Quit the Church?

Thanks but no thanks

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation ran a full-page ad in the Washington Post cast as an "open letter to 'liberal' and 'nominal' Catholics." Its headline commanded: "It's Time to Quit the Catholic Church."

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: "If you think you can change the church from within -- get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research -- you're deluding yourself. By remaining a 'good Catholic,' you are doing 'bad' to women's rights. You are an enabler. And it's got to stop."

My, my. Putting aside the group's love for unnecessary quotation marks, it was shocking to learn that I'm an "enabler" doing "bad" to women's rights. But Catholic liberals get used to these kinds of things. Secularists, who never liked Catholicism in the first place, want us to leave the church, but so do Catholic conservatives who want the church all to themselves. 

I'm sorry to inform the FFRF that I am declining its invitation to quit. They may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can't ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and laypeople who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.

And on women's rights, I take as my guide that early feminist, Pope John XXIII. In Pacem in Terris, his encyclical issued in 1963, the same year Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique," Pope John spoke of women's "natural dignity." 

"Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument," he wrote, "they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons."

I'd like the FFRF to learn more about the good Pope John, but I wish our current bishops would think more about him, too. I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church's adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements -- including that odious comparison of President Barack Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month -- that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of the nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism's detractors wrong? Why in the world would the Vatican, apparently pushed by right-wing American bishops, think it was a good idea to condemn the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main organization of nuns in the United States?

The Vatican's statement, issued last month, seemed to be the revenge of conservative bishops against the many nuns who broke with the hierarchy and supported health care reform in 2010. The nuns insisted, correctly, that the health-care law did not fund abortion. This didn't sit well with men unaccustomed to being contradicted, and the Vatican took the LCWR to task for statements that "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops." 

Oh yes, and the nuns are also scolded for talking a great deal about social justice and not enough about abortion (as if the church doesn't talk enough about abortion already). But has it occurred to the bishops that less stridency might change more hearts and minds on this very difficult question? 

A thoughtful friend recently noted that carrying a child to term is an act of overwhelming generosity. For nine months, a woman gives her body to another life, not to mention the rest of her years. Might the bishops consider that their preaching on abortion would have more credibility if they treated women in the church, including nuns, with the kind of generosity they are asking of potential mothers? They might usefully embrace a similar attitude toward gays and lesbians.

Too many bishops seem in the grip of dark suspicions that our culture is moving at breakneck speed toward a demonic end. Pope John XXIII, by contrast, was more optimistic about the signs of the times. 

"Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth," he once said. "We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world which he redeemed." The church best answers its critics when it remembers that its mission is to preach hope, not fear.     

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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My sense is that progressives who choose to stay have high hopes that eventually they'll win out, having outlasted the opposition.  They believe, simply, that they're right and the rest are wrong, and that the future will, surely, vindicate them.  They have great faith in themselves, in their intellects, in the truth of their beliefs, and in the inevitability of brighter futures.  If they didn't feel this way, most would leave.  You don't go down with a sinking ship if there's a lifeboat waiting for you unless you want to die.  They don't want to die - they want to live to see the Church remade in their image - or, failing that, in the image of their great-grandchildren.

I guess that's admirable, but it will also make for a pretty grim spectacle.  Until that day when all is made right again, the Church will not be a pleasant place in which to pray.


I stick with the Church even though its leaders betrayed the vision of the Vatican Council.  Why?  Because of the local parish, even though it is run by a really conservative priest.  But there are the sacraments and above all the Eucharist, and the community of faith.  And, occasionally, a glimpse of the dream the Council started.  In part this is because of the priest shortage.  Suddenly, lay people are playing a major role out of pure necessity. 

But in this particular parish, the young families and the youth are mostly missing.  If our stubbornly conservative Church were on the right path, or even had the humility to seek the right path, they would be there.  

The Vatican Council lasted only four years.  Seven years later, the good Pope John Paul the Great had already declared it a failure and was doing his best to sidetrack its efforts.  This desperate effort to beach the boat was called leadership.  Generations have gone by.   The Church we live in was not made by the Vatican Council, but by two authoritarian popes.  The Church we live in today was created by them and their minions.

"...the Church will not be a pleasant place in which to pray."


If a Catholic's "pleasantness" in the Eucharistic Prayer, say, is dependent upon the progressiveness of his/her parish, diocese, etc., hasn't such a Catholic already saluted his/her own loss of faith, his/her spiritual tepidity? Isn't the person's expression of unpleasantness simply a way out of a "pleasant" liturgical encounter already canceled (because the church isn't progressive enough)? 

This suggests a kind of Donatism, holding that the church must be a church of saints (for some, progressives), not sinners (i.e., non-progressives). The Catholic position, however, has always been that the validity of the sacraments (pleasantness, I might add) depends upon the holiness of God, his graciousness, not the progressiveness of the priest or bishop (the latter being merely instruments of God's work). 

For believing Catholics of whatever persuasion, the Eucharistic Prayer takes upon itself half the weight of the Cross they carry. It is vital to their spiritual and social lives, whether liberal, conservative or progressive. Such a prayer (and site) should always be pleasant, even before and after the celebration.




