Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dorothy Day is a "Hero of the Catholic Left", But She Was an Orthodox Catholic

In a New York Times article entitled "In Hero of the Catholic Left, a Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint," Sharon Otterman wrote an excellent article about Cardinal Timothy Dolan's effort to see Dorothy Day canonized. Indeed, the article's headline is correct; Dorothy is a hero of the Catholic Left. She was an uncompromising pacifist who was jailed for refusing to participate in air raid drills, she was jailed for joining a protest march for women's suffrage, and she was an unfailing advocate for the poor and disadvantaged.

Christ of the Breadline
Credit: Lamb Catholic Worker, Columbus, Ohio
But those of us who pray for Dorothy's canonization should never forget to emphasize that Dorothy was an orthodox Catholic.  As a woman who had an abortion prior to her conversion, she opposed abortion. "I feel the guilt of my early life, my own promiscuity," she wrote in her diary not long before she died (Ellsberg, 2008, p. 593). There is no record of Dorothy ever publicly challenging any part of Catholic doctrine. She was puzzled when the Unitarians gave her an award for being a great liberal Christian writer.  "I am dogmatic," she wrote in her diary, and she wondered if the Unitarians perhaps did not understand who she really was (Ellsberg, 2008, p. 530).

I think Sharon Otterman's article in the New York Times correctly portrays Dorothy as a person who bridges the tensions between the Catholic left and conservative Catholics. No twentieth-century Catholic did more for the poor or more to shape Catholic doctrine on social justice. Nevertheless, No American Catholic was more orthodox than Dorothy on doctrinal issues, including the Catholic position on sexual morality.

These qualities--advocacy for the poor and a firm commitment to Catholic doctrine on moral issues--make her an ideal candidate for sainthood. Catholics need her witness in today's postmodern world. We need her as an intercessor in our personal lives and the social issues of our times. 

Thanks, Sharon Otterman, for writing a balanced article about our beloved Dorothy.  In my opinion, some of the New York Times writers have not written objectively about the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith. But Ms. Otterman did a good job. 


Robert Ellsberg, ed. The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2008.

Sharon Otterman. In Hero of the Catholic Left, A Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint. New York Times,  (November 26, 2012).

Rosalie G Riegle, Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Borrowing money at interest to pay for a college education: What would Dorothy Day say?

Many people underestimate the magnitude of the student loan crisis because they forget that student-loan debtors are borrowing money at interest and that this interest gets added to the amount borrowed if the borrowers get behind on their payments.

Thus, when we read the published bankruptcy court opinions, we see debtor after debtor who is trying to discharge a debt that is two times or even three times the amount they originally borrowed. For example, in In re Bene (2012), Donna Bene borrowed about $17,000 in the 1980s to finance an education that she never completed due to the fact she had to leave school to care for her aging parents. She was unable to make her loan payments, and by the time she filed for bankruptcy, the amount of her debt, including fees and accrued interest, was $56,000--three times the amount she originally borrowed!

The York Times, the Obama administration, and other fuzzy-thinking liberals think that economic hardship deferments and income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) provide meaningful relief for overburdened student-loan borrowers, but they are apparently ignoring the fact that interest accrues while people participate in these programs. People who obtain economic hardship deferments for a period of even three or four years will find the amount they owe has grown substantially. 

There was a time--in pre-Reformation Europe--when loaning money at interest was considered sinful. And not so long ago, the states had enforceable usury laws that put limits on the amount of interest that could be charged on a debt. In the jurisdiction where I practiced law, a creditor could charge no more than 10.5 percent on most debts. Today, however, banks and credit card agencies are virtually unrestricted in the amount of interest they can charge.

Dorothy Day, the greatest American Catholic of the 20th century and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, subscribed to the ancient Catholic doctrine on usury, and she refused to accept interest on money owed to the Catholic Worker. In 1960, she famously returned interest on money owed the Catholic Worker by the City of New York. The City had bought a piece of property from the Catholic Worker for $68,700, but there was some delay in making payment. When the check arrived, it included an additional $3,579.39 in accrued interest.

Dorothy sent the interest money back to the City of New York with this explanation (Day, 1963, p. 191):
We are returning interest on the money we have recently received because we do not believe in "money-lending at interest." As Catholics we are acquainted with the early teaching of the Church. All the early Councils forbade it, declaring it reprehensible to make money by lending it out at interest . . . .
Today, unfortunately, American society runs on borrowed money. Presently, our government is keeping interest rates low for the expressed purpose of encouraging people to buy and borrow more. And where has all this borrowing gotten us? Americans now owe trillions of dollars in debt, including $1 trillion in student-loan debt alone. College tuition is now so high at both public and private colleges that students are forced to borrow in order to get an education.

There is no easy way back from the abyss, but we can start by easing the burdens being borne by overstressed student-loan borrowers and by putting firm caps on college tuition costs. Dorothy Day expressed an option for the poor,  and she devoted her life to serving the poor. Our federal government has adopted the opposite philosophy. Our nation's out-of-control student loan program is putting higher education out of reach of the poor and the middle class, and it has impoverished hundreds of thousands of former colleges students who do not earn enough money to pay back their student loans.


Dorothy Day. Loaves and Fishes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1963.

In re Bene, 474 B.R. 56 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 2012).

In re Halverson, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gratitude to My Family For Saving My Home During Hurricane Isaac

On August 29, Hurricane Isaac swept through East Baton Rouge Parish and did a lot of damage. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which attacked Louisiana like a vicious mugger in 2005, Isaac behaved more like a shop lifter--sneaking along the Gulf Coast and flooding towns where flooding had not been expected. Issac's rain inundated the small town of La Place, for example, a community that rarely floods; and high water closed Interstate 10, something that did not happen in past hurricanes. Even during Katrina, Interstate 10 remained open.

Friends and family members tarping my roof during Hurricane Isaac
Isaac also brought strong winds, strong enough, in fact, to blow part of the roof off my family's house in Baton Rouge. One moment my wife and I were safe and secure in our home, watching the winds blow the palmettos around our house. The next moment, a huge part of our roof was gone, and torrential water flowed into the second floor of our house. Within minutes, the upstairs ceiling and walls were saturated with water. Within a few minutes more, water was flowing downstairs through the walls and ceiling into the first floor of our house.

My wife and I put pots and pans beneath the leaks and mopped up standing water with towels. We quickly realized, however, that our efforts were almost useless. I called our insurance company, and the man who took my call promised to have a roofer at our house by the following day to place a temporary tarp over the hole in our roof.

But we couldn't wait for the insurance company's roofer to arrive. If we didn't get a tarp over the roof within the next couple of hours, a substantial part of our house would be ruined by water damage.

My wife called Charlie, my stepson, and Kevin, my son-in-law, and asked them to help. Both arrived within a few minutes; and Charlie brought Tony, his father-in-law, and Josh, Charlie's brother-in-law. Mitch, a contractor and friend of the family, arrived as well. Charlie drives a large diesel truck, which he uses in his business; and I will never forget the feeling of relief I felt when I heard the throbbing engine of that diesel truck when Charlie pulled into our driveway.

