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Francis effects.

Did you hear? The anniversary of Pope Francis's election is upon us. So here comes everybody to tell you what that means. Our own Paul Baumann weighs in at Slate, arguing that fixating on the pope is bad for the church. You've got Drew Christiansen, SJ, at America, explaining how Francis means business. There's that Pew Research poll that got lots of people wondering whether Francis was actually having much effect on Joe and Jane Catholic. I suggested that, at this stage of his papacy, Mass attendance was not a great measure of his effectiveness. Daniel Burke at CNN interviewed a bunch of Boston-area Catholics who say Francis has made a big difference in their lives (spoiler alert: Jesuits love the guy). And over at Religion Dispatches, Patricia Miller responds to the Pew poll with what amounts to an extended raspberry. Let's focus on that one for a moment.

Miller's analysis fails in several ways, some of which I was cataloguing when I noticed that she had returned with another magisterial wave of her hand, this time lumping me in with "apologists" for that Pew poll.

But first things first. Does she have the foggiest clue how the Catholic Church works? How Catholics actually think about being Catholic? And can she read polling data?

Catholics view the kinder, gentler reign of Pope Francis more favorability than that of his grouchy predecessor Benedict, but not by much. Francis’ net favorability rating is only six points higher than Benedict’s, which attests not so much to Benedict’s popularity as to the fact that Catholics really don’t pay all that much attention to what the pope does or says. He’s more like a mascot than a leader. 

Leaving aside the attitudinal flourishes (and they are legion), she mischaracterizes the Pew results. Benedict's most recent net favorability rating was 74. Francis's is 85. Maybe she meant to compare them at their highest ratings, but the difference there is just two points.

Miller continues:

Only a quarter of Catholics say they’ve become more excited about their faith and they aren’t going to church any more often. The number who go weekly—a core Catholic obligation—is still well under 50 percent and hasn’t budged. Most importantly, they aren’t being joined by an onslaught of returning Catholics.

Yet the obligingly favorable coverage of Francis continues.

The nerve. She gets those data right, but fails to mention that 68 percent of respondents said Francis was a major change for the better (71 percent consider him a major change). And I have already explained why no one should have expected Mass attendance to sharply rise within months of Francis's election. It's been a year. That's not a long time for one man--even a supremely cuddly mascot, as Miller dubs Francis--to reverse decades of sliding Mass attendance (although it's been steady more recently). Not that anyone should expect Miller to be moved by that particular data set. No, she dings Thomas Reese, SJ, for pointing out what any serious observer of U.S. Catholicism knows: “Since church attendance has been declining since the 1950s, the fact that it did not go down can be considered a victory,” Reese said.

In her most recent post, Miller seems perplexed by my claim that I know few church-watchers who anticipated Francis to bring throngs of Catholics--new and old--to church, because she read somewhere that the pope was supposed to do just that. Evidently when she wants to score rhetorical points, she stops thinking of the pope as a mascot and starts imagining him as a magician. Did some journalists overinterpret--at least in the short term--the excitement generated by the new pope? Does that mean we should use their hyperventilations as the measure of his success one year from his election? No, calmer observers understand that a transformed image of the papacy "does not in itself attract people back to the church, but it does remove a gigantic obstacle to their return."

Miller also wants you to know that the pope is not about to change Catholic teaching on her favorite issues.

If the Pew poll is to be believed, Catholics expect Francis to do more than put a happy face on moldy teachings. A majority expect him to okay birth control and married priests sometime soon, but I hope they’re not holding their breath.

Really? Because, judging from the overall tone of her commentary, I'm not quite convinced that she's not pulling for a lot of Catholics to hold their breath. For a long time. Maybe till they pass out.

But that's neither here nor there. Is it true that this silly majority of Catholics "expect" the pope to allow married priests and the use of artificial contraception "sometime soon"? Nope. Pew Research asked Catholics whether they expected the church to allow birth control and married priests, and just over half said they did--by the year 2050.

Below her misreading of the Pew data, there's a deeper confusion about the way Catholics negotiate doctrine they disagree with. Miller notes Pope Francis's most recent interview, in which he said the following about Humanae Vitae: “The question is not that of changing the doctrine, but to go deep and to ensure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what is possible for people.” But, Miller, responds, "this type of pastoral attenuation is exactly what progressives suggested to no avail when the encyclical was released." Pastoral attenuation. Intriguing formulation, but probably not how some Catholic leaders considered their advice to confessors to "show sympathetic understanding and reverence for the sincere good faith of those who fail in their effort to accept some point of the encyclical."

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that Miller is also stumped by the difference between dogma and doctrine: "But if the numbers are to be believed, most wavering and lapsed Catholics won’t cross the threshold without substantial changes to church dogma, not just a soft peddling of its contents," she asserts in her latest post. I didn't realize millions of lapsed Catholics were holding out for the return of monophysitism.

