Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning

Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning

by Kerry Kennedy

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For Kerry Kennedy, who grew up in a devoutly Catholic household coping with great loss, her family’s faith was a constant source of strength and solace. As an adult, she came to question some of the attitudes and teachings of the Catholic Church while remaining an impassioned believer in its role as a defender of the poor and oppressed.

“Generations ago,” says Kennedy, “the search for spirituality came predefined and prepackaged. [The Church] not only gave us all the answers, it even gave us the questions to ask.” Now many of the old certainties are being reexamined. In an attempt to convey this sea change, Kennedy asked thirty-seven American Catholics to speak candidly about their own faith—whether lost, recovered, or deepened—and about their feelings regarding the way the Church hierarchy is moving forward.

The voices included here range from respectful to reproachful and from appreciative to angry. Speaking their minds are businesspeople, actors and entertainers, educators, journalists, politicians, union leaders, nuns, priests—even a cardinal. Some love the Church; some feel intensely that the Church wronged them. All have an illuminating insight or perspective.

Kerry Kennedy herself speaks of the joy of growing up as one of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’ s eleven children, of the tragedies that eventually befell her family, and of how religion was deeply woven through good times and bad. Journalist Andrew Sullivan talks about reconciling his devout Catholicism with the Church’s condemnation of his identity as a gay man. TV newswoman Cokie Roberts recalls the nuns who taught her and “took girls seriously when nobody else did.” Comedian Bill Maher declares, “I hate religion. It’s the worst thing in the world”—and goes on to defend his bold assertion. Writer Anna Quindlen depicts a common parental challenge: passing along traditions and values to a younger generation sometimes deaf to spiritual messages.

Through these and many other voices that speak not only to Catholics but to all of us, Being Catholic Now redefines an ancient institution in the most contemporary of terms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307449757
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 09/09/2008
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

KERRY KENNEDY established the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in l988 and, while leading more than forty human-rights delegations to more than thirty countries, has worked on diverse human-rights issues such as child labor, disappearances, ethnic violence, and environmental protection. Kennedy is the author of Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World, which birthed an internationally show­cased play, a stirring photographic exhibition, and a PBS documentary film. Kennedy is a graduate of Brown University and Boston College Law School. She is also the mother of three daughters: Cara, Mariah, and Michaela.

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Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen (b. July 8, 1952) is a bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist. She joined the staV of Newsweek in 1999, where she writes the Last Word column every other week.

When I was a kid, there were endless arguments that seemed to have no point. Whether it was proper, for example, if my parents went to a wedding in a Methodist church. This always seemed like the “How many angels can dance on a pin?” argument, since we were never invited to weddings that weren’t in Catholic churches. In my entire neighborhood where I grew up there was no one who wasn’t Catholic. No one had married into a family who wasn’t Catholic.

There was a rhythm to the liturgical year, which gave this incredible shape to your life, in a way that had almost nothing to do with faith. It’s like the distinction between the Baltimore Catechism and theology. The Baltimore Catechism gave this knee-jerk shape to every element of Catholicism that was absolutely anti-intellectual and unquestioning, as opposed to real theology. And so much of our lives as young Catholics was about that sort of ruling aYrmative: What would happen if you unwittingly took a bite of a bologna sandwich on a Friday? Much of it was the functional equivalent of keeping kosher. Why does one do this? You don’t ask this question, you just do it, unthinkingly, and there is supposed to be a virtue in the unthinking aspect of it, which of course was bound to catch up with me, sooner or later.

Real faith is something that happens later on.

It is the dichotomy that is in the Church today, which is that as an instrument of social justice, nobody does it better; but this is always overshadowed by the “shalt not” pronouncements that seem to have little to do with social justice, human frailty, or real faith. The Church is always in this state of huge dichotomy, when you look back through history, between form and function, between humanity and this rigid hierarchical rule making.

I’m struck by the fact that about 80 percent of what I care about politically is also what the Church supports. When I wrote a column in support of both legal and undocumented immigrants, I got a number of e- mail messages of support from priests, which was a Wrst for me in recent years. And there is the zone of gynecological theology, where the Church is totally wrong. For American Catholics, the Church’s stand on birth control or even abortion is, at some level, irrelevant. I’m talking about third-world Catholic women who, when they get pregnant, don’t have an additional child but either die or have a baby who dies. The deep dichotomies of the Church are frustrating to me, especially because it does do so much good.

