Monday, May 19, 2014

Dorothy Day--Patron Saint of Hospice Workers?

Some day Dorothy Day will be canonized--let us pray this day comes soon. And when she is named a saint, for whom will she be a special patron?  Certainly she is patroness of the American poor and the homeless, the patron saint of Catholic journalists, and perhaps the patron saint of women who have had abortions.  And if people who were hounded by the FBI desire a saint, Dorothy could probably fulfill that role as well.

But perhaps she will also become the patron saint of hospice workers.

Dorothy, as she herself acknowledged, was deeply in love with Forster Batterham--an anarchist of sorts and an atheist with a name that makes him sound like a character from Downton Abbey. But Forster left Dorothy after she became pregnant and told him she planned to have her child baptized in the Catholic Church.

Dorothy Day and Forster Batterham

Nevertheless, Forster and Dorothy stayed in touch for the rest of their lives--connected if not by religion, then by the child  they had conceived together.

About three years after Dorothy and Forster separated, according to Robert Ellsberg, Forster formed a new relationship with a woman named Nanette; and Forster and Nanette lived together for thirty years until she died in 1960.

In September 1959, Forster contacted Dorothy and asked her to care for Nanette, who had been diagnosed with incurable cancer.  Dorothy agreed to help, and she nursed Nanette until she died in January of 1960. Along with Forster's sister, Lily Burke, Dorothy became Nanette's informal hospice nurse.

It must have been bitterly hard for Dorothy. Nanette was terrified of death, and Forster could not bear to be alone with her. Indeed, during Nanette's decline, Dorothy saw an unappealing side of Forster. Nanette confided to Dorothy that she had had an affair with a younger man with Forster's complicity--an ugly revelation.

As Dorothy wrote in her diary, this unsavory bit of information shined a light on Forster's character. "It is all part of his absolute rebellion against responsibility, family, religion, tradition, as far as he himself is concerned."

Indeed, Dorothy concluded, Forster was "completely selfish and a coward."

Dorothy owed Forster nothing and she certainly owed Nanette nothing. But Dorothy continued to nurse Nanette. On the night of December 23, 1959, Dorothy wrote this:
Nanette very bad, suffering from nurse's ministrations, her three-way irrigations. Nanette says she is continually wet, flowing from colostomy. She cried pitifully, hating her decay, wishing she could commit suicide, go back to the hospital for a few days, etc. It was a hard day, though we started out well making mince pie, etc.--anything to distract her
By late December, Nanette was near death--her face and legs was swollen. Forster, wallowing in self pity, often wept and constantly fled from Nanette's presence.  At this point, Nanette wavered between a longing for death and the struggle to live. "I am strong-willed and stubborn," Dorothy quotes Nanette as saying. "No one can help me, doctor, psychiatrist, hypnotism, drugs. I am alone."

On January 8, 1960, Nanette died. She had been in agony for two days. "The cross was not as hard as this," Nanette said in her final hours. But in the end, she died peacefully, "with a slight smile."  Ellsberg records that Nanette was baptized as a Catholic before she passed away.

Dorothy never wrote of these events except to record them in her diary. Yet the nursing of Nannette  is perhaps Dorothy's greatest act of humility, generosity and love. In my view, Dorothy deserves to be canonized for this act of kindness alone.

On December 27, 1959, as Nanette lay a few days from death, Dorothy wrote this:
Food, warmth, shelter, clothing, beauty, yes--ourselves most of all--to be available to men. But in the CW there are so many, and each one wants it all, your time, your love, your attention. "You are never here." This is my suffering, my failure, and my cross.


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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dear Dean Baquet: Please Press the Reset Button on the NY Times's Bigoted Attacks on the Catholic Church

Dean Baquet was named Executive Editor of the New York Times yesterday.  He has had a distinguished career as a journalist working for several distinguished newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. In 1988, he won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the New York Times

Let's hope Mr. Baquet's ascension to the Executive Editor's post signals a change in the New York Times's coverage of the Catholic Church. In recent years, Times op ed writers have mercilessly attacked the Church with a stridency and shrillness that often crossed the boundaries of professional journalism.  Just last Sunday, Maureen Dowd accused the Vatican of bullying nuns because it censored the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for straying outside Church doctrine. Dowd then went on to falsely charge the Vatican with accusing the LCWR of "caring for the sick instead of parroting church teaching . . . ."

In the same issue of the Times, Frank Bruni excoriated the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for requiring teachers in Diocesan schools to sign contracts agreeing to abide by Catholic doctrine.  Resorting to a common tactic of New York Times op ed writers, Bruni obtained a quote from a disgruntled Catholic (a school teacher) who obligingly described the Church's policy as "really misogynistic. " Bruni's almost hysterical vitriol descended to the level of nonsense when he asserted that "virtue" has nothing to do with whom one sleeps with.

Two anti-Catholic essays in one day should alarm any practicing Catholic, but Bruni and Dowd have repeatedly attacked the Church, often inserting gratuitous insults into what might have passed for reasoned commentary.  For example, in her column last Sunday, Dowd described St. John Paul II as a "the pedophile-shielding pope," an needlessly hateful remark that had nothing to do with the main thrust of her argument.

