By PAUL A. BARRA
Just when you think religious tolerance and understanding has eased its way into South Carolina, up jumps a sad example of ignorance that it’s hard to believe. Those of us who live near the big cities of the state can easily forget that anti-Catholic bias still exists in and around our smaller towns. Sometimes it shows up in the press.
The latest example of anti-Catholicism in the local news media was a syndicated editorial printed in a Darlington weekly on New Year’s Day. When Marion D. Pawley of St. Joseph Mission in Darlington sent a copy of it to the dean of the Pee Dee Deanery and pastor of St. Michael’s in Garden City, Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, he was incredulous. As is his wont, the good monsignor ripped off a thoughtful riposte, praying that the publisher of the News and Press would offer an apology for printing the scurrilous piece. Instead, Morrell L. Thomas, Jr., ran the offensive editorial again and referred to Father Duffy as having a chip on his shoulder. Thomas was offended. He couldn’t see, he said, why the priest insisted on making much ado about nothing. This is what he calls nothing.
The editorial writer complained about a light sentence given to a priest in Florida who allegedly made sexual overtures to a web page signatory who was supposed to be a 13-year-old child but who was actually a police officer on a sting operation. No problem so far. But then the unsigned editorial went on to blame celibacy for the priest’s pedophilia. That’s plain ignorance.
Pedophiles are as often married people as not. Psychological profiles recognize that a celibate life is no indication of a predilection for a sexually abusive pathology. Pedophilia is a sickness that cannot be cured and that needs to be controlled by treatment. For an editorial writer to blame sexual aberrations on a celibate lifestyle is stupid.
But this editorial got ugly when it talked about what Pawley labeled “unsubstantiated, heinous crimes” supposedly committed by celibate Catholics.
“This incident is but the latest over hundreds of years involving priests and nuns sworn to celibacy,” the editorial said. “There are unknown, nameless infants buried in convents all over the world.”
Is it any wonder that Msgr. Duffy took issue with “all those lies” dumped into the column? He accused the newspaper of bigotry and dishonesty in printing the editorial: “Your anti-Catholic bias was certainly evident in stating without proof that religious women, and that would include Mother Teresa, could possibly be guilty of not only failing to live celibate lives, but of murdering and burying in convents children they conceived. I have to conclude that you speak not from ignorance but are guilty of telling a bold face lie.”
Pawley and her husband — who is not a Catholic — were astonished that the publisher they have known since 1956 would publish such blatantly prejudicial opinion in their community weekly. Mr. Pawley, former arts coordinator for the Charleston County School District, doesn’t think that his friend was lying.
“Morrell’s always been supportive (of the community), so this seemed completely out of character,” Hans A. Pawley said. “He obviously has not comprehended it.”
As infuriating and frustrating as the editorial is, all we can really do about it is to follow Msgr. Duffy’s advice: we need to pray for his eventual enlightenment.
Paul A. Barra, former senior staff writer for The Miscellany, is director of Religious Education at Church of the Nativity on James Island.