How Catholic Universities Fool Their Donors

By Deal W. Hudson

During my eight years at Crisis, the conversation that most often reoccurs is the one about the fate of the Catholic university and college. It begins inevitably with an alumnus complaining about the latest anti-Catholic outbreak on the hallowed grounds of their former college campus and ends with their asking me for advice. I always respond by asking them whether or not they’ve spoken to the administration with their wallets, either threatening to end donations and/or actually pulling the trigger. Nine out of ten times they shake their heads sadly saying, “No, I can’t do that; it’s better to keep a place at the table or the problem will only get worse.”

Wrong answer.

Most college graduates are nostalgic: Carefree days filled with books, sports, and sporting around. It’s difficult to get hard-hearted toward all that, especially when you add nuns and priests who taught you the Faith and the lessons of life. When the experience becomes multigenerational, the bonding to a particular campus is almost irresistible. And Catholics are nothing if not loyal. History has shown that they’ll forgive anything—from a decade of losing football teams to a theology department full of professors eager to bash, or slyly subvert, the Church in the national media.

By staying in touch with these alums, I’ve been able to observe how their colleges try to soothe them and keep them assured of their Catholic identity. The most obvious scheme is for the development department to ask them for a targeted gift—one that goes directly to some program that seems to reinforce orthodoxy. So programs in Catholic studies, lecture series, or campus ministries are created and offered to skeptical donors as a way of sticking with the institution while—wink, wink—the tenured faculty retires or moves on and younger, more faithful professors are hired.

Such philanthropy may salve the donor’s conscience, but it does nothing for the Catholic identity of the institution except distract everyone’s attention away from its primary concern: what’s being taught in the classroom. What good does it do to pay for a tasty dessert when the main course remains undercooked? Does an occasional lecture from George Weigel change the character of a university? (Even Weigel isn’t that good!) Does taking a group of existing courses from different departments and lumping them together under “Catholic Studies” ensure the Magisterial position is being taught and defended in the classroom? No—in fact, such programs may compound the problem, since the course on feminist interpretations of the “three Marys” is no longer solely in the province of the English department.

Next in line is what I call the “Ex Corde Ecclesiae Shuffle”—quite popular among college presidents and development directors. Concerned alums ask how the implementation and mandatum are going only to be warned of “those people in the Vatican” who are afraid of an educated laity. The inside story of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the alums are told, is that mean old Cardinal Ratzinger was uncomfortable with the “academic excellence” of the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities and didn’t really understand the tradition of “academic freedom” in this country. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, they’re told, is just another attempt by the Vatican to control the U.S. Church.

Perhaps the Vatican is concerned about an uneducated laity…one that’s uneducated in the Faith. Indeed, the anti-Roman antagonism on Catholic campuses rarely shows its face directly; rather, blunt comments are limited to the ears of those cognoscenti who earnestly wish for a “progressive” successor to John Paul II. For outsiders, it’s there to be seen and heard in the body language, the silences, and emphatic focus on “peace and justice” issues.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t appear that any of the major Catholic institutions that fit this profile have any financial problems, although some smaller and mid-size schools have struggled and gone out of business. It may be that the more established schools have passed successfully through the period where donor pressure might have produced reforms: It’s unlikely that graduates from the 1970s will care enough about Catholic identity to withhold their money. Sadly, it appears that Catholic schools since the early 1970s have been producing the perfect donors: well-educated in the world of commerce and able to make enough money to give it away, but uneducated in the Faith and incapable of knowing when their beloved alma mater has drifted from its mission.

Published in Crisis Magazine, May 1, 2003

How to Vote Catholic: Part II-Marriage and the Family

By Deal W. Hudson

“A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public au­thority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family rela­tionship are to be evaluated” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2202).

The Catholic Church teaches that the institution of marriage comes prior to the state and therefore must be ac­cepted as normative. Indeed, all the nations in the world over the past 20 centuries have never questioned this stan­dard, until recently.

On February 3, 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state laws restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman were based upon a reli­gious prejudice. This decision unleashed a national debate on the meaning of marriage and spurred many to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifying the legal meaning of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

The pope and bishops around the world have directly rejected the idea of “same-sex marriage”: “It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female; it can­not cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union” (USCCB, Between Man and Woman: Questions and An­swers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions).

The Church must defend traditional marriage not only because it was instituted by God, but also because the fam­ily is the foundation of all society: “The family is the com­munity in which, from childhood, one can learn moral val­ues, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society” (CCC 2207).

The Catholic view of marriage should inform public policy in several ways. As the U.S. bishops have said, “Poli­cies related to the definition of marriage, taxes, the work­place, divorce, and welfare must be designed to help fami­lies stay together and to reward responsibility and sacrifice for children” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility).

The specific policies are a matter of prudential judg­ment, but what is behind them—the firm belief that marriage between a man and a woman should be protected by the state—is a non-negotiable principle of Catholic teaching.

The USCCB is strongly supportive of the consti­tutional amendment to defend marriage recently introduced in the Congress. A majority of Catholic senators, unfortunately, voted against it, in spite of the bishops’ lobbying effort.

Politicians will disagree prudentially on how best to protect marriage through law and public policy. The option being considered by some states, that of recognizing “civil unions” between homosexuals and affording to them some or all of the benefits of married persons, should be judged by its impact on the common good and especially on mar­riage and children.

The Pontifical Council for the Family has criticized the prospect of civil unions: “This would be an arbitrary use of power which does not contribute to the common good because the original nature of marriage and the family proceeds and exceeds, in an absolute and radical way, the sovereign power of the State” (Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions, 9).


“The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primor­dial and inalienable” (CCC 2221).

Parents should know that it’s their job to oversee the education of their children. “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public au­thorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC 2229).

