Monday, October 25, 2010
Last week I posted about those who have left the Catholic Church and discussed some of the data about the reasons they leave. Now Cathy Kaveny here and Peter Steinfels here have two excellent textured essays about Catholic attrition in Commonweal. Kaveny’s essay places a lot of emphasis on the sexual abuse crisis, which somewhat surprisingly was not as much of a factor as I would have guessed it would be in the Pew Forum study (only 25% of those leaving the Church cited it as a factor). But the recent resurgence of the sex abuse crisis and the ham-handed approach to it by the Vatican took place after the Pew Forum study, and I think Kaveny is on the mark in giving it the emphasis that she does. (Steinfels also thinks the new developments will contribute to attrition in more serious ways than were present at the time of the Pew Forum study).
As Kaveny observes, many Catholics who have left the Church have been concerned about their perceived complicity with evil. I assume it is not coincidental that Kaveny this week also has a column in America magazine here on the subject of cooperation with evil. The issue of liberal Catholics’ views that they might be cooperating with evil, however, is not the point of the column. The column starts with the question whether Catholics can support pro-choice candidates and moves to broader principles of Catholic thought on this general problem. On the principles she develops, in my view, liberal Catholics (who see evil in many facets of the Church) are not by any means required to leave the Church, but are permitted to leave (assuming they do not believe the Catholic Church is the one true Church – then leaving would not be an option). If that is an easy case for discretion, there are much harder cases and quite insightful discussion of circumstances in which one might through one’s action permissibly provide support for evil in one context (though regretting this effect of the action), but be required to combat it in some other way. The essay has a rich discussion of areas in which moral theology’s discussion of the issues involved in cooperation with evil are underdeveloped. I very much like her contrast between the prophets’ and the pilgrims’ approaches to the issue. Kaveny’s column in America and the two essays in Commonweal are well worth reading.
cross-posted at religiousleftlaw.com