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Saturday, October 1, 2016

WASHINGTON — Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

My, my. Putting aside the group’s love for unnecessary quotation marks, it was shocking to learn that I’m an “enabler” doing “bad” to women’s rights. But Catholic liberals get used to these kinds of things. Secularists, who never liked Catholicism in the first place, want us to leave the church, but so do Catholic conservatives who want the church all to themselves.

I’m sorry to inform the FFRF that I am declining its invitation to quit. They may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can’t ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and lay people who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.

And on women’s rights, I take as my guide that early feminist, Pope John XXIII. In Pacem in Terris, his encyclical issued in 1963, the same year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” Pope John spoke of women’s “natural dignity.”

“Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument,” he wrote, “they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.”

I’d like the FFRF to learn more about the good Pope John, but I wish our current bishops would think more about him, too. I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements — including that odious comparison of President Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month — that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

  • Right On!

  • Your article is more persuasive in advising liberals to quit the church than it is to stay. It stresses the positives of a Pope long gone and shows how the hierarchy is determined to impose its will from above. I walked out during the reading of the Bishop’s letter and have not returned. I haven’t formally quit yet, but very likely will…and my wife as well. We’ll look for a house of worship that is closer to our own views of the world and closer to practicing the teachings of Christ rather than those of men set on imposing their will on the world.

    • jhhasanopinion

      I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps in losing their ranks they might re-think their position. The church is just a building, you can have faith, act as a Christian and maintain a relationship with God without stroking the agenda of a specific faith. I used to be proud of my Catholic upbringing in the Peoria Diocese — I am now ashamed.

      • SaneJane

        Losing the money might make them re-think their position.

        • Safronia11

          They can’t rethink any of their positions. That would mean they were admitting mistakes. Besides they have more money than God. That will never be an issue

      • karlaw55

        Don’t count on change. The more people leave the church and criticize the church, the more the church will hunker down and claim victimization and moral superiority.

        I can hear it now: “They leave and hate us because of satanic influence. We are standing up for God, and the trials God is inflicting on us now will only serve to make us stronger!” “We are the truth, the way, and the light!”

        • Dave_dido

          We’re talking about the Roman Catholic Church, not a Baptist church. For all it’s faults, the Catholic Church, has its share of modern-thinking theologians. I seriously doubt that you would hear a bishop, cardinal or pope blame Satan for apostacism or for most sins.

  • I think I gave up when I heard the Pope say that a woman wanting to become a priest was a worse sin than a priest who attacks children sexually. It is the women who will save the church.

    • The Catholic church has been putting women down for centuries. It will probably take centuries to change,if ever !

      • Dave_dido

        I tend to be critical of my church, The Roman Catholic Church, regarding the role of women. However, I have to acknowledge that the Church has done much to elevate women. Although St. Paul said it was a shame for a woman to speak in church, he also established an equality before God when he said, “Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man no more.” Also,though it may be theologically questionable, the devotion to Mary did a lot to give respect to womanhood and motherhood. Compare the role of women in the Middle East to the role of women in Western societies. Muslims can make a good argument that they show more respect for women than Christians do, but on the issue of equality, I don’t think they have an argument. The Church moves very slowly, and maybe that’s a good thing, but I do believe the day will come when women have an equal role as men in the Church. I certainly hope so.

  • A liberal is for all the people, conservatism is for a few. Could it be false religion is going down the tube? Make sure you are on the right side.

  • greggbracke

    I was encouraged by the reforms put in place by John Paul II, but when I saw most of them stripped away by the radical conservative Benedict, I felt the church left me, more than I left the church.

    • I really wonder who really is running the Catholic Church, An old man or old Cardinals ?

  • it adorns itself in gold and cathederals while 2/3’s of the planet starve. those monies intended to feed gods children were better spent on the finest worldly materials mammon can buy. this is an org that instead of having its affiliates arrested and publicly humiliated for raping children, they covered it up by moving the perpetrators around to a new unsuspecting flock. you can throw your rock and hide your hand. workin in the dark against your fellow man. but as sure as god made black and white, what is done in the dark will be brought to the light…………..

