Maureen Dowd’s Catholic Problem
The latest innovation in a long line of bigotry


George Weigel

The principal example of this new, Catholic anti-Catholicism — indeed, the Platonic form of the new Catholic anti-Catholicism — is Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist of the New York Times. Six times since February, and thrice in the past three weeks, Ms. Dowd has lifted her poison pen and, serially, mocked the Church’s practice of sacramental confession and its settled conviction on the inadmissibility of women to Holy Orders; portrayed the cases of abuse recently brought to light in Philadelphia as part of an ongoing pattern of crime in the Church; deplored the beatification of John Paul II on the grounds that he failed “to protect innocent children”; charged that the Vatican “preferred denial to remorse” and was deliberately stonewalling the reform of the Church in Ireland; mocked the conversion to Catholicism of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich while suggesting that prominent churchmen, who “have a fuzzy grasp on right and wrong,” had been Gingrich’s toadies; and then committed calumny against New York archbishop Timothy Dolan in a Fathers’ Day column that took anti-Catholic-bitchery-as-commentary to a new low.

Dolan, you see, opposed New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to get the New York state legislature to adopt “gay marriage,” of which Ms. Dowd approves. But Dowd was not content to register her disagreement with the archbishop, who had properly described such legislation as a quasi-totalitarian extension of state power. No, the Catholic girl raised in Blessed Sacrament parish on Washington’s Chevy Chase Circle lit into Dolan — “the Starchbishop” — and the Church as a gang of hypocrites who defend marriage but deny it to gay couples; who worry about the young leaving the Church but then don’t protect the young from sexual predators; and who have tried to slough off responsibility for clerical sexual abuse by blaming it on a toxic ambient culture, a tactic Ms. Dowd unoriginally described as “Blame Woodstock.”

The last is, in fact, the key to understanding Maureen Dowd’s particular form of virulent anti-Catholicism. Ms. Dowd believes in the sexual revolution as fervently as Archbishop Dolan believes in the Creed in which he leads his congregation at St. Patrick’s every Sunday. The difference between them is that Archbishop Dolan can rationally defend the articles in the Creed, while Maureen Dowd is impervious to the massive empirical evidence that demonstrates that the sexual revolution has been a snare and a delusion for a) women, b) children, c) men, d) marriage, e) family stability, and f) the country’s political culture (cf. Clinton, William Jefferson [whom Dowd helped save in 1998]). Interestingly enough, and in this respect, Maureen Dowd is not the linear descendant of Nast and the rationalist anti-Catholics, who were more often than not the “progressives” of their day. Rather, she is the rhetorical great-great-granddaughter of Elder W. C. Benson and his 1928 anti-Catholic screed, the difference being that Benson’s fundamentalism involved notions of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, while Dowdian fundamentalism involves an irrational and empirically unsustainable belief in the sexual revolution.

Which means, among other things, that Maureen Dowd is unwilling to take the slightest measure of responsibility for helping sustain the toxic culture of an America in which the sexual abuse of the young is a general societal plague, not some Catholic-specific perversity. And because of that she cannot concede what every fair-minded observer concedes: that the Catholic Church in America today is quite likely the country’s safest environment for children and young people. The Church has cleaned its house while Maureen Dowd and other prophets and prophetesses of the Sexual Free-Fire Zone have blithely ignored the evidence of the broken and crippled lives caused by the sexual license they applaud as liberation.

Given the other detours from reality that regularly appear on the Times op-ed page, Maureen Dowd’s Catholic anti-Catholicism is, perhaps, not all that odd. Such prominent placement for irresponsible and increasingly ad hominem anti-Catholic rants does, however, suggest a residual fear among Times editors that the Catholic Church just might remain a formidable foe in the battle against that lifestyle libertinism the Times editors regularly commend to their (shrinking) readership. The editors’ fears, we may hope, are not without foundation, even if their sense of journalistic fairness is, to put it gently, questionable.

As for Maureen Dowd, well, the Light is always on for her, too — as she would discover if she ever took the trouble to get to know men like Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. 


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