Can Catholicism save itself…from itself?

In this week's River­ward Rant, colum­nist Joe Quigley looks at the state of re­li­gion in Amer­ica.

There seems to be a se­lect­ive angry right­eous­ness com­ing from some at the top of the Cath­ol­ic Church.

When I say that, I’m talk­ing about the top­ics that high­er-ups and polit­ic­al mouth­pieces, like Pope Be­ne­dict XVI, Philly’s Arch­bish­op Charles Chaput, Cath­ol­ic League pres­id­ent Bill Dono­hue and guys like that, tend to spout when a mi­cro­phone’s in front of them.

When you hear from these guys, the av­er­age listen­er might think the gravest threats to the church — as well as Amer­ica and the Earth in gen­er­al — are gay people and birth con­trol.

Ac­cord­ing to Dono­hue, there are vast con­spir­acies against the re­li­gious free­dom of Cath­ol­ics.

In fact, in a Feb­ru­ary re­sponse to a pro­posed fed­er­al man­date that could force re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions to cov­er their em­ploy­ees’ costs for con­tra­cep­tion, Dono­hue claimed that the gov­ern­ment had lined up against the Cath­ol­ic Church.

Ex­cept that he’s wrong.

It’s the fault of angry, di­vis­ive speeches from people like him that the  Cath­ol­ic Church has been los­ing wor­shipers at a stag­ger­ing rate.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2008 re­port from Pew For­um on Re­li­gion and Life, so many people have lost faith in Cath­oli­cism that, at the time, one of every 10 people in the United States (or about 22.7 mil­lion people) claimed to be an ex-Cath­ol­ic.

A lot of ex­perts blame this loss of church­go­ers on the Cath­ol­ic sex ab­use scan­dals.

And they could be right, but I think Cath­ol­ic dis­il­lu­sion in­volves more than just sexu­al ab­use claims against priests — al­though that could be part of it.

But, what ideals and prin­ciples do you think are really at the core of Chris­tian­ity and Cath­oli­cism?

I was taught that Je­sus would want us to fol­low the Golden Rule (you know, “Do un­to oth­ers…”), prac­tice for­give­ness, and gen­er­ally be cool to oth­er people.

The Cath­ol­ic high­er-ups — es­pe­cially in Amer­ica — don’t seem very in­ter­ested in that any­more.

They seem to spend their time — on TV news or in print me­dia, at least — get­ting all huffy puffy about gays and con­doms.

Out­side of Amer­ica, the pope’s ac­tions have been, well, ques­tion­able.

Just re­cently, Pope Benny hung out with Fi­del Castro.

And hey, I’m all for hav­ing in­ter­na­tion­al dia­logues with hos­tile na­tions and all that good stuff, but the pope didn’t have much to say about Fi­del vi­ol­ently crack­ing down on Cuban pro­test­ers — 43 people, mostly mem­bers of the Pat­ri­ot­ic Uni­on of Cuba, were ar­res­ted after the pope’s vis­it. There was also a wave of ar­rests of polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents be­fore the pope’s ar­rival.

In early 2010, there was a little dust-up in Uganda wherein anti-gay Ugandan au­thor­it­ies pro­posed le­gis­la­tion that would have had ho­mo­sexu­als im­prisoned and pos­sibly even ex­ecuted.

For all of his faults, one might be­lieve that even a con­ser­vat­ive like Pope Be­ne­dict would op­pose this be­cause it was ba­sic­ally — and by “ba­sic­ally” I mean “lit­er­ally” — leg­al­iz­ing gen­o­cide against people of a cer­tain sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion.

If they aren’t put to death, those found “guilty” could also re­ceive life in pris­on.

Dur­ing a vis­it to Uganda, the pope said noth­ing.


It seems like, at home and abroad we have Cath­ol­ic lead­ers ig­nor­ing lar­ger is­sues like poverty, vi­ol­ence, cor­por­ate plu­to­cracy, health­care, mean­ing­less wars, and po­ten­tially even gen­o­cide, in or­der to fo­cus on put­ting the brakes on the gay pride parade.

I think maybe all of that may have something to do with the Cath­ol­ic Church los­ing mem­bers.

Now, with this column, you might think I’m little more than a hea­then, but, back in 2001, when I was a ju­ni­or in North Cath­ol­ic, I had a theo­logy class taught by Fath­er Wil­li­am Dav­is.

Fath­er Dav­is was a cool dude.

Dav­is taught us about Third World debt, eco­nom­ic in­justice and the prac­tic­al so­cioeco­nom­ic ap­plic­a­tions of, you know, be­ing nice to people.

The Golden Rule was stressed, as was tol­er­ance of people who were dif­fer­ent, and we were re­minded that the word “Cath­ol­ic” means “uni­ver­sal.”

In fact, in none of our theo­logy classes in North were we taught that there were in­si­di­ous people out to des­troy our re­li­gious free­dom.

They didn’t teach us to be frightened vic­tims or angry, ho­lier-than-thou judges of oth­er people.

It was the right way to dis­cuss re­li­gion.

In­stead of fol­low­ing that tra­di­tion, it’s like some re­li­gious lead­ers have now de­cided that if they can’t keep their fol­low­ers’ at­ten­tion with the mes­sage of the Golden Rule, they might as well make fol­low­ers fear that their flock is a be­sieged minor­ity or rile them up by con­demning oth­ers as “evil.”

How long, though, will the re­main­ing Cath­ol­ics put up with a grow­ing tone of an­ger and fear?

In more op­tim­ist­ic news about Cath­oli­cism, the Cath­ol­ic Work­er Move­ment, a group that works to serve the poor, is still go­ing strong out there on the streets do­ing kind-hearted, Je­sus-style stuff.

If you’ve had enough of the blow­hard re­li­gious lead­ers, maybe take a trip up to their Philly headquar­ters at the corner of Jasper Street and Le­high Av­en­ue and tell them you want to help out.

That could be bet­ter to your faith than all the hate speech any re­li­gious zealot might spew. ••

“River­ward Rants” re­flects the opin­ions of Joe Quigley, a Fishtown res­id­ent, area nat­ive and writer of the Web site PhillyNeigh­, where he makes cyn­ic­al (and un­censored) com­ments about life in the river­wards. He can be reached at

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