Friday, July 15, 2011

If it weren't so bad, I'd be laughing!

The Catholic League is at it again.  Publishing a book review is one thing, putting nonsensical comments to criticise the author of the book is quite another.  Bill Donohue has taken an axe to Bill Keller's review of John Norwich's Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy.  Quite apart from the content of the book, which I have not read, Donohue's critique hardly demonstrates a familiarity with history, especially of Pope Pius XII. 

Donohue resorts to the myth of the Israeli forest planted in honour of the pope for the 800,000 Jews he is supposed to have saved.  Let me say it again, loud and clear: there is no such forest; there has never been a forest planted in the name of Pius XII; and there will most likely never be.  The myth of the 800,000 begun by Pinchas Lapide has endured far too long.  It is well and truly time it was binned permanently!

Here is Donohue's review:


There was a book review in yesterday’s New York Times by Bill Keller, executive editor of the newspaper, of Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, by John Julius Norwich. Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on it today:

It’s hard to say who is dumber—Bill Keller or John Julius Norwich. But to say that Pope Urban VIII imprisoned Galileo and banned all his works is without doubt the voice of a moron: Urban VIII lauded Galileo’s work and showered him with gifts and medals. Furthermore, Galileo was never imprisoned; he was put under house arrest in an apartment in a Vatican palace, with a servant.

Similarly, to say that Pope Pius XII was an enabler of fascism is libelous: no one in the world did more to save Jews and undermine Hitler than Pius XII. That is why the Israelis planted 800,000 trees in his honor, one for every Jew he saved.

Keller is right to say that Norwich is “no scholar,” and he is doubly right to say that he is “selective about where he lingers.” Where he lingers is in the mythical world. Any author who wants to be taken seriously does not offer an entire chapter about some alleged historical figure whom the author reluctantly admits never lived. But that is just what he did by offering up fairy tales about “Pope Joan.”

Naturally, Keller says the bishops blamed “the libertine culture” for the “scourge of pedophile priests.” But the “blame Woodstock” explanation originated with the New York Times, not the bishops, and the scourge he mentions is homosexuality, not pedophilia. So he is twice wrong.

It is not surprising that the book ends by begging the Catholic Church to accept homosexuality and women priests. That is what these people live for. But since neither Keller nor Norwich is Catholic, why should they care? They care because the Church does not entertain their trendy ideas about sexuality, and it never will.

Contact Bill Keller:

For another take on the book, I offer the editorial reviews and plaudits as recorded on Amazon.

Praise for John Julius Norwich

“As a historian, Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer, he has a taste for beauty, a love of language, and an enlivening wit. He contrives, as no English writer has done before, to sustain a continuous interest in that crowded history.”—Hugh Trevor-Roper, author of The Last Days of Hitler and The Golden Age of Europe

“Norwich is an enchanting and satisfying raconteur.”—The Washington Post

“He has put readers of this generation more in his debt than any other English writer.”—The Sunday Times (London)

“Norwich is a historian of uncommon urbanity: scholarly and erudite but never pedantic. His style is as graceful and easy as it is knowledgeable.”—Los Angeles Times

“[Norwich] is certainly the English language’s most passionate and dedicated chronicler of [Venice’s] extraordinary history.”—The Seattle Times


With the papacy embattled in recent years, it is essential to have the perspective of one of the world’s most accomplished historians. In Absolute Monarchs, John Julius Norwich captures nearly two thousand years of inspiration and devotion, intrigue and scandal. The men (and maybe one woman) who have held this position of infallible power over millions have ranged from heroes to rogues, admirably wise to utterly decadent. Norwich, who knew two popes and had private audiences with two others, recounts in riveting detail the histories of the most significant popes and what they meant politically, culturally, and socially to Rome and to the world.

Norwich presents such brave popes as Innocent I, who in the fifth century successfully negotiated with Alaric the Goth, an invader civil authorities could not defeat, and Leo I, who two decades later tamed (and perhaps paid off) Attila the Hun. Here, too, are the scandalous figures: Pope Joan, the mythic woman said (without any substantiation) to have been elected in 855, and the infamous “pornocracy,” the five libertines who were descendants or lovers of Marozia, debauched daughter of one of Rome’s most powerful families.

Absolute Monarchs brilliantly portrays reformers such as Pope Paul III, “the greatest pontiff of the sixteenth century,” who reinterpreted the Church’s teaching and discipline, and John XXIII, who in five short years starting in 1958 “opened up the church to the twentieth century,” instituting reforms that led to Vatican II. Norwich brings the story to the present day with Benedict XVI, who is coping with a global priest sex scandal.

Epic and compelling, Absolute Monarchs is the astonishing story of some of history’s most revered and reviled figures, men who still cast light and shadows on the Vatican and the world today.

Now, of course, I am curious to read the book.  Perhaps, Donohue has really done Lord Norwich a service.  After all, with a review such as the one that has appeared on Catholic League's website, who could resist the urge to buy and read?

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