WSJ: “As the Flame of Catholic Dissent Dies Out “

I missed this yesterday in the WSJ.  My emphases and comments.

As the Flame of Catholic Dissent Dies Out


Mary Daly, a retired professor at Boston College who was probably the most outré of all the dissident theologians who came to the fore of Catholic intellectual life in the years right after the Second Vatican Council, died on Jan. 3 at age 81. [Daly was so outré that she was out of the Christian religion, no?]  Back in the 1960s and 1970s, which might be called the golden age of Catholic dissidence, [I think you can extend that through the 80’s into the early 90’s.] theologians who took positions challenging traditional church teachings—ranging from the authority of the pope to bans on birth control, premarital sex, and women’s ordination—dominated Catholic intellectual life in America and Europe. [Let us not forget the South American Liberation Theology strain.] They seemed to represent a tide that would overwhelm the old restrictions and their hidebound adherents.

Now, 45 years after Vatican II concluded in 1965, most of those bright lights of dissident Catholicism—from the theologian Hans Küng of the University of Tübingen to Charles Curran, the priest dismissed from the Catholic University of America’s theology faculty in 1987 for his advocacy of contraception and acceptance of homosexual relationships—seem dimmed with advanced age, if not extinguished. They have left no coherent second generation of dissident Catholic intellectuals to follow them. [That is because they left no coherent ideas.]

Prof. Daly certainly pushed the envelope. In 1968, she published "The Church and the Second Sex," a book that accused the Catholic Church of oppressing and "humiliating" women by excluding them from its "patriarchal" hierarchy. The title of her most famous work, "Beyond God the Father" (1973), is self-explanatory. At some point afterward, Prof. Daly, despite being raised Catholic and earning degrees in theology and literature from three different Catholic colleges plus the University of Fribourg, left the church to embrace ever more belligerent brands of feminism.

She got into trouble with Boston College, the Jesuit institution where she had taught since 1966, for barring men from her advanced classes in women’s studies. In the wake of a sex-discrimination complaint launched by a male student, Prof. Daly and her employer engaged in a round of litigation during the late 1990s that culminated in her voluntary retirement in 2001. She spent her last years promoting vegetarianism, antifur activism, a protest of Condoleezza Rice’s 2006 commencement speech at Boston College, and the coining of male-baiting neologisms (an example: "mister-ectomy"). [What a charmer.]

The trajectory of her life story is not unusual among Catholic dissidents. The Young Turk of Vatican II—and pet of the progressive Catholic media of the time—was Hans Küng. A Swiss-born, movie-star-handsome priest whom Pope John XXIII had made a peritus, or theological adviser, to the council, Father Küng swept through a tour of U.S. Catholic universities to accolades in 1963. And his 1971 book questioning papal infallibility—which got him stripped of his license to teach Catholic theology in 1979—turned him into a living martyr among progressives. He is still at Tübingen (last heard from in October blasting Pope Benedict XVI’s overtures to conservative Anglicans as "angling in the waters of the extreme religious right"), but he’s 81.  [And really boring.  Remember that Kung’s position is that Vatican II didn’t go nearly far enough in causing a break with the Church’s past.]

The Belgian Dominican priest Edward Schillebeeckx, who had worked unsuccessfully to persuade the assembled bishops of the Second Vatican Council to downgrade the authority of the pope—and who was condemned in 1986 for holding that there was no biblical support for the ordaining of Catholic priests—died in December at age 95. [His theology distorted the ecclesiology of who knows how many seminarians and priests.] The Rev. Charles Curran, who was a controversial figure at Catholic University as early as 1967, when he was temporarily removed from his tenured position over his views on birth control, and who moved to Southern Methodist University after his final dismissal from Catholic two decades later, is now 75.  [If I am not mistaken, his severance from Catholic University provided that he would still receive his salary… all these years.]

Another prominent figure in liberal Catholic intellectual circles is Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, who is famous for her assertions that Jesus was a feminist and that God should be referred to as "she" as well as "he," as well as for her advice that progressive orders of nuns treat representatives of a planned Vatican investigation like "uninvited guests." She is also past retirement age and is listed as "professor emerita" at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.  [Lately she has had a risible series in the ultra-dissenting fishwrap NCR on religious life.]

