James Carroll in Light of Peter Abelard (The Catholic Right, Fifty-three in a Series)
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Apr 14, 2008 at 12:37:59 PM EST
The Catholic League's Bill Donohue never ceases to amaze me - and not in a good way. Time and again, he has found ways to defend the indefensible -- and new ways to embarrass many fellow Catholics.

Now he is at it again: this time maligning a Catholic who has nothing but an inspiration for a better Church.

James Carroll is an extraordinary man. Ordained to the priesthood in 1969, he immediately became a Catholic chaplain at Boston University. During his five years there, he studied poetry and published books on religion as well as a book of poems. From 1972-1975 he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter.

As Carroll's web site describes his work:

Carroll is a regular participant in on-going Jewish-Christian-Muslim encounters at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Carroll is a member of the Council of PEN-New England, which he chaired for four years. He has been a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at the Harvard Divinity School. He is a trustee of the Boston Public Library, and a member of the Dean's Council at the Harvard Divinity School. Carroll is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University.

In 1974 he abandoned the priesthood -- but not his faith -- to become a fulltime writer. He has called for greater democracy within the Church while writing on how religious zeal can all-too-easily fuel militarism. Among Carroll's works is his 2001 book Constantine's Sword which explores how darker forces within Catholicism appropriated the Cross as a symbol to inflame an anti-Semitism that contributed to the Holocaust. In 2007 Carroll collaborated with filmmaker Oren Jacoby to create a documentary based upon the book.

But Catholic League President Bill Donohue is no fan of James Carroll's Catholicism.

As Chris Rodda reported last week Donohue's Catholic League distorted an event held on April 9, 2008, at the Air Force Academy sponsored by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The Air Force Academy required students and faculty members attend a closed-door lecture on religious intolerance. Part of the program included clips from the film Constantine's Sword.  

The League said of Carrol in a  April 8, 2008 press release:

The movie is based on the widely discredited book by James Carroll, an embittered ex-priest. The book says the Gospels are inherently anti-Semitic and that unless the New Testament is gutted to the point where the messiahship of Jesus is rejected, Christian anti-Semitism will not end.

Then why does Donohue and his Catholic Right friends have such disdain for the film, the book and Carroll himself? Well a recent story in The Irish Voice provides the necessary insight:

Constantine's Sword grew out of Carroll's growing alarm about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which was roundly criticized for what many critics saw as its depiction of the Jews as Christ killers. A box office phenomenon on release in 2004, its initial take surpassed blockbusters like The Lord of the Rings and Titanic.

Says Carroll, "It was such an extreme example of the old mistake. It made it very clear to me that the broad population of Christians needs to have much more information about the Gospels and the sources of Christian anti-Semitism. They need to learn a way to read the texts that doesn't demonize the Jewish people.

"The tragedy of that film is that it gets re-released every Holy Week all over the world in churches and parishes. It's the most successful act of religious education in history and it's a catastrophe."

For the record, When Gibson's Passion of the Christ was released there were legitimate concerns about the film's anti-Semitic overtones. Among Gibson's chief defenders was Donohue who issued his usual bevy of heavy-handed press releases on the matter. It is also relevant that filmmaker Oren Jacoby also gave us the Academy Award-nominated documentary Sister Rose's Passion, the story of Sister Rose Thering, the nun who devoted much of life to expunging anti-Semitism from the Church - and also took on The Passion's anti-Semitism.

But Donohue's skewed and misplaced defense of the anti-Semitism in the history of the church is not limited to Jacoby and Carroll. As Chris Rodda wrote:

The Catholic League's portrayal of MRFF as anti-Catholic is ridiculous. Of the over 7,500 service members and veterans who have contacted MRFF for assistance, 96% have been Christians, and 1,800 have been Catholic. MRFF has received virtually no complaints about Catholic chaplains or unconstitutional activities by Catholic organizations within the military. Among the prominent members of MRFF's diverse Advisory Board is Gen. Robert T. Herres, USAF (ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- and a Catholic.

Rodda continues:

Donohue's mischaracterizing "Constantine's Sword" as "Catholic-bashing" is absolutely absurd. In fact, the James Carroll book upon which the film is based explicitly illuminates examples of Catholic iconoclasts such as Peter Abelard, Nicolaus of Cusa and Pope John XXIII as ideal examples of how a more tolerant, Enlightened Catholic faith should be lived.

And she calls Donohue out on his standard operating procedure:

What Donohue is actually doing is quite simple. As is his tired old habit, he is casting any form of Catholic thought that loyally dissents from a traditionalist mindset as Catholic bashing. His modus operandi is no different from Medieval Neo-Platonist reactionaries who spurned the scholasticism and rational inquiry teachings of Thomas Aquinas.

Chris's observation of James Carroll citing the twelfth century philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard is particularly insightful. Abelard too was a faithful Catholic who wanted to move beyond a Neo-Platonist fundamentalist vision of faith. Instead, he was one of the first Catholic thinkers to infuse rational inquiry and reason into his faith. But just as Carroll has a strident, reactionary detractor in Bill Donohue, Abelard had his, particularly in the person of Bernard of Clairvaux . It was Clairvaux who derided such refreshing thought with the rebuke, "Faith does not dispute, it believes;" as if faith has nothing to do with reason.

What Donohue is doing is nothing less than a form of theological McCarthyism, one where accountability, correction, and true rational inquiry is equated with disbelief and disloyalty. It is a loathsome tactic that generates distrustand disunity rather than the ostensible the loyalty and uniformity Donohue seemingly intended to foster.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :
Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine   Part Forty   Part Forty-one   Part Forty-two   Part Forty-three   Part Forty-four   Part Forty-five   Part Forty-six   Part Forty-seven   Part Forty-eight   Part Forty-nine   Part Fifty   Part Fifty-one   Part Fifty-two

This is an important story for two reasons. First, it further illustrates Donohue's general lack of decency. But secondly and more importantly, it establishes that it is James Carroll and not Bill Donohue who is truly protecting the religious freedom of Catholics in the military.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Apr 14, 2008 at 12:41:45 PM EST
Donohue wouldn't know decency if it hit him over the head. He is more interested in dissing and criticizing anyone who doesn't fall into line with his narrow view of "orthodoxy." If the folks Donohue disagrees with are Catholic, they are "bad Catholics," and if they are non-Catholic, they are "anti-Catholic," even if the criticisms have merit.


by khughes1963 on Mon Apr 14, 2008 at 08:54:23 PM EST

...that Donohue appears to be defending certain Evangelicals who are trying to convert individual military personnel away from Catholicism. Now, isn't that contrary to the supposed role of a group that calls itself "the Catholic League?

By the way, it's a pleasure to be back.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 07:44:38 AM EST

Respect for the rights of individual conscience means everyone -- and those who abuse their positions in the military and the government to proselytize for evangelical protestantism of one sort or another, are abusing Catholics and other Christians in much the same way as minority religions.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 12:09:23 PM EST

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