Catholic Church Not for Respectable People? – I’m Not Leaving!

Hilary Mantel says the Catholic Church is not for respectable people:

I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution   for respectable people. … The fact that [the abuse scandals] could happen, the extent of the denial, the cover-up, the hypocrisy, the cruelty… When I was   a child I wondered why priests and nuns were not nicer people. I thought   that they were amongst the worst people I knew.

E.J. Dionne, though not happy with the bishops’ recent direction –

I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements … that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

is in for life:

I’m sorry to inform the [Freedom From Religon Foundaion] that I am declining its invitation to quit. It may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can’t ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and lay people who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.


  1. Interesting, isn’t it, that both Muslims and atheists/agnostics find Catholics–especially liberal Catholics–ripe for the picking? Clearly, they are not finding us to have the Chicago-style “big shoulders” Catholicism of bygone days or of other brands of current Catholicism. But what they’ve missed, I think, is that we’ve come through nearly fifty years of rambunctious argument (sorry, fifty years of “dialogue”) with all sorts of groups of people without abandoning our faith while, in the process, purifying that faith from some unnecessary accretions, not to say barnacles, that have slowed the bark of Peter. We’re CIGS (Catholics in Good Standing), and we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.

  2. One should not judge an organization merely by problems with some of its leadership. Of course, we do that with respect to most other organizations. I am still amazed by the disconnect between the official statements by church leaders on issues such as gay marriage and the utter silence on those issues in my parish. It is not that our parish priests support or oppose the hierarchy but instead just ignore the issues. Apparently they have concluded that there is no way to win this game except by not playing.

    1. Support Sisters; Reform Bishops!
      We Are All Nuns!

      The movement to support women religious goes beyond grade school memories, and our tendency to leap to the defense of mothers and grandmothers. It is rooted in our desire to affirm the goodness of Catholics and Catholicism in a way that does not ignore our problems, or contribute to clericalism. Women religious are our modern day saints, our exemplars in holiness and serving others. Affirming them is a way of being proud of being Catholic.

      Ironically the bishops’ indictment of this group of women has in fact called attention to the bishops’ failures as leaders. Collegiality invites us to hold all the bishops together (including the bishop of Rome) responsible for their collective mismanagement.

      We should insist Bishops are the problem: that they are in need of reform. We should avoid nit-picking about good bishops and bad bishops, exactly what are the nature of the problems, and what are the solutions. The list of problems is long: sexual abuse; love of money, social status, and power; financial irregularities; inability to relate to laity, women religious, politicians, media, etc.

      Reform Bishops should be grounded in the scriptural basis that the Apostles were human, one betrayed Jesus, another denied him, all fled. That is a permanent warning that we need to be watchful and skeptical of our religious leaders at all times.

      This is not different from the attitude that we should have toward our politicians, and businesses leaders. “Trust, but verify.” Many nations now have democratic institutions in theory: however only in those nations where people are willing to exercise their voices, do the elites conform to the law. We constantly have examples of politicians, businessmen, athletes, and other media stars who think they are above the law.

      The need to reform bishops has been with us for the entire history of the Church; it is not going to go away. Forming servant leaders is not easy.

  3. At some point in the proceedings someone will surely cite an aphorism attributed to Oscar Wilde, so I may as well get it in here: ‘The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.’

    I have no idea whether or not Wilde ever said this. Like James Joyce’s supposed definition of the Church as ‘here comes everybody’, it may be nothing more than a false quote, given weight by being requoted on the Internet.

    Still, it seems apropos.

  4. What I see in a place like Mississippi where I happen to live, is a church that is out of touch with the local population, has no priests apparently that are from here, and the ones that have come should have stayed wherever they were from.
    The Church here is dying, not because of no interest from the locals, but because the leadership does not know how to keep people and does not care.
    We are a fairly conservative group of people, but we do dare to question our church leaders, thanks to out Baptist background, and that is most certainly not appreciated.

  5. I am afraid there are bishops, some of them quite vocal, who no longer want a church of “Here comes everybody” whatever James Joyce may have said.

    Jordan Zarembo has diagnosed this trend as a troubling uptick in Jansenism. Paul Collins once called it a turn from church to sect. Whatever the best description of it may be, I think there is no doubt that we are seeing a shift away from solidarity with all that is good in human society, to suspicion and distrust of everyone until they’ve proven themselves to our satisfaction.

    The cost of this change is high because the whole atmosphere of the Church is altered by it. It’s not so much the quest for respectability, but the desire for respect that’s at issue. By that I mean our respect within the Church for one another and for all people, not the respect of outsiders for the Church, which has always been a variable phenomenon.

    Jonathan, I could have done without the Wilde quote. It seems a gratuitous insult to the Anglicans. Would you like to say what your own view of the matter is? My sense is that there are saints and sinners in all Christian communities.