"It’s living with this cognitive dissonance between what Catholics actually do—like using birth control and getting divorced...also known as 'life,'" Miller concludes, "and what the church says they can do, that’s driven Catholics from the pews and created a huge shadow church of departed Catholics." No doubt lots of Catholics have left the church, or at least stopped showing up at church, because they disagreed with its teachings on birth control and divorce. But many more stay, despite their disagreement with any number of church teachings and practices.

Did Miller miss Univision's recent poll of twelve thousand Catholics in twelve countries across five continents (or really any recent poll of U.S. Catholics)? On contraception, clerical celibacy--even abortion--most American Catholics are out of step with their bishops. Yet they continue to consider themselves Catholic. They even go to Mass. I bet they drop some cash in the collection basket too. This seems to bother Miller. Perhaps she'd prefer them to join that "zombie church" she keeps bringing up. (As opposed to the other "damaged" church," as she puts it now.) But it hasn't happened yet. It probably won't for quite some time.

I hope she isn't holding her breath.



Commenting Guidelines

in the article linked to, it notes that she was the editor of Conscience described as a Catholic pro-choice publication. This is not an ad hominen, but this platform might give a perpective on her views.

For all the commentary - and all of it has some value - I'm still of the school that "MOST religion is local." enchantment with Pope Francis is fine, but not sure that's translating to making any one community or cleryperson more attractive or open.

Still, I feel some enthusiasm and muted hope.

Speaking of polling results:


Papal anniversary: top marks for warmth but now get to work on abuse record, curial reform and the role of women – poll

12 March 2014 22:00 by Abigail Frymann

All the hot button issues of importance to westerners were decided by papal diktat.  Many seem to want our pope to produce his own diktats but that is not the way he conceives his role as bishop of Rome.  He has convoked a synod, which may be just the first.  And I think he would defer to the synod's wishes, if not encourage it to speak its mind frankly just as Pope John did.  Time will tell.

I understand that the spiritual leader of over a billion people worldwide--people who are often at odds with the teachings of their own church--invites intense scrutiny. 

But--and maybe this is just me having a Protestant moment--the amount of coverage about Pope Francis on this blog strikes me as a little obsessive, and I wonder to what end?

Grant noted in an earlier post that church attendance has not increased since Pope Francis was elected. I don't see liberals and conservatives finding new common ground as a result of this papacy; in fact they seem to have successfully used some of Pope Francis's utterances to, if not deepen, at least more sharply delineate their differences. Doctrine seems unlikely to change. 

It seems to me that evaluating the pope's effect on the Church at this point is premature.,d.aWM

This article from today's New York Times indicates sharp geographic differences in the Church on such questions as divorce and re-marriage. The divide would no doubt be true, and perhaps in even greater numbers, with regard to the ordination of women and same-sex marriage.

Two of these questions will certainly come before the 2014 and 2015 Synods. Can consensus be achieved?

Reports of the two-day meeting of the cardinals before the 22 February Consistory indicate that the cardinals were not of one mind at all concerning the admission of divorced and re-married Catholics who had not gone through the annulment process to the reception of the Eucharist. And the dissenters were not just from the "southern tier." I don't know how else to read Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston's interview with NCR. He certainly seemed opposed to any change in the present discipline. And he is at present Vice-president of the USCCB.

Given that there seems to be no consensus among the bishops about any of the major issues confronting them,, and given that they do not seem to agree as to whether or not change is even possible, i'm not optimistic about the outcome of the October synod -- unless they can agree to studying *how* consensus *ought* to be reached
In other words, their problems are more basic than the problems having to do with the family --they need a theological epistemology to help them reach solid, truly realistic conclusions. Rhetoric and good intentions alone will not suffice.

"It seems to me that evaluating the pope's effect on the Church at this point is premature."

Amen, JHR.

Now I am aware of Patricia Miller, the non-awareness of whom was doing me no apparent harm. To those who are disappointed to arrive at church a year later and find no condom dispenser in the rest room nor former Sister, now Father, Debbie presiding at Mass, I can only say, "Wow." To everyone else, I say, keep an eye on Francis but stick close to Jesus. That is, sort of, an implication of Paul Bauman's piece.

Jean - I think it's not just Commonweal.  Virtually all of the Catholic and religious sites I visit have a lot of Francis pieces, and much of it is keyed off of secular-media stories.  I assume he's getting this coverage because he's making news, and a dull pope wouldn't garner this much media attention.

Like Tom, whose comment I endorse, my radar had heretofore failed to detect Patricia Miller's existence, with no noticeable ill-effects on my part.  I guess Francis must be doing some good things, as enemies of the church are now carping about him.


Is Patricia MIller an enemy of the church?

Francis allowing discussion is just unheard of from the Vatican in the last thirty five years. Change will come. We just don't know how it will play out. 

From Tom Reese column today.


"Church reform also requires changes in policies. Liberals, conservatives and the media have focused on issues like women priests, gay marriage and birth control, even though Francis has encouraged them not to obsess over these issues. But he has raised the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. When questioned about arguments among the cardinals on this issue, he responded:

I would have been more worried if there hadn't been an intense discussion in the Consistory, because it would have been useless. The Cardinals knew that they could say what they wanted, and they presented different points of view, which are always enriching. Open and fraternal debate makes theological and pastoral thought grow. That doesn't frighten me. What's more, I look for it."


