As American Catholic identity and inheritance fades, evidence of a new weapon in the culture wars surfaces: Did the IRS scandal also target Catholic free speech?
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
The above quote by American Colonial writer, Thomas Paine, is from his 1776 essay entitled “The American Crisis.” I quoted a longer excerpt from it last October in “Vatican II Turns Fifty Part I: Catholics in an Age of Discontent.” The excerpt of Paine’s essay and my brief account of its history are worth reading anew. Thomas Paine paid a price for his writings that challenged the secular powers of his day. He called upon his fellow Colonial Americans to arm themselves against tyranny, first and foremost with their own informed consciences. The natural result of Paine’s prophetic voice was a call to arms to stand against the tyranny of taxation without representation. I wonder what he would make of today’s scandal at the Internal Revenue Service.
Thomas Paine’s point in the above quote is that freedom costs, and its price is but a demonstration of its value. His essay challenged Colonial Americans to take up arms in a Revolutionary War against tyranny despite personal cost. He criticized those who entered the revolution only when convenient, only to abandon it in planting or harvest season. These “summer soldiers” and “sunshine patriots” incurred the wrath of Paine’s pen. “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered . . . What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
My post on “Vatican II Turns Fifty” had a point. Many American Catholics blame the Second Vatican Council for the diminishment of Catholic culture, but the field of battle is much broader than that. I used the example of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s formidable television presence in pre-Vatican II America to demonstrate a dramatic change in Western Culture. From 1952 to 1957, his “Life is Worth Living” show on secular television was the Super Bowl of TV ratings among both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
In 1953, the year I was born, Bishop Fulton Sheen received television’s highest honor, the Emmy Award for “Most Outstanding TV Personality.” Sixty years later, American Catholic bishops receive little more than television’s unbridled scorn and derision. The world that is the backdrop against which Catholic faith is lived has changed radically.
STONE WALLS DO NOT A PRISON MAKE
I have come, over time spent in captivity, to recognize the essential truth of Thomas Paine’s words quoted above. In recent snail mail letters, a few TSW readers told me of their hesitance to write to me of vacations, days spent in the park, a nice hike, etc. fearing that they might depress me. I responded as I have to many others: “No one honors and revels in your freedom more than I.” From this side of a prison wall – one that has held me unjustly for almost nineteen years – threats to freedom seem more urgent and dire than perhaps they do to many of you.
On June 5th, the day this is posted on These Stone Walls, I mark 31 years of priesthood. In my first few posts as These Stone Walls debuted in 2009 – beginning with “Maximilian Kolbe and the Man in the Mirror” – I wrote of the very moment when I realized I had been a priest in prison longer than anywhere else. Almost four years have ticked by, day by day, since I wrote of that moment, and now almost 19 of my 31 years as a priest have been spent in unjust imprisonment.
My sentence of 67 years in prison when I could have been free in less than three is a punishment for preserving a right defined in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. I took refuge – though some say I shouldn’t have bothered – behind a right to a trial of evidence. The trial took place long ago, but I have yet to see or hear of any evidence. Most readers commend me for standing by the truth even when I could have gained my freedom sixteen years ago by accepting a simple, but simply dishonest, deal. My punishment for preserving those rights was a sentence more than twenty times what the State was poised to impose.
Two weeks ago in The Media Report, David F. Pierre published a vivid analysis of recent events entitled, “Journalism Outside the Box: Wall St. Journal Bravely Profiles Stunning Case of Wrongfully Convicted Priest.” The Media Report analyzed a now well known May 11 article by Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Trials of Father MacRae.” David Pierre’s summary connected all the dots and drew dozens of incisive comments from his readers. The focus of The Media Report was on the almost singular courage of the WSJ among secular news publications to take on an aspect of a national scandal that has been like a runaway train for over a decade of one-sided press coverage.
Not a single U.S. Catholic publication has even mentioned that Journal article about a wrongly convicted priest. Writing from Rome, however, in Part II of an article entitled “Canon Law and False Abuse Allegations,” canonist Cathy Caridi, J.C.L., presented with remarkable clarity the ongoing danger of capitulation to one-sided press coverage in both the Church and the State. Beginning several paragraphs about my imprisonment, Ms. Caridi wrote:
“If a worldwide contest were to be held to find an innocent priest who has been treated the most unjustly, it would be difficult to judge. But a top-contender for this dubious distinction would undoubtedly be Gordon MacRae, an American priest of the Diocese of Manchester.”
Ms. Caridi went on to cite the WSJ article. I gave her “dubious distinction” to someone else, however. In “Trophy Justice: The Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn Case,” I described another egregious injustice that The Media Report has recently taken up with disturbing details of both media and prosecutorial misconduct.