There is something to be said for the idea of quitting the church.    Ultimately a person's religion should provide a sense of solace, of affirmation of basic values and beliefs, of direction of the human soul.     The current version of the Catholic church is not doing that -- for many of us it feels like fight club.   We have to ask ourselves --- is this what Jesus really wanted us to experience when he founded the church?   His yoke is not supposed to be unbearable because it's not supposed to be  sexist, homophobic, and sexually predatory of children.   But let's face it --- it is all of those things.   And much as we like to hearken to the great humanitarian works of the church as a reason to stay, those works often happened despite the efforts of the church --- which later took the credit.   It is possible to do great humanitarian works outside the church --- and again one doesn't have to deal with fight club.      After many years in fight club, I've recently started calling myself a "Christian" --- not a Catholic.     Sometimes I attend a relatively progressive parish --- or at least one that is not actively regressive.   At other times, I attend a local Lutheran church (ELCA).   I certainly get more out of the latter than I do out of the former.  I'm sure I'll end up there.   If enough of us left, what would happen?  The church would just be what it is now --- a misogynistic, patriarchal heirarchy of old men who want to tell women how to behave and control them -- and who want to continue to abuse and cover up the abuse of children.   The only difference is they'd be poorer because the progressives would no longer be helping to pay for it.  Maybe once they're poor they'll get the message --- and in that we will have accomplished what we hoped for:   a change in their hard hearts.   The only difference is we won't be there --- but if we choose wisely there are many excellent faith groups where we can live out the rest of our earthly days without feeling like we're in fight club.   


Elizabeth:   thanks for the well thought out comments that mirror what so many of us (more than the tighty-righty "smaller, purer" crowd will ever know) have been thinking and upon which we have acted.

If there ever has been a "church" founded by Christ, what the RCC has become is not it.

There is no reason to quit the Church.  The Nicene Creed, the Sacraments, the fellowship with the saints, etc. all draw us in.

On the other hand, I have gone from being a tithing Catholic to one who simply rejoices in taking full advantage of all the Church has to offer without paying a penny for it.  My tithe now goes to non-Catholic organizations that refrain from comparing the President to Hilter or calling for violent opposition to contraception, as bishops have recently done.

I am at peace. 

So reassuring in some ways to see that so many of us share the same views and long for Vatican II to come to fruition, yet so sad. As a convert and a very independent professional woman, my family think I am mad to stay - maybe I am, yet the idea of leaving is devastating. I love my friends in the Church and have seen, as mentioned by others, wonderful work being done by religious and lay people. I like to think of myself as a Catholic, without the Roman prefix. Hopefully there will be another groundswell of reform, dragging the church into the 21st century.

I was born a Catholic, have lived as a Catholic, and will die as one, though I intend to be buried in an eplscopal church where my friend is the rector because they have a columbarium.  If you look at the history of the Church, it is a pretty dreary business in almost every century. Persecuting a woman philosoher (Cyril of Alexandria), burning witches, burning hereticsm, persecuting Jews (e.g. Paul IV),etc.  But even in the worst of times, it tended to be a big tent, and if you were half-way lucky, there were enclaves where enlightenment flourished.  But then out of the blue you would get a Leo XIII or a John XXIII,  Vatican II, and even in some respects John Paul II who, although he put in place many of these reactionary toadies who populate the current episcopate, was himself relatively liberal in theology.  Genuine religion like genuine morality has its foundation in autonomy.   That is the implication of the Vatican Council's teaching on conscience.   Some day that doctrine will explode into the institutional consciousness of the church, and you will have a better situation, where you have bishops who do provide guidance but do not imagine themselves as the bulwark against all but the most sectarian version of our faith.   I doubt it will happen in my life-time (I am 72), but it will happen.  I applaud the writer who points out the positive side of the current situation. 

To David Smith: Yours is a straw man post. The editorial in question did not demand that the Church be remade in the image of liberals.  Rather the post was simply bemoaning the fact that the Church appears to have ceased being a big tent, welcoming and nurturing of Catholics with different political points of view, and allowing dedicated Catholics (in particular, the Women Religious) a modicum of freedom to devote their lives to social justice issues, fully compatible with Church teachings, and to put relatively less emphasis on issues which appear to be of greater interest to American bishops.

I used to attend mass at a parish where a senior priest also pointedly compared "this President" (the priest's words) to Adolf Hitler.  I've switched to a predominately Vietnamese parish where the priest's English homilies rarely rise to the level of intelligible, but the spiritually nuturing aspects remain intact, and I am now receiving that which I sought out of Catholicism.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

My take on this attack on Women Religioius is much more sanguine: Some of us seem to have forgotten that the Grand Inquisitor of the CDF left behind him in this country a diocese (Oregon) which went bankrupt from the pedophilia which occurred on his watch. This was a thinly veiled ploy to take the heat off the Princes of the Church, and our Nuns deserve our standing up for them. It's the old story of the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it? N.B.: I'm not leaving either.

Honestly I don’t know why there is so much angst.   We not only have a better average than Jesus did with his own betrayal by his apostles, we also know how the good book ends; we win!

Most Catholics, even badly catechized ones, should at least understand that the Catholic Church IS Jesus Christ.  Can there be any doubt that Jesus didn’t understand human weakness and transgressions?  Why do you think he made the sacraments “priest proof”, or chose Peter as the first pope over almost perfect John?”  It was because He intended His church be the hospital for the sinners, not the perfect.

