Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 3

This is the third and final post in the Catholic series. In the first post we profiled a few individuals who were standing up to the Vatican. Then we took a look at a couple of organizations whose mission it is to reform the Catholic Church. Today we delve into the most general of categories – the whole of the 80 million or so Catholics in the United States.

“Let’s just agree to disagree and sit politely for the photo”.

For the past week, I have argued that there is a disconnect between mainstream Catholic America and the Church’s leaders, but it’s easy to claim that Catholics are liberal, conservative or whatever else.  Today I back it up with some evidence. I’ll try not to be so dry in my language but that’s the nature of such data. Here’s the disconnect on several contentious issues.


The Church is clear on its position that life begins at conception and that abortion is always evil. On abortion, American Catholics are divided, much like non-Catholic America. Whereas only 40% of Catholics find abortion to be morally acceptable (2009 Gallup), about half wish to keep it legal in all or most cases (2008 Pew). Both figures mirror the feelings of non-Catholic Americans. Abortion is probably the only major issue where even half of American Catholics are in line with Vatican teachings – this still means that half are opposed to it. The Gallup poll mentioned above also found that an overwhelming majority of Catholics supported medical research using human embryonic stem cells, which the Vatican categorically opposes.

Contraception  Continue reading “Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 3”


Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 2

In the last post, we took a look at nuns who were standing up to Church leaders. The nuns were not trying to subvert the Vatican – they were defending themselves in the face of hierarchical opposition. Today we profile a couple of organizations that are actively trying to reform the Church as a whole.

The Second Vatican Council was a big deal. Prior to its conclusion in 1965, all Roman Catholic masses around the world were held in Latin. Priests conducted masses with their backs to the congregation (everyone facing God). There was no such thing as a Saturday mass. Following the Council, the Church began to encourage open dialogue with other religions and prioritize individual conscience. Essentially, the Church began to open up. Critics of the Council cried that Catholicism was “protestantizing”.

This all set the stage for (or was precipitated by – depending on how you look at it) a lot more active involvement of the laity in the Church. In 1964, Roberty Hoyt, a Catholic Journalist founded the National Catholic Reporter with the aim of bringing professional standards to the Catholic press. Until then, every major Catholic newspaper or magazine in the US was published by the Church. As Hoyt put it “If the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper, its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.”

Since then, the NCR has been a thorn in the side of the Vatican, which has on numerous occasions called employees and readers of NCR heretics Continue reading “Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 2”

Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 1

Today we begin a three part series on the diversity of beliefs within the Catholic Church and the disconnect that exists between the laity and the clergy. The Catholic church isn’t exactly known for internal dialogue and grassroots efforts to challenge church leadership. The Vatican is seen as being monolithic, authoritative and slow-to-adapt. Recent events show that not only is there dialogue within the church, but also actions bordering on dissent. This week, we’ll take a look at 3 instances of discord within the church that, at least among progressives, offers hope. Today is nun day.

Like most children, I was scared of nuns. They were the authority. As an adult, I view them with more sympathy – more the victims of authority than anything else. What with all the vows of poverty and working directly with the poor while the bishops and cardinals live in sweet pads and have their secret meetings. It turns out nuns are a bit more free thinking than I had assumed.

Last month, the Vatican issued a report expressing serious concerns over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) – an organization representing more than 80% of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the US. They were accused of “moving beyond the Church” (encouraging a nonreligious/secular agenda), “policies of corporate dissent” (protesting the Vatican’s view on homosexuality and the ordination of women clergy) and “radical feminism” (no freakin’ clue).

The Vatican feels that American nuns are too liberal – they don’t do enough to condemn abortion and homosexuality. Continue reading “Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 1”

99 Problems, but Gay Marriage Ain’t One

The ham-fisted view that African Americans oppose gay marriage is narrow-minded and fails to capture a dynamic cultural evolution.

For the longest time we have been told that the Black community strongly opposes marriage equality, aka “gay marriage”. Since President Obama’s announcement  of his support nearly three weeks ago, a surprising number of prominent members of the Black community have come forward with similar sentiments.

On May 19, the NAACP (perhaps the most prominent civil rights organization in the country) endorsed marriage equality. On May 23rd, Colin Powell did the same. But the most powerful and bravest (by far) comments came from the hip-hop world, in which homophobia and blatant anti-gay hatred is rampant and often celebrated. Here’s the biggest man in the industry.

