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.
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.
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.