Press Watch: Collapse From Within

The syndicated columnist Joseph Sobran remarked to me the other day that we live in a very strange time: the wrecker’s ball is to be found inside the building it is aiming to destroy. This is a useful image, and I think those of us who are concerned about the state of the Catholic Church in this country will appreciate its relevance without too much elaboration on my part. But it is only a starting point. Follow the train of thought and you soon find yourself thinking that buildings that collapse from within succumb not to great swinging globes of pig-iron, but to tiny, almost invisible forces. Termites, for example.

It is not the solid crack of metal on masonry that need concern us today. It is the dry rustle of wings and the munching of mandibles, as the death-watch beetle eats at the heart of oak. External wrecking balls have been swinging at the Church for nearly 2000 years now, and they have not proved to be very effective. The internal enemy today poses a far more serious threat.

I thought of termites and wrecker’s balls when I read recently about Jack Chick, the brazenly anti-Catholic “fundamentalist” preacher from California, and Tony Alamo of the Alamo Foundation in Arkansas. They recently aroused Our Sunday Visitor to a nice little opportune display of indignation. “Jack Chick’s bilge-ridden comics of bigotry still alive and well,” ran the page-one headline of the June 10 issue. Inside there was an editorial and two stories, one quoting an Alamo spokesman as saying: “Well, did you know that People, Newsweek, Time and Life magazines are secretly owned by the Vatican? We have documented proof of this.” A Chick catalogue was quoted, describing one of its publications, The Godfathers, as follows: “The Roman Catholic institution is proven to be the Mother of Abominations of Rev. 17.” And all Alamo booklet was quoted as saying that the Catholic Church is “the great whore” and the “anti-Christ” of the Book of Revelation. And so on.

This is so obviously nonsensical and absurd that I cannot view it with very great alarm. Protestant sects have been making such claims for a long time and I don’t think they have much impact at all. The Visitor editorial noted, ruefully, that “some Catholics” respond to all of this nuttiness by laughing, others “dismiss it as right-wing fanaticism,” while still others respond “with a shrug that ‘nobody believes that garbage. But this was quite wrong OSV thought. “We cannot ignore it . . .anti-Catholicism is alive and flourishing in the United States.”

There! The weekly newspaper had struck a blow for Catholicism by affirming its opposition to the wrecker’s ball outside the institution.

The next day there was an editorial in the Washington Post, entitled “Hatemongers.” This latest “hate-campaign is directed at Roman Catholics,” the liberal newspaper warned its readers. One was tempted at first to think: “Gosh, good to have them on our side!” The Post alert continued as follows: “It comes in the form of brochures filled with preposterous charges that have been met, deservedly, with universal denunciation by public officials.”

Thus the Washington Post was to be found on the side of virtue and opposed to hate groups and hate literature, whatever their target might be. You might almost have been led to believe that the paper has been a stout defender of Pope John Paul and orthodox Roman Catholic doctrine.

But when you turn to the news section of the paper, and you come across articles about the Catholic Church by its religion reporter, Marjorie Hyer, you hear offstage, distinctly and disquietingly, the rustle of termites and the munching of mandibles. I don’t know how she does it, but Miss Hyer always manages to find and quote people who eat away, mouthful by tiny mouthful, at the permanent truth embodied in Roman Catholic doctrine.

And elsewhere in Our Sunday Visitor, you will read the columns by its Washington editor, Jim Castelli, who seems to harbor a deep and abiding animus against the Catholic Church; and you will find articles by Fr. Vincent Geise, the paper’s editor-in-chief, who (despite numerous visits to Latin America) has succeeded in confusing for his readers the all-important distinction between the “base communities” masquerading as the church but made up of Sandinista agitators, and the Nicaraguan hierarchy, which is loyal to Rome.

What are we to make of it when a purportedly Catholic newspaper publishes an attack on Mother Teresa of Calcutta? (“Mother, Why Are There Poor?” National Catholic Reporter, May 18, 1984.) This was written not by some external wrecker, an aide to Khomieni, let’s say, or an underling in the Kremlin, but by the editor of the official publication of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN News), based in Chicago. Her name is Jane Boyer, and her article first appeared in NCAN News. It is safe to say that very few secular publications in America would have dared publish this article since it would certainly have exposed them to the charge of anti-Catholicism. Its strange provenance, and its publication by the Reporter, show the extraordinary fanaticism of those who have lost faith in traditional Catholicism and the lengths to which they will go to undermine that faith in others.