As public schools have become more secular in their curriculums, with some even hostile to the expression of religious views, parents have been forced to find alterna­tives that are “consonant with Catholic convictions.” This has led to a modest revival in diocesan and private Catho­lic education. It has also led many parents to enroll their children in private schools without religious affiliation or non-sectarian Christian schools. For those who cannot find or afford private schools, homeschooling has become the most viable option.

The problem of choosing a private school is that many Catholic parents cannot afford it, even at the reduced pric­es often available at parish schools. For this reason, some Catholic leaders have made a prudential judgment to sup­port the idea of school choice.

Choice in education means that parents who qualify can receive an annual stipend from the government for use at private schools. Some would argue, however, that the state should not provide financial support for those parents who choose to send their children to parochial schools. Their argument is based on the perceived threat of such contributions to the separation of church and state.

Yet if the voucher system is limited only to public schools and non-sectarian private schools, the majority of private schools will be left out of the mix. Furthermore, most non-sectarian private schools are well beyond the fi­nancial reach of parents, even those who receive govern­ment subsidies.

So, in essence, a voucher program that excludes paro­chial schools is really a public school program. For reasons already discussed, this is not much of a choice for those Catholic parents who are concerned with the direction of public education.

Economic Issues

“A business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’, it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the neces­sary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labour” (Centesimus Annus, 43).

The well-being of our families, communities, and na­tion depends on the success of business and industry to cre­ate wealth. The greater the growth of industry, the more stable our society becomes: “Another name for peace is development. Just as there is a collective responsibility for avoiding war, so too there is a collective responsibility for promoting development” (Centesimus Annus, 52).

Businesses and industries create the wealth that provides financial support for their workers, both blue and white col­lar, and their families through earned wages, medical bene­fits, life insurance, disability, and pension plans. Without these wages and benefits, most workers would be unable to obtain the necessary goods of life. They would also be un­able to support the present levels of government services and programs through the payment of taxes. The quality of life for all citizens, regardless of their income brackets, is thus proportionate to the success of their nation’s business and industry. It is therefore in the interest of every citizen that the economic sector grows and prospers.

Government, as a promoter of the common good, has an obligation to ensure that social and economic conditions promote business development. More often than not, as ar­gued in John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991), this can best be achieved by allowing market forces to act freely. As shown by the decline of communism, the state does not generally make the best allocations of capital when it is the sole decision-maker.

The more that regulations are imposed by government, the less room is left for entrepreneurial enterprise and cre­ative decision-making. According to the principle of sub­sidiarity, corporate executives and managers should be allowed to control their own economic development, within the boundaries of law and morality.

At the same time—and again in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity—the government has a responsi­bility to protect the weak and vulnerable from unethical be­havior. Government also has a duty to protect the rights of workers by ensuring decent working conditions, establish­ing fair wages, and holding corporate leaders accountable for breaking the laws governing corporate behavior.

Accountability is thus a social partnership between the private sector and the government. Private industry profes­sionals and associations play an important role in setting appropriate standards for particular professions, businesses, and industries. Legislative and executive bodies also must set standards for responsible conduct through the passage and enforcement of appropriate laws to protect society as a whole from abuses.

Often referred to as the backbone of the U.S. econo­my, small businesses account for 99 percent of employers and, with the recent movement of formerly American facto­ries and jobs offshore, now create between 60 percent and 75 percent of net new jobs annually. Pope Leo XIII wrote, “The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (Rerum Novarum, 46).


“In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contribut­ing” (Mater et Magistra, 132).

Every citizen has a moral obligation to contribute to the common good. In financial terms, this responsibility is car­ried out primarily through a person’s labor and the wealth it creates. But a citizen also contributes through the payment of taxes, which are used to fund the cost of government.

Balancing this tax burden is a matter of prudential judg­ment. Taxes that are adjusted to income levels are designed to place more of the burden on the wealthy. However, some argue that this policy penalizes those who are successful and may actually deter others who would otherwise work to earn more. In response, some have suggested a flat tax, in which all citizens pay the same tax rate, or a consumption tax, based upon what an individual spends.

How the combination of progressive and regressive taxes is balanced is a source of much debate. Regardless of the solution, taxation policy should not become a weapon in class warfare. Citizens should work together to create a solution that is fair to all sides. The common good should be the goal of any taxation policy, not the interests of one particular class.

A just tax system is one that is based on a citizen’s abil­ity to pay. In supporting their nation and communities, tax­payers should not find themselves unable to provide for their own families or maintain their businesses. Workers should earn enough money to pay their taxes and still take home a “living wage.” Traditional families should also be encouraged. This means that a husband working full-time should be able to support his wife and children at home.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many moth­ers are forced to leave their children in order to earn second incomes because of the amount of tax the fathers must pay out of their incomes. This economic pressure adds to the stress and emotional cost to parents and their children. This is why the USCCB has supported family-friendly tax legis­lation, such as tax credits for children and direct rebates to low-income families with dependents. The bishops’ confer­ence has also supported adjustments that would reduce the “marriage penalty” by increasing the qualifying amount for married workers.

Large corporations, small businesses, and other institu­tions that employ workers also have a significant impact on family stability, as well as on society as a whole. In addition to paying workers’ wages, corporations provide financial support for the common good by paying federal and state income taxes. These taxes represent another major source of revenue for the government.

To sustain the corporations and businesses that provide employment and financial support, the government should ensure that corporate taxes are low enough for both large and small companies to operate at optimal levels. “Govern­ments must provide regulations and a system of taxation which encourage firms to preserve the environment, em­ploy disadvantaged workers, and create jobs in depressed areas. Managers and stockholders should not be torn be­tween their responsibilities to their organizations and their responsibilities toward society as a whole” (USCCB, Eco­nomic Justice for All, 118).


“Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of char­ity which remain indispensable always and everywhere” (Libertatis Conscientia, 68).

This “preferential option for the poor” challenges Catho­lics to make a special effort to help those in poverty. How this is translated into public policy is a matter for prudential judgment. But it’s clear from other aspects of the Church’s social teaching that Catholics must be careful not to under­mine any person’s right to self-determination and autonomy, as has been witnessed by some forms of welfare assistance.

The principle of social justice combines the notion that persons are responsible for exercising their freedom to obtain the goods of life, and that these goods are propor­tionate to their inherent dignity. But there are some who cannot obtain these goods without assistance. One of the most contentious issues in modern politics is the question of what and how much should be provided by the community or the state.

Catholic social teaching does not justify the growth of a federal welfare state. A wealthy state that provides for the less fortunate is to be preferred to the socialist state where everyone is equally poor. The goal of Catholic social teach­ing is to provide the conditions for persons to obtain the goods appropriate to the dignity of their existence.

One way in which the government can most appropriately weed out the roots of poverty is through a sound fis­cal policy. At a minimum, the Church advocates regulated income levels and working conditions that promote self-respect and self-sufficiency: “The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with hu­man dignity” (Pacem in Terris, 20).

The federal government should also enact legislation that motivates the unemployed to move from the welfare lines to the workforce. We should not embrace policies that encourage the unemployed to become dependent on the government, thereby losing their incentives to be­come self-sufficient.

Health Care

“Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance” (CCC 2288).

The number of uninsured in our country continues to be a major problem. As Catholics, we are called to respect the dignity of people by defending their basic right to health care. The principle of subsidiarity teaches that government must become involved when there is a problem that cannot be solved at the local level.

Throughout this country’s history, Catholic hospi­tals—622 as of 2002—have steadfastly fulfilled the moral obligation to care for the sick. But faith-based medical ser­vices, along with publicly funded hospitals and clinics, are strained to take care of the uninsured.

Insured patients are also financially strained to meet the rising costs of health care. Most rely on their employee benefit plans, which are less expensive than private insur­ance policies. However, the costs are still high, and some companies are scaling back their benefit programs. Other companies and professions do not offer any benefits at all.

Another health-care issue that has surfaced is that of conscience protections. Following the passage of Roe v. Wade, Congress protected the rights of health organiza­tions and providers to refuse to perform abortions under the conscientious objection principle. Today, this question is returning with a vengeance.

In recent years, “reproductive rights” advocates have pushed for expanded health-care coverage that would force all employee health plans to include contraception and “emergency contraception.” The Catholic health-care ministry is based on the protection of life and preservation of the dignity of people. Procedures that are contrary to this mission (abortion, euthanasia, and contraception) cannot be provided by Catholic hospitals or supported by Catholic health-care plans.

Religious Liberty

“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that . . . no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

Because they are created by God, human beings have an intrinsic dignity. Their desire to practice religion is an expression of their dignity and must be considered a fun­damental human right. Since religious belief is not uniform, the duty to respect religious liberty requires tolerance and respect for pluralism. The state must govern in a manner that allows full religious expression according to the dic­tates of the particular faith.

The goal of religious liberty is twofold: freedom of re­ligious expression and suppression of those individuals or groups who would impose their beliefs on others. Protec­tion of the common good can take precedence over an in­dividual’s right to religious expression. Therefore, religious liberty does not protect those who promote violent demon­strations of faith or call people to commit violent acts.

The issue that most people identify with religious liberty—the display of religious symbols—is the easiest to resolve. The founding of America was rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings that were incorporated into our legal system and fundamental democratic charter and documents. In this regard, the distinct influence of the Ten Command­ments cannot be ignored.

In the interest of respecting the complementary prin­ciples of religious tolerance and respect for historic tra­ditions, the Ten Commandments have long been posted in our public places. Likewise, Christmas manger scenes should be allowed in public places along with menorahs or other symbols that show respect for religious tradi­tions. Recently the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance has come under attack, signifying the intent of secularizers to remove any symbol or mention of religion from the public arena.

During the past 35 years, government authorities have implicitly established secularism as an official state religion. Secularism has taken many forms: the removal of voluntary religious instruction in public schools; the banning of voluntary private prayer in public schools; employment dis­crimination against those who openly practice their faith; the promotion of an atheist “ethos”; and mandatory con­traceptive coverage in health plans. “It is therefore difficult . . . to accept a position that gives only atheism the right of citizenship in public and social life, while believers are, as though by principle, barely tolerated or are treated as sec­ond-class citizens” (Redemptor Hominis, 17).

For the first 125 years of the American experience, government authorities relied upon the charitable work performed by faith-based organizations. It is only in more recent years that government social-service and education agencies have withheld financial support.

This is discriminatory. Secular organizations and faith-based organizations should play on a level playing field in competing for government funds. However, faith-based or­ganizations that accept government funding must not be forced to sacrifice their religious liberties. A Catholic ma­ternity center that receives a government grant must not be required to hire an abortion advocate.


“Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country, and, where there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there” (Pacem in Terris, 25).

Persons emigrate from one country to another for a va­riety of reasons. It may be for reasons of stark persecution, the desire to escape poverty, or to seek greater opportunity. The Church views immigration as a right that should be recognized by every nation. That right is rooted in the be­lief that each person should have access to the basic goods that constitute the universal common good.

The willingness for one country to accept persons across the borders and offer them a home is emblematic of the unity of the human family and an act of human soli­darity. Some political leaders have spared no effort to re­strict—and, in some cases, end—legal immigration to the United States. They argue that new immigrants do not as­similate to the American way of life and pose a threat to the jobs of U.S. citizens.

Some immigrants may just need time to adjust to American life and culture. In fact, a period of living in eth­nic communities may be what immigrants need to prepare for mainstream society. Given the core of Catholic social teaching, any political candidate who impedes this process or betrays a hostile attitude toward immigrants would be found wanting.

