Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Naked to our Enemies: Is the Celibate Priesthood the Source of Our Catholic Troubles?

We Catholics invoke St. Michael to protect us against the snares of the Devil.  "Defend us in battle," we pray, and cast the Devil into hell, along with "all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls."

St. Michael, defend us
in battle 
Evidently, we did not pray hard enough, because the Devil worked his way into the Catholic priesthood and the Church hierarchy. Catholics are shocked almost daily by new revelations of sexual abuse--including the sexual molestation of children--and by charges that our bishops covered up the scandal and allowed predator priests to roam about the parishes and rape hundreds of children.

This calamity has left Catholics  naked to our enemies, to paraphrase a line from Shakespeare; and those who hate us have feasted on our shame--particularly the Church's media critics.

Of course not every news commentator who rebukes the Catholic Church is hostile to it.  Some of our critics are sincerely outraged by the sexual abuse scandal and by the Church officials who covered it up.  And they are right to be outraged.  Media critics who suggest ways we might avoid further scandal and treat the wounded are totally appropriate.

Nevertheless,  I am astonished by the hostility that the elite media has expressed toward the Catholic Church in recent months.  In particular, several New York Times essayists have sharply attacked Catholicism on the Times's op ed page: Maureen Dowd, Bill Keller, Nicholas Kristof, and Frank  Bruni, in particular.  Bruni has pounced on the American Catholic Church  three times in Times essays in a period of less than a month.

Frank Bruni
Photo Credit: NY Times
Thanks, Frank, for the advice.
In his latest condemnation, entitled "The Wages of Celibacy," Bruni insinuates that the Church's sexual scandals can be traced to the Church's doctrine on a celibate priesthood. According to Bruni, this "foolish" and "reckless" doctrine has warped the culture of the priesthood.

Specifically, Bruni argues that "[t]he promise of celibacy most likely factored into the [C]hurch's sexual abuse crisis." He cites unnamed mental health professionals who told him "that men trying to vanquish a sexual attraction to kids might well drift toward the priesthood in the hope that extra prayer and an intention of chastity would make everything right."

In addition, Bruni contends,  a celibate priesthood runs the risk of stunting a priest's sexuality "and turning sexual impulses into furtive, tortured gestures."   It should not be surprising, Bruni argues, that some priests attempt to make sexual connections "in surreptitious, imprudent and occasionally destructive ways."  By way of example, Bruni makes reference to Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who was recently accused of making inappropriate sexual advances toward adult males.  In Bruni's view, Cardinal O'Brien might be a man who was was unable to conform to a "needless commitment to aloneness." 

Bruni concludes that we should reserve our harshest judgement not for the priests who failed to keep their priestly vows,  but for the institution that  required Cardinal O'Brien and other priests to live by rules that run "counter to human nature." In other words, the catastrophe of sexual misconduct that swept through the Church is the Church's own damn fault for insisting on a celibate priesthood.

I am not an expert on Catholic theology, and I cannot articulate the theological justification for a celibate priesthood.  I cannot even say with certainty that it is a good idea.  Nevertheless, I vehemently reject the insinuation that priestly celibacy has anything to do with the child sexual abuse scandal that wracks our Church. One might just as well argue that men with sexual predilections toward children marry in order to hide their perverse tendencies and thus marriage contributes to child abuse among married people.  That argument makes as much sense as arguing that celibacy is a contributing factor to the child-abuse tragedy.

Regardless of Mr. Bruni's motives for attacking Catholic doctrine in the Times, Catholics should be concerned about the torrent of abuse that is being heaped upon our Church.  In my view, this abuse is unjustified and it gives encouragement to people who are anti-Catholic bigots.


Frank Bruni, The Wages of Celibacy, New York Times, February 25, 2013.

Rachel Donadio & John F. Burns, Top British Cardinal Resigns. New York Times, February 25, 2013.