Jane Boyer derided Mother Teresa as “the patron of the status quo,” someone who has failed to support “land reform” and is willing “to pick up the products of government’s inability and unwillingness to enact structural changes.” By contrast, “American women religious have been busy employing the tools of social analysis to ask why. Why do people starve? . . .American women religious are busy trying to change the sinful social structures that permit injustices and oppression to occur.”

The authoress further complained that Mother Teresa “doesn’t question the church.” And — guilt by association — “conservatives, religious and political, love her. She is the nun’s nun.” But, “there is a shadow side to this saint,” as was to be expected. Her modus operandi reflects the church at its worst — noncollaborative [can any Catholicism in Crisis reader translate that one?), authoritarian, hierarchical and tunnel-visioned.”

Boyer wrote about Mother Teresa’s order as though she were some government-appointed welfare inspector. Mother Teresa’s sisters, “forbidden to eat and drink outside the convent, can go from morning to night without sustenance in a tropical climate. Why? Because of their archaic rule.” (So why not file a report with OSHA?)

In short, Mother Teresa “is being used” — to support forces “in the church and in society that oppress and have no intention of changing.” There has been “media hoopla” and “media hype” surrounding her. Why? “What makes a nun in a habit so appealing?” (What Boyer means by this is: What makes a nun in a pants suit so unappealing? And she doesn’t really know.) “What makes subservience so attractive?” (Answer: whatever it is that makes the search for power so unattractive.)

Much also is made of Mother Teresa’s precondition that her sisters be housed, so that they could have mass celebrated for them — “this at a time when American women religious are becoming associate pastors, conducting regular communion services in these priestless areas. Why can’t Missionaries of Charity do the same? Their culture doesn’t recognize the personhood of women.” Poor Boyer ended by offering for our consideration “a U.S. saint, Ita Ford.”

What we find on the U.S. Catholic left today is apostasy, rage, and above all rebellion; rebellion at God’s creation, and rebellion against God for tolerating Man’s fallen state. So they want to sweep away God (who permits injustice and inequality to persist) and to set up their own state — with everyone dependent on it.

Of course, you cannot come right out and say all these things. You have to dissemble — perhaps you may succeed in hiding them even from yourself. Coming out into the open and declaring war on God has on the whole proved counterproductive. It has been tried, e.g., by an 18th century French priest who lost his faith, Jean Meslier; he set forth his manifesto in a posthumously published document entitled My Testament. It was extraordinary and Voltaire loved it, but it failed to catch on, you might say. Better to stay within the walls — hunker down into the woodwork and start nibbling. Say you reject labels if anyone asks you what it is you stand for, exactly. Talk about reform, and above all talk about redefinition. The meanings of words can be changed and in the end perhaps people can be persuaded to assault their own citadel if only they see the familiar flags flying ahead of them as they march. Maybe they won’t notice that they have turned through 180 degrees. Sin, did someone say? Keep the word, but apply it differently, exonerating the individual and blaming society. Talk about “sinful structures,” for example. That will confuse people and keep them guessing about where they are going.. .

A Michael Novak said in a recent National Review column, “Communists try desperately not to show what they are.” This is true until they are able to consolidate total power, as in the Soviet Union and Cuba. Until then they hide — both from others and (very often) from themselves. And in this connection I merely note that the characteristic mode of today’s left-wing Catholic, his primary task, is redefinition. Break down identity, truth, and reason by changing the meanings of words. Take a good old word, and give it subtle new meaning. What orthodox Catholics above all need today is a glossary, decoding this deceit.

I offer one example, and an important one: “Structure.” A structure is a building, and a building is a property. In Catholic-left circles, “unjust social structures” invariably means the institution of private property. Hard to come out and attack it in as many words, of course, because several popes in several encyclicals have defended private property explicitly. Therefore simply call it “unjust social structure,” without elaboration.

Let us try this “translation” on a recent usage in the June 9 issue of the Jesuit weekly America (unsigned editorial section): “In Latin America the people are oppressed by unjust structures, while in Africa the problem is unjust individual leaders.” That works quite well. They don’t have private property, as we understand the term, in most African countries (an exception being South Africa). And precisely because they don’t there is economic chaos and famine in these countries. To answer Jane Boyer’s question, “Why are there poor,” the most important reason is the absence of property rights in poverty-stricken countries. Such “unjust structures” are rapidly being swept away in Nicaragua, and were partially swept away by the U.S.-inspired “land reform” in El Salvador. As a result, there will be more poor.


  • Tom Bethell

    Tom Bethell is a senior editor at the American Spectator. A graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, he is the author of several books including Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages (1998); The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (2005); and Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher (2012).

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