Bill Keller's Collapse of Faith and Reason
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 04:38:49 PM EST
It is not surprising to hear Catholic League President Bill Donohue call for liberal Catholics to fall in line or leave the Church.  What is surprising is that former New York Times editor Bill Keller recently took to the op-ed page to agree.

In so doing, career journalist Keller exposed both his attitude towards and ignorance about his faith. Actually, we have to call it his former faith because he says he is so beyond lapsed he is now a "collapsed Catholic."

Fortunately, there are more astute observers of the Church than Keller. People who also actually care about it. One of these is historian Garry Wills, who recently wrote regarding the battle between the bishops and the American nuns: "The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless." That, in a nutshell, pretty much explains what is going on in the Catholic Church.

Wills' observation may also help us to understand Keller's apparent turning a blind eye to the hierarchy's  attempt to silence the nuns.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has targeted the nuns' umbrella organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) because they remain committed to modernizing, compassionate tenets of Vatican II.

Enter Bill Keller. In what was apparently intended to be a back-handed complimentary piece to Bill Donohue and other Catholic Right agitators, Keller argued that Church moderates and liberals should purge themselves, as their Protestant cousins did in centuries past. The Church, Keller wrote, is "a lost cause":

Face it, even at the high-water mark of contemporary church reform, the Vatican II council, issues like the stained-glass ceiling and intolerance of gays were not really on the table. And that tide was been receding for nearly 50 years. Indeed, the church's 1960s effort to engage the modern world is now regarded in the current Curia as part of an era of degenerate individualism - Woodstock, Stonewall, Vatican II - that is blamed for all kinds of deviant outcomes, including the scandal of priests who can't keep it in their cassocks.

It may be convenient for the Curia to blame the problem of pedophile priests on the hippies and the 60s, but that does not make it true. As the Ryan Report among others, established that predatory pedophile priests existed long before Vatican II.  What's more, the Curia comprises a small group of elites that comprise far less than one percent -- and that although they may like to think so, they are not the Church itself.  As Garry Wills observed:

The Guttmacher Institute found that Catholics have just as many abortions as non-Catholics, and other polls show that as few as 20 percent of them think all abortions should be illegal. The most thorough survey of Catholics under thirty found, late in the 1990s, that so few hewed to the Vatican line on contraception that they would fall within the margin of error and be statistically non-existent. In 1995, the National Survey of Family Growth found that 95 percent of Catholic women who have had sex used contraceptives at some point. The priest sociologist Andrew Greeley found Catholics more tolerant of gay and pre-marital sex than non-Catholics.

Indeed, there is far more reason to stay and fight the good fight than even a few months ago.

What's more, some unambiguous breezes of change are stirring the sacristy. Most recently, the Franciscan Friars, as did Jesuit Volunteer Corps as well as the Jesuit-run journal America have spoken up for the nuns. This is in addition to the many lay folks who are coalescing and pushing back against the broader culture of "pay, pray and obey."

The problem is not with the people of the faith who love their church enough to want to make it better.  But we do have a problem in Bill Keller, the poster boy of what is so wrong with the media, especially when it comes to religion reporting and commentary.

In 2002, for example, The Daily Howler detailed how Keller quoted his three-year-old daughter on Vice-President Al Gore's debate performance in 2000 (The Times under Keller's editorship led the supposedly liberal mainstream media's notorious "War Against Gore").

Garry Wills writes:

Keller ran the paper of record when it cheered on the Iraq War. Now he is a columnist for the same paper, where he promotes disasters like Donohue. Donohue is president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which means that the more fatuous bishops get, the more furious Donohue gets in defending them. He recently defended the Vatican's inquisition into the Girl Scouts for having supported Doctors Without Borders, which gives out condoms to prevent AIDS. I am sure he is chafing to join the assault on Sister Margaret Farley for arguing that masturbation is not a mortal sin.

Keller epitomizes a failed press corps that too often plays to an audience of Potemkin liberals. These are people who came into the Democratic Party due to social issues such as birth control and choice but who - because their high place in society shields them - don't have to personally face the consequences of war or poverty.  If a George W. Bush or a Mitt Romney is elected president, yes they lose on social issues but they secretly find comfort in their tax cut.  For the likes of these, Keller is the safe "Centrist.". Like the bishops, Bill Keller is one of the powerful who writes for those who share his privilege. It is easy for him to tell the nuns to leave because, like most of the rest of us, they are not part of the elite clique.

