By Michael H. Brown

Years ago, in 1995, I was asked to appear on a Christian television show in Dallas and was happy to do so for a simple reason: it was called TBN, the acronym for Trinity Broadcasting Network, at the time the largest religious broadcaster in the world and more to the point, Protestant.

That a Protestant, evangelical network would let a Catholic journalist on to speak about the Blessed Mother (the topic was The Final Hour, a book about her apparitions) was important, so I flew to Texas, where they put me in a plush hotel and sent over a stretch limousine when the time came to head for the studio.

This is life in the televangelical fast lane.

It turns out that the openness may have been because one of the network's founders, Jan Crouch, had experienced the apparition of a mysterious female during a trip to the Soviet Union. Or at least I was told.

Was this why they wanted an interview on apparitions? Was it Mary? Bravo to them for having a Catholic.

After a while, as we rode to the show, I asked a portly gentleman who was traveling with me (he was scheduled as a guest on the same show) what a grand new marble structure just off the highway to our right near an exit was. It was extraordinary. I had never seen anything quite like it -- a modern-day monument. Extravagant. I pointed to it.

The gentleman explained that it was the TBN studio -- as it turns out only one of several that TBN owns. Inside was posh carpeting, antique furnishings, an office that was an exact replica of the Oval Office, and the most state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment I have ever seen -- more advanced than what I had observed at places like ABC or NBC. There is money in evangelical TV that is unseen in Catholic circles.

I mention all this only because that other guest in that limo -- the one who told me where we were -- was a preacher named John Hagee.

In the limousine, Reverend Hagee asked me what I was there to talk about, and I told him apparitions of Mary. He wasn't big on that. We had a sharp but polite debate about the Blessed Mother. I had never heard of him before. But I certainly have since. It turns out that, like Jan Crouch (and her husband Paul), he is a mega-preacher but unlike them one of the fundamentalist types who, it seems, hates all things Catholic and at times throws his considerable resources against us.

Across America and around the world, these days, inside and outside of religion, are too many folks who pick on Catholics simply because we are Catholics -- Christianity's Mother Church -- and they are trying to justify their separation. Recently, Reverend Hagee made news because he was courted by presidential candidate John McCain. To its credit, the press exposed Reverend Hagee's vehemently anti-Catholic views: Hagee believes our Church is "the great whore" of Revelation and has called it a "false cult system" and "the apostate church." Many of his ilk -- and they are numerous -- also believe that Rome is the seat of the anti-christ and the Pope is the beast.

I don't like to be negative about anyone. I believe that we should bless our enemies. I also laud Jim and Jan Crouch for allowing me on their airwaves when so many of their viewers think like Reverend Hagee thinks.

But I have also had it with the defamation of Catholicism.

John Paul II -- now deceased, of course -- was also declared by many fundamentalists to be the anti-christ. The problem with that theory, of course, is that John Paul is now dead. So it is the turn of Benedict.

How ridiculous.

And one should ignore such as long as possible until it gets to the point where such people have such influence. There are hundreds of fundamentalist websites that take shots at Catholicism.

When you see them, let them know it.

There are so many that at times we want to use a certain story from a website but it ends up with anti-Catholic links. You can't even keep track of it any more.

Fundamentalists have gone too far for too long and now need to be answered. They are well-monied -- as I have indicated. They have pervasive airwaves. But they are only one in a long list of those who have abused our faith of late. Actors and actresses and columnists and broadcasters and journalists and educators and scientists have long felt free to disparage Catholicism in a way that would not be allowed against any other group -- or at least none that comes immediately to mind -- and have stepped up their assaults recently.

Most apparent and appalling have been the remarks of a "comedian" named Bill Maher, who once hosted a popular show called Politically Incorrect (until he was suspended) and now works for HBO. He picks up where the fundamentalists leave off.

Maher recently called Catholicism "a child-abusing religious cult . . . the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia" and claimed that "if the Pope, instead of a religious figure, was the CEO of a chain of nationwide day care centers who had thousands of employees who had been caught molesting children and then covering it up, he would have been in jail." He also said the Church "operates outside the bounds of the law" and -- alluding to our German Pope -- said we are led by "a Nazi." One laugh line: "altar boys can't get pregnant."

