Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Anti-Catholic Catholics

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 13, 2011

When Bill Keller of the New York Times reviewed a new book on the papacy by John Julius Norwich, William Donahue of the Catholic League was—to say the least-- unimpressed. “It’s hard to say who is dumber—Bill Keller or John Julius Norwich,” Donahue said, citing several gross errors in both the book and the Keller review.

No doubt responding to Donahue’s broadside, the editors of the New York Times text Offered readers a peek into their own thought processes:

Through the years, The New York Times’s coverage of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican has received sharp criticism from practicing Catholics — including the past eight years that Bill Keller has been the paper’s executive editor. Yet Keller, who wrote this week’s cover review of Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, by John Julius Norwich, was raised within the fold.

That paragraph would be perfectly logical, and accurate, but for one major flaw. Can you spot it?

The lede makes four assertions of fact: that the Times is frequently accused of anti-Catholicism, that Bill Keller has been the executive editor, that Keller reviewed the Norwich book, and that Keller was raised as a Catholic. All are true. So where’s the problem? Go ahead; read the paragraph again if you like.

The problem lies in a single word: “Yet.”

If you are a sports fan, you should instantly recognize the problem with this sentence: “John is very tall, yet he is a good basketball player.” The word “yet,” in that context, suggests that John is a good basketball player in spite of his height, whereas we all know that height is a great asset in basketball.

So too with anti-Catholicism. If you’re choosing up sides for a basketball team, it’s not bad strategy to select the tallest men in the group. If you’re looking for people with an animus against the Catholic Church, it’s not a bad idea to start with people who have consciously deserted the faith. Bill Keller—who identifies himself as “a ‘collapsed Catholic’—beyond lapsed”—qualifies for membership in the large fraternity of journalists who enjoy criticizing the institution they have forsaken.

There are reasons, after all, why people leave the Catholic Church. Very few individuals will openly admit that they left because of their own weaknesses, because they could not meet the demands imposed by the faith. Far more frequently, the lapsed (or “collapsed”) Catholic will say that he disagrees with the Church’s teachings—more often than not, on issues involving sexuality. Since those same issues are at the forefront in popular criticism of the Catholic Church, the lapsed Catholics slide easily into the camp of the anti-Catholic propagandists.

Still, give Bill Keller and his ilk credit for this much: The “collapsed” Catholics admit that they have left the fold. In that respect they are far more honest, and far less dangerous as propagandists, than the many other anti-Catholics who continue to attack the Church from within, insisting that they remain Catholics while they do their utmost to subvert the faith.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bnewman - Jul. 14, 2011 10:35 PM ET USA

    Another example of deliberate deceipt in the NYT. Yes. Why would any fair observer support an anti-Catholic business, by buying their products?

  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Jul. 14, 2011 6:15 PM ET USA

    Given the NYT's long history of anti-Catholicism, one wonders why any "practicing Catholic" would continue to support it with their subscription dollars. I stopped about the time Keller started, and haven't missed it. If you don't give charitable dollars to agencies such as Planned Parenthood, that are opposed to Church teaching, why not respond in the same way to the NYT? A boycott that hurt their bottom line might actually convince them to at least moderate their tone, and fact check, too.

  • Posted by: Hal - Jul. 13, 2011 12:27 PM ET USA

    I thought the most telling part was this: "....received sharp criticism from practicing Catholics...." which would seem to indicate to me that they concede actually practicing the faith may give one standing to criticize perhaps the most anti Catholic mainstream media source in the country, the Boston Globe notwithstanding.