News & Views from 465 California Street

A Church Divided

Clint Reilly

As a lifelong Catholic who spent nine years as a young man in our Archdiocesan seminaries studying to be a priest, and more recently served nearly five years as the first lay President of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Catholicism is in my blood.

But today I sometimes find my Catholic blood boiling.

Rather than focusing on solving the problems confronting the church, we Catholics are often at war with ourselves.

The overcrowded Mountain View seminary I attended in my youth no longer exists. It was demolished and the land sold off by the Diocese of San Jose because there were too few students.

St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, where I also studied, still serves as the major training center for new priests. But enrollment is tiny and most of the students are either older men coming to the priesthood as a second career or foreigners.

The Catholic Church in America faces a major manpower shortage as young Catholic men reject the priesthood as a profession.

In his book, “A People Adrift,” Peter Steinfels, the former New York Times religion writer, notes that the total number of priests declined from 58,132 in 1965 to 45,713 in 2002.

In 1965 there was one priest for every 800 Catholics. Thirty-seven years later, the ratio was one to 1,200. When retired priests are extracted, the ratio climbs to one for every 1,900 Catholics, according to Steinfels.

There is also a womanpower shortage. Over the same time span, the number of Catholic Sisters declined almost 60 percent, from 179,954 to 75,000.

Like today’s grim unemployment statistics, the data ominously describes what Steinfels calls “The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.”

The united Catholic community that massed behind John F. Kennedy in the 1960s is divided by contentious issues like gay rights and abortion.

Pope Benedict XVI gave pro-life (but non-Catholic) President George W. Bush an unctuous  welcome to the Vatican last year, while Nancy Pelosi (the pro-choice, Catholic Speaker of the House) was recently escorted out the back door after a perfunctory 15-minute meet and greet. So much for loyalty to the home team.

Catholic Democratic electeds rejected a ban on gay marriage in California, while the bishops vehemently endorsed it.

The poison of the priest abuse scandal still stings. A kind of depression has set in among many great priests who have seen their own legacies of service tarnished by the actions of a few rogue priests and bishops.

In the pews there is lingering anger on behalf of the victims, bitterness at huge financial settlements paid by the laity, and open disagreement with many church teachings.

For non-Catholics, the hypocrisy of pedophilia inside a celibate priesthood is stark. The moral squalor of priests betraying their vows at the expense of young children and teens seems incomprehensible to the general public.

The church therefore seems oddly ill suited in the role of sexual arbiter. Pope Benedict’s reaffirmation of the church’s teaching against contraception and his condemnation of the use of condoms to fight AIDS in Africa provoke shrugs of embarrassment rather than applause or outrage.

Issues that cry out for discussion and debate – like a celibate priesthood, church teachings on contraception, the management of church assets and the criteria for the appointment of local bishops – are swept under the rug.

Instead, we have polemical battles like the one raging on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Should President Obama be allowed to speak at the school given his pro-choice stance on abortion?

It’s time to wonder out loud: What would Jesus think of today’s divided church where theological finger pointing resembles the ideological litmus tests on Fox News channel?

Comments (57)

  • I was extremely disappointed in your column about the Church. You said absolutely nothing positive about our Church, even going so far as to refer to Pope Benedict’s welcome to President Bush as “unctuous.” You spewed out every bit of pop anti-Church rhetoric , never mentioning one good thing about our awesome Church.


    Posted by: K.G. | April 21st, 2009 at 11:15 am

  • Your feature today in Marin I.J. regarding divisions in the Catholic Church is right on! As an 81 year old lifelong Catholic, although against abortion in my own life, I strongly believe in the woman’s right to choose. The church should maintain homes for unwed pregnant girls as a choice, and certainly abstinence before marriage is desirable but we can’t criminalize what others choose. And, gays and lesbians are certainly born so and I see nothing wrong in their relationships. I have known very fine couples, a couple of women on the hall where I live in a senior residence, and others here. One gay minister from San Francisco (now dead) conducted a wonderful program here on “Search for Meaning.” Our Church certainly should not discourage condom use in AIDS epidemics. I don’t see Protestant married ministers any less devoted nor uninvolved in their church teachings, church life and social justice involvement–possibly some more so. Women in this day and age have equal rights and opportunities with men in our democratic societies. I know several former nuns (including two of my sisters who were nursing nuns) who dropped out and continued very caring and involved lives with more freedom in their jobs to devote to patients–and as my two sisters originally claimed having to learn to understand money in how it works in making a living on dropping out. Both in time married ex-priests, with all continuing bonds in attending Mass. I am glad that you wrote this article that more and more has got to enter Church discussion.

    Posted by: Elizabeth | April 21st, 2009 at 11:15 am

  • Mr Reilly, I read your interesting article in today’s West County
    Times about the Catholic Church. I am a non-catholic and know how
    wrong they are.
    Our neighbor is catholic and she won’t even go into another church
    because she said it is a sin to go to any other denomination. If that
    is a sin then what is a transgression? After 1377 when the Catholic
    Church moved it’s headquarters from Avignon, France to Rome they had
    two and sometimes three popes at the same time causing disputes over
    election of popes.
    The ordinance of baptism was taught by the Savior to be by immersion
    and not by sprinkling small drops of water on one. This is not
    baptism. I could go on about the errors they make, including infant
    baptism, burning of incense, etc. Of all the churches there is only
    one true church. And I am a member.

    K. W.

    Posted by: K. W. | April 21st, 2009 at 11:16 am

  • I have to tell you how I appreciated your column today. I too have been a Catholic all my life and after considering leaving the Church at the height of the pedophilia crisis I have decided to stay the course because it is the tradition I know and love and a community I want to be a part of.

    It seems that the hierarchy of the church in Rome has a priority on writing rules about what we should do that are supposedly based on biblical teachings, but I am no longer sure. It seems to me they have lost their way, so to speak, and forget it is all about following the very simple, very loving example of life that Jesus demonstrated.

    Thank you for reminding me that being a Catholic is simple. It is being a member of the Catholic Church in America that is sometimes quite hard…..


    Posted by: Emmelie | April 21st, 2009 at 11:16 am

  • Clint Reilly’s essay on the state of the American Catholic church (I-J 4/21) surely reflects the views of many American Catholics. But he is simply wrong in every respect, save when he notes the decline in numbers o priests and nuns since the Council of Vatican II.
    By way of contrast, Catholics in this country who adhere to the teaching of the Popes do not suffer from Mr. Reilly’s distemper. They accept contraception as illicit and they mourn but forgive pedophile priests. They rejoice when Pope Benedict honors Protestant President Bush whose pro life stance saved untold numbers of infants from annihilation and they understand why Catholic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who supports abortion, was given a reception of short shrift.
    The prospective address by President Obama at the University of Notre Dame, a flagship for Catholic learning in America,is shameful to Catholics who realize that Mr. Obama is the President, more than any other, committed to abortion rights.
    Mr. Reilly makes much of his Catholic education and service as a layman. He is to be congratulated for his service, but not for his ecclesiology which is overwrought with error and liberal excess.


    Posted by: Deke | April 21st, 2009 at 11:18 am

  • Clint, I can’t let you get away with your last sentence: Ideological litmus tests on Fox News channel?

    Where do you get this utter nonsense? Did you ever even watch this channel or are you just repeating garbage from leftist blogs?

    Ideological litmus tests are much more pervasive in left leaning so-called mainstreet media and academia than you can count on Fox News channel.

    There is good reason why Fox News draws more viewers than the other cable media outlets combined, fair and balanced coverage that is sadly absent as journalism in America has morphed into progressive PR. The “useful idiots” are wising up and looking for real information.

    The truth is on FOX I get all the coverage you get plus all the coverage your biased outlets omit or slant because it doesn’t fit ideologically.

    So, please, if you want to make such a charge as above, at least back it up with specific examples and stop drinking the cool-aid.

    If you want a sample of indefensible journalism look no further than NBC news describing the tea party protests as racist.


    Erich P

    Posted by: Erich | April 21st, 2009 at 11:18 am

  • There’s an easy solution to the problem of too few priests, if only the Catholic church had the guts and smarts to employ it. The solution is to ordain women and married men.

