Jimmy Carter’s Catholic Problem

The first president I remember is Jimmy Carter. Hearing his name conjures up all the pejoratives my father used to hurl at the television when the President appeared on the nightly news. You might say that Carter was not one of Dad’s favorite statesmen.

Good thing Dad doesn’t have a television any more; otherwise, the poor thing would have its plasma pummeled by Dad’s lingual lacerations.

Time Magazine asked Billy‘s big brother a searching question, one doubtless on the minds of all its readers: “Let’s get right to it. This week the Carter Center’s Mobilizing Faith for Women conference will ask the question, ‘Can religion be a force for women’s rights instead of a source of women’s oppression?’ What’s your answer?”

Well, religion can be, and I think there’s a slow, very slow, move around the world to give women equal rights in the eyes of God. What has been the case for many centuries is that the great religions, the major religions, have discriminated against women in a very abusive fashion and set an example for the rest of society to treat women as secondary citizens. In a marriage or in the workplace or wherever, they are discriminated against. And I think the great religions have set the example for that, by ordaining, in effect, that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God.

This has been done and still is done by the Catholic Church ever since the third century, when the Catholic Church ordained that a woman cannot be a priest for instance but a man can. A woman can be a nurse or a teacher but she can’t be a priest. This is wrong, I think. As you may or may not know, the Southern Baptist Convention back now about 13 years ago in Orlando, voted that women were inferior and had to be subservient to their husbands, and ordained that a woman could not be a deacon or a pastor or a chaplain or even a teacher in a classroom in some seminaries where men are in the classroom, boys are in the classroom. So my wife and I withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention primarily because of that.

The nation’s thirty-ninth president came back to the Catholic Church later in the interview:

So I think in the original status of the Christian church, women played a very important role, even in the leadership role. And then after about the third century when men took over control of the Catholic Church, then they began to ordain that women had to play an inferior position, not be a priest.

There is, of course, a great deal wrong with all this drivel. Only two things want to be considered here and now.

First, contrasting his comments about the Catholic Church with his comically gentle words regarding Islam — and complete silence on Orthodox Jewry — reveals that his real problem is with Catholicism. No mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the devotion shown to her. No mention of the social benefits accruing to women in the patristic era, thanks to the Church liberating them from pagan thralldom. Just the fact that women cannot be priests — just as Jesus did not make any Apostles — makes the Catholic Church bad. Reason is cast out of the window, and only one arbitrary criterion is used to determine the Catholic Church’s discrimination against women: women cannot become priests. I guess it would be irrelevant to point out to the Baptist that none of the other religions he named — including his own — actually have priests.

Second, and related, note the way Mr. Carter considers the Catholic Church’s third-century “change” in doctrine that led to a heretofore unknown prohibition against women priests. His facts are otherwise all wrong, but at least he admits that the Catholic Church existed in the third century. Some of his coreligionists might resent him for that.

All in all, I think this is a net gain for the Church. That Jimmy Carter hates her so much cannot harm anybody but Jimmy Carter, but it could potentially win some sympathy from people who, like dear old Dad, thought Carter was a moron.

Maybe we should get Al Gore to make a statement. Just keep Dad away from the TV.