Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 1997
Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile recently told a story that should be treated as a parable for Catholics in America. His Excellency attended a local banquet as a guest of honor and, appropriately, was seated in everyone’s view on the dais. As the jokes of the after-dinner speakers grew more and more vulgar, he found himself in an embarrassing position. He asked himself: Should I stay or leave?
In respect for his hosts, the archbishop chose to stay. But he regretted his decision later on and had the courage to share his regret with the citizens of Mobile through his weekly column in the diocesan newspaper. I was visiting Mobile just after the column was published—the archbishop’s honesty was the talk of the town.
The archbishop’s parable contains two lessons for Catholics in this country. First, there is a warning against worldliness. Catholics have so successfully assimilated themselves into American culture that they are assumed too worldly to object to the vulgarity and violence that mark our cultural landscape.
The Catholics who came to this country worked hard to enter the fabric of its society. In doing so, they kept a low profile among a citizenry suspicious of those so-called idol-worshippers. Catholics have so successfully stayed out of the line of fire, that they have made themselves passive and unsure of their vocation in the public arena.
But, secondly, the parable contains a kind of warning. The archbishop, like many Catholics in this country, has decided this period of dormancy, so to speak, is over. No longer will Catholics sit silently and imply their approval of the increasing coarseness of our public life.
Does this mean that the slumbering giant that is this country’s huge Catholic population is beginning to wake up? I think so. This nation has already witnessed the moral-political clout of its Protestant evangelicals through the leadership of James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Ralph Reed. The day is quickly approaching when Catholics, like Archbishop Lipscomb, will declare an end to their implicit approval and complicity.
It won’t take many more incidents like the airing of the TV show Nothing Sacred to completely rouse the slumbering giant. No doubt new insults will come. The media elite have grown so used to the open season on Catholics they will hardly notice the change in wind direction. As Brent Bozell recently put it on my WEWN radio show, the entertainment moguls of New York and Los Angeles hardly seem to notice the America that lies in between, the America that believes in God, the family, and traditional values.
One hopeful sign is the success of the Catholic League for Civil Rights in getting a genuine national petition drive started in protest to the airing of Nothing Sacred on ABC. By the time you read this column, the first few episodes, barring a miracle, will have been broadcast. Michael Eisner, president of Disney, which owns ABC, tried to dismiss Bill Donohue’s heroic efforts by calling him “non-big time.” How much is revealed in this choice of words! Eisner and his fellow executives clearly consider themselves occupying the big time, well above the heads of the 300,000 members of the Catholic League, or any other disagreeable Catholic group for that matter.
It’s too bad that Jesuit America provided ABC the smokescreen of its Catholic imprimatur. But, of course, a Jesuit was the screenwriter of the pilot episode as well as several of those that will follow. I suppose that is also why the president of Georgetown University, Leo O’Donovan, S.J, found the original episode “promising.” Having watched that episode closely, I must say the only promising thing about it was Father Ray, the main character, resists the insistence of the feminist nun who wants to call God “mother.” But no doubt future episodes of Nothing Sacred will find Father Ray receiving enlightenment on this matter along with the rest of the dissident agenda.
Eisner may well rue the day that he so grossly underestimated the discontent among many of this nation’s 60 million Catholics. Even by Disney’s exalted standard, that’s a sizable market share! I hardly need to point out the tragic, and sad, irony of this entertainment giant that is gradually alienating its audience—the traditional family. The company that used to affirm the best for our families is now, apparently, fully invested in promoting a social outlook at odds with the wisdom and teaching of the Catholic faith. Like Archbishop Lipscomb, none of us can sit smiling at the cultural table while our guests require us to endure cruel jokes at the expense of our humanity and all those around us. Let’s hope the joke of Nothing Sacred gets us up out of our comfortable seats.