    Charles A

    Posted by: Charles | April 21st, 2009 at 11:20 am

  • I wish to point out the other pieces I have written about the church, its men and women, and its teachings:

    January 6, 2009 — Three Inspirational Priests

    December 25, 2007 — Christmas message

    Posted by: Clint Reilly | April 21st, 2009 at 11:28 am

  • The problem with the Catholic church, as well as all
    liberal churches and cults is that they have added to the Word of God
    over the centuries. See Revelation 22:18-19 All denominations
    eventually follow a trend to become apostate religious corporations.
    We as individuals and our families if possible must separate
    ourselves from any church that adds or subtracts from the Bible alone
    and in its entirety. Yes, there will always be some degree of
    disagreement among true believers, but at least the Bible alone will
    be the true acid test as to what the will of God is for His people.
    Jesus said, we must be born again. The Bible alone is the instruction
    manual for our lives. Jesus said to go into all of the world and
    preach this Gospel until He returns. How many Christians acually
    desire to see the return of the Lord in their life time? If America
    refuses to repent and turn away from her sinful ways, there will be
    greater judgements against us as a nation.

    Posted by: Turner | April 21st, 2009 at 12:11 pm

  • Your list of cracks in the Roman Church are all valid, but the list is incomplete.

    Religion is the obstacle to action about the 800 pound gorilla in the room–overpopulation.

    Human kind cannot continue to procreate at the rate of six to 12 children per millions of families without destroying the conditions for the continuing existence of various ecosystems.

    Rain forests are destroyed, fish stocks depleted, coral reefs dying, yet the pope continues to promulgate irrational policies of anti-condom, anti-sex education, anti-abortion, making religion a big part of the problem instead of solutions.

    John S.
    San Pablo

    Posted by: John S. | April 21st, 2009 at 12:11 pm

  • Yes, you are dear to me. I have saved most of your columns in the Mercury and shared them with many. I was born in 1921 to a Roman Catholic mother and Anglican Catholic father and my next-door neighbor became a Jesuit. All this was in Baltimore.

    Mother was a tortured soul. She had been raised in her parochial school by straight-from-the-auld-sod Irish priests and nuns. After Martin Luther, the most reviled humans were those awful Masons. (Daddy was a Mason.)
    So when each of her 4 babies was born, Mother submitted (somehow) to allowing us to be baptized in the Episcopal church. She made it abundantly clear that she loved us so much that she had allowed such a thing to happen, but that we really should rectify it when we grew older. Meanwhile, she was too great a sinner to attend any Roman Catholic church.

    During the Depression, we struggled through rentals till Daddy was able to afford a small house 6 blocks from a street car line. Mother had never made a bed nor washed a dish until we lost everything in the Depression so life was difficult for her. We never ate dinner (mostly potatoes) without Daddy saying “grace” and we never climbed into bed until we had said our “Our Fathers” and our “Hail Marys” and our “God blesses”. (Even after I was married, this was routine.)

    When Daddy died at age 55, Mother was consoled by a cousin who was a priest. He heard her confession and declared her forgiven. She went to Mass every day for the next 30 years.

    Now we have a Church Divided. Now? Was it not always thus? Didn’t St. Paul try to unify various congregations?

    Every time there has been an absolute authority among humans there has been division. Sometimes a division brings about some beneficial change for future followers of The Way.

    Yes, it is good to question, “What would Jesus think?” Many of the rigid teachings of humans (who have been granted status as current spokespersons for God – and granted this status by humans) are based on Old Testament teachings. Didn’t Jesus get crucified for declaring that some of the Old Testament teachings were obsolete? How can any self declared Christian feel obligated to live by Old Testament rules when they are in conflict with what we treasure as Jesus teachings?

    There were women who served as priests in ancient times. Why not now? There are many women who have been ordained according to established Roman Catholic procedures. They are not “recognized” by the Vatican. Maybe change is life. Stagnation certainly is death.

    May God continue to bless you and those you touch.


    Posted by: Lilyann | April 21st, 2009 at 12:13 pm

  • I respect your right to free speech, but I’m troubled by your comments and choice of venue for your “public service message,” A Church Divided (San Jose Mercury News). As a Catholic, I don’t see the “war with ourselves.” However, through your hyperbole, tenor and partisan rhetoric, your personal war with the church is apparent in your message. The division obviously is a personal one and you are apparently eager to encourage the expansion of such division to others. Your personal issues with the church don’t belong in the secular newspaper and are no more a public service message than the hypothetical publishing of your disagreements with your family and friends. That you have done so makes me suspicious of your true motives. What was the point or benefit of taking a private war to the public? The church is not a body politic; perhaps that is the source of your upset. That the church is based upon intrinsic principles and not politics is its greatest strength. As you noted, you are obviously well connected within the church. Perhaps, you have not “gotten your way” within the church, so now you are taking your complaints public. Apparently, you believe you know better than the learned Pope and the College of Cardinals, despite your incomplete seminary career. The theological finger pointing and ideological litmus tests are all yours, Mr. Reilly, as evidenced by your political references to Bush, Pelosi and Fox News, which really play no meaningful role in church doctrine.

    You have made several public accusations without explaining what you believe should be done differently and why. This is not constructive. I will try to explain my understanding of the issues, but I will defer the definitive explanation to the church leaders.

    Yes, the poison of the priest abuse scandal caused great damage to the innocent abused and the complicit church, just as slavery caused great damage to the innocent enslaved and the complicit U.S. government. However, by truly following the teachings of Christ and the U.S. Constitution, the church and our government each took unequivocal corrective action for their great sins. The church and our government are better and stronger today for such clear corrections. We must never forget, but we must forgive and move on to live better lives. If you know of continuing abuse in the church, report it to the proper authorities within and without the church. Otherwise, your complaint appears to be just another cheap shot; you would do better to communicate publicly all the church has done to prevent future abuse and note the support that is available to victims of abuse.

    The church teaches great respect for human life, particularly innocent life. As a former seminarian, you must be familiar with this basic tenet. The church and its undivided members hold this belief, whether you do or not. It is not difficult to understand how the church expands this belief to support all human life, including in womb human life and potential human life. Accordingly, out of its deep respect for human life, the church believes human life should not be artificially terminated or prevented for the convenience of the parents or others. You and others do not have to share the church’s beliefs and are free to practice abortion and birth control within secular legal limits. However, the church and its undivided members should be free to hold their honest and honorable beliefs as well. Perhaps if there were fewer abortions and less birth control among Catholics, we would not have the shortage of priests and Catholic Sisters, as you described, and your Mountain View seminary would still be overcrowded. To the principled church, being for life is more important than being so-called Catholic, non-Catholic, Republican or Democrat. Why can’t you respect this and why don’t you ask where is Pelosi’s loyalty to the home team, the Catholic Church and faith? You seem to share the same arrogance as many of our partisan politicians.

    The church ardently teaches love for gays and many are Catholics, welcome in the church. Nonetheless, the church (like most students of language) historically believes that “marriage” is defined as between a man and a woman, just as you are defined as a “man” and Nancy Pelosi is defined as a “woman.” Women didn’t need to be redefined as men to receive suffrage and other basic human rights; comparable rights were extended to them as women, and the gender distinction among human beings survived. Fortunately, the California domestic partner statute extends the same basic human rights to gay and lesbian couples that California extends to married heterosexual couples. For distinction and clarity, there is reason to have a separate definition for heterosexual couples and other couples, just as there is reason to define men separately from women. You would do better to discuss the church’s teachings on love and respect for the LGBT community, rather than try to divide the communities on semantics, when the domestic partner and marriage laws have equal status under California law.

    Issues that cry out for discussion and debate — like a celibate priesthood, church teachings on contraception, and others — are regularly discussed and debated at the highest levels of the church, including in the Vatican. This is where such discussions and debate belong with respect to this religious organization. As a former seminarian, you should know all this better than most. That you are not personally invited to all doesn’t mean they are swept under the rug. There is a wealth of information on these discussions and debates available on the Vatican website and elsewhere. The level of transparency is impressive; sweeping under the rug couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    The debate on the campus of Notre Dame is allowed by our U.S. Constitution. We should respect one another’s honest views and not demonize one another. Like you, I believe President Obama should be allowed to speak at Notre Dame as the invited president of our free country. Like the protesters, I support their right to protest civilly and I believe Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, should not bestow an honorary degree upon a political leader with beliefs strongly contrary to church teachings on basic human rights to life. The bishops, as leaders of the church and free Americans, are also entitled to their beliefs and right to free speech. You would do better to support the civil, peaceful exercise of our constitutional rights rather than disparage the church and those who don’t share your views.

