Religion writer Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, has famously declared that anti-Catholicism is the "last acceptable prejudice," and given the behavior not just of the blogosphere but of journalists and pundits last week, it is easy to see why. As the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI drew to a close, the tortured logic of reporters looking to sensationalize the story was matched only by the boorishness of commenters on Catholic blogs. The sense of dignity and decency that surrounds the coverage of, say, the departure from office of an American president was absent in far too many people whose parents, presumably, reared them better.
Pope Benedict's pontificate, we were told, was a "failure"—a value judgment the supposedly objective press had no qualms in rendering. One oft-repeated statistic was that the Holy Father was resigning when his "approval rating" was "only" 74 percent. Setting aside the fact that it is as absurd to speak of "approval ratings" for Catholic clerics as it is would be to poll a group of strangers about my performance as a father, I suspect that President Obama would be ecstatic to have such an approval rating, roughly 20 points higher than his is today. And, of course, the media would trumpet such a number as proof of the President's widespread popularity.
We were told that the average Catholic "never connected" with Pope Benedict the way he did with Pope John Paul II. That neither man wanted the average Catholic to connect with him but rather with Christ was, it seems, beside the point. The Church and her leaders must be judged in secular terms, rather than in the spiritual terms that lie at the heart of Her mission.
We were treated to all kinds of speculation concerning the reasons for Pope Benedict's resignation. Even if any of it were true, no one other than Pope Benedict and God would know; but the fact that the Holy Father had been explicit about the reasons for his resignation meant that each bit of speculation that ran counter to his stated reasons was, in essence, a declaration that Pope Benedict is a liar. (In this, sadly, Catholic journalists, pundits, and bloggers were just as guilty as secular ones.) From allegations of a homosexual conspiracy in the Curia to the disgusting suggestion from professional "Catholic" homosexual Andrew Sullivan that Pope Benedict wanted to spend more time with his male secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, the major theme that ran through most of the speculation was sex.
And everyone agreed that Pope Benedict's resignation had, at least in part, been occasioned by the "enormity" of the clerical sexual-abuse scandal, and the Holy Father's "inability" or even "unwillingness" to deal with it. On February 28, the day that Pope Benedict's resignation took effect, CNN linked from every story covering the historic occasion to a piece on their site by Jeff Anderson, the ambulance-chasing lawyer who not only has made tens of millions of dollars suing the Catholic Church on behalf of sexual-abuse victims but has made it clear that he wants to destroy the Catholic Church. It was Anderson who reignited the media frenzy in 2010, when he fed information to New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein that resulted in a series of stories that helped pave the way for Anderson to sue the Vatican directly. Yet CNN found it perfectly appropriate for such a man to outline the steps that the next pope should take regarding clerical sexual abuse—steps mainly designed not to protect children but to make it easier for Mr. Anderson to continue to stuff his wallet.
Of course, much of the outrage over Catholic clerical sexual abuse has had little to do with protecting potential victims and everything to do with undermining the authority of the Church. That is why, even as Pope Benedict left office, journalists and pundits and blog commenters could declare, with seemingly straight faces, that the Holy Father had been part of the problem and not the chief force behind the solution. That Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger fought, from the mid-1980's, to get control over clerical sexual-abuse cases consolidated in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which he headed at that time) so that he could personally attack what he called the "filth" in the Church makes no difference; nor does the fact that, since John Paul II finally acceded to his request in 2001, the CDF has successfully prosecuted most priests whose cases have been sent to it. Nor does the fact that the Charter for the Protection of Youth, passed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 through the efforts of Cardinal Ratzinger, has resulted in historically low levels of new allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the United States—low single digits every year since 2009.
If those who beat this drum in order to attack the Catholic Church and undermine the authority of Pope Benedict XVI really cared about the victims, they would, instead, applaud the actions that the Holy Father took both before and after his election as pope. Instead of throwing around widely inaccurate numbers—"100,000 children raped by Catholic priests worldwide"; "tens of thousands raped by Catholic priests in the United States"; "hundreds or thousands of new allegations every year in the United States"—they would look at the actual numbers, and join faithful Catholics in thanking Pope Benedict for taking leadership on this issue, even when he faced opposition within John Paul II's Curia for doing so.
But what purpose would that serve? Not the one desired by those who did not have the common decency to stop spreading lies for even a few days about Pope Benedict's "past in the Hitler Youth" and his "rehabilitation of a holocaust denier." While Jewish organizations in Israel joined in thanking Pope Benedict for strengthening relations between Christians and Jews and expressing their hope that his successor would continue Pope Benedict's policies, these anti-Catholics, professional and amateur, let the world know that they know better.
And, in the end, that is the real point of anti-Catholicism today. Because if the specific claim of the Catholic Church is true—that She was founded by Christ, and continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit to preach the Truth to all—then the simple fact is this: None of us knows better than the Catholic Church. And that flies in the face of the "collective wisdom" of the modern age, which declares that the individual is the measure of all things, and that all "opinions" are equally valid—whether thought up by a journalist or an ambulance-chasing lawyer in the shower this morning or revealed by Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit over the course of 2,000 years.
Of course, one doesn't need to agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church in order to practice a little common decency, and to hold one's tongue when an event that means nothing to you, but a great deal to faithful Catholics, is taking place. But a lack of common decency, like anti-Catholicism, is one of the defining marks of the modern age.
More on Pope Benedict's Resignation:
- BREAKING: Pope Benedict XVI to Resign on February 28, 2013
- The Pope Resigns: "He Never Wanted to Be Pope"
- The Pope Resigns: Why February 11?
- The Pope Resigns: The Shade of Celestine
- The Pope Resigns: The Rest of the Story?
- Pope Benedict XVI's Final General Audience (February 27, 2013)
- The Pope Resigns: "Christ Continues to Walk Through All Times in All Places"
- The Pope Resigns: It Is Finished