I'm no expert on politics in an all-male celibate feudal oligarchy, but It seems to me that Papa Francesco has been shoring up his base [i.e., the PEOPLE] for his first year before he ventures out to do battle and maybe even slay the clerical dragon that is guarding the Vatican keep.  [I find this upcoming synod - with the survey of the faithful - very interesting.  It's almost like Francesco is setting a trap for the hierarchs.]

The sheeple love Francesco for his humility.  The "lepers of the church," not so much.  Let's face it, the present hierarchy will never "smell like the sheep."   

Something tells me that a Jesuit would understand how to play the long game:  Maybe Francesco understands that his papacy can only "prepare the way of the Lord" for the next guy who will come after him.

As a member of the "shadow church" of "departed" Catholics who has been sitting in an Episcopal pew on Sundays (while not holding my breath) because I could no longer actively support the serious dysfunctions in the Catholic church that cause real harm to real people, I think both Grant and Ms. Miller have valid points.

Grant notes that most Catholics in the pews have found ways to stay in the church in spite of some of its teachings. Ms. Miller notes that style and tone may not be enough to bring very many members of the "shadow" church back to Catholic pews on Sunday mornings.   Both of these observations are true.  As Grant notes, Francis has sparked a great deal of interest and enthusiasm - among active Catholics, former Catholics and the world in general.  It is not enough, however, for most of those of us who made the decision to stop enabling the dysfunction and depart.  

Although I welcome the change in tone, and the focus on the gospel instead of Catholic rules, and all of the other positives Francis demonstrates as the world's most visible Christian leader, for this "departed" Catholic, it is not enough. He is such a huge improvement over his two predecessors that I had hoped to be able to return to active participation in the church. But, so far, it is not enough.  Although I would like to see dramatic change in the church's teachings on marriage, sexuality and gender, I do think it will be at least 2050 before this happens, and longer if he dies prematurely and the cardinals go into reactionary mode and elect someone more in keeping with Francis' two predecessors. If that happens, there is really no hope for the church in the west - it will continue its long decline. In the US, the church is being propped up by the immigrants from Latin America. But there are already clear signs that the second and third generations descended from Latino immigrants are also leaving the church. It could be a temporary bump only and then the Catholic church may begin a decline that resembles that of Europe. Francis' archaic understanding of women and their proper "demeanor" and roles is especially upsetting. I am among millions of women who are just really, really tired of being patronized by the celibate males who run the church, from the Vatican on down to the local parish.

However, I would swallow hard and consider returning both my body and my money to a Catholic parish (even if as an officially second-class citizen of the church) if Francis would summon up the honesty and moral courage to stop being defensive about the immoral role played by the bishops in protecting those who sexually abused children and demand accountability and responsibility. He could begin by removing Finn as a symbol of this resolve, publicly reprimand a whole host of bishops (including Cardinal George), and set up a commission that includes parents to draft policies that spell out what the requirements are for ALL bishops in terms of reporting suspected molesters and will also spell out the consequences to bishops who are discovered to be protecting the possible molesters from investigation by the civil police authorities.  There are written policies in every US diocese at least that spell out requirements for everyone except the bishop.  It's long overdue that there be accountability at the top.

Abe - isn't she?

You tell me, holmes. You called her that. Seemed like a pretty perfunctory way of dismissing what she had to say, whereas Anne above seems to lend some credance to her perspective.

Anne Chapman,

You are so obviously Catholic. The vast majority of us in the pews are laboring to see more done on bishops who cover up. I believe Francis will deliver. But whether he does or not, neither you nor any of us should give up our church. 

Abe - no, I don't think of Anne that way.

Why should we never give up on the church, especially if it's causing some harm?  Giving up on the church isn't the same as giving up on God.  This makes me think of that  dubious expression: my country, right or wrong.

There's been much discussion among Catholics lately of cooperation with evil. So here is a question: Supposing that you, as a member of the laity, still believe all the theological and christological teachings, but think that ecclesiastical leaders and structure have run so far off the rails that continuing to support them is somehow cooperating with evil, what do you do?

1. Leave and try to find a more comfortable home where the same beliefs about God's nature and God's love of the world are taught and honored; or

2. Stay and hope to effect change from within, although you are told to your face that you are a sheep, that your role is to baa assent, and that your opinion is so little valued that on certain subjects, you are forbidden (albeit unavailingly) even to express it; or

3. Bumble along half in and half out, always unsettled and in doubt that you are doing the right thing.

A fourth possibility, which I think many would prefer, is to make a start on changing the conditions that make 2. seem so unappetizing and hopeless. Maybe this fall's synod will provide an unforeseen step in that direction. I have commented before about the farcical quality of a Synod on the Family attended exclusively by people who have never started a family and denying any seat at the table to one half of the people the Church says are essential to make a marriage.

