James Carroll Takes a Swing at the Church

Left-wing Catholic dissident James Carroll wrote a scathing attack on the USCCB for the Daily Beast blog, accusing the bishops of a “new know-nothing fundamentalism” and drastic shift to the political right for adhering to basic Catholic principles on abortion, the deliberate destruction of an innocent human life, which is an intrinsic evil. I don’t know what disturbs me more: the article itself, or the outpouring of vicious, no-holds-barred anti-Catholic hatred that follows in the com-boxes.

Carroll whines as if the entire moral platform of the USCCB is literally dictated by officials from the Republican Party, which anyone who is actually familiar with their positions on a number of issues from immigration to health-care reform (which they strongly support, minus abortion funding, to the chagrin of many conservatives) knows is somewhere between hysterical and brain-damaged. Carroll longs for the days when the Catholic Church in America was, at least in his one-sided view, completely subordinated not to the Republican political agenda but the Democratic one. Supposedly that would not be an unwelcome intrusion of the Church into political affairs, but an example of a good little boy who does as he’s told by the powers that be.

Of course Carroll’s nostalgia for the “good old Church” neglects the fact that in the days of FDR, abortion was not the political issue it is today, and no one but communists and anarchists believed that the right to murder one’s own offspring was a necessary condition for social justice. The very notion, in its brutality and hypocrisy, would have horrified as many Catholic leaders and laypeople then as it does today.

We will never hear from Carroll or anyone else like him a word on the hideous double-standard the left holds for religious influence in politics, whether it is accepting the Catholic Church’s influence and support on issues it cares about, or those of dozens of other religious groups that support other causes that are dear to their heart. Nor will we hear a single word about the pledge of “progressive Democrats” who have threatened to scuttle health care from the leftif they are denied federal funding for abortion.

The silence is deafening and, combined with rants such as Carroll’s where the nostalgia for the old days slips out, makes one thing clear: when religious people support leftist causes, they aren’t violating separation of church and state, but acting as good citizens. When leftists threaten a bill such as health care reform because their sacred rites might be threatened, they are being principled. If Carroll and other dissidents had their way, the Church would not be banished from political life, but reduced to a hand-puppet of their party and their agenda. Much could be said about the political right as well, but then, I’ve never heard anyone in the GOP complain that the Church’s support for living wages meant that she should be stripped of her tax-exempt status.

This ideological bias is sickening, and I fail to see how an honest human being who, somewhere in his misguided soul, wishes to continue identifying as a Catholic can continue to subject the Church to it. One thing does amuse me, however: typical of all the leftist anti-Catholic rants I have read in recent days since Stupak, Carroll simultaneously bemoans the vast political influence of the Church while, in the same piece, reveling in the supposed decline of the Church’s social and cultural relevance.

In my view, political influence isn’t possible without a corresponding amount of social and cultural relevance. As much as it pains Mr. Carroll and other leftist dissidents, the Church is not in a period of irrevocable decline, even if the pressures of the secular culture manifest themselves in opinion polls from time to time. On the contrary the Stupak amendment, whatever its eventual fate may be, was a victory for the pro-life movement and a victory for the Catholic Church, a testament to its continuing endurance and importance in our culture and political process.

Yes, Mr. Carroll, we have a right to be heard, not as conservatives or liberals but as Catholics, and no, Mr. Carroll, we will not eviscerate our basic beliefs about the sanctity of human life in order to become servile political puppets.

28 Responses to James Carroll Takes a Swing at the Church

  1. Gabriel Austin says:

    Is there a reason to pay attention to James Carroll? His writings seem to me like the old vinyl records, stuck on the same crack.

  2. Mike Petrik says:

    If you think his screed is stupid and beyond ignorant, you should read the comments from his amen choir. Wow.

  3. Joe Hargrave says:

    The raw demonic hatred is more troubling to me than the ignorance.

  4. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Carroll, an ex-priest, has “isssues”. He never resolved his conflict with his father Joseph Carroll, an Air Force Lieutenant General.