    It is true that the church teaches discipline in human behavior, including teaching adherence to a higher standard rather than giving into base instincts that often have not been helpful in the human experience. For the church, this higher standard is the word and way of Jesus. I think Jesus would approve of the church adhering to this historical learned standard of His, and would be disappointed in those that want to lower the standards for personal convenience. Nevertheless, the church accepts we all are humble sinners in need of forgiveness and greater strength, which is there for the asking. The undivided Catholics believe the church is divinely inspired and not purely a manmade self-interested organization. The politics of government have no place in the church. As far as our Catholic religion is concerned, we are committed to Christ, not merely the size of our organization, and we look to the Pope before we look to Bush, Pelosi, Obama or you. Nonetheless, I hope and pray you can be inspired by the Holy Spirit to see the wisdom in supporting your fallible church of the rock of Christ, rather than choosing another way.

    Every person and organization faces challenges. The church is no different. However, I wish you would explain why you believe your public service message, A Church Divided, is constructive and good public service. Boiling blood is never constructive and good in my experience. Please assuage my disappointment in your message. And please show courage and conviction to our freedoms and publish my requested comments and feedback unedited. Thank you for your attention.

    Posted by: Robert Lee | April 21st, 2009 at 2:00 pm

  • Clint, I’m not Catholic, but I live in a community with Catholic roots–North Beach–I’m sure this was a difficult column for you to write–I always enjoy your provocative columns–as an outsider allow me to say that the Church should also come to grips with the need to repair our environment—perhaps this could be one path to healing—St. Francis is a great unifier at least among various denominations and for that matter, non-believers–perhaps St. Francis–realizing he represents a particular Order and I’m not advocating in any respect for any Order–could help in that endeavor–if non-Catholics can embrace St. Francis and project their values onto him–perhaps the Christian value of protecting our creation could help in bridging and hopefully mitigating the schisms you so poignantly describe.
    Tony Gantner
    North Beach/Telegraph Hill

    Posted by: Tony Gantner | April 21st, 2009 at 2:08 pm

  • As a lifelong deist who dabbled with organized religion only to find as a graduate student pondering religions the depth of my inability to conform to manmade doctrine and dogma; I not only understand, but relish the steady demise of false institutions such as the Catholic Church.

    You think your blood is boiling over institutional in-fighting? Well consider the perspective of a woman of African descent trying to deal with the legacy of an institution that claims it has the only righteous covenant with a Divine creator? How am I supposed to maintain faith and allegiance to an institution that continues to perpetuate its demeaning control and definition of the role of my gender? How do I justify the church’s teachings that the kidnapping, enslavement, dehumanization and cruel destruction of my culture? How do I continue to promote a false history, doctrine and dogma on the intent of the Divine?

    Your concerns about the preparation and preservation of institutional workers (priests and nuns) pales in comparison to the concern we should all have about the damage that has been done to human cultures around the world and the environment that supports our mortal life all for the purpose of serving the “glory of the church”. Religions around the globe were the first to claim that women were not equal in the eyes of the Divine. The Judeo/Christian Church through the life limiting myths of Adam and Eve, original sin, the virgin birth, and the incarnation of the Divine in a single human being doomed to martyrdom could never stand up to the test of time, reason and truth.

    As a result of belief in these false tales accompanied by intense persecution of those who are deemed heretic and the ludicrous promises of a better life beyond this one the Christian church created hell here on earth humans and the planet that has supported our life. Cultures around the world have been diminished by the churches indoctrination of “savages” and in some cases extinguished by the sword of the churches “Christian soldiers”. Religious believers around the world have justified their inhuman cruelty towards others and the earth with the false belief that the Divine Creator has given sanction.

    I am glad to see that the age of reason and faith in a Divinity larger than that described by any religion is finally beginning to take hold. It is reason and this greater faith that has pulled us out of a series of the dark ages toward the cusp of enlightenment. And the church/organized religion has fought against reason and a greater God since the day humans made our first efforts to break out the manmade ceiling and the walls that confined them.

    There is that old saying,”When I was a child, I spoke like a child.” Well I am no longer a child. I no longer have faith in man made institutions that cannot stand the test of time. Why do you continue your faith in an institution that is the product of human construction, maintenance and deconstruction? Why are you wasting your time and intellectual prowess on the death of a false institution when you could be exploring the profound mystery of something greater? Isn’t the very idea of an un-anthropomorphized Divinity that loves what it has wrought more intriguing and praiseworthy than the limited human manifestation of a God? I don’t need a demigod to bridge my longing for something greater, better, more loving than I. I need the greater mystery to help me transcend this mortal coil. What about you? Are you really enjoying life in religious box?

    D. D.

    Posted by: DD | April 21st, 2009 at 2:14 pm

  • I read your article this morning and read all of them if possible,I think that I can understand your thoughts as I was raised in a catholic house hold but was raised penecostal.The biggest thing about religion catholic or otherwise is the word itself.Christ made it very simple for us and we have to change it so we can say what he meant not what he said and did.The pope is not God and never will be,no disrespect intended but we need teachers to show the way not religious people saying that it is my way or the highway.I belong to Jubilee Chistian center and appreciate the teaching of what is needed now and follow the easy rules set up many years ago.

    Posted by: Donald P. | April 21st, 2009 at 2:14 pm

  • I am seventy-five years old and left the Catholic Church four years ago because I do not believe Jesus was divine. Then I began to see that the Jesus story promulgated by his disciples was for money and power. Isn’t that the story for all religions? If Jesus were to come back tomorrow I bet he would dissolve the Church for being a haven for the fat cats who couldn’t care less about you and me.

    Posted by: Barber | April 21st, 2009 at 2:15 pm

  • Yes, DD, I am enjoying my religious life. Does it help you to enjoy your life by disparaging an institution that provides inner peace and love to millions of people and has stood the test of nearly 2000 years of time? I pray for your inner peace, whether spiritual or otherwise. I hope your blood stops boiling. Peace.

    Posted by: Robert Lee | April 21st, 2009 at 2:47 pm

  • Clint, you’re touching people in a deep way. Next thing you know, you’ll be “controversial.”

    Posted by: Jerry Carroll | April 21st, 2009 at 3:39 pm

  • Clint, you ask, what would Jesus think of today’s church? I would ask, what did Jesus think of Martin Luther’s breaking away from the mother church? Is the answer in the fifth book of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, wherein the Great Inquisitor cannot deal with the return of the silent Jesus, or is it in the old testament, Genesis, Chapter 6, verse 6, “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart?” hh

    Posted by: Herbert Hoover | April 21st, 2009 at 4:18 pm

  • The blatant denial of the covering up of the clergy
    abuse issue for such a prolonged period and the resultant ill-health
    and dysfunctionality it has brought and continues to bring to our
    society truly make empty those things meant to be revered as we do on
    each Anzac Day and other days of remembrance and celebration. Notions
    of Democracy, Human Rights, Social Justice, ideals found in a
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Declarations of the Rights
    of the Child are all meaningless simply due to this single untreated
    aspect of our lives.

    Over the time scale and the global extent of this cover up of the
    social destruction, the crimes of every kind, the rape of millions of
    children, the death of tens of thousands of children by clergy and
    subsequently by those affected eclipses the scale of the horrors of
    the Holocaust tenfold yet it receives not a word of recognition or
    hears words of outrage nor shows genuine signs of human justice.

    Posted by: J. Brown | April 21st, 2009 at 10:45 pm

  • Right on about the Pope, who has no clothes!!! He’s getting more irrelevant every day.

    I entered the Sem after two years at Sacred Heart and stayed five and a half years.

    Purpose on this message is my total dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church. Here is my list.

