Pope Pius IX:Catholic League Defends Indefensible by Steve Hirsch (Jan/Feb 2001)

Proclaiming itself as the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the US, the Catholic League identifies anti-Catholicism opinions in the media and brands them as bigotry. The league’s president, Dr. William Donohue, takes pride in dissuading and intimidating media from airing this rather liberal interpretation of bigotry. Donohue holds a PhD in Sociology, is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and sits on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. (Additional credentials include a masters in Homophobia and certification as a fully brainwashed believer in creationism.)

Even many mainstream and progressive Catholics are offended by Donohue’s reactionary positions and attitude. During a debate against Christopher Hitchens last March, Donohue celebrated the fact that a Catholic priest now occupies the congressional chaplaincy to the chagrin of hypocritical Protestant congressman. Many mainstream and progressive Catholics would prefer to see the end of the chaplaincy as it is a violation of Church/State separation and was always occupied by Protestants until now.

One of the many borderline comments made by Donohue during the debate was: “If we lived in a sane society, we would close down the Department of Education and give every single dime to the Catholic Church to defend the poor.”

Pat Robertson would probably disagree although he probably has a similar conviction concerning Southern Baptism.

Clever to call itself a civil rights organization in order to manipulate a media that is often sympathetic to civil rights causes, the league is an organization designed not only to get its wrongful ideas voiced but also to suppress opposition in the media. We, as humanist activists, should not allow the Catholic League to issue wrong-minded propaganda without challenge from our quarter.

The league’s research director, Robert Lockwood, constructs reports defending Church positions and activities. He has presented a deeply flawed report titled Pope Pius IX. The report is a defense of Pius–the kidnapper who was beatified and praised by Pope John Paul this past September 3 despite protestation from many progressive and mainstream Catholics.

Pius issued a document titled Syllabus of Errors in 1864. In it, he condemned separation of church and state, freedom of the press, atheism, rationalism, etc. Although Lockwood offers excuses for the positions on church/state and freedom of the press, he writes that atheism and rationalism “remain worthy of condemnation today.” This presents a dilemma for the Catholic League. If we condemn Catholicism, the league labels us bigots. If condemnation of Catholicism should be labeled bigotry, then condemnation of rationalism/atheism should be labeled bigotry. Thus Lockwood, and presumably the league, would be labeled bigots. Lockwood’s and Donohue’s brains reside in a curious world of one-way streets where the only thing that is circular is their reasoning. If we attack what they cherish, we’re bigots. If we were to object to their condemnation of atheism/rationalism, they would label us oversensitive atheists demanding political correctness.

Lockwood’s defense of Pius’ opposition to separation of church and state references Bismarck’s Prussia where the church was made subservient to the state. The excuse is that this subservience is what Pius opposed. Lockwood doesn’t mention that in the United States, separation of church and state was already protected by the Constitution’s establishment clause. Pius’ condemnation was aimed at our type of church/state separation as well as Prussia’s inferior model.

Regarding condemnation of free press, Lockwood avers that Pius was responding to a “viciously anti-Catholic press and a journalism that had no norms of objectivity or balance.” Here, I feel compelled to concede that in the vein of the old adage, “it takes one to know one,” the viciously anti-Jewish Pius, as purveyor of the papal states’ own biased newspapers and magazines, was eminently qualified to identify abuses of the “free press.”

Lockwood fatuously claims that a reason Roman Jews were required to live within walled in ghettos prior to Pius’ reign was to “protect Jews from mob attack.” He neglects to mention that the Catholic Church, at various times, required Roman Jews to wear emblems when they walked outside the ghettos. If the Church worried over Jews becoming victims of mob attack, it wouldn’t have required Jews to wear bulls-eyes.

Pius IX, is the Pope that ordered six-year-old Edgardo Mortara kidnapped in 1858 from his Jewish family in Bologna. Edgardo had been baptized by a Catholic servant without the parent’s knowledge. Catholic canon law held that children of Jewish/ Infidel parents should not be baptized without parental consent but if an effective baptism did occur, then the child must not be brought up by the parents. Heads of nations, newspapers, Jews and even many Catholics called for the return of the boy but Pius refused.

Lockwood clearly implies that although Pius ordered the kidnapping, and even though the kidnapping is indefensible, we cannot hold Pius responsible for having committed this immoral act. He states that Pius was “a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance.” Lockwood sidesteps the issue of personal responsibility for one’s actions.

Ayatollah Khomeni was certainly a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance among his circles within the fundamentalist community. Surely, Khomeni’s followers did what they believed was right within Islamic law when they kidnapped infidels. Surely, Usama Bin Laden is a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance among his circles. Or do only saintly Popes qualify for this excuse in the Catholic League’s foggy world of one-way streets?

The corollary to Lockwood’s claim is that Pius was “a man of his times in regard to the question of religious intolerance.” This is one of many disingenuous word manipulations employed by Lockwood in his report.

Lockwood’s report indicates that some claimed that the six-year-old Edgardo “showed immediate signs of the desire to live the Catholic faith, eagerly following the guards into church to celebrate Mass. The exact story, of course, will never be known of these early days as it became wrapped up in propaganda from both sides.”

This is beyond obnoxious. Lockwood is writing about a six-year-old boy. Six-year-old boys were tricked into walking out into Nazi firing squads because they thought they were going to play soldier. Lockwood knows no shame. Notice how he arrogantly equates the “propaganda” of the pro-kidnappers to the “propaganda” of the anti-kidnappers in an attempt to appear evenhanded.

The report states repeatedly that Pius was not an anti-Semite. One cannot help but note the strategic quality of this assertion. That Hitler’s anti-Semitism and the Church’s anti-Jewishness were two different and unrelated types of hatred is a tenuous notion at best, false at worst. In Pius’ case, the notion becomes downright silly when we consider the quote that the future saint called Jews “dogs” (Some Pius apologists have claimed this quote is not documented but it is. David Kertzer translates and discusses the passage in his new book, which is currently in press, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (Knopf, 2001). Kertzer found the quote in Pasquale De Francisis(1872), Discorsi del sommo pontefice Pio II, vol.1.)

Pius put the sanctity of a Catholic ritual ahead of the sanctity of the family.

Today’s Pope beatified Pius and praised him as someone to be imitated. How does September 3’s beatification of a kidnapper tie in with the alleged pro-family stance of Catholicism? Know that Donohue’s Catholic League will never answer this question with clarity.

The icing on this reeking cake of sludge is that Donohue’s so called Catholic civil rights group’s research director saw fit to write a 41-page paper on Pius IX yet never saw fit to express once in that paper any sorrow for the unjust, immoral travesty perpetrated against the Mortara family by an infallible saint to be. Civil rights organization–give me a break!

Steve Hirsch has been a professional investor for the past ten years. A Life Member of the Foundation, he lives in Florida with his wife and children. On behalf of the Sunshine State, he pleads for forgiveness from the ancient god of voting, Electus.

Freedom From Religion Foundation