Throughout the 13th annual Commonweal lecture, speaker Dominic Preziosi reminded the audience that a people is known by the story it tells. Preziosi is the editor of Commonweal, a Catholic opinion magazine run by laypeople. The lecture, titled “The Last Catholic Boyhood?” was held in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business dining room on April 10.
The Commonweal lecture was introduced by Paul Lakeland, Ph.D., the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. chair in Catholic studies and professor of religious studies, and Preziosi was then introduced by his predecessor, Paul Baumann.
Preziosi began by telling the audience the story of his first communion day. He asked his mother to play kickball in his white communion pants, and said to the audience, “maybe you can guess what happened.”
He explained that he used this anecdote as a starting point to empathize with fellow Catholic people, and introduced the preceding quote: “a people is known by the stories it tells.” He described his own upbringing as “a wonderful and wonderfully Catholic upbringing.”
Preziosi has two children; while both were raised Catholic, “now neither shows any particular interest in what they dismissively refer to as ‘church.’” Preziosi focused his talk on this idea of his own era of childhood as that last Catholic boyhood; what’s changed?
In his own experience at Fordham University, he found that there were two things which made Catholic religiosity difficult for him: witnessing performative piety, and witnessing the things that are done in the name of Catholicism. Preziosi also read the book “Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children,” regarding clerical sexual abuse in Louisiana. This book was released, and Preziosi read it, before the Boston Globe Spotlight reports on the sexual abuse scandal in Massachusetts.
The damage done through clerical sexual abuse persists. Preziosi found the name of the priest who gave his first communion on a list of New Jersey priests credibly abused, and his mother found the man who had initiated her into Catholicism on another list of accused priests.
Preziosi says that people are tempted to deal with this by finding comfort in the past, such as in the boyhood he experienced, but he would not advocate for going back. “There’s never any going back,” he explained.
Preziosi found three ways to deal with this. The first is individual analysis. The second is that Catholicism is a living tradition, one he describes as “unapologetically public and communal.” And the third is that he believes the Church should have “a willingness to meet Catholics where they are.”
As editor and a longtime staff member at Commonweal, Preziosi explained that he is often asked if working for Commonweal has strengthened his faith. No, he said, but “it’s compelled me to question it” – and according to Preziosi, that’s good.
At the end of his lecture, Preziosi spoke regarding what he believes Commonweal can do to make its voice heard. “We should remember,” he said, “That we can share in all of this.”
And regarding the broader Catholic community – “our stories express multitudes,” Preziosi said.