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The new Catholic Common Ground

Liberal New York Times columnist Bill Keller and conservative Catholic League crusader Bill Donohue have found it -- in Wild Bill's latest book, "Why Catholicism Matters."As Keller (a self-described "collapsed Catholic," a nifty neological step beyond "lapsed" Catholic) puts it in his op-ed today about Bill D's thesis:

His [Donohue's] point: Quite frankly I believe, as Pope Benedict the XVIth said just before he became pope, that maybe a smaller church would be a better church.Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience then go. The restive nuns who are planning a field trip to Rome for a bit of dialogue? Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening. Sisters, just go. Bill Donohue will hold the door for you.

So Bill and Bill have something in common with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been running their ad telling Catholics "It's Time to Quit the Catholic Church." (Oh, and start sending your money to the FFRF instead...That ad space is expensive.)It is a truth universally acknowledged that opposite extremes will meet each other on the far side. This seems to be the case as well.I'll settle for that deeper, broader, more satisfying -- if crowded and complex and maddening -- Common Ground, thanks.


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Can't wait to hear from the Keller/NYT haters.Unfortunately, the center has collapsed - saw a piece on CNN last night on how our toung continue to lose faith in God even.In the current divided turmoil, my guess is it wil get worse before it gets better (maybe far off?)

The NYT is making news today. Irish Central reports (6/18) "Maureen Dowd to receive Irish civic reception and honorary degree -- Irish Prime Minister to attend ceremony for New York Times writer". The National University of Ireland Galway will present the degree next week. No plans to protest the degree are reported, but reader comments are harsh.

Conservative American Catholics enjoy inveighing against liberal Catholics, so it would be a shame to take such enjoyment out of the lives of conservative American Catholics.However, liberal American Catholics who would prefer to see changes in the Roman Catholic Church should stand forewarned that Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic bishops do not plan to allow any significant changes to be made in the church's teachings or in church law. Pope has just informed of oh his personal incompetence. He should resign and find somebody who can deal with clergy sex abuse."It's a mystery?"That is the single most clueless comment I have ever heard about the clergy sex abuse crisis..

Something tells me Cardinal Dolan won't be getting many Irish accolades anytime soon, least not from his fellow bishops:

Vatican report critical of culture and ethos of Irish College in RomePATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs CorrespondentFri, Jun 15, 2012A REPORT carried out by the Archbishop of New York for Pope Benedict XVI, which expressed concern about the atmosphere, structure, staffing and guiding philosophy of the Irish College in Rome, contained significant errors of fact, Irelands four Catholic archbishops have said.

Congratulations to Maureen. (Her column yesterday was another great one.)And congratulations to Bill Keller for the excellent op-ed this morning. I wonder if those who dislike the NYT in general and Keller (and Dowd) in particular will be able to point to anything untrue in their pieces.(When I asked if there was anything untrue in the FFRF ads, Donohue quoted me in something he wrote, and Mollie, editor of Commonweal, quoted HIM and explained what I "would be the first to tell" him. Eeeuww. Creepy and creepier.) Those who feel uncomfortable in a country (or city) club that refuses to allow women to participate, that courts antisemites, that spends enormous amounts of time and money oppressing gays, etc., do not hesitate to quit.

Post Keller/Donahue: a new coat of arms for the SArchdiocese of Ny with e legend "All hope abandon...."

Gerelyn, I didn't realize the Catholic Church was a country club! Now I'll never leave. I've always wanted to be in a country club but could never afford it, much less get past the social hurdles. Could someone send me a pink Lacoste shirt and point the way to the golf course?

Cant wait to hear from the Keller/NYT haters.I love the Times, but I could do without Bill Keller (and Maureen Dowd) writing about Catholicism. People like Keller never address the problem for "liberal" Catholics, which is that if they believe what Catholics believe, there is pretty much no place for them to go if they leave the Church. If they believe in Apostolic Succession, the Catholic Church (and the Eastern Orthodox Church) has the sacraments and other churches do not. If the sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation) and the Mass mean anything to them, then they are not going to get them anywhere else.Now, I can understand why some liberal Catholics might say to themselves that if the Church weres really what it claimed to be, there would not have been a mishandled sex-abuse crisis, that women would be treated better, and so on. So I can understand why some liberal Catholics would just lose their faith over issues that trouble them, and concluded thatmore important than the issues that trouble themthe Catholic Church simply cannot be the "one true Church" under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as claimed. For those people, it would not be "liberal issues" that would cause them to leave the Church. It would be a loss of faith in the "big things" that the Church teaches. If you are a liberal who believes the Church is fundamentally right, but is wrong on "liberal" issues, then I would think you have no choice but to stay and "fight the good fight." If you believe that women should be ordained, for example, you must believe there is something very significant about the priesthood. Why would you leave the Catholic Churchand the priesthoodbehind because you were angry that women could not be ordained? If women cannot be Catholic priests in the Church, they certainly can't be Catholic priests outside the Church.

