In the old days, Catholics who felt fed up with the pope or the Vatican could hang up a shingle as a former member of the Church of Rome and sometimes eke out a living by feeding horror stories to Protestants. It usually wasn't much of a living: standing at a shabby podium addressing a Bible Belt congregation who already believed far worse things of Catholics than any lapsed member of the church could tell them.

Nowadays, however, former priests and seminarians, ex-nuns, and disgruntled Catholics of every stripe who are willing to tell the world how bad it all was have found a boom market. Such perfidy has far more lucrative outlets now than it once did. The exchange rate for 30 pieces of silver is at an all-time high.

Thanks to the efforts of dissenting theologians in their battle against authority, we now have a church in which anything goes. In 1968, Paul VI issued his magnificent encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which he restated the church's traditional condemnation of artificial contraception by recalling the grand lines of the Christian conception of marriage. In the years leading up to this encyclical, the academics of the theological establishment had assured themselves and others that the church would lift its retrograde (or so they told us) birth control ban. Accordingly, stung in their amour propre, they went ballistic when the encyclical appeared. They took out ads in newspapers assuring couples that they could ignore the pope and remain good Catholics. They appeared on television wearing the manic look of someone telling the neighbors intimate stories about one's family. They predicted that lay Catholics would ignore the encyclical--and then bent their best efforts to making that prediction come true.

There were many at the beginning of the Humanae Vitae controversy who thought you could add contraception to Catholic life and everything else would remain the same. But to adopt the contraceptive mentality is to get caught up in all its consequences--abortion, random sex, marital infidelity, abused wives and children (since they are a drag on one's freedom), a generation of kids being raised in Brave New World child-care centers. Euthanasia is on its way to general acceptance, undreamt-of sexually transmitted diseases multiply. Furthermore, despite the crushing evidence to the contrary, sexual liberation is still touted as good for you. Kids are urged to get at it as early as possible. Paul VI predicted that all these things would follow on contraception, and they have--and worse besides.

The very public ruckus over Humanae Vitae was a watershed that changed forever the way most Catholics viewed the church and its teachings. First, they got a free pass from the television theologians to join the sexual revolution. Second, it became OK for the first time to tell stories about mean nuns and flaky priests, the net effect of which was to undermine the authority of the church as it went teaching the same moral doctrine as before. Soon enough, self-described Catholics were writing novels and plays whose theme was how dreadful it was to grow up in the shadow of Rome. Nuns who had left the convent published their memoirs, some of them salacious.

Inevitably, the attacks turned on the representative par excellence of Catholic doctrine, the pope. Any calumny about the papacy gets a ready hearing from those who--rightly--view the church as standing athwart the headlong rush of society into decadence. Furthermore, it is now de rigueur for the author of the attacks on the church to claim to be a Catholic in good standing.

Two recent entries in this new genre of self-hating Catholicism are "Papal Sin" by Gary Wills and "Hitler's Pope" by John Cornwell. The very titles tell the story. They were preceded by many other similar works, including those of ex-priest James Carroll, who regaled readers of The New Yorker a few years ago with Cornwell-style tales of Pius XII cozying up to the Nazis. Carroll had warmed up for this task by publishing "An American Requiem" in 1997, a species of literary patricide in which he trashed his military father while smugly congratulating himself for his own radical-chic protests against the Vietnam War.

We live in the age of the anti-Catholic Catholic. Those more faithful to the church will begin the dreary work of refuting the multiple charges of Wills, Cornwell, Carroll, and company. But the refutations will largely be ignored, as the real audience for the ravings of anti-Catholic Catholics isn't their fellow members of the body of Christ but the just plain anti-Catholics who gladly use the ammunition they provide to attack the church.

The connection between '60s sex and '60s dissent against Catholic teaching has long been noted. To this day, the flurry of accusations against the church, whether it be from a Wills, a Cornwell, or a Carroll, finally flutters back to where it began in 1968: rancor at the church's teaching on sexual morality. As marriages and families collapse around us, as pornography becomes the lingua franca of globalism, Catholic voices of anger are raised all right--but always to curse the pope and the church. One longs for the days when the speakers had the honesty to style themselves as ex-Catholics.

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