One of these guys brought a large blue plastic tarp. All five scrambled up a ladder and began nailing the tarp down. Meanwhile, Hurricane Isaac lashed them with its wind and rain. Within an hour of so, they had covered the hole in my roof and the water stopped flowing into the interior of our home.

The next day, the insurance company's roofer arrived as promised, and he put a second tarp over the hole in my roof. But it was my family, not the insurance company, that saved my home.

Reflecting on this incident, I thought of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and the Catholic Worker movement. Peter and Dorothy were pesonalists; they did not believe a Christian should leave it to the government to care for others.  Catholic Workers believe that Christians should assume personal responsibility for people in need and not leave the work to a governmental welfare bureaucracy, which  Dorothy Day described as "Mother State."

Louisiana is hurricane country. Hurricane Katrina devastated the state in 2005, but since then Louisiana has been hit by four more hurricanes: Rita, Ike, Gustav and Isaac. We rely on FEMA, the State of Louisiana, and our insurance companies to help us. But when the roofs fly off our homes and we need help right away, its our families and friends that we turn to for help.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Look in your own mirror, Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman published an essay in the New York Times yesterday entitled, "Look in your mirror." Friedman pointed out that although Muslims have been extremely offended by an online insult to their faith, many Muslims themselves denigrate other religions. Friedman went on to document  insults by Muslims against Christians, Shiites, Jews, and Sufis.

In its online edition, the  New York Times summarized  Friedman's article as follows: "If it is wrong to insult Islam, it should be wrong to insult any religion." 

I agree completely, but it ironic that Friedman would make this argument in the New York Times, which has denigrated the Catholic Church a lot recently--on its editorial page, in its op ed essays, and in an advertisement that it published a few months ago that was grossly insulting to Catholics.

Specifically, on March 9th, the Times published a full-page advertisement sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that contained an insulting cartoon about Catholics and urged Catholics to leave their Church. Then on  June 18th, Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, published an op ed essay that compared our Pope to a rottweiler.

The New York Times would never publish an advertisement that denigrates the Muslim faith and it would never publish an op ed essay that would urge Muslims to abandon their religion.  Can you imagine the New York Times  publishing an advertisement containing an insulting cartoon about the Muslim faith? Can you imagine Bill Keller writing an op ed essay that would compare a prominent Muslim cleric to a vicious attack dog?

No, the Times reserves its disdain for the Catholic religion and no other.  The New York Times and Bill Keller owe the Catholic Church an apology. I doubt we will get it. I am sorry Thomas Friedman did not acknowledge his own newspaper's shameful attitude toward Catholicism in his essay.


Freedom from Religion Foundation. (2012, March 9). It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church. New York Times, p. A10.

Friedman, Thomas L. (2012, September 18). Look in your mirror. New York Times.

Keller, B. (2012, June 18). The Rottweiler's Rottweiler. New York Times, p. A21.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"I am dogmatic," Dorothy Day wrote: Once again, the New York Times displays its ignorance about Catholicism

 Once again, the New York Times editorial writers have demonstrated their ignorance of Catholicism. On today's editorial page, the Times praised the Sisters of St. Joseph for their work with homeless and paroled women at Providence House in New York. The Times claimed that the Sisters' witness contradicts "the Vatican's sweeping accusations of 'serious doctrinal problems' and 'radical feminist' tendencies among the nation's Roman Catholic Nuns." Of course, the Times is talking about the ongoing controversy between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious over doctrinal issues.

Christ of the Breadline
Credit: Lamb Catholic Worker, Columbus, Ohio
Like so many fuzzy-minded liberal thinkers, the Times assumes that any Catholic who works with the poor must be a rebel against orthodox Catholic doctrine.  The Sisters of St. Joseph help the poor; therefore in the Times editorial writers' minds, they must be in conflict with the Vatican regarding Catholic doctrine. 

But, as the Times itself admitted, "The nuns of Providence house don't have time to be distracted by doctrinaire dust-ups as they serve paroled and homeless women." That's exactly right, and I see no evidence that the Sisters of St. Joseph are in serious disagreement with the Vatican over doctrinal matters.

The Times's confusion echoes the confusion of the Unitarians back in the 1973, when the Unitarian-Universalist Church gave Dorothy Day an award for "best liberal religious writing of the year." (Ellsberg, 2008, p. 529).

Dorothy thought the Unitarians had made a mistake. She should not be getting an award for liberal religious writing.  "I am dogmatic," Dorothy wrote in her diary. "I believe in the Divinity of Christ. Christ as God and Redeemer, Savior. True God and True Man. I believe in Heaven and Hell. Resurrection of the body. Life everlasting." (p. 530).

Although Dorothy decided to accept the Unitarian award, she was probably right to conclude that the Unitarians did not understand her writings.  Like the New York Times editorial writers, the Unitarians probably assumed that a woman who lives a life of voluntary poverty and practices the works of mercy must be a religious liberal.

If the Times writers want to understand American Catholicism, they should delve into the history of the American Catholic religious orders and the Catholic Worker movement that Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded. The Times would see that Catholics who work with the poor have generally been orthodox Catholics--not rebels against the Vatican.

But I suspect the Times editorial team doesn't want to understand Catholicism. It just wants to criticize it.


Ellsberg, Robert. The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2008.

Speaking the Truth to the Vatican. New York Times, September 18, 2012.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Humility, Courage, Holy Indifference, Holy Poverty": Dorothy Day's Understanding of Leadership

Americans are fascinated with leadership: military leadership, political leadership, college and university leadership, and leadership in business. And I think most of us would like to be leaders.  We see leadership as a sign of recognition and authority, and we know that most leaders get paid more than the followers.

I know I once aspired to be a university dean.  Achieving this recognition, I believed, would be a sign of my personal importance.  I would have the authority to do good things, I told myself.  I would make more money!

As I reach the twilight of my career, I am grateful that I did not become a dean. I don't think I would have been a good one, and I certainly recognize at this stage of my life that I don't have the political skills necessary to survive as a leader in the very politicized atmosphere of higher education.

Reading Dorothy Day's diaries, I came across an entry that gave me a glimpse of Dorothy Day's understanding of leadership, and it is quite different from the popular view. Here is what she wrote:
To be a follower of Jesus, one certainly would not seek after authority, or if it were thrust upon one by ability and recognition of that ability by others, as it was in St. Peter, St. Ambrose, Pius XII, and so on, and in Christian statements where there are such then it would seem necessary to cultivate humility, courage, holy indifference, holy poverty, in order to fulfill one's high office. To lead by example. Even St. Francis, humblest poorest of saints, was thrust into a position of authority. (p. 191)
In American society, we do not associate leadership with holy poverty. Quite the contrary.  We listen to the Wall Street financiers who assure us that the business sector can only attract top notch leaders by paying them obscene amounts of money.  And we can see where that philosophy has gotten us.