Mr. Dionne I do have to take issue with your cheerleading  of disobedient nuns.  How can we disobey He whom we love, when obedience is simply a manifestation of that love?  Holy obedience is everything; even greater than sacrifice.  Consequently, those “out of it” can’t be receptive to the Holy Spirit (Acts of the Apostle), and all of that glorious God-given wisdom.

Allow me to give you a great example of “social justice hijacking” gone very badly:  Melinda Gates.  According to Catholic Melinda, with her ‘social justice’  training from her Ursuline Academy, despite being against church teachings, has just informed us that her signature project will be to contracept the 3rd world!  Even worse, according to the recent Newsweek article, her mentoring nuns from Ursaline Academy have “cheered her on.”

Imagine that, 4 billion dollars, Depo-Provera for every 3rd world fertile women, and let’s just pretend this is really compassion and not eugenics/population control, and or an attack on family and faith.   It’s also interesting to note that unlike the modern world, the 3rd world did not oppose Humane Vitae; consequently, especially in Africa, Catholicism is thriving. 

Better yet, let’s imagine that those Ursaline nuns, instead of teaching Melinda their version of “social justice”, had maybe introduced Melinda to Pope John XXIII’s masterful letter, “Mater et Magistra.

Besides, God in His Goodness and wisdom has diffused in nature inexhaustible resources and has given to man the intelligence and genius to create fit instruments to master it, and to turn it to satisfy the needs and demands of life. Hence the real solution of the problem is not to be found in expedients that offend the moral order established by God and which injure the very origin of human life. They are to be found in a renewed scientific and technical effort on the part of man to deepen and extend his dominion over nature. The progress of science and technology, already realized, opens up in this direction limitles horizons.

I wonder Mr. Dionne, will you be on the side of the Ursaline nuns as well, as they cheer on a colossus intrinsic evil, convinced, against Church teaching, that it’s all in the name of “social justice?”

Ironically, my Vietnamese pastor has begun dotting his homilies, which until recently were mercifully unintelligible, with the word "Obamacare," and now I'm just as glad I can't understand another word he says.   Fortunately, the Mass is the Mass and the Eucharist the Eucharist wherever you go.  In Latin or the vernacular, the catholicity of the Catholic liturgy remains, and the faith is the faith, no matter what doctrine is being emphasized or strangulated at any given historical moment.  I've been what they call "orthodox," and I've been called a "dissenter" by same; as far as I know, my faith hasn't changed in 65 years and I pray it stays with me until I'm safely past my due date.   From long experience, it seems to me most of us, including  bishops, just do the best we can, but a martyr such as Bishop Romero or the many nuns and priests who rise to heights of selflessness for the poor and oppressed year in and year out provide the blessed signs we all need that tell us there is a God who communicates himself and gives us reason to believe He cares, a message every human being wants desperately to hear, whether we admit it or not.

I stay with the Church because it is the People of God, as Vat II made explicit. It is reallly rather simple. Do you believe the Holy Spirit was at work in Vat II or do you not?

The conservatives dio not want to change, not because of any theological virtue; it is simply because they want to hold on to power!

Well I have news for them; they have no power. All power comes from God.

Does that give you a clue to the answer to my question?

I love the way E.J writes.  He says it so well. I am too old to leave, and if I leave, the bishops win.  No way I am leaving.  No way I am leaving the Sisters to take all the heat.  They are one of the best things about the Church. 

1.  Elizabeth, the Church has enough real state accumulated as well as amassed other financial assets to cover  the donations most us would have made several times over. Perhaps the fact we will not leave any part of our legacy to them might hurt more, but the dwindling number of priests can draw on those resources  for a long time.

2.  Our great nation roll to the right  by tearing appart  most of our FDR based official assistance to the poor and the feeble;  the Ayn Rands are running amock.   This is not "scary" talk or demented ramblings.  A clear analysis of the different measures suggested (dismantel our social safety net, let old people die, block educational opportunities and vertical mobility to the emerging poor and struggling middle class, remove funding to our regulatory environment, criminalize non-religious behavior, set the economic elite above the law) are not happenstance.  

These  steps  hark back to  measures  suggested by Judge Powell during the Nixo Administration in his notorious, not so secret, memo to the American Chamber of Commerce. His objective was simple:  mega corporations and oligarchich families should take over all major American institutions. I am sorry,very sorry, to see the survival or activist spirit of the Church during Hitler, Mussolini and Franco renewed by hate,  scare tactics and Goebbels type shybboleth.  Has our beloved  Church succumbed to  Powell´s charms?

2.  I pray  the Holy Spirit brings wisdom to all.  And I also pray the example of thinly veiiled hate towards the growing power of women, afroamericans,  latinos and younger people in general, does not corrode our deep committment to honor the ancient semitic teaching:  love thy neighbor as you love thyself.

3.  These are sad days, but let´s rejoice.  These reactions (opposition to the sacrament of marriage within the church,  penalize women´s demands to receive the sacrment of the order)   are  typical  of those holding on to yesterday´s power sources aware that today´s and tomorrow´s have scaped through their fingers.  Let´s hope the new blood will bring greater wisdom and discipline.  