    Here is a good review of Carroll’s self serving memoir An American Reqiuem.


    Carroll has spent his life in continual revolt against everything his father held dear. Pathetic is too mild a term for James Carroll.

  5. Phillip says:

    Which is why I think some Catholics voted for Obama not in spite of his stand on abortion but because of it.

  6. Pinky says:

    I read two of Carroll articles on the Daily Beast. He doesn’t seem to be as well-informed as the average Catholic layman, which makes Donald’s comment even more interesting.

    Carroll’s right that the Catholic Church didn’t used to be so vocal and focused on abortion. But that’s because the Church was so stalwartly opposed to birth control. Abortion wasn’t even on the radar. In those days, a couple got married at age 18, had their first child 6-10 months later, and had a minimum of five more. Those weren’t days of sexual abandon and a heedless clergy.

  7. Art Deco says:

    In those days, a couple got married at age 18, had their first child 6-10 months later, and had a minimum of five more. Those weren’t days of sexual abandon and a heedless clergy.

    I am sure there are couples who resembled that. However, the median age at first marriage in this country was at its trough around about 1956, when it stood at around 22.0 years. IIRC, Andrew Greeley has said that urban Irish Catholic families tended to have a modest number of children prior to World War II and that late marriage was the norm. Fr. Greeley (b. 1928) grew up in a family with three children, as did my grandmother (b. 1906). The total fertility rate in Quebec prior to 1960 was about 4.0 live births per woman.

  8. Donna V. says:

    Art Deco: I think you’re forgetting the infant mortality rate.

    I recall seeing a list of the top 10 killer diseases in the US in 1900 a few years back. Cancer wasn’t on the list. Neither was heart disease. They were all childhood diseases, like scarlet fever.

    One of my father’s brothers died shortly after birth. Even in my generation (and I was born in late ’59, so we’re not talking ancient history!), I had a brother who was stillborn and a twin sister who died 13 hours after we were born. My older brother – not the one who died – had scarlet fever as an infant and still has cardiac problems as a result today.

    A neonatalogist friend of mine tells me premature infants had a very difficult time of it, even in the ’50’s and ’60’s.

    So families may have ended up with 2 or 3 children who survived to adulthood. That doesn’t mean that 2 or 3 children was all they ever had, particularly when one considers the living conditions that prevailed among blue-collar Catholics in those days, particularly those who lived in crowded urban areas. I can think of a fair number of friends who have related stories of grandparents (or parents) who lost a child very soon after birth.

  9. Art Deco says:

    If I am not mistaken, calculations of total fertility rates will exclude only still births. (FWIW, Fr. Greeley mentioned no deceased siblings in his memoirs IIRC; my father made no mention of a deceased aunt or uncle and federal and state census enumerators record the same three children in his grandfather’s house on four separate occasions).

    That aside, the data here:


    indicate that the infant mortality rate stood at 100 per 1,000 live births in 1915, 69 per 1,000 live births in 1929, and 30 per 1,000 live births in 1959. Even if calculations of total fertility rate were to exclude infant deaths, the tfr for Quebec in 1959 would have been 4.12, which is some distance from ‘a minimum of six children’.

  10. GodsGadfly says:

    Art, there were also long lines at the confessional of people who were doing other things than the Pill to avoid having children.

    I get tired of the euphemism of “health care reform” being equated with “Whatever the Democrats want to do this week,” since the term “health care reform” really could encompass any number of things, but that’s the Republicans’ fault for their stupidity.

    As for the USCCB, opposing abortion in government run health care is one thing, but will they also speak out against contraception?

  11. Art Deco says:

    Art, there were also long lines at the confessional of people who were doing other things than the Pill to avoid having children.

    Whether they were following the rules or not, couples were not, as a rule, marrying in their teens or having in excess of six children in 1959.

    It has been some years (so I may be off) but my recollection from long ago classes in economic history is that demographic studies of English peasant communities of the 18th century indicated that a woman married at 18 could expect to carry eight children to term, with the concluding pregnancy occurring at age 39 on average. Making use of licit practices of fertility regulation in an urban environment in 1955 could have readily reduced that by half.

  12. Templar says:

    Reading the article and the comments what strikes me second (the first is obvious the raw hatred and anger of the left) is that most of the posters are completely ignorant of their own faith. Granting that Atheists and Non-Catholics can be allowed a certain amount of ignorance, if even half the posters were nominal Catholics it’s no wonder the Church is in the state it;s in today. If those posters spent a year or too doing basic Catechism they could hopefully become ignorant. Wow.

  13. Tito Edwards says:

    I wouldn’t to much of those hateful “Catholics”. They don’t attend Mass and hence their influence wanes as the years go by.

    Sadly I wish they would revert back and contribute, but that doesn’t seem likely (yet).

    So they have less of a leg to stand on and are merely mosquitoes, just a nuisance at best.

  14. […] prominent sign post is when disgruntled and bitter ex-priest James Carroll of the Boston Globe viciously attacks the Church for its orthodoxy you know that the Church has righted its course and is in a straight […]

  15. Tom says:

    It’s true that the Catholic church’s teachings do not fit easily into US political party lines. However, for the past decade, the American bishops’ actions have.

    When the Catholic bishops start refusing communion not only to Catholic Democrats, but also to Catholic Republicans(who support or have supported the invasion of Iraq, the death penalty, the breaking up of immigrant families and shipping them out the country, tax cuts for the rich & increased burden on the poor, and the blockage of healthcare for all Americans, especially the poorest)then your comments about the bishops not aligning themselves in praxis with the Republicans will be valid.

  16. Tito Edwards says:


    You make the incorrect assumption that killing a human being is on the same level as raising taxes.

    Explain away, please.

  17. Joe Hargrave says:


    As one of our contributers recently explained in a wonderful post, abortion is not on the same level as any of these issues. Abortion, along with assisted suicide, is an intrinsic evil – there are no circumstances under which it is permitted.

    Wars can sometimes be just, and sometimes unjust – but the Church never proclaimed that the Iraq War was categorically unjust. I didn’t and don’t agree with the war myself, but I can’t honestly argue that the Vatican ever proclaimed that it was categorically unjust and that Catholics could not support it under any circumstances. That is what it has said about abortion.

    The same applies to the death penalty. There are circumstances under which it is morally permissible to put criminals to death. Whether or not we have it is a prudential matter. And we can go down the list – while all of these things you address are serious matters, none of them rise to the level of intrinsic evil.

    The great irony here is that it was the Catholic Democrats that listened to the Bishops and worked closely with them, not pro-life Republicans, the majority of whom are Protestants.

    ALL OF THAT BEING SAID, Tom, I will point out one issue that you didn’t point out, that actually helps your case: torture. In my view – though it is hotly contested among Catholics – torture has clearly been established by the Church as an intrinsic evil. Therefore I do believe that politicians that support torture should probably also be denied communion. That would, I think, include quite a few Republicans.

  18. Mike Petrik says:

    Joe’s comment above is excellent. The only thing I would add is that it is appropriate to also consider the degree of obstinateness. The bishops waited a heck of a long time and tried considerable dialogue before finally resorting to denial of communion. Prudentially, I think that the Bishops need to work a bit longer and harder before doing the same regarding torture, especially since the Church’s traditional teaching re torture is not remotely as clear cut as that re abortion. In this connection, from the standpoint of natural law the evil attached to murdering the innocent is far more intuitively accessible than is the evil associated with inflicting pain on the guilty in order to achieve just ends, especially if the facts presented are extreme — e.g., the ticking time bomb scenario. The problem with the extreme scenario is that the very idea of innocents killed because of an unwillingness to inflict pain is impulsively offensive to many people with fairly well-ordered conscienses. To wit — if you ask a 5 year child if it is ok to hurt a bad guy in order to secure information that would save the lives of innocent people, he will likely say “sure.” But if you ask the same child if it is ok for the lady next door to deliberately kill the child in her belly for any reason whatsoever he will unhesitatingly be appalled. The law written on the hearts of men is written more clearly when it comes to abortion than torture, I’m afraid.