Of course, Dorothy Day was a leader.  With Peter Maurin she established the Catholic Worker movement.  And much was achieved.  Writing in 1950, when the Catholic Worker was still young, she noted that CW had served 2,555,000 meals to the poor and had provided 255,500 nights of lodging to the homeless. (p. 148)

If only we saw leadership as Dorothy did. We should be seeking leaders who shrink from the responsibility of authority, people who are humble and modest, and people who do not associate leadership with personal wealth. 

Dorothy Day is quite right.  St. Francis, the poorest of the saints, established the Franciscan movement that has thrived for eight centuries.  In fact, many of our saints tried to avoid positions of power and authority over others.  And looked what they achieved.

Centuries after we have forgotten all the business titans of the day, all the military generals, and all the politicians, Christians will remember the saints--those people who led by example, who were humble, who were poor, who saw the face of Christ in others.  And among those saints whom we honor and remember will be Dorothy Day.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Do Dissenting Catholics Do More for the Poor than Orthodox Catholics? Reflections On Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker

In recent months, the secular media has carried numerous stories about the tensions between the Vatican and certain women religious over Catholic doctrine--especially doctrine about sexuality. A lot of this commentary implies that the dissenting Sisters are the Catholics that truly care about social issues, while the Vatican and the bishops are portrayed as reactionaries, perhaps even sexists.
I do not mean to impugn the good work of any of the women's religious orders--whether their members adhere to Catholic doctrine or challenge it.  Nevertheless, over the long history of the Catholic Church, the Catholics who have done the most to help the poor have been orthodox.

Dorothy Day did more to help the poor than any other twentieth-century American Catholic.  I have not read all her writings, but from what I have read, Dorothy Day never challenged fundamental Catholic doctrine during her long life of service.

Dorothy Day was an unqualified pacifist, and she sometimes criticized American foreign policy in her famous newspaper, The Catholic Worker. Her views made the New York archdiocese hierarchy uncomfortable, and in March, 1951, the chancellor of the Archdiocese told her she must cease publishing The Catholic Worker or change its name.

Robert Ellsberg records Dorothy's response in his annotated publication of her diaries:
Dorothy replied: "First of all I wish to assure you of our love and respectful obedience to the Church, and our gratitude to this Archdiocese, which has so often and so generously defended us from many who attack us. . . " She noted that none of the staff wished to change the name of the CW, which had operated under that name for 18 years. . . . While she stood ready to receive criticism or disciplinary censure for any theological errors,she noted that ceasing publication "would be a grave scandal to our readers and would put into the hands of our enemies, the enemies of the Church, a formidable weapon." She resolved to be "less dogmatic, more persuasive, less irritating, more winning." The matter was not raised again.
(Ellsberg, 2008, p. 154, n. 124.)

When we reflect upon the saints--Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Katharine Drexel, Edith Stein, Maximillian Kolbe--people who gave their lives to serve others in the name of their Catholic faith, I don't think you will find one saint who openly challenged fundamental Church doctrine.

Let's not let the secular media get away with portraying our Church's rebels as the good guys. Over the centuries, the good guys were the saints; and the saints did not spend their time wrangling with the Church hierarchy. The saints spent their lives in the service of others.


Ellsberg, Robert. The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2008.

Goodstein, Laurie. Nuns Weigh Response to Scathing Vatican Rebuke. New York Times, July 28,2012.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Just now a knock came at the door": A lovely passage from Dorothy Day's diary

I am reading Dorothy Day's diaries, and I call attention to this lovely passage from her June 20, 1950 entry:
Just now a knock came at the door and a young man wanted to spend the night. I told him to go eat but that we could not put him up. Always this impulse to say no. Yet each such encounter is an opportunity to see Christ in the other. Our brother. So I left the conference and told him to stay. He will make the conference tonight, Benediction, Mass in the morning. Who knows but that God would miss these prayers that might have been said, this praise, this thanks, this glory, no matter how inarticulate our brother is. (p. 137)

Ellsberg, Robert (ed.). The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2008.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chick-Fil-A Is Not Welcome in Boston: What a Clucking Nightmare!

We do not want thy chicken sandwich
The Puritans still run Boston. They don't wear those funny black hats any more, but the Boston elites are just as priggish, self-righteous, and arrogant as they were when they stepped off Plymouth Rock in 1620.

Last week, Boston mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain, telling the company it is not welcome in Boston because its leaders espouse a traditional Christian view of marriage.

Catholics and Chick-fil-A basically hold the same views on marriage, so perhaps Catholics aren't welcome in Boston either.

Wait a minute. Catholics have never been welcome in Boston--at least not among the elites.  In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed an ordinance making it a capital offense for a priest to be inside the colony's boundaries.  That's right--if you were a Catholic priest in those days, the Puritans would kill you.

And elite Bostonians have been bigoted toward Catholics ever since.   A Boston mob burned the Charlestown convent in 1834, whipped up by sermons from Protestant preachers, including Lyman Beecher--an open anti-Catholic bigot.  Although the rioters were tried in criminal court, most were acquitted.

In 1859, a Boston school official whipped young Thomas Whall, a Catholic school boy, for refusing to read from the King James (Protestant) version of the Bible.  This incident triggered the Eliot School Rebellion--a walkout from the public schools by Catholic school children.

And let's not forget the Know-Nothing Party of Massachusetts, which took over Massachusetts government in the mid-1850s and passed several anti-Catholic laws. To this day, the Massachusetts Constitution contains a provision prohibiting any public funding for a religious organization--passed specifically to hinder the Catholic Church.

Mayor Menino's disdain for Chick-fil-A is only the latest in a long series of incidents in which elite Bostonians have showed their disdain for traditional religious values.

Chick-fil-A is fortunate to get a clear snub from Mayor Menino.  Having been warned, it seems unlikely that Chick-fil-A will open a restaurant in Boston.

And that is truly unfortunate, because Boston food is lousy; and Bostonians would have benefited from a restaurant that cooks good Southern food.

Ellis, John Tracy. Documents of American Catholic History. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1956.

Fossey, Richard & LeBlanc, Robert. "Vouchers for sectarian schools after Zelman: Will the First Circuit expose anti-Catholic bigotry in the Massachusetts Constitution?" Education Law Reporter 193, 343-352 (2005).

McGreevy, John T. Catholicism and American Freedom. New York: Norton, 2003.

Mulkern, John R. The Know-Nothing Party in Massachusetts: The Rise and Fall of a People's Movement.  Boston; Northeastern University Press, 1990.

Schultz, Nancy Lusignan. Fire and Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002.

Severson, Kim. "Chick-fil-A Thrust Back Into Spotlight on Gay Rights." New York Times, July 26, 2012.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Doing the Things That Come To Hand: Dorothy Day and the Aurora Movie Shootings

Dorothy Day
I finished reading Loaves and Fishes this week, Dorothy Day's account of the Catholic Worker movement. I had read the book several years ago. Reading it again, I was struck by the fact that Dorothy Day spent most of her adult life among irritating people--eccentrics, drunks, homeless people who didn't bathe, the mentally ill, thieves.  These are exactly the kind of people I try to avoid.

