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Lisa Sowle Cahill’s Middle Way

Sometimes, when talking to younger audiences, the theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill will describe herself as a “relic” of the distant and benighted era before the Second Vatican Council. In those years, she recalls, it never occurred to her to question why the priest was always a man, or why girls were advised to select confirmation names from a prodigious list of those who chose a gruesome death rather than lose their virginity.

Nor, she confesses, did she blink when her father arranged for her to live in an Opus Dei residence for women, after a job change took her parents to California at the start of her senior year of Catholic girls high school in Washington, D.C. “In 1965, Opus Dei piety did not seem closed, elitist, or bizarre,” Cahill explains of her brief association with the conservative Catholic movement. After all, she says wryly, in those days “a lot of Catholics acted as if they belonged to a secret society.”

As a theologian, Cahill interprets these experiences with critical appreciation and a sense of ambiguity. As she remarked in a lecture at Santa Clara University some years ago, her thoughts about faith and life are suffused with childhood memories of a Catholic piety and practice that were “at once parochial, romantic, prayerful, stifling, uplifting, fear-inducing, identity-forming, spiritual, hopeful, and sexist.” The petite blonde who took part in evenings of silent reflection on the rosary, guided by Opus Dei clerics, is now the mother of...

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About the Author

William Bole is a journalist and co-author, with Bob Abernethy, of The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World.