Monday, February 25, 2013

An African Pope? Reflections on the Ugandan Martyrs and 80 proof African Catholicism

Last Sunday's New York Times contained an article on the Roman Catholic Church in Africa.  "Rapid Growth Leads to Talk of an African Cardinal as the new Pope," the headline read, and the article speculated that an African cardinal might become the next Pope.

An African Pope would no doubt suit the New York Times.  The Times is all about the Postmodern narrative, with its obsession on race, gender, and sexual orientation.   In the minds of the Times writers, a black African Pope might seem to be a rebuke to traditional Catholicism--long dominated by white European men.  In fact, Times op ed writers have relentlessly criticized the Catholic Church's doctrines on family, birth control, and a celibate and all-male priesthood, doctrines which they no doubt associate with the Church's elderly, white male leadership.  Perhaps an African Pope would shake things up.

But  if postmodernists believe an African Pope would advance the postmodern agenda, they should think again.  Speaking as one who has spent some time among the Catholics of East Africa, I can say with absolute confidence that the Africans are very serious Catholics.

Photo credit:
Nothing illustrates this truth more than the Ugandan martyrs, young Catholics who were murdered during the years 1885-1887 by King  Mwanga of the kingdom of Buganda (now part of Uganda). Almost all these martyrs were young African men who were recent converts to Catholicism.  When King Mwanga ordered them to renounce their faith, these young men refused. More than 20 died horrible deaths. Some were beheaded, at least one was castrated, and several were burned alive.

Today, the Ugandan Martyrs are honored all over Africa--not just in Uganda, but in Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and every African country with a significant Catholic community.   To this day, the faith of the Uganda Martyrs is the faith of African Catholicism, which is a simple, courageous, and confident faith.

Of course, it is the poverty of African Catholics that makes their faith so impressive.  These poor people are the people whom Christ sought out in the present day, and these are the people who responded to His call. I have seen the little mud huts that are the Catholic churches of the Tanzanian highlands, with stations of the cross that are nothing more than paper illustrations. Tanzanian Catholics will walk many miles to receive the Eucharist, which sustains them in ways affluent American Catholics may not be able to understand. 

Rev. Thomas Reese:
What if African Catholics
  get television sets?
Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Catholic priest quoted in the Times, seemed to downplay the power of the great turn toward Catholicism in Africa--where people are converting at the rate of 1 million people a year.

"When people say Africa is the future, I say, 'Oh, isn't it the past?" said Rev. Reese, who is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "I see it as a repeat of the past, what happened in Europe centuries ago. What's going to happen in Africa when everybody gets a television set, when modernity comes?"

Well, Rev. Reese, that's something for you and the other eggheads at the Woodstock Theological Center to worry about--the day when every African Catholic has a television set and becomes less religious.

In any event, as Christ Himself reminded us, the poor will always be with us.As long as there are poor people in the world, there will be people with the openness of heart to respond to the Catholic faith.

Of course, it was probably no accident that  Rev. Reese was the priest sought out by the New York  Times for comment in its article about African Catholicism.  Rev. Reese ran into conflict with  the Vatican several years ago while editor of America, a Catholic magazine, because the magazine's editorial policy sometimes ran afoul of Catholic doctrine.   Exactly the kind of guy the Times wants to hear from.

For my part, I would welcome a Pope from Africa, particularly a Pope who comes from an African country that is experiencing persecution.  Catholics in those countries take their faith straight and undiluted. 

Catholics would probably see some changes if they got an African Pope, although perhaps not the changes the New York Times might envision.  For one thing,  A Pope from Africa might censor a Catholic who repeatedly undermines Catholic doctrine in a public forum.  And that, in my opinion, would not be a bad thing.


Adam Nossiter. "Catholic Church Fills a Void in Africa: Rapid Growth Leads to Talk of an African Cardinal as the New Pope.  New York Times, February 24, 2013, p. 6.

Dorothy Day, Abortion, and The Eleventh Virgin: Reflections of an Abortion Survivor

If you read The Coming Fury, Bruce Catton’s book on the prelude to the Civil War, you cannot escape the conclusion that the North and South were completely different cultures in the years leading up to the Southern rebellion. At the extremes, the two regions hated each other on a visceral level; and many of the important players did not want to compromise—they wanted war.

