Christine M. Flowers: Papal Bull

Philadelphia Daily News
April 25, 2008

WHICH OF the following people lost their jobs for making insulting or insensitive remarks?

(a) Don Imus.

(b) Jimmy the Greek.

(c) Larry Summers.

(d) Randi Rhodes.

(e) Bill Maher.

Pencils down. If you said (a), (b), (c) or (d), go to the head of the class.

Don Imus called the Rutgers women "nappy-headed hos" and lost his gig at MSNBC. Jimmy the Greek said that black athletes were better because they were bred that way during slavery and got axed as a sports commentator on ABC.

Larry Summers suggested that the male and female brains were organically different and ended up "resigning" as Harvard president. Randi Rhodes called Hillary Clinton a "bitch" and got pink-slipped by Air America.

But if you picked (e), no gold star for you! Bill Maher called Pope Benedict XVI a Nazi and the head of a "child-abusing religious cult" - and he's still sitting pretty. (Well, not so pretty, but that could just be a problem with the lighting.)

And despite the fact that so many other people with foot-in-mouth disease have been shown the door, it's highly unlikely that the Patron Saint of Snark will be standing in the unemployment line anytime soon.

Normally, I'd say that's a good thing.

We've all become overly sensitive to perceived slights. Muzzled, as Michael Smerconish might say.

Nothing annoys me more than people who agonize over every word, trying not to give offense. Take men and women. The poor fellows are so petrified they'll be charged with sexual harassment that they'd rather stick burning sticks in their eyes than compliment a female co-worker on her outfit.

And even innocent compliments like the one Joe Biden paid to Barack Obama ("He's articulate") take on a sinister cast.

So we've learned to choose our words very carefully.

Except, of course, when talking about the Catholic Church.

Then, all bets are off.

The HBO host slandered the pope and insulted, by extension, millions of his followers because he knew that there wouldn't be any serious repercussions.

Catholics are probably the last acceptable targets of thoughtless mass prejudice, along with some beer-swilling, gun-toting white men from the hinterlands.

If you listen to Maher, the pope is just a doddering old man in a white dress and funny hat who heads an international network of pedophiles, homophobes and misogynists.

To be fair, he's not the only one with a papal hang-up. Lou Dobbs commented that the pope was "insulting" Americans by criticizing our immigration policies. All I can say is thank God Benedict had a visa.

And then you have John McCain's buddy Pastor Hagee, the fellow who called the church "The Great Whore." (What part of Blessed Virgin Mary doesn't he get?)

But Maher takes the cake for vile slander. People will defend him by saying that he was only criticizing the Catholic hierarchy for the sex-abuse scandal. That he was "joking" when he called the pope a Nazi (as Maher claimed in his pathetic excuse for an apology the following week).

Give me a blessed break, people.

Bill Maher was sure he could spew his filthy vitriol the week before Benedict made his first official visit to the United States because he knew he'd have the support of every person with a religious grudge.

Victims of sexual abuse were in his corner because they believe the church is still run by pedophiles, even though the percentage of abusive clergy pales in comparison to the anonymous innocent, and most of the documented cases occurred decades ago. Gays and lesbians cheered because they see the pope as a vicar of bigotry, mistaking the condemnation of sin as condemnation of the sinner.

Some women resent the pope because he refuses to be bullied into ordaining them as priests.

Lapsed Catholics love Maher because, like him, they turned their backs on a church that didn't fit them as well as this season's newest fashions.

In other words, Maher had nothing to lose. Least of all his job.

So I'm angry. Unlike racism, sexism and all the other isms that manage to worm their way into the lexicon, anti-Catholicism is viewed as a well-deserved backlash against Bigotry Inc.

Those who demand tolerance for every grievance lobby under the sun still think it's fine and dandy to attack my church.

MAYBE that's because in addition to the sex-abuse victims, gays and lesbians, and the aspiring priestesses, we Catholics are our own worst enemies.

We take it all in stride, making a few whimpering noises in the most objectionable cases but otherwise shrugging and letting the Bill Mahers of the world deliver their sucker punches.

Maybe we should teach him a lesson. Anyone know the Latin word for "fatwa"? *

The author is not advocating violence. One Salman Rushdie is enough. However, anyone wanting to protest Maher's May 31 appearance at the Borgata should e-mail


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