Mary Daly and the Flickering Flame of Catholic Dissent by Charlotte Allen
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. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, which might be called the golden age of Catholic dissidence, 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. 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.
And thanks be to God for that! The more notable 2nd generation groupies - such as the Sour Patch Kids at the Call-to-Action blog 'Young Adult Catholics' and the 'Young Voices' column at the National Catholic Distorter - make about as much sense as Inspector Clouseau with a mouthful of peanut butter in a wind tunnel. And that's on a good day. Not only that, because they are such faithful dissenters, cheerfully following their consciences and using artificial contraception and advocating homosexual lifestyles, they aren't reproducing either.
Here's how Allen puts it: So where is the second generation of brilliant progressive Catholic theologians? There are plenty of liberal lay Catholics. 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.
I contend that her dissenting heroes are neither brilliant nor Catholic. And I challenge her assertion that dissident Catholicism is an intellectual movement - it has nothing to do with intellect and all to do with selfishness and unbridled passion. Sure, they sound smart, and they can probably talk circles around me in theological issues, but that doesn't mean they're smart. It just means they can make lies sound plausible - and besides, is dissenting from the truth really all that intelligent, when one's salvation is at stake?
Allen seems quite saddened regarding the state of Catholic dissent. She mentions that Küng and Curran are...well, let's put it this way: in life were a liturgy, they'd be singing the final verse of the recessional hymn. And they're not alone, either. Here's a quick list of some other leading dissenters:
- Rev Richard McBrien - born in 1936
- Sr Joan Chittister - 1936
- Bishop Gumbleton - 1930
- Roy Bourgeois - 1938
- Leonard Swidler (founder of ARCC) - 1929
- Robert Blair Kaiser (proponent of American Catholic Council) - 1930
Does anyone remember the dissenters from the early 20th century?