The prosperity of the United States is not only attrac­tive; according to the Catechism it places a special obliga­tion on its citizens and elected representatives: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (CCC 2241).

The Church also recognizes that a country has the right to monitor and set reasonable limits on immigration, espe­cially now when the threat of terrorist infiltration raises con­cerns about immigrants from the Middle East. The United States may also protect its cultural patrimony, which some ply intelligence when making decisions that affect the immigrants to America do not share. But citizens should not fall into nationalist rhetoric that would reject most immi­grants both now and in the future.

The Environment

“Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray” (Centesimus Annus, 37).

Man’s relationship with the environment is subject to various principles of Catholic social teaching, such as soli­darity and prudence, and the preferential option for the poor. The Church does not think environmental issues can be resolved through economic or scientific means alone—the underlying moral and cultural causes must be addressed if changes are to become permanent.

Since creation, the Church teaches, men and women have been made the stewards of this world. Despite this authority, we do not have an unfettered rule over the environment. Our control is subject to the same restrictions that are imposed on governing bodies: Just as governments serve to protect the common good, so too must we recognize our solidarity with nature.

Prudence requires that nations and their leaders apply intelligence when making decisions that affect the environment. Unfortunately, some are more concerned with meeting their economic and consumer goals than in responsibly carrying out their stewardship roles. As a result, the common good has been threatened from an array of environmental issues, including pollution and nuclear waste.

Arguably the more significant factor in environmental crises has been the rise of consumerism and over-consump­tion: “In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these cause. Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative conse­quences of the careless habits of a few” (John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis).

Rather than addressing issues of protecting natural re­sources or curbing consumerism, the affluent nations tend to focus more on reducing third-world birth rates. Foreign aid packages that are sent to Africa from USAID and other federally funded relief organizations often contain materi­als directed toward population control, such as contracep­tion and voluntary sterilization. Even if these initiatives were successful, the impact on the environment would not be nearly as significant as reduced consumption. The sheer number of people is not the problem. Some of the most densely populated areas of the world are both affluent and ecologically secure.

To be fair, the leaders of the developed world have tak­en steps to curb their excessive consumerism. But men and women, the natural stewards of all creation, must continue to focus their creativity on more responsible development: “Even as humanity’s mistakes are at the root of earth’s travail today, human talents and invention can and must assist in its rebirth and contribute to human development” (USCCB, Renewing the Earth).

Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2006

Why Catholics Should Reject the Jesus Seminar

Published December 1, 1999

Deal W. Hudson

Normally the average Catholic need not worry about a group of academicians who meet every year to discuss the “historicity” of the Gospels. These debates have been going on inside ivy walls for over a century. But with the recent national road-show of the Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 and led by Protestant scholar Robert W. Funk, we are witnessing more than innocuous speculation for the initiated few—we are witnessing a well-funded, public assault on the Jesus Christ held in faith by the Church.

For the past 15 years, the members of the Jesus Seminar, composed of a who’s who of colleges, universities, and seminaries, have met annually to vote on the words and deeds of Jesus they consider to be historically accurate. They have come to the conclusion that more than 82 percent of what he said in the four Gospels is not historically accurate. Of the deeds of Jesus in the Gospels, 176 in number, only ten are historical. Thus, Jesus was not resurrected from the dead and did not pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus, as taught by the Jesus Seminar, is a not a Savior whose redemptive death is the way of our salvation but rather an ancient cynic philosopher with some interesting things to say about the importance of love and relationships. This message is something the “Jesus Seminar on the Road” is taking to the Christian layperson across the country. Its two-day seminars have or will be offered in California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Rhode Island, and Ohio. I became concerned about them when some Catholic friends of mine attended a seminar at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and came back very confused.

Everyone knows that our Protestant brethren are more savvy when it comes to matters of biblical authority and interpretation than average Catholics in the pew. Catholics, it seems to me, have a strong but vague reverence for the words of Scripture. They lack exposure to the direct attacks on the authority of Scripture, while being more familiar with the dissenters’ attacks on the authority of the Magisterium. What Catholics need to realize is that Catholic dissenters, having failed in their attack on the Magisterium, have now begun using the avenue of the scriptural controversies raised by the Jesus Seminar. The literature of dissent is becoming more and more steeped in the appeals to Scripture understood historically apart from the faith of the Church.

This strategy is most clever. At the heart of the scholarly debate is a blatant challenge to the centuries-old faith of the Church, and indeed the entire Christian community. These attacks, under the guise of scholarly pursuits, threaten to undermine the living and apostolic faith in the Per-son, Divinity, and mission of Christ; the Church He founded; and the authority of the pope.

If the consensus of the Jesus Seminar prevails, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John will be dismissed as mythical elaborations of the real Jesus found in Mark and a hypothetical document known as “Q,” itself a controversial and much-debated document whose existence remains speculative.

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether Matthew and Luke rely on the Gospel of Mark and Q (the “Two-Source” theory). If Mark is the earliest Gospel and the source for the others, then something has to account for the presence in Matthew and Luke of what is not found in Mark, thus the necessity of Q.

The place given to Q as a source of Jesus’s sayings has led some scholars to accept the importance of the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal Gospel discovered in 1945 but written in the late-second to fourth century. Thomas, like Q, contains nothing about Jesus’s redemptive death and resurrection but rather absurd sayings, such as:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

If the Jesus Seminar vision of Christianity were to prevail, we would be left with a very strange Jesus indeed. And in the name of scholarship and enlightenment, these scholars would leave us less in our Church and in our Faith than what they have left us of Jesus’s words and deeds.