[QUAERITUR…] So where is the second generation of brilliant progressive Catholic theologians? There are plenty of liberal lay Catholics. [Who really don’t know why they are liberals, but… they are.  And they are of a certain age.] The church’s ban on artificial birth control is nearly a dead letter, a majority of Catholics say they believe their church should ordain women, and 40% have no moral objections to abortion, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. But dissident Catholicism seems to have lost steam as an intellectual movement, and not only because the issues relating to sex and papal authority that originally sparked Catholic dissidents have not changed in nearly 50 years.  [And they are dying off.]

The first-generation dissidents were products of a strong and confident traditional Catholic culture against which they rebelled, one whose intellectual standards grounded them in the faith they later came to question. Sister Schneiders, for example, earned four degrees from Catholic institutions, including the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Yet most Catholics of her generation have not passed on the tenets of their faith to their children[I think we have to say "most liberal Catholics" didn’t pass on the faith.] the offspring of the Vatican II generation tend either to be churchless or not to go to church—or, in the case of academics, to their students. It’s hard to rebel when you don’t even know what you are rebelling against.

Not that conservative Catholicism is in any better straits; it’s a vibrant but niche branch of the religion, and its leading intellectuals—Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon—aren’t theologians. But it is fair to note that when Prof. Daly died, she left behind no young Mary Dalys to continue waging her quixotic war against the faith that shaped her, whether she liked it or not.

Ms. Allen is a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus Web site.


It would be interesting to create a list of young conservative theologians.  

We might start with the Communio crowd.

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  1. I second the motion for the “Communio” crowd: Adrian Walker being one of them, as well as David Crawford, and of course D. Schindler (both of them) and many others who I cannot name here nor would I try.
    Mary Daly is a tragic figure, if not just an ‘enigma’…what in heaven’s name was her mission as a “catholic” theologian? And E.Schillebeeckx as well as Kung (who will be in footnotes of the history of this period, rather than major contributors)…what kind of legacy do they leave?
    Dissent and confusion, I’m afraid. If not outright heterodoxy…I’m no profession theologian or bishop, so I’ll leave that to them.
    Sister Sandra Schneiders is trying to do a “cover up” job of all these years of dissent, disobedience and outright “thumbing the nose” by many apostolic women religious (and some contemplative, as well, but not many) to the legitimate authority of the Church by writing an “apologia” of how they are creating “a new form of religious life”…yeah? With women priests?Approval of every possible sexual sin? No accountability to anybody except themselves?
    Forgetta boutit!
    Pope Benedict has given us a very clear mission in these days; Pope John Paul II, as well. It’s up to us to be faithful to God in His Church through His chosen minister, the Pope and the bishops in union with him.

  2. Mike says:

    This article gives witness to the sterility of error.

  3. frobuaidhe says:

    “They have left no coherent second generation of dissident Catholic intellectuals to follow them. [That is because they left no coherent ideas.]”


  4. SimonDodd says:

    Talk about burying the lede! It strikes me as being this: “[T]he dissident theologians who came to the fore … after the Second Vatican Council … were products of a strong and confident traditional Catholic culture against which they rebelled, one whose intellectual standards grounded them in the faith they later came to question. … Yet [the dissenters] have not passed on the tenets of their faith to their children — the offspring of the [dissenting part of the] Vatican II generation tend either to be churchless or not to go to church.” The dissenters have failed to pass on to their children what they had received. So what was supposed to be admirable about them, a hint of which seems to be this article’s undercurrent?

  5. smallone says:

    Is a return to tradition a form of rebellion against these rebels?

    There is a Yiddish proverb: “what the son tries to forget, the grandson wishes to remember.”

    I feel fortunate that enough traditional Catholic theology and spirituality has been preserved so that I have something to cling to.

  6. Luis says:

    Liberals dying out…. then there is this
    Forget Crucifixes: Catholic Identity Hinges on Catholic Social Teaching

  7. Emilio III says:

    And of course, the place to learn all about Catholic identity is at a Puritan divinity school.