Mr. O'Connell, for example, who lived at the Catholic Worker's Easton farm for nine years, was a racist, a drunk, a person so irascible that no one could work with him.  Anna, a homeless woman who sheltered at a CW hospitality house, had lived on the street so long that she refused for months to sleep in a bed.  She was also a bit wacky. Dorothy wrote that Anna appeared one day wearing a pair of peach-colored women's underwear on her head. Even Peter Maurin, co-founder with Dorothy of the Catholic Worker movement, did not bathe regularly.  

And yet Dorothy Day saw the face of Christ in all these people--in all the poor. And were she alive today, I feel sure she would see the face of Christ in James Holmes, the young man accused of shooting 70 people iat a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

James Holmes may not be poor financially. Reportedly, he was able to buy $15,000 worth of guns, ammunition and body armor.  But surely he is poor spiritually--isolated, almost friendless, and probably mentally ill. 

As individuals, we cannot do much to stop tragedies like the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado or the other mass shootings that have occurred in recent years.   We don't have the power to stop the sale of assault rifles or the online purchase of assault-rifle ammunition.  We don't have the skill to identify and restrain mentally ill people before they pick up a weapon and start killing people.

James Holmes
But we can be kind to people. We can do more on a personal level to easing the suffering of people around us.  We can cultivate the virtue of patience when we are irritated by our co-workers. Who knows how James Holmes's life would have turned out if some individual had simply smiled at him during the days he was amassing weapons and ammunition--if someone had bestowed some act of kindness on him?

For, as Dorothy Day wrote in Loaves and Fishes, "We do the things that come to hand, we pray our prayers, and beg also for an increase of faith--and God will do the rest."

This was also the message of St. Therese of Lisieux, whom Dorothy Day much admired. "I have tried it: when I feel nothing, when I am incapable of praying or practicing virtue, then is the moment to look for small occasions, nothings that give Jesus more pleasure than the empire of the world, more even than martyrdom generously suffered."

Of course, I don't live this way. I don't follow the example of Dorothy Day or St. Therese of Lisieux. I am caught up in the day-to-day distractions of living, worried about whether I have enough money to retire, annoyed by people in the checkout line at the grocery store, frustrated by traffic on the Interstate. Had I encountered James Holmes, I feel sure I would have brushed him off, signaled him by my demeanor that I did not want to expend the small amount of energy it would have taken to extend him a little kindness.

I believe Dorothy Day understood how God wants us to live in this world--this postmodern, materialistic, hedonistic, power-hungry, recognition-seeking, violence-obsessed world.  And if we followed her example, we, like Dorothy, would make the world a better place for people to live. 


Day, Dorothy. Loaves and Fishes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1963.

Nelson, John. The Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Liguori, MO: Liguori, 1997.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" Reflections on Protestantism, Fidelity and the Catholic Faith in America

I grew up a Methodist in the small town of Anadarko, a farming community in southwestern Oklahoma. Anadarko's First Methodist Church still stands on the courthouse square, a magnificent neo-Grecian building with tall pillars, wide steps, and beautiful stained glass windows. The First Presbyterian Church, also a lovely structure, stood just across the courthouse square, and Anadarko's First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was located across an alley from First Methodist.

When I was a child, all these churches were full, solidly packed with middle-class white families. Today, the First Methodist Church is struggling. Attendance has shrunk to less than half of what it was when I was a child, and most parishioners are elderly. The First Presbyterian Church closed several years ago. The Disciples of Christ limp along.

In my overwhelmingly Protestant community, no one paid much attention to St. Patrick's Catholic Church when I was growing up. As a child, I did not know that St. Patrick's had been founded by French Benedictine Fathers in 1894 as a mission to the Comanche Indians and that St. Katharine Drexel donated the money to construct all the mission buildings. I recall seeing an occasional group of nuns in downtown Anadarko. I did not know they were the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia.

I worship at St. Patrick's when I visit my home town, and the church is always overflowing at Sunday Mass. Solid farmers, with faces deeply tanned below their hat lines, attend with their wives and children. They look like Baptists to me, and I am always a little shocked to see them genuflect and make the sign of the cross. Mexican immigrants and people of Vietnamese descent intermingle with Anglo worshipers and Comanche, Kiowa, and Caddo Indians. Without a doubt, the Mass at St. Patrick's is the most multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial collection of people in my home town.

I thought of my hometown's religious life a few days ago as I read Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times, in which he commented on the decline of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The Episcopal Church, Douthat wrote, is "flexible to the point of indifference about dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology in favor of secular political causes."

Nevertheless, Douthat continued, in spite of its limitless willingness to accommodate itself to modern culture, the Episcopal Church is not thriving. On the contrary, it is on the verge of collapse.

Other mainline Protestant denominations are also in trouble: the Methodists, the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, and Disciples of Christ. Venerable denominations that trace their roots to the Reformation are sinking into oblivion. As Douthat correctly observed, the liberal Protestant faith traditions are disappearing because they "often don't seem to be offering anything you can't already get from a purely secular liberalism."

Douthat urged Episcopalians and other liberal Protestant groups to "pause amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world."

I contend, however, that the mainline Protestant groups threw out the essence of Christianity long ago, although they retain the habit of Christian charity. As Eamon Duffy wrote in The Stripping of the Altars, his seminal history of the English Reformation, the Church of England cast away essential Catholic doctrines in the sixteenth century:  veneration of the saints, devotion to Mary, and the bedrock belief in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. As Ronald Knox observed, in time the Anglican Church came to represent mere kindliness, "especially toward animals." No wonder, the Anglicans and the American Episcopalians are withering away.

Meanwhile, in the United States at least (and also in Africa and Latin America), the Catholic Church is thriving. At the time of the American Revolution only two percent of Americans were Catholics, and they were mostly confined to the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland.Today, about a quarter of the American population are Catholics. We have been the largest religious group in the U.S. since the 1850s.

Why does the Catholic Church remain strong in the United States while the liberal Protestant communities are faltering?  We have remained strong through our fidelity--fidelity to the ancient Catholic faith. Through times of tolerance and times of bigotry, through good times and bad--our people have remained faithful; they have not wavered.

But American Catholics should not be smug about our enhanced strength and status. We face the same mortal threat that confronts liberal Protestantism in the U.S.--prosperity.

We were a stronger and more vital Church when Catholics were poor. Indeed, Dorothy Day, perhaps the greatest American Catholic convert, wrote that she was drawn to the Catholic Church because Catholics were poor. "It was the Irish of New England, the Italians, the Hungarians, the Lithuanians, the Poles, it was the great mass of the poor, the workers, who were Catholics in this country, and this fact in itself drew me to the Church."

