By Garry Wills
June 29, 2003
In a New Book, Philip Jenkins Brands As Anti-Catholic Church Members Who Criticize the Hierarchy
I begin with the kind of anti-Catholicism you will not find in Philip Jenkins's book. On May 16, 2002, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, often mentioned as a candidate for the papacy, held a press conference in Rome to compare the "persecution" of Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston with the persecution of Christians by the emperor Decius (persecutions that killed hundreds). That was not enough for him. He also compared the treatment of Law to the tactics of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. He said that people criticizing Law were trying to make priests become FBI agents, not pastors.
Who were these new Hitlers, these Stalins, these Deciuses? They were Catholic lawyers representing Catholic children of Catholic parents before Catholic prosecutors and Catholic judges, whose official actions were reported by Catholic journalists. Who was anti-Catholic here? Who was undermining the Catholic family? Who was condoning the actions of a man who protected predators upon Catholic innocence, undermining Catholic faith?
Nor was Maradiaga the only papabile prelate attacking Catholics out of Rome. In an interview for the July 2002 issue of the Italian journal Trente Giorni, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico said that events in Law's Boston were repeating "what happened in the past centuries with persecutions in Mexico, in Spain, in Nazi Germany, and in communist countries." In all the American criticisms of Law and other bishops, I do not remember any layperson calling them Hitlers or Stalins or evil Roman emperors. If anyone had done that, he or she could justly be condemned by Jenkins as anti-Catholic. But there is no reciprocal restraint on the cardinals, who can smear good Catholics with the vilest kind of accusations, and Jenkins will not say that they are being anti-Catholic.
Jenkins treats as anti-Catholic any criticism Catholics make of the hierarchy, but not any criticism of Catholics made by the hierarchy. If I had said of Law what Cardinals Maradiaga or Carrera had said of Catholic lay people - though I never did, nor ever would, say any such thing - Jenkins would brand me anti- Catholic, though no reciprocal burden is imposed on the hierarchs. As a matter of fact, I (along with many Catholics) am called anti-Catholic by Jenkins. If we criticize Catholic leaders, we are not "real" Catholics. In "Pedophiles and Priests" (1996), Jenkins did his bit to perpetuate the crisis in Boston by excusing Law's actions in reassigning pedophiles to parishes without notifying the pastors and smearing those who called him to account as greedy lawyers and attention-seeking feminists. In "The Next Christendom" (2002), he said that conservative (as in papal) Christianity is booming in the developing world, though the ratio of priests to faithful there in 1991 was 1.4 to 10,000 and is still dropping, while in the United States that same year the ratio was 9.7 to 10,000 (dropping, but not so precipitously).
Now he says that there is a new anti-Catholicism. Actually, there has never been a time in our history when there was more religious toleration than now - toward Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and Muslims. This is part of the civil rights revolution that has made us aware of the rights of all people - including women, minorities, gays, the disabled. Jenkins performs a three-step operation to get around this obvious fact. First, he parades the lengthy anti-Catholic record of Protestant America in the past, which is undeniable. Second, he scouts up some fringe anti-Catholic remnants of that prejudice from recent times. (There are such remnants of anti-Jewish, anti-Mormon prejudice, too, which in no way controvert the general new toleration.) Third, he takes the internal criticism of Catholics trying to reform their church and equates it with the first two. This is like taking the rabid anti-American statements of Chinese communists and equating them with the criticisms of the Vietnam War raised by loyal Americans who disagreed with their government on that venture.
Catholic women like Maureen Dowd and Anna Quindlen, who criticize the hierarchy's attitude toward their gender, are by such tactics made to resemble Protestants in the past who burned convents. All those who criticize the hierarchy are called by Jenkins anti-Catholic Catholics. Well, by that definition, most American Catholics are anti-Catholic. By his own account, 80 percent of us disagree with the pope on contraception - and that is understating the matter. According to the best, deepest, most extensive poll of Catholics under the age of 40, financed by the Lily Foundation, those agreeing with the pope on this subject are statistically nonexistent, since their number would fall within the margin of error. A majority of Catholics supports the marriage of priests, the ordination of women, and freedom of conscience on sexual maters. Jenkins may disapprove of such positions held by Catholics, but to dismiss such Catholics by calling them anti-Catholic reduces him to saying that the only Catholics left in America are - anti-Catholic. That is a fact not usefully explained by equating it with the vicious past hatred of Catholics by non-Catholics. It might be better compared with the patriotism of Americans who love their country but criticize their government.
The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice
By Philip Jenkins
Oxford University, 258 pp., $27
Garry Wills is the author of "Why I Am a Catholic."
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