    1. “The cost of this change is high..”
      I very much agree. Not only among rank and file but also the Church’s place in society. Once the Church loses respect it then becomes a target and “fair game”. As I have stated before it’s like an elk being taken down by wild dogs. Once our adversaries smell blood the carnage begins and we’re in trouble.
      Some of our dunderhead bishops ie Olmsted are now calling for civil disobedience. That will only get us less respect. The prevailing attitude will be to put the church in its place because the bishops have too much power. I can hear the “freedom from religion” group chanting, “this will lead to Jehovah Witnesses passing laws to ban blood transfusions in hospitals”. They will say it’s time to separate and isolate religion from the political arena (as Christopher Hitchens advised) because we have become dangerous cults and sects.
      That group will wax and grow in influence and we will wane.
      So very sad.

      1. First the LCWR now the Girl Scouts!

        Yup, in case you didn’t know, some of our illustrious bishops are now investigating the Girl Scouts.

        As EJ Dionne stated above: I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements … that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

  6. Thanks, Rita – well said especially: “….seeing a shift away from solidarity with all that is good in human society, to suspicion and distrust of everyone until they’ve proven themselves to our satisfaction.”

    Check out the latest from Fr. Allan’s blog & SSPX:

    Key quotes that underline your statement:
    – “I’ve come to the conclusion that liberal democrats are really a new form of Puritanism and it makes since (sp?) that they are isolated primarily in the northeast that has such a strong puritanical heritage. The Puritans outlawed Catholicism because Catholicism wasn’t pure. Secularists of the liberal bent want to use law against the Catholic Church for their new form of Secular Puritanism, which isn’t your father’s conservative Puritanism, but your neighbors ultra liberal form of it, but nonetheless want to use law to have their way and outlaw the Catholic Church.”
    – “As far as institutional reform, we just may have to go back to the 1950’s and look at the Council through the eyes of those bishops then and judge the “jack-rabbit” reforms of the last 50 years and say, is this what the bishops of the 1950’s really intended; is this what God really intended? These are legitimate questions and not the opining of those who think the 1950’s was the apex of Catholicism in this country.”

    Agree with Paul Collins – these reveal a “sect” not a community of faith.

    Richard – per your comment – if only “some ” parish priests would ignore the issues and stop playing the game.

    So, some groups such as SSPX who reject VII are to be welcomed back but…..

    From a conference on the 50th anniversary of the calling of Vatican II came a warning from Franciscan & Roman Rota judge, Fr. David Maria Jaeger (concerning non-Christian religions) who criticized “a tendency … to look with indulgence on marginal groups with an exaggerated media profile who truly denounce the doctrine of the council.” He expressed “the lively hope that “we won’t settle for quasi-adherence which is only a sham, accompanied by obvious verbal and mental reservations.”

    To borrow from world history, the “balkanization” and “polarizations” of the church continue via a self selective weeding out process that involves litmus tests; outright bigotry; appeals to fear, authority, & obedience; and a return to anathemas.

  7. Rita, I figured someone would cite the Wilde quote anyway, so I added it to the thread. Yes, it’s snide, whether Wilde said it or not. And I have no desire to take a slap at the Anglican Church.

    I do think that Hilary Mantel is a bit silly for calling the Catholic Church “not for respectable people” — of course it isn’t. This is not for a moment to excuse the hideous crimes of child abuse and cover-up, simply to observe that Catholic parishes seem to attract a wide and wonderful cross-section of society: poor and rich, straight and gay, average and eccentric. And I agree with you and Jordan that church leaders who promote “suspicion and distrust of everyone until they’ve proven themselves to our satisfaction” are not doing the Lord’s work.

  8. While I am sure that respectability ought not to be anyone’s ultimate canon of right or wrong, I’m not ready to throw it under the bus. In societies that have established some sort of public morality, respectability is related to the mores surrounding an idea of the common good. Respectability is always a very imprecise measure, but it’s not nothing. Concern for respectability can prevent people from falling into worse trouble than they might otherwise, i.e. if all morality were considered private and who cares.

    There’s a place for respectability. I am happy that most people don’t spit in each other’s faces because it’s not a respectable way of expressing anger. I am happy that certain derogatory terms or insults are not used in respectable company. I am happy when it is acknowledged as not respectable intellectually to fabricate evidence or “invent” history. Although some forms of respectability will always need to be challenged in particular instances (see Jesus’ treatment of tax collectors and sinners), if there were no common morality at all we’d soon have no common life, just a lot of individual ranting and raving.

    So yes, it concerns me if people are thinking that it’s not respectable to be Catholic — and if they are thinking this not because we are so quirky or counter-cultural, but because we don’t live up to our own moral standards!

  9. Looking at the news today touching on the church, I saw:

    – “Catholic Bishops newest target: Girl Scouts of America”
    – “Irish Catholic Church Leader [Brady] … Refuses to Leave”
    – “Catholic high school turns away same-sex couple from prom”
    – “The Vatican freezes out nuns and warms to traditionalists [SSPX]”

    The church is its own worst enemy.

  10. Remember the comment made about the Catholic Church
    by James Joyce? “Here comes everyone”
    We are not a gathering of goodies but a struggling people
    on pilgrimage and the road can be rough. So we help each other
    Chris McDonnell UK

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