The bishops attending may be settled in their ways and narrow in perspective, but many of them, I'm sure, are intelligent enough to spot and react to manifest absurdity. I'm hoping that the gust of their laughter, leveraged by the Holy Spirit, will blow the doors off the Synod room and sweep through the world. But even a light breeze would be something.

Crystal, do you think it's useful to see a distinction between the faith of the Church and its (very human, fallible, cowardly, and sometimes downright corrupt) guardians in the form of the hierarchy? 

Anne seems to have moved away from the hierarchy as a kind of conscientious objector. She has also, according to Church teaching about the sacraments and their validity, moved into some murky doctrinal waters. But if she is staying as true to the faith in a different "house" because she believes it would be a greater evil to continue encouraging the hierarchy with her presence, won't God understand this?

It strikes me that the Church ought to want Catholics like Anne because they are thoughtful and not just blindly following orders or blithely showing up for Mass twice a year and thinking that's good enough. Whether Pope Francis will have enough clout to get the hierarchs to realize that and try to bring those folks "home" would be an incredibly monumental task. Probably a miracle.

 What John asks is interesting.

I identify as Catholic and I blog about Catholic stuff, both the good and probably more often the bad, but I don't go to church anymore or contribute financially.  I don't know what will happen with the synod ... the US bishops seem pretty hopeless, but some bishops in Germany, Switzerland, and the UK have spoken out for change, so maybe there is hope.  What I fear is that the bishops will decide on change but that the pope will ignore their imput, as happened at V2 on the issue of contraception.

Crystal, do you think it's useful to see a distinction between the faith of the Church and its (very human, fallible, cowardly, and sometimes downright corrupt) guardians in the form of the hierarchy?

I do see a distinction between, for instance, Ignatian spirituality and the  way of proceeding chosen by the leaders of the church.  But the way the leaders of the church act and what they preach ... that can't be ignored.  It's that "by their fruit you'll know them" thing.  The fruit of the choice to say that women are not really people in the same way men are, that gay people and their relationships are "disordered", that divorced/remarried people son't  deserve the eucharist, that the church isn't at fault at covering up abuse .... that fruit is rotten.

Crystal, the people are the church. The hierarchy is one part of the church. We let them take it over. Paul Bauman writes that the faithful should take it back.  We can still have order and discipline with a chastened hierarchy who is known first for washing the feet of all. We should all wash each other's feet. It is always the humble being exalted and tha last first. 

Staying out is just as much a capitulation as staying in and not fighting for the gospel of Jesus. 

Bill M, just how do "the faithful take it back" as suggested by Paul Bauman?  It will take a lot more than prayer. The church is a political animal, and politics is at often at play in defining "doctrine" as much as is the Holy Spirit. (think Vatican I and "infallibility". The lead character in House of Cards would be impressed.) One might say politics has far more impact than does the Holy Spirit in many cases. But, this is imperial politics - only the members of the royal court can play. Nobody else has a voice, nobody else has a "vote".  At least in democratic governments there is some hope to "throw the bums out" and there is at least a chance to influence policy through our votes.

The institutional church is run by male celibates exclusively. As we are often reminded by those of the "orthodox" bent, it is not a democracy. The 1.1 billion who are "the people [who] are the church" as you note have no voice at all. As we have seen in Francis' apparent willingness to ask the laity about certain aspects of church teaching, not all bishops have interpreted this survey as a mandate to ask the people for their thoughts, insights, and interpretations. Because it is all a matter of interpretation, after all, and so they can simply go to the Synod with their own ideas, their own interpretations of what they think the laity think - without any consultation whatsoever.  And most American bishops have indeed decided that there is no need to actually ask the laity anything at all.

So - no voice, no "vote", no opportunity "to take back the church". And for women, it is even more impossible than for men. Men do have the option of Holy Orders if they so desire. Few take it, but it's there. As priests they may have the opportunity to someday be in charge - perhaps at the parish level, interpreting church laws strictly or loosely, perhaps at the bishop level with even greater powers over the people (close their churches, impose unwanted pastors, remove wanted pastors, etc), and at the highest levels, to recommend people for bishop (who then interpret matters according to their own wishes) and even to define doctrine. That is not an option that is available to any woman at all.

So, we are all helpless with one exception - we can vote with our feet and our checkbooks.  And that is the vote some have decided to take - the only one available. Others simply stay put and do what they will, and think what they will, and believe what they will regardless of what the church teaches and what they think is wrong and should change. They just take what they like and ignore the rest. And that is probably a rational choice, but it puts no pressure on the PTB to change anything at all. It does nothing for the church universal - for example, for the women in Africa who might have some protection from HIV if the men had access to condoms, but who don't - partly because of the obstruction and interference of Rome in the work of health workers on the ground. They not only forbid Catholic groups to educate about condom usage and provide them, they have pressured governments (including the US under Bush) to not fund programs that include birth control and condom distribution under USAID funding.  So millions contracted HIV who might not have, and too often their children contracted it also before birth.  But, should we care about them as long as we have our lovely liturgies and pious devotions and Gregorian chang and our much vaunted intellectual superiority in theology?