  • I retired long ago, lousy benefits. Sacraments do not work and prayers, forget it. The Catholic church scoffs at all laws especially criminal and keeps hiding behind the Separation clause. There is no reason to be involved in the Catholic Church if you are human and have a sound mind.

  • jebediah123

    I always enjoyed the catholic church. It provided me with some of the most interesting reading—–where else can you read TRUE stories of murder, torture, sexual perversion, lies, greed, lust, exploitation of the masses, extermination of native peoples and cultures and forgiveness of the crimes of the rich etc., etc., etc. All in the name of that great “savior of the world” jesus the christ. I know they’ll keep those great stories coming. Thanks!

    • All in the name of Our Lord and his Son ! ! ! Sad.

    • Dave_dido

      You should read the New Testament, Jebediah. The murders, tortures, etc. that you refer to are from the Old Testament which is pre-Christian. I don’t think you’ll find much in the way of murders, tortures, etc. in the New Testament except for those perpetrated on Jesus and his followers.

  • Thank you, E.J., for a very thoughtful and compassionate piece. I am an atheist for reasons I will not go into here. I pay close attention to organized religion (keep your friends close and your enemies closer) and when John Paul XXIII was alive I had great hopes for the Catholic Church.
    The organization is huge and could be doing so much to ease the misery of so many. As has been the case for centuries and you pointed out yourself, it is the WOMEN, the nuns, who do the bulk of the work, nearly ALL of the hands-on among the poor and the sick, and yet the male hierarchy ridicules and scolds them while they sit their duffs regarding the molestation of tens of thousands of children! Talk about hypocrisy!
    John Paul XXIII opened the doors to the winds of change and subsequent popes have slammed it shut again. I wish you well in your continued support of an institution that seems bent on strangling 50% of the world, and maybe another John Paull XXIII will be elected one of these days.

  • bstockinger

    I don’t see how even conservatives can stay with the Catholic Church. When the bishop knowingly hides a pedophile priest’s record, and then sends him to start a new parish with lots of young children, don’t talk to me about reforms. I don’t to this day believe any bishop, cardinal or pope when it comes to their “moral” teachings. They, apparently haven’t read the Jesus’ teachings and sure don’t understand them.
    Unless the priesthood is opened to women and priests are allowed to marry, there isn’t any hope for the Catholic Church.

  • The Catholic Church today is a far cry from the Church Jesus founded centuries ago. Jesus had one simple rule, that we love God the Father and one another. Very simple. He did not descrimate against anyone. All were welcome at his table, He did spend a considerable amount of time with the least fortunate amongst us. This was His legacy to us who follow His wisdom. The 26th chapter of St Matthews Gospel spells out for us the road map to heaven; follow the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. On judgement day, Jesus will separate the goats from the sheep and the sheep will share the eternal life promised by the Father

  • jcurtis595

    Well, Mr. Dionne, you have written a sweet piece arguing that Catholics who don’t agree with the Pope and bishops on fundamental issues leave the Catholic Church. But your article is full of rational reasons to leave. You remind me of the Log Cabin Republican Club. They are idiotically illogical in thinking that gays belong in the Republican party. They are like the slaves in the south who supported slavery. Both were misguided idiots, hoping beyond hope that reality would yield to their fantasy.

    Not just Catholics with a brain and reason should leave the Catholic Church. All those who believe Christ was the greatest teacher to every live should leave all denominations (with very few exceptions) which are now controlled by fundamentalist theocratic Christian “mullahs” who have zero tolerance for any position other than their dictates. Religion today is 80% hate speech and dogma; 15% denial of science (evolution and global climate change); 3% sexual corruption (molestation of young boys) and only 2% good deeds and charity.

    And all that, including political intervention and advocacy which, is prohibited by the Constitution, comes with tax exemptions from property tax and income tax. In other words, every taxpayer is subsidizing the Christian “mullahs.” The Christian Church is alive, prosperous and well.

    Only Christianity is dead.

