Church

A Baptist Minister Becomes Catholic

This is my appearance on “The Journey Home,” an EWTN program hosted by Marcus Grodi, a marvelous fellow, by the way.  The description of my appearance on the network website was as follows:

As a child, Deal attended a Presbyterian Church at his mother’s promptings. In high school, after being witnessed to by a Southern Baptist friend, he accepted Jesus and joined the Baptist Church. After attending the University of Texas, where he was president of the Baptist student union, he enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary and later received his Ph.D. from Emory. While studying at Emory, he met a Catholic friend, who led him deeper into the Catholic tradition. He started meeting with a priest every week for two years and was finally confirmed a Catholic at the Dominican House in Atlanta, where Flannery O’Connor convalesced.

Catholic Opinion by the Numbers: A Revealing New Poll

By Deal W. Hudson

Nanci Pelosi calls herself a conservative Catholic. Sure, she may be in favor of abortion, women priests, and homosexual marriages, but according to the House minority leader, that has no bearing on her life as a Catholic.

How does she define “conservative Catholic”? In a January interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Pelosi explains, “I was raised… in a very strict upbringing in a Catholic home where we respected people, were observant, [and where] the fundamental belief was that God gave us all a free will and we were accountable for that, each of us.”

Pelosi’s brand of Catholicism—one concerned with culture, roots, and a vague notion of “respect”—is fairly common in the ranks of Catholic politicians. Believing their faith to be merely a cultural heritage rather than a living guide, they are happy to call themselves Catholic at election time and then, once in office, behave in conspicuously un-Catholic ways.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem reserved for campaigning politicians. Catholics in all walks of life, prelate and layman alike, manage to rationalize the disjunction between the demands of their faith and the reality of their voting habits. In an attempt to shore up the distance between faith and practice, the Vatican published its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life earlier this year. Put simply, the document points out that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals,” specifically including such divisive issues as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual unions.

Whether they are simply unaware of this fact or choose to ignore it, studies have shown that Catholic voting trends on these issues tend to be no different from those of the general public. Such studies have led many pundits to disregard the possibility of a unified Catholic vote to which a politician could appeal with any sort of regularity. Catholics may account for a quarter of the nation’s population and a third of its voters, but these numbers alone aren’t enough to effect any sort of positive change.

However, what the pundits fail to recognize—but most any Catholic could tell you—is that there’s a significant difference between the habits of a practicing Catholic and one who, like Pelosi, keeps the title as a cultural reference only. The number of such “inactive” Catholics is relatively high, and their voting practices will not differ substantially from the population at large. Group all these Catholics together in an opinion poll and the results will be inconclusive at best, with no clear voice prevailing.

This realization was the driving force behind a survey conducted by Crisis in 1998. The poll asked self-identified Catholics questions on issues of politics, faith, and morals, and responses were broken down according to how often that person attended Mass in a standard month. The results were telling: The more often a person attended Mass, the more likely his answers were in line with Church teaching. After clearing away the various views of inactive Catholics, what was left was a relatively uniform group of Catholic opinions. With a solid core of committed Catholics, the survey proved that active Catholics were indeed a well-defined constituency. Based on an analysis of their past voting trends, these Catholics were found to be moving out of the Democratic Party, where they had long been entrenched, and instead becoming the swing voters in any given election.

As a follow-up to the 1998 survey, Crisis conducted another survey in November 2002 structured in a similar fashion with many of the same questions regarding political and moral issues (for the full results of the survey, visit our Web site at http://www.crisismagazine.com). This second survey established once again that when it comes to voting and public opinion, the distinction between an active and an inactive Catholic is crucial. Even then, however, Catholics still have a long way to go in acting consistently on the teachings of the Faith.

The Laity

No matter how else they may disagree, Catholics of all stripes identify the decline of individual morality in America as a serious problem. Seventy-three percent of all Catholics and 79 percent of active Catholics acknowledge the reality of this crisis, while similar numbers attribute the problem to the negative influence of popular culture. It can hardly be surprising that there should be such consensus, especially given recent revelations about the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. If such an erosion of personal morals could be found among leaders of the Church—the very institution responsible for guiding the laity in matters of morality—then it’s no wonder that Catholics have little faith in society at large.

