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John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution
By E. Michael Jones.

Fidelity Press, 550 pages, $35

The Editor-in-Chief of this journal tells me that he knows a Catholic editor who claims that all his friends are conservatives, his close friends are right-wingers, and his best friends are real-wingers. E. Michael Jones, editor of Fidelity magazine, is a real-winger making his way toward conservatism, very slowly. John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution is a wildly uneven and disjointed rant that, were it not so chock full of gossip and information, would be very easy to put down. As it is, one compulsively flips the pages in search of another really good part.

The first thing to be said is that this is in no way a biography, or even the beginnings of a biography, of John Cardinal Krol. For some reason, Krol, the former archbishop of Philadelphia who is now nearing ninety and in failing health, gave Mr. Jones access to the massive files covering his years as head of the archdiocese. The Krol connection is the hook on which Mr. Jones hangs his indictment of Catholic leadership-especially episcopal and aca-demic leadership-since the Second Vatican Council. To be sure, Krol is not incidental to the story, for he was one of the most influential prelates in the American Church and was intimately involved in many of the conflicts the author recounts. More important than Krol himself in this telling of the story, however, is what many people may now be referring to as the Krol File.

Jones opens with his thesis that a culture war or Kulturkampf has been going on for at least forty years, and he presses the analogy with Bismarckian Germany somewhat farther than it can bear, but not without telling effect. He begins with a speech of the late Leo Pfeffer, professor of law at Long Island University and counsel to the American Jewish Congress, that lays out the planned culture war pretty much along the lines that Jones says it has in fact been prosecuted over the years. The first of many missteps by the author is to assume that Pfeffer was an enemy of religion, when in fact he was a privately pious Jew. That was Pfeffer’s point: religion is an entirely private matter and must at all costs be prevented from impinging upon public life. By his theory and numerous triumphs at the bar, especially with the Supreme Court, Pfeffer became the chief legal architect of the naked public square. Mr. Jones usefully cites from Pfeffer’s own writings his most particular animus against Catholicism, and his delight when, after the Council, he believed he was witnessing the dissolution of what he called the “monolithity” of the Catholic Church. On that point, Jones agrees with Pfeffer, and does not hesitate to say (and to say many times) that in the culture war of these decades the Pfefferians have been winning almost every battle.

A weakness of the book is that every subject reminds the author of something else, and he never has less than definite views on anything. In this long and rambling succession of excurses, however, questions are raised that deserve careful exploration by scholars who may be strongly opposed to Jones’ unvarnished partisanship. Regrettably, these questions likely will not be taken up, thereby reinforcing Jones’ argument that liberals refuse to face unpleasant truths.

The author’s unpleasant truths come in many forms. The media and academic distortion of “the spirit” of Vatican II is hardly new by now, and Jones has little say on this that has not been said more effectively by people such as Josef Cardinal Ratzinger. The Krol File doesn’t help him much here, since Krol, although in a key position at the Council, stuck to administrative concerns and tried not to believe that serious mischief was afoot. Here and elsewhere, although Jones obviously wants to be kind to the Cardinal, Krol comes across as an embattled ecclesiastical CEO who, especially on matters theological and intellectual, was in way over his head.

Very much deserving of further study is the story of what Krol would many years later call the academic “alienation of church property.” The reference is to the curious ways in which Catholic universities and colleges, beginning with Catholic University and Notre Dame in the 1960s, effectively declared their independence from church authority. The author had access to transcripts of meetings at Catholic University that tell a chilling story of academic rebellion, led by the publicity-wise Charles Curran, and episcopal caving, led, so to speak, by Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle of Washington. Even before the protests orchestrated against the 1968 encyclical on human sexuality, Humanae Vitae, many bishops simply did not know what was happening to them and to the church they were supposed to be leading.

Equally intriguing is the role of Father Theodore Hesburgh, longtime president of Notre Dame, who, according to Jones, was actively collaborating with the Rockefeller Foundation in undermining church authority, and was declaring Catholic higher education to be independent of church control at the same time that he was increasingly subservient to the control exercised by secular foundations. This reviewer does not know enough of the inside story to judge the accuracy of Jones’ account, but Jones produces enough evidence (also from the files of those on the Rockefeller and Planned Parenthood side) to warrant a detailed response from people more sympathetic to what Father Hesburgh was up to.

Jones obviously has a great interest in movies and popular culture, and the reader is treated to a persuasive telling of the demise of the Legion of Decency, the consequent abandonment of the Hollywood Production Code, and today’s industrial production of pornography, hard and soft. Jones insightfully notes the way in which the Legion of Decency was, in effect, doing the work of the Protestant cultural establishment, and how the collapse of that mainline establishment made it impossible for the Legion to continue to resist the opening of the sewage gates. It is also the author’s contention that a good many Catholics, including Catholics responsible for the Legion, were eager to demonstrate their new-found “ecumenism” by joining the mainline in its collapse.

Many less interesting pages are devoted to the foolishness of liberal urban policy, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, that led to the destruction of city neighborhoods and the creation of the urban underclass. Jones is undoubtedly right in believing that Krol was on the right side of these failed battles, but he has nothing new to add to what is by now a fairly conventional analysis-other than coming repugnantly close to suggesting that racial segregation was a very good thing. Of greater importance is Jones’ critique of Catholic conservatives, including some of his fellow real-wingers, who have made the substantive and strategic mistake of pitting themselves against the bishops tout court and have thus brought themselves, rather than their left-wing opponents, under suspicion of fostering schism. In recent years, to his credit, Jones has distanced Fidelity magazine from crazies on the right, and has paid a steep price in cancelled subscriptions.

If there is one unqualified hero in Jones’ story, it is William Ball, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, lawyer who has over these decades proven himself to be the country’s foremost legal champion of religious liberty. A close advisor to Krol, Ball has advocated genuine parental choice in education, successfully defended the Amish before the Supreme Court, and done battle with the United States Catholic Conference, the operational arm of the bishops that at times has seemed determined to turn the Catholic Church into another special interest group of the Democratic Party. And if there is one person Mr. Jones decidedly does not like, it is Michael Novak. Repeatedly he cites Novak’s left-wing writings of the 1960s as a chief source of the evils to be deplored. Jones grudgingly allows that in recent years Novak appears to have had second thoughts, which is a little like opining in, say, 50 a.d. that Saul of Tarsus appears to have had second thoughts about the Christians.

This is not a well-written book-in fact it is a literary mess-but it is an important book. Again and again, one wants to hear the other side of the story, the alternative and more benign interpretation. But that task is not in the portfolio of E. Michael Jones. He is the prosecutor. In his presentation, the detail numbs, the rambling irritates, and the prejudices are raw, but he has made a case very damaging to persons and institutions responsible for much that has happened in American Catholicism over the last thirty years. Now it is time to hear from the defense.

Janet Marsden is a writer living in New York City.