This fits into Jay-Z’s effort to clean up his image following his marriage to the nontarnishable Beyoncé and the birth of their daughter Blue Ivy. The following, I did not see coming. 

50’s views on the issue aren’t perfect (like many straight men, he is afraid of the legions of gay men that desire him), but hey, it’s a sign of progress and a testament to how far the country has come. So how did we get to our current view of the Black community and gay rights anyway? Surely, the polls contain at least a grain of truth, but it misses the larger picture.

A major reason is that so many of the country’s Black leaders are members of the clergy, who are disproportionately against same sex marriage. Until the President’s feelings were made public, there has been a great deal of silence on the issue, except among the pastors – and we assumed that the rest of the community felt the same way. Consider the Catholic Church for instance – whereas the clergy are among the most vocal opponents, the laity are, among Christians at least, among the most tolerant and supportive. Just wait until more prominent Blacks come out in support, just as Catholics have.

The Black community, like the President, will evolve its stance on LGBT rights and acceptance. Until now, no one has had an honest discussion with them about it.

A Muslim King of England or Female Pope?

Both the Papacy and Monarchy are outdated and have a rich history of absurdity. Vote on which one will take that next big step. 

So I was making fun of the British royal family as I normally do when I started playing devil’s advocate with myself. As a Catholic, I too am a member of an ancient institution that has a knack for alienating its own subjects/adherents.

I am a republican. Not in the sense of the American party, but in that I am an anti-royalist. The idea that a certain group of people, by accident of history and bloodline can formally and legally hold themselves in a higher authority than others is absurd. Such practices are fundamentally at odds with our modern principles of humanity. But then why do I keep receiving communion and bowing my head to priests when I know they are also part of and exclusive club that needs to open up? I suppose tradition and heritage do matter. I’ll go so far as to say that I will tolerate any person’s fondness for the Monarchy in their country – the rest of you fans are just silly.

How can the King or Queen possibly have legitimacy in a Britain that is increasingly non-white and non-Christian? What will happen if whites or Christians should ever become the minority? How can the Catholic Church even claim to be universal (that’s actually the definition of the word catholic) when more than half of its adherents are automatically second class citizens at birth? I thought it most prudent to push this to the hypothetical extreme:

Leave your comments ↓below↓

Rushdie Not Attending Jaipur Literary Festival After All

Muslims protest the arrival of a writer, the Government does nothing and a festival is forced to censor itself.

Since 2006, the Jaipur Literary Festival has earned the distinction of being the pre-eminent gathering of letters in India, and in many ways, the non-Western English speaking world. The Festival, scheduled to begin this Friday was expected to host, for the second time, Salman Rushdie, author of the famous Midnight’s Children and the infamous Satanic Verses. It was announced this morning that Rushdie, in response to mounting protests and calls for violence from religious zealots, would not be attending the event, citing security concerns for himself as well as the other attendees.

It has been years since Rushdie emerged from his life under police protection. The fatwa issued against him by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 still stands, but with much less trumpeting. It was almost beginning to feel as though Rushdie’s life might get back to normal – at least by the standards of international literary celebrities. It was similarly beginning to feel as though the JLF was about to exhibit, yet again, the messy truth that despite being a messy democracy, India is, in fact, a democracy. Arundhati Roy recently stated on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show that Indian democracy exists only in its cities and for the middle and upper classes. Perhaps, but that would still make it the biggest democracy in the world – no small feat.

The Government’s unwillingness to protect the writer from harm shows that it is unwilling to take a stand. Once again, the Congress Party is playing electoral politics by trying not to offend Muslim sentiments in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh elections. William Dalrymple, co-director of the JLF came out with more force: “The reality of Rushdie’s writings is completely different from the way that they have been cartooned and caricatured. Salman is a writer of enormous breadth, depth; he writes about a huge variety of subjects. His passionate engagement with Indian Islamic history and works like The Enchantress of Florence shows that he is as far as can possibly be removed from the Islamophobe of myth.” But then again Dalrymple isn’t running for office in UP.

Tehelka is less sympathetic. In the end, festival with global ambitions has lost out on a tremendous opportunity for itself and for its country.