Staying and hoping for the best means that there is no angst about making a decision on stepping outside this dysfunctional Roman Catholic "family" for a while.   Is that enabling?  Didn't Jesus once admonish us that we might have to leave "family" in order to follow him? Each person has to decide for himself or herself. As John Prior noted, some look at enabling the official church's dysfunction as perhaps flirting with "cooperation with evil".  It's an individual judgment call.


Sorry - it's "chant", of course!


I do agree with Anne.  I don't see how we lay people will ever have any power in the church.

An example - those Vatican survey results made public show that almost all Catholics, even those in Latin America, disagree with the curch on contraception, yet Francis now says "there's no need to change the teaching on contraception" ...

I don't see how we lay people will ever have any power in the church.

How does the fact that pope Francis disagree with lay people mean that lay people don't have power? Doesn't it mean, rather, that pope Francis doesn't have power? He can say what he wants, but people are using contraception. Isn't that proof that he does not have power on 99% of Catholics? All he can do is try to persuade, and if he fails  - as all church authorities have on the matter of contraception for the past 45 years - then he is powerless.


Claire, to say that they have failed is to ignore many places in the world, the Philippines being the most pronounced example, where they might have failed to persuade people but they have managed to persuade politicians to make it very difficult for people to obtain conrtraception.  The same is true in some African and Latin American countries -- less so in South America.  The Church's stance on contraception has profound effects on people in all of these countries, but especially on women and children.

Yeah, what Barbara said.  Here's a really informative 2010 article that gives an idea of how Catholic teaching affects medical treatment of AIDs ...

Re "fighting for the faith," I think there is a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" practice between women and their pastors on various issues like sex, contraception, marriage and some of these hot-button issues. 

Underneath the "don't ask, don't tell" practice, however, is a kind of informal "confession of women" on these matters that probably every woman on this blog has seen in action (and perhaps participated in).

Such "confessions" occur when a woman, feeling her neck about, say, having a tubal ligation, mentions it Catholic women friends. She typically articulates why she felt pushed to that decision--perhaps age, health, feelings of being overwhelmed by the existing number of children or other family obligations, frustrations with NFP within her marriage. The friends to whom she's "confessing" usually run through a kind of "litany of conscience" with her. E.g., you didn't do it so you could have an affair, you didn't do it because you didn't love the children you already had, you did it so you could better care for an existing family member who needs your help. "Absolution" comes in the form of, "I have done the same thing," or "I would have done the same in your shoes," or "Maybe that's better than being tempted with an abortion if you had gotten pregnant."

Sometimes "confessors" urge the woman to tell the priest if they think an issue is preying on her mind too much. But I have never heard of a "confessor" ratting anyone out to Father.

The "absolution" women get in these "confessions of women" may not save them from hellfire, and every woman who seeks the "confession of women" knows that she stands in direct opposition to the Church. But I think this informal practice does bespeak the desire of Catholic women to reconcile the Church's notion of "openness to life" with the realities of the female condition.

Catherine of Siena, John Courtney Murray, Alberto Hurtado, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, Hildegard of Bingen, Yves Congar, Dorothy Day, Jerome, Meister Eckhart, Oscar Romero, John of the Cross, Bernard Haring -- just to throw out the names of a few favorites at random -- flourished in and in most cases suffered at the hands of the Church in their day, which was no better and mostly no worse than ours. I mention that not to defend modern Catholic obtuseness and knuckleheadery but rather to show that it is possible to be holy while everyone around you is eager to be measured for maroon piping. I have many criticisms of the current Church, and every single one of them is the result of having been taught by that same Church that the criticisms are valid.

I could have mentioned Joan of Arc, too.

Tom, Flannery O'Connor expressed a similar opinion in one of her letters to a convert friend:

“...the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it. ”

I think she would have liked your line about being measured for maroon piping. Certainly Dorothy Day, who was often quite annoyed with bishops, would have.

Just a shame that so many talented and good people have chosen to leave. One day the church will apologize for its stance on contraception. The same way John Paul II apologized to Giordano Bruno. It is a real crime that Africans, South Americans and Phillipinos, among others cannot get contraceptives because of the RCC. 

I agree that Francis cannot be true if he does not own up to this and change this teaching. In the meantime he can apologize to Bernard Haring and  many others who followe their conscience. 

Actually, Jean, although I have many  Catholic women friends,  many going back to my college years more than 40 years ago, I honestly don't know a single one who had enough angst about contraception, tubal ligation, or a vasectomy for her husband to even think of "consulting" with friends or "confessing" or looking for some kind of "permission".  

The thought that using contraception in a committed marriage could lead to eternal hellfire was not even on the radar, because it is pure nonsense. If the subject came up at all in our all-women conversations  it was to compare notes on what to expect from a tubal if chosen, or how to convince a husband that a vasectomy was better or safer than a tubal.  Most docs recommended waiting some time after the last child is born - both to be sure that the couple truly believe the family to be "complete", but also because the failure rate is lower for women who wait than it is for women who opt for a tubal right after a delivery. At least that was the case during my childbearing years. Perhaps the operation is better now, but timing issues were important at one time for those seeking a tubal ligation.  The morality was not an issue - it was simply a matter of making the best choice as a medical "consumer".  The single most popular form of birth control in the US today is permanent birth control, with vasectomies leading tubals as first choice.   

