Thursday, May 17, 2012

I will leave the Church over my dead body

Pasting the text of EJ Dionne's recent opinion column in The Washington Post.  I don't believe I could have said it better myself.


I’m not quitting the church

By Published: May 13

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) 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. It 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 lay people 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 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 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 gay men 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.


Elaine said...

What do you think is the probability that we'll ever have a Pope like John XXIII again? I'm thinking it's not that high, but you know more than me. My priest in Rochester, NY used to correctly note that the church ought to be the headlights of social change, but instead, it's consistently the tail lights. Liberal Catholics always point out the social justice wing of the church, and how much the nuns rock on these issues, and we scream when the nuns get reprimanded, but my view is that things are getting tighter, not looser. Would love to hear your thoughts since you brought it up.

Thrift Store Mama said...

Hmmm, no, I don't think well see another pope like John 23 in our lifetime. Or if we do have a pope like him, we won't recognize it because the world will be different. The 60s were such a unique time in so many ways in American and world history it will be difficult to compare. I do hope that the pope and American bishops will listen to the voices of the people and respond accordingly in my lifetime.

I dont necessarily think the Church is getting tighter since I don't think it ever loosened in the first place. I think some dioceses are getting tighter, but the average American Catholic is not.

Elaine said...

But if you're basing your argument on why the church supports women on the writing of John XXIII, don't you have to at least have some faith that we'll be led by someone like that again? Otherwise, you're in the position of making an argument why John XXIII's teachings are right, and the more recent conservative wave is wrong.

And if John XXIII's teachings weren't a loosening, what were they? How can Vatican II be seen as anything but a loosening? Wasn't John XXIII's goal to "open the windows and let in fresh air"? Ratzinger / Benedict XVI seemed so clearly an appointment aimed at getting Catholics more in line - or combatting the secularisation of the church. Am I remembering wrong - reading too much into the appointment?

Anonymous said...

I recently learned that Vatican II was supposed to come out in support of birth control, such as the pill and condoms, for Catholics. Can you imagine how things might be different now. I, for one, might not have the reminder not to go back to the church hanging on my refrigerator.

Blogging tips