Thus Keller is not only kissing up to the bishops, but he of less than no faith is now a concern troll, who suggests that only those who espouse orthodoxy are truly religious.  Interestingly, this overlaps with both the narrow neoconservative and neo-atheistic definitions of faith. Neocons employ the notion to stifle dissent and change, while neo-atheists either ignore a more enlightened cadre of spiritual individuals or lazily write them off as enablers of the Religious Right.

But it is this faithful remnant of reform -- at once pooh-poohed by Keller and reviled by Donohue --  that is truly the heart and soul of the Church.  (Perhaps that is why we are viewed as such a problem.)

In light of all this, I guess we should not be surprised that Keller conveniently ignores the consequences of leaving the Catholic Church solely in the hands of reactionaries and neoconservatives such as the sabre-rattling of George Weigel; the buccaneering laissez-faire Michael Novak; and the revisionist histrionics of Robert P. George.  These are men who cynically use the garb of Catholicism to advance the economic agenda of a select few.

And that is an important part of why so many of us intend to stay to fight for a faith worth fighting for.




Display:
Bill Kelller's failure here is symptomatic of the mainstream press's failure with regard to the Catholic Right: They are more dazzled by them wanting the moderates and liberals to leave rather than be curious to explore why they want us to leave.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 04:45:35 PM EST
Bill Keller seems to be too dense to realize Bill Donohue is playing people like him like a fiddle. Bill Donohue made an ass and a bully out of himself once more when he went on an Irish radio show to claim that sexual abuse victims are trying to squeeze money out of the church with meritless claims. Sadly, Bill D a mouthpiece for the institutional Church and speaks for the powerful, rather than like the nuns do for the powerless. Simply put, the hierarchy can't stand the fact that the nuns actually live the Gospel.

by khughes1963 on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 08:19:45 PM EST
Parent

He's not afraid to tell it like it is, and he gets a lot of undeserved disrespect because of it. I really like his books "Why I am Still A Catholic" and "Papal Sin."

by khughes1963 on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 08:20:56 PM EST
Parent

He isn't an active Catholic by his admission.
He doesn't have a stake in the struggle to shape the Catholic Church.
He hasn't stated that he has found another church home, and it is unclear if he wants to be active elsewhere.
He doesn't work at a Catholic institution.

Why should he bother to have a public opinion?

by NancyP on Thu Jul 05, 2012 at 10:59:03 AM EST
Parent

Why should he bother to have a public opinion? 1. He gets paid by the word. 2. He enjoys the stroking of his ego for being a pundit on religion and society.

by arachne646 on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 01:43:24 PM EST
Parent



Thank you, Frank, for this heartening look at the growing opposition among Catholic clergy and laity to the bishops' vendetta against the nuns. Great points also about "centrists" who want to flatter the rich and powerful (like Keller and similar journalists) because they do not experience the devastation of poverty and nonstop war. My professional background is newspaper journalism but I do not recognize today's newspapers, which are lapdogs to the powerful instead of watchdogs.

by StoneScribe on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 05:01:22 PM EST

That Vatican II did not only direct the Church to address specific issues, and only those issues, and not sexual orientation (not an issue in general society at the time) or how to address new callings women religious would have, 40 years hence, but Vatican II introduced a new way for the Church to address changes in society and changes in the environment of the members of the Church, which were occurring so quickly then, and even faster now.

by arachne646 on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 01:56:53 PM EST

I am sure that many of the congregations of Reformation Era bodies like the ELCA Lutherans would welcome those Mr. Donohue would like to purge.

by PadreBear on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 11:43:18 AM EST

. I am sure he is chafing to join the assault on Sister Margaret Farley for arguing that masturbation is not a mortal sin.hole in one prizes


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by mike12 on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 08:00:02 AM EST

But it is this faithful remnant of reform -- at once pooh-poohed by Keller and reviled by Donohue --  that is truly the heart and soul of the Church. find overseas property


by nilky698 on Mon Sep 10, 2012 at 08:25:39 AM EST


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