As far as Flannery O'Connor's statement goes, many would not agree that the body of Christ is limited to the Roman Catholic church, but believe that Christ's "church" includes all.  Many also may believe that they would "suffer" for Christ but not from, or for, the institutional Roman Catholic church, although some noted individuals have done so, as Tom B listed. But believing in Christ does not require membership in the Catholic church.

Tom B, I'm not sure exactly what your point is, except to note that some people stay/stayed Catholic in spite of everything. Of course, some of those people lived at a time and in a place where the only christian game in town was the Catholic church.  Those in the east eventually had the choice of the Roman church or the Eastern Orthodox church.   Some of those you mention lived before the Reformation, and in some eras of history, not belonging to the church meant being a pariah in the community as well as in the church. It was safer to belong.

 But basically, it comes down to individual conscience. Some choose to stay in spite of.... and some choose not to stay because of....  They are equally valid choices. Being holy has nothing at all to do with being Catholic anyway.  Some holy people are Catholic. Some holy people are not.

What did Jesus promise His Church? That its clergy would all be saints? No. That its laity would all be saints? No. That its priests would all be wise? No. That they would all be kind? No. That the official Church would always tell the truth? Well, some of us seem to have been taught that, but it turns out. To be false also.

So what to do when confronted with a particularly inept (to be charitable) clergy? Stop participating in the Church? Well, what does that mean? Stop receiving the sacraments? I think that is self-punishing, not bishop correcting. Besides they are our closest connection with the Lord on a personal

basis. And one can always
contribute money directly to the very well regarded Catholic charities. (I can't see making tge poor suffer for the sins of the bishops.)

Not to mention telling the bishops directly what we think. Write to them. If they have a blog, send your message in no uncertain terms. Tell all the priests youmknow too, face to face, preferably. Contrar to popular belief, those men are human. Just look at what happened a year ago -- the red-clad, lace-laden cardinals of the RCC elected that very wild card Bergolio as pope. Yes, tbe hierarchy can be reached.

Sorry about the typos. Bad phone!

Anne Chapman, don't you think the Orthodox, the Protestants and the Scientologists have full complements of idiots, bullies, highbinders and nincompoops? As does the U.S. government, but somehow we persevere as Americans. My point was, simply, that if you are looking for a perfect society, you won't find it. But if you are looking for a place to be holy -- whole, complete, loving -- the Catholic Church has a record of members who have come pretty close to succeeding at it.

If you think you can construct a more perfect community on your own, by all means go ahead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1782). If I were to try it, all my building blocks would have to come from what I learned at Church.

And I love the Flannery O'Connor quote. I should have had her on my list.


The lady who was my sponsor in my RCIA group was like the women you mention - she did speak to me of her health reasons for using contraception and she felt somewhat guilty.  But for me, whose mom took her to the doc for birth control pills when I was 17, it's all very strange  ;)

Sure all denominations have good and bad people in them but some other denominations have far less to answer for re: their official policieso.  The Epsicopal Church allows women to use their consciences in the areas of reproductive health, people aren't barred from communion if they divorce and remarry, gay people and gay relationships are acceped, and there is no global sex abuse crisis with massive institutional cover-ups.

Oh, and women can be priests, even presiding bishops  :)

Ann, perhaps it is different in New Orleans, but where I live, if I write to the bishop (cardinals in DC usually) - and I have done so, more than once - it has the same chance of reaching him as if I wrote a personal letter to Obama.  There is one difference - although letters written to politicians in Congress or to the President have almost no chance of being read by the addressee, someone in the office will respond to it - because politicians don't want to insult the people who vote, unlike bishops who have no concern whatsoever that their job might be in danger if the people in the pews aren't happy with them.  When writing to a Cardinal in DC (it has been the same for any of those who have been here for the last 40 years that I have written to), I have learned not to expect to hear an answer from anyone. It's a dead letter office.  But, it does have its humorous side. After writing several letters about the failure of bishops to be held accountable for protecting criminal priests and getting no response, I stapled one of them to the letter/pledge card from the Cardinal's Appeal, explaining why we would no longer contribute to it. We did hear from the diocese shortly afterward, but not to respond to my letter.  Someone wanted to make an appointment to come to our home  to explain to us how we could leave some of our assets to the archdiocese in our will.  

And no, Ann, Jesus did not promise that our leaders would be all wise or all good. But I think Jesus also felt that when we see something being done that is wrong, that harms the innocent, that we should at least try to DO something about it. As I recall, he stormed into the temple (sacred) and threw out the moneychangers.  He wasn't beyond acting instead of just talking. And as already discussed, there is little the people in the pews can do except show their disapproval by closing their checkbooks and/or walking out.  I don't think Jesus expected us to support criminality in the ranks of the hierarchy either.  A wholesale, across the board pattern of bishops protecting thousands of priests who molested kids is a lot more than just "inept".

