When Is An Ax Not An Ax?

Here begins the front page review in tomorrow's New York Times "Sunday Book Review:"

John Julius Norwich makes a point of saying in the introduction to his history of the popes that he is no scholar and that he is an agnostic Protestant. The first point means that while he will be scrupulous with his copious research, he feels no obligation to unearth new revelations or concoct revisionist theories. The second means that he has no ax to grind. In short, his only agenda is to tell us the story.

And it concludes:

Norwich devotes exactly one chapter to the popes of my lifetime from the avuncular modernizer John XXIII, whom he plainly loves, to the austere Benedict, off to a shaky start. He credits the popular Polish pope, John Paul II another candidate for sainthood for his global diplomacy but faults his retrograde views on matters of sex and gender. Norwichs conclusion may remind readers that he introduced himself as a Protestant agnostic, because whatever his views on God, his views on the papacy are clearly pro-reformation.It is now well over half a century since progressive Catholics have longed to see their church bring itself into the modern age, he writes. With the accession of every succeeding pontiff they have raised their hopes that some progress might be made on the leading issues of the day on homosexuality, on contraception, on the ordination of women priests. And each time they have been disappointed.

It seems the "ax" is magically transformed into a quill when wielded in support of the agenda of the Times' Executive Editor.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

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