Last week, someone directed the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) to the Mike Constable cartoon which appears on our front page. Under the headline, “Canadian Government Caught Funding Anti-Catholic Website Bashing Pope Benedict,” the CCRL sent out a press release and began a letter-writing campaign to Let me tell you about the letters.

They started to pour in after the Ottawa Citizen ran the cartoon at the top of its front page with an accompanying story featuring our publisher, Judy Rebick and the artist, Mike Constable. At first, I didn’t like reading the letters. No one enjoys being so harshly criticized and it’s not a good feeling to be called “filth” and “scum” — and worse — several times a day. It’s no fun to be told you’re going to burn in hell and you can take your homosexual friends with you.

But as the number of letters grew, I realized I was feeling a new emotion: I was angry at these letter-writers. How dare they write to me, calling me names, demanding a public apology and, at the same time, have such an aggrieved tone about them? I wanted to reach out and virtually shake them.

And this is why: Many of them seemed to suggest that one small — fairly benign — cartoon about the Pope was going to bring down the poor beleaguered Catholic Church. Come on, you people, I wanted to say. The Catholic Church is a massive, rich, powerful institution made up of billions of people around the world. How were my whiny letter-writers managing to make themselves sound like victims?

Others thought they would take a different direction. There were variations on the theme of, “Demeaning Catholics is nothing new but you’ve sunk to a new low of ridiculing all Germans.” Still others informed us that we were anti-woman and anti-Jewish because of the disrespectful portrayal of the Mother of Jesus.

Anti-woman. We were also called anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-religion and anti-Semitic. It’s funny because we think of ourselves as much more pro than anti: We’re pro equal rights — for everyone; we’re pro-choice; we’re pro-family — however you yourself decide to define it; we’re pro freedom of religion — or freedom from religion if that’s your choice. (Of course, we are anti some things: we’re anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia. You know that.)

I appeared on the Mike Duffy news program, Countdown, with Joanne McGarry, executive director of the CCRL. I particularly wanted to refute the rumour — which, surprisingly, keeps cropping up in certain circles — that is funded by government money. I refuted it strongly there — and I’m doing so again here. The government does not fund

Some people — and I’m one of them — thought my best line came when Mike Duffy asked how I, as a Catholic — could “get your head around” Mike’s cartoon. I don’t go to work as a Catholic, I said. I go to work as an editor.

There were good lines in several different discussions over on babble as well. One of the babblers asked me if I would post some of the hate letters to show where the hate really exists around some of the issues we cover. I’ve decided not to; they are mostly very personal, directed at Judy and at me but even when no names are mentioned, they are hurtful and mean. I will give CCRL this much benefit of the doubt: I will presume that they didn’t realize, when they raised this issue, who they were inviting out of the woodwork to present themselves as allies of Catholics.

But here are a few excerpts, exactly as they were written, fairly typical of many of the letters:

  • What bothers me is not the cartoons but the fact that if another group was portrayed in this way, such as gays and lesbians or feminists there would be a large hue and cry in the papers and no doubt from
  • Would you have a cartoon of someone saluting a prominent homosexual with the words, “Heil Ferry?” Why is it that you believe that Christian beliefs and leaders are fair game for such tasteless humour?
  • You have helped to prove the point that anti-Catholicism is the last accepted prejudice.
  • I couldn’t help but think that you would not have dared to portray members (or leaders) of any other faith in this malicious manner, yet when it comes to the Catholic faith, nothing is too degrading to be published.
  • It is wonderful that homosexuals, lesbians, ethnic minorities and Jews, to mention a few, are finally being brought from the outskirts of society to their rightful place within the community — i.e., as equals. The only “group” now deemed as outcasts are Catholics. This is evident in the publication of your cartoon. Make a similar derogatory cartoon about any other “group” mentioned above and you’ll have a public outcry.