Maureen Dowd marks the day with a sputtering Feast of Condescension

This week the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Maureen Dowd, meanwhile, is castigating the Church via her own little Feast of Condescension, filled with her usual sour soundbites and tasteless morsels.

As usual, she opens with a dubious assertion, upon which she then clumsily builds her house of snark and sand:

I ALWAYS liked that the name of my religion was also an adjective meaning all-embracing.

By “my religion” she must mean faux Catholicism or catty secularism as the name “Catholicism” does not mean “all-embracing”. The Greek word katholikos means “throughout the whole”, or universal, as theCatechism of the Catholic Church notes, saying, “The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’ in the sense of ‘according to the totality’ or ‘in keeping with the whole.'” (par 830). This refers to two essential qualities: the Church is in union with her head, Jesus Christ , and the Church has been sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel and draw men into her unity. This unity is not based on vague emotional appeals but in Christ, first, and in the authority, doctrine, worship, and tradition given by him to the Church and safeguarded by the Holy Spirit. 

I was a Catholic and I wanted to be catholic, someone engaged in a wide variety of things. As James Joyce wrote in “Finnegans Wake:” “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’ ”

So it makes me sad to see the Catholic Church grow so uncatholic, intent on loyalty testing, mind control and heresy hunting. Rather than all-embracing, the church hierarchy has become all-constricting.

(I didn’t know that Joyce was a Catholic bishop and theologian; I thought he was a novelist. Go figure.) Dowd apparently thinks catholicity is some sort of code word for a vague sense of warm, fuzzy tolerance unconcerned completely with specific beliefs, doctrines, and dogmas. She is also apparently unaware of the New Testament and the history of the early Church, which are filled with many examples of loyalty being tested (remember the fellow named Simon Peter? No?) and heresies being exposed and addressed (think, for example, of the seven churches in The Apocalpyse, as well as Docetism, Gnosticism, Arianism, etc.). What Dowd sees as constricting is most likely a matter of definition, clarification, and explanation. And, indeed, that is the case:

It was tough to top the bizarre inquisition of self-sacrificing American nuns pushed by the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law. Law, the former head of the Boston archdiocese, fled to a plush refuge in Rome in 2002 after it came out that he protected priests who molested thousands of children.

Based on Dowd’s hysterical rhetoric (“bizarre inquisition”), one wonders if she ever read the CDF document in question? Because, if she did, she is purposefully and wildly misrepresenting it. As for Law, it’s worth recalling that the tensions and difficulties between the LCWR and the CDF date back to 1972, and that whatever influence Law may or may not have exerted doesn’t really matter as the key questions are obvious to all sober, serious observers: is the CDF document accurate? Are its concerns warranted? Yes and yes. But, again, that would require reading the document, understanding the history and context, and refusing to be thrown off track by the predictable, tired, and shrill references to the clergy sex scandals.

But the craziness continued when an American priest, renowned for his TV commentary from Rome on popes and personal morality, admitted last week that he had fathered a child with a mistress.

The Rev. Thomas Williams belongs to the Legionaires of Christ, the order founded by the notorious Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, a pal of Pope John Paul II who died peppered with accusations that he sexually abused seminarians and fathered several children and abused some of them.

This is classic Dowd: she is incapable of constructing a coherent argument or developing even the most fragile thread of logical connections, so falls back on her single gift, as it were: finding a man guilty of a real or perceived crime or flaw, and smiting him like a panicked school girl trying to kill a common spider with a two-by-four.

What, exactly, does the situation involving Fr. Williams have to do with her anger over “the bizarre inquisition of self-sacrificing American nuns”? Actually, there are connections to be made, but they don’t serve her purposes at all. For instance, if she is implying that the LCWR leadership (specifically addressed by the CDF) is somehow being unfairly targeted by (take your pick) the Pope, the Vatican, or the dreaded “Rome” while priests who have commited grave sins are being ignored, she is wrong. The Legionaries, of course, have come under tremendous criticism and pressure, and it was then-Cardinal Ratzinger who, as head of the CDF, “promoted the canonical investigation against” Maciel, as ZENITreported over a year ago. Fr. Williams, it must be pointed out, has admitted his sin and has been removed from public ministry. ” I am deeply sorry for this grave transgression”, he stated, “and have tried to make amends.”

All-encompassing, you see, does not mean that the serious sin of Fr. Williams is of no consequence, just as it doesn’t mean that teaching falsehoods about the Church, the person of Christ, salvation, sexuality, contraception, and abortion are of no consequence. And yet no one from the LCWR, as far as I know, has admitted to promoting obvious errors and facilitating serious misrepresentations of Catholic doctrine for years and decades. On the contrary, it appears that the LCWR leaders are circling the wagons and hunkering down in hopes of continuing to travel down The Dissension Trail. 

Dowd goes on to defend “silver-haired former Kansas governor” Kathleen Sebelius, described as “a practicing Catholic”, while railing against the “dogmatic censorship” of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose rejection to Georgetown’s shallow sophistry in defending its invitation to an open supporter of abortion (and the HHS mandate) was not only in keeping with his position of rightful authority, but was remarkably restrained considering the arrogance displayed by the university. Dowd then writes of contacting Mario Cuomo, whose measured and thoughtful words (ahem!) demonstrate his remarkable (ahem!!) statesmanship and (ahem!!!) profound wisdom:

“If the church were my religion, I would have given it up a long time ago,” he said. “All the mad and crazy popes we’ve had through history, decapitating the husbands of women they’d taken. All the terrible things the church has done. Christ is my religion, the church is not.

“If they make the mistake of saying that a politician has to put the church before the Constitution on abortion or other issues, there will be no senators or presidents or any other Catholics in government. The church would be wiser to take the path laid out for us by Kennedy than the path laid out for us by Santorum.”

If this is what passes for intelligent commentary among progressives, I’d hate to see what the leftist rabble have to say (oh, never mind; I can simply visit Huff-and-Puff Post and bask in pure, unfiltered ignorance). Yes, there have been some bad popes and many bad Catholics—come to think of it, there have been bad Catholics in our own time who have openly and passionately defended the right to murder the unborn, to the bloody tune of over 30 million since 1972. That is not just mad and crazy and terrible, but demonic and evil.

Oddly enough, the Constitution says nothing about abortion. But, really, what sort of confused nonsense is Cuomo spouting? The Church follows the path established by Christ, a path that exists because of the magisterial teaching that comes to us via apostolic succession, and is fully informed by both faith and reason. His remark about Kennedy and Santorum reveals one thing: he knows well the sort of stale bread crust expected by Dowd’s readers, and he happily obliges (all the while muttering, “I’m personally opposed….I’m personally opposed…). 

Coming full circle, consider this from the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia, from the entry for “Catholic”:

The combination “the Catholic Church” (he katholike ekklesia) is found for the first time in the letter of St. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, written about the year 110. The words run: “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church.”

So, the word “catholic” does not really mean “all-embracing”, but Catholics are certainly called to embrace all of the doctrines and dogmas of the Church. As the Catechism states, “There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith” (par 89). One hopes and prays that Dowd will see and welcome that light. 

Also see:

• “The Angry, Lazy Bigotry of Maureen Dowd” (Catholic World Report; May 2, 2012).


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About Carl E. Olson 1116 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.