Luther left the Church. Today, dissenters stay.

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 31, 2017

Whatever else you might think or say about Martin Luther, give him credit for this much: having broken with Catholic teaching, he broke away from the Catholic Church. Today’s dissenting Catholics rarely show the same consistency. Even after rejecting the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine, they continue to masquerade as Catholics. Do you ever wonder why?

Take the case of Donna Quinn, the object of a sympathetic profile last week in the Chicago Sun-Times. She describes the Catholic priesthood as a “hoax.” She sees no difference between the Eucharist and a grandparent’s embrace of a grandchild. She is, however, absolutely firm in her belief in “choice” when it comes to abortion—so much so that she once volunteered at an abortion clinic. Yet she still describes herself as a Catholic, and even more: a member of a women’s religious order. So the Sun-Times can justifiably (if not accurately) identify her as “Donna Quinn, Catholic nun, feminist…”

By any logical measurement, Martin Luther was more closely aligned with the Catholic Church than Donna Quinn is today. But Luther left, and Quinn stayed. The Sun-Times offers a revealing explanation: “She ‘could have left’ the Church long ago but thinks her voice is stronger within.”

Exactly! Identify Donna Quinn as, say, a Unitarian, and her views would no longer seem remarkable. Her complaints against the Catholic Church would not find their way onto the pages of the Sun-Times. Her views are newsworthy only because she claims to be a Catholic.

Donna Quinn is not alone, of course. She is only one of many priests, religious, and theologians who remain ostensibly inside the Church, while professing a sort of faith that cannot possibly be reconciled with Catholic teaching. By insisting that they are still Catholics, they cause confusion among the faithful, and give rise to the notion that it really doesn’t matter what you believe.

The presence of this fifth column within the Church prompts two questions: First, how can thoughtful people who reject the Catholic faith continue to claim that they are Catholics, without forfeiting their own integrity? That question is best answered by those to whom it applies.

Second, why don’t Catholic bishops clear the air, by stating forthrightly that these unfortunate individuals have placed themselves outside the Catholic community? Granted, a public decree of excommunication would provoke a storm of publicity; pundits would defend the dissenter and berate the hierarchy. So that’s the answer to the second question, I suppose—if you believe that a bishop’s primary responsibility is to avoid negative publicity.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: MatJohn - Nov. 03, 2017 8:12 PM ET USA

    Why leave the Church and blend into the life of a nonentity when you can flaunt the Faith and enjoy the attention of a fawning media?

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Nov. 01, 2017 3:19 PM ET USA

    Why don't Catholic bishops clear the air? If Catholic bishops look-up to the current bishop of Rome, there is no way they are going to clear the air. Rather, they will increasingly pollute the air. Moreover, they will increase their chances of receiving a red hat and becoming the darlings of the media.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 01, 2017 1:43 PM ET USA

    Surely, Phil, you of all people understand. Their handling of priests who abused little boys makes it perfectly clear that many or most of them believe that a bishop’s primary responsibility is to avoid negative publicity.

  • Posted by: Monserrat - Nov. 01, 2017 8:51 AM ET USA

    This column is always marked by clear, sober and prophetic thinking, 'prophetic' in the biblical sense of the word - calling souls to wake up while there is still time. The time has long passed for bishops to excommunicate profligate and recalcitrant "Catholics" in public life who defy the true teachings of our holy mother Church. Unless something radically unexpected happens, the price for this episcopal temerity will be schism. The writing is on the wall for all to see.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 01, 2017 7:29 AM ET USA

    Does it take more than maybe two hands to count the number of U.S. bishops whose first concern is not negative publicity? Perhaps the others are among the ones that the Pope is urging to smell like sheep, to get dirty, to eschew the trappings of the secular success track. Of course, it's difficult to know, given his penchant for slinging zingers in the direction of orthodox Catholics. One thing is certain, and demonstrated in the U.S.: if you stand against the PC culture you will be persecuted.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Oct. 31, 2017 11:08 PM ET USA

    What does it mean to publicly excommunicate someone open about disbelief in, taking offense at and preferring to avoid attending Catholic Mass, who lists her diocese as "Womenchurch" when filling out forms? Giving a pro-abortion talk, she said "this is my eucharist today." She may be reacting to the intended medicine of excommunication by a tantrum-like "spirituality," polemics and lifestyle of rejection of the Eucharist. Like a bride rejecting the best Spouse, a mother aborting the holy Infant.