But while both active and inactive Catholics can agree on the existence of a moral crisis, the two groups have little in common when it comes to political legislation regarding moral issues. Take the question of same-sex marriage: Inactive Catholics are generally opposed to laws that would grant married status to homosexual couples (66 percent), while active Catholics would oppose such a motion much more frequently (75 percent). The same holds true for abortion:

Only 36 percent of inactive Catholics would favor “enacting legal restrictions on abortion in order to reduce the number of abortions being performed,” compared with 55 percent of active Catholics. In the case of human embryo cloning, not even a majority of inactive Catholics would outlaw it: 55 percent would allow cloning for medical research, while 58 percent of active Catholics would outlaw cloning in all cases.

One may ask how inactive Catholics could be so out of step with Church teaching. The more pressing question, however, is why aren’t active Catholics more in step with that teaching? Though the numbers may be higher than a similar response from the general population, the fact that only 55 percent of regular church-goers would favor restrictions on abortion is baffling. Indeed, it seems to fly in the face of everything one would expect from committed Catholics. How could it be possible?

It’s likely that had the question been worded differently to emphasize the morality of the issue rather than the legislative procedures surrounding it, active Catholics might have stood more firmly behind the Church’s teaching on such issues. A small comfort, however, when one considers the implications of holding such beliefs without the commitment to act on them. As a result, many Catholics have fallen into a sort of Cuomo Catholicism, one that is active in private worship but not in public practice.

This sad conclusion is consistent with the reaction of some Catholics to political and moral questions of a lesser magnitude that were also in the survey. Seventy-six percent of active Catholics are in favor of school vouchers, for example, and 68 percent would oppose forcing Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives and abortions to its patients. Just as these Catholics seem hesitant to force their beliefs on society, so too would they resent the advances of society on their own institutions and beliefs. The “live and let live” approach sits well with such Catholics.

But the Vatican says that isn’t enough. The doctrinal note maintains that “there cannot be two parallel lives in [Catholics’] existence; on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” The dignity of life is not the private opinion of select Catholics but a truth that transcends human institutions. “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles,” the note states, “which are the underpinning of life in society.”

The Bishops

While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the laity to make the connection between beliefs and voting habits, blame for letting such behavior pass without comment has often been laid at the feet of the bishops. Members of the clergy are called to task for being conspicuously silent on the standard hot-button issues of abortion, euthanasia, and their respective counterparts. After reports of sexual abuse surfaced, however, similar silence was seen not only as irresponsible but morally reprehensible. The lack of action by certain bishops is jeopardizing the authority of all bishops.

Should they think otherwise, the bishops need only read the results of the survey. Only a slim majority of active Catholics-52 percent—is supportive of the manner in which the bishops have responded to the abuse crisis; inactive Catholics are much more critical, with only 35 percent being satisfied by the bishops’ response. There is no group firmly in the bishops’ corner; even large donors and those who attend Mass more than five times a month have a high rate of dissatisfaction. Given that much of their support—monetary or otherwise—generally comes from these groups, all bishops will likely feel a strain in clergy-laity relations as a result.

The approval ratings for bishops may gradually recover over time. A more disturbing and, perhaps, more lasting trend is that a large percentage of Catholics have less faith in the moral teachings of the Church as a result of the scandal. Sixty-six percent of active Catholics claim their faith is unshaken, but the fact that even 29 percent would now doubt those teachings is a serious issue (5 percent remained unsure). And unfortunately, those in the best position to reassure the doubters are part of the cause for doubt.

Bishops can do a number of things to stave off further disappointment and disaster. For one, they must remain diligent in their work to repair past cases of abuse. But the laity also needs proof that everything possible is being done to prevent these crimes in the future. A full 65 percent of all Catholics believe the abuse is still occurring today, so an appeal to forgiveness for past mistakes will not be enough to allay those fears. Visible, public steps must be taken at this point: Whether going into seminaries or going out to comfort the abused, members of the flock need to feel that their shepherd is leading the fight in this scandal, not being dragged along unwillingly.

