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Minnesota (and Other) Writers Wrestle with Catholicism in 'Not Less Than Everything'

Newspaper article

Minnesota (and Other) Writers Wrestle with Catholicism in 'Not Less Than Everything'

Article excerpt

Being a Catholic is such a tough gig these days that even the Pope has left his post. Centuries of abuse and scandals, leadership that is often out of touch with worldly realities, and divisive involvement in politics has made the Catholic Church a problematic source of guidance for many of its adherents. Yet leaving it all behind is complicated, too. Those who dissent and yet stick around can take comfort in the fact that throughout the church's history, many who have sought to effect change from within have ended up having a lasting and meaningful influence.

A new collection of essays, "Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, From Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero," honors those who dissented. Minnesota writers Martha Stortz and Patricia Hampl are in the company of Tobias Wolff, Ann Patchett, Mary Gordon, Alice McDermott, Kathryn Harrison, and Colm Toibin, among others, Catholics all -- or former Catholics, or sometimes Catholics, at least. It's complicated.

Many of these writers recount their own testy relationship with the church as they explore the acts and inner lives of notable dissenters, heretics and outsiders. Post-modern theologian Tom Beaudoin grew up a good Christian boy but ended up finding a spiritual home in drugs and rock 'n' roll. But that's not necessarily a contradiction; Beaudoin writes about the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola, and imagines himself Ignatius' "post- modern avatar, allowing me to keep my Catholic background and my Dionysian tendencies corralled in this man I could admire."

Women in the church

The place of women in the Catholic Church comes up in many of these essays. Lisa Sowle Cahill writes about Mary Magdalene and the bum rap this contemporary of Jesus tends to get. Why she's usually written off as a prostitute, Cahill points out that Mary, as a disciple and apostle, exemplifies women's status as equal and partner in Jesus' teachings and may have held a greater leadership role.

Another Mary, Mother Mary MacKillop, an Australian nun, also got the shaft by the church establishment in the 1870s when she protested the sexual abuse of children by a local priest. She was excommunicated for her trouble, writes Cathleen Kaveny, who tells MacKillop's story to guide those who have trouble carrying on good works within a church riled by some leaders' bad deeds. …

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