    1 position on gays, 2 embryonic stem cell research, 3 birth control, 4 abortion, 5 euthanasia, 6 married priesthood,
    7 woman priests, 8 condoms to prevent aids etc. etc. I keep going to mass, but I don’t believe in the real presence anymore.
    I doubt the validity of the Bible, but I believe there is a God we know very little about. Jesus was a man, not God, as we were all taught.
    I believe in the two great commandments and if there is a heaven, it is following them that will get you there. Ed G.
    PS: You are a great writer. Keep it up

    Posted by: Ed G. | April 21st, 2009 at 10:49 pm

  • I am a permanently lapsed Catholic, so perhaps my thoughts might be considered irrelevent, but here goes:
    You failed to mention that the hierachy transferred those abusive priests to new parishes after they were found
    out so they could again transgress.

    Would allowing priests to marry help solve the problem or are those kinds of offenders just drawn to the Catholic Church? Would allowing birth control stop abortions? And as for litmus tests what about CNBC,
    CNN & NBC???

    Posted by: Alicia P. | April 21st, 2009 at 10:51 pm

  • I am 79 yrs. ,loved the church all of my life, raised my children
    catholic and attend Mass daily.I am a little lamb of Jesus.This is what
    I believe..The holy spirit will be with us forever , I believe that, so
    I just let him take care of his church and all of its messes.I do the
    same with fhe whole world.l pray like mad ,ask to be shown how I can
    make it better , go to sleep. The church and the world belong totally to
    God.He is the CEO. We just have to listen to the voice within and be

    Posted by: Nancy | April 21st, 2009 at 10:59 pm

  • I, too, am a cradle Catholic. I, too, am a seminarian (Archdiocese of Chicago) who answered the vocation of marriage as opposed to the vocation of the priesthood. And while I share your concerns about the global Church, I need to ask: How are we serving the local Church?

    Since Vatican II, the laity has been allowed to assume a more dynamic role in the Church. At Baptism, we were all appointed priest, prophet and king.

    So are we ministering to the sick? Are we seeking to servant to minister Eucharistic ministers and proclaim the Word as Lectors? Are we ministering to young couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage and for young families who seek baptism for their children? Are we ministering to the parishioner who lost his wife after 30+ years of marriage?

    These are just a few examples, but this is where me meet Jesus. This is what Jesus told us to do. And this is what has endured for the 2000 years since the Resurrection. And while the current crises makes for great headlines, ever notice the real works of the Church, the ministering, hardly ever gets mentioned?

    Keep the faith!

    God Bless,

    Albert W

    Posted by: Albert W. | April 21st, 2009 at 10:59 pm

  • Thank you for your comments published in The San Jose Mercury, April
    21,2009, giving me food for thought. If not for your credentials I
    would have considered your dissertation to have come from an
    outsider of the Catholic Church. I offer no disrespect, however your
    assessment of the Church situations appears to support what is being
    distributed by the lay press, considered by many to be thought out
    poorly, incomplete, and with secular bias. That being said, allow me
    to make comments on specific points.

    Although you do not state specifically, you would appear to imply
    that the turmoil within the Church is something new. Unfortunately,
    since the First Council of Jerusalem until the present, there have
    been discords within the Catholic Church. This is consequential to
    the inevitable weakness of humanity. This is a given and need not be
    belabored; there will always be discord.

    Yes, there is a disappointing lack of priests but since Peter
    Steinfels’ publication, I believe we are seeing an encouraging trend
    to filling the seminaries. St.Patrick’s Seminary and University in
    Menlo currently has a full student body. I am deeply offended by
    your subtle implication that “older men” and “foreigners” may not be
    worthy candidates for the priesthood.

    Your comment on the Pope’s reception of Mrs Pelosi is quite
    interesting. Don’t forget that he is the shepherd. She is a member of
    the flock. We all need guidance when we go astray. Would you have him
    not take the opportunity to advise her on the grave responsibility of
    politicians to support the culture of life ? He not only has a
    choice but indeed an obligation to instruct..

    In no way do I diminish the gravity of the priests’ sexual scandal
    with it’s devastating consequences. Because we have seen a tarnished
    legacy as a consequence of behavior of a “few rogue priests and
    bishops,” does not mean the Church’s credibility must be taken to
    task when commenting on the morality of sexual behavior, or in fact,
    the morality of any behavior.

    Finally, for now, it appears you wish to diminish the current debate
    boiling regarding the invitation of President Obama to the school
    considered the flagship of American Catholic Education. I am sure you
    are aware the president has demonstrated if not an agressive
    position, then a consistent mentality which denies the rights of our
    millions of unborn. The fact is supported by assessing his campaign
    promises to Planned Parenthood, his immediate presidential behavior
    and the social and moral positions of his appointees to the
    cabinet. Indeed, serious Catholics are to be deeply and agonizingly
    concerned about the Notre Dame decision and the message it sends to
    Again, thank you for your essay and an opportunity to comment.

    Posted by: Melvin | April 21st, 2009 at 11:00 pm

  • Clint,

    Visiting San Jose to check out our grandchildren, I read your column with a lot of interest and also the comment it has drawn. I was born and raised in the Catholic Church in Scotland in the 1940′s/50′s. I left the Church in my twenties, and experienced no difficulty, though I’ve retained a philosophical interest in the phenomenon of religion and have a hope – maybe pipe-dream would be a more accurate term – that there may be some prospect of reconciling religious and secular approaches to life, maybe along the lines of Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria.

    Essentially, religion should be a support to people who wish to lead the ‘good life’ – to respect/help others a bit more while indulging selfish impulses a bit less, to articulate hope for future outcomes for others as well as for self, to reflect on the awesomeness and complexity of the universe, to summon the resolve to understand as much of the physical world as we can and, where possible, to add to its beauty or its usefulness through our creativity and industry.

    Myths about the raising of the dead or about the turning of wine into ‘blood’ or about final judgment have been found helpful to this religious purpose in many traditions. Nobody should be pursued because they have a mistaken literal belief in such mythology, but neither should they be allowed to restrict other people’s freedoms on the basis of erroneous fact-claims or of ‘revealed truths’.

    I talked yesterday with the head of an Episcopal elementary school which is being considered for our granddaughters’ education, and I asked him about the religious dimension. I liked his answer. He said, in short, “My own background is Roman Catholic. I find the Anglican tradition much more inclusive.” I can go a lot further than he did.

    Any religious organisation which openly acknowledges the importance of early formation, which insists in close church involvement in education, which assiduously practices psychological imprinting, and which then threatens excommunication as a disciplinary sanction, does not deserve the support of good people. This is wicked, abusive behaviour, which still goes on in the Roman Catholic Church.

    I sigh wearily at every election, here or in the UK, when some archbishop seizes the opportunity to seek to punish politicians who’ve not supported the Catholic line on abortion, or gay marriage or whatever. I used to protest inwardly that it is the politician’s job to listen to the electorate. and the archbishop’s job to attend to the moral formation of his flock. The archbishop should not seek to put the blame on another profession when he sees that his own efforts haven’t worked.

    Alas, now I’m older, I see that this is really just about power. For influence and status in this world a guy needs to have an army, and to have an army it helps to have a cause. What could make a better cause than the simple slogan, “Thou shalt not kill,” backed up with suitably lurid imagery of butchered babies? I won’t spell out the other powerful, though denied, appeal to raw emotion.

    I don’t want to get into priestly misdemeanour here, except to relate that in the UK the Sunday Times got hold of and published a letter from a pope, I’ve forgotten which one, circulated to all bishops in the days before procedures were eventually rectified, setting out instructions regarding how complaints of abuse by clergy were to be handled by bishops as they might arise. The key aspects for me were, one, that efforts were to be made to avoid publicity and negotiate private settlement, using, if necessary, the threat of excommunication, and two, that this letter itself was to be placed in the bishop’s most secret diocessan archive. Don’t know about anyone else, but a church with secret archives is for me a contradiction in terms. I’d call it a conspiracy,plain and simple.

    So, Clint, I admire your courage and your perseverance. By all means stick at it, but don’t expect quick results.

    Best regards, Hugh

    Posted by: Hugh Millar | April 22nd, 2009 at 11:06 am

  • As a non-Catholic, it is very easy for me to totally disregard the
    Catholic faith given the issues that you correctly write need to be
    addressed. Given the insular nature of the churches leadership, I
    doubt the necessary change will come in my lifetime.

