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  • The Author Replies
  • Justus George Lawler

Most of the commentaries above strike me as fair and balanced (adjectives now tainted by alien abuse), as well as in occasional need of further elaboration. Nevertheless, no one could hope for more generous reviewers, certainly at least in terms of taking the time to interrupt their busy schedules and discuss this book. Though I must confess to never having heard before of my status as "Grand Old Man" of anything at all, much less of "American Catholic Letters." The original GOM was Queen Victoria's Prime Minister and Cardinal Newman's occasional antagonist, William Gladstone—of whom a more virulent antagonist, Benjamin Disraeli, said GOM really stood for, "God's Only Mistake." Gladstone was also called the "old man in a hurry," which to some readers of these remarks may explain why they are relatively brief. That brevity, in turn, might lead to amplifying further the original GOM, until this final transformation via Lord Randolph Churchill was perpetrated: "that dreadful old man in a hurry"—a transformation not to be explored by the present writer.

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Justus George Lawler at the grave of Wallace Stevens, 1992

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However, before getting any further into these commentaries, I must pay tribute to Christopher Kauffman's role as editor of U.S. Catholic Historian. In an era when print media in general, and religious print media in particular, appear to be in decline, and where the usual solution takes the form of trivializing the content or repressing the religious element altogether, he has been faithful to the literal meaning of the title of his journal by organizing, usually around a specific theme, serious scholarly studies of serious religious matters. This tribute to him must be shared with the Catholic University of America Press which took up the sponsorship of this journal when more lavishly endowed institutions were in the process of sloughing it off, and it faced the prospect of extinction. American Catholicism is the richer for the good judgment of both this editor and this publisher.

C. J. T. Talar

Talar's "Tracking Myths, Confronting Ideologues," is such a tour de force of comprehensive abridgment that I hesitate to praise it lest readers decide to skip the book and settle for the summary.

But what first struck me in this review was the skill it put on display in synthesizing not only disparate themes and motifs but books also—as when Talar linked the present work with its somewhat distant predecessor, Popes and Politics, Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust. Although that book focused on the writings of many people, and the present book on one, they both engage issues of church governance, doctrinal claims, and gender conflict. Talar also pointed out that the common focus on the church as institution was ignored by Kertzer who then discussed individual popes divorced from their actual historical context.

Talar is particularly cogent in treating of those four popular myths—"synagogue of Satan" as referring to Judaism, Jews referred to as "dogs," papal support of the blood libel, and the future Pius XI as supporter of priests calling for the extermination of all the Jews in the world. The implicit consequence of that latter falsehood is that Pius XI, through the medium of the Catholic press, would not only support accusations of ritual murder, but that he would also prepare the way for his successor's tolerance and even implicit acceptance of the Nazi exterminationist program. Talar writes; "In his penultimate chapter Lawler broaches the question of 'whether it is possible to really believe that any statement of any pope, no matter how vigorously and repeatedly proclaimed could in fact have had any deterrent effect on Hitler's vicious plot for the Jews of Europe."

Since this is the first and most detailed summation of Were the Popes Against the Jews? I will address a point the other reviewers (Talar being the exception) skirt in one way or another: the seemingly tenuous link between what might be called the body of the book and the final chapters, particularly the last two which take up much larger themes regarding the institutionalizing of...


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