December 4, 2009


Anti-Catholic prejudice

Have you experienced anti-Catholicism? There have been periods of time here in Indiana where it was prevalent, especially during the early 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan ruled the state.

In the nation as a whole, anti-Catholicism came with the pilgrims and others who settled the East Coast. Catholics were forbidden to practice their religion, and were not allowed to vote.

But all that was well before Catholicism became the largest religion in the country. Catholics are in the mainstream of society today. There are more Catholics in Congress than those who profess any other religion, and six of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are Catholics.

Despite that, anti-Catholicism seems to reappear from time to time, especially, it seems, in the media and in academia.

It is probably because the Church is becoming more and more counter-cultural as our secular culture becomes progressively more amoral. The Church continues to oppose abortion, same-sex marriage, sexual activity outside of marriage, and many other things that our entertainment and news media promote in society.

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan saw what he was convinced was anti-Catholicism in The New York Times. He sent a letter to The Times that he asked to be published on its op-ed page. The editors at The Times refused to do so—their prerogative, of course, but hardly the way you would think they would treat the new Archbishop of New York.

Therefore, on Oct. 29, Archbishop Dolan published the column on his archdiocesan blog. Since it was the end of the baseball season, he wrote, “Sadly, America has another national pastime, this one not pleasant at all: anti-Catholicism.”

Before detailing four examples of anti-Catholicism in The Times’ pages, the archbishop quoted scholars from the past who recognized this prejudice in our society.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger called it “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” Peter Viereck labeled it “the anti-Semitism of the liberals.” Philip Jenkins published a book in 2004 called The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.

We sometimes see this when someone has done something wrong. If that person is a Catholic, that fact is usually pointed out in newspaper stories as if that explains the whole thing.

Perhaps it is not surprising that some of the worst anti-Catholicism is spouted by former Catholics who, for one reason or another, now seem bitter toward the Church. One of them, singled out by Archbishop Dolan, is Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She was writing about the apostolic visitation of women religious, which the archbishop acknowledged “is well worth discussing.” But not, however, the way she did it.

Archbishop Dolan wrote, “In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic, Jewish or African-American religious issue, she digs deep into the nativist handbook to use every anti-Catholic caricature possible, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, condoms, obsession with sex, pedophile priests and oppression of women, all the while slashing Pope Benedict XVI for his shoes, his forced conscription into the German army, his outreach to former Catholics and his recent welcome to Anglicans.”

It is not only former Catholics who use intemperate language against members of the Church’s hierarchy; sometimes it is Catholics themselves.

In the Nov. 6 issue of The Criterion, we reported on the statements made by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) against the U.S. bishops who refused to support the health-reform bills in the U.S. Congress unless they prohibited money from paying for abortions. An amendment to that effect was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but before that happened Kennedy made what Archbishop Dolan called “incredibly inaccurate and uncalled for remarks concerning the U.S. bishops.”

We would be the last to suggest that everything the Church has done in the past or everything it does today is above criticism. The Church is composed of fallible humans who occasionally make mistakes. That was clearly evident by the way the clergy sex-abuse scandal was handled. But we do object when dark motives are routinely assigned to the Church.

As Archbishop Dolan said, “All we ask is that [criticism] be fair, rational and accurate, what we would expect for anybody.”

—John F. Fink

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