Kristof Defends Catholicism's 'Great Soul'

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The New York Times hasn't been on good terms with Catholicism of late. Its reports on the Catholic abuse crisis drew a direct response from a Vatican official. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, meanwhile, has been bickering with Rome on her own. First she confined herself to attacks on the pope and the Vatican bureaucracy, and a proposal for a female pope since "the nuns have historically cleaned up the messes of priests." Then she questioned an archbishop's use of the phrase "a few priests" to describe the crisis: "At this point, it feels like an international battalion." Then in early April she compared the Catholic church to the Islamic fundamentalism she encountered in Saudi Arabia:

I, too, belonged to an inbred and wealthy men's club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity ... I, too, rationalized as men in dresses allowed our religious kingdom to decay and to cling to outdated misogynistic rituals, blind to the benefits of welcoming women's brains, talents and hearts into their ancient fraternity.

Yet on Monday, Dowd's columnist colleague Nicholas Kristof breaks with the irreverent tone of the New York Times op-ed page: "Who can mock this church?" he asks forcefully. "If the top of the church has strayed from its roots," he writes, "much of its base is still deeply inspiring." He tells the tale of a priest in Sudan who "persevered through civil war, imprisonment and beatings, and a smorgasbord of disease" to attend to his schools. He also writes of a New Jersey-native, a nun, who has worked in Appalachia, El Salvador, and Sudan (in a seeming nod to Dowd, he acknowledges that this nun would make a fine pope, as would the priest). In his conclusion, takes a swipe at the Catholicism-bashers:

It's because of brave souls like these that I honor the Catholic Church. I understand why many Americans disdain a church whose leaders are linked to cover-ups and antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms--but the Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican.

And unless we're willing to endure beatings alongside Father Michael, unless we're willing to stand up to warlords with Sister Cathy, we have no right to disparage them or their true church.

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