Volume > Issue > The Nothing Sacred Affair: The Catholic League, The Catholic Press, & the Culture War

The Nothing Sacred Affair: The Catholic League, The Catholic Press, & the Culture War


By Kenneth D. Whitehead | February 1998
Kenneth D. Whitehead, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, is a professional translator and the author or co-author of seven books, including Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an exposé regarding the negative reception given to the Catechism by various Catholic leaders. He is also a Contributing Editor of the NOR.

The boycott launched in September by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights against Nothing Sacred, the ABC-TV show about an irreverent modern priest and his dysfunctional parish, triggered negative reactions in what at first glance would seem to be unlikely quarters: A number of Catholic publications came out against the League’s boycott.

The Catholic League was trying to defend Catholics and the Church against an arrogant campaign of misrepresentation and denigration of some of the Church’s beliefs and practices by ABC and its parent company, Disney. The League objected to the show for (1) promoting positive characterizations of Catholics who dissent from Church teachings and negative stereotypes of those who believe and try to follow Church teachings, and (2) belittling certain teachings of the Church by contrasting them unfavorably with the trendy positions of Catholic dissenters who mimic our secular culture.

One might have thought the Catholic press would be among the first to applaud the League for taking such a stand. Instead, some of the most vigorous protests against the League’s actions came from Catholic publications.

For example, in an obvious take-off on the name of the show, Commonweal published an editorial critical of the League entitled “Nothing Scandalous” (Oct. 24). It is not clear what would scandalize Commonweal if Nothing Sacred does not; it is a show that features a young priest who, in ABC’s own characterization of him when announcing the show, is not even sure God exists. In the very first episode, the priest, Father Ray, first allows a penitent in the confessional to mis-state without correction the Church’s teaching concerning abortion, and then pointedly fails to counsel her against committing the grave sin of abortion. In a later episode, he actually drives her back from the clinic after the abortion — surely constituting at the very least what moral theologians call “material cooperation,” though it is naturally presented on the show, as it is in the culture at large, as “compassion.”

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