In an op-ed for the WSJ, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, explores the dangers of cancel culture. In pointing out the importance of honoring the good in our history while remembering the bad. Addressing a criticism of naming a church after, say, Mary Magdalene, “not always a paragon of virtue for a chunk of her life,” Cardinal Dolan stresses that if the Catholic Church were not to name churches after sinners, “the only titles we’d have left would be Jesus and His Mother!”
Defacing, tearing down and hiding statues and portraits is today’s version of Puritan book-burning. Our children need to know their country’s past, its normative figures and their virtues and vices. That’s how we learn and pass on our story. Is there any more effective way to comprehend America’s history of racism than reading “Huckleberry Finn” or one of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, works of literature now ominously on the chopping block?
My own mom kept a photo of her parents hanging on the wall of our house. Her dad, my grandfather, was an abusive drunk who abandoned his family. I’m glad we got to know of him, the good and the bad.
The same is true of the church I love and am honored to serve. Yes, there are scandalous parts of our history, and countless episodes when popes, bishops, priests and others—including some who are now saints—didn’t act as they should have.
God forbid we’d go through a cultural revolution as China did five decades ago. Beware those who want to purify memories and present a tidy—and inaccurate—history. And who’s to say which statues, portraits, books and dedications are spared? Remember when some objected to raising the status of the Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to a national holiday, citing his self-admitted flaws?
If literature that depicts prejudice, or words or scenes that are today rightly abhorred, is to be banned, I don’t know if even the Bible can survive. If we only honor perfect, saintly people of the past, I guess I’m left with only the cross. And some people would ban that.