Without question, Bruni and Dowd are the Times's prime hectors of the Catholic Church, but Bill Keller has weighed in as well.  He once described Pope Benedict as a rottweiler.  And Nicholas Kristof has also indulged in Catholic-baiting.

Perhaps Mr. Baquet can restore a more reasonable tone to the Times commentary on contemporary Catholicism.  I do not know whether Mr. Baquet was raised as a Catholic, but I do know that he grew up in New Orleans, a deeply Catholic city, and that he attended St. Augustine Catholic School. Even if he is not a Catholic, he must surely have learned that St. Katharine Drexel once supported St. Augustine School.  Perhaps he also knows something about the Sisters of the Holy Family, an African American order of nuns that was founded in New Orleans by Venerable Henriette Delille.

And surely Mr. Baquet  is familiar with the story of Joseph Rummel, Archbishop of New Orleans, who displayed great physical courage in integrating Catholic schools in spite of the vicious opposition of racists and the Ku Klux Klan.  And he might even know something about the Holy Ghost Fathers, who made African American Catholics their special mission and provided the sacraments to Creole and African Catholics who were often discriminated in white Catholic churches of Louisiana.

The Roman Catholic Church is not a perfect institution and never has been. The Ursuline nuns of New Orleans are famous for invoking the aid of Our Lady of Prompt Succor before the battle of New Orleans--perhaps ensuring Andrew Jackson's victory over the British. But the Ursuline sisters were slaveholders during the antibellum period, which is an ignoble blot on this noble order's history.

Of course the Church deserves to be criticized and censored for its faults and failings, which are many.The Church's decades-long sexual-abuse scandal is reprehensible of course, and surely ranks as the most shameful episode in the history of American Catholicism.  Any priest who sexually abused a child should be in jail, and any bishop who knowingly allowed a pedophile priest to continue to have access to children should be in jail as well.  I think Mr. Bruni, Ms. Dowd and I agree on that.

But the Catholic Church does not deserve to be bullied and harassed in the op ed pages of the nation's most prestigious newspaper simply because Times columnist disagree with Catholic doctrine.  Perhaps Mr. Baquet will provide new leadership--one that supports forceful, combative and stinging commentary without descending to the depths of anti-Catholic bigotry.


Frank Bruni, A Pope You Can Eat. New York Times, February 9, 2014, p. Sunday Review section, p. 3.

Frank Bruni. Beyond the Bedroom. New York Times, March 17, 2013, Review Section, p. 3.

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

Frank Bruni. Lessons in Catholic Judgment. New York Times, May 11, 2014, Sunday Review section, p. 3.

Frank Bruni. The Catholics Still in Exile. New York Times, December 15, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.

Frank Bruni. The Conclave's Fixed Ways. New York Times, March 12, 2013.

Frank Bruni, The Faithful's Failings. New York Times, July 23, 2013, p. A19.

Frank Bruni, The Pope's Gay Panic. New York Times, June 16, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.

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

Frank Bruni, The Pope's Radical Whisper. New York Times, Review Section, September 22, 2013, p. 3.

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

Maureen Dowd, How Mary Feels About Being a Virgin. New York Times, March 28, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p. 1.

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

Maureen Dowd. With Malice Toward Nuns. New York Times, Sunday Review section, p. 13.

Editorial. Unholy Alliance: The Vatican, Iran and Russia Work to Block Global Standards on Protecting Women New York Times,  March 12, 2013.

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

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

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

Jonathan Mahler. A Passion for Saints Football Leads to One for Newspapers, Too. New York Times, May 15, 2014, p. B2. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Obsessed With "Libido and Loins," Frank Bruni Attacks the Cincinnati Catholic Schools for Asking Its Teachers to Abide By Catholic Values

Frank Bruni
One does what one can
Frank Bruni was born too late. Had he only been alive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, he could have burned Catholics to death instead of merely sniping at them in the pages of the New York Times. Still, one does what one can, and Bruni soldiers on in his obsession to tear down the Catholic Church.

In yesterday's New York Times--the Mother's Day issue--Bruni published a piece called "Lessons in Catholic Judgment" in which he attacked the Cincinnati Archdiocese for requiring diocesan school  teachers to abide by Catholic values and to refrain from publicly criticizing Catholic doctrine.

But what's wrong, may I ask, with an institution asking its employees to abide by its institutional values?   After all, the University of Toledo recently won a case  in which it fired Crystal Dixon, a senior university administrator,  for publicly criticizing the University's gay-friendly employment policies.  I didn't see Bruni come to Ms. Dixon's defense.

As is typical of New York Times writers when criticizing the Catholic Church, Bruni found some disgruntled Catholics to quote.  Mindy Burger, a 63-year old art teacher, said she would quit teaching in a Catholic school rather than sign the Cincinnati Archdiocese's contract, which she called "really misogynistic. " In fact, she is apparently so disgruntled that she is leaving the Catholic Church.  "I don't consider myself Catholic anymore.," Bruni quoted Burger as saying.

