James Carroll strikes (at the Church) again

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 16, 2014

In the years since he deserted the priesthood, James Carroll has contributed dozens of op-ed columns attacking the Church in the pages of the Boston Globe. Like an angry young man who posts embarrassing photos of his ex-girlfriend on the internet, Carroll seems determined to persuade the outside world that the Church is a cramped, benighted, outdated institution, sorely in need of reforms that he will recommend.

Now it’s Holy Week, and many lapsed Catholics are thinking that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to get to church for Easter. So it’s urgent for Carroll to set them straight, with a new Globe column complaining about the way the Church handles causes for canonization.

Huh? Canonizations? Has anyone else been complaining about canonizations recently? Most Catholics (and many non-Catholics) are looking forward joyfully to the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Yet as usual Carroll notices something Seriously Wrong.

His argument, as I understand it, is that the Church should not recognize miracles that consist of miraculous healings, because if God heals one person from disease, that implies that the same God allows others to suffer. Carroll wants to do away with miracles, so as to “remove forever the implication that God is indifferent to, or even complicit in, the suffering of any person.”

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this loopy argument. (Could Carroll be suffering from some sort of liturgical-season disorder? This is not the first time that he has produced a bizarre argument just before a major Christian feast.) How do you answer someone who finds “something quite horrible about how God operates” when He relieves someone of a deadly disease?

If Carroll wants to abolish miracles, he should address his complaint to God. The Church, in the canonization process, merely recognizes miracles; it’s God who performs them. But it’s not clear: Is Carroll suggesting that the reported miracles aren’t real, or could be explained by natural causes? Or does he believe in miraculous healings, but think it’s better to hush them up? Or protesting that God doesn’t cure everyone, right now? Or questioning how God would allow anyone to suffer?

The latter is a deep question, of course. Better minds than mine (and Carroll’s) have explored the field of theodicy. Let me just suggest that if there’s one week each year when the meaning of human suffering comes into focus, it’s this week: the week when we recall how God the Father allowed Someone to suffer. It’s simply amazing that a column appearing during Holy Week, written by a former Catholic priest, addressing the question of human suffering, could fail to make even the slightest allusion to the suffering of Christ, the one event in history that might help us make sense of it all.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: shrink - Apr. 17, 2014 2:28 PM ET USA

    When I read Carroll's argument, it reminded of the argument that atheists use to support their belief that God doesn't exist. Although Carroll is not, evidently, a doctrinaire atheist, many of his positions are tinged with the practical atheism that is quite common among the semi-churched Left; principal among these beliefs is that the all powerful/loving/knowing God would not allow evil or tolerate evil, and, neither should man.