    Jay Curtis (author of THE CODE)

  • Ross_Bacon

    I am a recently confirmed, 62 year old liberal catholic. The conservative aspect of all christian religions seem to forget that God gave humans free will. It is not our right to dictate the conscience of any man or woman. If a woman chooses to have an abortion then she will answer to God in her own time. If a man or a woman choose to be homosexual then they too will answer to God in their time as well. After all of these years of my life the main thing that made me become catholic was that they, unlike so many christian religious groups, have never forgot that God forgives us. Pope John XXII’s message of peace hope and faith has never rung more true

  • I can’t say I’ve ever faced this dilemma, i.e. quit the church. I’ve never belonged and would never consider becoming a part of such an institution. I won’t deny that as an institution, the catholic church can be a meaningful force in the lives of some people. But I do think its important not to forget the many bad things church people have perpetrated on others acting in the name of the church, and perhaps still do. So long as you remember that it was mankind, not God, that created and perpetuated this institution for man’s own often selfish purposes. Then you can decide for yourself if what the catholic church has to offer is of any value to you personally.

  • Safronia11

    Religion has it’s own cross to bear. The Pope (any of them) say the same prayers for peace for each country each person each event…blah blah blah. They are terrified of movies, books, even music (Imagine) that may make people think for themselves. Just do it among yourselves & leave others to do the same.

  • Safronia11

    Quitting a church isn’t the same as quitting God. If you belong to a church you are there to see/talk to him, I assume. You can talk to God anywhere. I for one, don’t care what the Pope has to say. I don’t care what any of them have to say.I don’t care what you choose to believe…and I expect the same in return

  • Safronia11

    John Stevens…Why do you feel you need to belong to any church? Why can’t you just worship on your own? Even in a park or alone on the beach? Why do you feel you need to hear anyone stand up in front and tell you what to think?

  • Both sides of the political party have issues that their followers don’t entirely agree on. Is this ploy to get us not to vote for Obama who has helped us as much as he is allowed being supported by Bishops of “right” (wrong) persuasion? I don’t support gay marriages or abortion but I AM voting for President Obama and pray that these “oppositions” can be tweaked in times to come by the very people we put into office to do this for us!!! Why can’t these problems be taken care of by other means instead of running him down……which is what our Church also frowns upon. Do they expect all Catholics to not vote for this great president? Really? Do they think Mitt Romney is the REALLY the best choice????

  • The good that people do “in the name of God/religion” is a compliment to humanism, not proof that their good morales steam from superstitions. You may find religious edicts to be well and good, but that doesn’t prove their validity. How can we have separation of church and state if those that help shape the policies, hold silly bronze aged writings on high? We can’t, you ARE enabling bad ideas.

  • Brian Hutchins

    What prompts allegiance to the Catholic Church are emotional (identity issues) and the belief that the Roman church really is “the one true church”. For centuries, Rome has instructed Catholics to regard the Protestant churches as not really good enough (or heretical). Catholics who stay clearly believe this. Attempts to reform “the” Church are grounded in this belief. For centuries those who have wanted to reform Christian Practice, have done the more difficult and ultimately better thing and left the Catholic institution (a political and social construction) in favor of ever more open and affirming churches.

    I do believe that more would be accomplished, both politically and spiritually, if you made the harder choice, as I did, and set aside identity issues in order to embrace a fuller understanding of the work of Jesus in the world.

    • Dave_dido

      Brian, I have often been in heated discussions with Catholics who left the Church, and they are sometimes its strongest critics.I’ve been around long enough to see some of these people return to the Church after a long absence( usually when they have grown long in the tooth and figure they might need some fire insurance!) My question to you is: what will you do when your current church does something with which you don’t agree or does something that disappoints you or goes contrary to your beliefs? Will you leave that church? What about the next one?Will you ever find one that conforms to all that you expect from a church?
      Some will say you don’t need a church anyway. To me, that is an arrogant statement. It’s like saying, “I don’t need any guidance. I’ve got it all figured out or will soon have it all figured out all by myself.” Ever try to figure out a Rubik’s cube without some instruction? Not many can do it. Finding one’s inner peace can be just as elusive. Just ask any A.A. member about the success rate of those who try to go it alone.
      The Catholic Church is faulted because it’s a human institution and humans are faulted. Unfortunately, some can only see the negative side of the Church. They don’t see the millions of good, holy people who have benefitted from the Church’s guidance.
      I find it sad that every time there’s an article by E.J. Dionne regarding the Church, the readers bare their fangs and claws and respond with letters full of hatred(yours is not such a letter, but a lot of others are). Many of these are Christians of other denominations. Like the early Crusaders they don’t understand that they are attacking their fellow Christians. I expect the atheist readers to react with vitriole, but not fellow Christians.