And Bruni quoted another unhappy Catholic school teacher by the name of Richard Hague, who also plans to quit teaching rather than sign the Diocese's contract. According to Bruni, Hague described himself as "a recovering Catholic."

I've got news for you, Mr. Hague. There is so such thing as a "recovering Catholic."  The name for someone who renounces his Catholic faith is "apostate."  Don't compare yourself to someone suffering from an addiction like alcoholism.

In Bruni's latest attack on the Catholic Church, he persists in his erroneous argument that the Church's "archaic fixations" are driving Catholics out of the Church. But of course, that is nonsense.  There are 70 million of us in the Catholic Church, and we are Catholics because we believe in the Catholic faith.

Indeed, much of Bruni's latest screed is nonsense.  He denounces the Catholic Church for being "mired in libido and loins," and he chides the Cincinnati Archdiocese for sending "the tired message that virtue resides in whom you share your bed with and how you do or do not procreate."  But of course, virtue does reside in our sexual behavior and our decisions about procreation. The decision whether or not to abort a child is--Catholics believe--a decision fraught with moral implications.

And if Bruni finds such a message to be tiresome, then he is free not to be Catholic. But Bruni--and his employer, the New York Times--should refrain from their repeated attacks on the Catholic Church, attacks which more and more seem like nothing more than sheer, blind bigotry.


Frank Bruni. Lessons in Catholic Judgment. New York Times, May 11, 2014, Sunday Review section, p. 3.

Dixon v. University of Toledo, 702 F.3d 269 (6th Cir. 2012).

Snark Attack! Maureen Dowd of the New York Times Celebrates Mother's Day With an Unfair Attack on the Catholic Church

Maureen Dowd
Snark Attack!
Month after month, the New York Times unleashes its op ed writers to assail the Catholic Church, but Frank Bruni and Maureen Dowd are the lead attack dogs.  Yesterday's Mother's Day edition contained mean-spirited essays by both Dowd and Bruni.  I'll address Dowd's assault in this posting, and save Bruni for a later column.

In yesterday's essay, Dowd criticized the Church for censoring the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a renegade organization of American nuns that has strayed from Catholic doctrine.  Not surprisingly, her essay was packed with untruths and  mean-spirited insinuations.

Dowd began by accusing Pope Francis for condoning "the most base Vatican sport: bullying nuns." But of course, the Vatican isn't bullying nuns.  Displaying great patience and forbearance, the Vatican has put up with a group of sour-spirited women religious for many years. Only recently has it put its foot down and censored the group for wandering outside orthodox Catholic doctrine. None of the dissidents have been bullied, penalized, or inconvenienced in any way.

Dowd then goes on to charge the Vatican with accusing the rebel nuns of "caring for the sick instead of parroting church teaching . . . ." Of course, that statement is an outright lie.  Does anyone think the Catholic hierarchy criticized The Leadership Council of Women Religious for ministering to the sick?

Dowd then goes on to indulge in that ancient trick of anti-Catholic bigotry--quoting the Church's many critics.  She quotes Paul Vallely, Pope Francis's biographer, as saying the Pope basically agrees with the dissident nuns, which is essentially an insinuation that Pope Francis does not have the courage to express his true convictions.  Does anyone believe that?

And then Dowd quotes author Kenneth Briggs to drag up an old accusation that Pope Francis did not do enough to oppose the military junta in Argentina during the years the Pope was head of the Jesuits in that country. "It was a sin of omission," Dowd quotes Briggs as saying. "He apparently didn't have the gumption to go the next step. It parallels what happened with the nuns."

What a nasty thing to say--and completely unwarranted.

Of course, Dowd would never have made a negative reference to Pope Francis's pre-papacy years in Argentina if the Pope had done what Dowd and the New York Times want him to do, which is t jettison Catholic doctrine and embrace loosey-goosey Postmodern sexual values.

Of course there is more. For example, Dowd, who rarely passes up an opportunity to hurl a gratuitous insult at the Catholic Church, referred to Saint John Paul II--the greatest pontiff of the last millennium--as "the pedophile-shielding pope."

And what has Pope Francis  done to deserve such high-profile abuse from the op-ed pages of the New York Times?  Only this--he has humbly testified to the truth of the Gospel, very much in the spirit of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. And he has refused to abandon the Church's ancient doctrine on sexual morality.

Pope Francis is not the  wishy-washy, ambivalent, and cowardly man that Maureen Dowd portrayed him to be in yesterday's issue of the New York Times. On the contrary, I believe he is a man of steel.  As Catholics, let us listen to him and pray for him as he steers our fragile boat through the rocky shoals of the postmodern age.

And let us have faith in our new Pope's courage. The very fact that he has enraged Maureen Dowd is a very good sign.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Finally got the scolding it richly deserves


Maureen Dowd. With Malice Toward Nuns. New York Times, Sunday Review section, p. 13.