Today we see a few small hints of the old anti-Catholic bigotry in the columns of the New York Times and the Obama administration's Health Care Mandate. Perhaps we should pray for this bigotry to intensify. Catholics would be better Christians if we were again despised and discriminated against like we were in the nineteenth century. God save us from too much prosperity (although a little would be nice). God save us from the esteem of the New York Times.  And--although most Episcopalians are very nice people--God save us from becoming Episcopalians.


Day, Dorothy (1952). The Long Loneliness. New York: Harper & Row.

Douthat, R. (2012, July 14). Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? New York Times.

Duffy, Eamon (1992). The Stripping of the Altars. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Monday, July 16, 2012

When You Get the Blues About Our Church's Sexual Abuse Scandal, Read Dorothy Day

Our Church's sexual abuse scandal goes on and on. Recently, Monsignor William Lynn a was convicted of covering up sexual abuse by priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. This is the latest installment in a long sad saga--story after story of priests raping young boys. George Weigel, writing in 2002, called this torrent of priestly abuse  "the Long Lent," and that was a decade ago.

Sometimes this terrible scandal gives me the blues and even makes me question my faith. After all, devotion to family is at the core of Catholicism.  We are the people who celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We are the people who worship the Holy Child. How could a priest brutalize a young boy?  How could a bishop cover up such an outrage and allow a child molester to remain in the priesthood?

A few days ago, I picked up my copy of Loaves and Fishes, Dorothy Day's account of the Catholic Worker movement.  I had read this book several years ago, but I began reading it again.
After reading a few pages, I was completely restored.  Dorothy's book reminded me of the essence of our faith, a faith strong enough to overcome even something as horrendous as our Church's sexual abuse scandal.

Dorothy's reflection on the priesthood was especially comforting to me, and I quote it here:
There are many times when  I grow impatient at the luxury of the Church, the building programs, the cost of the diocesan school system, and the conservatism of the hierarchy. But then I think of our priests. What would we do without them? They are so vital a part of our lives, standing by us as they do at birth, marriage, sickness and death--at the great and critical moments of our existence--but also daily bringing us the bread of life, our Lord himself, to nourish us. "To whom else shall we go?" we say with St. Peter. (p. 126)
So let us soldier on. Let us strive to be constant in our small duties and responsibilities. For as Dorothy wrote:
 "I believe because I want to believe, I hope because I want to hope, I love because I want to love."  These very desires would be regarded by God as He regarded those of Daniel, who was called a man of desires, and whom He rewarded. (p. 105).
Our saints and martyrs will comfort us in these times. Let us not forget them, and let us pray for Dorothy Day to be canonized.


Day, Dorothy. (1963). Loaves and Fishes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Hurdle, Jon, & Eckholm, Erik (2012, June 22). Cardinal's aide found guilty in abuse case. New York Times.

Weigel, George (2002). The Courage to be Catholic.  New York: Basic Books.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Is the New York Times Openly Hostile to the Roman Catholic Church?

On March 9, 2012, the New York Times published a full-page advertisement in which the Freedom From Religion Foundation exhorted Catholics to quit their Church and ridiculed Catholic doctrine on contraceptives.

On June 9, 2012, the New York Times published an essay by Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, in which she described the Vatican's efforts to reign in a group of dissident nuns as a "thuggish crusade."

On June 18, 2012, Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote an essay that appeared on the Times' op ed page, urging disaffected Catholics to leave the Catholic Church and putting in a good word for a schismatic sect that performs same-sex marriages.  Keller compared Pope Benedict XVI and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League to rottweilers.

Do you believe the New York Times would ever print an op ed essay or an advertisement urging people to leave the Muslim faith, the Hindu religion, Mormonism,or any other religious tradition other than Catholicism?  Can you even imagine a Times columnist arguing that people should leave the Muslim religion because of the way some Muslims treat women? Can you envision Times writers exhorting people to leave the Mormon tradition because of its traditional views on human sexuality?

No, of course you can't.  No, the Times writers reserve their undisguised disdain for one religious tradition only--the Roman Catholic Church.

Throughout American history, Catholics have endured recurring periods of persecution, which sometimes descended into violence. The attack on the Charlestown convent in 1834, the Philadelphia Bible riots of 1844, and the Klan revival of the early 1920s--all were dark episodes in American history in which anti-Catholic prejudice expressed itself in violence.

I do not compare the New York Times writers' recent criticism of the Catholic Church to these evils of the past. But I believe the Times writers' public disdain for the Roman Catholic Church may have a pernicious influence on Americans already predisposed to be prejudiced toward Catholics. If a respected publication like the Times can express itself so negatively about Catholicism or its leaders, some people may believe, then it must be acceptable for others to articulate their hostility toward Catholics.

In short, the Times writers' recent attacks on our Church should be worrisome to all Catholics. Using every means of reasonable persuasion, we must insist that the Times give Catholics the same respect that it shows for every other religious tradition on earth. Anti-Catholicism is an ugly phenomenon. And although it may start with catty essays in a respected newspaper, it could accelerate into something much more dangerous.


Dowd, Maureen (2012, June 5). Is pleasure a sin? New York Times. Available at

Freedom From Religion Foundation. (2012, March 9). It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church. New York Times, p. A10.

Keller, Bill. (2012, June 18). The Rottweiler's Rottweiler. New York Times, p. A21.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bill Keller of New York Times Compares Pope Benedict and Bill Donohue to Rottweilers

A few months ago, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) purchased a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, which attacked the Catholic Church and urged Catholics to leave it. FFRF could have saved its money. The New York Times--through several of its columnists--attacks the Catholic Church regularly. FFRF did not need to buy an advertisement.
Bill Keller
Photo Credit: NY Times

And this brings me to Bill Keller's essay in yesterday's New York Times. Titled "The Rottweiler's Rottweiler,"  Mr. Keller basically compared Pope Benedict XVI and Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, to attack dogs.

Like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Keller urged Catholics to leave their Church. "Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause," Keller wrote. "Summon your fortitude and just go."

"Go where?" Keller asked rhetorically.  Keller had a few kind words for a schismatic group in New York, which has a female pastor and conducts same-sex marriages.  Keller wrote that he would "leave it to the theologians to debate whether these defectors or the Vatican have the stronger claim to being the authentic heirs of St. Peter."

A few brief comments. First, it is unjust and mean spirited to compare Pope Benedict and Bill Donohue to rottweilers because they vigorously defend the Catholic faith. How would Mr. Keller like to be called a rottweiler because he defends his principles and convictions?

Second, Keller made reference to the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. All Catholics know that the priest pedophile scandal is one of the most shameful chapters in our Church's history.

But this disgraceful episode does not negate the truth of the Catholic faith. Nor does it nullify our heritage. The lives and martyrdoms of such saints as St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Thomas More, and the Ugandan Martyrs are in no way diminished by the Church's recent sexual abuse scandal.

