Third Intermezzo: Recommended Reading (The Catholic Right, Forty in a Series).
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 02:49:51 PM EST
This seems to be a good time to take another breather from the Catholic Right and their neoconservative allies.  Instead, I would like to discuss several Catholic-American writers worth reading. They are all independent thinkers who loyally dissent from some of the prevailing ideas in Catholicism and who are opposed to the neo-orthodoxy of many of those I have written about in his series.

Why are they important? Simply because they all present reasoned, cogent arguments that can be employed by Catholics and non-Catholics alike in refuting the mendacity and revisionist history often employed by the Church's neo-orthodox proponents. I present below a sampler of their works -- and a taste or two of the information and arguments readers may find helpful in our wider conversation about the religious right and what to do about it.

They are Angela Bonavoglia,  Father Charles Curran, and Garry Wills.

Angela Bonavoglia

Angela Bonavoglia offers something that is often missing from on the subject of Catholic culture-a woman's point of view.

As her web site biography tells us:

Her feature articles, investigative reports, op-eds, personal essays, and profiles have appeared in Ms. (longtime contributing editor), the Chicago Tribune, Redbook , Mirabella, Cosmopolitan , Newsday, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Her article, "The Church's Tug of War," about women as an invisible force for reform in the Roman Catholic Church, was the lead article in The Nation in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandals of 2002. It provided a fresh analysis of the role of women in the progressive Church reform movement at an unprecedented moment in American Church history.

Her 2005 book, Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church details the role of women in returning the Church to the process of  "aggiornamento" or bringing things "up to date" (to read an excerpt, click here).

Bonavoglia also wrote about abortion in her 1991 book The Choices We Made: 25 Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion.

I have only recently discovered Bonavoglia's works, and am pleased that she is never afraid to tackle Church hypocrisy:

In the face of outrage over the pedophilia crisis in the Catholic church, one might have expected the hierarchy to back off its rigid, unrealistic sexual prohibitions. Instead, the hierarchy has chosen to brutally enforce those prohibitions and to purge the church of transgressors.

This new inquisition is actually a very broad one. The Vatican regularly denounces Catholics in gay relationships, who use birth control or condoms to prevent AIDS, who support assisted reproduction or abortion under any circumstances, who divorce without an annulment, or who dare even speak of women's ordination. Some of those Catholics may even be refused holy Communion. All are being abandoned by a church founded by a man who abandoned no one.

Angela Bonavoglia's work helps to empower the vast majority of American Catholics with the information and analysis we need to better engage the neo-orthodox Catholic wing of the religious right.

Father Charles Curran

One of the most refreshing books I've ever read on the state of contemporary Catholicism is Father Charles Curran's Loyal Dissent. The book's web page tells us:

In this poignant and passionate memoir, Curran recounts his remarkable story from his early years as a compliant, pre-Vatican II Catholic through decades of teaching and writing and a transformation that has brought him today to be recognized as a leader of progressive Catholicism throughout the world.

Father Curran is valuable because he is a Catholic theologian who has been through tough battles with the reactionary forces that now control the Vatican. Among other things, he has argued on theological grounds against the Church's opposition to birth control and homosexuality. For his principled stand, in 1986 Father Curran was removed from his position of teaching theology at the Catholic University of America, a move primarily orchestrated by then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict.)

Most importantly, Father Curran shows us how to argue more effectively. Instead of resorting to rank demonizing, he uses religious principles to effect necessary change.

Using the doctrine of stance--or historical consciousness , Father Curran argued that present realities constantly shift thus requiring a similarly constant reappraisal of certain moral teachings. In a 1988 essay, he explained:

Historical consciousness is often contrasted with classicism, which understands reality in terms of the eternal, the immutable, and the unchanging. Historical consciousness gives more importance to the particular, the contingent, the historical, and the individual. ... The Catholic theological tradition has recognized historicity in its rejection of the axiom, Scripture alone. Scripture must always be understood, appropriated, communicated, and lived in the light of the historical and cultural realities of the present time. The church cannot simply repeat the words of Scripture. Catholicism has undergone much more development than most people think. Creative fidelity is necessary for any tradition, and such fidelity is consistent with the philosophical world view of historical consciousness.