David Gibson: News flash: You're not an ordained priest or a bishop, so you are not in the country club.

"Conservative American Catholics enjoy inveighing against liberal Catholics, so it would be a shame to take such enjoyment out of the lives of conservative American Catholics."Exactly! We're sour enough all by ourselves - don't take away one of our few pleasures. Besides, think how much harder it would be to warn our children against sin and heresy if we lose all our exemplars. We'd have to start throwing stones at Protestants again. Not to mention, who would teach in our schools and institutions of higher learning, or staff our parishes, or direct or choirs, or ...

(Bishops always go first class. Ever notice that? Just like Jesus.)

Can I ask abut Pope Benedict's comment about "a smaller, purer church'? I've often heard references to it. I had thought it meant that while there might be fewer Catholics, those of us who remain are here, not out of custom or fear of going to hell or something, but we're here because we want to be. I never assumed it meant we had to pass some more rigid doctrinal litmus test. What was the context in which the Pope made that statement?

Amen, Jim P...I'd add that the conservative "dream" of the smaller but purer church seems to consist of a large fantasy that it would be easier to control, more unified. I think perusing no small number of conservative Catholic websites, not mention the whole SSPX drama, should disabuse anyone of such a notion. Fractious, schismatic, dissenting, disputatious folks they are. Much like the rest of us.

To demonstrate decisively that the Catholic Church is not a country club (if the lack of a golf course doesn't establish it beyond reasonable doubt), visit the bathroom of any Catholic church. Country club washrooms have so many after-shaves, hair products, skin creams, and unknown emollients and unguents spread out that there is barely enough room left to do one's business. Every Catholic church bathroom I've ever patronized treats toilet tissue, hand towels, deoderizers and heat as optional extras.

Irene, it's a consistent thread of thought running through Benedict/Ratzinger's thought that the church is entering a "wintertime" rather than a "springtime" (as JP2 would have it) and that there will be a paring away down to the mustard seed of more devout, orthodox Catholics who would provide the seedbed for a future renewal of a more authentic Catholicism. Sort of the Catholic version of a post-apocalyptic scenario, like "The Beach." As pope, Ratzinger has toned it down a bit, which is natural given his new role. But it is still there. I actually agree with him to some degree, in that I think places like Bose and Taize and other communities of faith will provide a kind of lamp to light the way forward, if the institutional church doesn't get with the program. Ratzinger also refers to different levels of participation in the church (per Augustine, I believe), content to have some members remain members but on the margins. In reality, I think you wind up driving the margins out completely. But I think Ratzinger sees this "smaller" church as about who controls the levers of power and authority in the church -- who gets to say what is what -- whereas the other "petite eglise" is about witness, which also has a certain authority.

Thank you, David

What was the context in which the Pope made that statement?Irene,There is a thread from October 2010 that raises the question whether he made the statement at all, or whether other things he said are appropriately summarized by a description he never used himself. A smaller but purer Church?October 21, 2010, 9:07 amPosted by Joseph A. Komonchak

And, thank you, Other David, that thread you linked to generated some very strong comments.

Two very different visions of Church are on a collision course at present. Read the new interview with Sr Pat Farrell, LCWR president, published today on NCRs website:

Rather than a collision course, perhaps a further path of alienation

"liberal Catholics" stay because we are what makes the Church catholic. The "smaller, purer Church" advocates want to drive out those who disagree while we want to welcome people in. The "border guards" want to define people out while we want people who will offer forgiveness. We have already had the smaller purer church, when Jesus and his mother lived without sin. That mustard seed has grown into a big bush with all kinds of birds flitting in, out and about.

"Conservative American Catholics enjoy inveighing against liberal Catholics, so it would be a shame to take such enjoyment out of the lives of conservative American Catholics."That image rings a vague bell, somewhere ... I almost think I ran across it somewhere else recently, before I prepared this past weekend's homily, touting the Fortnight for Freedom.