In the meantime, I fear the challenge presented by the ascendancy of  women´s power within the Church and  the shifting tectonic plates on Catholic opinion endorsing  married priests have elicited traumatic phobias in key leaders among  our current hierarchy; these might  lead them to  squander  inherited spiritual capital.  Their new allies among the Fundamentalists and Mormos, I dare belief, will encourage them to abandon their flock and to embrace their alliance.  Sad days indeed.

  4.  Pity the Church has sided with Fundamentalists and Mormons  to "put women in their place." Yet, let´s love them, our eldeers for all the good they might have done or might still do.  The Spirit works in mysterious ways, even on Church elders.

5.  And as far as quitting, fat chance.  As a young man I left my country because its communist regime was persecuting my church and my believes. I have risked my life several times to bring the teachings of the Church back to that suffering island.   No more quiting.

6.  Womem will run the Church, someday.  And we will all be better for it.  Our Lady and her Son will see to it.





The bishops don't know it, but the Church is still big enough to accommodate all of us. There are so many who are living out their faith in a heroic manner and doing the church's work in spite of the hierarchy. It's a matter of finding others one can relate to and continuing to struggle. Nobody said being a Catholic Christian would be easy.

Indeed the hierarchy makes it really hard for those of us who try share the Good News with others to have any credibility. I can only say I will keep trying even though I have to work around the hierarchy to spread the faith.

Why should I leave the Church, The People of God, because the bishops are a gaggle of Pharisees?

I gotta say many of these comments are truly sad.  Do you really think the bishops "win" if you leave?  That's absurd.  There are only two reasons to be a Catholic:  for our own salvation and to help others see the light to theirs. 

If the Church ever goes broke, it would actually be a blessing, and yes, we would survive.  Not surviving would be a sure sign that this wasn't the true Church.

All this "left, right, progressive, conservative" is a cop out.  The Church is the stewart of the fullness of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  If every religious fell from grace, I would still not leave the Catholic Church.  When we get hung up on the sins of others, it's one thing, and we are required, to admonist the sinner.  However, to use those sins as an excuse to leave or "pig out in the cafetaria" is a problem within ourselves.  I know because I have been there.

Notihng is more freeing to just "live the faith", in obedience and all of its fullness; to be thankful for the sacraments, keep our eyes on Christ, and pray and be a light for others.  Rest assured God will bringg all to justice, including those who rationalize or omit His teachings for their own agendas. 

The only thing that should matter to any of us is salvation, and Jesus showed us the way.  "If you love me, keep my commandments", which of course starts with, holy obedience.

Agape love demands that we admonish the 'social justice' sisters, regardless of what we think of their superiors.


Concerning my answer to the question (and intimation) there is only one : see John 6, 66-68

"From that time, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more whith him.

/67/ Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away (greek 'hypagein' = give way, leave)?

/68/ Then Simon Peter answered him ; Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."

Being French, in English I do not have a more recent and Roman Catholic version instead of the King James version. A French version dating from 1968 has been sung for years and years in my different parish churches (I am 80 years old), whether they are 'progressive' or 'conservative'.


Concerning the evolution of the Church on basic maters : see again Saint Peter, how he (and the Church) eventually adopted the ideas of Saint Paul concerning pagans and baptism.

E. J. Dionne, Jr., writes:

The Vatican’s statement, issued last month, seemed to be the revenge of conservative bishops against the many nuns who broke with the hierarchy and supported health-care reform in 2010. The nuns insisted, correctly, that the health-care law did not fund abortion. This didn’t sit well with men unaccustomed to being contradicted, and the Vatican took the LCWR to task for statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops.”

Revenge? It could very well be that revenge against the many nuns who broke with the hierarchy played a part, albeit a very small part, in the Vatican’s statement. It is all the more likely that the predominant part was played by the ultra-conservative forces that have been and still are working to reverse John XXIII's call to “…reestablish the principle of shared authority with all the church's members…in the biblical phrase `People of God’—a community of believers moving forward with humanity…” 

Leading the forces to undo Vatican II’s vision of a collegial, less hierarchical church with increased lay involvement and revert to a pre-conciliar, strictly male-led, authoritarian church were Paul VI [1], John Paul II [2, 3], and Joseph Cardinal Rat zinger (now Benedict XVI)[4,5].

A caveat: Reading the noted references could lead to depressing thoughts about the Catholic Church if one forgets that WE ARE THE CHURCH. Also, reading Michael Leach's book Why Stay Catholic? (Loyola Press, 2011) can help with residual depressing thoughts.

1, Giovanni Franzoni, " Vatican II: Lost and betrayed'" Iglesia Descalza, Sept.19, 2011, http://iglesiadescalza.blogspot.com/2011/09/vatican-ii-lost-and-betrayed.html

     Franzoni, a former Benedictine abbot, Catholic theologian, and eyewitness to Vatican II, offers reflections at the 31st Congress of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII in Madrid, Spain.

2. Penny Lernoux,  People of God, The Struggle for World Catholicism, 1989. 

      Toward the end the author's tragically short life (Jan. 6, 1940 – Oct. 9, 1989) she focused on the clamping down on dissent by John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI). The book was based on years of research in Latin America and the United States. Lernoux described John Paul II's attempt to fortify an authoritarian model of the church as an effort to restore pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. The book documented the church's dismissal of scholars who questioned John Paul II's papacy. It also dissected various groups struggling for control of the church.