When our oldest child Wrst described himself as an atheist, he was sixteen, and my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Right on schedule!” Until they went to college, our children had to go to Mass every Sunday. People would say to me, “Don’t they get upset about that, not wanting to go?” But that is part of the tradition. We were part of that tradition too; we remember all the days when we said, “I don’t want to go to Mass,” and the response was “Get in the car.”

Afterward, we would talk in the car about the sermon or the Gospel. Every year on Easter Sunday I’d start, and I could see the kids’ eyes rolling, and I’d say, “Now notice, what is the Wrst word Jesus said?” And from the backseat I would hear, “Woman.” And I would go, “That is correct! He turns to Mary Magdalene and says, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’” And by the Wfth year it was like, “No Mom, not this thing about Mary Magdalene again.”

They’re clearly in the stage of their lives where their attitude is, if an institution doesn’t work for you on a profound level, you don’t need the institution. That may play out for the rest of their lives, because there’s no question that they didn’t have the Catholic upbringing I had. They didn’t go to Catholic school; they weren’t steeped in the “shalt not”s. I remember it controlling every aspect of my life.

I see them going through the process that we went through, when my husband, who’s also a lifelong Catholic, and I were in college. Both of us had very little, if anything, to do with the Church. Then we got married in the Church, and as soon we had kids, boom! We were right back where we started from, because there was no question that we were going to raise them Catholic, if only to give that kind of grounding from which to question, reject, move away, and maybe move back again.

As a kid, I had the classic models of heaven and hell—one is up, the other’s down; one is cool, the other is hot; one is blue, the other is red.

My mother died when I was nineteen and then I thought about it all the time, about this notion of whether there was afterlife and if there was what it meant—whether the death of good people left a diVerent vapor trail than the death of not so good people.

My own profound sense is that the most beloved people we know don’t die; they’re as real in our minds as they were when they could walk through the door. I’m more questioning and agnostic about that than I was when I was much younger, which is unfortunate, because now more than ever I need it to be true. I think that is the crux of a faith.

My greatest moral education came not from Catholic school or the Ten Commandments, but from my mother. It had more to do with being kind and generous in your dealings with other people. It had a lot more to do with empathy and humanity and less to do with the doctrinal approach. My mother had very strong feelings about right and wrong based on the New Testament approach of loving thy neighbor as thyself.

Many people seem to Wnd this weird disconnect between my Catholic background and my political liberalism. The New Testament was such a profoundly politically liberal document that it is inconceivable to me that conservatism has come out of it. It’s driven explicitly and constantly by this need to do better by other people, by this moral obligation to do your best by and for others. That shaped my political sense in every way.

If you understand history, you understand the extent to which Jesus hung around with unrelated women. It’s so outside the realm of proper behavior; he had to have been trying to teach us something by that.

I don’t do Catholic guilt. I don’t feel guilty about being at odds with the Church over the things I’m at odds with them over.

As a child, I internalized the sense that I didn’t need to feel that bad about anything, because I could make it better on a Saturday afternoon in a dark place. When we Wrst started to go to confession, we really had nothing to confess; that is why we made everything up. And by the time we really had things to confess, either they were things that the Church had taught us were so shameful that we didn’t want to confess them, or they seemed too amorphous to be confessable.

If I were pope for a year, I’d be the second woman pope. The Wrst thing I would do is ordain women because that would lift the Church. In many ways we have seen society change for the better with women at high levels—in business, in the judiciary, and in politics. What we would see in the Church is a completely diVerent approach to attitudes across the board; we would revive parishes throughout this country and the world. There are many women waiting in the wings. Then I would bring those women priests together for a special synod with their male counterparts.

Part of the problem with the Church is that it knows how to talk but doesn’t know how to listen. I would probably spend six months with people just listening to one another. Then I would lift the ban on artiWcial birth control, especially in third-world countries, and say that people should keep themselves safe through condom use. In vitro fertilization—that’s absolutely an absurd prohibition. I’d promote a humane approach to death; I was very sad when the Church involved itself in the Terri Schiavo case in inappropriate ways.

I’d also look for a more conciliatory, humane Christlike attitude toward Catholics who have divorced. The Church has caused so much pain and so much cynicism about the annulment process, which has become the Church exercising control over the divorce process and has nothing to do with what we used to think of as annulment. All of my sister priests would be doing the same thing, so I’d be in really good company.