Once again, the Vatican has clear directives for those in power: “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.” The bishops must shoulder this responsibility if the laity will ever be encouraged to follow.

The President

With such emphasis placed on the laity’s involvement in the political sphere, it becomes important for politicians—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—to understand where the support of active Catholic voters is likely to be found. The political press core identified the 1998 poll as providing a valuable tool to then-Governor George W. Bush in his campaign for the White House. President Bush was able to appeal to specific concerns and interests of active Catholics, attracting support with his platform of “compassionate conservatism.”

The work paid off: Bush was elected and is currently enjoying fairly regular support from Catholics. Seventy-two percent of active Catholics approve of the job Bush is doing as president (well above the usual numbers for general public opinion), and 57 percent feel that he’s supportive of Catholic values. One could say that Bush has won the respect of active-Catholic voters, but there are still a lot of voters who need to be convinced of his dedication. It’s one thing to note that 22 percent of active Catholics don’t think he’s supportive of their values; the fact that 22 percent aren’t sure one way or the other shows that Bush still has a lot of room to persuade them.

Part of the reason for this ambiguity among Catholics may be the result of the president’s stand on the war in Iraq. In a departure from the usual trend, support is greater among inactive Catholics on the issue. Only 52 percent of active Catholics favored intervening in Iraq. Most likely, the words of the bishops condemning the idea of war had a great impact on active Catholics—a reality that could be problematic for a president who may be largely remembered for his stand against Saddam Hussein.

How, then, does one win back those active Catholics who did not support the president’s stance on the conflict? This subsection tends to be more disapproving of Bush’s job as president, with only 50 percent supporting him, and is more skeptical of his support for Catholic values (32 percent). There’s room for improvement, however: 27 percent of these Catholics are unsure of his commitment—a window of opportunity for the president to convince them otherwise.

Most active Catholics who opposed Bush on Iraq identify themselves as Democrats; they were more apt to vote for Al Gore in the last election than the general population of Catholics but consider themselves more moderate than anything else. They had the same ambiguity regarding the question of abortion legislation, and yet—curiously enough—would more readily identify themselves as pro-life.

Bush can appeal to these voters by raising the bar. These Catholics are attracted to the ideas of compassionate conservatism: work permits for immigrants, protection of the unborn, tuition vouchers for schoolchildren. They want government out of Catholic institutions and evidence that the president is fighting the general moral decay they see in society. The answer is not to vacillate on these issues in the hopes of attracting greater numbers but to demonstrate that he will be a champion for life and those policies he already supports. Bush cannot present himself simply as the lesser of two evils but must be seen as a proactive leader who will attain results.

Whatever choices the candidates represent, however, the responsibility ultimately returns to the laity. Without the dedication to vote their Catholic conscience, an army of committed Catholic politicians will be of no use. Catholics—those in public office and those who vote for them—need to be reminded of their duty to the universal truths taught by the Church and upheld by natural law, a responsibility that can never be shirked.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2003.

Mary’s Shadow and Protection

By Deal W. Hudson

Having never been to a ma­jor Marian shrine, I didn’t know quite what to expect. So on my way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, I consciously put aside all preconcep­tions about what I should experience. I wanted just to let it happen.

Over the years I’ve become in­creasingly aware of the importance of this shrine, only a few kilometers from the heart of the city. The image of Mary given to Juan Diego through an armful of flowers holds immense significance for Catholics around the world—es­pecially in Hispanic regions. But Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Lady for all the Americas, and it was well past time for me to pay my respects.

Mexico City, if you’ve never been there, is filled with both the worst traffic and the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Each day there I marveled that people could remain so kind, so generous and smiling, when it took forever to drive even short distances. And yet I would return to the city just for the pleasure of spending time among them.

The shrine, when you first ap­proach it, appears as a cluster of old and new church buildings sitting on Tepeyac Hill, surrounded by the har­um-scarum sprawl of one of the largest cities in the world. Like most pilgrims I tried to visualize the moment nearly five centuries ago when this rocky hill stood far apart from the palaces of the Aztec empire.