  19. Joe Hargrave says:

    Well, I do understand the point you are making, but how often can we use the “5 year old child” standard? After all, the same child would probably say “sure” to the question, “would you like ice cream and candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner?” I don’t mean to be facetious or offensive, but how is it that this standard came to be invoked (I’ve seen other Catholics use it too)?

    The problem with the torture issue is when politicians say that they don’t believe that “interrogation method X” constitutes torture. I think water-boarding someone 180 times reaches the level of torture, whether or not one water-boarding by itself would.

    But it is true that the Church has made no pronouncement on water-boarding as such. So yes, I think you’re right that much more deliberation would have to go into it. But I think that if, ultimately, the bishops determined that a politician supported torture, given what the Catechism and our last two Popes have said numerous times on the issue, they ought to consider it.

    And THAT being said, I still don’t think torture rises to the level of abortion, though both may be intrinsically evil. Abortion is the destruction the weak by the strong, the innocent by the guilty.

  20. Mike Petrik says:

    Well, I agree that the 5 year old child test is imperfect, Joe, but it is nonetheless useful when we are discerning how men and women who are not moral philosophers view moral questions. My point is simply that it is illustrative of the fact that the intrinsic immorality of torture (meaning wrong under all circumstances) simply is not obvious. One must either reason to it very carefully or must learn and simply accept Church teaching even if not fully understood. In part, this is precisely because the notion that the strong must not prey on the weak is written on the hearts of men in a way that inflicting pain on the guilty for good ends is not. The latter situation requires a measure of deeper reflection, or perhaps just obedience, in a way not demanded by the former. This is precisely why a child can know one is wrong without knowing the other is wrong. Only an adult can reason to the correct conclusion about torture, just as only an adult can rationalize to the wrong conclusion about abortion. Interesting paradox but there you have it.

  21. Rod says:

    I find it funny to hear how the church has “moved” to the left or to the right. The church has remained steadfast in it’s doctrine for centuries.

  22. Gabriel Austin says:

    Torture was authorized in 1252 by Innocent IV.

  23. Joe Hargrave says:

    And is totally rejected by the modern Catechism, Gabriel.

  24. Dale Price says:

    Thought experiment for pro-abort and torture apologist Catholics alike, using the following true sentence:

    Abortion is a form of torture which results in death.

  25. Phillip says:

    Actually abortion is a form of murder – the taking of innocent life. Torture is the infliction of pain for some other end than death. This may be semantics but it does distinguish the moral objects of each that are important in moral philosophy/theology.
    Which is why some can argue that the licitness of the infliction of pain in the defense of society can justify certain forms of torture or, alternatively, make it not torture, but some other form of pain.

  26. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The Church has always condemned abortion. The Church has regarded as morally licit just wars. Until the papacy of John Paul II the Church had no problem with the death penalty which was frequently utilized in the papal states until 1871 when the papal states were dissolved by the newly unified Italy.

    As to torture, Church teaching has been in a state of flux as some popes have condemned it, and some have allowed its use by legitimate authorities. Torture, like the death penalty, was utilized by some popes as rulers of the papal states in judicial proceedings, as was common in most European states in those times. Other popes condemned the use of torture.

    Father Brian Harrison gives a good overview of torture and the teaching of the Church at the links below:



  27. Phillip says:

    Now you’ve done it and brought up Fr. Harrison.

  28. Mike Petrik says:

    I don’t think Gabriel was necessarily trying to say that torture is ok b/c Innocent IV authorized it. I at least inferred his point to be responsive to Rod’s, but perhaps I’m wrong.

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