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Post Partisan
Posted at 03:58 PM ET, 05/14/2012

PostScript: E.J. Dionne’s refusal to quit the church

Editor’s note: Introducing PostScript, a new feature intended to highlight some aspect of the discussion prompted by a Washington Post Opinions piece. In this first installment, we look at reaction to E.J. Dionne’s column, “I’m not quitting the church.” Opinions staffer Rachel Manteuffel identified some interesting reader comments, and E.J. Dionne offers a response to readers below.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation took out an ad in The Post last week urging liberal Catholics, who hope the church will “lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research,” to just quit rather than worship against their own politics.

E.J. Dionne recognizes that they’re talking to him, but in his column today, he writes that he refuses to quit. And already more than 2,000 readers have disagreed with, poked at or sighed along with Dionne in the comments section of his column.

An interesting, poignant thread arose from people who are similarly anguished about staying in a church with policies that make them uncomfortable but wonder what, short of quitting or arguing in the pages of The Post, they can do about it.

Ancient_mariner, for example, hopes the hierarchy will follow the money, and this reader describes protest from the inside: “[W]e are limiting our contributions to in-kind donations (such as sheet music for the choir) that the bishop cannot touch. And we have expanded our giving to Catholic organizations that are not diocesan but spread the word of God through works of charity.”

TomfromNJ sees hope that enough public dissent will sway the powerful: “For those who do not think they can influence the Church, note the lack of bishops overreacting to the President’s comment on gay marriage. I believe they were surprised at the support the Sisters received when they were attacked.”

Smith6’s solution is particularly apt: “I am very torn as a Catholic. And when I see the church spend more resources going after women who devout their lives to literally wiping the bums of the sick because it is the right thing to do rather than going after priests who prey on young boys, I’m torn even more. I pray that the Holy Spirit will help these men realize the error of their ways.”

Okie12’s hopes for America’s religious future, “If the old men “Bishops of the USA” want to play politics then they should volunteer to pay taxes and stop claiming they are a nonprofit/religious organization and stop preaching politics from the pulpit,” will come true just after Dionne has cleared the Internet of unnecessary quotation marks.

E.J. Dionne replies: I appreciate Rachel Manteuffel highlighting responses to my column, and I am grateful to all readers who offered their views – including the ones who were angry and exasperated with me, and even one who warned me that if I “keep spreading the heresies,” I might find myself excommunicated. As the philosopher Glenn Tinder wrote, we all need both to give and to receive help on the road to truth.

In many of the comments and in some personal communications from friends, one issue kept coming up: whether those of us who believe the Church should change in certain areas have any chance of bringing that change about. And here, the lessons of history are encouraging. Many of the ideas embraced by the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII had been condemned by the Vatican or individual bishops in an earlier age, and in some cases less than a decade earlier. Vatican II created a church far more open to democracy, to broad guarantees of religious freedom and to an openness toward those of other faiths. The American Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray pioneered many of the concepts that led to the Vatican II reforms — but not before the Vatican demanded in 1954 that Murray stop writing on issues related to religious freedom. Just a few years later, Murray was a guide to the bishops at the council. Are the world and the church better off that Murray remained a Catholic and continued to argue for causes that the Church eventually embraced? (Okay, it’s a rhetorical question. I am obviously glad Murray remained in the Church.)

Many readers wrote with anguish about the Church’s attitudes toward women. A reader called Trace1 asked: “If the church treated any racial minority the way they treat women, would E.J. Dionne stay? Or would he quit, on the heels of a blazing opinion piece about institutional racism?” This particular reader noted that she had quit the church because “I would not allow my daughters to be raised in an environment where women were treated as second-class citizens.” I do hope bishops and other conservative Catholics pay attention here. The Church is losing many members not for doctrinal reasons, but because many women feel as Trace1 does. I have daughters, too, and it is impossible to explain in a way they find credible why the Church has not been more open to the ordination of women. Women, after all, played a central role in the movement that Jesus started — and nuns have been so central to the work of the American Church. The Church has already opened itself up to married clergy in accepting the conversion of married Anglican priests. If it can begin to rethink celibacy — and it should do so more broadly — it can also begin to rethink the rationale for an all-male priesthood. Again, I believe the Church will do so.

I cannot in a short post answer the many issues raised by readers or friends. My book Souled Out, published in 2008, is my longer answer. I’m not trying to promote the book here – and, in any event, I doubt I will ever collect a dime of royalties from it. But these are important issues to a lot of people and I cite the book just to make clear that I know I am only scratching the surface in this post.

One passage from the book may help explain my commitment to staying in the tradition in which I was raised, for which I continue to feel respect — and which, in fact, shaped many of the liberal views I hold: “Religion is, necessarily, both conservative and progressive. Religion is rooted in tradition and survives through development and change within the tradition. It applies old truths to new circumstances. It also reexamines old truths in light of new circumstances. The conservative insists that the tradition not be distorted merely to accommodate passing fads and fashions. The progressive insists on purifying and clarifying the tradition by freeing it from the distortion of cultural encrustations of the past. The conservative keeps the tradition alive by honoring it. The progressive keeps a tradition alive by adapting it, and sometimes by challenging it.”

By Rachel Manteuffel  |  03:58 PM ET, 05/14/2012

 
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