‘The Right Is Mean, and the Left Is Foul’

Deal W. Hudson
Published April 2, 2009

The rising temperature of the debate over President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Notre Dame has created some heated rhetoric on both sides. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg criticized Notre Dame’s decision but was himself criticized for complaining about the “uncivil and venomous” comments made by those opposing the honor being bestowed on President Obama.

Bishop Lynch is exactly right in raising this concern. Here is what he says:

The rhetoric being employed is so uncivil and venomous that it weakens the case we place before our fellow citizens, alienates young college-age students who believe the older generation is behaving like an angry child, and they do not wish to be any part of that, and ill-serves the cause of life (emphasis added).

Granted, some will label as uncivil any assertion about the truth of the Catholic Faith. These tactical accusations of incivility are exactly what they appear to be – an attempt to silence and discredit all who defend the Church. Putting that tactic aside, it does weaken our case for orthodoxy when it is couched in vicious name-calling, profanity, and unsupported generalizations.

Some say the coarseness of their rhetoric is justified by the truth they speak or by the crimes they decry, such as abortion. In my opinion, they either don’t care about persuading anyone who’s listening, or they don’t know they’re providing an excuse for people to ignore what they say. A good illustration of that approach is the effort of Randall Terry at Notre Dame. Terry has gone to such an extreme that Archbishop Raymond Burke had to dissociate himself from the use Terry was making of his comments.

The last thing orthodox Catholics need to do is bring discredit to a bishop who has the courage to speak his mind.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, another bishop who speaks his mind, recently spoke in an interview with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about his experience with e-mail rudeness. He attributes the vitriol to the “immediacy” of Internet communication, “which means we immediately speak out of our emotions rather than write a letter.” Just as important is anonymity behind which most people hide when making comments or posting on Web sites.

Some of the most vicious e-mails Archbishop Chaput has received, he says, are from “Catholic conservatives” who want him to excommunicate pro-abortion Catholic politicians. But he has noticed an interesting difference between how conservatives and liberals are impolite.

“The Left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that, call me names like that. The Right is meaner, but they’re not as foul.”

The Right is mean, and the Left is foul – that observation matches my experience in the virtual world. The Left often resorts to expletives to express their disapproval; whereas the Right, including Catholic conservatives, will indict your faith, your intelligence, and your love for your mother if you happen to disappoint them.

Rudeness has nearly become the rule, rather than the exception, on the Internet. Blogs, forums, e-mails, and comment sections are hothouses for the unedited savagery of the miscreant, the coward, and the Pharisee. Yet it is the place where we have chosen to speak with a Catholic voice. As Archbishop Chaput has said of his own reaction to hateful e-mails: “The Lord reminds us that we are sheep among wolves, but it’s important for us not to become wolves ourselves because of our experience.”

It’s a sore temptation to respond in kind to such attacks. Most Catholics will agree with Bishop Lynch and Archbishop Chaput that our best chance for changing minds and being successful evangelists is speaking with a tone of voice that offers no excuse to turn away.

What Cradle Catholics Take for Granted

Deal W. Hudson

Our Holy Father, John Paul II, has called us to participate in the new evangelization of the Catholic Church. These very personal remarks are offered in the spirit of that evangelism. Perhaps hearing from someone who discovered the Church for the first time as an adult will be helpful to those who have lost heart in their faith or who have given up. Surely there are untapped resources still available in our shared faith to help them turn toward home.

It’s only human nature for us to take things for granted, such as family, country, and religion. But there’s a special problem among Catholics about taking their faith for granted. I didn’t know this when I entered the Church more than a decade ago. I found out about it in the course of answering the many questions that came my way about my conversion.

I was constantly asked, for example, how would a Southern Baptist minister from Fort Worth, Texas, make his way to Rome? As I would share my story, enthusiastically as any ex-Baptist must, I found that enthusiasm doesn’t get you very far among Catholics. I was met with blank stares.

I started classifying those blank stares. The first classification was, “What is he talking about? Aquinas, Natural Law, Maritain. I’ve never heard of that!” The other set of blank stares I classified as, “I thought we’d done away with this kind of Catholicism.”

Discovery of Catholic Tradition

So as I moved through the first decade of my life as a Catholic, I began to realize that some Catholics did, in fact, take their Church and its great legacy for granted, specifically: Catholic wisdom, Catholic doctrine, and the Mass.

I used to look forward to questions on my conversion until I started meeting incredulity and hostility. I loved to tell the story about my discovery of Catholic wisdom at Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the great Protestant seminaries in this country, through the work of St. Augustine, On the Trinity. As I read this treatise, I encountered something I had never seen in any of the Protestant theologians I had read—the perfect cooperation of natural and supernatural intelligence. In St. Augustine I met a command of history. A command of classical learning. The invention of the psychological method.

This encounter with St. Augustine led me to more years of reading than I care to admit. I’m embarrassed it took me so long after that to enter the Church. I should have known better. I read Aquinas. I read the Church Fathers. I read the great Reformation and post-Reformation debates. I read the great Catholic novelists, whom I still recommend to you. I read the great Catholic poets. I listened to your music. I tried to learn your language. Have you tried to learn your language?

This culminated in a reading of the two volumes of the documents of Vatican II. I devoured those documents because a book by James Hitchcock called Decline and Fall: Catholicism and Modernity made me worry that the Church I wanted to enter was becoming Protestant. When I finished the documents of Vatican II, I realized very clearly that the Church I had first glimpsed in the life and work of St. Monica’s son still existed. It hadn’t changed.

When I went to my first Mass and tried to get a grip on all of that moving around, all of that unexpected motion, all of those unconsecutive page numbers, it was a lot harder and it took a lot longer to assimilate. But, finally, it dawned on me that just as there is tremendous power in your wisdom and in your doctrine, the greatest power of all is in the Eucharist. Catholic worship culminates an encounter with the objective presence of Christ on the altar.

