Andrew Sullivan Is Not Thinking This Through


Sister Gramick, for those unaware of her, is a nun who: "from the beginning, in presenting the Church's teaching on homosexuality, [has]... continually called central elements of that teaching into question.

Sullivan says the Vatican is "trying to silence her."

OK, Andrew, I'm going to speak to you in the only kind of terms you people seem to understand! And by "you people" I mean Oakeshottians, and those kind of terms would be ideal types.

You see, the thing is this: the Catholic Church is not a civil association. A civil association ought not to be compelling its members to refrain from expressing certain opinions. But the Catholic Church is an enterprise association: its members are united not merely in subscription to a body of law, but in pursuit of a substantive purpose. In the case of the Catholic Church, that purpose is intimately tied to certain ethical teachings.

Sister Gramick obviously disagrees with some of those teachings, some which the Church hierarchy feels are very important. They are telling her to stop her public disagreement, or to leave. And an enterprise association is entitled to do that, because by joining it, voluntarily, by the way, you implicitly agreed to help it achieve its stated aims. And if you are acting to thwart those aims (as those in charge see them, mind you!), you either stop or get out. If you work for Apple, you can't write for PC Magazine saying how Macs suck and telling everyone to buy Windows. If you work for the NAACP, you can't publish an op-ed entitled "Bring Back the Grand Days of Jim Crow!" And that is entirely sensible.

I myself disagree with the Catholic Church on some important points. So you know what I did? I became an Episcopalian -- and now my church has no positions of any substance with which to disagree!

Because we had a little thing called the Protestant Reformation, and the Catholic Church no longer mixes features of a civil association with those of an enterprise association, it is no longer capable of "silencing" anybody. Sister Gramick can become a Unitarian, or a Buddhist! She can go find a religion she actually believes in. And you could then stop saying silly things about the Vatican.


  1. I agree.

    One of the things I admire about the Catholic Church is that often it does not apologize, it does not concede, and it does not bend, just because it fails to meet the standards of third-party people.

    They are quite frank with everyone; if you don't like us, don't expect us to bend backwards for you. We can manage just fine with or without your approval.

  2. I'm no Catholic, but I gather there are many people who think:

    1. That the actual head of this particular enterprise association does not wear a funny hat and live in the Vatican, and

    2. That alternative "enterprise associations" are not really alternatives at all because this enterprise association is the one true church, despite the bad apples.

    In fact, I'm guessing both Sister Gramick and the hierarchy think this, so both seem to have a solid case based on their read of the issue at hand.

    You presumably agree with 1. but not with 2. so it was easy enough for you to leave. Not everybody feels they have that luxury, and until the guy that both parties agree is the head of this enterprise association rules on it to both their satisfaction, I don't see how either is going to give ground.

    1. "1. That the actual head of this particular enterprise association does not wear a funny hat and live in the Vatican..."

      Yes, those people are called "Protestants."

  3. She does not leave because that is her church, where she is happy. The church is the people, or something.

    1. She certainly doesn't *seem* happy: she seems ticked as all git-go.

      And anyway, so what? If I get a job at Apple Computer and spend my day writing "Windows Is the Best!" articles, when they tell me to cut the crap or get out, do I get to tell them "But I am haaaaapppy here!" Does it make any sense to cry that they are "silencing" me?


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