Yes, Maher's Catholic Rant Was Unfair

By Richard Roeper
Chicago Sun-Times
April 23, 2008,CST-NWS-roep23.article

The "question" posed to me by the irate reader was more like a conclusion:

"So you're more offended by the 'Horry Kow' T-shirt than you are by Bill Maher's hate speech against Catholics? You must be, because you wrote about the T-shirt but you haven't said a word about Maher."

Actually, I wasn't personally offended by the T-shirt, nor was I the least bit wounded by Maher's Catholic-bashing.

Doesn't mean I agree with them.

The "Horry Kow" T-shirt is racist, and Kosuke Fukudome said he found it objectionable, and I concur. That doesn't mean I believe people don't have the right to wear the damn thing. If you want to advertise your ignorance, that's your choice.

As for Maher, he called Catholicism "a child-abusing religious cult . . . the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia" and claimed that "if the pope, instead of a religious figure, was the CEO of a chain of nationwide day care centers who had thousands of employees who had been caught molesting children and then covering it up, he would have been in jail."

Bill O'Reilly countered, "Can you imagine if Maher had castigated a Jewish or Muslim leader like that? Of if he had branded a minority group with that kind of description? The American media would slaughter him."

The American media. That kills me. As if Bill O'Reilly and Fox News are not major players in that lineup. I love how big boys like O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh continue to bray against the so-called mainstream media, when they're two of the biggest fish swimming in that river.

What if he said that about THAT group?

Maher's assertion that then-Cardinal Ratzinger "wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the statute of limitations ran out" is simplistic and misleading. (Yes, I've read the letter.)

There is no way to overstate the heinous actions of priests who molested children, or the unconscionable behavior of any church officials who engaged in any form of cover-up, including moving some of these priests to other parishes without informing the flock. There is no way to minimize the damage done to the victims.

But Maher's rant implies the pope was advocating a cover-up, when the letter was actually about a 1962 Vatican document that said the church should maintain a cloak of confidentiality while conducting investigations regarding the ecclesiastical outrage of solicitation in the confessional.

"The document is clearly not intended to protect predatory priests," states a Catholic World News article from 2003, when the news stories broke about the document's contents.

This week, quotes John Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, who explains the idea of the veil of secrecy was to "allow witnesses and other parties to speak freely . . . allow the accused party to protect his good name . . . [and] allow victims to come forward without . . . publicity." Allen says that "according to canonical experts, [the document does not] prevent a bishop or anyone else from reporting a crime against a minor to the civil authorities."

Maybe. In any case, I'm not in agreement with any organization having such rules of secrecy -- but when Maher implies the pope looked the other way at any point or that the entire religion sanctions child abuse, that's nonsense.

O'Reilly's analogy isn't perfect, but I agree with his general point. Would Maher say the Muslim religion sanctions terrorism, or would he dare paint any other faith with one brush, saying the criminal actions of maybe 1 percent of its leaders reflect the viewpoint of the faith itself?

Hitler Youth doesn't mean Nazi Youth

Maher's "apology" for calling the pope a former Nazi was sorely lacking:

"You got me. As a teenager he was in the Hitler Youth. Which meant that he said the oath directly to Hitler, and not to the Nazis, which is sort of worse, but OK .. . he was coerced into that, I wouldn't blame any . . . 14-year-old kid in Nazi Germany . . . so you're technically right. . . . "

For the record: Joseph Ratzinger was conscripted into the Hitler Youth as a teenager. His father taught him to oppose the Nazis. (See the New York Times article from 2005 headlined, "New Pope Defied Nazis as Teen During WWII.") That ain't "sort of worse," pal.

Still, the wounds caused by Maher's remarks are about .00001 percent as painful as the wounds caused by priests who violated the trust of children, and any church official who didn't do everything in his power to remove those priests from having any access to children ever again.

But Maher's not going to shake my faith, and I don't want to see him fired.

Let him rant as much as he wants. The church and its supporters can take it.


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