Why speak about the nature of Catholicism on a politics website? Not because of the lasting contribution to political history and philosophy made by Catholic figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Augustine, Aquinas, Maritain, or Schumann. Neither because of the invaluable contribution to the human traffic of ideas that Catholic Social Theory or other streams of Catholic thought represent. Simply, here, because some elements, through repeated use of word and image, are attempting to project an utterly false picture of the Church and Catholicism. According to this ideology, repeated ad nauseam, the Church is an evil organisation, run by corrupt power-hungry and avaricious clerics; it is populated by 'paedophile priests' and exercises a pernicious and malevolent influence on society; hence the loss of its influence and authority is something to be welcomed (and even celebrated). These sections may give a token nod to the 'good individual Catholics out there' but this should be recognised for what it is: a cynical rhetorical manoeuvre designed to disarm people in order to render them more receptive to the attacks by generating the illusion that they are really being fair-minded, balanced and objective. They are not. They are disseminating prejudice and bigotry and subtly fomenting hatred.
They give examples of people who have committed evil and say, “This is Catholicism.” As if Catholicism itself generates evil. The fact that the evil in these individuals comes from within themselves and has nothing at all to do with the Catholic Faith other than to manifest their betrayal of it seems to escape those only interested in discharging bigotry and promoting prejudice.
What then is Catholicism? What is a Catholic?
A Catholic is the young woman who spotted an old man lying on the side of an Indian street. Covered in sores and in a state of complete wretchedness, this man had been abandoned and left to die like an animal for he was an “untouchable”. The young woman held him before bringing him home where she began to clean and care for him. Astounded by this, the man looked up and asked, “Why are you doing this?” Mother Teresa replied, “Because I love you.” That love would flow outwards and would eventually form a community that would transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of the “poorest of the poor”, of the most rejected, the hated, the disease-ridden, the “untouchables”.
That is a Catholic.
At the height of World War II, one now largely forgotten Irish priest based in occupied Italy saved thousands of Jews, soldiers and refugees of all kinds from certain death by hiding them in monasteries and convents, in Catholic colleges, in his own residence and in a network of apartments. He provided them with food, clothing and money and, if he could procure them, false papers to escape. Working with other priests, nuns, resistance agents and even communists he initiated and spearheaded ‘The Organisation’ a massive rescue campaign. He concealed over 4000 escapees. When the SS found out that he was a priest operating through the Vatican, they made several attempts to assassinate him. When the war ended this priest also ensured that German prisoners of war were treated properly. In 1948 the former SS Obersturmbannfuhrer, Herbert Kappler, the SS chief in Rome, was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. Only one man came to visit him: his hated former arch enemy, Msgr Hugh O Flaherty. For ten years Msgr O Flaherty came to visit him every month and spoke to him about the Christian Faith. As the effects of the Nazi ideology gradually wore off, Kappler began to remember his childhood belief in Christianity. In 1959 Kappler was baptised into the Catholic Faith. After saving thousands from his grasp, O Flaherty had saved Kappler himself.
Msgr O Flaherty, too, is a Catholic.
After living out decades of extreme, but joyfully assumed, hardship ministering to the Huron Indians, John Brebeuf, a French missionary to North America, was captured along with others by hostile Iroquois Mohawks. Brebeuf was first stripped naked and beaten all over. Then a hatchet heated in a fire was applied to his armpit and against the insides of his legs. A necklace of red-hot lance blades was placed around his neck. Then they girdled a belt of bark and resin around his waist and set it alight. Brebeuf’s face was set like a rock throughout. But suddenly, seized by spiritual exaltation, he began to preach to his captors urging them to convert and he also encouraged his fellow captors, who were suffering similar tortures. Enraged, the Iroquois Indians tore off his lips and cut off his nose. In derision of baptism they scalped him and poured boiling water over his head. Finally they cut out his heart... In the seminary, they had wondered whether Brebeuf might be too sickly to endure the rigours of the religious life. After his death, the Mohawks drank his blood, hoping to absorb his enormous strength. But Brebeuf’s strength came from Christ.
Brebeuf, too, is a Catholic.