    Posted by: David G. | April 22nd, 2009 at 11:34 am

  • The title “A Church Divided” is somewhat misleading. The teachings of Catholic Church are very complete and consistent, not only today but for 2,000 years. There are many people who disagree with some Church teachings. This has happened throughout history. The fact that people disagree with Church teachings does not mean the Church is “divided” although some of the people who have disagreed with the Church have left the Church to form their own churches.

    You outline various “problems” that “boil your blood”. It appears to you the Church is not focused on solving these “problems”. Let’s examine what you wrote:

    Problem #1 – Manpower shortage in the Catholic Church

    Does the study and book you cite explain the reason for the decline in priests?

    Does the study show how many qualified men were either banned from entering the seminary or pressured to leave if they were not “in tune” with the seminaries’ liberal, unorthodox agenda?

    Does the study also show an increase in vocations over the past few years in many dioceses across the United States? (However, in several large dioceses like San Francisco and Los Angeles, there are very few vocations. Why are they so different than the rest of the country?)

    Problem #2 – Womanpower shortage

    True, there has been a decline in vocations here as well, especially in the older, established orders. But you make no mention of the phenomenal growth in many of the newer orders such as the Sisters of Charity. Are the newer orders attracting more vocations because of their discipline and orthodoxy which many of the older, established orders have lost?

    Problem #3 – Contentious issues like gay rights and abortion

    These issues are contentious because many people after spending time in prayer, researching the Church’s teachings, and conferring with their spiritual director have discerned that the Church’s teachings are seriously in error… They know they are right and the Church is 100% wrong. And they know this because???

    In regards to Nancy Pelosi, she has publicly pronounced her beliefs erroneously as Church teachings. Her position on various Church teachings is heretical. Why should the Pope show any “loyalty” to someone who does not have any loyalty to the Church? Is she on the “home” team or some other team??? As Catholics, we should be embarrassed and ashamed at Pelosi’s statements.

    Problem #4 – Catholics rejected the ban on gay marriage in California

    The Catholic Church does not change its doctrines or teachings based upon how a majority of Catholics vote or believe.

    Your statement indicates that the Catholics who rejected the ban on gay marriage are either unfamiliar with the Catholic teachings on marriage and family or, if they are familiar, choose to reject them. People need to be better educated on what the Church teaches which is precisely what the bishops are trying to do.

    Problem #5 – Disagreement in the pews

    The priest abuse scandal had done a tremendous amount of damage to everyone involved. Some people may never get through the anger and hurt.

    However, the scandal should not cause people to question the whole gamut of Church teachings. Why do the people who openly disagree with many of the Church’s teachings still want to be Catholic when another church’s teachings may align much better? People who profess to be Catholics need to believe and follow the Church’s teachings. If they reject and do not follow the Catholic teachings, how can they consider themselves Catholic?

    Problem #6 – The Church is ill suited in the role of sexual arbiter because of its teachings against contraception

    Who has determined that sex should be removed from the realm of moral teachings?

    Sex and sexuality is a major part of the Church’s consistent, all-encompassing teachings about the dignity of each person and respect for life.

    Why are you embarrassed about the Pope’s message about condoms? Do you not understand WHY he says what he says? Have you read and understood Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI or the Evangelium Vitae by Pope John Paul II? Even if you clearly disagree with what the popes have written, as a Catholic you should be able to clearly articulate the Church’s position on contraception.

    Problem #7 – Issues that cry out for discussion and debate are swept under the rug

    What would be the result of “discussion and debate” as you see it? How could the Church even “debate” about doctrine? Of course, various disciplines and practices can change and have changed over the years… These can be discussed and debated but not ignored… Why would the Church change its teachings to reflect the “voice of the people” instead of the Word of God? Isn’t the Word of God sufficient?

    Problem #8 – Polemic battles

    Are the “battles” such as the controversy at Norte Dame caused by a seemingly Catholic institution professing and following Catholic teachings or by professing and following their own beliefs? And if Norte Dame is causing this “battle”, then they can choose to stop it.

    Problem #9 – What would Jesus think about today’s divided church?

    Where did Jesus teach us to accept and embrace other people’s beliefs and practices even if they were contrary to what he taught us?

    I think Jesus has told us what he thinks about today’s “divided church”:

    When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
    Mat 25:31-34 NAB-A

    Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?” As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
    Joh 6:60-61, 66 NAB-A

    Today, many American Catholics raised in a democratic society think that the Church should follow democratic principles in order to have the people in the pews determine the Church’s teachings and organization. They fail to understand that the Church is not an institution created by man but by God and cannot change its doctrine by a majority vote.

    Thank you for your time reading my comments.

    Richard P

    Posted by: Richard | April 22nd, 2009 at 11:35 am

  • I read your comments each Tuesday in the San Jose Mercury News. I have neglected to tell you how much I appreciate the time, energy and money you devote to this service to the community. Thank you very much.

    Posted by: Lois | April 22nd, 2009 at 11:36 am

  • Your article ‘A Church Divided’ that appeared in the April 21, 2009
    of the Contra Costa Times hit very close to home – I agree
    completely with your findings that confront the Catholic Church -
    These problems have been there since Vatican 2 and seem to get
    increasingly worse year by year – like yourself, i was educated by
    dedicated men and women of religious orders who truly believe what
    they taught and passed their feelings on to us – The so called
    ‘Spiritual Leaders ” of todays church are nothing more than business
    men who seem to lead a life of ease and luxury – I have, and I
    believe you have too, seen how these men live with their fancy
    costumes, cars and apartments and at the same time demanding the
    poor laity adhere to their principals – We had that in the Oakland
    Diocese with the building of the Cathedral for 190 million dollars
    (large balance still due). – The Bishop was cautioned not to do this
    as his parishioners were loosing their homes, jobs and health care
    but it was built along with a 2.5 million dollar organ – think of the
    help that could have been given to people in need with 190 million
    dollars – i do not know if you have seen the Cathedral but it is
    dark, stone cold and not a friendly place to be – I recall that Pope
    Paul stated in 1978 ‘The smoke of Satan has entered the church’ and,
    sadly, this appears to be true – I am a Catholic but no longer
    attend services for many reasons – Thank you again for your article
    and reading my thoughts -

    John S.

    Posted by: John S. | April 22nd, 2009 at 4:19 pm

  • Clint:
    I enjoyed yesterday’s column and many of your other ones. (Don’t agree with you about newspapers!)

    As a Catholic I can NEVER forgive or forget that the leadership of the church swept the pedophilia epidemic “under the rug”. I also recognize the same church leadership’s hypocrisy in regards to Democrats and Republicans: they demonize Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who do not obey in regards to abortion/birth control BUT they embrace Republicans like Bush who aggressively support the death penalty, start wars, cut social welfare and education programs, and torture. All except torture are also against the teachings of the Catholic church…so why should we vote for Republicans on just the abortion issue, when Democrats overwhelmingly support all of the other issues? It wasn’t showing Nancy out the back door that enraged me, it was embracing Bush. It was better when the Church stayed out of politics.

    Also, in regards to the Church and women. Have you ever noticed that ALL orthodox/conservative branches of organized religions have a particular zealousness in controlling, subordinating, and demeaning women: Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, etc.


    Posted by: Catherine N | April 22nd, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  • I took great interest in your “A Church Divided” article. No doubt, our Church has issues, and we as members should be the first to acknowledge them. With equal interest, I read a number of the comments posted in response and was impressed for the most part. Yes, the Mystical Body ain’t perfect, but the pluses far out number the minuses.

    Generally speaking, I would simply suggest that the Church has further to go to be up to speed in the 21st Century. Zeroing in on a particular issue (can’t cover them all), I believe the laity should have a more informed understanding of the priesthood and religious life. This would, perhaps, allow for more meaningful discussions as to the possibility and/or feasibility of married clergy and the ordination of women.

    As one Catholic to another, I appreciate your article.

    Paul C

    Posted by: Paul C. | April 23rd, 2009 at 9:35 am

  • I always enjoy your columns in the Vacaville Reporter.

    My husband, 84, and I, 78, are also life-long Catholics. You said it all so much better than we could.

    Why are there still old men making decisions on how married couples should live? Why is taking a birth-control pill so bad when we take all kinds of pills for every thing else? The Church’s emphasis on the “rhythm” method is laughable.