The words I particularly kept in mind were those that Mary spoke to Juan Diego on the day he was avoid­ing her and seeking a priest for his dy­ing uncle, Juan Bernardino:

Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son. Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there any­thing else you need?

Among the many aspects of this story, this was the one most meaningful to me: How can any of us be so consumed by life’s tasks—even a task as impor­tant as tending a dying relative—that we forget to ask for divine help?

The shrine itself and the plaza that fronts it bear the stamp of Sev­enties utilitarianism in architecture, but once you enter the sanctuary that houses the sacred tilma (cloak), all those concerns are swept aside by the peace that descends upon the pilgrim. I arrived just in time to light my can­dles, ride the moving sidewalk under the tilma, and join the other pilgrims for Mass.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the sense of total comfort in an otherwise strange place. I had been advised by a bishop who loves the shrine to “ask for something big.” But Mary gave me something I didn’t ask for—an ease in prayer that was totally unexpected, as if something that had been clogging the lines of communication had been suddenly removed.

After Mass I went back down be­hind the altar for another look at the tilma but stepped aside to observe in­stead the faces of those pilgrims gaz­ing up at it. The radiance of piety transcends language and culture—its impact is universal. No wonder our Holy Father has been commending Marian pilgrimages from the earliest days of his pontificate. I’m sorry it took me so long.

I walked up the lovely ceramic-lined steps to the top of the hill and down to the gardens on the other side. But I didn’t want the solitude offered by the gardens; I went back to the plaza to look at the pilgrim faces and become one more face among them, transport­ed by the sense that nothing needs to be withheld from Mary’s care.

Published in Crisis Magazine, October 1, 2004

An Interview with John Cornwell

By Deal W. Hudson

John Cornwell is controversial. The best-selling author of Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII has been widely condemned both for the quality of his research and for the alleged heterodoxy of his Catholic faith.

In his newest book, Breaking Faith: The Pope, the People, and the Fate of Catholicism, Cornwell opens himself up to still more criticism by taking on Pope John Paul II and the conservative current in the Church.

But if you think Cornwell is a mere toe-the-line theological liberal, you’re wrong. Deal Hudson sat down with him at his home in England to talk about Pius XII, liturgy, and the future of the Church.

Deal Hudson: When I first saw the title of your book, Breaking Faith, I thought it meant that the Holy Father had broken faith with the Church, but it has a very different meaning, doesn’t it?

John Cornwell: I wanted the book to have an arresting title, as well as a true one. Breaking Faith refers mainly to my own loss of faith, which happened in about 1965, when I was 25 years old, and took me away from the Church for more than 20 years. Although my book is not an autobiography, I wanted it to have a subjective, autobiographical dimension. When one writes about the faith, leaving out the phenomenology of personal belief, there is a danger that you’re telling people everything and yet telling them nothing. Sociological and journalistic accounts that attempt to be totally objective are always flawed. So Breaking Faith is certainly a survey—where the Church is at this time—using the Church’s own statistics, or the Vatican’s statistics, but it is also about one individual’s sense of the faith.

And I have to say that my own break with the Church was a crucial and positive thing in my life; it was providential, because I returned with a much stronger, more mature approach to belief. One would never advocate apostasy, but sometimes it may be necessary for those whose faith is immature and based on egotism and self-seeking.

In the first few chapters of the book, you describe the hurt you felt over the reception of Hitler’s Pope, the book on Pius XII and Hitler. Do you feel like your intentions or motives for writing that book were misunderstood?

I did not object to those who criticized the arguments and disputed the historical evidence. But I was dismayed by those who used ad hominem arguments, claiming that I was not a Catholic and disputing that I had started out intending to defend Pius XII. The facts are these: I spent an evening with some young Catholics who were arguing that the Church had sided with all the worst right-wing elements in the history of the 20th century. I did not believe that this was true. About that time, I had read a book by the historian Owen Chadwick called Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War, which seemed to me to be an important defense of Pius XII’s conduct during the war—certainly the best to date.