The climate in which such witch hunts can succeed, however – and be aimed especially at Catholic entities – has been a half century in the making. The revelation a month ago that a U.S. military report listed Catholicism as an “extremist religion” is another example of the push for the marginalization of Catholic voices currently underway in this secular culture. There are lots of other examples, and in the last few weeks I have come across a few presented by some courageous people who refuse to accept being silenced.
HOW DID THE IRS BECOME AN INSTRUMENT OF TYRANNY?
One of the scariest examples came from a recent article in The Blaze by Billy Hallowell (“‘Very Frightening’: Prominent Catholic Prof. Claims IRS Audited Her After Speaking Out Against Obama . . . ,” May 15, 2013). Noted author and sociology professor, Dr. Anne Hendershott – who by the way has commented on our “About” page on These Stone Walls – described a nightmare situation in which she was subjected to repeated IRS audits in 2010, and IRS officials’ demands to know who was paying her and the sources of all income. Despite the fact that she and her husband always filed joint IRS returns, the sources of her writing income was the sole interest of the IRS.
The IRS phone calls, threats of audits, and actual audits, all commenced just after Anne Hendershott published an essay critical of “Obamacare,” and of far leftwing groups purporting to be Catholic such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, funded by billionaire George Soros and courted by the Obama Administration for the pretense of including a Catholic voice. “It was clear that [the IRS] didn’t like me criticizing the people who helped pass Obamacare,” Dr. Hendershott said of the audit. “The IRS is very frightening.”
She was not alone in that experience. Catholic League President, Dr. Bill Donohue has also recently described being targeted and harassed by the IRS. Writing for Newsmax magazine (“Bill Donohue: IRS Targeted Catholic League” May 16, 2013) Bill Donohue described how the heightened interest in IRS targeting of conservative non-profit groups seeking tax exempt status prompted him to come forward with his own example.
Shortly after the Presidential election of 2008 – and apparently at the prompting of “Catholics United” – another leftwing group funded in part by George Soros (and, oddly, sharing the same director as “Catholics in Alliance’) – the IRS launched an investigation of the Catholic League’s news releases in an effort to challenge its tax exempt status. In both cases – that of Anne Hendershott and Bill Donohue – the IRS seemed to be acting on behalf of, or at the behest of, a highly partisan political third party whose interests drove IRS audits and threats of audits. Anne Hendershott and Bill Donohue have demonstrated a particularly courageous form of patriotism as both Catholics and Americans by speaking the truth about these experiences.
SQUANDERING OUR INHERITANCE
My quote from Thomas Paine above is crucially important for American Catholics today. Writing in the American Interest online (February 24), Walter Russell Mead explained why:
“In America, the Catholic Church in particular suffers from [an] acute problem: as the descendants of the 19th and· 20th century mass migrations of Catholics from countries like Ireland, Poland and Italy move farther away from their roots, they are also moving away from the inherited sense of Catholic identity.”
Our ancestors struggled for generations to earn the civil rights and civil liberties that Catholics in America are in danger of taking for granted. The further removed we find ourselves from their struggle – the more we lose our awareness of the price our grandparents paid for its benefits – the more disengaged this culture entices us to be from cultivating and maintaining a Catholic identity.
Anne Hendershott and Bill Donohue have experienced the great danger of forgetting that struggle. So have I. Thomas Paine had no love for Catholics, or for any organized religion for that matter, but he would approve of the exposure to truth for which the IRS is now on the receiving end. I could only imagine his reaction to watching Lois Lerner – now on paid leave as Director of the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations unit – take refuge behind the Fifth Amendment last month in a blatant refusal to be accountable to Congress and the American people. Even the Tonight Show’s Jay Leno, ever at peace with the agendas of the left, described the appointment of an Acting IRS Commissioner: “It’s called ‘acting commissioner’ because they have to act like the scandal doesn’t involve the White House.”
I think Thomas Paine would have called for a revolution had he heard the Fifth Amendment invoked in Congressional chambers last month – perhaps followed by an urgent reminder to faithful Catholics alarmed by how our marginalization is suddenly no longer subtle, but overt and profound. Paine would issue a call to arms – to arm ourselves first and foremost with a well-informed conscience – and he wouldn’t be subtle about it.
He would insist that we understand what’s at stake, and learn from the cultural revolutionaries of his time: Freedom has never been free. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Editor’s Note: Friday, June 7, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is World Day
for the Sanctification of Priests. Father MacRae plans to offer that day in prison for the readers of These Stone Walls. Please pray for him and all priests who face difficult challenges.