Bill Keller in an op-ed piece in New York Times on June 18th had some hard words for the Catholic Church which, as he sees it, is governed by a dysfunctional leadership and is falling apart. His advice:
“Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go.”
Keller finds himself agreeing with Bill Donohue, a strident Catholic voice on the right, who urges leaving the church but for another reason. He’s telling Catholics not in agreement with some of the Church’s positions: Get out.
A letter in today’s Times offered a fine answer to both Keller and Donohue:
“It seems to me that both Bill Keller and Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, misunderstand the catholicity of the Catholic Church. Mr. Keller’s advice to disaffected Catholics, including priests, nuns and vowed religious, to “summon your fortitude” and leave allows no room for reconciliation, reformation and peace within conflict that is central to Christian social life.
“Christian community is not a social contract like those of liberal democracies; it is a covenant that seeks to give witness to God’s unconditional love for humanity through the bonds of community. Leaving, as Mr. Keller suggests, may serve our consumerist attitudes well, but it does little to improve community; it only weakens community.
“Mr. Donohue makes a similar misreading of Catholic catholicity by seemingly insisting on ideological purity. This is a dangerous desire that has plagued Christianity since the fourth and fifth centuries. There is no such thing as an ideologically pure church, and frequently such perceptions have led to serious abuses of power.
“Disaffection and ideological dispute among Catholics are a pastoral issue that should be approached within particular religious communities, parishes and lay groups with their pastoral and ministerial leadership. It is a chance for reconciliation and understanding.
Arlington, Mass., June 18, 2012
The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in practical theology at Boston University.”
The writer’s on target.
Someone said to me today: “If your father develops Alzheimer’s do you abandon him? If your family breaks down, is split by misunderstandings, do you leave it? Is the church a political party? You don’t like the platform, join another one?”
The church is a community formed by God’s unconditional love for humanity. That same love is asked of us.
I liked another letter to the Times also:
“The behavior of the Roman Catholic hierarchy disappoints me on so many fronts that it would be difficult even to begin cataloging those disappointments. How many times have I contemplated joining the Episcopal Church? More times than I can count.
“Why do I stay? Because my own parish, with its engaged pastor, deacon and staff members, vibrant liturgy and forward-leaning membership, is a comfortable home that embraces each one of us in times of joy and sorrow and provides an atmosphere for real spiritual growth.
“I suspect that many Catholics, including a lot of the nuns who are being hounded at the moment, stay for the same reason I do, and I would suggest to those who are on the verge of leaving that they should shop around first. There are welcoming and joyful Catholic communities just waiting for you to join. I know. I belong to one.
Clarks Green, Pa., June 18, 2012