I know that enthusiastic stories of converts are met with a little bit of suspicion. Ronald Knox, bless his soul, wrote a great book called Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion. I sometimes wish it had never been written. Every time I mention to my Catholic friends, one exception being Mother Angelica, who agrees with me on this, that we need a little more enthusiasm in the Catholic Church, I hear, “Oh, Ronald Knox, Ronald Knox.” I don’t think he meant to expunge all of the energy out of our faith. I think we know the kind of dangers he was warning us against.

Most Catholics, I think, are baffled why anyone would choose to carry the baggage of this old, outdated faith. I’m living proof that this is not a religion acquired only by birth. In fact, if you think back through Church history, isn’t it true that large families alone didn’t make the Catholic Church great? Large families alone didn’t make the Catholic Church endure. It was evangelization that made the Catholic Church great. Evangelization made it the universal Church universal—global in its scope.

The Church grew because missionaries shared the faith, told its stories. We can’t just rely on having large families to keep the Catholic Church great. Large families are wonderful. They’re a blessing. But what will keep the Catholic Church great is a commitment to telling its stories, to evangelization, to witnessing. When is the last time you did it? When is the last time you were able to articulate to your alienated Catholic friends why you remain a Catholic?

We all take things for granted. We take our families for granted. We take our country for granted. We take our religion for granted. But in this case of family and country, I’ve noticed there’s kind of an automatic correction that goes on. You get older, you have children, and you think, “My mother and father, how great they were. How grateful I am to them. Why didn’t I realize it until now?” It happens almost automatically, at least it did for me. The significance of last Veterans Day hit me very hard. On that day I thought about thousands of people who have died or risked their lives, including my own father, so that I could be free, so that I could raise my daughter in a free country. I’m sure as I grow older, this love of country will just get stronger.

The Mind of Christ

But there’s a special problem with the Catholic Church. There’s no evidence that cradle Catholics who fall away, who lose heart, there is no evidence they return. When I ask them why they haven’t returned, they sound inarticulate. They don’t really know why. They use phrases about the irrelevancy of an authoritarian masculine church, about the lack of women priests, about nuns who were mean to them in the third grade. But in all of this they’ve not taken on the mind of Christ. They’ve taken on the mind of the media. The mind of Christ was never imparted to them.

We have to take this indifference seriously, because the fate of our children is at stake. We now live in an era we call “modernity.” Modernity is defined by options—an almost unlimited range of options for young people. Our young people are not automatically going to choose the faith of their parents. Protestant evangelicals are wooing them. The culture at large is wooing them—the secular culture—and they have very powerful tools on their side. They have the movies on their side. They have films on their side.

Why would your children, when they come to an age of decision—and of course ages of decision arise all through life—why would they want to return to a lukewarm, lethargic, inarticulate Church? Why, when there’s so much passionate commitment elsewhere? Don’t tell me the Catholic Church should be a place where enthusiasm is excluded. That’s nonsense. We should be just as excited about the gifts we have in our Church as about any other gifts, any other pleasures.

Another sign of a special problem in the Catholic Church is what I call the “post office phenomenon.” People who can’t explain what they are doing hide behind a posture. People who think they alone deliver the spiritual mail but can’t explain why, will make you stand in line until they’re ready to serve you—but don’t ask any questions in the meantime! How can the Church expect people to remain faithful, devoted, and grateful when they’re being treated like that?

Catholic faith is old, yes. It is venerable, yes. But it still needs to be explained to each new generation, your children and their children. May I remind you that the older generation needs a refresher course from time to time? That’s why you’re reading Crisis magazine and other Catholic publications.

Wisdom, doctrine, and worship—the very reasons I became a Catholic—are being taken for granted.

Catholic Liberation

What did it mean for me to discover the Catholic Church? First, it was totally liberating for a Baptist to realize that Christian intelligence is not limited merely to citing texts from Scripture to support arguments, but rather that Christian intelligence takes in the whole of the natural order and that God speaks through the natural order to the prudent eye. This was nothing less than the recovery of my intellect, the intellect that God gave me to use in making man in his image and likeness.

Second, it was liberating to realize that the biblical revelation, the revelation through the prophets, through Christ, had been contained, reflected, and commented upon throughout the history of the Church, which is the body of Christ. That a weighing and sifting had gone on for all of these centuries gave me the confidence that I didn’t have to jump back nearly two thousand years every time I wanted to know what Christ calls me to do. This, for me, was nothing less than a recovery of human history.

For a Baptist to come into the Catholic Mass, to realize that the culmination of worship does not come in response to a man’s voice, however melodious, however articulate, but comes in response to the objective actual presence of Christ, was nothing less than a recovery of the full meaning of the Incarnation.

I maintain that all human beings hunger for this kind of liberation—for the recovery of the whole person and all of human history. Notice there’s nothing extraneous about these issues. These are not intellectual issues. These are not academic issues. These are the very issues that distinguish us as Catholics, not Protestants; Catholics, not Jews; Catholics, not secularists. It’s what makes us Catholic.

These are the very issues—wisdom, doctrine, and worship—that give us our advantage in the public square. Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition has welcomed Catholics to the public square. It should be obvious that we have much more ammunition to bring than anybody else. Pope John Paul II’s speech on human rights at the United Nations is a paradigm to which we should all aspire.

The Catholic Advantage

For the last ten years, I pursued a research project on the meaning of human happiness. It was a project inspired by my entry into the Catholic Church. This is an example of what I mean by the Catholic advantage in the public square—in politics, in the arts, in the humanities, in the social sciences. If we look at the way the meaning of human happiness has been misrepresented and made superficial in the twentieth century—the way it has affected our political life, our moral life, our family life, and our education—we realize that the corrective is to go back to the Tradition. Back to Catholic wisdom. Back to the Bible. Back to Augustine and Aquinas. To Jacques Maritain and Christopher Dawson, Martin D’Arcy, and G. K. Chesterton. We must go back. What we will find there is a way to correct our problem. There is a wisdom there. There are ideas there that can have consequences for us. We can change things not just by adjusting public policy but by fixing ideas that we live by.

