Friday, January 29, 2016
In gathering up some library books and removing old post-its from them, I (apparently, again) came across the following passage from Mark Massa's superb book, Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. This passage identifies the moment at which the anti-Catholic crusader Paul Blanshard decided to devote his talents to a new kind of muckraking, with the Catholic Church as his target. Apparently this happened at my undergraduate alma mater, Dartmouth College, in a place where I spent a lot of time, the stacks of Baker Library. Curiously enough, the work that triggered Blanchard, Davis's Moral and Pastoral Theology, is the same work cited by Justice Alito in footnote 34 of his opinion for the Court in Hobby Lobby. At least Dartmouth had some good books in its library.
Here's Massa's account:
[T]he event that would reveal the path that brought Blanshard fame (of infamy) for several decades occurred while he was browsing in the Dartmouth College library. He came upon a four-volume work by the English Jesuit Henry Davis entitled Moral and Pastoral Theology. His eyes "bulged with astonishment" at the hypocrisy of sexually repressed celibate priests who "dared to prescribe the most detailed and viciously reactionary formulas" on sexuality, childbirth, and birth control. As Blanshard would later describe this accidental encounter, he stood dumbstruck in the Baker Library:
Did the public really know this amazing stuff? Why should I not take this volume and other documents of the Catholic underworld and do a deliberate muckraking job, using the techniques that Lincoln Steffens and other American muckrakers had used in exposing corporate and public graft in the United States? Why not? This was apparently one field not yet preempted by the muckrakers.
After a "short dip into the lower reaches of Catholic medical dogma," Blanshard went to Washington, D.C., and began "long research into Catholic documents which was to occupy much of my time and energy for several years." Blanshard's course on Catholic "dogma" took him to carrels in the Library of Congress and even into the belly of the Beast itself, the library of the Catholic University of America.
The fruits of this intensive study were the articles in the pages of The Nation. Blanshard never discovered anything in the complex webs of intellectual traditions that comprise Catholic theology, canon law, and philosophy that even nuanced the blinding insight he claimed to have had that fateful afternoon at Dartmouth College. Like the faith delivered to the saints of old, his original sense that the "viciously reactionary formulas" of the old Roman Church represented a looming threat to democratic culture in general and to the political traditions of the United States in particular never wavered.
Source: Mark Massa, S.J., Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice 65 (2005)