    We’re lucky in that our seven children and ten grandchildren all are healthy and well-educated. We can now forget the many years of self-sacrifice and stress while we both worked to stay ahead financially. If we had it to do all over again, we would probably “pick and choose” as most Catholics do now.



    Posted by: Jane | April 23rd, 2009 at 9:36 am

  • Your columns are always interesting, and this one especially so.
    I was a member of the Catholic Church from birth until my mid-twenties.At that point, I suddenly realized that a lot of what I believed so sincerely, was not making sense, starting with not eating meat on Fridays. We mostly ate fish, and while I have the greatest respect for fishermen of any nation, I discovered that the “penance” started out as a concession to Italian fishermen.!!!! Nothing to do with my soul being saved. The more I thought about it, the less I could accept blindly.
    The tragic suffering inflicted on so many young people by priests is awful. I wonder if Priests being allowed to marry and living lives like their congregations would have made a difference? I believe that they would be more capable of understanding what it is like to be in a marriage like my parents – they were so unhappy, yet my Mother was told by a Priest that it was her “duty” to stay in the marriage.
    There is so much more I would like to say, but mainly, I feel this current Pope is out of touch and too set in his ways to make any reasonable changes. Thank you for your insights. Anne McC.

    Posted by: Anne | April 23rd, 2009 at 9:37 am

  • You have left the traditional Church. your viewa are so far from what the Church stands for .i could never belong to the church you invision. Because a few priests disgraced the Church . The Church no longer has the right to proclaim what Christ taught? People who believe in abortion contraception and that Notre Dame should honor a man who would condemn a survivor of abortion to death should just find a “church” that is more in tune with thier beliefs.


    Posted by: Bonnie | April 23rd, 2009 at 9:38 am

  • I appreciated your piece in Tuesday’s San Mateo County Times. I am forwarding you an essay (which you may already know about or have read) by Archbishop Quinn on the Notre Dame brouhaha. Of course, who’ll be listening to or reading him? The piece was in America, so there was a readership, a minority, it would seem, out there reading him:


    Posted by: Al | April 23rd, 2009 at 9:39 am

  • Thank you for posting all the alternative comments. A representative discussion is better than one perspective from the “official” keymaster or gatekeeper.

    Posted by: Robert Lee | April 23rd, 2009 at 12:06 pm

  • Clint: I note that your most enthusiastic supporters among your commenters are all atheists, deists, the irreligious, Protestants and faith-less pewsitters. None of these people seem on fire with the love of God. This should tell you something. It does me.
    Let me remind you that there are plenty of Protestant denominations that have made all the “enlightened” (i.e. secularist) policy changes that you promote and the result has not been explosive growth. In fact, the exact opposite has occurred; they are shrinking fast. Some observers are even predicting the disappearance of liberal Protestantism. All of the growth has been in conservative Protestantism.
    You may have noticed that the Episcopal Church U.S. has embraced abortion, gay rights, married and female clergy etc. and yet it has lost over half of its membership and what remains tends to be very old. Its seminaries are not full and the seminarians that are there tend to be, as one rude commentator put it, “menopausal women and their hairdressers.”
    There are areas of the Catholic Church which show great vitality. There are dioceses which have a lot of vocations. It might be instructive for you to look at them and find out why they are successful and California is not. (Hint: It has nothing to do with becoming more liberal.) There are also new religious congregations that are experiencing explosive growth with lots of young people entering, such as Sisters for Life and Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and many others, all of them are faithful to Church teaching.
    You seem to have swollowed whole the leftist, secularist line. I could go through each of the issues you raise and bring up counter-arguments, but space and time don’t allow this. I’m sorry, but your ideas are prescriptions for failure for the Church and for society as a whole.

    Posted by: L. Rogers | April 23rd, 2009 at 12:42 pm

  • I very much enjoyed your article in Tuesday’s Mercury News. My wife and many of our friends are Catholic and we share the views expressed.

    Given your points, it’s no surprise that the priesthood is shrinking. But the solution to this, as well as the pedophilia scandal, is obvious. Simply enlarge the pool of desirable candidates by lifting the celibacy requirement and opening the priesthood to women. Unfortunately, the hierarchical structure of the Church basically allows the pope alone to make these changes, and this pope is obviously disinclined.


    Posted by: JRG | April 23rd, 2009 at 1:49 pm

  • I very much admire and enjoy your comments on politics and society in general, but I think you should stay away from religion. For you to even ask the question of “What would Jesus think of today’s divided church…” evidences your total lack of rationality when considering religion, and particularly things Catholic. If such a person ever existed (which is doubtful), he was born a Jew, raised as a Jew, lived as a Jew, taught as a Jew and died as a Jew. He would undoubtedly look upon the Catholic church with astonishment, and more likely than not, consider its basic tenets, history and dogma as ludicrous and moronic for at least all of the reasons you enunciated in your article.

    Posted by: Arthur | April 23rd, 2009 at 2:22 pm

  • Clint, Thank you for writing a column on this difficult subject. I was raised Catholic, but have since given it up because the hypocrisy is too much for me to bear. The fact that the church hierarchy looked the other way and moved known pediphiles to other areas where they preyed on more innocent children is deeply disturbing to me, and I cannot reconcile this with the blatant adherence to an ideology about birth control that is clearly damaging to human beings in the developing world. Nonetheless, as a former Catholic, I am hopeful that there will come a time when the Church hierarchy will see the error of its ways and once again work for the good. I also know that there are many good and generous people within the Church who continue to do good despite the bad things going on at the top.

    Posted by: Cynthia Bengier | April 23rd, 2009 at 7:00 pm

  • We read in the secular press almost daily about divisions and squabbles within the Catholic Church, so I have to disagree with those who feel we should only talk about it “within the family”. Nevertheless, as I skimmed through the comments here, I remembered why I usually try to avoid conversations about religion.

    Recently, I failed to avoid an encounter with a neighbor, a fervent Southern Baptist whose “born again” status imposes the duty to proclaim God’s truth in every conversation. She told me that she prays every day for non-Christians (among whom I suspect I, as a Catholic, am numbered) because “they all will certainly die and they all will certainly go to Hell”. I felt deeply shocked, not because she prayed for their conversion but because of her utter certainty, her total adherence to a shockingly righteous, cruel and uncaring God. It was a few hours before I realized that, within living memory, most devout Catholics firmly believed that everybody but ourselves was Hell-bound. We did hold out hope in the form of “Baptism By Desire” for worthy adults; and “we” invented Limbo because it was unthinkable that unbaptized babies, the Holy Innocents, should be deemed to spend eternity in the fires of Hell. And yet, it was acceptible then, and remains so even now among a minority of extreme “traditionalists”, to be as outspokenly hard-line on God’s behalf as is my Baptist neighbor.

    While our fundamental beliefs don’t change, our understanding of our faith is meant to grow and develop. It seems to me that it behooves us all to remain open to the possibility of growing into a deeper understanding of the great mysteries of our existence…as individuals, as Children of God, as Church. We all, including the Pope and the hierarchy, tend to forget that it is God who is God; and it is Jesus who the revelation of His Face to the world. It is so easy for us to reflect to the world the distorted image of a God made in our own likeness.

    In this imperfect Church I am happily Catholic. If God, however, should turn out to be some rule-bound ideologue, or if He were a One-Issue Disciplinarian who refuses to assocate or work with good-but-flawed people, otherwise called sinners, then the Gospels will have lied to us and I, for one, most certainly would not expect to spend eternity with Him.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

    Posted by: Sylvia, Vacaville | April 24th, 2009 at 7:42 pm

  • This has been a good discussion. I’d like to leave my email address, if it’s allowed. I’m happy to hear more from any of the contributors.

    Hugh (

    Posted by: Hugh Millar | April 27th, 2009 at 10:52 am

  • You always seem to be anxious to profess your Catholic bona fides even tho you express opinions far afield of the official Church’s positions. Why should the likes of Pelosi , Kerry , Kennedy etc. be given Papal Blessings when they flaunt the Church’s teachings on abortion , embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage.You express wonderment about Jesus thinking and it dosen’t take much thought to conclude that he would find abortion an absolutely abhorrent and pagan practice. Many third term abortions , and certainly Obama’s position , is nothing short of infanticide…pure and simple. Cafeteria Catholics , such as yourself , do not want to engage in the sacrifices that the teachings require and therefore espouse undermining philosophies. I might not be as doctrinaire on some other points of view but suffice it to say you are absolutely delusional if you think the GOOD LORD would not vew the sanctity of life as a preeminent value ……..Dude your smoking too much wacky weed!!