But Chadwick’s book was very academic—an uninviting sort of book.

It seemed to me that if I took that as a basis and I did the whole of Pius XII’s life, including his undoubted growth of spirituality, his youth, it would provide a riposte to the young critics I had talked to. But that’s not the way it worked out. As I went through the documents, I got a completely different picture of him. I had to revise my opinion of Owen Chadwick’s work. After the book came out, a segment of the Catholic media simply focused on whether I was lying about being a Catholic, making me out to be part of an almost demonic conspiracy to undermine the Church. Ronald Rychlak, for example, has written almost a whole book about how I was a liar and apostate.

In Breaking Faith, you have a chapter about coming back to the Church after 20 years and being horrified by the liturgies that you experienced. I was surprised when I realized this chapter could have been published in Crisis. You write about the dumbing-down of liturgical music and the banality of the “me-ism” in hymns. Yet you also seem to be struggling to accept the way God may be speaking to people through this form of music, though you find it unpleasing. Where do you stand on that question at the present time? Do you still grudgingly accept it or feel like it’s just not your cup of tea?

Well, what really concerns me about liturgy is the Mass itself. It’s not so much the translations I oppose or the music accompanying it; it is that the Roman missal has been undermined in a way that aids this general process of Pelagianism in the Church, robbing us of our sense of unworthiness and also robbing us at the very heart of the Mass of the sense of the Trinity.

You mean as in, “Lord, I am worthy to receive you”?

Yes. So I have to make that the starting point. It’s not a question of taste in music, although I must say that I deplore the dumbed-down jauntiness and egotism of much that passes for Church music, or even the loss of dignity and elegance. My greatest concern is the loss of the repetitions and the doxologies, which exemplify the truth of the Holy Trinity. I have to say I am deeply depressed about it, because I don’t know how, when, and where that will be rectified.

Conservatives believe those you call the “progressives” are trying to make being a Catholic easier for people. They do this by allowing people to measure Catholic issues by a personal standard. In doing this, liberals want to lower the bar, lower the standards, of both belief and action. I detect a tension between the higher standard for liturgy that you would like to see and your insistence that the Church become more inclusive and more participatory.

Surely, the inclusive, participatory Church doesn’t imply a destruction of the traditional liturgy. This was not envisaged by the Second Vatican Council.

Let me give an example. You tell a lot of poignant stories about people who have been divorced, and they don’t want to get an annulment, so they are excluded from partaking of the Eucharist. You seem to be suggesting that this is a barrier that should be removed. Now, isn’t that an example of lowering a standard and thereby making people who don’t want to go through the annulment process seem OK with where they are?

You are right of course. I guess we can’t have it both ways. But we are living in very difficult and confused times within the Church itself. A very large proportion of Catholic marriages founder: It is the way the whole of our culture and society is drifting. But are we right to use annulment as a form of divorce by another name? There are, I should think, hundreds of thousands of people who get annulments even though they know that they were married. Some 60 percent of all annulments in the Church occur in the United States. This can’t be right. It is beginning to look like a cynical exercise in legalism and suggests that perhaps we need a new theology of marriage and annulment.

I must confess that I feel muddled, as do many Catholics, because part of me feels very firmly that the Eucharist is a litmus test of our Catholicism. I believe that those Catholics who do not go up to the Eucharist because their situation is not right in terms of marriage—remarried divorcees, for example—are acting as witnesses for other Catholics. Part of me agrees with that. But part of me also knows, and especially from the research I did for Breaking Faith, that there are millions of Catholics drifting away from the Church because of sheer spiritual inanition. I do think that compassion and love and sympathy have got to reign, because it’s such a prodigious problem involving millions of people across the world who are being lost to the Church.

I am conscious that this is a muddled answer. But I hope that I make myself clear about one thing: Receiving the Eucharist is a huge privilege. If one’s personal situation, or marriage situation, is not right, being deprived of the Eucharist is a form of desert spirituality; it can be a positive thing. But not all of us are capable of seeing it in that light, and it worries me that so many millions of people are drifting away.

