Many years ago, when I was in the process of becoming Catholic, I read Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Catholic Answers president and founder, Karl Keating. It was in that book that I first came across a popular quote by Bishop Fulton Sheen that is often repeated today by Catholics discussing the phenomenon of anti-Catholic bigotry:
There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. . . . As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.
As I tend to do when I read a statement attributed to a famous person, I looked for a footnote, and Karl provided one. At the time I didn’t think too much about it. I just went back to reading about the differences between Catholic belief and Fundamentalist Protestant belief.
Some years later, the Internet exploded and I started to see this quote everywhere. It would be copied into Facebook memes, it would be mentioned in Internet debates, it would be used as a signature line in emails. The only problem was that I would never see the quote worded exactly the same way twice. The number of ways in which Bishop Sheen’s words would appear seemed without end.
Finally, I decided that I had to track down the quote. I’d long since forgotten, though, where I’d originally found it. After weeks of searching through books on anti-Catholicism, which I thought might point me to it, I re-found the quote in Karl’s book . . . and remembered that Karl had cited the original source.
You can search all of Bishop Sheen’s books from cover to cover and you won’t find this quote. That is because Bishop Sheen wrote it as part of a preface to Radio Replies, three volumes of questions and answers on the Catholic Faith by Fathers Leslie Rumble and Charles Carty, priest apologists of the mid-twentieth century. The preface is fairly lengthy and well worth reading in its entirety. My favorite portion of the preface is where Bishop Sheen makes the argument that an unofficial “mark” of Christ’s own Church is that it will be hated by the world:
If I were not a Catholic and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, he must still be hated as he was when he was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world.
Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior as they sneered at our Lord because he came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil as our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible as Pilate rejected Christ because he called himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as our Lord was rejected by men.
Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions its members love as they love Christ and respect its voice as the very voice of its founder, and the suspicion will grow that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ himself. But only that which is divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is divine (Radio Replies, vol. 1, preface, p. ix, slightly edited for readability).
I hope aspiring apologists will keep in mind that they should not be satisfied with unsourced quotes. Before you cite anything in your formal writing (e.g., articles, books), track down the original quote. It’s best to do so in all of your writing—including Facebook conversations and discussion forums sites—but even there you can at least admit you don’t have the original quote on hand.
It takes some work to find an original quote, but doing so means that you not only have proof of the text for doubters but also the context in which the statement was made. In this case, the context is a rich essay on anti-Catholicism by Bishop Sheen that seems to have been forgotten in an age in which we are all too easily satisfied by sound bites.