John Paul epitomized the dichotomy I was talking about, and the dovetailing of his papacy and the sex abuse scandals were very hard on my relationship with the Institutional Church. For a while, I went a little in and a little out in terms of going to Mass every Sunday. The parish in which we worship helped my perspective of the Institutional Church, because it’s run by the Paulist fathers. It’s a church that does everything that a good church should do, from engaging parishioners in the actual form of the Mass to providing all kinds of social services that are so important in its neighborhood. But I’ve been struggling with my relationship with the Institutional Church and whether I ratify what I consider the negative things it does in its name by attending Mass.

On the other hand, I feel proud of being a Catholic in Wts and starts all the time. As a reporter, I was so proud of being Catholic so much of the time, because I had this sort of constant experience where someone would say, I know that you are really interested in teenage pregnancy and there is this great program for teen mothers. So I would go, and the person who was running the program would take me around and talk about what she was doing and how many young women were there and so on. I would be looking around for twenty minutes and then look at her and look at the pantsuit, look at the shoes, and ask her, “Are you a nun?” “Yes,” she’d say, but she wouldn’t want me to call her “Sister.”

I get e-mails all the time when I touch on anything Catholic. People say, “I know your kind; you memorized the Baltimore Catechism, but you don’t go to Mass, you’re divorced, and you’ve had an abortion.” And I think if these people could only see me every Sunday morning, if these people only knew that I was married in the Church, that all of my children have lived through the sacraments. People presume these things when you’re politically liberal, and yet some of the most thoughtful and intelligent liberals I know are practicing Catholics.

On the other hand, there is a substantial group of intelligent and thoughtful people who are incredulous that you could have anything still to do with the Church as a person of thought and intellect. It is an acceptable bias to assume that at some level Catholicism is just dumb.

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan (b. August 10, 1963) is one of today’s most provocative social and political commentators. Senior editor at the Atlantic, and a columnist for the Sunday Times of London, he is also the editor of the Daily Dish, one of the most widely read political blogs on the Web.

Sullivan is known for his unusual personal-political identity. He is HIV-positive, gay, libertarian, a conservative often at odds with other conservatives, and a practicing Catholic.

I grew up in a small town in the English countryside and was always outside. My mother threw us out every morning, as long as we were back by the time it got dark. It was a diVerent world, and I always accepted that the beauty of the countryside that I lived in was a mark of something that I couldn’t explain. It was more than what it appeared to be. Every May, in my little church, we would bring in the blossoms for the Month of Our Lady and that celebration of unity of nature with God was something that I grew up breathing. I didn’t have a Wre-and-brimstone Catholic upbringing. I had a slightly hippie- dippy, lovey-dovey, post–Vatican II Catholic upbringing.

Both my parents were born in England, but our lineage was from western Ireland. We grew up as Catholics in a Protestant country, and I always felt marginalized to some extent through my faith, which absolutely strengthened it. You’d better defend your identity.

I went to a Catholic primary school until age ten. I was supposed to go to Catholic secondary school, but the only school that would accept me was horrifying to my parents. I went to the Protestant school, which was a big deal for our family. My grandmother was terribly upset, but for my faith, it was the best thing they could’ve done for me. I might have rebelled against an austere Catholic secondary school. From the beginning, I felt I had to defend myself against these Protestants. And when you’re Wghting that Wght, you assume the existence of God in the Wrst place. So it sunk in.

Growing up in England in the 1960s and 1970s was pretty awful, depressing, tawdry, and church for me, just walking in there, was something beyond all of this. There was something dark, mysterious, and beautiful beyond all these supermarkets, McDonald’s, bad television, and strikes. You walk in as an altar boy and smell the different smell, feel the diVerent air, and see the light refracted through diVerent windows. It tells you, this is not the rest of the world. There’s a line from Larkin in my head: “A serious house on serious earth this is.” I got a very severe and clear signal that this matters. Don’t you mess with this, don’t you belittle this. We weren’t corralled or anything, but my family was very insistent that we take this seriously. I wanted to Wgure it all out.

My conWrmation saint was Thomas More. He was an absolute authoritarian in the Church and I think, in retrospect, did some things that I Wnd abhorrent. He was happy to send people to the stake. On the other hand, he also clearly placed his conscience at the center of his life. If he was asked to do something, by all of the authorities that he lived up to—by the law of the land, by the very king whom he served— he’d still say no if his conscience said otherwise. He was both an authoritarian and a real rebel. He captured what it means to be Catholic. So when I came to be conWrmed, I picked him.