     Joshua McElwee aptly titled his review of this book "A document of Vatican II's undoing," [NCR, May 11-24, 2012].

     A highly recommended 1995 book review by Dale Wharton can be accessed at


3. Gary Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Doubleday, 2000.

      See Chapter 7, "Excluded Women," for John Paul's 1979 "Mary was not a priest" response to then  LCWR President Sister of Mercy Theresa  Kane ' public request that "half of humankind be included in al the ministries of the church.

4.  Matthew Fox, The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, 2011. 

      Fox's provocative book covers three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI,  providing insights from his 12-year, up-close-and-personal battle with Ratzinger. He traces the historical roots of degradation in the Church and offering a new way to understand why Benedict XVI is now mired in crisis as Pope. 

     Insights into Fox's thinking can be obtained via a two-part interview for NCR by Jamie L Manson as follows: Part 1: Former Dominican sees church's demise as blessing in disguise, Mar. 26, 2012, (http://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/decades-after-expulsion-matthew-fox-see-churchs-demise-blessing-disguise), Part 2: Matthew Fox talks obedience and courage, young adults and the church, Apr. 02, 2012,  (http://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/matthew-fox-talks-obedience-and-courage-young-adults-and-church).

5. Paul Knitter, "Küng & Ratzinger vs Benedict XVI," Union in Dialogue, March 15, 2011, http://unionindialogue.org/paulknitter/2011/03/15/kung-ratzinger-vs-benedict-xvi/

      Knitter writes: "The only hope for the Church, Küng maintains, lies in the courage and resistance of the laity. Sounds radical?  Sure is.  But I heard basically the same message from Joseph Ratzinger when he was a promising young theologian serving as a “peritus” (an expert advisor to the bishops) during the Second Vatican Council.  At a press conference during the 1963 session (the exact year is fuzzy in my aging memory), he told us that throughout the history of the RC Church it has happened that the Bishops so lost touch with the message of Jesus that it became incumbent upon the laity to exercise their prophetic role given in Baptism and to stand up and refuse to obey!"


I find my mind leaning towards Cardinal George's quip on "Liberal Catholicism" as "an  exhausted project…parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.”  Is it possible that the Freedom from Religion foundation sees an inherent, if not intrinsic contradiciton imbeded in such a "project"?

I left the Church once when I was 18 and did not return until I was 58 at Easter of 2005.  It took witnessing a catholic friend, who left the church due to the discovery of sexual abuse 25 years earlier, diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, then developing stigmata in her hands, treatment discontinued due to lack of effectiveness and deteriorating condition, then miraculously cured when she bled all over herself the day of her last MRI to determine how long she had to live.  It was determined by this MRI that only a scar remained on her liver.  Her hands continued to bleed for some unknown reason.  Around Christmas of 2004 a luminous light filled the ceiling of my bedroom and stated in a voice neither female nor male, "I love you."  I made my 40 year confession and communion Easter of 2005.  I visited my friend Veterans' Day of 2005, since I hadn't seen her since her cure in the summer of 2004.  When I told her of my return to Catholicism on Easter she began to cry and stated that Easter was the last time her hands bled.  The Light which loves me has since been replaced by a light which is created by friction.  It is a light which is created by man when they are afraid of the dark and the potential monsters they imagine will devour them if they do not ignite this burning flame which influences them to feel safer when they surround this hot light.  It influences them to collapse into one another as a reaction to the reality that this light does help them see beyond the limits of its limited potential and outside of that limit the darkness still exists with all of its imagined threat.  They engulf the light and form a union based on the acceptance of fear-based core beliefs that they have the fullness of the truth.

The luminous light engulfs everything, it is transparent and is not created by friction and allows the explorer the freedom to move into the darkness to become free from that fear which initially inhibited her sight and freedom.  To be classified as a liberal catholic by those who call themselves orthodox is unjust and uncharitable and extremely near-sighted.  They can only know what they see from the confines of the warmth of the fire which they have created and have collapsed into.



I am in my 40s. I am a post-vatican II catholic who works in a Franciscan parish and am married to a Jewish woman raising a daughter via the catechumenate. My heart breaks and yearns for the church community amongst those religious confreres, lay people, and those of other faiths with whom I studied. And I count myself blessed for the many times my heart has burned in such presence.

Part of me thinks that we American catholics already received a similar "Open Letter" in the form of Humanae Vitae. And so now we find ourselves somewhat between a rock and a hard place. Forced by orthodoxy out of ultrapious pews and ridiculed by the secular world to come out of their catacombed dark ages images of us.

It takes a certain level of solicitude to find amongst such diversity (and adversity) a sensus fidelium, a community of faith, or even a partner with which to experience the Risen Christ for whom our hearts burn and we feel emboldened to go and tell others what we have seen.

As a parent, spouse, and director, I have to do it everyday. And I even do so in one of the most (by popular accounts) conservative dioceses in the U.S.