The thrust of your new book, if I understood it correctly, is that under the pontificate of John Paul II, there has been almost a parallel phenomenon. On the one hand, John Paul II has tremendous personal appeal, both to Catholics and to non-Catholics, and in this sense, the Church has benefited from his pontificate. But on the other hand, in terms of the infrastructure and management of the Church, it has been a negative experience because of the centralization, the management style—the micromanagement style—the multiplication of strictures on bishops. Do you think that those conservatives who read this entirely differently simply have a fundamental blind spot when it comes to that second issue?

We could argue forever about the issue of centralization and collegiality in the Church—whether we have the balance right. I’m not a Church historian or a theologian; I’m just trying to make a contribution from the periphery to a debate. And it’s a debate that has so many dynamics.

For example, much of my thinking on these questions comes from the work of Henri de Lubac, the Jesuit theologian who inspired much of the thinking and direction of Vatican II. And yet, de Lubac turned out by 1970 to be one of the sternest critics of the progressives, and in a curious way, he’s probably right. It’s just absolutely undeniable that people went shooting off in all kinds of damaging directions. I guess that we’ll still be arguing about the balance between collegiality, subsidiarity, and centralization of Vatican II in a hundred years’ time.

But the point I tried to make in my book on Pius XII is, I hope, a valid one for discussion. Excessive centralization, I argue, weakened a powerful German Church during the 1930s, rendering it weak in the face of Nazism. Contrast that with the strength of the local German Church during the Kulturkampf 60 years earlier, which took on Bismark and won. Think, too, of the strength of the local Church in Poland through the grassroots power of Solidarity. These are issues we need to discuss and to debate openly within the Church, and I hope that I have at least made a contribution.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2002

The Spin to Come-The Death of John Paul II

By Deal W. Hudson

The television and radio interviews are already taped and waiting to be broadcast. The passing of Pope John Paul II will unleash a media spin on his papacy guaranteed to make you nauseous: This was a pope who cared about the poor but did not engage in dialogue, a pope who traveled the world to speak but not to listen, a pope who electrified crowds with his charisma but did not trust the leadership in his church, a pope who was a serious and prolific writer but rolled back the reforms of Vatican II, blah, blah, blah.

This will be the spin of dissenters and left-wingers frustrated by a pope who didn’t give them what they wanted, what they thought should belong to them—namely, a Church reorganized along the lines of the Episcopal church (which is presently falling apart over the appointment of an openly gay bishop).

I’m confident that CRISIS readers will be ready to challenge this spin for the rot that it is. The talking points are simple. The pope did listen to dissenting opinions on Humanae Vitae and the priesthood, rejecting their arguments and offering his own in 14 encyclicals, along with the new Code of Canon Law and Catechism of the Catholic Church. The pope did participate in dialogue, not only within the Church but with leaders of all religious traditions—especially the Jews—with whom he met on his travels. The pope did implement the reforms of Vatican II, not the ersatz “spirit of Vatican II,” accomplishing a genuine updating of theology, liturgy, and lay participation in ministry. Finally, the pope did trust his bishops, by forging close working relationships with cardinals like Ratzinger, Schonborn, and Arinze, thus bitterly disappointing the self-appointed leaders of democratization in the Church.

The authors of this spin were youthful in 1978 when John Paul II took office and expected the millennium to herald a Church of woman priests, birth control, and localized control of parishes and chanceries. Now they’re older and have left Call to Action to seek legitimacy in Voice of the Faithful and other organizations. They talk openly about a successor to John Paul II who will “listen,” but what they actually mean is a pope who will do their bidding.

At present in the United States, there are Catholics who hope the next pope will be more “open” to the selection of priests and bishops by the laity. Jim Post, cofounder of Voice of the Faithful, has finally come clean expressing his support for the lay selection of bishops and providing an example of what his organization means by “structural change.” Post and his supporters want to reverse the authority structure of the Church by making it democratic. Democracy is good for government but undermines the tradition and form of the Catholic Church. The legacy of John Paul II—particularly his enormous paper trail—has insured that it will never happen.

