February 22, 2019


The return of anti-Catholicism

Is anti-Catholicism returning in the United States?

Throughout most of U.S. history, anti-Catholicism was a given. At the beginning of the country, Catholics were forbidden by law in various states to participate in civil affairs. Later, businesses let it be known that “Irish need not apply” for jobs. Catholics were persecuted by the “Know Nothings” and the Ku Klux Klan.

But things changed by the middle of the 20th century, first as a result of the G.I. Bill that made it possible for Catholics who served in World War II to go to college and become part of the mainstream. And then with the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, as president.

Since then, it appeared that Catholics were accepted as never before. Not only are there more Catholics in the U.S. Congress than of any other religion, but most of the justices on the Supreme Court are Catholics.

But now it appears that some people apparently believe that it’s OK for you to be a Catholic as long as you’re not a very good one. That is, don’t try to live your beliefs.

An example of that happened after President Donald J. Trump nominated Brian Buescher to be a federal judge in Nebraska. During his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine if the Senate would consent to the appointment, Senators Kamala Harris of California and Mazie Hironio of Hawaii challenged the appointment because Buescher is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

What’s wrong with that? More than 1.9 million Catholic men are members of the Knights. It’s the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. But Senators Harris and Hironio objected because it opposes legal abortion and the legal redefinition of marriage to include couples of the same sex.

The Knights also have contributed $1.55 billion to charity over the past 10 years, which, you would think, the two senators would approve. But they were only interested in the issues of abortion and marriage redefinition.

But members of the Knights aren’t the only ones who oppose abortion and redefining marriage. Every Catholic who follows the teachings of the Church does. So, in effect, the two senators were saying that anyone who follows the teachings of the Church should not be a judge. Isn’t this a case of anti‑Catholicism?

Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska presented a resolution, which passed the Senate without objection, that Catholicism cannot be used as a test in considering fitness for public office. It specifically said that “membership in the Knights of Columbus” cannot disqualify a nominee. But such a resolution shouldn’t have been necessary.

The thing is that the teachings of the Catholic Church have always been countercultural to at least some segments of society. Perhaps nothing showed that more than the celebration that occurred in New York after the legislature passed a bill, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that effectively removed all restrictions on abortion in that state.

Cuomo is supposed to be a Catholic, which brings up another problem in our Church. He and the Catholic legislators who voted for that bill simply ignored the teachings of the Church. In fact, Cuomo prided himself after he signed the bill for standing up to New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan just as his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, stood up to Cardinal John J. O’Connor over the issue of legalized abortion in 1984.

The Church’s positive vision for marriage and family life and its related stance on homosexual acts, premarital and extramarital sex, in vitro fertilization, and similar issues are all countercultural today. But you would expect Catholics, at least, to understand that those teachings would improve society.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the laity have an obligation to unite harmoniously the rights and duties which they have as belonging to the Church and those which fall to them as members of the human society, “remembering that in every temporal affair they are to be guided by a Christian conscience, since no human activity, even of the temporal order, can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (#912).

Jesus told us that his Church would always suffer persecution. Today it appears that it will take the form of anti‑Catholicism, sometimes at the hands of Catholics.

—John F. Fink

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