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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
23 May 2015
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"Inimitable Backwardness?" I Totally Disagree!


You can put me down as a fan of Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, who never flinches from taking on, with both passion and logic, the Rich and the Powerful when they are exploiting everyday working Americans. But this time, Meyerson has written something so wrong and so offensive that it would be cowardly to ignore it and to fail to rebut his error.

In case you missed it, on Dec. 17, the members of eight Virginia Episcopal churches voted, by big majorities, to leave the American Episcopal Church over the divisive issues of ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex marriages. These splinter parishes will join Anglican churches in the developing world, including one led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, whose opposition to homosexuality is close to absolute.

Not surprisingly, Meyerson criticizes harshly the dissident Episcopalians for joining up with Bishop Akinola, who supports legislation that, according to The Associated Press, would outlaw in Nigeria "any form of association between two gay people, social or otherwise. ... And anyone attending a meeting between two gay people, even two friends in a private house," could face up to five years in prison.

Not content to condemn the breakaway Episcopalians, Meyerson accuses the late Pope John Paul II of seeking new Catholics in the developing world," where traditional morality and bigotry, most especially on matters sexual, were ... more in synch with the Catholic Church's inimitable backwardness." 

Inimitable backwardness? Baloney. As a Catholic who remains critical of my church's unwillingness to ordain women to the priesthood, I am outraged by this gratuitous smear.

Let's look at the record. Pope John Paul, a muscular anti-communist, was embraced by conservatives, and many liberals, when he warned the communist thugs of his native Poland not to even consider trying to dismantle Solidarity, the band of brave trade unionists.

No world leader was more outspoken ("War cannot be decided upon ... except as the very last option and in accordance with strict conditions.") in his opposition to the U.S. war against Iraq. He earned the enmity of the Bomb Baghdad crowd, including conservative Glenn Reynolds, a favorite of The Wall Street Journal and The National Review, who wrote, "Before the child of Iraq freedom was born, the Vatican was ready to kill it." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly vilified the pope for having "the chutzpah to call the Iraq war immoral."

An ardent foe of communism, he was no uncritical fan of unchecked capitalism.

He lectured countless audiences, including a packed Yankee Stadium crowd, on their responsibility to their less-well-off brothers and sisters.

Inimitable backwardness on human rights? Who organized the fight for forgiveness of the crushing debt owed by people of the Third World? Pope John Paul, that's who.

Yes, he adamantly opposed both euthanasia and abortion, and so strong was his opposition to capital punishment that on a visit to St. Louis he persuaded the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan to commute a death sentence, using these words: "To choose life involves rejecting every form of violence; the violence of poverty and hunger, the violence of armed conflict, the violence of drug trafficking, the violence of racism." Inimitable backwardness?

He led his church in public penance for its many sins in both liturgy and doctrine against the Jewish people. While forging real progress in Jewish-Catholic relations, John Paul remained steadfast in his support for the creation of a free Palestinian state.

The Catholic Church is an imperfect institution run by fallible men (and not enough women), too many of whom failed in the church's most urgent mission of protecting the children entrusted to its care.

Still, I would urge my friend Harold Meyerson to reflect on the wise words of Sen. Barack Obama, a non-Catholic: "What I am suggesting is this — secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King — indeed the majority of great reformers in American history — were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition."

Because without authentic tolerance for people of faith, Democrats in 2008 won't have a prayer!

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




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