James Carroll was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969, then gave up the priesthood a short five years later.
Those were turbulent years — for Carroll and for the country.
As a chaplain at Boston University, he was a self-described "radical priest" and anti-war activist, opposing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. His 1996 memoir, "An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us," covers that difficult journey and won the National Book Award.
Carroll, 68, a columnist for The Boston Globe, was in Madison last week for a series of events as a visiting fellow of the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions at UW-Madison. While the institute's invitation was due largely to his recent writings on interfaith dialogue, Carroll took part in a wide-ranging Q&A Monday at a gathering of campus faculty and area clergy members. Some excerpts:
• On the value of interfaith dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims: "We don't gather to politely affirm each other. Ideally, we reckon with the failures of our own tradition in the presence of the other, learning from the other what those failures are and have meant. That's the power of it for me."
• On atheists' claims after 9/11 that only religion could lead human beings to do something so horrific: "On the face of it, the simple affirmation that something that monstrous could only have been done by someone acting on religion is, of course, denied by history. However you regard the neo-paganism of the Nazi movement, which was not a religious movement, or however you regard the staunch atheism of the Stalinist regime, the truth is the shock of 9/11 was world-historic, perhaps, but on the scale of violence, it was child's play compared to any number of other acts of violence — some of the most, if not the most, of which have been committed by self-avowed atheists.
• On mixing church and state: "The great temptation for Christians and Muslims both has been the use of state power to advance religious purpose. When it has been done, bad things have happened — to the religion as well as to the people on whom the power was exercised. The Catholic Church in particular, but the Protestant tradition as well, has had a hard time coming into modernity with an important affirmation of the importance of the separation of church and state."
• On being called a "Catholic hater" for his criticism of the Catholic hierarchy: "If I'm a Catholic basher, what are the bishops who have been protecting pedophile priests? They're the real Catholic bashers. Those of us who defend the theology and practices of the Second Vatican Council are, to certain conservatives, always going to be Catholic bashers, but it's not true."
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