  8. Melania says:

    I’ve known many liberal Catholics, devoted readers of NCR, attendees of Call to Action conferences, organizers of felt banner sewing circles, promoters of Zen Catholicism, labyrinth-walking, the social gospel, liberation theology, creation spirituality, process theology, the Enneagram, and on and on.

    To their surprise and consternation, the percentage of their children that retained any connection to Catholicism is in the single digits. They should not be surprised. In my observation, many have indeed passed on to their children their true religion i.e. spiritual faddism, syncretism, eclecticim, the New Age. The fact that they don’t realize this shows only how little self-knowledge they’ve gained over the decades despite all their meditation weekends, African drumming sessions, reiki work, authentic movement workshops, dream circles, etc.

    Liberal Catholicism among the rank and file also does not have a future as it has no anchor.

    It has been quite sad to see all this happen. We need to work and pray for the return of these people and their families to the Faith. It is not impossible. I know of several people who have made this journey back home to the Church.

  9. Years and years ago, I was working as a librarian for a small music school in my area. The place had been part of a much larger college founded by an Order of teaching sisters that was forced to close some years before.

    I remember looking through the stacks for anything remotely theological that interested me. There Schillebeeckx’s magnum opus “Jesus” and “Christ” as well as some other works by the likes of Kung. Alongside them was the work of Abbe Gueranger and the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII as well as the works of the Holy Fathers. All of those being together in one place forced me to wonder what kind of rupture had occurred in the Catholic Church over so many decades and had resulted in this kind of symbiosis.

    I read some books written by the likes of Cunningham when I was interested in the Faith, but they left me completely cold. Yes, they were interesting and all, but wasn’t there more to Catholicism than what I was reading?

    I found out the answer some years later and it was a resounding, “Yes.”

  10. My criticism is not of these dissenters, but the fact that no religious superiors stepped in until the damage had been done. When Curran was FINALLY driven from Catholic U., he was to be assigned to a college run by the Claretian Fathers in Louisiana. A very wealthy laywoman who gave millions to her diocese, came to see the Bp. of Baton Rouge(?), her ordinary. She said she did not want Curran in the diocese (he was quite notorious by that time). The bishop said he had no authority over an Order of priests. She explained she would never give another dollar to the diocese if Curran was installed in the college. The solution was to send him to Southern Methodist Univ. When a Methodist chaplain at Drew U. in NJ boasted to me that Fr. Curran was now on SMU’s faculty, I responded “That’s where he belongs and always belonged!” Let me be blunt. There were no shepherds in those years. The laity, with the help of a few good priests, was on its own.

  11. William H. Phelan: You are absolutely correct.
    For whatever reason, people in positions of authority in the Church “dropped the ball”.
    E. Michael Jones spells it out in excruciating detail in his book on Cardinal Krol…Catholic U in regards to Fr. Curran failed abysmally.
    These are lessons we have to assimilate and learn from (pardon my poor English here). If we do not, the Catholic Church in America will not be present in any recognizable form in 50 years. Sounds drastic? Just look at the shambles of the past 45 yrs. There are signs of hope, to be sure; but we better keep at it. God willing, Pope Benedict will continue to appoint bishops that will carry out the true “New Evangelization” (Please, traditionalists, do not reject this!) so that we will be able to exist in some form in the ages to come.

  12. EXCHIEF says:

    I’d play taps for the dying breed but I can’t seem to find my bugle.
    On a more serious note Nazareth Priest those of us who are traditionalists should embrace, not reject, the idea of new evangeliztion. Christ Himself commanded it…it was the 60’s era folks who forced their version of evangelization and in the process took it in the opposite direction of where it should have gone.

  13. TJerome says:

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Who cares. Whatever. They’re toast. Tom

  14. James Locke says:

    Do you think that people who publish in First things are theologians? If not what are they?

  15. EXCHIEF: Amen. We have to reclaim this. Most of this world needs to hear the Catholic Faith for the first time, I’m afraid.

