Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Mythbuster. Dr. Christopher Kaczor is a professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His published works include  The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, The Edge of Life: Human Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics,  and How to Stay Catholic in College among others.

His latest work,  The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church, has just been released. I had ten minutes to chat with him yesterday (part of one of those telephone press tours that authors do). We had a lot of ground to cover and not much time. Nonetheless, it was enlightening. Start the clock:

JWK: Your book begins with a quote from the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen saying “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”  Why would that be?

CHRISTOPHER KAZCOR: That’s a good question. I think there’s lots of different causes of this. I think one of the biggest causes is the media. If you look at portrayals of not just Catholic clergy but of clergy in general — on TV and in movies — very, very often they’re portrayed in a negative light. They’re deceptive, they’re crooked, they’re just trying to make money, they’re lecherous. And, I think, the way Hollywood has portrayed clergy, for now many decades, just sort of seeps into peoples consciousness.

So, I think that’s actually one part of the reason people maybe have misconceptions. But, another part of the reason, I think is that  many people kind of believe the kind of common myths that are (out there) — like the Church is against science.

Of course, if you really thought the Church was against science, against women or against guys, then, of course, you’d be opposed to the Church. So, in the book what I try to do is clarify and bring to light the accurate beliefs of the Catholic Church.  And, also, admit, frankly, the ways the Church has  injured itself by not being all it can be and all it’s called to be. The book is really trying to help people really clarify and come to a deeper understanding of the reality of what the Catholic Church stands for.

JWK: To what degree would you say the sexual-abuse scandals have made your job harder?

CK: The abuse scandal is a complete catastrophe. Now, in many people’s minds, they think of priests as deviant or as pedophiles. That is a real challenge for the Church.  Again, even though this idea of the pedophile priest is kind of out there — and, unfortunately, it is true that there are some priests who did sexually abuse minors — the reality is that sexual abuse is not something that is at all common among priests. Actually, the typical sexual abuser of children is not a priest or even a clergyman of any kind. Actually, it’s a married person like Jerry Sandusky.  Again, Jerry Sandusky’s case got lots of publicity because he had a position as a football coach. But the typical case of child abuse is, again, not a clergy person at all — let alone a Catholic clergyman.  And, if you look at the rates of abuse, it’s actually is something that is, in the contemporary Church, extremely low — much lower than it is, say, among public school teachers.

The sexual abuse scandal was a terrible scandal and it really damaged the Church very much but I think it really is a misconception and a myth to think lots of priests are pedophiles. That’s just not true.

JWK: Let’s just go through some of the myths covered in your book, chapter by chapter — at least, the ones we have time for. The first is “The Church Opposes Science.”

I must say I was recently surprised to learn from the new documentary film Cosmic Origins (executive produced by Robert J. Spitzer, a Jesuit priest) that it was, in fact, a Catholic priest who first came up with the Big Bang Theory.

CK: That’s right…It was actually a priest named Georges Lemaître. Another famous Catholic scientist is Louis Pasteur who was the first one to come up with a vaccine for rabies. Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin, was a Catholic. And, then in the history of science too, there’s many like Copernicus who was a Catholic cleric.

So, this idea that somehow the Church is against science or opposed to science is really a huge myth. The myth, I think, gained some traction because there’s alleged contradictions between religion and science — like, for instance, the idea that in Genesis the world is created in seven days whereas scientists tell us that the whole universe has been evolving over about 13.7 billion years. Now, for Protestant fundamentalists,  this actually is a kind of challenge and a kind of difficulty but for Catholics, at least, John Paul II said there’s no contradiction between evolution and the Doctrine of the Faith regarding man and his vocation.  So, one could believe in evolution. One doesn’t have to but one could believe in evolution and be a faithful Catholic.  So, for Catholics, at least, we believe that faith and reason are compatible and work together. We don’t share the same kind of view that faith and reason are against each other the way that many, say, Protestant fundamentalists believe.

JWK: How has the whole debate over stem cell research playing into the perception that the Church is anti-science? Of course, the truth is it’s just embryonic stem cell research the Church opposes — not adult stem cell cell research. And, if I understand correctly, it’s adult stem cells that reportedly have proven the most promising in yielding actual treatments for disease.

