By PAUL LIKOUDIS & C. JOSEPH DOYLE
Susan Jacoby, The Washington Post’s and
Newsweek’s resident secularist who
writes as the “Spirited Atheist,” gave vent to her long-simmering
Pope Benedict’s triumphal visit to England.
Jacoby, who is infamously known for her
contention that anti-Catholicism in
American society is a “canard” that doesn’t exist, was obviously stung by
the warm wel-
come Benedict received in England and Scotland, and so took it upon herself
bunk Catholic martyrdom in English history, essentially arguing Elizabeth I
rect in her bloody anti-Catholic persecution because Catholics were trying
Her September 22 essay, titled, “Martyrdom,
Selective Memory, and Pope Bene-
dict in England,” opened with her mockery of the Holy Father for shaking the
a female Anglican priest, and went down in tone and substance from there.
“After all, the poor pontiff had to actually
shake hands with a female Anglican
priest — a torment he is not required to undergo every day,” she sneered.
was visiting the country whose leaders had contributed so much (along with
Luther, of course) to Rome’s loss of its status as the sole authority in
“True,” she continued, “that was half a
millennium ago, but the Vatican has really
never gotten over the loss. . . . But Benedict lost me when, at a prayer
vigil in Hyde
Park, he evoked memories of the 16th-century Catholic martyrs who were drawn
quartered for remaining loyal to the Vatican and added, ‘In our time, the
price to be paid
for fidelity to the gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered,
but it often
involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied.’
“That, Your Holiness, is what we secularists
Those who consider themselves the “apostles of
reason” — Jacoby is the di-
rector of the “rationalist” Center for Inquiry in Manhattan — rarely use the
reason in their arguments; logic is foreign to them.
Jacoby’s column was not a treatise, but a
polemic filled in sarcasm, insolence, and
abuse, in which she dredged up some of the oldest, stalest, lamest, and
credited calumnies against the Church.
Jacoby, who exalts science over Revelation,
displays an astonishing level of intel-
lectual sloppiness and sterility, unable to come up with a single original
her critique of the Catholic Church.
For example, she argues that the Jesuits
executed by Elizabeth were justifiably put
to death because they were plotting to assassinate her.
“For the most part, people actually had to do
something to be executed for faith-
based treason under Elizabeth — say, be a Jesuit priest sent to England to
plot to kill Elizabeth and place her cousin, the faithful Catholic Mary
Queen of Scots,
on the throne. The Pope naturally portrayed these Jesuits as martyrs, but
easy to see why Elizabeth would have viewed many of them as what many of
them were — would-be assassins and threats to England,” she wrote.
The historical record, however, is quite clear.
Elizabeth ascended the throne in November of
1558 at the age of 26, pretending
to be a loyal Catholic. She immediately summoned Parliament, which met
January and May 1559, and which enacted, at Elizabeth’s request and with her
proval, a series of laws, most notably the Act of Supremacy and the Act of
mity — which resulted in the abolition of the Mass, the arrest and
the entire Catholic hierarchy, the seizure of every parcel of Church
property in En-
gland, the deprivation of every priest who remained loyal to the Pope, and
pressive system of fines intended to make destitute anyone who refused to
The response of Pope Pius IV to this singular
aggression was to send a nuncio of-
fering concessions in an attempt to find a negotiated solution. Elizabeth
refused to re-
ceive the nuncio and went on to impose these same laws in English-occupied
land. She then invaded Scotland and was instrumental in establishing a
Catholic regime in that country.
When her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots,
fled to England seeking refuge in
1568, she was imprisoned by Elizabeth. A year later, in 1569, Catholics in
of England, unable to endure Elizabeth’s oppressive regime any longer, rose
volt and were slaughtered. It was only after that St. Pius V, in 1570, after
of anti-Catholic persecution by Elizabeth’s government, issued Regnans in
excommunicating Elizabeth and absolving her subjects from their allegiance.
It was Elizabeth who then began the bloody
execution of Jesuits and the Douai
seminary priests in England and Ireland. It was only after this long record
and oppression that a minority of Catholics began considering the use of
force to replace Elizabeth on the throne with the lawful heir, Mary Queen of
Catholics, in this case, were the victims and
not the aggressors.