How can you take for granted a legacy that has everything we need to know about telling the story of the good life? Not just the good life in private, at home, but the good life lived publicly. The good life in the world of work. The good life in the world of the arts. The good life in the academic world. It is not a story to be divided between public and private. It is a story to be brought to bear on the whole of civilization. It has been brought to bear on the whole of civilization. The books in my library are rows deep. They’re all there: Dawson, Maritain, Chesterton, Guardini, Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel. I’m perplexed by Catholics who know nothing about the amazing influence, the formative benefit of the Catholic Church on world civilization.

Certainly you know about the role of the Catholic Church in the formation of hospitals, universities, libraries, social services of all kinds, the growth of economics, the development of democracy, the emergence of freedom. The next time someone trying to intimidate you brings up the Inquisition, don’t resort to some sort of misplaced notion of charity or tolerance and apologize for your Church. Say, “Sure we’ve made mistakes, but what about universities, hospitals, and democratic institutions, the notion of the human person itself, which arose right out of the heart of the Church—nowhere else?”


When the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. talks about the self-correcting aspects of Western civilization, he could have well said that Catholic wisdom had a great deal to do with that self-correcting dimension of Western civilization.

Catholic wisdom particularly protects the family. Catholic wisdom, which draws upon both divine revelation and reflection on the world of nature, testifies to the ordinate union of man and women in marriage, not random arrangements. These ordinate unions are the ones that should be protected and nurtured by law.

Consider the situation now in the state of Hawaii. What we need to realize—those of us committed to public Catholicism—is that the problem there is not just same-sex marriage. The problem there, which is growing among Catholics in Hawaii, is that many issues are coalescing into one horrible stew that is about to boil over. Same-sex marriage, allied with the gay rights movement, with multiculturalism, with national sovereignty, with new-age liturgy and spirituality, is making it very difficult for our brothers and sisters in Hawaii.

Public Catholicism of the type the Catholic Campaign for America is espousing requires us to be well armed with wisdom and doctrine. We must start with the writings of our pope. We must read his books, his encyclicals, his speeches.

Converts go through a kind of Catholic retooling process. That’s why some of us have a fairly explicit, if not always entirely accurate, grasp of its principles. I once asked my wife, who is also a Baptist convert from the South, if her meeting me had anything to do with her becoming Catholic. She said, “Yes, meeting you and your circle of friends in Atlanta. . . . The one thing that kept coming through as I listened to your discussions is the fundamental notion that life is good: life is good regardless of the pain of that life, regardless of the suffering, regardless of the obstacles to be overcome, regardless of what is missing materially from that life, regardless of the fact that a life may not be loved by some human being that should love it.”

That life is good is one of the first principles of Catholic wisdom. It is the principle we invoke to save our unborn children. It is the principle we invoke when we explain our position on birth control to skeptics. It’s the position we invoke when we discuss euthanasia. Life is good.


You might be thinking now, “I can’t accuse my friends of taking things for granted that they never knew about.” In that case, it’s partially the responsibility of those people who formed you in your faith that they didn’t pass it on. We all know there’s been a great confusion about Catholic doctrine in the last forty years, but what do we have now that we didn’t have two years ago? We have the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The amateur experts in your parish and your Catholic schools can’t invent theology on the spot anymore because you can look in the Catechism yourself. You read the section on the sacraments. They are not psychologized; sacraments don’t exist to make you feel good. In fact, they exist to make you feel bad sometimes. That can be good for you, that can lead you to happiness, that can be part of your happiness. The sacraments in the Catechism aren’t politicized or communalized. The sacraments are the power of God sustaining us from conception to eternity—not to death—through death to eternity. They are the participation in the life of God that can be lost only by outright rejection—not by sin, not by failings, not by death.

In my journey to the Church, one of my most important moments was a passage that I read in a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Heart of the World. It read something like this: “Because of Christ and His sacraments, none of us can fall so low that we don’t fall into the arms of God.” It was a very powerful message for me then, and it still is.


This brings me to my last point. Worship. What can be done to revitalize it so it can’t be taken for granted? It’s a more difficult question because we just can’t hand people a book like the Catechism; we can’t just ask people to read John Paul II’s Documents on Liturgy and Worship, because worship is something that is done in a particular place, at a particular time, among particular people. Books aren’t enough. Something else has to happen.

I have a hunch what that is. I don’t have any survey data to support me on this, but I’ve noticed that whenever there is vital worship, there are people who pray. The common denominator that I have seen between a vital worship, something that works, something that draws me in, is that people are at prayer. It is the power of prayer at work through the celebrant, the power of prayer at work through the people that is transformative. It’s a transformation that is immediately intuited by everyone present.

This reminded me of a great lesson I was taught by Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. In one of the first books they ever wrote—they wrote it together in the 1920s, Prayer and Intelligence—they argue, indeed they celebrate, that prayer, intelligence, and worship reach toward the same source. That each act is bathed in the same iridescent and illuminating light—a divine light.

I hope by now you realize that I’m not saying that cradle Catholics are at a disadvantage. After all, my wife and I have made a long journey to have an opportunity to lay a Catholic in our cradle. It’s not easy to enter this Church. You don’t make it easy. And you shouldn’t. I thank God that our seven-year-old daughter, Hannah Clare Hudson, is a cradle Catholic. I make you these promises, these promises in gratitude for your Church that has received us, the Church of your forebears. I promise you that I will share with her, my daughter, all the wisdom I’ve learned. I promise you that I will do my best, with the help of our wonderful parish school, to make sure she understands the glories of Catholic teaching. I promise you I will pray with her each and every day and at Mass. And most of all I promise that I will pray to God that neither Hannah Clare nor her parents will ever take the gift of his Church for granted.

