Timothy Radcliffe: Why Stay Catholic

This is a fine article by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., the former master general of the Dominicans on why one remains Catholic in difficult (terrible) times. 

Why stay? I must lay my cards on the table; even if the Church were obviously worse than other Churches, I still would not go. I am not a Catholic because our Church is the best, or even because I like Catholicism. I do love much about my Church but there are aspects of it which I dislike. I am not a Catholic because of a consumer option for an ecclesiastical Waitrose rather than Tesco, but because I believe that it embodies something which is essential to the Christian witness to the Resurrection, visible unity. 

When Jesus died, his community fell apart. He had been betrayed, denied, and most of his disciples fled. It was chiefly the women who accompanied him to the end. On Easter Day, he appeared to the disciples. This was more than the physical resuscitation of a dead corpse. 

In him God triumphed over all that destroys community: sin, cowardice, lies, misunderstanding, suffering and death. The Resurrection was made visible to the world in the astonishing sight of a community reborn. These cowards and deniers were gathered together again. They were not a reputable bunch, and shamefaced at what they had done, but once again they were one. The unity of the Church is a sign that all the forces that fragment and scatter are defeated in Christ. 

All Christians are one in the Body of Christ. I have deepest respect and affection for Christians from other Churches who nurture and inspire me. But this unity in Christ needs some visible embodiment. Christianity is not a vague spirituality but a religion of incarnation, in which the deepest truths take the physical and sometimes institutional form. Historically this unity has found its focus in Peter, the Rock in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the shepherd of the flock in John’s gospel. 

From the beginning and throughout history, Peter has often been a wobbly rock, a source of scandal, corrupt, and yet this is the one – and his successors – whose task is to hold us together so that we may witness to Christ’s defeat on Easter Day of sin’s power to divide. And so the Church is stuck with me whatever happens. We may be embarrassed to admit that we are Catholics, but Jesus kept shameful company from the beginning.


Read the rest here at the Tablet.

James Martin, SJ

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Thomas Piatak
8 years 9 months ago
A very good piece. Thanks for posting it.
8 years 9 months ago
Thanks for the link, Fr. Jim.  I just posted it on my facebook network.
Jim McCrea
8 years 9 months ago
Some folks at the Commonweal blogsite didn't find Fr. Radcliffe's comments to be compelling. 
One of the things about this church that simply deadens what Fr. Radcliffe has to say is the clerical-oriented defensiveness of folks like this:
“Archbishop Vlazny decried a March 31 editorial in the (Portland Oregonian) newspaper, a piece by syndicated Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and a cartoon by The Oregonian's Jack Ohman depicting Pope Benedict XVI responding, “say what?” to demands that he “do something about pedophile priests.”

“The editors arrogantly scolded the church for its past failures in handling this matter of child abuse and, in an insulting and unfair attack, chose this most holy time of the year - during our church's 'Year of the Priest' - to connect the practice of celibacy among our clergy with the problem of sexual abuse, when everyone knows that most abusers by far are married persons!” wrote Archbishop Vlazny in a message e-mailed to diocesan priests.“
Ah, yes, the Year of the Priest.  I will take His Lordship’s rant to heart when this church stops dedicating years to the clergy and spends more time concerning itself to the vanishing breed known as the faithful laity. 
Carolyn Disco
8 years 9 months ago
Good discussion over at Commonweal: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=7779#comments
Compliments, and reference to too many “buts”
Angry and hurt Catholics feel a right to transparent government. I agree. But we must, in justice, understand why the Vatican is so self-protective.
I too long for more transparent government, more open debate, but the Church’s secrecy is understandable, and sometimes necessary.
Bottom line for many staying: It’s the Eucharist. Yes.
With the aid and comfort of folks like Jim Martin and his remarkable quotes that ring of truth:
''What needs to die is a clerical culture that long fostered power, privilege and secrecy. What needs to die is an attitude that had placed concern for a priest's reputation above that of a child's welfare. What needs to die is mindset in which investigations of dissident theologians and American Catholic sisters were more swiftly prosecuted than investigations of abusive priests. What needs to die is, in a word, a certain pride. All of this needs to be surrendered.''
Tom Maher
8 years 9 months ago
What high expectations the inexperienced and uninitiated have.

The question "Why Stay Catholic?" seems so unlikely, so infantile. The implied expectation is that the church, a human organization, is somehow expected to be without flaw, problem free, and perfect at all times. These expectations are very unrealistic and can not be meet.

As Joan Rivers would say, "Grow up."

You got to be kidding. A little personal experience would very quickly show your expectation needs to be re-calibrated. The church as human organization and its people can be very annoying and even dysfunctional much of the time. Realistically be prepared to be disappointed. If you are looking for a father figure or mother figure to tend to your needs in the church you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You need to become an adult in your expectations. In life you work with flawed people from whom results vary. You accept what they do well and reject the rest. The church's results will also vary. You as an adult have an active role to support and encourage what is good in the church and reject and remedy what is flawed.

The church has a long history of successful reformers. What the church needs is active supporters of reform not helpless infants expecting to be comforted. In your relation with the church, you are the active adult, not the passive child.
Jim McCrea
8 years 9 months ago
Yes, Tom, Timothy Radcliffe is so "inexperienced and uninitiated."
He can probably run circles around you and most of the rest who post here (myself included) before he has his morning cup of coffee.
Deborah Johnson Miranda
8 years 9 months ago
I agree w/ Tom Maher's take on the Catholic Church being dysfunctional.  It is what makes it so human.  I did not care for the article by Timothy Radcliffe, though, because it was not persuasive enough for me.
Rather, I like the essay by Jim Martin, S.J., posted here about a week ago.  It did not explain why he remained a Catholic, but was succinct in explaining what the Church needs to do to climb out of this dysfunction and come back to life. 
Frankly, I am a Catholic because I love the Church's rituals and it's promotion of social justice, the liturgy and my priest.  People join our parish because of the glorious music, the liturgical experience, the sung prayers.  Yes, we are a flawed Church, and yes, it is tiresome explaining why we remain a part of this (human) institution.  I believe WE are the ones who will have to rise up and force the heirarchy to change.
Tom Maher
8 years 9 months ago
Timothy Radcliffe must be a theological superman like so many others writers in America magazine. He is wonderfully motivated to reach young people who are a very large part of America's audience and try to help them deal with the current clergy sex abuse revealations.

With great respect, this learned man fails to reach the root concerns of his audience in this crisis by converting their interests into something other than what they are. He has real, valid, first-rate theological explainations to offer. Great intellectual stuff. But what the young (and old) audience needs and wants to know is more basic: what the hell is going on with the church? His audience is not looking for a theological explaination. They know full well that something is very wrong. They want to know about the disorder just as a child would need to have answered about a father that had a heart attack: what is wrong with Daddy? They do not want a lecture on good health; they want know and interact with what is wrong. Radcliffe does not address the audiences more visceral concerns and thereby may appear to be whitewashing or minimizing the church's crisis.

Straight talk focused on the disorder is needed. The individual will figure out on their own terms how to deal with the crisis the church is experiencing. It should not be assumed the average person has a problem becasue the church has a problem. Let the audience know the facts and deal with them on their own.
Carolyn Disco
8 years 9 months ago
There is a powerful post on dotCommonweal at
that is right on target.
I was trying to be open and moderate but Radcliffe's meta message is clear, despite the smooth words. I know he is widely respected and rightfully so, but the fact that I did not pick up on these points more is to me a sign of not breaking through the word fog and deference. My blindness. I was uneasy about all the ''buts'', but here is the reality.
From Anonymous:
''The Radcliffe article? I’ve never read a greater collection of weasel words.
Catholic clergy are no worse than anyone else, perhaps even not as bad. People are making the Church a scapegoat (cf Fr Cantalamessa on anti-semitism). In most cases the bishops didn’t behave irresponsibly. After all, most abuse happened 40 or 50 years ago. You’ve got to remember, times were different. The bishops didn’t realise that the sexual abuse of vulnerable children was really, really serious. They were just trying to help people who were ill. Benedict XVI has always taken a strong line. He’s blameless. He didn’t have enough staff to do more. By the way, I’ve met him. The Vatican has to protect itself. Otherwise bishops and priests might suffer imprisonment and death for their faith. You can’t blame them for being dishonest. In the Resurrection Jesus triumphed over cowardice and lies.
it’s beyond belief. The article displays the disease for which it purports to be the cure. (AMEN!)
8 years 9 months ago
I am both surprised and shocked that Jim Martin endorsed the article by Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe.  Radcliffe rightly deserves his reputation as a perceptive, intelligent commentator on so many theological and pastoral issues facing the church.   However, this particular article sounds like a page taken from the Catholic Bishops’ Playbook on Defending the Indefensible.
How can anyone defend the rape of a child, whether it took place in the 1960’s or 1990’s?  The American bishops were told by Dominican Tom Doyle and his two colleagues in 1985 that the church was facing a major problem which should be addressed.  The bishops turned their back on their report, and the church has paid a high price for their arrogance.  How can anyone as intelligent as Radcliffe pull out the same defenses that the bishops have used?   It wasn’t the bishops’ fault because they relied on poor advice from the medical and psychological community.  There wasn’t an awareness of the seriousness and nature of sexual abuse.  The priest should be given another chance; yes, another opportunity to abuse more children! 
It is 2010 and the church still defends its actions by saying “mistakes” were made.  The only bishop I am aware of who has championed the survivors of sexual abuse is Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, who stated categorically, “The sexual abuse of children is, was, and will always be a sin and a crime.”  The key word is crime.  If a lay person in 1960 or 1985 were accused of the rape of a child and convicted, that person would have gone to jail.  Why was that not true for a Catholic priest?  There was a double standard: prosecute a lay person who sexually abused a child, but protect a priest who sexually abused a child.  The American bishops and bishops throughout the world protected the church’s image and the priests’ reputation at the expense of innocent children.  That was the thinking behind the sexual abuse scandal.  It wasn’t all the phony reasons which the bishops, and unfortunately, Fr. Radcliffe would want us to believe.  What more is needed to acknowledge that the violation of innocent children is a serious sin and a serious crime? 
The bishops have never acknowledged that they were responsible for the evil which finally came to light thanks to investigative reporting.  The media was attacked as anti-Catholic, but the media was right.  How can we not believe that the bishops would have continued to enable priests to continue abusing children?  To paraphrase Fr. Radcliffe, “I am morally certain that the cover-up would have continued were it not for public outrage and the work of journalists and prosecutors.”  Let’s stop rewriting history and begin to learn from it. 


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