The Church's "dry drunks"

Greg Erlandson is president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, and a colleague in the Catholic journalism dodge who I've known for years, since he was covering the Vatican for CNS in the 1980s. People like Greg--though he might be shocked to hear this--are the types who first drew my interest toward the Church. Greg would probably be described as "orthodox" in his Catholicism, as befits his job. Yet he is admirably outspoken about the excesses of the "orthodox" camp, as he is about any faction in the Church.

In the June 3 edition of OSV, Greg has a column titled "Orthodoxy's 'dry drunks'," about the danger of being defined by what we hate rather than what we love. It is, to me, a wonderful piece that will go on the fridge (the highest compliment for a writer, no?), not just because Greg takes on what some might see as his own "tribe"--always a courageous thing these days--but because his insights apply to us all, left, right, and center.

Greg writes (access is subscription-only) that "doctrinaire" Catholics:

"...do not so much engage culture as demand its unconditional surrender, and they take greater satisfaction in elaborating on sin and its punishments than on the beauty of the Savior. They tend to be all Inferno and little Paradiso.

"Over the years, what I have found unsettling about such characters is that they seemed perversely obsessed with the perversions they decried. They never wrote half so eloquently about the Masses they enjoyed as they did about the Masses they deplored. Chastity was not nearly as compelling a topic as fornication. Heterosexual marriage not nearly as interesting as homosexual agendas."

He compares such angry Catholics to the "dry drunks" of Alcoholics Anonymous, the folks who never take another drop but are stuck with the emotional and spiritual dysfunctions of the past:

"The blogosphere has become a veritable catch basin of these folks. Unedited, unrestrained and unhappy with the state of the Church and the world, they obsessively chronicle every twisted phenomenon, every perversion, every disillusioning anecdote. They fancy themselves proclaiming truth to power -- the emperor is wearing no clothes. The trouble is, they can't take their eyes off the emperor."

Challenging stuff, and also, perhaps, an echo of some of the unease (at least mine) with some of the conversions discussed below--folks who enter the Church but may be spurred to do so because they feel Catholicism supports, rather than challenges, their pre-existing condition.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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