  16. The dissident theologians are adherents of a new religion. That they might be nominally Catholic (in this case) or rather nominally Jewish, Episcopalian, Unitarian, or whatever, doesn’t matter. Reform Jews have the same religion as dissident Catholic theologians. According to Kant:

    “There is only one (true) religion; but there can be faiths of several kinds. We can say further that even in the various churches, severed from one another by reason of the diversity of their modes of belief, one and the same true religion can yet be found.”

    Adherents of the new Enlightenment religion originally attacked the Church from without, but when this failed, they attempted “change from within”, hence we have dissidents. As they fail, we can expect new attacks from without.

    But the Enlightenment religion really isn’t new, since it is a negation and has nothing actually positive to say, and so eventually derives from the fallen angels’ ‘non-serviam’. By analogy, we consider that a donut hole exists only in relationship with the donut. We can make a donut hole relatively larger compared to its donut – but as soon as the hole removes all the donut, the donut hole itself loses its being along with the donut. Liberal religion is the same thing – as truth is removed from the religion, eventually nothing is left, and the heresy destroys itself as it descends into non-being.

    Evil is basically the tendency towards non-being. What will the dissents think when their time comes to be euthanized? Will they scream ‘injustice’ as did the French revolutionaries who were eventually sent to the Guillotine?

  17. Upon further reflection, I would nominate Dr. Laurence Hemming, Dr. Alcuin Reid, Dr. Lauren Pristas, Dr. Janet Smith, many of the writers on the “New Liturgical Movement”, Fr. Romanos Cessario, OP, and Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP, to the list of “young” theologians, faithful to the Magisterium (young being a relative term here…I’m not exactly sure of all of their ages!).

  18. To James Locke: FIRST THINGS has an interestring genesis. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who had been a Lutheran minister with many contacts in the Evangelical community, converted to Catholicism and became a Catholic priest. Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, who had begun as Stalinists(?), Trotskyites(?), swung their focus and support to Israel and its security. They found that the Democrats, which they had been for decades, were weak(their opinion) on the subject of Israel, so they turned to the Republicans at the time of Reagan. Rather than being known as conservatives, they were called Neo-conservatives as they believed in a strong central government and the U.S. as the last and only Superpower. In order to sway more cerebral Catholics and Evangelicals to their beliefs, they began FIRST THINGS and asked Fr. Neuhaus to be its editor. When he asked if it was to be a “Catholic” magazine, he was told it would be “ecumenical”. In my opinion it is suspect as it poses as a religious magazine, but its intentions are political.

  19. Thomas G. says:

    No ‘young conservative theologians’? Sed contra; Dr. Tracey Rowland, to name but one, is a case in point.

    Her “Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II” is destined to be a classic of orthodox theologizing.

  20. wchoag says:

    I think one may run into some trouble in an attempt to create a list of new, young conservative thinkers in Catholic theology simply because many of the younger crowd prefer humility and anonymity in service to the Church, unlike the 60s crowd who loved to see their names splashed everywhere in journals and the media.

    Yes, perhaps a list could be composed but it would be short and very incomplete.

  21. Sam Schmitt says:

    True, the new generation of liberal theologians is anything but “coherent” but there are still plenty of professors and others doing damage out there. I mean, someone is writing all those articles for “Theological Studies” and giving talks at the LA catechetical conferences and they’re not all over 60. They may not all be priests or nuns and may not have the novelty they had in the 1960s, but places like Fordham and Marquette aren’t hiring many good people, are they? Plus, there are plenty of priests who took all this claptrap in during their seminary days and are still alive and well in parishes. Depending on the diocese and the seminary, not all 30 something priests are lockstep with Benedict XVI either. Don’t get me wrong, things are much better than they were 30 or even 15 years ago, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

  22. ssoldie says:

    Thank you nazareth priestI love the word evangelization. Three distinctive elements:
    1. interior conversion to Christ and His Church;
    2. affecting not only the individual person but the whole culture;
    3. as a result, changing this culture and it’s instutions to make them Catholic.
    Catholic: “universal” First used by St.Ignatius of Antioch(A.D. 35-107).

  23. dpdeavel says:

    William Phelan’s account of First Things or of the Neo-Conservatives is not accurate. That he doesn’t know whether Irving Kristol was a Trotskyite or a Stalinist is already a sign that this is not knowledge, but hearsay.