Father Curran currently teaches at Southern Methodist University.

Garry Wills

A Pulitzer Prize winner, perhaps no one is as prolific at writing on Church politics, Catholicism and American history with an independent mind than historian Garry Wills. He is one of a handful of writers with the necessary background (an extensive Jesuit education that included being a novitiate as well as earning PhD in classics from Yale ) that allows him to authoritatively discuss subjects as diverse as Saint Augustine and Abraham Lincoln. In his most recent book (which I will be review in a forthcoming post) Head and Heart Wills gives us a valuable term, "Enlightened Religion," to describe the interdependence of thought and faith. He defines it as having "...its emphasis on reason, benevolence, tolerance and secular progress." And

...professes a belief in "the laws of nature and of nature's God." It holds that reason is the tool for understanding those laws, and that humane conduct is what those laws teach

He then contrasts this with "Evangelical Religion":

Evangelicals, by contrast, emphasize an experimental relationship with Jesus as their savior, along with biblical inerrancy and a mission to save others.

Among his important works on the Church are Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit as well as Why I Am a Catholic.

But beyond his engagement with modern Catholicism, Wills is also indispensable at this point in the conversation on religion's role in government. He is an historian with an expertise in the American Constitutional experience-a vital asset in combating the revisionist historicism so prevalent on the Religious Right. Because he has authored in-depth books upon George Washington, James Madison, The Federalist Papers as well as religion and American politics he speaks with authority when taking on the likes of neoconservatives Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel.

Consider this passage at pages 176-177 from Head and Heart:

It is absurd to deny the prejudice of the Deists. From Peter Gay, a celebrant of the Enlightenment, does not (and cannot) deny its anti-Semitism. The anti-Catholic posture of the Enlightenment was an adaptation to the Age of Reason of the Puritan belief in Rome as the Antichrist. John Adams began his writing career with an attack on the canon law of the Catholic Church. He is probably the one who pressured Jefferson to put a reference to Catholic tyranny in the Declaration of Independence and wrote many things to this effect: "A free government and the Roman catholic religion can never exist together." Yet what Marty calls "special pleading" led by John Courtney Murray to argue that America was really founded on Catholic principles-an idea that would have made Adams and Jefferson snort with derision. Christian scholars have denied that America is a Christian nation-so, a fortiori, it is not a Christian nation.

The Deists are often not allowed to speak for themselves. When they are not being denounced as infidels, men like Michael Novak dress them up as crypto-Evangelicals, crypto-Jews, or crypto-Catholics. But enough. Whatever their faults, the Deists delivered us from the horrors of pre-Enlightenment religion, title enough to honor. They also founded this country.

These are just a few of the American Catholic writers who have the courage to stand up to the neo-orthodox bullies who are now threatening to make the Church more reactionary, and abandon her social justice mission. And there are others whose bodies of work also deserve higher visibility, Thomas Cahill, James Carroll and Sister Joan Chittister to name a few. They will also be discussed in a forthcoming post.

In the meantime, if you haven't read any of the authors mentioned above, they have a treasure-trove of information to offer anyone interested in containing the Religious Right.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli : Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine

Instead, we must be able to best the Religius Right their own ballpark. All these writers help provide us with the knowledge to do so.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 02:53:44 PM EST

I have Angela Bonavoglia's "Good Catholic Girls" and Garry Wills's "Papal Sin" and "Why I am A Catholic." Sometimes, as now, the hierarchy makes it very trying. Unfortunately, the neo-orthodox seem to have the upper hand in the present papacy, the Curia and in the American church.

I agree with Sister Joan Chittister that ultimately Catholic laymen and laywomen will need to decide what Church they want. My concern is that the neo-orthodox will start pushing away the people they view as insufficiently orthodox.


by khughes1963 on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 04:02:03 PM EST

...we need these folks to show us how tp push back.

Remember one constant about bullies: they keep pushing until they meet resistance.

While not a pushover by any means, I'll bet that they're not as tough as they make themselves out to be.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 06:03:34 PM EST

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