Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Garry Wills reviews Phillip Jenkins' book on anti-Catholicism

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.

A summary of Jenkins' book, in case you're not familiar with it.