Finally, Mr. Keller seems to think that many Catholics find the Church out of step with their consciences and that some nuns stay in the Church out of fear. He could not be more mistaken. Of course, there will always be a few discontented Catholics, people who share Mr. Keller's sour views about the Church.  But our churches are full and overflowing with all kinds of people--immigrants, converts, single adults, poor people, middle-class families, children and youth--who attend Mass regularly and are strengthened and invigorated by their Catholic faith.

If Mr. Keller believes that "The Rottweiler's Rottweiler" and similar commentaries will persuade Catholics to abandon their Church in large numbers, he is wrong. Catholics have endured hecklers, heresies, schismatic sects, and mortal enemies for 2000 years; and we outlasted all our foes.  We will certainly not be shaken by Mr. Keller's carping essay in the New York Times.


Freedom from Religion Foundation. (2012, March 9). It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church. New York Times, p. A10.

Keller, B. (2012, June 18). The Rottweiler's Rottweiler. New York Times, p. A21.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Maureen Dowd Attacks the Catholic Church Again, Accusing Vatican of a "Thuggish Crusade"

Maureen Dowd
Photo credit: NY Times
In the June 5th issue of the New York Times, Maureen Dowd attacked the Catholic Church once again, accusing the Vatican of conducting a "thuggish crusade to push U.S. nuns--and all Catholic women--back into moldy subservience."  Dowd disapproves of the Vatican's decision to censor a book by Sister Margaret Farley that deviates from Catholic doctrine on human sexuality.

Three observations:

First, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, anti-Catholicism is the last refuge of the postmodern elite. The New York Times and its columnists would not dare criticize the Muslim faith, Mormonism, Hinduism, or even the Methodists as shrilly as they snarl at Catholics week after week. But, in these times, it is perfectly safe to sneer at Catholics.

Second, it is disingenuous--to say the least--for Dowd to criticize the Vatican for doing what it ought to be doing--making sure Catholic theologians write and teach in harmony with Catholic doctrine. No one would accuse the New York Times of thuggishness if it censored a reporter for plagiarism. Everyone would understand that the Times was simply maintaining the integrity of its organization.  Why then is the Vatican accused of "thuggish behavior" when it censors--with remarkable restraint--the unorthodox writings of a Catholic theologian?

Third, Dowd's latest tirade is another reminder of the price our Church has paid for the pedophilia scandal, which Dowd repeatedly throws in our face as evidence of the Church's hypocrisy. Perhaps this season of anti-Catholic vitriol is a penance for our Church leaders' shameful cover-up of child abuse by pedophile priests. So I suppose Catholics should bear this cross of scorn with humility; we have much to atone for in the way we handled the sexual abuse scandals.


Dowd, M. (2012, June 5). Is pleasure a sin? New York Times. Available at

Thursday, June 7, 2012

For Greater Glory--A Must See Movie for Catholics

   For Greater Glory, a movie about the Cristero War that erupted in Mexico during the mid-1920s, is a must-see movie for Catholics.  The movie tells the story of the Catholic rebellion against the anti-Catholic persecutions unleashed by Plutarco Elias Calles (played by Ruben Blades), who was president of Mexico from 1924 to 1928. 
   Not everyone likes the movie. Wesley Morris, writing in the Boston Globe, called the movie "a total embarrassment."  
   I agree with Morris's suggestion that the film is too long.  (Morris described the movie as an "epic run-on sentence").  At 2 hours and twenty minutes, For Greater Glory would have benefited from some editing. Nevertheless, For Greater Glory is an accurate portrayal of a dark period in Mexican history that Catholics should know about. 
Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Río
   I think movie goers will appreciate the movie more if they know going in that many of the events portrayed on the screen really happened. José Luis Sánchez del Río, for example, played by José  Mauricio Kuri, was a teenage Cristero soldier who was captured by the Federales and executed on February 10, 1928. His cinematic death may seem overplayed and melodramatic, but the real-life  del Río, like the movie character, was tortured before his execution and made to watch another prisoner being hanged. His captors told him that he could save his life if he would only utter the words, "Death to Christ the King," but he refused. Del Rio's dying words--in real life and the movie--were "Viva Cristo Rey!" Pope Benedict XVI beatified del Rio in 2005.
   Likewise, the Mexican attorney Anacleto González Flores, portrayed in the movie by Eduardo Verastegui, was a leading figure in the Cristero revolt. Flores was executed by the Calles regime on April 27, 1927 and canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005.
Blessed Anacleto González Flores
   American Catholics may believe that anti-Catholic persecutions like those that occurred during the Cristero War could never happen in the United States. And I hope they are right. Nevertheless, the federal government recently imposed an odious health-insurance mandate on Catholic institutions, and the New York Times published a full-page advertisement urging people to leave the Catholic church. Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, has attacked our Church repeatedly in recent months. In her most recent column, Dowed accused the Vatican of "thuggish" behavior.
   The day may come when it will take courage to be an American Catholic. Let us pray for the courage of Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Río and Blessed Anacleto González Flores should the day come when we are called to suffer for our faith. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dear Mr. Kristof of the New York Times: You Are Not a Nun

Dear Mr. Kristof, contrary to the title of your recent New York Times essay, “We Are All Nuns,” you are not a nun.  

Of course, I know the title of your essay was only a rhetorical flourish. I think the point you were making is that all liberal-minded people are in solidarity with the nuns’ organization that is being investigated by the Vatican. 

I write briefly to comment on a few of the statements in your essay: 

Nicholas D. Kristof:
Not a Nun
First, you disapprove of the Vatican’s decision to review an umbrella organization of American nuns. “In effect,” you wrote, “the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.”

As a Catholic, I deeply resent the implication that the Vatican accused women religious of worrying too much about the poor.  That is not true, and you know it.

Second, you imply that the nuns’ umbrella organization is in trouble for varying from Church doctrine on gay marriage and abortion. I do not know the details of the Vatican’s concern about the nuns’ organization, but I would be astonished if a single American nun favors abortion; and I think it is mischievous of you to suggest that American women religious as a whole disagree with Church doctrine on abortion and same sex marriage.

Third, you seem to believe that concern for the poor and support for gay marriage and abortion are inextricably linked. But that is not true.

Throughout the history of our Church, thousands of women religious and secular Catholic women have sacrificed their lives to serve their fellow human beings. Many of them were martyred, and some of them have been canonized. All these women lived holy lives in obedience to Church doctrine on human life and marriage.   

It is absurd and insulting to suggest--as you did in your New York Times essay--that the only people capable of Christian charity are people who endorse postmodern notions of sexuality and the value of human life.


Kristof, N. D. (2012, April 28). We are all nuns. New York Times.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Maureen Dowd Attacked the Catholic Church Again in Today's New York Times

Maureen Dowd attacked the Catholic Church again in today's New York Times.  First, she points out that most Catholics believe birth control is morally acceptable, implying that only the bad old bishops are concerned about the Obama administration's health insurance mandate.

