Beginning of July, The New York Times published two articles that apparently had little to do with each other. A covered the Entomological Society of America’s decision to stop using the terms spongy and gypsy ant. The other concerned a new film by director Paul Verhoeven featuring an affair between two 17th-century nuns. “Forgive them, Father, for they have sinned,” the article begins. “On several occasions! Creatively! And wait to hear what they did with this statuette of the Virgin Mary.
“When I read this article in the morning about my yogurt and cranberry juice, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was just disgusting, ”Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer, told me. He was talking about the movie, not the moths. He found it striking that the Times would respectfully cover a language change meant to show respect for Roma, but also print a story that relished a movie scene in which a Catholic holy object is tainted. “Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice,” he wrote on Twitter, linking to an article he wrote 20 years ago that explores why some Americans still treat Catholics with suspicion or contempt. His argument, yesterday and today, is that he is acceptable in secular, liberal and elitist circles, such as The New York Times-mock Catholicism, especially the Church’s emphasis on hierarchy, dogma and canon law and its gender-related teachings.
Martin is well known in the American Catholic world for his relatively progressive approach to the issues that have divided the Church, including defend for greater Catholic acceptance of LGBTQ people. As a result, it is a frequent target opprobrium on the part of many conservative Catholics who tend to protest anti-Catholicism the loudest and loudest, which is why I wanted to speak with Martin: he deploys arguments similar to those of his detractors. We live in a time when editorial staff are revising their style guides to be more sensitive to race, kind, and sexuality; offhand comments perceived as fanatic can cost people their jobs; and entomological societies scour their lists of insects for derogatory names. Yet some aspects of identity and belief still seem to be a fair game for mockery.
Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Emma Green: The New York Times writing this new film titled Benedetta and his debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The article – written by a journalist, not a critic – is very taken by the lesbian sex of the nuns in the film. They apparently are using a statue of the Virgin Mary to do something that I cannot tell you out loud because you are a priest. When you read this, why did it strike you as anti-Catholic prejudice?
Jacques Martin: Well, first of all, it’s very subjective. One person’s criticism is another person’s anti-Catholicism. Second, we must be careful not to label every critic of the Church anti-Catholicism. The Church deserves its criticism, especially in light of the crisis of sexual abuse and financial scandals and other things.
What bothered me more than the movie was the article. The fact that you struggled to describe what the article was telling me should be an indication of how offensive it is. What if it was directed to another religion – something holy from Islam or Judaism used as a sex toy – and that was laughed at in The New York Times? To me, that seemed to me needlessly mocking.
Green: Why do you think it is more acceptable for some people to The New York Times write about Catholics as well as, say, Orthodox Jews?
Martin: I think anti-Catholic tropes are accepted in our culture for a number of reasons, unlike anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, or even homophobia. The tone of the article was: Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that silly? Isn’t Catholicism ridiculous?
Green: Do you think this is because people assume that the Catholic Church is powerful and that many Catholics in America are white and part of the Christian cultural majority? Doesn’t making fun of powerful people or institutions seem off limits?
Martin: We have always lived in a largely Protestant culture that distrusted Catholicism – papal infallibility, virgin birth, priestly celibacy. And there is a long history in the United States of anti-Catholic tropes. There are many reasons, including mistrust of authority and a misunderstanding of celibacy and chastity.
Green: I will show my cards i.e. I don’t care about a movie or how it’s written in The New York Times. But it sparked my interest because it’s arguably an example of the surrounding cultural signals that make people feel, especially among some conservative Catholics, that they are culturally aloof. You’re not usually in this camp, chopping an ax on how Catholics are oppressed. If so, do you have sympathy for this point of view?
Martin: Anti-Catholic cries are too frequent. Anti-Catholicism is nowhere near as widespread as racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism. Any criticism of the Church is not an offense against religious freedom. And The New York Times is not anti-Catholic. But every now and then it’s important to remind people that anti-Catholicism is not a myth.
Green: I wonder if there are any instances where this has become politically complicated for you. For example, when Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett appeared before the Circuit Court of Appeals, Democratic senators questioned her about how her Catholic faith would affect her decisions on issues such as abortion. . Senator Dianne Feinstein told him, “The dogma resides loudly in you.
Many thought it was blatantly anti-Catholic bigotry – with one U.S. senator expressing fear that an accomplished jurist could not be a righteous judge because of her faith. Did you think they were right?
Martin: Well, first of all, I thought that sentence was inherently funny. Dogma lives loudly within you. It was just strange, almost insane. But I think it was appropriate for Senator Feinstein to ask, “How will your religious beliefs influence your legal decisions?” It is not unreasonable.
Green: Do you think so? I mean, the Constitution says that no religious test should be required as a qualification for public service. It is a founding principle of our country that Americans do not look at religion when we look at people as public servants.
Martin: I think the difference is that Judge Barrett is well known as a devout Catholic. I didn’t think it was an offensive question. The way he was presented was a bit awkward.
Green: There are other examples of this. Now Vice President Kamala Harris, for example, interrogates candidates for the bench about their participation in the Knights of Columbus, an organization of Catholic men, supposedly because it would indicate something about their fairness on matters like abortion and their suitability to serve. I don’t need to tell you, Knights of Columbus members are mostly Catholic fathers holding fish fries in the suburbs.
Martin: I think this betrays more of a misunderstanding of the Knights of Columbus on Harris’s part. But here’s the point: if religion wants to be part of the public square, then it’s reasonable for the public square to ask questions about religion.
Green: What I’m getting at is that for someone like you, in particular, I think it might be easier to read a New York Times article and considers it disrespectful. But it may be more difficult for you to say, for example, that the city of Philadelphia exhibited an anti-Catholic bias when that penalized a catholic adoption agency for refusing to certify LGBTQ couples as prospective parents. Yet these political examples – if they are truly anti-Catholic prejudices – have a far more impact on people’s lives than a Verhoeven movie or a movie. New York Times article.
Martin: Even the little things, like a New York Times revision, contribute to an atmosphere where Catholicism is seen as silly, and I think this makes it more difficult for people to have conversations about the faith in general. I actually think the two things you’re talking about are intertwined. Debates on difficult topics related to religion must be accompanied by respect. You might want to talk about birth control, abortion, or religious freedom, but do so with respect. If you are in this culture of disrespect, mockery, and disparagement, it is even harder for people to know how to approach these topics.
Green: Do you still think anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice?
Martin: Yes. The kinds of things you read about Catholics would never be tolerated for other religions. Faith is treated like a joke. People see chastity and celibacy as a denial of sexuality, so they see it as a threat. But I often point out to people: You know people who are celibate and chaste. You know singles. You know aunts and uncles. You know widows. No one thinks they are crazy or disgusting or pedophile or dangerous. But when a person freely chooses him, he suddenly becomes a monster.