Debunking Anti-Catholicism

BOOK PICK: Five Anti-Catholic Myths

Five Anti-Catholic Myths

Slavery, Crusades, Inquisition, Galileo, Holocaust

By Gerard M. Verschuuren               

Angelico Press, 2015

190 pages, $16.95

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Gerard Verschuuren’s recent book, Five Anti-Catholic Myths, contains five chapters, but only two arguments. The chapters (Slavery, Crusades, Inquisition, Galileo and the Holocaust) respond to the sort of conversational criticism leveled at the Church both in barrooms and cocktail lounges across the country. The arguments, fittingly for these settings, are more reminders of basic intellectual etiquette than ornate defenses of Catholicism. The first is to get the facts straight. The second is to see the facts in context.

For example, almost no one has the facts straight on Galileo or the Holocaust. Galileo was tried not for astronomy, but for theology — for publically claiming expertise in Scripture. As for the Holocaust, no one today knows just how much Pius XII actually did to fight Hitler. Writes Vershuuren about the pontiff’s death:

“Tributes to the deceased pontiff for his efforts to save Jews during Hitler’s Holocaust poured in from all sides. The New York Times took three days to print the tributes from New York City rabbis alone.”

Other tributes came from such names as Golda Meir (“[Pius] upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion.”) and Winston Churchill (“[Pius was] the greatest man of our time.”).

As for seeing the facts in context, consider the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps it is repugnant that a board of theologians were brought to Spain to try heretics, a few hundred of which were handed over each year to secular authorities for punishment, with an average of three being executed. But it is certainly more repugnant that the Spanish Inquisition had the lowest execution rate of any court in Europe at the time and that it was needed to replace a mob rule witch hunt in which “uncounted thousands” were “executed [as heretics] by secular authorities without fair trials or a competent assessment of the charge.” On almost every page, Vershuuren convincingly argues that the mythmakers know neither the facts nor their meaning in history. But this defense is marred by one consistent flaw: the tone of his writing.

At the beginning of Introduction to Christianity, the future Pope Benedict XVI compares, mischievously, a Catholic priest to a clown. Needless to say, the rest of the book clarifies and conditions this striking image. But there it is at the outset: a joke hedging on the anti-clerical coming from the pen of a cardinal. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger knew that saving the skeptic’s soul usually begins by granting his point. And Bishop Robert Barron, when confronted by an angry college atheist (and their number is legion), does not reply with contradiction, but with affirmation. “You’re right,” he says. “I don’t believe in the god you’ve described either.” To win over the skeptic, even and especially the casual skeptic, one has to first be winsome; and it is in this duty that Five Anti-Catholic Myths fails.

Frequently, Verschuuren sounds more irate rather than irenic. For example, on the second page of his chapter on the Crusades, Verschuuren uses the phrase: “the conquering Muslim hordes.” Even at the end of a thorough historical account, such a phrase lacks polish and tact. There, at the beginning, it startles. Skeptics, especially the casual sort whose ignorance inspired this book, are looking, rather, to be soothed. Irascible writing might calm the writer, but it never calms the reader.

The information in this slim volume is excellent, but to debunk the anti-Catholic myths in the minds of many will take more of a sheepish grin than an angry snarl. This task must, therefore, fall to the readers of Verschuuren’s mostly praiseworthy book.


John T. Goerke writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.