I like the story about George Washington running up $300,000 in late fees on two books that he borrowed and never — ever — returned from a library in 1789.
Which, except for the fact that books play a somewhat prominent role in what I have to say, has nothing to do with the point I would like to make. But it was a cool story, and I couldn’t just let it pass.
Three books kind of crashed on the cultural scene within 24 months back at the turn of the millennium — “Hitler’s Pope” in 1999, “Papal Sin” in 2000 and “Constantine’s Sword” in 2001.
All three books, since they attacked the Catholic Church, got star media treatment and best-seller status.
“Hitler’s Pope” alleged that Pope Pius XII was a closet anti-Semite who did nothing to stop the Holocaust; “Papal Sin” also used the Holocaust to argue against what the author saw as imperial papal power; “Constantine’s Sword” essentially made the case that Catholicism was built on anti-Semitism, which in turn laid the foundation for the Holocaust.
I was struck at the time by how all three books used the Holocaust for a tired laundry list of Catholic dissent, circa 1977. When all was said and done, the authors used the Holocaust to argue their particular hot-button issue, whether women’s ordination, priestly celibacy, papal authority or birth control.
I couldn’t believe that not a single secular reviewer had taken the books to task for exploiting the Holocaust — the defining human horror of the 20th century — to score points in the chatter of Catholic dissent.
Which brings us to today’s coverage of the alleged sexual abuse crisis in the Church. When clergy sexual abuse stories were reported back in 2002, they were often “new” stories, meaning that media was often reporting on stories that had not been public knowledge. The focus was on the victims and their abusers.
Today’s coverage is far more likely to be stories that are decades old, already known and long since covered.
But this time around, there is also an agenda that is unapolo-getic. Maureen Dowd’s diatribes in The New York Times have been laced with it, and Newsweek did a cover story on it. Essentially, the agenda argues that an antique Church must be dragged into the modern world. As Newsweek put it, the ordination of women would have prevented abuse.
The following week Newsweek stated that “certain prominent Catholic laypersons have begun calling for a Vatican III, an ecumenical conference to re-examine Catholic doctrine and practice. Sex abuse is just the starting point. Celibacy, clerical marriage and the role of women need to be revisited. So does the role of the laity.”
It’s a meaningless advertorial since the “prominent Catholics” are not named. One can usually assume in such cases that they are Catholics who spend happy hour at the neighborhood saloon with the reporter.
More serious is the exploitation of the tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors in decades past to score points against aspects of Church life that media collectively abhors as “antique” — namely, its practice of priestly celibacy and its teaching on women’s ordination and birth control. And you can rest assured by a few degrees of separation they would throw abortion into the mix as well.
We all know that the media’s interest in this is solely based on it being a Catholic story. Abuse in the Episcopal Church — where women are ordained and the clergy marry, by the way — is boring and unreported. Ditto to abuse that took place anywhere else, no matter how much more extensive than in any Catholic environment.
It’s the agenda that matters. And even child abuse will be exploited to fit that agenda.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.