"The New Anti-Catholicism" is sure to be good reading for any individual interested in the long saga of politics, scandal, pride and prejudices associated with the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. This is a semi-scholarly investigation into what this author perceives as blatant prejudice and bias against Catholics and Catholicsm from many sources throughout the ages. Of particular value in this address is Jenkins' attempts to define the concept of 'bigotry' on a sociological level, as well as raising consciousness about 'hate crimes' and the proliferation of new laws and administrative codes which are entering American courtrooms in efforts to suppress Catholics. While every group imaginable seems to have some immunity to blatant hate language and other hate crimes, Catholics and Catholicism seem immune from such protection. Jenkins' book is dedicated to the task of providing evidence that anti-Catholicism is not only widely tolerated, but even promoted in a type of public attempt to demonize the Catholic Church as part of society's ever greater need to create and maintain a "folk devil" which will symbolize the worse attributes that can be found in any given culture. Jenkins major thesis is that anti-Catholicism is significant and remains one of the last unconfronted prejudices in modern America.
The book is divided into ten chapters to deal with specific topics or areas of sensitivity that serve as targets for the type of prejudice Jenkins is talking about. In these chapters the Catholic Church is described from the viewpoint of liberal and protestant politics who view the church in general as "anti-American" and "anti-Christian." The roots of the prejudice are old, inextricably linked with Anglo-American" and political ideologies from the seventeenth century forward. Jenkins provides some speculation for this prejudice. In his speculation Jenkins provides fertile ground for critics, or reactionaries, to dispute the issues, but largly attributes the existence of these fears to the fact that the Roman Church has attempted to impose it's truth and opinion into the mainstream for many years. Right or wrong, Jenkins seems to capture attitudes that have dominated public opinions and have been tolerated with little sympathy for those Catholics who feel bullied by them.
While many internal debates within the Catholic Church are occuring to challange, reform or renew Church teaching today,
Jenkins feels particularly strong in holding the news media responsible for encouraging anti-Catholic bigotry, in part because the media makes little effort to educate the public about the historical or theological nature of Catholic praxis.
Jenkins' asserts the media uses it's power to gather support for their own liberal agenda, creating the image that the Church is practicing bigotry towards certain groups in the oppression of their rights, as if the Church is a democratic institution with civil right codes of the same order as state and national policy. Jenkins criticism is leveled against the media's lack of sensitivity to the religious sensibilities of Catholics, many of whom have no opposition to traditional teachings and policies of the second Vatican Council. In a similar detailed manner Jenkins outlines a number of other sensitive issues which he believes the media go to extremes to display sacrilege, rather than a more balanced and politically correct discussion. Although many legitimate issues are raised by the public about the Church, is it fair that the faithful and the problems belonging to the institutional structures are not separated in an effort to be more respectful and fair? In this sense Jenkins' point is that Catholic bashing has become an admirable trait -- and no subject is out of bounds.
One short coming of the book is the obvious fact that it was written before the release of the John Jay study, which already makes his persepctive some what out dated. In his bent to blame the media for distortions that paint the Church as perverse and corrupted, Jenkins seems to adjust the statistics and redefines the problems related to the sexual abuse scandal as far out claims motivated by the liberal agendas of certain victim groups such as the Link-up and the Survivors Network. In this capacity Jenkins seems to fail to grasp the serious nature of the betrayal of trust, by narrowing the crisis to only pedophile instances of abuse, and in this way minimizes the extent of the problem. It is obvious, I think, to any professional in the mental health field that Jenkins' attempts to discuss the entire abuse issue lack sensitive insight into the magnitude of trauma any victim, no matter what age, experiences when a betrayal of trust with a cleric happens. In his attempts to be fair minded he directs attention to the fact that no other denomination has received such public scrutiny, even through sexual abuse crimes are also part of their household. On this issue Jenkins may lose some credibility. Although the current scandal will generate more fodder for anti-Catholic bigotry in the future, there is some need to excercise a degree of reflective consciousness here -- is all the gossip just stereotyping and witch hunting, or is there cause for serious outrage and challenge? Perhaps Dr. Jenkins will reconsider his opinion after more data emerge.
On the whole Jenkin's book should be read by any devoted Catholic, as well as by those who are devoted to it's demise, so that both bias and brokenness can better be defined for what it is. At the very least this book expresses multiple sides of the tensions that exist between communities. Reading the book can help to promote dialog and self-reflection for groups and individuals that hopefully will work in a direction of sorting truth from bias. No matter what side of the arguement the reader might find themself on, they will also find they stand within and outside each circumstance, and this helps to develop critical reference points for analysis that could not be arrived at through a more insular view of the problems. A book like this inspires futher study, and so it must be considered to have significant heuristic and hermeneutic value. Equally possible is the ever hopeful possiblity that critical dialog and study could result in a sorting of the wheat from the weeds, and in this process the seeds of repair and gathering might eventuate in an act of reconcilation of enormous size. Phillip Jenkins' book seems dedicated to this goal.
Reviewed by Dr. Denise Durak