You can answer this publicly if you wish too.
An acquaintance of mine is reading ‘Far from Rome, Near to God’. I read one of the testimonies. It totally distorted and twisted the Catholic Church and its teaching, so much so, that I wanted to throw up. I know this person is reading it and believing it. I can tell this from our conversations. I literally don’t know what to do. I’m currently getting frustrated with this ignorance and distortion, and this person’s being so gullible and believing it.
Do you have any advice? Also do you have any comments or thoughts about this book?
This is what blacks, or “poor white trash” or what gays and lesbians feel when they are hated and put down, not for what they have said and done, but simply because they exist.
The difference is that while racism, social elitism and homophobia get plenty of condemnation in the media and social networks, anti-Catholicism is still a socially acceptable bigotry. You can not only get away with hating the Catholic Church, but there is a peer pressure to trash the Catholic Church as an evil and ridiculous cult.
The roots of anti-Catholic hatred go back to Elizabethan England, and were imported into the East Coast by Protestant colonizers, who were raised from childhood to despise Catholic “superstition” and “dangerous acts of sedition” against the righteous Protestant monarchs of England. Even in universities like Harvard, professors taught the “black legend” which made hyped up and exaggerated the Catholic failings of history, while glossing over and ignoring the roots causes of certain injustices of history.
In the 13 colonies, until the First Amendment was drafted, Catholics at times were forbidden from openly practicing their religion. Even then, Protestant preachers continuously preached about the “menace” that Catholics were to American democracy.
The term “Nativism” comes from a deeply held conviction that America, the U.S., was founded by God to be a white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon (or Northern European) nation.
From the beginning, Catholicism was seen as idolatrous, immoral, and an anti-democratic, pro-monarchist seditious, treacherous movement. To be a true American, was to beware and vigilant of the menace of Rome!
During the arrival of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, France, Germany, and England in the 1800’s, nativist anti-Catholicism reached a fevered pitch. An entire political party called the “Know Nothings” was founded to combat “Rome, rebellion, and rum” which the immigrants brought with them.
The Know Nothings were even permitted between the 1840’s and 1860’s to form gangs and mobs, and with permission of the local police, to burn down Catholic schools, convents, and churches back East.
In New York, they would go down to the docks with bats and literally seize and savagely beat on Irish Catholics as they arrived poor and starving from Ireland. Later on, Italians were the subject of vicious attacks as well. This was depicted in the movie, “Gangs of New York.” When pressed for details of their criminal conduct, these anti-Catholics would simply respond, “I know nothing,“ hence the term "Know Nothing” party.
In the late 1800’s, people tired of the hatred of the Know Nothings when they saw how patriotic Catholic Americans served with bravery and distinction during the Civil War, and how numerous Catholics had given shelter, comfort, and charity to the sick, the dying, orphans and widows left over from that war.
But the Know Nothings were soon replaced by the Ku Klux Klan, who pressed on the struggle to foment anti-Catholic hatred. The Klan worried that Americans were becoming too accepting of Catholics. They warned Americans to defend only “the old time religion”–a catch phrase for untainted, Bible based Protestantism.
Protestant preaching during the Great Awakening, from practically every denomination, kept up a steady onslaught of anti-Catholic bigotry as well, from the 1800’s, well into the 1960’s, campaigning vigorously in many corners to defeat the Kennedy campaign from bringing the “Roman menace” to the White House.
There is actually a bibliography or library of classical books from the 1800’s that was utilized to convert Catholics out of the Catholic Church to “real Christianity.”
There are such titles as Hislop’s “The Two Babylons” that “proves” that Catholicism is a modern form of Babylonian and Egyptian pagan idolatry, or “Fifty Years in the Church of Rome” by Chiniquy, with its sordid tales of Catholic priests trying to overthrow democracy.
A famous book is also “The Diary of Maria Monk” about the Canadian nun who describes how every nun is a whore, and every convent is a whorehouse. Maria Monk’s diary was actually the cause of a number of convents being burned down in the United States.
This heritage of bigotry is a gift that keeps on giving in the form of anti-Catholic bigotry across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the inner circles of the Democratic, Republican, Tea parties, etc. and across the literature of the “Pro-Choice” and Feminist movements. Even people raised Catholic often use the Know Nothing and Klan catch phrases to describe their Church, unaware of the roots of such words as “papalotry.”
So this is the background to the book you have written to ask me about.