Other mainline Christian denominations have listened to such voices and, as a result, have been lured into the irrelevancy of cultural assimilation. One denomination after another has adopted modish, politically correct causes at the expense of the faith’s core message of spiritual salvation. Christianity is not primarily an earthly program for political change, psychological comfort, or the satisfaction of media outlets. John Paul II took his message directly to the people, thereby forcing the media to cover his message and leaving the malcontents to fume at the outer boundaries of cable news and talk-radio shows.

The brief feeding frenzy after the passing of John Paul II will be a period of payback against the pope whose wisdom and goodness overwhelmed the cunning of his detractors. But have no fear. The white smoke will herald the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Church another leader who will again. outsize those who would tailor the Church to their own measurements.

Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2003

On Being Divisive

By Deal W. Hudson

Every group has its code words. These words serve an important social function they enable the members of the group to deliver a harsh judgment on others without accountability. In the Catholic world, when someone is called “divisive,” it means he is too conservative to be trusted. Those who are “divisive” threaten the “unity of the Church” by raising questions about the loyalty of its leaders to its teachings. Strange, isn’t it?

Not everyone understands the code, but not everyone is supposed to. The code serves to protect those who don’t want to be troubled by troubling questions. The code kept Church leaders from answering questions about the growing influence of active homosexuals in the priesthood. When Catholic publications such as Crisis raised this question, they were labeled “divisive.”

If Church unity must be protected from the Church’s teaching, then what kind of unity do we have? It is the kind of unity that keeps priests from reminding their parishioners of the Church’s position on birth control or homosexuality, the kind that allows a college to call itself Catholic while its faculty consistently misrepresent the Church’s teachings.

This arrangement may be appropriate for a big-tent political coalition. Parties form coalitions in order to achieve a majority vote; if they excluded everyone who doesn’t affirm every plank in the platform, they’d lose. But is this the kind of unity the Church should be seeking—a unity preoccupied with numbers? Such is the pseudounity of those leaders who don’t want the “divisive” influence of sound Church teaching to embarrass cafeteria Catholics.

Some will say, quite rightly, that the unity of the Church is first of all a unity in Christ—a person, not a principle. They will argue that faith is a personal journey rather than the intellectual acceptance of a creed and moral teachings. “Pastoral care” thus requires that Catholics should not be made to feel less Catholic for the rejection of this or that teaching.

Some, in fact, may use pastoral care as an excuse to ignore the content of the faith, but the moral dimension of the spiritual life cannot be dismissed. The question remains whether we will continue calling all Catholics to a full recognition of Catholic teaching. This type of evangelism—an evangelism directed to those already in the Church—risks the very divisiveness that most of the present leadership abhors. Dissent is so often encountered and so rarely challenged that is has been normalized. It begins to look imprudent—that is, divisive—even to remark on it. At least those who dissent within a political coalition are more honest about it. And political leadership rarely fears invoking the platform to pull coalition members into line.

Looming very large for our bishops is the issue of homosexuality in the priesthood. This issue will test their willingness to discuss the real causes of the sex-abuse scandal. Whether they are ready to meditate seriously on the intersection of homosexual orientation as an “objective disorder,” homosexual acts as morally evil, and the vocation of the celibate priesthood remains to be seen.

Given the obvious state of affairs in our priesthood, anyone who pushes these questions will likely be shoved aside as a divider. To borrow a phrase from St. Thomas Aquinas, now is the time to distinguish in order to unite. There is no real unity in the Church as long as its people are deceived and its teaching ignored.

Published in Crisis Magazine, September 1, 2002

A Video Interview About Jacques Maritain

In 1993 James and Tyra Arraj interviewed me about the French philosopher Jacques Maritain as part of their excellent documentary, “Understanding Maritain: The Man Who Loved Wisdom.” I was teaching at Fordham University at the time and had been president of the American Maritain Association for several years.  The first book I had published was co-edited with Matthew Mancini, Jacques Maritain: Philosopher and Friend, Mercer University Press, 1987. Maritain, as I describe, had been central in my conversion to Catholicism in 1984. For those who want a solid introduction to Maritain, I can strongly recommend the Arraj documentary, which can be seen here.