A few weeks ago, my co-worker asked me where all the activist Catholics had gone. “What has happened to the Daniel Berrigans and Dorothy Days?” she asked me, the resident Catholic on a fairly secular staff (I won’t even get into all the other questions I got asked as the staff anomaly).
I said, “Oh, they’re out there …” Daniel Berrigan is still alive, and his nieces and nephew (Philip’s children) are living at Catholic worker houses, protesting corporate imperialism, and researching the effects of nuclear weapons. Dorothy Day’s movement of Catholic Worker houses has created thousands of opportunities for people to live a life in the spirit of what she valued (and to adapt them to the present day). As for outspoken priests, perhaps Father Roy Bourgeious of the Maryknolls has been the most controversial priest speaking for justice for women in the church, earning him excommunication (and thus new friends and enemies around the globe).
The National Catholic Reporter just ran another story on another priest who has spoken out against the rule of the hierarchical church in this article. In an open letter, Rev. Michael J. Gillgannon is critical of his bishop, Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He was primarily critical of the bishop’s leadership, especially how his teaching on social/moral issues has focused on the issue of abortion and little else that falls under the breadth of Catholic Social Teaching. It’s unfortunate that oftentimes, priests find the courage and strength to speak out against other leaders in the hierarchy. Of course, there is justification for this – fear of job security loss, getting moved around to an undesirable position, or being laicized and thus stripped of a Diocesan pension. It’s a scary situation and I can see why it would be easier in a sense to just go along with the status quo.
However, that doesn’t mean that there is not a lot of underground thinking, praying, and organizing taking place. At first I was offended that my coworker couldn’t recognize that there are plenty of Catholics speaking out to represent the values of Catholic Social Teaching and political platforms represented by left-leaning Americans. But it makes sense – the media tends to overplay and portray the Church leaders as being right-wing. And of course, there is some truth to this coverage. However, as is the case in Madison and possibly every diocese in the world, there are priests who are meeting and discussing what they can do to speak truth to the values that they most admire about the Church, doing so in a way that won’t take away from their own livelihoods. It’s a tough line to toe, and some have done it better than others. It will be interesting to see what happens to priests like Father Michael J. Gillgannon and others who choose to speak out against aggressive, right-leaning hierarchical leadership.