The Spirit of Father Coughlin?

One of the tasks of political analysis is to see what is being said by those with whom one normally disagrees. Sometimes this is pleasant - and provocative in the best sense of the word. The blog "Mirror of Justice" is the brainchild of Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett and whenever I consult his blog, or receive an email from him, I learn something. Other times, the task is less uplifting. For example, try as I might, I can’t make it through more than ten minutes of a "Glen Beck" show even though I know it is important to keep an eye on him.

One of the websites I visit each week is called the "American Papist." It is the online equivalent of "The Wanderer" which is to say that it does not recognize journalistic standards, it trades in nostalgic tirades against modernity, and presents a hate-filled view of anything that smacks of liberalism. If it were only another screeching blog it could easily be ignored, but its proprietor, Thomas Peters, is also now the Communications Director of the American Principles Project, a D.C. advocacy organization founded by Princeton Professor Robert P. George.


In our culture, rightly or wrongly, we accord university professors a status that requires them to be exemplary in their professional associations. We do not pry into their private lives, but most university contracts include a clause about not bringing professional disrepute to the school. Stealing is always bad, for example, but stealing someone else’s ideas if you are a university professor is rightly viewed as especially base because it violates the spirit for which the university exists, the promotion of truth and learning. Men and women like Professor George are entitled to engage the political process by establishing groups like the American Principles Project, but if they lend their name and title and credibility to the organization, then we should expect that organization not to indulge anything that is beyond the pale, such as, say, cavorting with Holocaust deniers.

Yet, according to his website, Professor George’s Communications Director attended, and spoke at, a conference in Poland last week sponsored by the "College of Social and Media Culture." The so-called college was founded by Father Tadeusz Rydsyk who is better known as the founder of the viciously anti-semitic "Radio Marija" which has not only featured Holocaust deniers on its shows, but has been the subject of a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for its anti-semitism. In 2004, the radio station led a campaign to defend a cleric charged with both anti-semitism and child molestation. One Polish bishop called the radio station "extremely compromising and shameful, sick and dangerous." Former President, Nobel laureate and Solidarity hero Lech Walesa said the station "is lying if it considers itself a Catholic station." The papal nuncio insisted that the Polish bishops’ conference establish an oversight committee.

Perhaps Mr. Peters, who is young, does not realize what a problem anti-semitism remains in Poland, especially in rural Poland where Radio Marija finds most of its listeners. But, even he knows that Ozwieczim is not a French word. And, anyone who fancies himself as the "American Papist" must know something about the life of Pope John Paul II and how he strove to eradicate anti-semitism from both Polish nationalism and Catholicism.

The historic role of anti-semitism in Polish culture is undeniable, and sadly some of that history is still being written. A few years ago I brought my father to see the farm on which his father had lived before coming to America in 1912. It did not take long to discover the anti-semitism that animates rural political thought in Poland and to excuse myself from the table.

Mr. Peters may not be wise enough to know better, but Professor George has some explaining to do, at least to the contributors to his American Principles Project and to his colleagues at Princeton. This is not a case of guilt by association: Peters is on his payroll, their relationship is not just social but professional. It would be one thing to hire a firebrand who occasionally steps out of bounds, but participating in anything sponsored by ferocious anti-semites is not the typical transgression of truth or even decency that the blogosphere often exhibits. Anti-semitism is the filthiest and most dangerous lie ever produced in Western culture. Peters may not know that, but surely his boss does.