Dorothy Day
 Today, our country is split over abortion, and the conflict is almost as strident as the nineteenth-century clash over slavery.  Extreme anti-abortion activists call abortion murder. They refer to the millions of aborted fetuses as a “holocaust.” People in favor of abortion talk about “reproductive freedom" and call themselves “pro-choice."

I myself am an abortion survivor. As an adult in mid-life, I learned from my mother that my father intended for his first child (me) to be aborted in my mother’s womb. My father found an Oklahoma abortion doctor and brought my mother to the doctor’s office without telling her his intentions. When he told my mother that she was scheduled for an immediate abortion, she refused. Thus I was born.

Even before learning of this event and even before my conversion to Catholicism, I was opposed to abortion. My position was instinctual, not intellectual; and I wonder now whether I knew while still in my mother’s womb that I was only minutes away from annihilation when my father brought my mother to that Oklahoma abortionist’s office long ago.

Still, I am not rabid on this issue. I understand there are reasonable arguments in favor of abortion in some circumstances--for victims of incest or rape. I realize I cannot walk in the shoes of an impoverished, single mother-to-be.  Therefore, I won't add to the millions of angry words that have been written about abortion.

I do think, however, that Dorothy Day, named a Servant of God by the Catholic Church and a candidate for sainthood, can help us understand abortion from the perspective of faith; and I hope my views are in perfect harmony with hers.

As everyone knows, Dorothy Day had an abortion as a young woman prior to her conversation to Catholicism. She became pregnant through her relationship with Lionel Moise, a Chicago newspaperman whom Dorothy lived with for a time.

After her conversion, Dorothy seldom mentioned her abortion, which she deeply regretted. But I’m sure she thought about it often. In 1978, not long before she died, she wrote in her diary, “I feel the guilt of my early life and my own promiscuity.”

But what were Dorothy’s views when she was young? We can learn a great deal about Dorothy’s feelings about her own abortion from her autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin, which was published in 1924. After her conversion, Dorothy came to regret the book and and tried to suppress it. It has been reprinted, however, and can be ordered on

The Eleventh Virgin is the story of June Henreddy, a young journalist and political activist. The book begins with June’s childhood and concludes with a powerful description of June’s relationship with her lover, Dick: an abusive, selfish, and deeply jealous man.

June is obsessed with Dick, and against the advice of her mother and friends, she begins living with him. Dick is pathologically possessive and refuses to allow June to work outside the home. "You're my woman," he tells her, "and you have to wait on me hand and foot" (p. 282).

Before long, June becomes pregnant. She knows Dick will leave her if she has the baby and she has too much pride to give birth in a home for unwed mothers.  She decides to have an abortion.

Dick promises to pick June up at the abortion doctor’s house after the operation is concluded. But on the day the deed is done, he doesn’t show up . In fact, he abandons her. As the relationship comes to an end, Dick's only act of kindness is to cash a check on closed account and give June the money.  Dick tells June that the funds should last her about two weeks.

The Eleventh Virgin ends with a brief monologue. "I thought that I was a free and emancipated young woman," June reflects, "and I found out that I wasn't at all, really."  She concludes that this new so-called freedom "is just a modernity gown, a new trapping that we women affect to capture the man we want."

What are we to make of The Eleventh Virgin, those of us who oppose abortion and those of us who believe that abortion is a precious civil right?

Abortion opponents should reflect on this: Although Dorothy Day deeply regretted her own abortion, she never spoke a harsh word on the topic.  After she converted to Catholicism, Dorothy lived her life in solidarity with the poor and the desperate; and I am sure she had the deepest sympathy for women who faced the difficult choice of whether or not to have a baby.

As for abortion advocates, they should ponder the central theme of Dorothy's novel. Human freedom is not found in politics, in license, in doing only what is personally expedient. As Mother Teresa put it, "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish."

