Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) November 4, 2009 -- On October 25th, the New York Times published Maureen Dowd's column "The Nun's Story" in which she criticizes the "unassailable patriarchy" of the Roman Catholic Church. Next, instead of submitting a letter to the editor about her column, the recently installed archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan, submitted an op-ed piece to the Times in which he raised the charge of anti-Catholicism against the Times. Not surprisingly his op-ed piece was rejected. In light of the number of columns published regularly in the Times, can you imagine how many op-ed pieces could be generated by disgruntled readers to counter individual columns? Next, Archbishop Dolan posted his remarks at his diocese's website.
Next, the New York Post got into the act by reporting the archbishop's failed attempt to publish an op-ed piece as a news story, reporting his charge of anti-Catholicism. The Post is usually conservative, just as many Roman Catholics have been in recent decades. Of course the Times is a favorite target of conservatives for its liberalism, and Dowd herself is a liberal.
But let's examine the charge of anti-Catholicism that the archbishop has raised. All football fans have heard that the best defense is a good offense. So is the archbishop's charge of anti-Catholicism a good offense for defending the Catholic Church against Dowd's charge of unassailable patriarchy? Or is the archbishop's charge yet another ploy to stifle legitimate public criticism of practices of the Roman Catholic Church?
When we speak of anti-Semitism, we usually mean attitudes and/or actions that are directed against certain people. Similarly, when we speak of racism, we usually mean attitudes and/or practices that are directed against certain people. But Dowd does not refer to all Catholics. She does not even refer to a large percentage of Catholics. Her use of the expression unassailable patriarchy arguably may not include all male Catholics. But it does undoubtedly include the all-male hierarchy. One member of that hierarchy is Archbishop Dolan. But how many people are going to buy the archbishop's charge that the Times is anti-Catholic for publishing Dowd's criticisms of the unassailable patriarchy of the Catholic Church?
Dowd's criticisms are not directed at Roman Catholics, but at practices of the Catholic Church. She does not question the loyalty of Roman Catholics as American citizens because of their loyalty to the pope's teachings. She does not question the right of Roman Catholics to vote or to run for political office or to serve on the Supreme Court or to be employed. But in the past, anti-Catholicism in the United States has involved such questioning. Thus by associating her criticisms with past examples of anti-Catholicism, the archbishop is attempting to use the rhetorical ploy of guilt by association. Dowd herself does the same kind of thing when she uses the historically loaded term "inquisitions" to characterize two Vatican inquiries into the lives of certain American nuns. But is the archbishop's good offense the best defense against Dowd's charge about unassailable patriarchy in the Catholic Church?
As a former seminarian for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, Dowd's various statements strike me as generally accurate. As I have indicated, her characterization of two Vatican investigations as "inquisitions" can be questioned. They may be defensible Vatican actions in the internal governance of the Catholic Church.
But this brings us to the issue that we should keep in the foreground as we consider the archbishop's charge of anti-Catholicism. Any public criticism of matters of internal governance of the Catholic Church can be understood to be anti-Catholic in some sense of the term. As is well known, matters of internal governance of the Catholic Church came into public view in the priest sex abuse scandal. On the one hand, there were the abusive priests, the perpetrators. On the other hand, there were the bishops who transferred abusive priests from one parish to another, instead of removing them as priests and defrocking them. The priest sex abuse scandal received an enormous amount of media attention, including attention drawn to the role of bishops.
But was the media attention due to anti-Catholicism, at least in part? Perhaps in part it was. It would be hard to rule out that factor. Nevertheless, the scandal was twofold: (1) the behavior of the abusive priests and (2) the behavior of the enabling bishops. Moreover, the number of lawsuits being brought across the country contributed to the critical mass that eventually received the media attention.
The twofold behavior of the abusive priests and the enabling bishops can be understood to be examples of what Dowd means by the unassailable patriarchy of the Catholic Church, as she herself indicates. Furthermore, the lawyers who took the cases of the victims should be commended for assisting the victims. In a similar way, Dowd has sided with the American women religious and with other American Catholic women who have in one way or another challenged the unassailable patriarchy of the Catholic Church. Good for her speaking out in behalf of the challengers. Good for the Times for publishing her criticisms.