The only difference I can see between the church I remember and loved growing up into and the one I present and invite others to join now is how much one has to really do so with eyes wide open. "Trick or Treat" catholicism isn't enough, either for those going through the motions or those enamored by the pageantry of their own nostalgia and quest for power. (See: http://www.examiner.com/article/halloween-and-trick-or-treat-catholics)

We are always on mission. And we are never alone.

Since you mentioned it Jay, just wanted to make what I think is an interesting (and telling)  point about Humane Vitae. 

As most know, HV was terribly rejected by the Western World, while at the same time, embraced fully by the 3rd world. 

Decades later, look where the faith is growing, not only by leaps and bounds, but by vocations and orthodoxy.  Hint:  It's NOT the Western World, but the 3rd world that, if Melinda Gates gets her way, will soon impose "mass contracepton."

I have to say that I don’t get all this talk and ruminations about “Quitting the Catholic Church???”

Why should anyone quit? What kind of defeatist attitude is that just at the time when the aging hierarchy is really beginning to loose its grip on reality? As long as being a “Catholic” expresses that ineffable spiritual connection between mysticism and [peace and justice] for any woman or man, why would you have to leave?

Never have the hierarchy been so vulnerable, so exposed. Has anyone noticed that this bunch of old men is now about the business of attacking and labeling American religious women as “heretics?” If the hierarchs could get away with bringing back witch burnings, they do it. The hierarchs are in their death throes.

For Catholics to abandon the church now would only ensure that the most reactionary elements of the church (a.k.a., the all-male feudal oligarchy, and their obedient sheep) have an even more entrenched political hegemony over the rest of us.

Besides, the hierarchs left, abandoned, and/or betrayed the rest of us long, long ago. For decades now, they have been sitting in the Vatican planning to ignite a schism so they can retreat behind Vatican walls, free from progressive, rational and intellectual thinking, for a century or two until the world is safe again from anyone who remembers how corrupt they are [or is it, were?].

If anything, the hierarchs have “excommunicated” themselves from the rest of us. Such is the price for their irrelevance and alienation from the lived experience of most Catholics.

All Catholics have to do is just wait the hierarchs out. They’re not going anywhere. They can’t reproduce themselves biologically without the support and cooperation of Catholics.

If Catholics don’t like the way the priesthood and the present feudal governance is being practiced, don’t encourage or approve your sons’ participation until the priesthood is reformed from parish to pope.

Simply, the hierarchs are about to get a very hard lesson in evolutionary extinction.

Catholics have to be in this game for the long haul. And consequently, Catholics need to take the long view: In the meantime, find ingenious ways on the LOCAL LEVEL to separate the MONEY from the MINISTRY. Eventually the hierarchy’s investment portfolios will deplete over time, and then, in that moment of epiphany the Holy Spirit may have a chance.

If the hierarchs didn’t have unlimited and unaccountable access to literally $billions salted away in investments, most of their outrageous behavior would dissipate because there would be no money to fund and underwrite their crazy ideology. [For example, the bishops current foray into presidential politics.]

Catholics have to RESIST, not leave: LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

Like primitive Christians in the first and second centuries, 21st century Catholics must struggle toward a new enlightenment, a new Peoples’ Church.

To paraphrase the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 3:6): I planted the seed, [John 23rd] watered it, but God makes it grow.

It may take years, decades, even centuries. But we will get there.

I am new to the Catholic Church.  I began exploring the faith in 2009, contemplating my conversion in a time of crisis.  Our once-middle-class household was utterly bankrupted by the financial collapse of 2008.  The following year witnessed our slow descent into poverty and homelessness - a state we suffered with three young children.  

Interestingly, it was the climb out of homelessness that brought me to the Church.  My only consolation was prayer.  I tried simply calling out to God, but something felt hollow about the selfishness and fear at the center of my supplications.  I couldn’t stomach the old, wishful, simplistic and solipsistic prayers of my youth.  Finally, through the loving crucible of poverty, I had learned that God was not Santa Claus; that wealth did not, as I once thought, represent the American version of the mandate of heaven; that faith wasn’t there to get me through hard times until I was rich, but to sustain my very existence as the substance and very ground of my being - rich or poor, homeless or mansioned.  

I was driven to explore ancient modes of prayer; to the study of a Christianity that predated the strange, exclusively-rightward turn that has so hampered and limited the Christ message in our times.  This led me to the Desert Fathers.  They led me to the Psalms.  The Psalms led me to the Divine Office.  The Divine Office structured my prayer and, by way of the homilies contained therein, sent me to read the saints and doctors of the Church.  

I also found a local Benedictine Monastery.  There, a monk taught me to pray the rosary, gifting me with one crafted of lovely rosewood.  I also retreated with the monks, praying the Liturgy of Hours and finding myself drawn evermore to the deep mysticism that is the true heart of Catholicism - the very Sacred Heart of Jesus that drives the works of charity that are the core commandments of Christ.

Given my path, it was inevitable that I would meet St. Therese, Teresa of Avila, St. John of The Cross, St. Bernard, etc.  And it was inevitable that I would come to enjoy the various extremes of piety that are the recreation of a young Catholic.  (What joyful imbalance it is when we first realize that there is a universe of faith practice that transcends the world!)  