On the contrary, human freedom, as Dorothy Day later came to learn through her conversion, comes from devotion to God and commitment to others--commitment to our families, our children, and our communities.

Of course these are easy words to say. I myself am a deeply selfish individual. I rely on the Catholic faith and the example of the saints to keep me headed in the right direction, and yet I constantly stumble.

So let us pray for the canonization of Dorothy Day  Perhaps more than any woman in 20th century America, she made a radical turn from selfishness to faith. Even now, she intercedes for us and helps us live good Catholic lives in this postmodern world. How much more powerful will her example be when the Church recognizes her for what she is--a saint.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

If Ivy Leaguers are so smart, why are we in Afganistan? Demythologizing the Elite American Universities

Almost every college-bound American would love to attend one of the nation's elite colleges--Ivy League shools like Harvard, Yale, or perhaps Duke, Vanderbilt, Berkeley, or Stanford. Harvard's acceptance rate for the 2012 class was less than 6 percent; about 2000 students were admitted out of 34,000 applications.

And it does appear that an elite degree is a ticket to succes. President George W. Bush was a Yale Graduate, Barak Obama went to Harvard Law School. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner got his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and a master's from Johns Hopkins. Ben Bernanke is a Harvard graduate, and all nine Supreme Court Justices graduated from either Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. If we can attend these schools, Americans believe, we will have a premier learning experience, make good contacts, and set ourselves up for life.

But our elite colleges are not the reservior of all wisdom. In fact, the graduates of our most prestigious institutions and the people who run them may not be as bright as they think they are.

For example, Harvard Law School apparently perceived Professor Elizabeth Warren (now Senator Warren) as a Cherokee Indian. University of California was unable to act decisively after a campus police officer pepper-sprayed nonthreatening UC-Davis students, an incident that went viral on YouTube. Instead of firing the offending officer immediately, which any sensible employer would have done, UC had to commission two lengthy reports and hire consultants to figure out what to do. Several of our elite institutions have persecuted Christian student groups, and a majority of our astute Supreme Court (Ivy Leaguers every one) said that is OK.

And none of our supposedly wise elite universities have figured out how to rein in costs and keep their tuition undder control. Meanwhile, the professors teach fewer and fewer courses, and the elite university presidents see their salaries and perks creep ever upward.

Finally (and this is the theme of this essay), if an Ivy League education is a sign of wisdom, what the heck is the United States doing in Afganistan? President Bush, a Yale graduate, put us there. Now, almost 12 years later, we are still there.  President Obama, a Harvard Law Graduate, even doubled down in Afganistan, sending more troops into the quagmire.

Anyone reading a history of Afganistan written at the eighth-grade level would know that invaders have fallen on their swords in Afganistan since the nineteenth century. The British and Russians both had disastorous experiences there. 

More baloney about Catholicism from Frank Bruni of the New York Times

Don't the New York Times op ed writers have anything better to do than scold the Catholic Church?  And--just for the sake of variety--couldn't they pick on another denomination once in awhile?

In an essay entitled "The Pope's Muffled Voice," Frank Bruni argues that many Catholic don't think the Pope is terribly important. "[Many Catholics] regard him and other Vatican officials as totems, a royal family of dubious relevance, partly because these officials have often shown greater concern for the church's reputation than for the needs, and wounds, of the people in the pews." 

Bruni buttresses his case with poll data (the last refuge of a liberal journalist) showing that  a majority of Catholics support ordination of women priests, same-sex marriage, and birth control. And he points approvingly to Governor Andrew Cuomo, apparently a Catholic, who "is plotting to shore up abortion rights in New York." 

Here's what I have to say about Bruni's latest missive. First, we Catholics know our leaders aren't perfect. We are deeply ashamed of the sex abuse scandal and the efforts by many Church leaders to cover it up. 

Second, it is true that many Catholics don't comply with Church doctrine on many issues--particularly birth control. Nevertheless, Bruni is wrong to conclude that most Catholics believe that the Pope and Catholic doctrine are unimportant.