Sorry, in the previous comment, I meant to highlight this quote of Jim McK's: "That mustard seed has grown into a big bush with all kinds of birds flitting in, out and about." Somehow, my paste went awry.

"its a consistent thread of thought running through Benedict/Ratzingers thought that the church is entering a wintertime rather than a springtime (as JP2 would have it) and that there will be a paring away down to the mustard seed of more devout, orthodox Catholics who would provide the seedbed for a future renewal of a more authentic Catholicism."Perhaps a Eurocentric view of things, no?

Ugh. I thought that that was a ridiculous column by Mr. Keller. It's about the most poorly argued piece on the Catholic church I've seen this year. (And that's saying a lot.) Yes, the church is rife with sinful people. I'm one of them. But Mr. Keller is intelligent enough to know that it has always been filled with sinners--since the time of St. Peter. And yes, there are times when you disagree with one or another official statement, or even times when you feel like you are being forced out. Keller should also know that even some of the saints experienced that. (St. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated; St. Ignatius was thrown into jail by the Inquisition; and St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by ecclesiastical authorities to name but a few). But chief among other wrongheaded comments (like the absurd implication that many Catholic sisters are sticking around for the wrong reasons: Does it make sense that sisters who took a vow of poverty would be afraid of poverty?) is the notion that there is out there, somewhere, a perfect church that will meet all of your needs. Yet the search for a perfect church, free of sinners and wrongdoing, and fully in accord with your own way of doing things, is one without end. It is also a fairly one-sided argument. Also, overlooked completely is the idea that the church may need you. Overall, though, my baptism is all the sign I need that I'm called to be in the church. Really, though, it was a snotty article about an important topic. You would hope that an op-ed would help people in some way and I cannot imagine too many people benefiting from his kind of analysis.

Sory I missed your homily touting a Fortnight For Feedom, Jim; I'm sure I'd have been bemused.

I think Alex Pareene's "Hack List" writeup last year said pretty much all there is to say about Bill Keller's worth as an opinion columnist. Keller is only right, though, when he says "Bill Donohue will hold the door for you." It may be the most toxic thing about Donohue's work as defender of the church, as well as the most revealing -- his eagerness to identify threats from within.

But, The NUT editoralizes that the church is hurting children by blocking SOL legislation and cowing the NY governor.Donahue fires back.Keller fires back.The Sandusky trial rapidly goes on, showing institutional ineptitude,The Lynn trial drags on.The vatican conrinues its outrage about media leaks.And, of course, we have religious liberty and the Fortnight For Freedom.Keler and Donahue mightb e better off on a desert island together, but where is the hope for the common grounders?

I wrote a critical letter to the editor right away saying that I am currently hanging in there with the institution, even though I admiore Jim Callan, who is an old freind, and Corpus Christi is a wonderful commmunity. My only ongoing different point oif view from you, Father Jim, is your tone that to leave is somehow not keeping with one's baptismal calling and/or that the Church may need you. That leaves aside too easily (though I don't think you mean it that way) the personal pain and sense of call of nurturance provided in other communities. "Converts" don't just happen into Catholicsm, right? The Spirit blows where she will... and that may weel be apart from the Roman experience at this point for one's mental and spiritual health, right? I "stay" -- for now -- but it's not because the RC Church needs me. I've been more or less told that...

I enjoy watching the rants of Catholic League President, Bill Donohue aka the Catholic Archie Bunker, especially seeing his eyes light up with delight when the name, Maureen Dowd, comes up. I think he is sweet on her.

Interesting that Bill Donohue doesn't write everything that goes out from the Catholic League. Here's another name on a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe about "wayward sisters"

In her June 12 op-ed column Sisters of strength, Farah Stockman attributes the decline of American nuns to the lack of respect by the church hierarchy. This is patently false. The Catholic Church has long held the yeomans work of religious sisters in high esteem. What the Vatican has done recently is to put in motion a way to help reel in the wayward sisters who have mistaken their vows as one of social work. To deem this as a war on nuns is to misrepresent the issue.If such a war is being conducted, how is it that there is no end to the sisters who welcome the Vaticans statement as a way to help their fellow sisters? How is it that the more conservative orders are overwhelmingly receiving the lions share of new vocations? Indeed, there is no war against nuns in the Catholic Church, but this doesnt stop those whose agenda blinds them.Jeff FieldDirector of communicationsCatholic LeagueNew York

Two oxymorons:Pure CatholicismSmall CatholicismA caveat to those who love the "pure and small" idea: the religious authorities who desired to see Jesus dead also wanted a "purer" (smaller?) "church. Sinners need not apply. To the arrogant, self-assured and smug: the doors are always open. Jesus wouldn't be welcome, either, apparently.