Saint Kateri Tekawitha
Next, she implies that our bishops have no business opposing the health insurance mandate because they've done a terrible job dealing with the sexual abuse scandal. The church is obsessed with sex in ways that it shouldn't be, she says, and not obsessed with sex in ways that it should be.

I would like to make three brief points. First, even though a majority of Catholics may not agree with Church teaching about birth control, that does not mean they are indifferent to the Obama administration's health insurance mandate, which is an assault on religious freedom and a gratuitous insult to the Catholic Church.

Dowd and the Obama administration seem to think no one is upset about the health insurance mandate but a few cranky bishops, and they may be right. But I don't think so.  We will see how Catholics vote in the November election. Personally, I am offended by this affront to my Catholic faith.

Second, it is absolutely true that the Church stumbled badly in dealing with the sex abuse scandal. But that does not mean that Church doctrine on sexuality and human life is bogus.

Servant of God
Rose Hawthorne
Finally, the Obama administration's health insurance mandate is an unprecedented attack on Catholic social institutions by our national government.  Even during the Know Nothing period of the 1850s and the anti-Catholic revival of the Klan in the 1920s, the national government did not harass the Catholic Church in the performance of its human services. Catholic hospitals, Catholic orphanages, Catholic schools, Catholic colleges, and Catholic soup kitchens remained unmolested by the federal government even during the worst of the anti-Catholic frenzies.

It is true that Catholic churches were burned during the Philadelphia Bible riots, and the Charlestown convent was sacked by nativists in 1834. Nevertheless, what the Obama administration has done--forcing Catholic institutions to consider closing rather than knuckle under to the health insurance mandate--is truly reprehensible and without precedent in terms of federal policy.

Saint Katharine Drexel
Dowd portrays our Church's spiritual leaders as misogynists, writing that the bishops and the Vatican "care passionately about putting women in chastity belts." Let us close our ears to this nonsense and reflect on the American Catholic saints who sacrificed their lives to the Catholic faith and who performed many good works while remaining loyal to Church doctrine. Let us reflect on Saint Katharine Drexel, Saint Elizabeth Seton, Saint Francesca Cabrini, Saint Kateri Tekawitha, Servant of God Rose Hawthorne (Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter), and Servant of God Dorothy Day.


Dowd, M. (2012, May 23). Father doesn't know best. New York Times, p. A21.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Comment on the Recent New York Times Story About Tuition Tax Credit Programs That Benefit Private Schools

I am commenting today on an article that appeared in today's New York Times on tuition tax credit programs that benefit private schools. Entitled "Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools", the article reported on tuition tax-credit programs that operate now in eight states.

I wish to make four points:

1) Poor families deserve the same opportunity to put their children in religious schools as wealthy families.  Although the laws vary from state to state, the general idea of tuition-tax-credit programs is to allow taxpayers to receive a tax credit for donations to a scholarship program that will allow low-income families to attend private schools--including religious schools.

Of course, wealthy families can afford to put their children in religious schools, but poor families cannot. I believe that a poor Catholic family should have the same opportunity to attend a Catholic school as wealth Catholic family. Therefore, I support tuition tax-credit programs.

The article reported that some of the benefiting schools (probably Protestant) teach the doctrine of creationism and fundamentalism, but so what? In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that families have a constitutional right to put their children in private schools--including religious schools. It is no one's business whether a particular religious school promotes creationism.

2) Contrary to the message imparted in the title of today's New York Times article, tuition tax credit programs do not channel public money to private schools. The article quoted one commentator about the programs, who correctly said: "The difficulty of getting at this thing from a constitutional point of view is that there are private dollars coming from a private individual and going to a private foundation." As the Supreme Court has made clear in several rulings, programs that benefit private schools in such a way do not violate the Establishment Clause.

3) Public education organizations have vigorously opposed almost any government program that benefits K-12 private schools, but they have said nothing about the federal student aid program that has benefited for-profit colleges enormously, even though the for-profit colleges have high student-loan default rates and some of them have been accused of fraud.

Personally, I would like to see the National School Board Association, National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers leave the K-12 religious schools alone and focus some of their ire on the for-profit colleges--which have a dubious record of serving students well.

4) Finally, If anyone would like to read an even-handed discussion of the tax-credit tuition voucher programs, I recommend Kevin Welner's book entitled Neovouchers. (Mr. Welner is quoted in the New York Times article.) I do not know whether Mr. Welner is an advocate for tuition tax-credit programs, but he describes them fairly and accurately.


Saul, S. (2012, May 22). Public money finds back door to private schools. New York Times, p. 1.

Welner, K. (2008). Neovouchers; The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling.    Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Retort to Maureen Dowd’s Most Recent Attack on Catholicism, Which Appeared in the May 20, 2012 issue of the New York Times

In an article entitled,“Here comes Nobody,” which appeared in the May 20, 2012 issue of the New York Times, Maureen Dowd unleashed her latest attack on Catholicism. In doing so, she drew on the standard themes of anti-Catholic rhetoric; she attacked the Church for its hypocrisy, its intolerance, and its weakness.
Maureen Dowd:
Dowd began by reminding readers of the recent sexual scandals of the Church. And she is absolutely right to criticize the Catholic Church for the sexual sins of our priests--sins that were often covered up by the bishops. The pedophile priest scandal is a shameful episode in the history of our Church--an eternal blot on our Catholic heritage and a reminder that all people and all institutions are capable of appalling behavior.
But the Church’s own sins do not negate Church doctrine on life and human sexuality, which Catholics believe to be eternal and unchanging truth. That the Catholic Church and its members are fallible is irrefutable; but Catholic doctrine--we Catholics believe--is not.
Dowd also attacks the Catholic Church for its intolerance to dissent and debate. She quotes approvingly from a speech by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and a Catholic, who is promoting federal policy that is abhorrent to our Church. Contentious debate is a strength in our country, Sebelius said, contrary to other nations where “a leader delivers an edict and it goes into effect. There’s no debate, no criticism, no second-guessing.”
Sebelius and Dowd are correct if they conclude that the Catholic Church is not a debating society. Unlike many of the Protestant denominations, our Church does not bend to the fads and fashions of the day. We rely on our Pope, our Catechism, Scripture and Church tradition to guide us in our lives. So if the charge against us is that we are not wishy-washy enough for the postmodern age, we plead guilty.
Finally, Dowd suggests that the Catholic Church’s intolerant views are a sign of the Church’s weakness. “Absolute intolerance is always a sign of uncertainty and panic,” she writes. “Why do you have to hunt down everyone unless you’re weak?”
Dowd completely misunderstands the Catholic Church in the United States if she thinks that the Church is weak. Roman Catholicism is the largest religious group in America and has been since the mid-nineteenth century. Many of our churches are bursting at the seams. It is not uncommon for parishes to schedule six, seven, and even eight weekend Masses.
My own parish, St. Ann’s Church in Coppell, Texas, is one of the largest Catholic parishes in the United States. Often people cannot find a seat at the weekend Masses, and the walls are lined with parishioners who stand throughout the entire Mass.
Dorothy Day
When I look at my fellow parishioners, I see many young families with children, I see immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, I see adult converts to the faith. Let me assure you, Ms. Dowd, our beliefs are not based on fear or coercion but on the firm conviction that our Church is our mother; our Church is the spouse of Christ.
And if we were to leave the Catholic Church, where would we go? Should we guide our lives by the editorial page of the New York Time? No. Catholics understand that there are basically only two ways to understand the world we live in--understanding that comes from our faith or postmodernism, which is the philosophy of selfishness, greed, condescension, and the hunger for power and recognition.
Like Dorothy Day, perhaps the greatest American Catholic of the postmodern age, Catholics strive for life--for the abundant life. To turn from that path toward the views espoused by Ms. Dowd and the New York Times, will ultimately lead us only to cynicism and despair.

