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.

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