Tom, of course all churches have their idiots. And no, America isn't perfect. But as Americans we do have a voice - it's called voting.  Catholics do not have a voice.

But the point is this - the idiots in the RCC have power that few idiots in other churches enjoy. Other christian denominations and other religions have neither the money nor the power that the Catholic bishops exert in this country and in many other countries as well.  The bishops just tap the parishes for money when they need it.  If they need money and there isn't enough, they close a few schools or churches.  There isn't another religious group in America that comes close to having the power and influence of the Catholic church, although a political combination of conservative evangelicals working together have some - still, not nearly as much.  So, the Catholic church can influence policy - and it has - in the US and it has tried in the United Nations. Obviously in the Phillippines the bishops have managed to thwart the best chance women have ever had in that country to gain access to reliable, safe birth control.

The issue isn't that there aren't plenty of problems with other denominations, it's that the Catholic church has so much power that its influence can be used for good or for bad.  And too often in recent decades its influence has led to weakening programs to help the poorest of the poor by reducing access to reliable birth control (in the worse cases in Africa, the mortality rate for women during pregnancy and/or childbirth is as high as 1 in 8), and by reducing access to quality condoms not only for bith control, but to reduce the incidence of the transmission of HIV to innocent women and any children they may conceive after they are infected.  Unfortunately this has opened the door to crooks who sell condoms very cheaply - damaged and weakened condoms that don't protect anyone.  This is what happens when groups like CRS are prevented by the church from supplying safe condoms.

The Catholic church should be better. The Catholic church should have the integrity to hold bishops accountable when they protect child molesters. The Catholic church should be using its influence to promote the health and welfare of the poorest of the poor in Africa, in Asia and still in some places in Latin America by cooperating with programs that provide birth control and HIV prevention instead of throwing up roadblocks to the people on the ground who are trying to save lives. The real world is out there, but the bishops much prefer their idealized world, safe in chanceries, far removed from the huts where women and children die of HIV that could have been prevented. There are a lot of holy Catholics out there working with those who so badly need help - but they don't have mitres, and very often they have to work against what the church mandates in order to be Jesus's hands and heart in their work.

Those who don't feel they can step away from active participation in the church should stay put. But, they should also do as Ann O recommends - give their money directly to those who are doing the work Jesus asked us to do - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked etc.  Catholic Relief Services is a top-notch organization, with a top rating from charity watchdog groups. They are my main "charity" and have been for years.  I also know people who work for them - many are frustrated that they are prevented from providing modern safe birth control and condoms to reduce the spread of HIV. I have a very close friend who has been doing HIV/AIDS prevention/education and Maternal/Child Health work on the ground in Africa for almost 15 years now. She knows what the bishops do not. She is there, they are not. She sees the results of their policies, the tragedies. Those who work for CRS are prevented from supplying reliable birth control and condoms for HIV prevention by the official Catholic church even though the major portion of their money comes from US taxpayers under grants from USAID.  It should be illegal for grantees to refuse to provide the best care possible, but right now the Catholic church gets away with it. 

It's not a matter of tolerating fools - it's a matter of deciding if you want to enable policies that hurt people, and sometimes lead to their death.

It's fine for all we comfortable, affluent women (and men) in the west. We can consult our consciences and choose whatever method of family planning best meets it - we have the choice. We have access to training in NFP but we also have access to the pill, to condoms, to tubal ligations, to all forms of modern, safe birth control.  Poor women in the world too often don't have that choice, and one reason some don't is because the Catholic church has put obstacles in the way.

I don't ask that anyone do what I have done unless they find that this is what their conscience tells them they must do.  I did not want to "leave" - I liked my parish, the pastor, the people, the ministries. I was quite comfortable there. But I felt like I had become more concerned about myself and my own comfort than about those who are harmed by the policies and teachings of the church. With no way to change them, no voice, I could not stop my conscience from pointing out that I was enabling.  Francis is a bright spot - and I won't hold my breath on him doing anything to change the status of women to equal from subservient in church teachings. But if something  real and genuine isn't done to hold bishops accountable when they protect priests who molest kids, then I will never be able to return. 

OK, I didn't really mean to stir up this hornets nest. I have found that few Catholics want to get into this discussion. I made a decision, others have made a different decision.. I just entered the conversation to note that while Grant is right that most Catholics find a way to "negotiate" with their own consciences about church teachings they disagree with and remain in the pews, Patricia Miller is also right that Francis personality and change of tone alone won't be enough to bring some back unless there are also doctrinal changes. The number is thirty million I believe - thirty million cradle Catholics in the US who are no longer actively participating in the church. They left for a whole range of reasons. Some will never come back no matter what the pope does - even if he changed church teaching on every hot button issue out there. That is because they have learned that one does not have to be Catholic to follow Christ. One does not have to be Catholic to try to become ever so slightly "holier" while passing through this life. And some just don't care. They have no interest in formal religion, especially the younger adults. 

Grant, please forgive me. I did not intend to hijack this discussion.

