Flames engulf St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, Alta., June 30, 2021, in this still image taken form video obtained from social media. The fire was believed to have been deliberately set. CNS photo/Diane Burrel, social media via Reuters

‘Staggering’ rise in anti-Catholic hate in Canada

By  TERRY O’NEILL, Canadian Catholic News
  • September 1, 2022

Canadian and international observers are condemning media, politicians and other opinion leaders for turning a blind eye to a startling new report that shows a 260-per-cent increase in anti-Catholic hate crimes in the past year. 

The increase is almost 10 times higher than for all hate crimes combined and was by far the single largest percentage growth recorded in any category in the numbers released by Statistics Canada. 

At the same time, experts and activists are also calling for Catholics to more forcefully respond to the sort of prejudice and bias that the media-blackout epitomizes.

“We should stop talking and take action against it,” said Marc Vella, president of the Christian Civic Affairs Committees of Canada.

StatsCan reported on Aug. 2 that the number of police-reported, hate-motivated crimes in Canada increased by 27 per cent last year, to 3,360 from 2,646 in 2020. Hate-motivated crimes targeting religion grew by 67 per cent, to 884 from 530.

The number of anti-Catholic hate crimes grew to 155 in 2021 from just 43 the year before. Crimes directed at Black persons accounted for the largest number of all incidents. Anti-Jewish incidents topped the hate-crime list in the religion category, up 47 per cent with 487 reported incidents.

While StatsCan provided no explanation for the huge anti-Catholic crime increase, the figures correspond to an explosion of arson, vandalism and threats directed at Catholic institutions last summer following inflammatory news reports about the existence of possible graves at an abandoned cemetery at Kamloops Indian Residential School.

A search of Canada’s largest mainstream media outlets did not find a single reference to the surge of anti-Catholic hate crimes.

“It’s disappointing that the mainstream media did not responsibly cover the staggering rise in anti-Catholic hate crimes,” said Christian Elia, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League. 

“It’s even more disappointing that they covered the StatsCan report in general terms, alarmed at the overall 27-per-cent increase in all police-reported hate-motivated crime, yet they did not acknowledge the eye-popping 260-per-cent increase against Catholics specifically.”

“Government officials have been equally silent or made dismissive comments about this violence,” said Janet Epp-Buckingham, a professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., and director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre in Ottawa.

“The reality is that these churches are where Christians worship and find their identity as believers. Attacks on them are attacks on all Christians.”

Madeleine Enzlberger, executive director of the Vienna-based Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, said the Canadian numbers “are truly worrying” and probably represent only the tip of the iceberg.

“Unfortunately, we have seen similar trends of anti-Christian and -Catholic hatred in other Western countries as well,” said Enzlberger. “It is a dynamic in which violence against Christian buildings, churches or even people to some extent is perceived to be a legitimate form of protest against what the Church said, did or represents.”

Enzlberger warned that legitimizing violence against the Church by ignoring it “could lead to a normalization that could socially legitimize the further escalation of violence to even more severe levels.”

“This spiral of violence needs to be broken at its earliest stages before it gets out of control,” she said.

The news media’s failure to report on the rapid rise of anti-Catholic hate crime is part of a pattern, she said.

Enzlberger said research conducted by the British Parliament found a prevailing anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian bias, as well as a high level of religious illiteracy among media.

“This bias often manifests itself in a toxic narrative that only allows for Christians to fit the role of the perpetrators and not the victim.”

Things are much the same in Europe, said Enzlberger. She pointed out that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s most recent report revealed that anti-Christian hate crimes grew the most compared to other religions and also all other protected groups defined by gender, race and ethnicity. 

Ian Dowbiggin, a professor in the Department of History at the University of Prince Edward Island and a writer on Catholic issues, said “there’s always been anti-Catholic sentiment down through Canadian history, leavened by anti-French and anti-Irish bigotry, for example, and the coverage of the Church’s sexual abuse scandals of the 1980s and 1990s.”

He has been warning of the problem for decades. Writing in the Globe and Mail in 1995, Dowbiggin said, “Anti-Catholicism is as alive as it ever was, but now it’s less recognizable.

The new anti-Catholicism expresses itself in the form of a hip discourse that tries to reduce a worldwide Church with hundreds of millions of parishioners to a handful of trendy slogans of dismissive contempt.”

Twenty-seven years later, Dowbiggin said he believes Catholics are themselves somewhat responsible for the ongoing problem.

“If anti-Catholicism and hate crimes against the Church still occur today, and the media won’t report them, it is due to a large extent because Catholics themselves don’t push back and defend their faith,” he said.

“Canada’s Jews rightly fight back when there is evidence of anti-Semitism, so why can’t Catholics in the face of things like the church burnings of 2021 and the orchestrated humiliation of the Pope in recent days?”

Vella, a member of St. James Parish in Abbotsford, B.C., is one Catholic who is fighting back. He said the mainstream news media has been pushing an anti-Catholic narrative for decades.

“We Catholics should not bellyache and complain about how unfair our treatment in the press is,” Vella said. “Rather, we should stop talking and take action to fix the problem.”

He suggests Catholics need “to become far more savvy” in response to the media, be better informed on issues confronting the Church and not rely on mainstream media, and to get involved in public affairs and politics.

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