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Joseph Kalwinski
9 years 3 months ago
Sadly, the comments of Mr. Winters are spot on. I have visited Poland nine times and have seen evidence of this. I deplore Radio Marija. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul's secretary, has condemned the the anti-semitism exhibited by Father Tadeusz Rydsyk the director of this misnamed communication outlet. Father Rydsyk is a disgrace to his priesthood and to the Redemtorist Order of which he is a member.
Poland is the home of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. How can anyone in Poland still be an anti-semite with this obscenity so near? It is truly a mysterium iniquitatis, but absolutely unacceptable!
Thomas Piatak
9 years 3 months ago
No, Oswiecim (not ''Ozwieczin'') is not a French word, but the people who established and ran the death camp there did not call it Osciewim. They were Germans, and they called it Auschwitz, the name the world knows it by. As Peter Novick wrote in his magisterial ''The Holocaust in American Life,'' the Nazis established death camps in Poland not because of Polish anti-Semitism, but because that's where the Jews were. The Polish Catholics who were in Auschwitz were there as prisoners, and tens of thousands died there.
Bill Collier
9 years 3 months ago
Reminds me of the scene in Claude Lanzmann's epic film "Shoah" where a real-life Jewish survivor of the death camps is reunited with Polish Catholic villagers he knew before the war. At first, the reunion scene is joyous, but as the off-camera interviewer begins to ask the group what they knew about the death camps during the war, several of the Catholic villagers make anti-Semitic remarks, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Jewish survivor is standing silently among them. I found the scene both extremely sad and jolting. Of course, there were many Polish Catholics who assisted their Jewish brothers and sisters during WWII, but the fact that a Catholic priest in modern day Poland is spewing such hatred on the radio is evidence that there continues to be an anti-Semitic streak among at least some Polish Catholics.
Helena Loflin
9 years 3 months ago
Oh, please!  I've heard anti-semitic comments and witnessed anti-semitic behavior among Catholics of all extractions right here in the U.S. in 2009, so let's not be tsk-tsking about the Poles in Poland who suffered so immensely at the hands of both the Germans and the Russians, and who were "sold out" by the same Allies the Poles courageously defended with their lives.  The Poles and all of their institutions and culture were specifically designated for extinction by their German and Russian oppressors.  Despite the often delivered threat of immediate death to themselves, their entire families and even all their neighbors, there were Poles who sacrificed everything to save Jews, to assist Jews to freedom.  Was/is there more anti-semitism in Poland than elsewhere in Europe and the rest of world?  No.  And, no.  So, let's stop the tsk-tsking about anti-semitism in Poland and take a long hard look at ourselves and our own histories in a distortion-free mirror.  
As for Father Rydsyk, shame on him!  Like Father Coughlin, Rydsyk is just another right-wing hater on the radio.  Rydsyk/Coughlin is nothing more than Limbaugh, Beck, Savage and the likes.  They play to the ignorant (many of whom are educated) who embrace -isms as their enemies because they are told to do so.  Always easier than thinking.  Forget Rydsyk in Poland.  Why do we tolerate his likes here?
It's long past the time that the anti-Poland propaganda created by the Germans themselves at the end of WWII and spread by the media is stopped being believed and, instead, severely questioned and corrected.  The tens of thousands of Poles who died defending freedom for all at the hands of the Germans and Russians deserve better from us.        
Joshua DeCuir
9 years 3 months ago
I used to read American Papist daily.  I started because it had probably the best coverage of the MAciel/Legion of Christ scandal.  I continued reading it, although it frequently had a hard conservative bent, especially politically.  Over time, however, I came to the conclusion that Mr. Peters was "on the make" with Prof. George (whom I admire) & had apparently decided to abandon any pretense of being a journalist, albeit one with a Conservative Catholic bent.  Especially in the Health Care debate, I believe he's abandoned all analysis & his blog has morphed purely into advocacy.  That is a line, I should add, that I feel that this blog flirts with on occasion.
Pearce Shea
9 years 3 months ago
MSW, I read America's and the American Papist's blogs every day, and find I disagree with both quite frequently. If forced to go back and review each post, I'd find that I disagree with Peters much more than with you, certainly. All of which is to say that you seemed to go to great lengths and no small logical contortions to insinuate that Peters is, at the very least, unknowingly complicit in antisemitism (this was the point right?) is way too much work and makes you look like you're more concerned with scoring points off what may well be a PR flub (did Peters give a talk on the evils of the Jew? probably not) of some very conservative blogger than you are about finding the Truth, etc. You're usually a classier guy than that.
Also, I am not sure that Peters ever, ever, purported to be a journalist and I'm not sure he ever understood the term, "blogger," to be synonymous with journalistic endeavor.
Jason Welle
9 years 3 months ago
I'm no fan of the American Papist blog.  Among other reasons, he recently posted a story (linked from another blog, which subsequently deleted the original entry), which, through an absurd series of connections, essentially accused the Jesuits of harboring in their ranks a NAMBLA-supporting pederast.
But this string of connections seems equally ludicrous: Peters=>''college''=>Rydsyk=>Radio Marija=>anti-semitism=>and therefore, Peters is colored by anti-semitism (along with his employer).  Do I have that right, more or less?
Yet, you reserve your criticism for Mr. Peters, and fail to note that Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, and Prof. Peter Redpath of Saint John's University also presented at the conference.
I'm a big fan of American magazine and this blog, but something about this post just seems, I don't know, to lack some journalistic standards.
ron chandonia
9 years 3 months ago
Talk about guilt by association!  It would be just as easy to say, ''Winters supports Obama.  Obama supports abortion.  Winters is an abortion-lover.''  Frankly, I suspect Thomas Peters went to the conference because he is still in his 20s, enjoys public attention and figured sharing a platform with one of his heroes (Fr. Fessio) was a great honor.  Did he ask Professor George if the college that invited him had a legitimately Catholic social agenda?  Why would he have asked that?  After all, they asked him, and he figures he has a legitimately Catholic social agenda.
Helena Loflin
9 years 3 months ago
Funny thing, Ron, but your "just as easy to say" is exactly what wingers actually do say about anyone who supports Obama.  (Well, wingers actually call Obama supporters "babykillers," but we'll leave that for another time.)  Do you think that the normally intelligent and rational MSW has adopted the dreaded winger "logic"?  If the answer is "Yes," then all I can say is "Oh, no!!!"


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