"If you have a few hundred followers and you let some of them molest children," said Maher, alluding to the polygamous cult that recently made the news, "they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you 'Pope.'"  He finished his monologue by suggesting that the Pope himself has pedophilic tendencies. Watch out, women, he indicated; the Pope is single. "Who wants to touch Mister Wiggle?" he asked. He referred to the Church and all its "buggery."

It was as absurd as it was unfunny -- a routine criticized even by the secular press, which pointed out that the Pope was not a member of the Nazi Party but forced like all German youngsters to conscript into the Hitler Youth as a teenager. His father taught him to oppose the Nazis. (See the New York Times article from 2005 headlined, "New Pope Defied Nazis as Teen During WWII.") To make it look even worse for Maher, the Pope mentioned the "monstrous" Nazis and how horrible it was to live under them during his trip to the U.S.

If Maher can be embarrassed, which he probably can not, that should have done it.

None of the comedian's rants should be surprising. He constantly berates Christians and has insulted the Blessed Mother and Jesus Himself.

On April 8, and again on April 12, in 2005, the HBO show, "Real Time with Bill Maher," featured a verbal assault on Pope John Paul II when the pontiff died. Led by Maher, the Pope was also attacked by columnist Arianna Huffington, who in her confusion is equally vitriolic. Here is a sample of what happened:

Maher: “People waited in line for 24 hours to see the Pope’s body and when they got to see the pope they smelled worse than he did.”

Maher: "For those who could not make the funeral, the Vatican has asked that in lieu of flowers, just stop touching your [profanity].”

Maher: "American Catholics say we love the Pope, he should be a saint but he is kind of full of [obscenity] on everything we believe."

Maher also said that the whole story of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Resurrection was "grafted from paganism." He ended by mocking the upcoming conclave.

More recently, the comic besmirched Christ and the Resurrection, alluding to the "Jesus-man who flew up to Heaven."

During a discussion about UFOs, he said that "I think it is much more likely that there could be space ships from outer space, than what a lot of things people believe. People still believe, you know, excuse me I know I may inject religion into every show but UFOs are a lot more likely than a space god flew down bodily and you know who was the Son of God and you know had sex with a Palestinian woman..."

Again, I don't like discussing this sort of thing; I hate quoting such things; I usually stay away from it; but it is out of control -- with Maher, with talk-show hosts like Whoopi Goldberg, with Hollywood types (there is another screenplay coming disparaging the Lord), with folks within and outside of Christianity. And it is time for Catholics to take action. This new screenplay asserts that Mary was sexually assaulted, leading to her pregnancy.

How much of such are we going to take?

I am asking folks to start complaining about these things.

I am asking everyone to do something.

Just one thing.

I am asking everyone to write HBO. Or to contact a sponsor. Or to complain to congressmen.

We can turn the other cheek when we are attacked, but not when Jesus and Mary are assaulted.

It is time for every one of us to speak up. It is gone way too far. Every time you hear of someone denigrating our Church, write to them. Write to their program. Write to their sponsors.

This is where they really listen.

I am asking all of you to do this -- now, urgently.

Write to the companies that advertise on those programs. Direct your letters and faxes (which are better than e-mails) at their CEOs.

We all must do this. It behooves us as Christians. It is crucial as Catholics.

Contact the chairman and CEO of HBO, Chris Albrecht here, if e-mail is your way.

Contact CNN, which allows Maher on the "Larry King" show. Write to the sponsors who advertise on "The View" (hosted by Barbara Walters). Do this also with MSNBC. If it offends you, and if you love the Lord, write. Google their numbers. Call them.

When fundamentalists insult us, write to your local cable company. Send a fax.

We usually turn the other cheek but not when our holiest figures are publicly and repeatedly insulted; not when comics are so hateful, slanderous, inaccurate, and vile.

If a newspaper is truculent, begin sending notes to the big department stores that advertise. Let the publisher know what you are doing.

And pray for these folks. We even pray the Sign of the Cross over them.

There is no hatred toward them; not an ounce. We bless them. We pray for their deliverance. We also love them, despite their hatred. Negativity has no place in the Catholic walk.

But neither does it have a place in evangelicalism, and those who are infested with a spirit, or who suffer emotional imbalance, as does poor Bill Maher, should not be allowed the airwaves any longer, and certainly not to profane the One Who is behind the one true faith.

It is up to us to remove him or cancel HBO before he utters one more blasphemy.

[Here's one petition, or e-mail HBO; but please go further; click here to complain to the FCC; here to contact your U.S. senator; contact program sponsors]

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