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Can't blame Catholic Church's problems on the cultural elite

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MAXWELL
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By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002


You try to ignore the ridiculous.

But some self-deceptions are so ludicrous and dangerous that we sin by not exposing them to public scrutiny. Such is the case with the Catholic League's hot-off-the-press 2001 Report on Anti-Catholicism.

Given the horrific sex abuse scandal that racks the Catholic Church, who would believe that the League would portray the Church -- one of the most powerful, willfully insular institutions of any kind on earth -- as a hapless victim?

But here is William A. Donohue, the League's president, doing just that: "Not only is anti-Catholicism alive and well, it is proving to be the most difficult of all expressions of bigotry to defeat."

When I first read these words, I thought Donohue was writing satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal" and George Orwell's novel Animal Farm. But, no, Donohue is not satirizing. The man is dead serious about Catholic victimization.

"There are many reasons for this phenomenon, but none is more important than the role played by our cultural elites," he writes. "Our cultural elites are found largely in education, the media, law, the publishing world, the arts, and in that part of the non-profit sector marked by advocacy organizations. It is these men and women, all of whom are well educated, who are responsible for the transmission of ideas.

"Though they are neither monolithic nor conspiratorial in nature, it is undeniably true that their ranks lack the diversity that they champion. Left of center ideologically, their tolerance for bigotry in general is low, save when it comes to Catholicism. . . . Indeed, many of these elites are actively engaged in promoting Catholic bashing."

For some reason, Donohue conveniently forgets to list the Jesuits, the Catholic Church's own intellectuals among the nation's cultural elites. From everything I know about them, Jesuits are brilliant and lean left nearly all the time. But that is another tale altogether.

Here, I must announce that I have the dubious honor of being labeled as one of the anti-Catholic elites in the newspaper industry. (I have never been labeled an elite anything before.)

Here is how the League describes me and my column of March 7, 2001, in its publication: "Columnist Bill Maxwell of the St. Petersburg Times condemned Edward Cardinal Egan of New York for taking exception to Renee Cox's photograph "Yo Mama's Last Supper' on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Maxwell stated that the cardinal has "no ethical authority' to judge the artist and raised the issue of clerical child abuse.

"Maxwell had a follow-up column calling Cardinal Egan a hypocrite after a clergy abuse lawsuit was settled by parties out of court in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., which Cardinal Egan headed before his New York appointment. The abuse took place before Cardinal Egan was assigned to Bridgeport."

Actually, I objected to Egan's calling Cox a "pathetic individual" simply for her artistic, photographic rendering of Christ as a nude black woman.

This is what I wrote more than a year ago: "Does a photograph make Cox "pathetic'? Here are my questions for Egan: Has the good cardinal ever used the word "pathetic' to describe the priests who molest little boys? Or has he been part of the vast coverup that protects these despicable men? Their behavior is both a crime and a sin. It often permanently ruins the lives of children . . . and the lives of the children's parents."

Indeed, I further wrote: "Egan is a hypocrite. He does not have the ethical authority to judge Renee Cox. . . . If truth be told, priests who abuse boys -- along with church leaders who protect them by covering up the sins and crimes -- are the "pathetic' ones."

Donohue and others may not like what I wrote and may want to call me anti-Catholic. But what they fail to understand is that the behavior of the church's leadership -- its arrogance, its attempts to intimidate, its secrecy, its orchestrated coverup of abuses -- is what is giving the church a bad name.

Church officials and the Catholic League cannot blame their problems on so-called cultural elites. Given all that has transpired, the Catholic Church -- including Egan -- lacks the ethical authority to judge me or anyone else.

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