Every year thousands of cases of anti-Catholicism come to the attention of the Catholic League. Our first job is to determine whether the alleged offense merits our attention. If it does, then we must verify the authenticity of the offense to the best of our ability. If everything checks out, a strategy is outlined.
What follows is a list of the more egregious issues we addressed in 2001. But as bad as they are, it could easily be argued that it is the more subtle and gratuitous expressions of anti-Catholicism (not listed here) that are the most invidious. Cumulatively this may be so, but the top 10 worst anti-Catholic atrocities of 2001 speak volumes by themselves.
1. The Jan. 4-11, 2001, issue of Time Out New York featured a discussion of the best and worst of the year 2000. In the Gay & Lesbian section, the top listing for The Best of 2000 read as follows: Cardinal O’Connor Kicks the Bucket. The press eulogized him as a saint, when in fact, the pious creep was a stuck-in-the 1950’s, antigay menace. Good riddance! There are not too many ad hominem attacks on a deceased person worse than that.
2. On June 30, on the televised version of the Howard Stern Show, the porn star Rebecca Lord stripped naked while condemning the Catholic Church for criticizing her profession. She was interrupted by Stern, who exclaimed, Catholic priests are having sex with young boys! He also said that those who work in the pornography industry are healthier than Catholic priests. In an angry voice, Stern added that Catholic priests show boys pornography so they can later molest them. He was supported in his diatribe by his co-host, Robin Quivers.
In response, we asked every bishop in the United States to support a boycott of Miller Brewing, Stern’s most prominent sponsor. Many bishops did, but no one pressed the issue more than Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., of Milwaukee, who courageously confronted Miller officials in his own backyard.
3. The attacks on Christmas were worse in 2001 than in previous years, notwithstanding the alleged nationwide bonding and the increase of tolerance that occurred following the events of Sept. 11. Here are a few examples:
In the Seattle area, King County executive Ron Sims issued a memo mandating that county employees use religion-neutral language when referring to the holidays. He cited as an example, Happy Greetings.
In New York City, the principal of P.S. 22 ordered a Christian secular symbol, the Christmas tree, taken down and then asked teachers to bring Jewish and Muslim religious symbols to school.
Also in New York, the attorney for the city’s schools chancellor issued a memo saying it was permissible to display Jewish and Islamic religious symbols (the menorah and the crescent and star) in the schools but not a Nativity scene.
In Arizona, the attorney general defended a decision made by one of her lawyers that banned the display of Santa Claus in her office. (In response, some Catholics displayed a holiday greeting featuring Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.)
Minnesota was a hotbed of political correctness: red poinsettias were banned from display in the county courthouse in St. Paul, and children were prohibited from wearing red-and-green scarves in a middle-school play in Rochester.
4. Sharon High School in Sharon, Mass., held a Halloween costume party. Receiving first prize were two boys dressed as pregnant nuns and a third as the impregnating priest. The award was granted by the faculty.
Following complaints from the school’s Catholic students in the mostly Jewish school, school officials confessed they were taken aback by what happened. They said they were particularly on the alert this year to make sure that no Muslim students would be offended by any of the costumes. To correct the situation, we learned that the Anti-Defamation League was given permission to sensitize students to bigotry by discussing the Holocaust.
5. Abercrombie & Fitch’s catalogs not only feature naked men and women, but also occasionally indulge in Catholic-bashing. The A&F XXX Adventure: Get Wet Set & Go on Spring Break featured questions posed to Catholic students that mocked priests and nuns. Customers were advised to crash a Catholic Mass on Palm Sunday and steal palm fronds. Regarding a cult movie, Cemetery Man, readers were told to join in the fun by learning to make wry comments after bashing a dead nun’s head to a pulp.
6. An ad for Lipton in an alternative weekly New York newspaper showed a picture of a man waiting in line for Holy Communion holding a bowl of Lipton’s onion dip. The priest was shown holding up the host to the first person on line who was about to receive. The man, of course, was prepared to dunk the host in the dip. At the corner of the ad was a picture of the Lipton Recipe Secrets that featured the onion dip.
7. Showtime, the cable channel owned by Viacom, aired a movie adaptation of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You on May 27. The play was previously condemned by various Christian and Jewish groups for its overt anti-Catholicism. The producer, Marshall Brickman, justified the film’s Catholic-bashing by referring to the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Holocaust.