    Posted by: Schapelli | April 27th, 2009 at 10:58 am

  • Also being a lifelong Catholic I found your article interesting, challenging and defeatist. However, I do not believe the church stands for anything that would make my blood boil.

    You are correct to say that Catholics are too often at war with themselves. Whether or not there are problems confronting the church such an opinion is usually based upon the fact that modern Catholics like so many so-called Christians have become more and more focused upon their own self-interests as they push aside any notion of a moral compass.

    The decline of vocations with men and women is directly related to the rise of the ‘Me first’ culture. There is just no room for a spiritual life that includes a commitment to God that a vocation requires.

    I remember well my years in parochial elementary, secondary and college education. I respected and honored the nuns and priests. Their work was that of God. So it was sad to watch the decline of vocation that grew out of the 1960’s.

    Throughout history the church has faced issues that were more man made that God made. Of course the church fathers were interpreting the word of God and as human beings they were perhaps sometimes wrong. However, the beauty and spirituality of Catholic doctrine is the most important aspect of Catholicism.

    You addressed the sad pedophilia situation that the church has had to deal with financially and socially. To be fair it was not the Catholic Church fostering pedophilia, it was a group of irresponsible men. There were some church fathers who were slow or in denial but once again they were human beings making poor decisions, not the Catholic Church per se.

    To mention issues like abortion and contraception where the church needs to debate and discuss is fundamentally a flawed issue because they both are so fundamental to the culture and sanctity of life. So if Jesus was physically on earth today he would be in opposition to BHO’s position on abortion and supportive of the fair and balance approach Fox news takes rather than the socialistic supporting news media that you often espouse.

    Posted by: Bernard A. | April 27th, 2009 at 10:59 am

  • I enjoy your columns largely because they are well informed, reasonable, fair, and logical. So I was surprised to read “A Church Divided” and find out not only that you are a Catholic but that you are concerned about the wellbeing of the Catholic Church.

    Surely you have read Sam Harris’ New York Times bestseller Letter to a Christian Nation , Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and other such books, and surely you know that religion is over. It may have been a useful crutch in more primitive times, but now it is perfectly analogous to a computer virus–on a crowded, small planet, it only makes humans dysfunctional. I say religion is “over” with authority, just as someone 100 years ago could have said foot binding and cannibalism were pretty much over, long before the last incidences of these fading practices occurred.

    To me, that word “church” sounds exactly as archaic as “foot binding,” “ear trumpet,” “corset,” “slave chain,” “chastity belt,” “bleeding with leeches,” etc. A “church” is a human-bio-computer-virus-dissemination station. My 16-year-old son says, “Once you’re free of religion, it’s like your mind is constantly tripping out–you are face to face every moment with the holy miracle of Creation, constantly in awe.” And I would add that the world, the Universe, becomes your church, your temple, your shrine, wherever you happen to be and at any time of the day or night.

    Your Catholic religion is already over. You just haven’t realized it yet. Run barefooted for several miles on asphalt and you get blisters on your feet, swim in freezing water too long and you get hypothermia, and compel a bunch of already-insane young men to be celibate, and you get perverts. Your gang, your homies that fly your colors, the Catholic Church, paid out almost a billion dollars in Southern California for sexual harassment settlements. My friend Gigi bought her house with a nice settlement for her priest raping her at 14 when she went to him for help during her parents’ divorce.

    You say that the Pope’s recent idiocy in Africa provoked shrugs of embarrassment rather than applause or outrage. You need to get out more, Mr. Reilly. One of the most reputable medical journals in the world, Britain’s The Lancet, called his speeches against condom use tantamount to premeditated murder, and this was in a scientific article.

    You ask what would Jesus think today? He would not recognize your church or any of the American “Christian” churches as having anything to do with his teachings. Modern people should, finally, be able to understand the incredible philosophy Jesus taught, which was about 2000 years ahead of its time. Even without knowledge of quantum mechanics or evolution, Thomas Jefferson figured it out perfectly, exactly like Einstein, John Lennon, and Jeff Syrop (me) did much later. Please read this Thomas Jefferson quote very carefully:

    “But the greatest of all reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent morality, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects (The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of the Hierarchy, etc.) is a most desirable object.” –To W. Short, Oct. 31, 1819

    You are not to old to think, to change, to have a whole new lease on life, to become part of the human enlightenment that just might turn things around. But I’m betting that pride will cause you to try desperately to hold up your house of cards, to protect the signature you’ve written on water, and live out the rest of your life in fear and ignorance. It would be so wonderful if you could actually understand the amazing little book by young neurophysicist Sam Harris and wake up. Wake up.

    Posted by: Jeff S. | April 27th, 2009 at 11:00 am

  • Clint it looks to me that you are a finger pointer. Nancy
    Pelosi and other such catholics should be excuminicated from the
    church. If you are not happy with the church maybe you should
    look elswhere to fullfill your liberal agenda.

    Posted by: Bob | April 27th, 2009 at 11:02 am

  • A friend in the Bay Area(inactive priest) sent your article to me (same) in St. Louis. Here in the mid-west we also suffer from church leadership -or lack thereof. Raymond Burke damn near destroyed the Catholic Church here with his legalism and gets promoted to the court in Rome,soon to be a cardinal where he will have a vote for B16 successor! There is no doubt he had a hand in appointing his friend -also a lawyer- to enforce the silly stuff they consider important for salvation. You asked what would Jesus think of today’s divided church- He certainly would not recognize most of it – perhaps the soup kitchens and food pantries but little else. Keep up the good work and pray for this mess we dare call church. Tom

    Posted by: Tom | April 27th, 2009 at 7:07 pm

  • I read your article in the April 21st issue of the Marin IJ and felt the need to respond. As a life long Catholic with a Jesuit university education, I believe, as the Church teaches, in the sanctity of human life from conception to death. Politicians who proclaim to be Catholic but highlight their pro-choice stance, in my estimation are neither Catholic nor the caring Americans they profess to be. Let me explain. The combined wisdom of the Church’s perennial teachings on the sanctity of all human life is well documented. Most if not all politicans, because of their positions are not qualified to enter into a debate or to legislate on when life begins. If they choose to discount the Church’s teaching then the demographic studies on the perpetation of the culture should give them cause for argument. Current studies indicate that the Western Cultures because of declining birth rates are in danger of disappearing. The European Countries now have negative birthrates and here in America native born Americans have a 1.3 rate (2.1 being necessary for perpetuation). With the help of immigration the American birthrate is up to 2.3.
    So where does this leave the Church? Do we follow the political prescription and witness our demise? I hope and pray not.
    Frank B

    Posted by: Frank B. | April 27th, 2009 at 7:08 pm

  • Dear Clint,
    In as much as you are a former seminarian, you surely know and understand the pro-life arguments against abortion. The 5th commandment is explicit against the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being. My Jesuit teachers made that all very clear to me when I was an undergraduate. Actually, they asserted that murder is never morally justifiable. If the human fetus or embryo is truly human, then it cannot be willfully destroyed for any reason, and not even the Democratic Party can make such actions acceptable or even tolerable. There is no moral gradation in the matter of willful murder. Abortion is either the moral equivalent of murder, or it is just a medical procedure on non-human tissue with no moral content at all. And yes, even the Pope cannot redefine the 5th commandment. Keep in mind that God does not expect us to win every earthly battle, but He does expect us to be faithful to His word and to fight the good fight. After all, this is a testing place, and we all pray that we may “pass the test.”
    Bill McInerny

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | April 28th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

  • Bill McInerny writes: “There is no moral gradation in the matter of willful murder.”

    Bill, does it not occur to you that you write in these terms specifically to preclude moral gradation? Aren’t you looking to judge the rest of society by criteria which form part of your faith position but not necessarily of other people’s. If you claim respect from others for your beliefs, wouldn’t you consider giving some back?