Frank Buni of the New York Time
I cannot divine Mr. Bruni's motives, but I think many of the Catholic Church's critics hope that a steady attack from the liberal media will split the laity from the Church hierarchy and perhaps get a lot of Catholics to leave the Church. 

But the Catholic Church is strong in America. The churches I attend are often standing-room only at the Masses, where the priests can sometimes hardly be heard because of the sound of crying Catholic babies.

And we will get stronger.  Personally, I believe the Catholic Church will see increased persecution in the coming months and years.  But Catholics have been persecuted before, and God always sent us saints who had the courage to endure persecution and even martyrdom in defense of the ancient Catholic faith.

And besides, if we were to leave the Catholic Church, where would we go? If Catholics were to turn their backs on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, if we were to renounce the prayers of Mary, if we were to scorn the intercession of the saints, what would we then be?  Episcopalians?

Sorry to disappoint you, Frank, but most Catholics are going to stay put.  We may be disappointed in some of our leaders, and we may not be strong enough to follow every precept of Catholic doctrine. But we will pray for our priests and bishops and we will pray to be better Catholics. 

And 1000 years from now--when history has forgotten Frank Bruni, the New York Times, and all the postmodern blather that now comes from the liberal media--Catholics will still be attending Mass, will still be making the sign of the cross, will still be genuflecting in Catholic churches before they kneel in their pews to say their prayers.


Frank Bruni, The Pope's Muffled Voice. New York Times, February 18, 2013.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"In spite of ourselves, we'll end up a-sittin' on a rainbow": Catholics in Postmodern America

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
                                John Prine (1999)

Americans live in a postmodern age. We have a postmodern president, we have postmodern judges and congresspeople, we have postmodern college presidents and professors, and our mass media personalities are almost all postmodernists. Harvard University even has an atheist chaplain! How much more postmodern can we get?

But what is postmodernism? J. Budziszewski, a natural law philosopher who teaches at the University of Texas, defined postmodernism as "the belief that nothing hangs together--that everything is in pieces" (2004, p. 54). According to Budziszewski: "[A] postmodernist thinks truth is fragmented. He doesn't believe in a truth that's the same for everyone; he believes in 'stories' or 'narratives' or 'discourses' that are different for every group." A postmodernist believes life has no meaning beyond what a individual chooses to give it and that there are no ultimate truths that apply to all human beings.

But this does not mean that postmodernism lacks core beliefs. Like every other belief system, postmodernism is an  ideology. Indeed, like a swirling tropical storm that gradually becomes more and more defined until it becomes a destructive hurricane, postmodernism is developing as a rigid creed or dogma; and it is becoming as hostile to opposing points of view as the most fundamentalist Islamic sect.

What are the core tenets of postmodernism? First, postmodernists are self-avowedly secular. They generally don't call themselves atheists, since allowing themselves to be labeled as nonbelievers would be an acknowledgement that the issue of God's existence is an important matter.

In fact, postmodernists will even pay casual homage to religion when it suits them.  For example, postmodernists will sometimes give the Episcopalians a kindly pat on the head. After all, in the postmodern world, the Episcopalians are harmless, since their fluid theology keeps pace with the New York Times editorial page.

But at heart postmodernists are indifferent to religion. Thus, President Obama tweeted during a church service on the day of his second inauguration. Apparently, the Christian ceremony he was attending wasn't important enough to require his full attention or even the mere appearance of respect.

Secondly, postmodernists are intolerant. There was a time when Americans prided themselves on their tolerance, particularly their tolerance toward people of  various religious faiths. Indeed, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment expresses the very essence of American religious tolerance.

But in postmodern America, it has become fashionable to express genuine hatred for religion--which some postmodernists equate with bigotry. Recently, for example, students at the University of California-Berkeley tried to ban the Salvation Army from campus because the group upholds traditional Christian views on sexuality and marriage. 