Reprinted with permission from Public Catholicism: The Challenge of Living the Faith in a Secular American Culture, edited by Thomas Patrick Melady, 1996, © by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, Indiana 46750 (text is slightly revised).

Unicorns in the Toybox

Deal W. Hudson

A friend of mind, a cradle Catholic who doubts her faith, asked what she should teach her four-year old about religion. “Everything,” I said, “Heaven, Hell, God, Angels, Sin, Grace, Forgiveness, don’t leave anything out.” “How can I do that,” she responded “When I’m not sure myself.”

Such attempts at parental honesty can leave a child in the lurch. Consider what children lose when they don’t learn Bible stories. They are deprived of a framework in which to think about the big questions — life, death, good, evil, and most especially, God. Their natural spiritual curiosity goes unfed.

Stories of fairies and goblins are not enough. As C. S. Lewis shows in The Chronicles of Narnia, stories and myths can prepare the mind for understanding spiritual reality. The day comes, however, when unicorns are packed away in the toybox.

Thinking about the immaterial world comes easily to children. Last weekend, on a long car trip, my six-year old suddenly asked me “who made God?” She insisted God, like everything else, must have a cause. I countered that God’s being was unique and uncaused. We argued back and forth, laughing, but her mother and I were appropriately dazzled by this flash of metaphysical intelligence.

My friend also pressed me about how to talk about death. Her child was easily frightened; she didn’t know whether to take her daughter to visit her grandmother’s grave. Wouldn’t death come to mean being buried under the ground? I suggested she use it as an opportunity to talk about eternity, about heaven, about the soul rising to God. “But I don’t really believe that,” she said.

We all know mothers and fathers like this, torn between the urge to pass along the religious training they received, but held back by their own doubts and disappointments. Among Catholics in this country there is the added fear that their children will be infected by the old prejudices and parochialisms of an immigrant church.

As a result, the children get little or no spiritual formation, certainly no spiritual information, before they are let loose on the culture. What happens? Lacking the intellectual measure of a basic catechism, lacking the affective measure of religious awe, they accept whatever the culture at hand serves up to them. Evolutionary materialism becomes the last word on the “scientific truth.” Media images of soulless self-gratification become the height of personal ecstasy. Whatever the pitfalls of early religious training they must be preferable to these!

As a convert from Protestantism, I am always asked, especially by cradle Catholics, what made me enter the Church. They are often perplexed when I tell them about my discovery of Catholicism, the benefits of its sacramental system, the priesthood, the Magisterium, and its unparalleled gifts to the development of our culture. The look in their eyes tells me I am describing a church they have left without ever really knowing it. This is not the church they vaguely hoped would arise from the backdraft of Vatican II — democratized, therapeutically sound, willing to bend with the times.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of Vatican II it must be admitted that Jacques Maritain’s prediction has come true: the new pastoral emphasis of the Council was used to subvert Catholic intelligence, character, and culture. Maritain, who was the darling of the young intellectuals and religious who attended the Council until he published The Peasant of the Garonne in 1966, was suddenly branded as a senile, embittered old man who had lost touch with the modern age.

His point was simple and profound — if you lose the mind of the Church you will eventually lose its faith as well. Catholics who cannot affirm intellectually that God exists, created the world, and sent his Son to redeem us will struggle to remain faithful. They also will not know what to tell their children, thus passing on confusion to the next generation.

Some will argue that this is not so bad, at least these children will be able to make up their own minds. On this point, I can only say that children’s religious training is precisely what enables them to make up their own minds when they are older.

Others will argue that these children will lack the vices of the old Catholic ways — they will be more tolerant, more sensitive, more open to different perspectives. Flannery O’Connor commented that our age has achieved its gain in sensibility through a loss of vision. The post-Vatican II generation has not flocked to the new Church with its greater sensibility. Like children of every age we hunger for vision, even if it keeps us awake at night.

Published October 1, 1995

A Christian Man of Letters Departs

Deal W. Hudson

Published July 23, 2002

You may not have heard of him, but a Christian man of letters, one of our greatest, just passed away. A native of Georgia and educated at its University, Marion Montgomery was a prolific writer. His works include three novels, short stories, poetry, literary and cultural criticism, a trilogy on Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe, and a number of books that applied the Thomistic tradition to contemporary culture and the great works of American literature.

Montgomery’s earliest works bear the stamp of the “Fugitive-Agrarian Movement,” whose central figures, such as Donald Davidson, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Andrew Lytle became major figures in the literary world of the 40s and 50s. Marion Montgomery was a product of this movement’s second generation. But, when his fiction and poetry never received the attention it deserved — and still deserves — he turned his attention to the critical and interpretive works that earned him a national reputation and small but devoted group of admirers.

I was privileged to visit Marion and his wife Dot many times at their home in Crawford, GA before I moved to the East coast. We had a reunion of sorts when I devoted four of my “Church and Culture Today” shows on EWTN to interviewing Marion, and I hosted him several times as a speaker at meetings of the American Maritain Association.

I recall that late scholar Ralph McInerny from Notre Dame had great regard for Montgomery’s work, as did so many others who sought to bring the Thomistic tradition into contact with literature and culture. Montgomery may have been called a “Hillbilly Thomist” but his learning was broad and deep — it cut to the core of Western civilization, its metaphysical ailments and spiritual confusions.

If you’ve not discovered his books you have quite a treat, no, a treasure, waiting for you. I was privileged to know him and learn from him. One of the best places to start reading Montgomery is his “Possum and Other Receipts for the Recovery of “Southern’ Being.”

Requiescat in Pace, Marion Montgomery, 1925-2011.