Jacoby then turns her thoughts to Sir Thomas
More, whose martyrdom she de-
rides, asserting More did not die for his faith, but for political reasons.
More, she claims, “was an enemy of all who
would make the scriptures accessible
to people in their own language. If you consider that a cause worthy of
honor, then I suppose you can weep tears over More’s martyrdom. In the hagio-
graphical 1966 film about More, A Man for All Seasons, his opposition
to an English-
language Bible was never mentioned. Personally, I prefer a martyr who died
right of people to read what the Bible actually says in a language they can
stand. But I can see why Pope Benedict, who has an affinity for those who
bring back the Mass in Latin (another big 16th-century issue), wouldn’t
dale his favorite martyr.”
The truth that Jacoby cannot see is that More
never lifted a political finger against
Henry. He was martyred because he refused to swear to a lie, that is, that
was the Supreme Head of the Church in England. More died not only for the
but for the truth, and the sake of his own conscience.
In making this argument, Jacoby demonstrates
her own extremism. Not even
conventional Protestant and liberal historians try to demonize More.
ognizes that he was entirely innocent and unoffending, which is why some
historians, like A.G. Dickens, can write a dense history of the English
without ever mentioning More.
“The whole concept of martyrdom is quite
dicey,” Jacoby goes on, “as the duel-
ing martyrologies of the English Reformation indicate. . . . All religions
and that is one reason I object to both religion and martyrology. . . . I do
that upholding the spiritual authority of one man over another (the pope
over a king)
is worth dying for. I do not believe it is worth dying to assert that Jesus
was or was
not the Messiah. I do not believe it is worth dying for the right to mumble
the Mass in
a language that most of the faithful don’t understand.
“Benedict’s basic message throughout his visit
to the United Kingdom was that
England has become a largely secular society and that the mission of his
to challenge ‘aggressive forms of secularism.’ It was in this context that
he cited the
names of Catholic martyrs. He might reflect that since secularists have been
or less in charge, no one has been drawn and quartered for professing a
“But oh, how painful it is to be mocked!” she
In Jacoby’s reading of history, both Mary and
Elizabeth have an equal number of mar-
tyrs on their hands. This is patently false. While the Catholic Queen Mary
execute some Protestants for heresy, almost all of the leading Protestant
heresiarchs, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, were also
guilty of treason. When Mary’s Protestant half-brother Edward VI died in
the leaders of England’s Protestant government ignored the law and
Jane Grey as queen. They then issued a warrant for the arrest of Mary, which
most certainly would have resulted in her assassination.
It was Mary’s piety which saw heresy as
an offense against God, and therefore a
greater crime than treason, that caused her
to prosecute Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer
as heretics rather than as traitors. Elizabeth,
on the other hand, executed a vast num-
ber of Catholics, the overwhelming
majority of whom were guilty of nothing more
than practicing their faith in very difficult
and dangerous times.
Jacoby also continues in her comparison of the Catholic Mary to the Protestant
Elizabeth, of never mentioning the “I-word”
— Ireland. Elizabeth was responsible for the
deaths of hundreds of thousands of the Irish
through government-enforced famine, mal-
nutrition, exposure, disease, war,
imprisonment, execution, and exile.
Elizabeth initiated the brutal policy of conquest in Ireland which set the stage for the
Irish genocide carried out by Oliver
Cromwell less than a half-century after her
Cromwell, a beneficiary of Elizabeth’s
“enlightened secularism,” as Jacoby might
call it, went on to butcher a half-million
Irish, and banish another 300,000, sold as
slaves or indentured servants in the New
In England, during Pope Benedict’s recent visit, commentators in various media drew atten-
tion to the contrast between Benedict’s gracious
manner and the adoring crowds who followed
him, and the nasty, mean-spirited, and vitriolic
character of his atheist and secularist critics.
It appears that these atheists not only reject the gift of faith, but even more tellingly
so, the theological virtue of charity. Susan
Jacoby is a perfect example of the type of
shallow intellects and arrogant, smug, and
condescending personalities sought out by the
major media to ridicule the Catholic Church
at a moment of great historical significance.
She is watching the Church revive in England,
and she is furious. If she is angry, that means
she is losing.
(C. Joseph Doyle is executive director of
the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts
and Paul Likoudis is news
editor for The Wanderer.)
Reprinted with permission from The Wanderer.