Finally, postmodernists are selfish.  They think they are individualists. They believe they are seeking self-fulfillment and creative expression in their jobs.  But in reality, they're just selfish--focused solely on career advancement, their retirement portfolios, and public recognition.

In The Last Quartet, a thoroughly postmodern movie, four musicians struggle with ego, illness, and betrayal to keep their world-famous string quartet together.  Eventually, one of the musicians, played by Mark Ivanir, has an affair with the young daughter of a married couple who are members of the quartet. When the father of the girl, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, discovers that his artistic partner has been sleeping with his daughter, he balls up his fist and slugs him. 

But the quartet survives this outrageous betrayal, and the movie ends with the quartet members on stage, playing even more sensitively and beautifully than they had before their trials. In a pre-postmodern world (or at least in a pre-postmodern movie), Hoffman's character would have thoroughly thrashed the scoundrel who toyed with his daughter. But in this postmodern movie, nothing is more important than the characters' careers.

Given the fact that our national media, our colleges and universities, and our popular culture all espouse postmodernism, I am amazed that anyone rejects the mores of our day. Nevertheless, American Catholics have charted a different course for their lives.  

Unlike the postmodernists, Catholics believe in ultimate truths that are defined by the natural law and decreed by God, truths that apply to everyone. They believe in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. They believe marriage between a man and a woman is the mystical representation of Christ's love for his Church.  They believe that Mary plays an essential role in the story of our salvation.  And they believe in the dignity of every human life.

I see these people at Mass every Sunday--these mystics, these people who refuse to subscribe to cynicism and selfishness.  And I believe it is these people, not our postmodern political leaders, media stars and self-satisfied business moguls, who have grasped the meaning of life and found its true joy. To paraphrase one of John Prine's songs, in spite of themselves, they've ended up a'sittin' on a rainbow. Against all odds,  they're the big door prize.


J. Budziszewski. How to stay Christian in Collge. Colorado Springs, CO: Nav Press, 2004.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Catholicism's Curse" is not the Church Hierarchy--It's the New York Times

Frank Bruni
Photo credit: New York Times
In a recent Sunday Times essay, Frank Bruni joined a gaggle of New York Times columnists who have maligned the hierarchy of the Catholic faith in the pages of our nation's most prestigious newspaper.  In a column entitled "Catholicism's Curse," Bruni described the Vatican as  a "gilded enclave" that is "frequently out of step with the rest of the world" and suggested that Church law on an all-male priesthood and celibate priests are not essential elements of Catholic doctrine but "inventions of the mortals who took charge of the faith."

Bruni also wrote that the Vatican is "reliably riled by nuns," a statement that is simply not true.  Although Church leaders have chastened some women religious for publicly questioning fundamental Church doctrine, the Vatican is in basic harmony with the most of Church's sisters and nuns.

Of course, the lead theme for Bruni's essay is the Church's sexual abuse scandal. On this issue, Mr. Bruni's criticisms are justified. Without a doubt, many American bishops behaved shamefully when they covered up child abuse by priests. Indeed, some of the Church leaders who engaged in this despicable behavior should be prosecuted.

But this terrible lapse in judgment by Catholic bishops does not give the New York Times license to repeatedly attack the doctrines and traditions of the Catholic Church. After all, the Times does not criticize Islamic religious beliefs or the doctrines of Mormonism, even though both these religious groups are out of step with New York Times editorial policy on many issues.

In short, the curse of Catholicism, is not the Church's hierarchy, as Bruni argued.  No, the curse of Catholicism is the New York Times. It is time for the Catholic hierarchy, Catholic laypeople, Catholic political leaders, and the Catholic press to demand that the Times stop hectoring our Church. And if the Times writers do not cease these unwarranted attacks, we should boycott the businesses who advertise in the Times

Speaking for myself, boycotting the Times's advertisers would not work a hardship. It has been a very long time since I bought anything at Bloomingdale's.


Bruni, Frank. Catholicism's Curse. New York Times, January 26, 2013.

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

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

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

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