CK: That’s a very good point. You’re exactly right. The Church not only isn’t opposed to stem cell research in general (but) the Vatican actually sponsors adult stem cell research. So, doing research on (adult stem cells), everyone accepts that and the Church endorses that. All Catholic Universities have science departments that do scientific research (and) it’s perfectly fine to do research on adult stem cells. The problem with embryonic stem cell research is that it involves the intentional destruction of  embryonic human beings. And, because the Church holds that all human beings have dignity andall human beings should be accorded basic rights, the Church opposes any use of human beings in science that undermines their well being. And, therefore, the Church also opposes embryonic stem cell research that destroys and kills human embryos.  So, it’s not  an opposition to science that drives this but the affirmation of the basic human dignity of every single human being regardless of any condition.

JWK: Chapter Two of your book deals with the myth that the “The Church Opposes Freedom and Happiness.” Would you care to elaborate on that one?

CK: Sure. Lots of people think that the Church is really opposed to freedom and happiness and really that is also a myth.

JWK: What exactly do you mean by “freedom and happiness”?

CK: Well, that’s exactly what I was going to speak about. “Happiness” is something that we have to define. What exactly is “happiness”? You know, the hedonist would say “Well, happiness is just getting drunk and taking drugs and having sex.”  The person who is an egoist would say “Well, happiness is just having tons of money and being powerful over others.”

But the Church proposes a different conception of happiness — a conception of happiness that says “Look, real happiness consists of love — love of other people and love of God. And, you can have all the money in the world (and) you can  have all the bodily pleasure in the world and, really, that won’t lead to really true happiness.  So, what the Church does is proposes to us a model of happiness that actually is more likely to really get us happiness. That is to say the person who pursues bodily pleasure and becomes a drug addict and the person who pursues money above all else actually, even psychology says, is someone who’s not likely to actually attain happiness and satisfaction. Whereas, someone who is a good person, a good Samaritan, someone we might call him a saint or a holy person, a spiritual person, that person has love for God and love for neighbors and actually is able find true human happiness.

So, the Church, again, is thought of as (against) happiness. But I think you have to say “Look, what really is gonna get us happiness in the end?” And the Church says — and psychology confirms  actually — that real happiness is found in love and real relationships and friendships of virtue. That’s where we’re really gonna find out happiness — not merely in bodily pleasure in attaining a bunch of things.

JWK: Next, on your list, the myth that “The Church Hates Women.” I know women who, whether they think it should be legal or not, basically agree with the Church  when it comes to the morality of abortion.  But they have a problem with the idea that women are prevented from serving in the priesthood.

CK: Yeah, that is a big issue for lots of people. I hope that all men and woman of good will would affirm the idea that Jesus himself was somebody who respected the dignity and the vocation of women. Jesus is someone, in other words, who we can look to as a model for how to treat everyone  our life. But, if we look to the model of Jesus,  Jesus, it’s very  clear in Scripture, did not endorse the idea of women priestesses. The idea of woman priests was actually widespread in the ancient world — it was only the Jewish religion that confined the priesthood only to men.  And so Jesus retained this in having only having only the 12 Apostles, all men, be his first Apostles.  That doesn’t mean that women don’t have important roles in the work of Jesus. They do. In fact the most important role — the necessary role — was, of course, (his mother) Mary. And many other women like Mary Magdalene played an essential role. So. it’s not that being a priest is the only way to serve God. That view, I think, is something that the Second Vatican Council is very much against.  We all have a role in the Kingdom — whether we’re priests or lay people or we’re men or women.


At this point, our allotted interview time ran out and Dr. Kazcor had to move on to the next interviewer.  He was very gracious and I appreciated his time.  If we had had a little more of it though, I would have liked to asked him why Mary Magdalene isn’t considered an Apostle of Jesus since, at least according to my (admittedly limited) understanding, the Gospel of John reports her to be the first person to tell of His Resurrection. I must admit I’ve had friends who are much more knowledgeable about such things than myself try to explain to me why women should not be allowed in the priesthood but I still don’t get it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the  Church is anti-woman– in fact, I don’t think that’s true — but I still don’t see the logic behind the Church’s position on this particular matter.

Perhaps Dr. Kaczor will email me an answer. If he does, I’ll pass it on to you.

Other topics explained in Seven Myths include explanations of the Church’s stands on contraception, homosexuality, gay marriage and priestly celibacy.  Clearly way too much to be covered in a ten minute interview. For more, I direct you to his book.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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