8. The following three contributions from the artistic community offended many Catholics in 2001:
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, known for its dung-laden portraits of the Virgin Mary surrounded by pictures of female genitalia, struck again, this time with a statement by artist Renée Cox. She appeared in full-frontal nudity as Christ in the Last Supper. When asked why she did this, she said the Catholic Church was to blame for slavery. She has previously portrayed a castrated Christ on the cross, has appeared half-naked as the Virgin Mary and has dressed as a nun with a naked woman kneeling before her in prayer.
The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M., displayed a photo collage by Alma Lopez that replaced the traditional image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a woman in a rose-petal bikini; a bare-breasted woman appeared below her as a cherub. Local Catholics, led by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, protested. As more people learned of the artwork, which was part of an exhibition that opened on Feb. 25, the controversy increased. Parishioners from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church were the most vocal. The artist argued that she was being victimized because she was Mexican, yet failed to explain the fact that most of her critics were also Mexican. Archbishop Sheehan was branded by Bill Tammeus of The Kansas City Star as an example of the American Taliban.
Florida Atlantic University and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (I.P.F.W.) hosted the Terrence McNally play, Corpus Christi. The play depicts Christ having sex with the 12 Apostles and has the Christ-figure exclaim, F___ your mother, f___ your father, f___ God. There is also a scene where one of the Apostles asks the Christ-figure to perform fellatio on him.
9. Ted Turner has a record of offending Catholics. On Ash Wednesday, he did so again. After spotting some CNN workers in the Washington office with ashes on their foreheads, he commented: What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox.
10. The online auction Web site eBay offered for sale the following items:
A Virgin Mary Immaculate Conception Condom, which featured a picture of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. The tagline read, If you conceive, its [sic] a miracle. On the back was a picture of Pope John Paul II. It also includes inside the flap, said the description of the condom, instructios [sic] on how to put on the condom (drawings!) showing a certain someone on a cross with a woody and a glove....
A Weird Tattooed Jesus Statue! that depicted Jesus with three eyes, vampire teeth and a dagger tattoo on his chest. The base was covered with roses and green painted skulls.
An Open Wound CD by The Grey Wolves, entitled Catholic Priests F___ Children, had a sketch of naked boys and girls on the cover and a picture of a Catholic priest.
It is difficult to say how many of these incidentsand the others included in our 2001 Annual Report on Anti-Catholicismwere the result of ignorance, and how many were a function of malice. To be sure, as even these few examples indicate, many were perpetrated intentionally as payback. Catholic misdeeds, real and imagined, are routinely invoked as justification for bigotry. Indeed, when offenders run out of words to explain their behavior, they often reply, Remember Galileo. (I have found the best response is simply to say, Sorry, never met the guy.)
Fortunately, some decisions that we protested were reversed. Time Out New York apologized; Mr. Sims said it was okay to say Merry Christmas again; the principal of P.S. 22 brought back the Christmas tree; Lipton withdrew the ad and issued an apology; the I.P.F.W. chancellor allowed us to distribute a statement to theatergoers registering our concerns; Ted Turner apologized again; and eBay withdrew the offensive products.
In no instance did we call for censorship, although if the objectionable event was paid for with public funds, we did object to how our tax monies were spent. Unfortunately, our opposition to an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Indian University-Purdue University Fort Wayne decision to host Corpus Christi was seen by many area Christians as selling out. What they failed to understand is the importance of the correct remedy: moral suasion may work; gag rules and censorship do not.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect about countering anti-Catholicism is that so much of it emanates from well-educated elites (from across the country) who prize their commitment to tolerance and who would never think of offending other demographic groups. Worse, they repeatedly justify displays of anti-Catholicism as examples of practicing diversity.
Within the church, there is a disconnect between many lay Catholics and the Catholic-bashing that is targeted specifically at church teachings, beliefs and practices. Some lay Catholics feel that defending the church is the province of the clergy and religious. Chapter 5 of the NATO charter says that an attack on one nation is an attack on all member nations. If lay Catholics were to internalize this logic and apply it to their own religion, the scourge of anti-Catholicism would retreat with their efforts. The time is past when the priests, sisters and brothers in our church can fight this battle by themselves.