As a teenager, my Catholic identity was very important to me. It still is. People always ask me, in the last ten years especially, why don’t you just become an Episcopalian? My answer is: I would if I could. I don’t really have a choice in this matter. I’d sooner become a Muslim. The ferocity of my upbringing and the nature of that conXict would mean embracing something that I’d deWned myself against for thirty years. I’ve come to realize that my disdain for Protestantism was exaggerated, that I slipped into many of the fundamentalist traps that I’ve subsequently understood to be traps. Nevertheless, I’m a human being. We can’t be remade overnight. I have nowhere else to go. This is absolutely my home. It’s the only place I feel comfortable.

Look at the polling. You’ll Wnd Catholics supporting the positions the Episcopalian Church already accepts, but that is not what my faith is about. We’re asked, Wrst of all, to believe that God exists, which, compared to what our position is on stem cell research, seems to me to be a much more fundamental issue. Second, we’re asked to believe that God is love, which to my mind is a much bigger step. So if I’m prepared to believe all that, and in fact I Wnd myself unable not to believe that, why would I leave on a trivial issue like whether women should be priests or not? Faith isn’t like picking courses oV a menu. It’s a journey, and it’s a path. If your path and journey have been within one structure your entire life, then simply leaving isn’t an option.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xiii

Preface Kerry Kennedy xix

Anna Quindlen 1

Andrew Sullivan 9

Bill O'Relly 19

Cokie Roberts 25

Bill Maher 33

E.J. Dionne JR. 39

Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. 45

Dories Kearns Goodwin 53

James Carroll 59

Donna Brazile 67

Nancy Pelosi 75

Frank McCourt 81

Frank Butler 87

Gabriel Byrne 93

Susan Sarandon 101

Grace Wright 109

R. Scott Appleby 113

Dan McNevin 121

Laurie Brink, O.P. 129

Ingrid Mattson 137

J. Bryan Hehir 143

Kiki Kennedy 149

Anne Burke 153

John Sweeney 163

Robert Drinan 169

Lucab Benitez 175

Allouisa May Thames 181

Dan Aykroyd 185

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick 195

Thomas S. Monoghan 201

Mary Jo Bane 207

Betsy Pawlicki 211

Douglas Brinkley 215

Gay Talese 223

Steven Otellini 229

Martin Sheen 233

Peggy Noonan 241

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Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She quotes too many people as Catholics who are not Catholics in good standing and should not in any way be representing themselves as Catholic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is redundant with errors of the basic teachings of the Catholic Church and quotes poorly from people who are Catholic in name only but not in practice. Definately does not accuratly portray reality but is crafted to trumpet the author's flawed knowledge and opinion of the Catholic Church For an accurate assessment of what it is to be Catholic now read the book by Colleen Carrol, "The New Faithful, why young adults are embracing Christian Orthdoxy" which combines investigtive reporting with profound analysis in a professional and unbiased jounalistic approach which is lacking in Ms Kennedy's book
SeekerJA More than 1 year ago
People interviewed provided limited information about their feeling and the reasons for those feelings
JMJ33 More than 1 year ago
This book makes me very sad for the one's interviewed that have no idea or knowledge of the rich teachings of the Catholic Church. They obviously would benefit in educating themselves on Catholic Church teaching. The Church holds a rich treasure that its members can enjoy through the graces received from the Sacraments she offers her children. The Catholic Church has been in existance for over 2000 years and has not changed its core beliefs and is consistant with truth. In closing, I think Ms. Kennedy's title,'Being Catholic Now' is misleading. The title should have been, 'Being an Uninformed Catholic Now'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a non-Catholic dating a fervent one, I have always found myself a tad reluctant to wade into any kind of debate about this rich faith and its teachings. I guess I harbored a sense that Catholics are terribly doctrinaire. `Being Catholic Now' taught me something new, that there are many ways to be a Catholic, and sometimes made me laugh along the way. What I found so engrossing about Ms. Kennedy's effort is that it really shows the broad interpretations that all co-exist under the same tent. Sure some of those interviewed have left the church, but it still stamps their identity. There is no one way to be a good practicing, Catholic. Just consider for a moment that when her uncle was running for president, the whispering campaign was that the Vatican would run America through a special pope-line to the White House. It did not turn out to be true, of course. Now, several generations later, Ms. Kennedy shows that if American Catholics want to fervently follow the Pope, that is fine. But they can still be strong Catholics and strong Christians while disagreeing with some of the directives from Rome. Both the light and darks sides of faith and the Catholic Church are discussed, so I find myself less reluctant to talk about the faith now. Also some anecdotes are priceless, worth the cost of the book alone! Like Susan Sarandan as a little girl thinking that she was about to have a vision because her rosary beads were illuminated under her blankets, not realizing that her aunt bought her a glow-in-the dark set!
