Anti-Catholic Presidential Remarks of the Month: And the Award Goes To . . .

. . . 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.


  • Gail Finke

    In his defense, FWIW, he also said he and Rosalyn quit the Southern Baptists because THEY don’t ordain women either. So he is at least consistent in his bad theology – or rather, his fundamental mistaken belief that everything is political. Of course he is quite wrong about both.

    You are so right about Obama! That is NOT what he said. He was talking about general segregation in Ireland. The fact that many people think he would like to get rid of Catholic schools here if he could, though, makes it easy to believe.

    • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

      That’s a defence? it only says that he is so obtuse that he can’t even see the point in the denomination he has been in all his life. And quite frankly, I’m taking no lessons in equality from a product of the old-time Democratic southern machine. The very extremism and fanaticism of his positions show that ingrained racism deforms the mind even when it has been rejected on a conscious level.

      • Gail Finke

        Not a defense of his position, which I do not agree with at all! I just meant that he is not being hypocritical and attacking the Catholic Church for something the community he belongs to also does. He quit the Southern Baptists over that same issue. He sees everything in terms of politics and a mistaken definition of “equality,” which should be a cautionary lesson to us all not to let ideology cloud our vision.

    • NYlawyer

      The main problem with what Obama said is that it buys into the notion that Northern Ireland’s problems are based in religion rather than based in colonialism. The descendants of natives and settlers look alike, so religion became the shorthand, but it’s not the background of the problems.

      And what he said did suggest that Catholic schools are divisive, when the experience in this country and many others does not support that. So while I agree his words may not have been as bad as portrayed, they were careless on at least two counts.

  • Gabriella Valente

    I guess Carter has never heard of such oppressed and silenced women as Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, Teresa of Avalar and countless others.

    • Barfly_Kokhba

      He probably just yearns for the fair and equitable treatment of women found in such secular utopias as North Korea, China, and the USSR. Those places know how to treat a lady. And everybody gets equal pay: nothing!

  • Manny

    I have to disagree with you Joanna on the Obama comment. The literal meaning of what he said I agree does not say he’s calling for the end of Catholic schools. But he put it into the context of American segregation, and that implies a wider interpretation. Here’s exactly what he said:

    “Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.”
    American segregation involved the tearing down of black/white public schools. Black kids had to be bussed from one neighborhood and placed into white neighborhood schools. That paragraph speeks of “symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others.” Catholic schools are surely a source of pride for most Catholics. I don’t exactly know how the school system works in Northern Ireland, but to say that you need to integrate Protestant and Catholic schools is saying that Northern Ireland needs to eliminate the Catholic school system. He didn’t directly say it, but his context implied it. He’s talkinag about ending the “source of pride” which are our Catholic schools. Now if any other president had said this, I may have given him a pass, but given Obama’s hostility to Catholicism and his shear ignorance of true religious feeling, I don’t think this was an accident of speech.

    Jimmy carter remains the moron of the century. Actually he’s now spanning two centuries.

    • oregon catholic

      In it’s widest interpretation, Obama is signaling his dislike of any religious schools. That is the socialist in him. He doesn’t want religion (or parents for that matter) defining what children are to be taught. That’s the state’s job. Expect to see homeschooling come under attack. The German homeschooler asylum case makes it abundantly clear that education as a parent’s right and responsibility will not be supported.

  • Gail H

    Thank you for clearing up what Obama said in No. Ireland, yes what he said there was appropriate for that country . As much as I dislike just about everything Obama stands for, when we miss quote him it just makes us look bad.
    The ignorance people have about the Catholic church is sad and people are always misquoting the Catholic doctrine. But then when we have people like Pelosi who claim to be Catholic trying to represent us is there any reason people would be confused and uninformed about what our beautiful religion is all about.

  • Rob Crawford

    You can parse his words all you want, but his intended audience heard what he meant. Just like with his comments about Citizens United and more that lead to the IRS suppression of Tea Party organizations.

  • Sorta Catholic guy

    Carter is just an angry, bigoted fool. Sad that you voted for him. Sorry he is only the second worst President in my lifetime. (62 years)

  • FlyoverGuy

    Jimmy Carter was a terrible, weak President, an anti-Semite and a sanctimonious prig, projecting the views of his own racist upbringing on others.

    But he does build houses for poor people. So, there’s that.

  • James

    Hi there. Great article. Just two things to say, and my apologies if someone has already said them. First, the Holy Spirit cannot move the Church in another direction regarding the ordination of women. If you didn’t mean to imply that He could, I’m sorry I misunderstood you.

    Second, in case you are unaware, Southern Baptist anti-catholicism is not a ghost, but it’s instead alive and well in America, albeit not quite as freely expressed.

  • Rebecca Duncan

    “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.” If you are referring to ‘women priests’ the answer is not ‘of course’ it is never. That issue has been infallibly defined and therefore can never change. If you were referring to something else, then just ignore this.

  • Rebecca Duncan

    Also, what is your failure to understand why only men can be priests based in? It’s like asking why Jesus chose to become incarnate as a man and not as a woman. If you say, well Jesus could have just as easily become incarnate as a woman, you’re thinking of it wrong. You need to think of WHO Jesus is to us. He is the bridegroom. He is the husband. He gives, we receive. That is why marriage is a sacrament and not just a contract or some social institution that is beneficial to some, because it reflects who God is to us. Marriage is the reflection of an Eternal Truth, it is not a Reality in and of itself. It is only a reality inasmuch as it reflects God’s relationship to us. That’s what makes it have any reality, substance or meaning. HE gives his flesh to us, and we receive it and when we receive His flesh into our bodies, we are given life. Do ya get it? Understand how a woman cannot be a priest since she also cannot be a husband or impregnate someone but can only be a wife and become impregnated? These are natural truths only because they reflect supernatural truths so that we can understand who God is. Man and Woman are both God’s image, but they reflect different truths about Him and His relationship to us. If you try to say that both Man and Woman reflect EXACTLY the same truth about God to us, then you are diminishing God’s message to us. Again, I don’t know exactly what the mystery is to you, but these are just some of my thoughts on the matter.

  • RS

    One may wish to alert Mr. Carter of people like Cardinal Joseph Ritter of Indianapolis and St. Louis, who desegregated Catholic Schools in his dioceses long before Brown v. Board of Education.

  • Julie

    Since Jimmy Carter said since the THIRD CENTURY, I am guessing he believes the trip about Constantine founding the Catholic Church. Moron.

  • tehsilentone

    “And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church”

    “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”

    “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

    ^ last one especially indicates a lesser view of women. The official opinion of the church being that women are some form of “equal” does nothing for me, and likely little for the catholic laity. They will often disagree.

  • Buckeye Pastor

    Jimmy Carter studied Church history at the same university where Nancy Pelosi studied moral theology.

  • Wendy

    “I like Mr Carter. I voted for him.”

    another reason why I don’t trust Joanne K. McPortland…