    As to Catholic theologians, many of those who write in First Things are excellent theologians–Gary Anderson of Notre Dame, Robert Wilken of Virginia, Gary Culpepper of Providence, Douglas Farrow of McGill, Paul Griffiths of Duke, Bruce Marshall of Southern Methodist, RR Reno of Creighton, Matthew Levering of the University of Dayton. Most of these are relatively young (40-50 somethings) except Wilken.

    There are a number of other talented younger theologians like Michael Dauphinais, Christopher Ruddy, Christopher Malloy, and others. While the Catholic theological guild as a whole is not great, there are a number of bright spots publishing and teaching in a variety of places.

  24. TNCath says:

    Once again, the biological solution is working. Now, the challenge begins of picking up the pieces. With our Holy Father in the driver’s seat, I think it’s going to be a good ride ahead.

  25. ssoldie: Could not have said it better myself. God bless you!

  26. And I have to add U. Michael Lang to the list; his book on “Turning Towards the Lord” is going to be one of the most important contributions to the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

  27. becket1 says:

    Don’t forget the rebel Joan Chittister. She could be Daly’s replacement.

  28. becket1: J. Chittister, from my angle, is a “light weight”…lots of smoke, no fire…she just talks the “party line” of the aging hippies…nothing worth mentioning from what she says. I don’t even think she has a theological degree (could be wrong here)…nothing worth mentioning, anyhow.
    Yeah, she was prioress of a dying Benedictine community.
    Yeah, she has a column in the ncreporter (for whatever the heck that’s worth).
    If she even gets a foot note in this abysmal period in which we live, I will be surprised.]
    Lots a nothin’ coming’ from that lady.
    Lots a nuthin’.

  29. dpdeavel:

    I was a charter subscriber to FIRST THINGS and read it until 2002 when Fr. Neuhaus refused to take an editorial position on the priest sex abuse issue. He alienated many readers as well as the magazine’s staff. My source of the information on the magazine’s founder? The real editor of the magazine at that time (a Jewish layman), who lives in the borough where my office is. In a two hour chat in February, 2003 he filled me in on the subject. He had been hired by Mr. Podhoretz.
    By the way, it does show my ignorance as I had not heard of any of the “theologians” whom you cite.
    The only “theologian” DOING anything, in my opinion, is Robert George of Princeton (he of the Manhattan Declaration on abortion, same sex “marriage”, and embryonic stem cell research)who is being touted as the replacement for Fr. Neuhaus in Catholic/Evangelical circles.

  30. JonathanZ says:

    Apparently the New York Times wanted to be participate in bemoaning the loss of a generation of dissident theologians, as today they have listed an obituary for the previously mentioned Edward Schillebeeckx. Though about three weeks late: he died on Dec 26th.


  31. Thank you, JonathanZ, for the reference which I just read. Readers should note it is written by Peter Steinfels who is the resident N.Y. Times writer and former editor of Commonweal, a leftist Catholic magazine.

  32. Schillebeeckx’ “theology distorted the ecclesiology of who knows how many seminarians and priests.” I couldn’t agree more! Recently I was asked to read an article by one of my fellow religious and it was straight from Dutch heretic. As house librarian I am in the process of weeding out the accumulated rubbish of the last forty years. The dissenters were well organised and motivated. From the start they set themselves up as interpreters of the Council and their ‘hermeneutic of rupture’ has done huge damage. God forgive me but I rejoiced to hear Schillebeeckx was dead and now Daly, may God have mercy on their souls. What drove them to dissent, who corrupted them away from the faith? I suspect their were previous, quieter generations of dissenting theologians who though publicly keeping the official line privately taught the opposite. I wonder has that sort really gone away? I know that here in Ireland there are young theologians who still look to the likes of Schillebeeckx, Kung, Schneiders, Murphy-O’Connor, Brown, Curran et al, and uncritically follow in their footsteps. The old weeds may be dead or dying but the next generation is quietly growing. We need true shepherds to uproot them before another generation of sheep are poisoned.

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