fletcher1235 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting take on the Catholic faith and what it means to a variety of Catholics in America. All in the book relate their experiences growing up in the faith or converting to it and how they feel about the church now. What I realized in reading this is that the church is really its people and that change is slow. Most of all, there is a real dichotomy about being a faithful Catholic, growing up in the 60's, and now living in a global economy.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ms Kennedy presents interviews of over 40 people who are or were Catholic, asking them about their upbringing, their current beliefs, their relationship with the Catholic Church (both past and current) and what they would do if they could be Pope. The range of interviewees is wonderful -- from a 19 year old wannabe nun to an almost 80 year old retired cardinal, from actors to activists,from Irish, Italian, and Hispanics descendants to first 1st generation immigrants, from college graduates to school drop outs, from priests to agnostics. Their experiences of Catholicism are vast, diverse, and fascinating. For someone who is Catholic, the read will be both comforting and frightening at the same time. It is a well-written and well-planned, although I would have loved to have have seen more of what she actually asked them. We only get to read an edited 'essay' and I'm not sure sometimes what was being asked. These are easy to handle in short batches as each interview goes only about 4-5 pages. For someone who is Catholic it is reassuring to see others who struggle with aspects of Catholicism. For those who are not, the book presents an interesting look inside the membership of this vast flock of believers and non-believers.
jugglingpaynes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being Catholic Now is a series of interviews from a broad spectrum of Americans who have a connection to the Catholic faith. The interviews range from moments of raw and painful emotion to uplifting and inspiring spirituality. It was not what I had expected. Kerry Kennedy successfully presents a great variety of stories of belief as well as cynicism with the church. I found myself saddened reading some interviews, identifying with some stories, and just shaking my head for others.On the basis of the interviews alone I would give this book five stars, but I found the editing in some parts a bit confusing. I know these were transcribed from interviews, so perhaps that is why I sometimes felt like I was listening to half of a conversation, not always understanding how the narration went from A to B.As a Catholic, I found this a very interesting read. I would recommend it for anyone who has struggled with finding a place in their faith. You won't agree with what everyone says, but you will realize you aren't alone and there are many interpretations of what it means to be Catholic today.
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Washingtonian More than 1 year ago
I found the book to be fairly good at looking at much of the spectrum of Catholicism (as it is felt and practiced) in the U.S. While I agree with many of the progressive ideas that people are hopeful about seeing put into practice, I found the book lacking in an overall perspective of the totality of Catholic thinking, to some extent in the U.S. but especially through-out the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I purchased this book, I thought it would be Ms. Kennedy's thoughts on how she viewed the Church of today. However, after reading the prologue, I was even more fascinated. The idea of putting in book form all the differing ideas and thoughts of the people who shared them with her was tantalizing and enlightening. I found it so thought provoking and inciteful, that I recommended it to my Priest and the Deacon who is conducting the Catholics Returning Home series for lapsed Catholics. I'm sure this book will make a lot of lapsed Catholics realize they are not alone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the kind of book that makes for interesting conversations, and possibly as a starter for friends of whatever tradition to talk about their own faith journeys together. It is a good 'gift' type of book for Catholics who would be surprised to know who are among the baptized.
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Huskerfan More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book more for the thoughts of the author, rather than the context of the book. I was very pleasantly surprised by both. It was comforting to read that so many of the people my age; older and younger are asking some of the same questions and having the same experiences that I did. Many of the people interviewed had good feelings, and others did not. I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of the book to an older Jesuit priest friend; he will enjoy seeing the good effect(or not) his brother priests have had on men and women of the recent past. Ms. Kennedy, being as well known as she is (perhaps by last name only if you are not familiar with all of the nieces and nephews of JFK) speaks of a time when a large number of us were raised with the Catholic tradition that no one- our parents or grandparents before them ever questioned- and ours is the first generation to really have the nerve to question that authority - for good and or bad. Hers is a splendid book that I will be recommending to a large number of readers.