loss. Christian realism moves in the opposite direction. Faith for O'Connor is inextricably involved with suffering and death: 'holiness costs.' Faith 'hurts like nothing else.' Both body and soul pay the price. The gospel life cannot be lived out in the head any more than the Crucifixion hammered an idea to the Cross. The Incarnation and the Eucharist with the real presence of God make it clear that Christianity is a profoundly material religion."All that from a remark in response to Mary McCarthy at a dinner party. ;)

I happened to be watching Dick Cavett the night Mary McCarthy said, of Lillian Hellman, "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" Imagine talking back to someone who can say something as withering as that!

@ Jimmy Mac--Sorry, I should have been more precise about Camille Paglia. Being lesbian does not make anybody unorthodox. Eve Tushnet's recent article is a good example. I was "shorthanding" Camille Paglia's entire publsihed work and philosphy expressed in her "Sexual Personae" writings. Those are certainly quite a bit different than the thoughts expressed in the Theology of the Body or the Catechism and not likely to get a fair hearing in Church circles. That's too bad-- her writigns are well grounded in accademic and historical research.I chose Camille Paglia because I think it is fascinating to see a "lapsed" or "ex-" Catholic see the best in the Church (while rejecting much of the rest) more clearly than some who claim to be othodox.

Camille Paglia is not a lesbian. She is bisexual. There is a difference.

Well she's been married for thirteen years to Alison Maddex and the two of them have a daughter. Two women married and living together are close enough to lesbians to qualify as such as the term is generally understood. Given that information as a starting point, it is splitting hairs to wonder what the exact nature of her sexual activity might be. Just as I often identify a being as an "angel" I often don't find it necessary to specify the precise chior.If it is important to you that she be bisexual, fine. I don't think that distracts from my point that she is a lapsed/former Catholic with a fondness for the Church and a person worthy of "honorary membership" in the Church.

I would respond to Cunningham the same way Francis de Sales taught about judging when someone faulted another person for judging. He wrote: "Then why are you allowed to judge him." So Matt: 7:1 well applies to the one who made reference to it. I suppose some have been misled by Benedict XVI's praise of Brown. Certainly the pope's book on Jesus contradicted most of Brown's work. My quess is Ratzinger's praise has prompted some to forget or doubt how Brown was vilified in the JPII church.

Joe,It is important to me because it seems to be important to her. I feel that "gay" and "lesbian" are self-descriptions. Here's a snippet from an interview with her:**********For years Paglia, a self-confessed "idolator of Elizabeth Taylor, pagan Goddess" since the age of 13, has called for a model of bisexuality whereby people can feel free to explore sexual experiences and identities without being forced to take on a label such as 'gay', especially at a young age . "My experience has been bisexual but my love life has been entirely lesbian - that is, I've never fallen in love with a man, but I am equally attracted to men and women, always have been," she says. "We need to promote a model where it's free to move back and forth between borderlines." **********I agree, though, that it is not important regarding the point you are making, and I apologize if I am annoying you.

William Collier, what's so funny about a "lapsed Unitarian"?I'm one, and my parents don't find it at all funny. They're still wringin' their hands and wondering where they went wrong.

Worry about the one who knows the Truth but choses to ignore it. As Catholics, we have been given the Gift of Divine Truth.Remember Christ said to whom much has been given much is expected.

whoops(But "chooses" to ignore it.)

Mike,The more I try to grasp the Truth, the less I understand it, and the more I wonder if it is true. I would be envious of someone who "knows" the Truth, except that the "truth" some people are certain is the Truth causes them to yearn to be suicide bombers. If I had had the same education and upbringing, out of religious conviction, I might want to be a suicide bomber, too.

Jean--No offense intended to you or your parents. With all the emphasis on dogma and creed in Catholicism, I identified with the Kerouac biographer's point that a lapsed Catholic might be able to transform his or her religious guilt into good literature, whereas a lapsed Unitarian, not having been steeped in dogma or a creed, might not feel any guilt and therefore might not have nothing to write about. At the risk of putting my foot even further in my mouth, I'll relate the little I know about Unitarians, specifically Unitarian Universalists. (These are in no way criticisms, just observations.) I've been to two UU services in my life. At neither service was there mention of a deity. At one service, Jesus was mentioned as an important moral authority, but there was no mention of Jesus as a divinity. The Bible was mentioned, but it was regarded as one of many books of wisdom. There seemed to me to be strong encouragement of religious pluralism, with the emphasis on finding one's individualized concept of a higher power that pervades the universe. I've learned from UU friends that they do not believe in an afterlife or in concepts such as heaven, hell, or miracles. At the second UU service I attended, an economist was introduced about 3 or 4 minutes into the service. He spoke for an hour on microfinancing in the Third World. I must say I learned a lot about that topic. ;)

Sorry, that should be "might not have anything to write about."

