Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic

David Mills FAITH Magazine September – October 2012


"There are people here who, everything they do in public life, they gauge how The New York Times will react," says an unidentified New York City councilman, talking to The New York Observer in a story on political candidates' energetic pursuit of The Times' endorsement. The Times, the story explains, "is still seen as an unbiased arbiter".

Our eyebrows went up, too, but this is New York. The newspaper's kind of candidate is "somebody who is well-spoken, physically put together, has a sense of humour". Ideologically, he should be an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other kind of guy. "Be in favour of good government and the environment, but anti-development absolutists should run for community board president. Ideas for closing the income gap are encouraged, but so is responsible budgeting."

Except, and you had to know this was coming: "Going wobbly on abortion rights or gay rights is a disqualifier." A political operative explains, "You get the sense that for the single mother who makes $29,000 a year, they [the editors] care a lot more about her right to an abortion than her right to decent health care from her union."


"We got to where he was letting me off, he turned off the engine, and he began jabbering incoherently about men and women. Then he lunged, shoving his tongue in my mouth while running his hands over my breasts and up and down my torso." Thus Emily Yoffe's youthful acquaintance with Fr Robert Drinan, SJ, friend of her family and in all his years in Congress (1971 to 1981) an ardent advocate of abortion "rights”. Yoffe is the "Dear Prudence" advice columnist for the liberal website Slate and someone whose report you'd think would be noticed.

But not when she turns in a liberal icon. The story appeared on on June 21, and as we write six days later, no report has appeared in the pages or websites of The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, Time, or The New Republic. The Washington Post simply reprinted David Gibson's Religious News Service story on its website, as did The Christian Century and The National Catholic Reporter.


Anti-Catholicism lives. In a glowing review of a movie called A Perfect Family, Rex Reed writes that the main character Eileen is "a devout, self-obsessed Catholic so enslaved by dogma and ritual that she crosses herself and gives thanks to God before she so much as eats a vegetarian tamale." We had thought gratitude a good thing worth expressing, but maybe we're self-obsessed and enslaved by dogma.

Another example: "'What do you think?' someone asks. ’I don't have to think. I'm a Catholic,' says Eileen. I laughed like a loon." (Loons, of course, don't laugh.) The movie tells the story of a Catholic woman fighting to be named Catholic Woman of the Year while her dysfunctional family falls apart, and it apparently includes every cliché you'd expect, as well as teaching us about "misplaced faith" (Catholic) and "real family values" (not Catholic).

According to the IMDB website, the movie grossed $108,000. Someone lost a lot of money making this movie, and, you know, that makes us happy.


In the heat of current controversies over religious freedom, it is rarely noted that the churches, and particularly the Catholic Church, have been the guardians of social order and even of pluralism. The churches have been reticent to impose their views on others - the Catholic bishops have not even suggested making contraception illegal - and quick to extend their services to anyone who needs them.

But there are limits. And not just when the state tries to make the churches do things they can't do. Sometimes it tells them not to do things they have to do.

Alabama's immigration law, still unsettled, "makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptise, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant," as the Archbishop of Mobile, Thomas Rodi, said last year when he joined a suit against the law. It rules out anyone, priest or layman, encouraging them to go to Mass or giving them a ride to the church, letting them come to Bible studies or Sunday school, driving them to the doctor, giving them the food and clothing they need, counselling a pregnant woman against abortion or helping her take care of her baby.

As Archbishop Rodi concluded, "No law is just which prevents the proclamation of the gospel, the baptising of believers, or love shown to neighbour in need. I do not wish to stand before God and, when God asks me if I fed him when he was hungry or gave him to drink when he was thirsty, to reply: Yes, Lord, as long as you had the proper documents."

Faith Magazine