'especially seeing his eyes light up with delight when the name, Maureen Dowd, comes up. I think he is sweet on her.'Even as a divorced/angry/ranting man, Donohue should not be eyeing good looking women. (-;

I wonder if Bill Keller (or Bill Donahue, for that matter) has read Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness. "I loved the Church for Christ made visible," she wrote. "Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me." Later on in her life, she wrote a letter to Gordon Zahn that "as a convert, I never expected much of the bishops. In all history popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them. It is the saints that keep appearing all thru history who keep things going. What I do expect is the bread of life and down thru the ages there is that continuity." Dorothy Day, pray for us.

It is a straw man to say that disaffected Roman Catholics are looking for a church free of sinners, just as it is inaccurate to say that only the RCC can trace its roots back through apostolic succession. To stay or not, I think, revolves much more around whether you belonged to a cohort (with baby boomers probably being the last generational cohort) where a sizable majority of Catholics you knew formed an emotional attachment with the church, through Catholic school, service in local parishes, CCD sports leagues and the like. So my mother was part of such a cohort, I was too, but less so, and my children? Not at all. They aren't even baptized. It doesn't mean they would never become Catholic, but being Catholic in their world will be much more like being any other form of Christian -- a matter of informed choice, not upbringing. That's what has changed, although you would not know it by talking to most conservative or liberal Catholics. Ask yourself how many liberal Catholics defend their choice to stay in terms of not having the church of their birth or their beloved church or their sense of family or community being taken away from them -- that's what I'm talking about.

I wonder if we should approach the musical question "should I stay or should I go?" (thanks, Clash,) with the same hermeneutic that we might use to evaluate spiritual practices generally. Am I more loving inside the Church or outside it? Am I kinder, more cognizant of the needs of others and myself? Do I love God better here or not here? We are, after all, commanded to love as well as we can. For some, the grinding pain of sticking around becomes spiritually toxic, and leaving can be liberation for love. For others, the "fighting the good fight" is spiritually growthful overall, despite the cost in pain. I'm arguing for a stance of Ignatian availability. One listens closely for where and how God calls us, standing "as with one foot raised" (as Ignatius put it,) ready to dig in or to "shake the dust from your feet," (as Jesus put it.) And to truly trust God, praying always for the grace of good discernment, means that tomorrow or next week or next year the answer might be different.

Lisa, one thing I'd add to your comment is to discern where one might go...As a convert and as someone who covers the entire religious waterfront, I am perhaps more sensitive to currents elsewhere, but it's important to realize that if one is going to be "religious" in any sensing of belonging (something I support heart and soul) then one is always going to find these problems to one degree or another. I have witnessed and reported on the ugliest disputes among Unitarians and Quakers and of course Episcopalians and Baptists. There is no perfect community, alas, and the splendid isolation of personal spirituality is an increasingly popular choice, but one that I think has truly serious shortcomings for the individual and the wider community. That said, there can always be good reasons to move elsewhere. When asked why I converted my rimshot answer is because I am a straight white male -- the Catholic Church is the perfect place for me! My point, of course, is that for a woman or homosexual or person of color, quite often, being Catholic is a daily challenge from those in authority to one's very identity and even existence. Only the strongest Christians survive that.

NYT paradigm in action:1) identify neglected problem (dissenters need charity so they can leave more easily)2) propose "just love" solution (throw money)3) get someone else to pay for it (rich, fat Cardinals)4) feel good (the NYT choir resounds - what a bold pundit)

Good one, Lisa. ----------- Book suggestion: $7.19 for Kindle. Short and sweet. Flying in the Face of Tradition, by Louis DeThomasis, FSC.

"because I am a straight white male ' so am I, so to survive, and be nourished I gather with the 'Other' in a Franciscan community.

Abe Rosenthal was a great editor (better than Keller) who turned into a bad columnist afterward. I don't know which journalist decided editors can be columnists and vice versa, but the skill sets are entirely different, and the result of acting on that belief always disappoints someone.Having noted that, let me add that if I could quit something, before the Catholic Church it would be the drone-firing, gun-toting, Jamie Dimon-coddling, executive privilege-abusing, sensartion-of-the-day seeking, slander e-mailing, congressionally bloviating, McConnell-coddling, lobbyist-bought (and a lot of other things) gummint of these here United States.

LisaTerrific advice... I will share with others...David... also helpful and so very true - no utopian commiunities Patrick... great analysisGerelyn.. read that review and will order"In His will is our peace." Dante"Heart's desire and circumstances come together to define a path. The way of possibility and necessity turnolut to be one and the same." slight paraphrase rom "Dunne's "Reason's of theh Heart..."

. . . just as it is inaccurate to say that only the RCC can trace its roots back through apostolic succession.Barbara,I didn't say only the Catholic Church is the only church with unbroken apostolic succession. I said if you believe what Catholics believe, then you believe only Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox (and undoubtedly a group or two that I don't know of, since this is one of those things I have trouble keeping in my head) descended directly from Jesus and the apostles.The point is that if you are a believing Catholic, it seems to me difficult to justify leaving the Church because of the abuse scandal, the treatment of women, the teachings on contraception, the treatment of gays, and so on. If you are a believing Catholic (it seems to me), then you believe the Catholic Church is the "one true Church," and as disturbing as you find all the things you don't like about the Church, that simply can't outweigh the fact that it is the "one true Church." If parish life and Sunday mass aren't "nourishing," go to mass on Saturday and find a "nourishing" group to spend Sunday with. It seems to me you don't quit the "one true Church" because you disagree on peripheral issues, no matter how deeply you feel about them.

"Sory I missed your homily touting a Fortnight For Feedom, Jim; Im sure Id have been bemused."Hey, Bob - I meant my tongue to be planted in cheek in that comment, but I tripped so badly on it that my tongue ended up ... well, never mind where. In fact, I really did preach this past weekend, but in an appalling example of tunnel vision, I stuck to the appointed lectionary texts and tried to connect them to Father's Day.As it happens, we did have a presentation directly after mass, by a speaker from - drumroll, please - the Thomas More Society. Didn't catch it, though, so nothing to report from me.

Amen, Fr. Martin.It is one thing for a person to say that either his conscience or his intellectual integrity required him to leave the church. (One would expect -- and maybe even hope -- that a person who has left the church would have something like this to say.) It is another thing for a "collapsed Catholic" to say, in effect, "Do what I did -- leave the church -- or you're a troglodyte."And it is still another thing to echo that sentiment here, and to do so on the assumption that nobody at dotCommonweal will mind very much if you describe the Church as "a club that refuses to allow women to participate, that courts antisemites, that spends enormous amounts of time and money oppressing gays." That list of casual put-downs might make even Maureen Dowd blush. By all means, Gerelyn, do not hesitate to quit, but if the church is all that you say it is -- and no more -- then you should not just quit but put it behind you; it has already wasted enough of your time. It makes sense for Catholics of every kind, including those who dissent, to spend time following every excruciating detail of these ecclesial controversies. But it makes very little sense to declare that sensible, decent people can no longer have anything to do with this backwards institution and then go on talking about this institution's inner life as if you had a stake in it.

Matthew B.. I concur

Matthew, why would put quotation marks around something Keller said "in effect", i.e., in YOUR imagination? (Any places left at your table at the Chelsea Piers event? I'm trying my best to scrape up the $2500 to eat dinner with you.)

Because that's the way you punctuate a sentence like that. You may not accept my characterization of Keller's position (I almost called it an argument!), but please don't pretend the quotation marks are misleading.

I stay for now but its not because the RC Church needs me.Ultimately the Roman Catholic Church needs everyone, I think. The question is, in what position are we most helpful for our Church? I am watching the negotiations of the Vatican with the SSPX and wondering if it will provide a model showing how to influence the Church from the outside. They handled tensions by going into schism. But they seem to be viewed with great sympathy and attention, and, with the publication of the motu proprio, have already had an impact. On the other hand, the people who do, with difficulty, stay inside the church while voicing their reservations, are more or less ignored. It makes me wonder if, strategically, the SSPX are not more effective agents of change. Is it conceivable that the best way to serve our Church might be, not to stay in formal communion, but to organize a schismatic group??