David,So are you saying Jesus Christ is not the Truth? There can only be one Truth. "I am the Way, the Life and the Truth".

Heidegger certainly fits the bill. He was lionized by Jesuits (see a very interesting interview with one of them in the current issue of Theologie und Philosophie) and was very interested in Jesuit intellectuals such as his taciturn student Karl Rahner. Bernhard Welte of the Diocese of Freiburg was friendly with him and officiated at his burial.Hans Kung is at least as Catholic as Joseph Ratzinger -- I hope we are not letting the neocath crazies distort our judgment.The same goes for Origen, Erasmus, Mary Magdalene, Yves Congar, Charles Curran, Edwina Gately, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Johnson, Rosemary Ruether, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi, Karl Rahner, Roger Haight, Raymond Brown, Garry Wills, Thomas Gumbleton, Martin Scorsese, Teresa of Avila, Richard McBrien, James O'Donnell. The Asian Bishops, as far as I am aware. Tertullian became a Montanist, so that is black mark, but he is otherwise perhaps the most cherished excath of them all.I nominate as a remarkable living representative of the category: Karen Armstrong.

Great lapsed Unitarian: T. S. Eliot.Great lapsed Swedenborginans: William and Henry James.

But I don't like this thread very much. Once people obsess about Catholic identity, a distortion of perspective sets in. The rabid neocaths, of the Msgr George Kelly stripe, capitalize on this to set themselves up as the only true Catholics and to consign everyone else to outer darkness. They have had extraorinary success in paralyzing the Church and in emptying it.

William Collier, no offense taken.I left the U-U world when they decided they should strike references to the diety because not all Unitarians believed in God.My point, when we hashed this over in our little fellowship 27 years ago, was that if we have no God, then we are simply a lot of atheists and agnostics hanging out in the guise of believers.This was seen as offensive to the atheists and agnostics in our group and started me trying to find God in a more traditional denomination, which has been, at best, a very mixed experience.It is very typical for fellowships without a full-time minister to bring in speakers on various topics, often academics. Hence your economist.Unitarians feel plenty of guilt. God is generally seen less as a Being of some sort and more as the force of love and justice (which, in the view of some, may simply be a lot of brain chemistry and hormones that help keep societies together for the good of the species, i.e., is dumb instinct rather than anything lofty or divine).Anyhoo, whatever God is, God doesn't seem to be involved enough to stop injustice, illness and poverty, so YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR STOPPING IT by trick-or-treating for UNICEF, taking up various collections, walking protest lines, circulating petitions, writing to your governmental representatives, etc.From my Unitarian perspective, Catholics (and other Christians) don't feel guilty enough about these things. Instead, they get bogged down in in protecting their dogmatic Truth from those who construe or understand it imperfectly. Yes, yes, I realize that Church teaching helps guide moral action, that it's important, and all that, or I wouldn't have left a church that HAD no creed. But I will probably never have the ability to appreciate how strongly Catholics feel about this.None of which is germane to Lawrence Cunningham's original query, so my apologies.

Once people obsess about Catholic identity, a distortion of perspective sets in. The rabid neocaths, of the Msgr George Kelly stripe, capitalize on this to set themselves up as the only true Catholics and to consign everyone else to outer darkness. They have had extraorinary success in paralyzing the Church and in emptying it."Nicely done, Joseph. Obviously, you and others have seen that point was to show how orthodoxy have a different point of who is orthodox or not. We can't let this know without everyone knowing that Mgr. Kelly was a bagman for Spellman in trying to buy politicians for the Cardinal's campaign to get state funding for Catholic schools in New York. What Kelly and the like missed were the old power broker days of pre-vatican II. Even the CIA was non-plussed over the change.

I do find it troubling that Professor Cunningham has not apologizied for his misinterpretation of my post. It is clear now is it not that I was stating how others do not consider Raymond Brown as orthodox and that it was not in any way a put down of Brown? Quite the contrary. I have nothing but praise for him.

For Bill Mazzella: I quote the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse to the effect that "It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies and the wrong sort take mean advantage of them."

Sounds more like "looking out for No 1." Then there is: When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier to eat crow while it's still warm. Living well really is the best revenge. Being miserable because of a bad or former relationship just might mean that the other person was right about you.

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