“Far From Rome, Near to God” is, in its very title, an offensive and unChristian attitude to take toward Catholics. Even if a Protestant believes that Catholics are idolaters and sinners, it is neither Biblical nor very Christian to imply that people who “follow Rome” are far from God. After all, did not the Lord Jesus show love and compassion for the sinner and the publican?
Secondly, this book (“Far From Rome”) is written in the long tradition of gossipy, rambling, scandal mongering “testimonies” of people who can dish on the “nasty secrets” of Catholic life from the “inside.”
When Chiniquy wrote his book 150 years ago, he wrote in the exact same style—“Far From Rome” is an angry, bitter “tell all” where we see the old anti-Catholic diatribes repackaged by new haters. Nothing is new, really, under the sun.
I was a newly ordained priest over 20 years ago when “Far From Rome, Near to God” was published by anti-Catholic Protestants in 1993. I think it was bandied about as a “ground breaking” work because it was the testimony of 50 CATHOLIC PRIESTS who had “escaped the Church of Rome” in order to find Jesus Christ as “real Christians.”
The alleged priests portrayed in the book struck me as odd. They did not describe the Catholic Church of today. Most all of their stories were descriptions of pre-Vatican II seminaries, liturgies in Latin, and being forced to wear full habits and memorize catechisms.
It was even more odd that although the identities of five or six priests could be identified by me, the other 45 could not. These were the days before Google, and in “Far From Rome” these men could say they were priests but did not give enough information to check out their stories. I think that is kind of sneaky.
You are expected to read this book and trust its authors, but not verify their identities or what they say. I wondered if these men who claimed to have juicy dirt on the Catholic Church did not have their own dirt to hide? One of them, for instance, claimed to fall in love while he was teaching at an all girls, Catholic high school. Hmmm. Was he a “reborn Christian” or just another guy who seduced an underage girl and got kicked out of the priesthood?
The reason I heard about this book was because back in 1993, one of the locals who had left the Catholic Church gave a copy of the book to her Catholic relative and said, “Give this to your priest so that his eyes will be opened!”
My eyes were opened, to see how gullible some adults are and easy to fool about the “errors” of the Catholic Church. If your friend has fallen for these distortions, be patient with him and simply challenge him. If he wants to learn about the Catholic Church, why doesn’t he just ask you for your opinion? Does he think so little of you now because you converted to Catholicism? Does he think that now that you are a Catholic, you are also a liar?
Also, if we live in 2014, why is he reading about the Catholic faith from these men who confessed to leaving the Catholic Church 30, 40, or even 50 years ago? “Far from Rome, Near to God” is decades old now. How is that an accurate picture of Catholicism?
If these men in the book were afraid to escape the Catholic priesthood because the Church is “so powerful” then why do so many priests continue to happily minister right now? After all, the Church is no longer powerful and it would be easy for more priests to “escape Rome”, no?
Ask your friend, also, why these ex-priests work so hard to accuse the Church of harming people? Because when we read the stories of Protestants who become Catholics, we find their stories to be uplifting and positive.
When ex-Protestants turned Catholic talk about their former Protestant churches and congregations, they speak of them as “devout” or “lovely” or “hard working” in the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Doesn’t this guy you know find it quite curious that these ex-Catholic priests could only say mean spirited and hateful things about the Catholic Church? How is that the sign of a “joyful, born-again Christian?” By their own admission, the men who write “Far From Rome” admit that they had a limited knowledge of the Catholic Church, which is a worldwide Church.
You see, a real conversion of a Christian should be a story of growth and maturity in dealing with new truths, new theological studies, new spiritual quests. It is a story where you speak of your sins and your failing and struggles, not those of others. It shouldn’t be a chance to trash your old church and stereotype the people there, most of whom don’t fall under labels or stereotypes.
What do you say to a Protestant friend who is reading through ignorance and wallowing in it happily like a pig in mud? As I said, be patient, but focus on parts here and there of the book and then just pick them apart with brutally honest questions. Under scrutiny, a gullible person will at least stop and think about what he is swallowing hook, line, and sinker.
Also, there are some links that can help you polish your skills as a Catholic apologist. It take a long time and long discussions in order to become good at defending the Catholic Faith. So be patient as well for yourself, because you are just beginning. At least you had the integrity to recognize bigotry and to call it out in the form of this book.
Here are the links:
God bless and take care, Fr. Angel