    Hugh (

    Posted by: Hugh Millar | April 29th, 2009 at 10:22 am

  • Robert, thanks for your post. Let me have a shot at a reasonable, or at least reasoned, reply.

    First of all, the issue for me is not abortion, and I’m not going to be drawn into a discussion on that topic, which I recognise is always a highly emotive one. No, the point I’m making is broader, to do with the kind of society we want to live in.

    In a democratic society people have the right to pursue happiness in their own ways and according to their own beliefs, including their religious beliefs. When we all respect this right it becomes possible for people of many faiths and none to live harmoniously and freely together.

    We are never totally free, of course, because we are always constrained to some extent by law. The purpose of law – for me anyway – is to maximise personal freedom. The law ensures that the other person’s right to swing his arm ends where my nose begins (President Truman?). The law also encourages/enforces cooperative behaviour (e.g. driving on one side of the road).

    Here’s the key point, though: laws are and can only ever be a matter of consensus. Anybody who tries and succeeds in imposing by law what he thinks are moral absolutes will by definition be governing without the consent of an important constituency – the constituency of those who do not share his notions of absolute value. There is only one moral absolute in a democracy, and that is the equality of citizens before the law.

    What we need to do is live our own lives according to our beliefs, while seeking to persuade others to our point of view on matters we think important and where we disagree. But to persuade we have to be willing to listen. I may feel strongly that kids’ play parks should be locked up on Sundays. Maybe I think God commanded it, and I can quote what I believe is chapter and verse. But it’s unreasonable of me to strive to over-ride the views of my neighbour on the ground that I know the mind of God and he doesn’t.

    I have to give some argument, like how nice it would be to have some universally observed quiet time, some opportunity for reflection, on Sundays. And I have to be prepared to hear the other case, that parents and kids should have the chance to have some Sunday fun together in a designated public space.

    If I lose the argument and the vote, I must accept the result, although I may resolve to go on campaigning. What I mustn’t do is to miscall my neighbour and his values. He’s as entitled to his moral code as I am to mine.

    An alternative to democracy, of course, is theocracy. I guess that’s what they have in Iran?

    A last point: were I to find in the course of the debate that the public generally were broadly divided on the issue, but that the church or club or party to which I belonged, though very large, was nearly unanimous on one side or the other, should I begin to suspect a pathology?

    Hugh (

    Posted by: Hugh Millar | April 29th, 2009 at 3:29 pm

  • Robert, I guess I need to try to express myself better.

    I’m not an enemy of the Catholic Church. I regard myself as a critical friend, waiting in hope for the Church to sort itself out. I believe it’s good when people come together to make time for reflection about the wonder of the universe, express gratitude for the opportunities we enjoy, consider what may constitute a suitable moral framework by which to live, enjoy the beauty of an ancient liturgical tradition, articulate hope for common and individual success and safety. These things are good. My best wishes go to those who pursue them. I meet every week in my home town in our local philosophy group with a bunch of friends many of whom share my upbringing and education and are still enthusiastic practitioners of their Catholic faith. One of them spent thirty years in a Carmelite convent. It is in the role of friend that I point out certain facts about life in an enlightened democracy which I feel, if acknowledged by the Church leadership, might make it possible for many to stay who currently feel they have to leave.

    The first point is exclusivity. You and I both know that the RC Church likes to have children imprinted in its tradition, and yet readily resorts to threats of exclusion as punishment for non-compliant behaviour in later life. That is wrong. It is psychologically abusive, and indefensible. It can’t be reconciled with teachings of love and therefore justifies accusations of hypocrisy. It’s not OK.

    Secondly, there is a broad failure on the part of the Church to distinguish between the set of moral principles by which it is hoped Church members will live, and the set of moral principles which the Church would seek to impose on everybody else, should an opportunity arise. That’s not compatible with democratic principles. It is an approach which needs to change.

    Thirdly, some of the theological principles on which the Church operates are seriously inimical to human welfare, and at the same time not rationally supportable. The most obvious example is the ‘sin’ involved in the ‘spilling of seed’, which is justified as I recall on the dual basis of an Old Testament quotation and an inferred framework of ‘natural law’ which assigns to the act of sexual intercourse a required purpose of procreation. The consequences of this teaching are that millions, some of them entirely innocent wives and children, die of AIDS in the world’s poorer countries. In the better educated countries the teaching is ignored, of course, but the unchallenged underlying principle stays on the books, available to wreak more havoc in other contexts as they arise. The principle has to be challenged.

    There will be a number of other points along the same lines, but none of them is intended to impugn the right of Catholics to their beliefs, except in so far as these beliefs impact on the freedoms of other, non-Catholic, society members or lead to unreasonable impositions upon cradle Catholics by their co-religionists. I intend no insult, look to provoke no hate. I’m here on this web site because I read a newspaper column written by a Catholic with which I heartily concurred. Despite its claims to represent eternal verities the Catholic Church has changed quite a lot, even in my lifetime, and by an enormous amount over the few centuries since the protestant reformation. Would anybody want to turn the clock back? No, because some change is good and necessary. But change can only happen when its advocates have the courage to stick their heads above the parapet, even when they know they’ll come under heavy fire.

    Best regards, Hugh

    Posted by: Hugh Millar | May 2nd, 2009 at 11:26 am

  • Clint, are you asking the Jesus and the Church to conform to this world? We are falling away from the Truth. Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life, but the Church is made up of men who aren’t perfect. There is so much good that the Church does, but you chose to persecute it. I pray that you have your “Damascus moment” like Paul and use your gifts for building the Kingdom, instead of further persecuting the Church.

    Posted by: Mike | May 3rd, 2009 at 9:27 pm

  • Robert, you’ve held up your side of the argument as well as it can be held up, and I’ve certainly had the chance to explain my own views and feelings. I don’t think I can do much better. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I wish you well.


    Posted by: Hugh Millar | May 4th, 2009 at 9:57 am

  • Robert, I certainly agree about the importance of respecting the beliefs of others, but I think there’s a problem about what that can or should mean. Tolerance is not a principle which may be used to give scope to the intolerant, for a start. So I’m happy if you grant me peace to practise my own beliefs, even where they differ from yours, but on the other hand, you should get unhappy if I claim to know by some sort of divine insight that what you wish to do in your life is wrong, and I campaign for a law to prevent you doing it. The RC Church, historically, has been a touch totalitarian in such matters. That’s one of the things that needs to change.

    Actually, come to think of it, there’s an even deeper problem. When we profess tolerance but at the same time claim our own beliefs are ‘right’, we set off down a dangerous path. It’s not logically possible to say we believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ, but that it’s equally valid for others to deny these propositions. Only one side in such a scenario is ‘right’; the other side is ‘wrong’. The only way in which I can see it possible to accord equal validity to contrary belief systems is when these systems stop making fact-claims, and focus instead on moral claims, i.e. claims about what constitutes ‘good living’. Adherence to a religion would then consist in signing up to a particular code of behaviour by which – and this is the crucial point – a person would try to live his own life. He would not seek to have his code of behaviour imposed by law on others of a different faith.

    That way we we might avoid what certainly seems to me to be the foolishness of categorising as morally flawed, and unworthy of honour, a person of good faith with whom one disagrees on a specific policy, even when the issue at stake is one on which feelings run strong.

    Best regards, Hugh

    Posted by: Hugh Millar | May 6th, 2009 at 7:46 pm

  • Catholocism may be in your blood but it is clearly not in your heart. It is fitting that you chose not to become a priest, for Catholocism is indubitably not the guiding light for your soul. Politics is your obvious priority. You are so much in error and in the dark that it is clearly not possible for you to recognize the enemy when you see it. Here’s a little help: Pelosi is not playing on the home team. As an outspoken and very public advocate for abortion, same sex marriage, etc., she is on the anti-God team. She is a manifest sinner in word and deed, and so, it appears, are you–or you wouldn’t have her on your team.

    Too many of the laity are Catholic in name only. Some of the priests are broken as well. But the word of God still stands, and the truth is immutably the same as it ever was. God promised to be with His Church until the consummation of the world. You should respect that, especially in light of the fact that you can’t seem to find the fortitude to remain true to the teaching of Holy Mother Church–even after nine years in the seminary.

    Posted by: Dorinda Sears | September 20th, 2009 at 8:56 pm

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