Dr. Christopher Kaczor on myths, media, and misinformation

Dr. Christopher Kaczor is a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University and the author of several books, including The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice; Thomas Aquinas on the Cardinal Virtues; Life Issues – Medical Choices; and How to Stay Catholic in College. His most recent book is The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction about Catholicism (Ignatius Press). He spoke recently with Catholic World Report about his reasons for writing the book, the challenge of communicating what the Catholic Church really teaches, and which myths about the Church are most difficult to address and dispel.

CWR: What is the primary audience for your book? Both Catholics and non-Catholics?

Dr. Christopher Kaczor: It is for both Catholics and non-Catholics, ideally. But, more realistically, active Catholics would get and read the book in order to have better conversations and discussions with non-Catholics, especially people who are very secular. There are many myths about the Catholic Church that come from Protestant-Catholic debates, but my book is focused on secularists and non-Catholics who do not hold religious views, but who do, for example, adhere to myths about the Catholic Church that come from the media and Hollywood, among other sources.

CWR: What are some of the key reasons people are so misinformed about the Catholic Church?

Dr. Kaczor: One of the main reasons is that the mainstream media—through television, radio, movies, the internet—misrepresents the Church on the key issues. Take movies, for instance: priests are constantly presented and portrayed in a stereotypical way, especially as drunks or molesters or hypocrites. This informs the imagination and views of people. Another huge factor is that Catholic generally do a poor job of explaining the the history, beliefs, and practices of the Catholic Church. Catholics are apologetic in the wrong way, sometimes even saying, “Yeah, we’re behind the times, but we’ll eventually catch up!” So Catholics contribute to the malaise and misinformation when hey do not stand up for the Faith and state the truth. They need to be firm in what they believe, but they first need to know what they believe, and why.

CWR: How did you select these seven myths?

Dr. Kaczor: My process of selection was not necessarily scientific, but neither was it random. I’ve been teaching since 1997, and have often asked myself, “What are the issues that my students are struggling with and wrestling with the most?” It also comes from my experiences of talking with many other people over the past twenty years. All of these myths involved key issues that people really wrestle with; I chose the ones that think are the most malicious and the most widespread when it comes to the Catholic Church.

CWR: What myth is most deeply ingrained in the dominant culture?

Dr. Kaczor: That’s hard to say. Myth #7 might be one [“Priestly Celibacy Caused the Crisis of Sexual Abuse of Minors: The Myth of Priestly Pedophilia”]. Lots of people hold that view, and it is very damaging. People rightly expect priests to be holy and upright, and so when a priest is found to have committed abuse, it discredits the priesthood for many people. But what most of these people don’t realize is that children are more likely to be molested by a school teacher or a coach than a priest. That’s the reality. But people won’t stop sending their kids to school or having them in sports programs. However, they will stop going to Church and they will reject Catholicism because a bad priest committed a malicious act. This is particularly bad because it removes them from the life of the Church and undermines, or ends, their participation in the Church.

Part of the issue here is that teachers and coaches are so deeply trusted that many people cannot face up to the evidence, and so we don’t see a movement to reform the teaching profession or the football coaching profession. Yet, again, teachers and coaches are more likely to abuse kids than a priest, as studies show and my book demonstrates. And when we look at the horrible situation with [former Penn State coach] Jerry Sandusky, we see that being married does not magically cure the problem.

CWR: Which of these myths is most difficult to address? Does that depend on the situation and people involved?

Dr. Kaczor: I think it does depend on the situation. Perhaps # 4 [“Indifferent to Love, the Church Banned Contraception: The Myth of Opposition between Love and Procreation”] because addressing contraception requires knowing that procreation is a good thing, but that takes a lot of time and background information about sexuality, marriage, and so forth. The same is true when it comes to defending marriage and addressing “same-sex marriage”: a quick sound bit doesn’t work easily. It really does require time and effort. 

• For more about The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church, visit the book’s website.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.