Is he overstating the case? Citing Richard Dawkins as an example of over-the-top anti-Catholic rhetoric is, after all, a little like citing the works of Stephen Hawking as an example of modern scientific thought. Two or three years ago, I'd have sided with the anti-Catholics. Bear with me on this, I'll explain.
I had always viewed Catholicism as a religion, a large and often unwieldy version of Christianity, which, at present and I believe to the detriment of its followers, preaches against the ordination of women, preaches the sinfulness of homosexuality, hides pedophiles rather than bringing them to justice, and asks its followers not to use condoms or, indeed, any method of birth control save abstinence.
Yet despite my reactionary views (which I have, unfortunately, at times allowed to become private dogmas for reasons I'll get into in a minute) Catholicism does do a lot of good in the world, and I firmly believe that the vast majority of Catholics are not the bigoted old white men that continue to enforce the socially retrograde policies. I think the article in the guardian does a good job of pointing out that Catholicism is, in fact, made up of real people, and not the caricatures many of us allow ourselves to form whenever we hear about the latest sex scandal or the equating of the ordination of women with pedophilia by the Vatican.
See, I have always viewed Catholicism as the Big Dog, and the rest of the world as the underdog. This is, in part, why I allowed myself to form these caricatures. It felt as though I wasn't doing any harm because Catholicism was so big that it was like tossing pebbles at a brick wall. It wasn't until recently that I realized that some parts of the world (the US, the UK) have long histories of persecution of Catholics. Did you know that at one time (1732) it was simply illegal to be Catholic in the colony (not yet state) of Georgia? And that the KKK were not only anti-African-American, but also anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic? Plus I heard a rather disturbing rumour just last week that Catholics in North Korea sometimes just "disappear" in the night.
Individual believers in the Roman Catholic version of Christianity have, I think, a pretty hard time of it, and are not the megalithic force "the Church" had always been in my mind.
I myself will never be a Catholic. Taking my cues from Paul Tillich, and his "The Courage To Be," I view myself (at present) as a kind of christian-existentialist-agnostic. Raised as an Anglican, I still light a candle in every cathedral I visit. I can recite the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd psalm from memory. If I get married, I'll probably want to do so in the presence of a minister (though for the rest of the trappings of weddings I have no great desire).
But I now view Catholics in a different light than I used to. Not only do they have to struggle with questions of faith, but the truly faithful also often have to struggle with questions of dissent, which, not really belonging to any church, I have never had to do.
Vaulting made a good comment to me as I was writing this post. She's a confirmed atheist, and she still believes that we should let others believe as they wish. She blithely figured that if we don't let them venerate who they like, they'll probably just start killing those they don't -- and as a student of history I can see her point.
Does this mean I'm going to stop railing against the problems with Catholicism as I see them? Hell, no. I will always be a firm believer that being gay isn't a sin, that discrimination against women is morally wrong, and that the teaching (and official sanction) of the "ABC" method of preventing AIDS would prevent more suffering than just the "A" method (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use). Like Stephen Fry said in his Intelligence² debate on whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world -- despite an 8 minute speech about what is wrong with the organization itself -- he says:
I have no quarrel and no argument and I wish to express no contempt for individual devout and pious members of that church. It would be impertinent and wrong of me to express any antagonism towards any individual who wishes to find salvation in whatever form they wish to express it.But I'm still going to press for what I see to be improvements in the message the organization sends to its members and to the world. Is this an example of "hate the sin and love the sinner" turned back on itself? Maybe. I'll have to think about that.
As for the anti-Catholicism, to return to my initial point, I suppose I still support peaceful opposition to the Catholic Church's policies, but I would advise those who would, as the guardian article does, to respect the worth and dignity of all people, regardless of their choice of religion.