Shedding Light on the Good Fight

Patricia Miller’s Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church

Patricia Miller's Good CatholicsGood Catholics promises to relate “the battle over abortion in the Catholic church,” and it does this very well. The book begins with the early theology that laid the foundation for centuries of institutionalized misogyny, and then the narrative travels up through the latest political battles to give women control over their reproductive health. Author Patricia Miller presents these historical details in a page-turning thriller filled with courageous individuals fighting to end the horrible loss of life that comes from illegal back-alley abortions and to oppose the injustice of abortion being available for the rich, but not the poor.

Any student of politics will enjoy learning how the Catholic bishops helped make abortion a wedge issue in presidential and state campaigns. But the bishops accomplished this by making alliances with politicians who were diametrically opposed to other policies espoused by the bishops, such as nuclear disarmament, fighting poverty, strong trade unions and care for the environment. Despite the efforts of the more progressive bishops to push for a more balanced focus in its politics, the church hierarchy relegated all these issues to second tier by placing abortion above all else. Its strategy to silence internal dissent is a chilling lesson in autocracy.

As a passionate transatlantic European who grew up in the US, I have long been concerned about the growing cultural divide between our two continents. For all the values that unite us—from democracy to free trade—there are a number of trends in the US that many Europeans find alienating: the widespread availability of firearms to the public, the adulation of the military, the role of money in politics, increasing puritanism and the acceptance of a strong role for religion in public life. In this regard, Good Catholics is a great re-balancer, shedding light on the thinking and the actions of those who are working to limit the influence of the hierarchy, fighting for real religious freedom and trying to bring it back to the progressive politics that, to many, were the trademark of its founder, Jesus.

I found myself rooting for the brave individuals taking on the powerful establishment. This story needs a wider audience and many chapters have Hollywood written all over them. One of my favorites is Catholics for a Free Choice founder Patricia McQuillan crowning herself pro-choice feminist pope on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, thereby stealing crucial media attention away from the first 6,000-strong antiabortion rally in Washington, DC. A good screenwriter could make a captivating “West Wing”-style series or film out of Good Catholics.

McQuillan’s words will continue to galvanize progressive forces everywhere: “I am an activist, thoroughly involved in the most revolutionary of all revolutions in history—the women’s struggle to emancipate themselves religiously, spiritually and politically from sinful patriarchal oppression.” Amen and inspired reading.


Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church
Patricia Miller
(University of California Press, 2014, 344 pp)
9780520276000, $34.95

Lousewies van der Laan is former leader of the Dutch Democratic Party and a former member of the Dutch and the European Parliament. She is vice-president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

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