Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Beware of Hanging Priests

Several days ago I read comments from Theresa Carpinelli at Catholic Exchange. She posted this two part tale (part one and part two) about the historical wickedness of Catholic priests and the dreadfully superstitious nature of the Catholic religion, in general. It has stuck with me and I guess I'll make my own comments. Ms. Carpinelli wrote:

My local newspaper ran an article by Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post entitled: Seeking the Hand of God in the Waters. The article began by recounting an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, that devastated Lisbon, Portugal, on All Saints Day in 1755. Almost 90,000 people were killed, many while still at morning Mass for the Holy Day. What did the Church do in the aftermath to aid her children? Mr. Vargas writes that, "Following the devastation ... priests roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God's wrath."
It seems that with all the news about the recent tsunami, numbers of media reports have referenced the above eighteenth century tsunami tale in order to give some colour to what C.S. Lewis called, "The Problem of Pain," i.e., How can a good God allow great suffering?

The eighteenth century Lisbon tsunami story has been a perfect accompaniment to the modern Asian Tsunami story. It allows the commentator to appear historically erudite and also permits the general public a momentary moment of smugness as we look at how far we've come since those ignorant Catholic priests were so influential in society.

If you read the story, how did you react? Did you nod knowingly, accepting the underlying premise of the superstitious brutality of the Catholic Church in former times? Did you think the story reasonable and probable? If you did, you are wrong. The story has no basis in fact, as Theresa Carpinelli explained so well in her articles.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the story is the manner in which the Washington Post attributed these views to a serious historian, - Martin E. Marty, Professor Emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago and a Lutheran Minister, - who says he never expressed the view attributed to him by the Washington Times reporter. This is the exact quote in the Post.

Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago, has written his 55th book, When Faiths Collide, which he says should land in bookstores this week. He's been an ordained Lutheran minister since 1952. "It's only natural to repose yourself in the will of God," he says. "If you're a believer, then you must believe that God, somehow, is a presence in all of this. But God didn't tell anybody that you go through life without disasters." Still, talk of religion's role in the disaster irks Marty. Following the devastation in Lisbon in 1755, priests roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God's wrath. That event "shook the modern world," he notes, changing people's idea of a benevolent, all-caring God.
But when Ms. Carpinelli contacted Martin Marty to ask him if he was the source,

... his reply was prompt: ... "No, I certainly was not the source of that." In fact, according to Dr. Marty, the "priests roamed" allegation did not even come up during the course of his interview with Mr. Vargas, he was not familiar with this allegation, and he promised to check out his church histories, as well as Voltaire, to see if he could find the source of the information for me.
No source can be found. Mr. Vargas's smear appears to have originated with an on-line encyclopedia called Wikepedia, which, when contacted by Ms. Carpinelli, acknowledged there was no reference on file for the story. The section was removed, but the encyclopedia's representative then made this remarkable statement.

I requested of Wikipedia that a source be cited for this allegation. The person with whom I was corresponding claimed not to have written the line, that it was a "remnant" from a previous version; but she left it in anyway. She writes: "i dont have a reference though i dont find the allegation strange, considering the power of the Jesuits at the time and the religious fanatism of the time." [sic].
Sigh. I see now. It's the fanatical Jesuits, of course .... roaming the streets of Lisbon as a clerical lynch mob ... hanging all suspected of heresy .... believing that heretics caused the tsunami ... but ... but ... as Ms. Carpinelli points out ...

What history records, even secular history, is that it was the dedication of the Jesuits to the study of science, their observations and careful documentation of the Lisbon earthquake, just before, during, and after, that is recognized, even today, as the beginnings of seismology. It is why scientists know what they do about the Lisbon quake. In fact, Jesuits have so dominated this field that it became known in the 20th century as the "Jesuit science."
You see, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) are what they have always been - very highly educated and dedicated men. When informed of the facts by Ms. Carpinelli:

Mr. Vargas has expressed great concern over this matter, and indicated that anti-Catholicism was in no way his motive - something I am inclined to believe, as his distress over that aspect of it seems most genuine.
Ms. Carpinelli concludes with this comment.

I stand by my position that the Post has a duty to print a retraction. In the interest of justice, it should also be sent to every newspaper around the country that picked up Mr. Vargas's original article. Even though the information was ?out there? [in Wikepedia] long before Mr. Vargas published it in the Post, it was not "in the Post" before this. Now that it has been published in the Post, it has been picked up by many more outlets than it would have had it remained on the less-than-credible Internet sites.
Just so.


At 11:47 am, February 24, 2005 , Blogger Paul Cella said...

Yeah, that's right: must have been those dirty Jesuits.


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