The anti-Catholicism debate continues

The Catholic blogosphere is rallying around Archbishop Dolan’s recent attack on what he calls “anti-Catholicism” in the NYTimes, which I blogged about early in the week.

Many bloggers have been particularly buoyed by Dolan’s criticisms of columnist Maureen Dowd, who often writes about her (liberal) unhappiness with the state of her church.

tjndc5-5p3nx301dfb4zxlsj0a_layoutOn his blog, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote: “All I can say, is right on, Archbishop Tim.”

Another blogger wrote that Dolan’s criticism means more because he’s a nice guy: “Harsh criticism from Dolan sounds like harsh criticism from Mother Teresa. When it occurs, you oughtta listen. If a cur accuses me of being a cur, I shrug. If the kindly older fellow at my church takes me aside and tells me I’m behaving poorly, I blush and want to crawl under a rock.

Maybe it’s time for Dowd to crawl under a rock.”

Yet another blogger focused on the Times’ unwillingness to run Dolan’s piece as an Op-ed: “New York Times readers will not see the Archbishop’s response, it was rejected for publication. His Grace should take solace, however, knowing that at least 98 percent of Times readers, when seeing his byline, would have skipped over it anyway.”

And another: “Like President Obama and other leftists, the Old Gray Lady cannot handle constructive criticism.”

Interestingly, Laurie Goodstein, the national religion correspondent for the NYT, who is mentioned by name in Dolan’s blog, wrote a lengthy response to Dolan as a comment following his blog. It is now about 20 comments down and was posted on Nov. 4 at 2:42 p.m.

Goodstein, who is a highly regarded reporter in the journalism world, sounds exasperated by Dolan’s blog: “You write as though the Catholic Church is some sort of special target, when in fact any institution that is accused of wrongdoing receives critical coverage and commentary. As you know, the Catholic Church is the largest religious institution in the world, and a quarter of Americans are adherents. The Catholic Church is a hierarchical church with a clear chain of accountability. It is only natural that it receives such scrutiny. As you acknowledged in your blog, there are recent developments in the Church that are “well-worth discussing and hardly exempt from legitimate questioning.” So when a newspaper undertakes this kind of coverage, it should not be seen as anti-Catholic.”

She also writes more personally: “Archbishop Dolan, you and I have known one another since we first met in Rome in 1998 when you were rector at the North American College. We met again years later when I was doing a story about you and several others whom I dubbed “Healer Bishops” who were trying to help the church recover from the scandal over sexual abuse by priests. I am pained that your blog selectively overlooked all the articles in the Times that you and other bishops in the church have praised over the years because you found them fair, and there are many (including some about your appointment to the Archdiocese of New York). This is why I cannot accept your characterization of the Times as “anti-Catholic.” ”

I was part of a show yesterday on The Catholic Channel on satellite radio about this debate. I offered that anti-Catholicism is a complicated charge that means very different things to different people. I know this because I have been accused of anti-Catholicism many times for simply writing about things Catholic.

I think that it is extremely tricky to make a case that anti-Catholicism runs through the “media” or even just the NYT — as some sort of philosophy that seeks to smear Catholic belief or tradition.

As I said on the Catholic Channel yesterday, we all know that the Catholic Church takes many positions that are odds with the direction in which American culture is heading. This fact produces tensions, conflicts and bad feelings.

It also raises the question: If someone takes public positions that oppose the beliefs of the Catholic Church — or reports those positions — at what point does it become anti-Catholic. I think people have very different interpretations of where this line should be drawn.

I addressed the question of anti-Catholicism in the media when I spoke at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers a couple of months back. I remember reminding seminarians that the Catholic Church, which represents 1 in 4 Americans, is a very big target. And a very big target will get hit more than smaller ones, sometimes accurately and sometimes not.

This is is a debate that is not going away. It also shows the sway that the Archbishop of NY continues to have with Catholics outside this archdiocese.

UPDATE: Today, Sunday, the Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, weighed in on Dolan’s blog.

He addresses Dolan’s complaints in a rather flat way that I doubt will satisfy the paper’s critics. He concludes that the paper has not been guilty of anti-Catholicism and doesn’t really give Dolan any points.

Hoyt doesn’t even see why conservative Catholics might have a problem with Maureen Dowd’s recent column that not only attacks the Vatican’s investigation of female religious orders in the U.S., but goes after the pope in the broadest, most cliched terms: “Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative pope, who was christened “God’s Rottweiler” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.”

Hoyt concludes that Dowd was “well within a columnist’s bounds.” True, but anything is within a columnist’s bounds.

If you’re going to explore Dowd’s column and quote her, at least acknowledge that Catholics might be pained by this.

Cardinal Egan’s two statements on abortion draw waves of kudos

Why do I get the feeling that if and when Cardinal Egan does retire, his two, strong anti-abortion statements of 2008 will go down as a large part of his public legacy?

For years, observers of all kinds noted Egan’s reticence to speak out in the public square. At first, many thought he was reluctant to try to follow Cardinal O’Connor, a master of the ages at both sound bites and all-out speeches. In recent years, I’ve heard many people say that Egan was cutting himself off from the public square because he could not get past his deep distrust of the mainstream media.

tjndc5-5b531olhqk315wbdl7p4_layout.jpgIt’s true that Egan often writes with zest in Catholic New York and that he speaks often on The Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. But his audience is limited.

I don’t know how many times over the year I’ve heard Catholic laypeople wonder what the archbishop of New York was up to.

Then came 2008. In April, pro-choice Rudy Giuliani received the Eucharist at a papal Mass at St. Patrick’s Catheral.

And Egan hammered him — releasing an out-of-the-blue statement that included: “I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York…”

The Catholic blogosphere went nuts, with orthodox/conservative/devoutly pro-life Catholics hailing Egan as a hero. For weeks, bloggers continued to hold up Egan’s statement as an example of how a cardinal/archbishop is supposed to act.

Then, this past Sunday, Nancy Pelosi went on “Meet the Press” and tried to explain her pro-choice position, in part, by contending that Catholic teachings on abortion were once unclear.

After Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput took some opening shots at Pelosi, Egan let absolutely loose:

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons.

And the blogosphere has again gone crazy!

One blogger wrote: “If you compare the statements of Cardinal Rigali, Bishop Lori, Archbishop Chaput, and Archbishop Wuerl to Cardinal Egan’s, the latter has the tone of someone who has “had it” with the hubris of pro-abortion politicians.”

Another: “Cardinal Egan’s judgment of Nandy Pelosi’s farce about the church’s teaching on abortion is unusually and refreshingly blunt. Bravo for him.”

Still another blogger opens with “Did I just hear Cardinal Egan change the abortion debate?” and then goes on to say: “Game, set and match to the pro-life crowd. Cardinal Egan just pulled a reverse of the Scopes Monkey trials. He demonstrated that scientific proof was on the side of the Bible, but knowing he was speaking to a lot of folks who put no credence in the scriptures, he avoided even bringing them into the conversation.”

Strong praise, indeed.

And, yes, Egan is drawing comparisons to none other than…John O’Connor.

One blogger wrote: “This is like the good old days; a New York City Cardinal telling a CINO (Catholic in Name Only) she must recant her pro-abortion position! It reminds me of Cardinal John O’Connor and Geraldine Ferraro and Mario Cuomo. Well done, Cardinal Egan!”

And the RedState blog went with this headline: “Cardinal Egan channels Cardinal O’Connor, and lays the smackdown on Nancy Pelosi.”

When all is said and done, some Catholics — not all, but some — may remember Egan as Cardinal Smackdown.