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Angry voices on both sides

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 30, 2010

Last week in this space, I warned readers about a CNN television report, “What the Pope Knew.” That program, which set out to blame the Pope for the sex-abuse crisis, ignored key evidence that would have interfered with the producers’ argument. I charged CNN with grotesque bias, sloppy reporting, and a lack of journalistic integrity.

My critique of the CNN program drew an unusual number of angry email responses from readers. Oddly enough, these responses came from two very different groups, with diametrically opposing views. But in their own ways, each set of responses was disturbing. 

The first set of responses came from readers who somehow had the impression that by sending feedback to the Catholic Culture site, they were contacting CNN. (Obviously these were not regular Catholic Culture readers; I suspect they had seen my post on some other site, perhaps accompanied by a confusing message.) These readers—mostly loyal Catholics, I assume—were justifiably angry about the CNN presentation, and their messages bore testimony to that anger. Once I realized that the writers were confused—mistaking me for a CNN producer—I was inclined to be sympathetic to their arguments. But many of these messages were so angry, so vituperative, so insulting, that I could not maintain that sympathy.

Folks, if you want to influence people—and not just pick a fight, or satisfy your own desire to let off steam—there’s no reason to insult the person to whom who are writing. Maybe you think that someone who disagrees with you is bound for Hell, but you’re not likely to win him over by telling him that—as several readers unequivocally told me. It is sadly ironic that some Catholics think they should defend the Pope—that most humble, deferential, and polite of all debaters—by hurling invectives at the Pope’s perceived enemies. 

(As a footnote, if you want to lodge an angry complaint with a journalist, it helps to have your facts straight. Don’t waste your time, and make enemies unnecessarily, by aiming your complaint at the wrong person. Anyone who wrote to me complaining about the CNN special had not done his homework. I wasn’t responsible for the attack on the Pope; the people who were responsible never received those messages. But maybe that’s just as well.) 

The second group of angry email messages came from people who did understand what I had set out to do, and excoriated me for my attempt to defend the Pope from criticism. They, too, hurled insults and invectives at me. In their case, at least the angry words hit the intended target.

Yet these folks hadn't done their homework, either. If they had read my piece carefully, and perhaps even looked into my background a bit, they would have realized that I have been extremely critical of bishops who tolerated abusive priests. They might have asked themselves why, then, I defended the Pope. They might have taken a careful look at my arguments, and to understand why I made a distinction between the deplorable performance of the American bishops and the generally admirable efforts of the Pontiff. But they didn't. 

What made this group of messages both revealing and appalling is that not one of these critics raised a logical argument. Not one acknowledged the distinctions that I had made. Not one defended the CNN special (which would have been difficult to do, since it had not yet aired). Not one tried to rebut the points that I had raised. Instead these critics informed me that it was hateful to defend the Catholic Church. Several messages made the charge that my blog post qualified as “hate speech.”

(Go ahead: re-read my piece. Do you see anything hateful in it?)

Like anyone who engages in public debates, I am accustomed to criticism. I enjoy a good argument. But these messages were not arguments; they were assaults. More to the point, they were assaults on my right to make an argument in defense of the Roman Pontiff. My critics did not want to argue with me; they wanted to silence me.

More and more often, one hears the cry that someone who advances the teachings of the Catholic Church on a controversial topic—such as abortion, the ordination of women, or homosexuality—is engaged in “hate speech.” And such “hate speech,” we are told, should never be tolerated.

There is a campaign, my friends, to silence the voice of the Church. It is not yet in the mainstream, but it is gaining momentum. Critics of the Church are ready to charge that Catholic teachers and apologists are guilty of “hate speech”-- that they should not be allowed to make their arguments in public; or to participate in debates on a college campus; or to hold tax-exempt status; or to use the mass media. It is absolutely essential for Catholics to resist this trend, because if it succeeds—if it reaches the mainstream and gains its objective—it will silence the voice of the Church.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Oct. 07, 2010 10:29 PM ET USA

    Barring Divine Intervention the push to silence the Church will continue to escalate until it spills out into open violent persecution by the enemies of the Church. How long we have until this inevitably comes to pass is anyones guess but we are losing the culture war and our enemies are getting bolder every year and with the support of the mass media, education and government we better get ready to be martyrs because it will come sooner than later. I firmly believe this.

  • Posted by: jflare293129 - Oct. 03, 2010 5:48 AM ET USA

    "Hate speech" DOES hold criminal weight in some places! College academic senates have banned forms of "hate speech" from their campuses. Cities have dictated that people may not see this or that on public property. When challenged, judges merely ignore the Constitution and the populace don't care. Our Church's tongue indeed suffers great peril these days, and will for some time to come!

  • Posted by: Obregon - Sep. 30, 2010 10:41 PM ET USA

    Mr. Lawler, I read your first article on the CNN program against the Pope and did like the article but did not watch the program because I was not about to watch garbage against the Pope whom I love and respect. I'm sorry you were personally attacked for defending our Holy Father, and I'm wondering if Catholics bent on attacking the Holy Father are more disturbing than the CNN program doing the same. And yes, there is an effort in many quarters and even inside the Church to silence her.

  • Posted by: mjarman7759049 - Sep. 30, 2010 7:27 PM ET USA

    Of course, "hate speech" in the context of public debate is absolutely protected by the First Amendment. So the charge of "hate speech" holds no criminal or civil weight but is merely a political statement. Not coincidentally, those using this term are normally extremely libertarian in defining "rights" of preferred ideas or groups, but extremely authoritarian when advocating for extreme governmental intervention against disfavored ideas or groups.

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