I came full circle when I met Thomas Merton.  He drew together the threads of mysticism at the core of the saints’ teachings.  And he spoke the language of a postmodern.  He also let me know - and his voice was joined by Dorothy Day’s in short order - that the social gospel I had studied in my college days was the only thing truly consistent with the teachings of Christ.  And he armed me with the doctrine given us by Thomas Aquinas - the one that tells me my informed conscience must guide me, even (perhaps especially) where it leads me to disagree with the political winds that often blow about bishops as if they were dust on history’s winds.

Which brings me to the few weeks following my First Holy Communion at this year’s Easter Vigil.  In that short time, I have suffered more than one diatribe from my protestant, Buddhist and agnostic friends, many of whom have reminded me of their warnings regarding the Church and her long history of abuses.  As if to confirm their position, I have had to look with sadness at my wife’s brother and his beloved partner as they witnessed a successful (if temporary) assault on human rights here in North Carolina - an assault that bore the imprimatur of my beloved Church.  And, with the almost surreal attack on the work of women religious with the Poor and Downtrodden, I have come to realize that the Church’s stance on women’s rights (a principled one, I believe, when it comes to the dignity of life and contraception) seems to have confused it in the matter of gender equity across a broader array of issues within and without the Mystical Body.  

Who was it that said of the Catholic Church, “Come on in!  It’s awful!”

Perhaps it is.  But I love our Church.  And, in case you wonder, I love my conservative brothers and sisters, though we disagree broadly. Why?  Because we agree on the Eucharist; on the Mystical Body that unites us.  I respect the leadership of my diocese and in Rome.  We disagree.  So what?  I disagreed with my dad on many things throughout his life.  I also loved (and love) him dearly.  We seem to live in an age wherein any sort of disagreement sends us rushing in search of carbon copies of ourselves.  I don’t desire such company.  I prefer healthy disagreement.  I prefer that cold water be poured on my most cherished ideas.  My ego needs the down-sizing.

And, in the end, what if I am wrong?  Am I God?  Am I an apostle or a saint?  No.  I’m a human being, utterly flawed and given to egregious errors of judgment.  Therefore, thank God the Church changes slowly to accommodate for the various forms of temporary insanity that are the hallmarks of every historical epoque.

My views may turn out to be a symptom of just such insanity.

Having said that, I am a progressive.  You likely know that I know that I am not a priori correct regarding the things I believe.  My views, like the views of my conservative friends, are born where my culture meets my faith.  Perhaps we’re all way off the mark.  (Check back in a few centuries and let me know:)

Having said that, perhaps we could come together as regards the dignity of all life - from conception, through childhood and young adulthood, through years of hard (and, we pray, dignified) work, and into old age and death.  

And perhaps we could agree that “God chose those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him.”  

Maybe we could also remember that we are the sheep; that we are those who see “Christ in distressing clothing” when we see the Poor or Sick or Imprisoned.  That way, He can say to us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Meanwhile, this new Catholic respectfully prays for the intentions of our leaders, praying especially that they are never influenced unduly by the money and power that once came together to crucify Christ.

I just want to say that I'm not going anywhere either. I came into the Church as a teen just after the close of Vatican II. I spent nine years, during the turmoil and upheaval of the 1970s, as a member of an LCWR Congregation...strong, luminous women who took the challenges and reforms to heart, even if it killed them, and walked forward into the light. Even though I left them long ago now, subsequently married a Catholic Worker and raised a family, I am still very close to them and they love me as a sister. I have a wonderful parish, where my husband and I wear multiple hats, a loving community and two priests who are outstandingly articulate and pastoral. We just finished a series of lectures by our pastor on Vatican II: Fifty Years Later which was awesome. I say to all of you who are looking around and saying, to paraphrase Michael Moore, "Hey, dude, where's my Church?" please take heart. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is in charge and hasn't lost Her grip. We, as members of the Priesthood of the Faithful by virtue of our baptism, need to join arms and hearts with ALL those Catholics, lay and religious, who want to witness to the promise of Vatican II, so sadly sidelined and stomped on by the agents of darkness (and we know who they are). We ARE agents of Gaudium et Spes, (joy & hope for you non-Latinists), called to be Church in the Modern World.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
The following letter to the Commonweal editor was sent in 2007 and is applicable to Mr.Dionne's article as it was five years ago.
To the editor,
Moral and social issues are only 'intrinsically complicated" when Catholics choose to place their own subjective conscience, often based on moral or social relativism or a deliberate decision to ignore the Church's teachings on faith and morals, above an informed conscience based on informed truth unencumbered by social fads, convenience or fear of being outside the secular mainstream on moral issues.
"Since Vatican II the liberal wing of the Catholic Church has promulgated the superiority of one's own, or the subjective conscience, and in February 1991 then Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the Church's response in his presentation 'Conscience and Truth" delivered at the '10th Workshop for Bishops; in Dallas Texas. A brief summary of his conclusion is found in
the following extract, "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it. But whether the judgment of conscience is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity."(quoted from my letter to the editor of the Washington Times published Nov. 19, 2007)

After twenty-six years the Catholic Bishops seem to  understand the Cardinal Ratzinger's, now Pope Benedict XVI, message, while editors of Commonweal obviously have not as they continue to believe that strongly defending the unborn's right to life is counterproductive. Perhaps the editor's should review the Catholic Catechism for guidance in the future:

All Catholics, in particular Catholic politicians, need to be warned by their bishops that by calling attention to their Catholic faith ("Catholic voters warned on abortion," Page 1, Thursday) and in the same breath voicing support for abortion rights, a public act of
scandal — as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2284-6) — is committed. Paragraph 2286 is directly applicable to people in political positions. It reads: "Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structure leading to the decline of morals."(quoted from my letter to the editor of the Washington Times published Nov. 19, 2007)

The editors' apparent acceptance that those who question that life begins at conception by emphasizing the minute size of a human embryo may have a reasonable argument is moral relativism at its best. Most scientists agree that the universe began in a 'Big Bang' from nothingness, the "uncaused cause" reasoned St. Thomas Aquinas, or a "singularity" according to Stephen Hawking . If the universe as we know it now began from an "uncaused cause" or a "singularity", then life can certainly be present in an embryo smaller than a period and questioning it might be called an 'absurdity.'

Byron and Zech summariozed their recent exit interviews for Bishop David O'Connell (Trenton) in America's April 30 issue. They pointed out, as many here, that one must be ready to give up the Eucharist in order to leave. Of course many of the reasons for leaving are the involuntary unjust separations of many from the Sacraments. Despite the insistence on exclusionary institutional policies and practices, I'm still will Dionne. But many of those I love have or are ready to jump ship, and mostly because of the reasons mentioned  most often in the Trenton study. Not surprising, few find any other religion to substitute.

I am heartened by the evidence from the essay and the above comments that the "big tent" still exists in Roman Catholicism despite a power-hungry pope, the cowardly cardinals that elected him, and the reactionary American Bishops that seem to be fighting tooth and nail to return the church to pre-Vatican II stances on just about everything.  I wonder how much of the reactionary stance is due to the laity's no longer giving much attention to decrees from on high? The church hierarchy seems intent on continuing to treat us like medieval peasants.  I, too, wrestle continually with staying in the church and give more than half my Sunday offering to the local Episcopal Church (which treats women as equals and Gays as humans) while participating in the local Lutheran Church's extra-liturgical services.  

I too saw the ad in the Post, and was stunned.  As critical as I have been, I wouldn’t imagine that sort of public repudiation of the Catholic Church.  Yet, given recent events in the church, I can understand how tempting the invitation to leave the church can be.  And I confess to being slightly more sympathetic than Mr. Dionne to the notion that we may be enabling bad behavior.

E.J Dionne’s response is marvelous; it creates a wonderful sense of solidarity with the sisters and with churchgoers, and offers compassionate reproof to those bishops who seem to be out for revenge.

There may be a larger point that “stay” or “don’t stay” misses.  The religious and the secular are merging.  They have been, slowly since the 50s and more quickly now.  We may see this trend as a danger to religious freedom, but we may also see this as God engaging the world through His people, apart from the principalities and powers.  The sisters, surely, are on the forefront of this engagement.

One could argue that Jesus didn’t abandon the Temple even when he encountered corrupt or insensitive religious leaders.  But it did not take his followers long to do so as they merged their sense of the “kingdom is at hand” with the beliefs and common practices of communities around the Mediterranean. 

We may have already entered a new phase in the development of this kingdom, where we once again must help others understand this unknown god they worship and help make sense of the presence of this God in their lives.  This real work requires far more creativity and openness than the current church leadership expresses and its doing may make moot the issue of membership in the current Catholic Church.

Quote by Peter Loan:

The religious and the secular are merging.  They have been, slowly since the 50s and more quickly now.  We may see this trend as a danger to religious freedom, but we may also see this as God engaging the world through His people, apart from the principalities and powers.  The sisters, surely, are on the forefront of this engagement.

End Quote

Or...we may also see it as the liberal disobedient religious become one OF the world instead of one IN the world to which, by their vocations and faith, they were called.

I wouldn't be too concerned about the "religious freedom danger" as a far greater one exists; "salvation danger."

Look, I'm far from sainthood, but the embracing of disobedient religious by any who call themselves Catholic is beyond astounding to me.

Garry Wills’ book, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000 ) is one of the references in a previous comment. Among many other religion-focused books, Wills a Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University, is the author of Why I Am a Catholic (2002) -- a powerful statement of his Catholic faith. His most recent book is Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism (April 2012).

Wills' April 24, New York Review of Books, piece was headlined "Bullying the Nuns," (http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/apr/24/bullying-nuns/).

The Vatican's crackdown on the nuns can be considered as another sad chapter in the long and sordid history of papal sins.

Patricia and those enamored with “obedience.”  Keep in mind that there are two types of obedience:  obedience in relation to power and obedience in relation to love.  When understood in the first way, obedience means submission or surrender, the sacrifice of one's own intellect and will.  According to the second understanding, obedience does not mean submission, but response.  Disobedience is sometime putting forward opinions different from those commanded by authority.  To do so might well be a duty, not a sin. 

“Insofar as thought could be governed at all, it could only be commanded to follow what reason affirmed anyhow; command it otherwise, and it would not obey. Like any wise ruler, Abbot Arkos did not issue orders vainly, when to disobey was possible and to enforce was not.”      A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1959)

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