Friday, May 4, 2012

If You Visit San Antonio, Don't Miss the Spanish Missions

Most tourists who visit San Antonio spend their time on the Riverwalk, drinking watered-down margaritas, and eating mediocre Mexican food.  Many will visit the Alamo, which has a gift shop larger than the shrine itself.  You can buy a faux coonskin cap for your grandchild there, which I highly recommend.

Few San Antonio visitors visit the Spanish missions, which line the San Antonio River near the city. There are five missions: San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan, Espada, and the Alamo. With the exception of the Alamo, all are active Catholic churches, even though the National Park maintains them as the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

These missions are lovely examples of Spanish baroque architecture, perhaps the finest examples in the United States. Unlike the Spanish missions Junipero Sera found in California in the late 18th century, which were mostly adobe, all the San Antonio missions are built of stone.
Americans have largely ignored the Spanish contributions to American history, culture, art, religion, and  architecture.  And we have impoverished ourselves by our ignorance. As the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson observed, Baroque culture in the New World exhibited "a rich flowering of regional types of art and architecture."  Moreover, as Dawson pointed out, Baroque culture in New Spain showed the influence of Native American culture, seen most clearly in religious art.
Today, there has been a revival of Spanish-era religious art in Northern New Mexico, where artists have produced lovely retablos, bultos and altar screens that draw their inspiration from the religious art of the Spanish colonial era.  Here we see artists reproduce the images of saints who were dear to the inhabitants of Catholic New Mexico from the 17th century through the 20t century. St. Isador, Santo Nino, Santiago, and San Pasqual were important saints in the northern Rio Grande Valley for more than four hundred years, and devout Catholic sought their aid in dealing with illness, drought, and the terrifying raids of the Apaches and Comanches.
As Dawson noted, the Spanish baroque art and culture of the New World stands in stark contrast to the artistic expressions of Anglo America, where indigenous influences are entirely absent. Nothing illustrates the sharp difference between the Catholic imagination and Anglo Protestantism than a comparison of the severe and sharp-steepled New England Congregational churches with the warm and elaborately decorated Spanish-era churches of Texas, New Mexico and California.
So the next time you visit San Antonio, rent a car and drive down St. Mary Street until you get to the Spanish missions of 18th century San Antonio.  Concepcion and San Jose are the loveliest. Be sure not to miss those two sites. 
And as you stroll the grounds of these historic missions, reflect for a moment on the Catholic imagination that inspired the architecture of the Spanish missions. The people who built these missions were mystics--they believed in bilocation, in the intercession of the saints, in the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.
And think what we lost as a people when Americans embraced the crabbed and impoverished worldview of the Puritans and the welter of Protestant denominations that sprang pathologically from the Protestant American mind.  Although our history books won't admit it, the Reformation was not motivated by a desire to stamp out corruption and superstition in the 16th century Catholic Church; it was fueled by hubris, materialistic greed, and political calculation--which has come to full fruition in the postmodern worldview of America's governing elites. 


Christopher Dawson. The Dividing of Christendom. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1965. (Originally published by Sheed & Ward). 

Anti-Catholic Bigotry Is Not Dead: It Was Only Sleeping

On March 9, 2012, the New York Times printed a full page advertisement in its Friday edition that was a full-force, frontal assault on Catholicism. Styling itself an “Open Letter to ‘Liberal’ and ‘Nominal’ Catholics,” the advertisement urged Catholics to quit their Church. “You’re better than your church,” the advertisement wheedled, “so why stay?” Sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ad attacked the Church’s stance on sexual issues--contraception, abortion, and gay marriage.
A scene from the Philadelphia Bible Riots
Source: The Granger Collection,
The Smithsonian
Catholics should be grateful for this insult, because it alerts us to this simple truth--anti-Catholic prejudice is not dead in the United States; it was only sleeping. Catholics may have lulled themselves into believing that anti-Catholicism died in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. If a Catholic can be elected President, we persuaded ourselves, then Catholics have been invited into full participation in the Nation’s public life.
In fact, however, it was probably a movie, not the election of John Kennedy, that signaled greater public tolerance for American Catholics. Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby as the amiable Father O’Malley, depicted Catholics as charmingly eccentric genuflectors who were basically harmless. Released in 1944, Going My Way was wildly popular, and Bing Crosby got an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Unfortunately, we now see that the decline in open anti-Catholic prejudice that we saw in the late twentieth century depended upon an implicit bargain. “We will tolerate you Catholics,” our post-modern secularist culture promised, “so long as you don’t take your religion seriously.”
For awhile at least, this is a bargain that Catholics appeared to accept. We began eating meat on Fridays, we slackened our zeal for Catholic schools, and many of us ignored Church teachings on sexuality and marriage. 
But not all Catholics agreed to the bargain. Joining with evangelical Protestants, some Catholics fought abortion and same-sex marriage, and many protested recently when the Obama administration sought to force Catholic hospitals and social-service agencies to fund contraception through their health care policies.  And in response, anti-Catholic prejudice stalks the land again--proclaiming its message in the New York Times.
Anti-Catholicism is as old as the nation itself; it crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Indeed, in 1647, the Puritans banned Jesuits and all Catholic priests from entering Massachusetts Bay Colony and proscribed the death penalty for any priest who disobeyed the law.  Most American colonies adopted their own versions of the English penal laws, and Catholics did not gain their full civil rights in the United States until well into the nineteenth century.
From the seventeenth century through the early twentieth century, anti-Catholic bigotry has flared up again and again--often expressing itself in violence. The burning of the Charlestown Convent in 1834, the Philadelphia Bible riots of 1844, and the kidnapping of Catholic priests by Klansmen during the KKK revival of the early 1920s show anti-Catholicism in its ugliest and most violent form. But more genteel acts of anti-Catholic bigotry also form part of our nation’s history.  A 1921 Oregon law--promoted by the Ku Klux Klan--attempted to wipe out Catholic parochial schools in the state of Oregon.
Catholics might tell themselves these bad old days are gone forever, but the recent New York Times advertisement is a reminder that anti-Catholic prejudice is deeply rooted in our secular, post-Protestant culture--especially among the nation’s intellectual elites and in our universities.