  • joyscarbo

    I love God. I try to be the very best human being I can be. Through prayer and reading of all types of scripture from all types of religious teachings from christianity to buddhism…I try to seek a truth that rings true with my spirit.

    But religion sometimes has nothing to do with good or truth.
    I don’t know why anyone is catholic. It’s ideology is largely ceremonial and don’t forget that this church protects priests who repeatedly violated children. Any “church” that would so poorly respond to the heinous act of pediphiles is in no way to be considered a church. How could any genuinely self-respecting priest continue to serve under a diocies that did this?
    I also don’t understand this thinking that the Pope is speaking God’s words. That’s the oldest conn in the book. It can get people to do acts like those in the Great Inquisition!

  • I wont quit the Catholic Church because of mediocre thinking of some leaders of dubious authority. I really believe in the Gospel teaching.

  • You need to consider how likely it is that the church will be susceptible to calls for change from within. The answer is: not very. The church is not a democracy, so the usual method of convincing enough people of the need for change won’t work here. The views of the Curia, the Pope and the Council of Bishops are all that count (in that order).

    Look to see what’s happened in Western Europe over the last 50 years. As the views of the flock became more and more liberal, the bishops got more and more worried and conservative bishops were appointed to bring them back into line. This plan backfired and people started to abandon the church at an ever-accelerating rate. The reaction from Rome was to appoint more conservative bishops, thus closing the circle, because the outflow of the faithful increased even further.

    The catholic church is not susceptible to the same restraining feedback loops that other institution in our public life are. Communication in the church is a one-way process and calls for change from the remaining flock will fall on deaf ears. Check back on some interviews with bishops and other prelates where these issues are brought up and see what their answers were. The answers all boil down to the same thing: The bishops understand the needs and worries of the people, however, liberalisation is not the answer. The faithful need to pray and trust their bishops, who have their best interests at heart and who will pray for them.

    This mantra will not change within the foreseeable future, because the church hierarchy is now filled with prelates all cut from the same mould. This is a self-propagating entity that actively avoids the bringing in of new blood and that cannot be forced to do that by extraneous means.

  • I will remain a Catholic. After the scandal with the priests, I did not go to church for 4 years. I have gone back and I will continue. I will keep what is right and let the manmade laws, such as birth control, be to the side. As for abortion and gay marriage, I do not agree with either, however, I do not judge others for their choices. The greatest sin is to judge, that is God’s job. Don’t tell me who to vote for. There would be disagreements on either side. The church does not believe in abortion or gay marriage, but they also don’t believe in capitol punishment or taking away from the poor. So, what? You just don’t vote? I will be voting for Barack Obama who cares for all of the people, not just one segment.

  • I’m impressed that Mr. Dionne finds abortion rights to be “a very difficult question.” Let’s see…should I, or should I not, condone the use of legal force including prosecution for murder to impose on others a tenet of my religion with which many Americans, including many of my fellow Catholics, disagree?
    The question, when properly put, isn’t as difficult as you profess, Mr. Dionne.
    Meanwhile your ‘analysis’ entirely neglects the question of why conservative American lay Catholics’ voices ring so loudly in the chanceries, and in the Vatican. Why do those voices drown out the voices of the Sisters, Mr. Dionne? Maybe if the nuns will resume their habits, and sew to them “Mitt Romney: our most Catholic President” badges, you’ll finally get the point about what our Church has become.