. . . not Barack Obama—though of course there are 5 more days in June, so there’s still room for him to prompt a recount. No, despite the boffo traffic engendered by various Catholic bloggers and commenters reading the President’s remarks in Belfast last week as a call for The End of Catholic Education in Ireland and Possibly Everywhere, Mr Obama (who can generally be counted on to be a frontrunner in this sweepstakes) scratched at the gate. On the basis of those remarks, at least, he wasn’t even a contender.
The reaction to the Obama speech, however, had the distinction of very nearly making an anti-Catholic out of me. I had to keep ducking out of the comboxes where I was trying to raise a tiny flag of reasonable doubt—which essentially consisted of repeating ad nauseum “No, that’s not what he said. READ. THE. TEXT!”—because I know better than to swim against a rip current. By the end of Day 1 of The Obamanation, I was seriously wondering whether I had anything at all in common with my Catholic neighbors and Facebook friends.
There was worse to come. Day 2, I woke to a Bizarro World in which Bill Donohue—that Bill Donohue, the, er, outspoken head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, with whom I have never in my life agreed even when I agree with him—issued a clear, cogent argument that said exactly what I said, only in a lot more words. (That in itself is scary.) Because he’s Bill Donohue, he couldn’t resist a little colorful hyperbole, describing the reports of Obama’s Irish anti-Catholicism as simply insane. I was cheering for a full minute before I realized Holy crap, I agree with Bill Donohue! Armageddon in 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . .
This is not to say that I don’t think Mr Obama would be really, really happy if religious anything—Catholic and Protestant schools, 501(c)3s, bishops who natter on about HHS mandates, people of all faiths who think abortion isn’t the zenith of women’s health care and global human rights—would just shut up and go away. But his remarks in Belfast were not anti-Catholic in acknowledging the contributions religious divisions have made to violence and poverty in Northern Ireland, nor was it in any way inappropriate of offensive for him to make comparisons between racial segregation in the United States and religious segregation in Northern Ireland. If anyone should know that, it’s Catholics, who bore the brunt of that religious segregation and oppression for generations.
Just as that fuss was dying down, though, with a few “But I still say he was anti-Catholic”s sputtering over the interwebz like the last kernels of corn popping in a microwave, along comes the dark horse to show ’em what anti-Catholic sounds like. Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.
In a TIME Magazine interview with Elizabeth Dias published Sunday (H/T The Deacon’s Bench), prior to the start of a Carter Center conference titled Mobilizing Faith for Women, former President Jimmy Carter blithely blamed the Catholic Church for the abuse and oppression of women throughout history and across cultures. No veiled hints here:
. . . I think there’s a slow, very slow, move around the world to give women equal rights in the eyes of God. What has been the case for many centuries is that the great religions, the major religions, have discriminated against women in a very abusive fashion and set an example for the rest of society to treat women as secondary citizens. In a marriage or in the workplace or wherever, they are discriminated against. And I think the great religions have set the example for that, by ordaining, in effect, that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God.
This has been done and still is done by the Catholic Church ever since the third century, when the Catholic Church ordained that a woman cannot be a priest for instance but a man can. A woman can be a nurse or a teacher but she can’t be a priest. This is wrong, I think.
Not content with that ignorant and intolerant slur (which tarred Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on the side, though unnamed) Mr Carter went on to foment anti-Catholic sentiment by urging Americans to be wary of Catholics in the workplace:
To repeat myself in a way, I think that what the major religious leaders say is used by others who discriminate against women as justification for their human rights abuse. For instance if an employer, who might be otherwise enlightened, if he is a religious person and he sees that, he might be a Catholic, and a Catholic does not let women be priests, then why should he pay his women employees an equal pay [as men]?
Read it all here.
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winnah!
And if you doubt my credentials as a judge, let me remind you that I was once appointed by the then-head of the US Bishops’ Committee on Communications, the Most Rev Anthony Bosco, to an Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Pornography, Anti-Catholic Bias, and Low Moral Tone in the Media—a committee convened in response to concerns raised by none other than Bill Donohue. (My appointment to that committee, on which I was the only woman, also led Bishop Bosco to gift me with a very unfortunate nickname. In 1987, when Blessed John Paul II visited the United States, I brought my mother and my Confirmation sponsor to hear the Holy Father address the Hollywood entertainment community. When the bishops of the communications committee processed in, in solemn finery, Bishop Bosco passed by us and whispered a greeting. My mother’s eyes popped. “Did a bishop just say ‘Heya, Porn Queen’ to you?” That story has nothing to do with my credentials as a detector of anti-Catholic bias, but it’s too funny not to tell.)
I don’t want to fisk a president—and God knows, I shouldn’t have to—but there are a couple of points on which Mr Carter needs to be called.
The male priesthood is unbroken Catholic tradition. There were never—not before the third century, not now—women ordained to the priesthood or episcopate in the Catholic Church, East or West. (There’s some debate, among smarter people than I, about whether women were ever ordained to the diaconate. I’m thinking not so much, at least not in the sense that the Church has always understood deacons, whether transitional or permanent, to be recipients of Holy Orders, a sacrament open only to men.) Do the theological explanations for this make sense to me? Not really. I’ve made my peace with mystery.
The understanding of the sacrament of Holy Orders as being exclusively conferred on men is not, and has never been, rooted in a belief that women are inferior beings unequal in the sight of God. (In the same way, the understanding of the sacrament of Marriage as being exclusively conferred on one man and one woman is not rooted in an understanding that others—unmarried people, homosexual persons, people already married to others—are inferior beings unequal in the sight of God. But I’ll wait till tomorrow to tackle that one.) Does this mean that Catholics have never been sinfully discriminatory toward women, or devalued them? Of course not. But that’s not the teaching, and don’t confuse us with Christians who read inequality into their too-literal adherence to Scripture.
In the Catholic Church, priesthood (like marriage or consecrated religious life) is not a right, but a calling, a vocation from God—given to an individual or a couple, not for themselves, but for the Church, and sealed in sacrament by the Church. No one who does not receive the calling and the sacrament is deprived of his/her rights. Nor does this teaching in any way imply that women cannot be called by God to minister, to serve, to lead in a thousand other but not lesser ways, or that unmarried persons cannot be called by God to love, to serve, to nourish and be fruitful. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially in this age when all things are considered entitlements and the worst thing that can be imagined is that one might not be able to do or be anything one wants, but there it is. It doesn’t change by popular vote, or by the urging of former presidents. Could the Holy Spirit move the Church in some other direction? Of course—but not in response to a Twitter poll, or a Carter Center conference.
And to make the calumnious accusation that Catholic business owners would be less likely to treat their employees justly is way, way out of line. May I remind Mr Carter that the workers’ rights about which he is so concerned were largely brought to the United States via Catholic immigrants, in Catholic labor unions, backed by Catholic social teachings like Pope Leo XIII’s 1891(!!!) encyclical Rerum novarum, on the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers? And Mr Carter, since you are so “enlightened in other ways,” what makes you assume a Catholic business owner—or any business owner—is male? Women were heading Catholic institutions, including major health care systems, long before the glass ceiling was even sighted from below by women in other business sectors.
I like Mr Carter. I voted for him. I’ve always respected his commitment to his faith, and his witness to it in everyday life. So it saddens me to give him this award for his complete disrespect for and libelous misrepresentation of my faith. And I think Miz Lillian would give him a whuppin for so shamefully resurrecting the ghosts of Southern Baptist anti-Catholicism. We’re all more enlightened than that, Jimmy.