Crystal, yes, Catholic women of my acquaintance tend to feel hinky about sterilization. Perhaps converts like you and I have a harder time with the whole doublethink approach to some of these issues than someone like Anne C. who was raised in the Church.

And, yes, Lambeth allowed Anglicans to use artificial contraception within marriage in 1930. The wording makes it clear that the Conference adopted the ruling with some reluctance, but it trusted couples to use their consciences:

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Many Anglicans remained uncomfortable with contraception. I've never been much of a fan of C.S. Lewis, but he wrote thoughtfully about his qualms about artificial birth control, and make interesting reading. They're easily found via Google.

Thanks, Jean - how interesting that CS Lewis wrote on that subject.  I have problems with some of his theology but I really liked his fiction books when I was a teen.

"Other christian denominations and other religions have neither the money nor the power that the Catholic bishops exert in this country and in many other countries as well"

The Episcopal and Presbyterian churches own a good chunk of Manhattan as well as other areas. Benny Finn has his own jet. Oral Roberts. Pat Robertson is a billionaire...Jerry Falwell.

Of course, one can get a greater seat in heaven if one is selected to Joel Osteen's Platinum group at Esalen for $10,000 and up........

At one time in this country one could not get a job in certain compaines unless the word WASP was included in the Resume. .

Bill, yes, these groups have plenty of money. At one time, the Episcopalians and Presbyterians - especially the Episcopalians - also had a lot of clout, and probably still do, behind the scenes anyway.  And it's true that at one time, being a WASP was a big deal and a big help in getting a good job or having influence. Those days are pretty much gone, even if they do own great swaths of Manhattan.  The Catholic church owns plenty of high-priced real estate too, and it's not just cathedrals, churches and schools.  As  far as symbols of Catholic influence v. Protestant influence are concerned, it is truly amazing in a way that there is not a single Protestant on the Supreme Court - the majority of members are Catholic. At one time, nobody would have ever nominated or approved a Catholic on the Court.  The Episcopalians ruled there.  But this is the 21st century, not the 19th or first-half 20th.

The personal wealth of a handful of televangelists has nothing to do with the issue of Catholic bishops putting up obstacles to poor women getting access to birth control and condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention, nor does it have anything at all to do with the reality that the Catholic bishops in the US, in Europe, Ireland, Australia, and probably every other country in the world chose to protect priests who molested kids and nothing has been done to hold them accountable by Rome.

Barbara and Crystal, you're right, I had forgotten about Africa and Asia - a minor lapse of memory about just a few billion people!

 It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it

One more way in which the analogy with marriage comes to mind!

Anne, in Rhode Island the bishop replies and replies promptly. He does not write what I want to read, but he does acknowledge receiving my letter and address my questions at least briefly. I do like that about him.

Anne --
I understand your frustration. And I would not expect the Archbishop to answer my letter. Ut if he got enough of them often enough he would no doubt eventually get the message that his flock thinks he's failing them. My own bishop is said to be a very good listener, but obviously. most of them aren't. Still at least the newspapers in the worst dioceses print the truth about the worst ones, and that can only be because some Catholics do talk back via the newspapers And there are also Commonweal and America and The National Catholic
Reporter. So when Bergolio -- to the public's great surprise -- was elected pope, that to me was a sure sign that the bishops of the world are indeed finally hearing our complaints.

But why try to save the Church in the first place? Because,I believe, it's the one founded by Christ, and I believe that the Holy Spirit has not deserted it.

Jean, I think what you are describing was more true of women who were having families in the 70s and 80s, less true now.  My mother did confess her decision to use contraception and was told she was the equivalent of a prostitute.  She used them anyway and stopped going to church. I feel like people make the decision to stay and tune out messages on contraception (in particular, to the extent they receive those messages).  To me, it leads to a state of ongoing dishonesty and living a sort of lie/  I understand such people to be exercising their conscience, but by doing so in silence they give far more power to those who maintain the official doctrinal orthodoxy.

Re: Barabara's comment about people living in a state of ongoing dishonesty; some of them keep going to Mass but don't go to confession any more. And pastors wonder why the Communion lines are long and the confession lines are short. The answer isn't too hard to figure out. To me it seems that before the Church re-evaluates its teaching on contraception, etc. a more basic consideration needs to be re-evaluated.  That would be our concept of what constitutes a mortal sin.  Most people understand mortal sin to be a deal-breaker with God, a relationship destroyer;  a sin which could separate one from God forever in the next life.  There is a cognitive dissonance to putting, for instance, use of a condom by a married couple, in this category.  It is my understanding (someone with more Church history/theology knowledge correct me if I'm wrong) that in the early church there was a short list of these deal-breaker sins, and they were pretty self-evident.  The list got added to over the years, and somehow the idea got started that any sin that had to do with sex was by definition, mortal.  I think this is still pretty much standard teaching, the only exceptions being something which is more or less involuntary, such as a thought crossing one's mind unbidden. Maybe what needs to be re-examined is the black and white, binary concept of where that bright line is drawn; admitting that there is a lot of gray area in life.