From Publishers Weekly
The American media, usually painstaking in their efforts to offend members of no racial, religious or gender category, consistently make one major exception-the Roman Catholic Church. So argues Jenkins, professor of history and religion at Penn State and a prolific author whose titles include Pedophiles and Priests and The New Christendom. Though anti-Catholicism arrived with the Pilgrims, only since the 1960s has it been aided by dissenters within the Catholic Church, primarily those who disagree with the church on sexual matters: birth control, feminism, abortion, homosexuality. Citing copious recent examples of anti-Catholicism in public protests, movies, television, publishing, the arts, the news media and academia, Jenkins concludes that offenses against Catholicism, unlike those against, say, Judaism or Islam, are rarely censored and never considered hate crimes. Similarly, historical offenses by Catholics are treated differently from those against Catholics: "If seizing Christian Syria and Palestine by the Muslim sword was acceptable in the seventh century, why was it so atrocious to try to reclaim them with the Christian lance 400 years later?" Jenkins, an Episcopalian, wants evenhanded treatment for all religions, whether through equal respect or equal openness to attack. Liberal Catholics may contend that vigorous dissent helps keep the hierarchy honest; others might argue that the largest American denomination does not need the protections afforded more vulnerable groups. For Jenkins, however, it's about fairness: "One does not make light of black heroes and martyrs, of AIDS or gay-bashing, yet when dealing with Catholics, no subject is off-limits."
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Fear and hatred of Catholicism have a long pedigree in English North America--land settled, after all, by Protestants more sanguinary than sanguine about their religious freedom. The anti-Catholicism book Jenkins promised in "The Booklist Interview" [BKL O 1 02] first recaps the history of American anti-Catholicism and distinguishes anti-Catholicism from anticlericalism, or distrust and hatred of the clergy, which need be neither anti-Catholic nor anti-Christian. Both right and left have been anti-Catholic at different times. The Know Nothing Party and the Ku Klux Klan attacked Catholicism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but liberals prosecuting Prohibition, family planning, sex education, legalized abortion, feminism, gay rights, and other progressive causes embraced anti-Catholicism later. Jenkins examines liberal anti-Catholicism in chapters on whether "The Church Hates Women" and "The Church Kills Gays"; the treatment of Catholics and the church by the news media, in the movies, and on TV; the current "pedophile priest" crisis; and dissident Catholic historians' critique of Pope Pius XII's relations with the Third Reich. He always carefully discriminates prejudice from mere tastelessness (e.g., recognizing South Park
as deliberately vulgar, not bigoted) and liberal from conservative conceptions of what is antireligious. He concludes with shrewd prognostication about what may cause future flare-ups of this resilient American prejudice. If not as globally portentous as The Next Christendom
[BKL Ap 1 02], this book is at least as eye-opening and complacency shaking. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved