New heights for anti-Catholicism in America

By 
  • March 13, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - In the long history of anti-Catholicism, the epithets vomited at the Church and Catholics are numerous and colourful: Whore of Babylon, anti-Christ, mother of harlots, heretical, pagan, idolatrous, satanic, alien, ignorant, anti-intellectual, slavish and a personal favourite, the “two-horned monster of Rome,” which is how a few rabid Orthodox monks protested Blessed John Paul’s visit to Greece.

So it was a novelty to encounter another anti-Catholic image: the battered woman. Last week Catholics were told: “You’re better than your Church, so why stay? Apparently, you’re like the battered woman who, after being beaten down every Sunday, feels she has no place else to go.”

Perhaps you think I have been researching obscure tracks published in the darker corners of the most backward parts of America, crudely photocopied and distributed by ill-bathed people with bad clothes and worse teeth. But no, for real anti-Catholicism, one need go no farther than the great tribune of enlightened American opinion, The New York Times. Not for nothing is the conclusion of the celebrated American historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr., often quoted: “Anti-Catholicism is the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people.”

So it was that a group of atheist fundamentalists took out a full-page in The New York Times March 9, inviting Catholics to leave the Church. The supposed issue was the American bishops’ protest against the unconstitutional policies of the Obama administration, but the ad included all the greatest hits of anti-Catholicism — ignorance of the liturgy, hatred of the priesthood and rebellion against the Magisterium: “We invite you to free yourself from incense-fogged ritual, from ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men, from blind obedience to illusory religious authority.”

That the Times is anti-Catholic is so well-established that it is boring to note it, as it would be to observe that the Times would never run an advertisement that so targeted any other group. As for taking money — $52,000 reportedly — for trafficking in bigotry, one need not look far for the right word for one who sells her virtue for money. “No whore like an old whore,” as Brian Mulroney said in a different context. The Times has been at it longer than most.

I am here in Washington this week as a consultant to the American bishops’ special committee on religious liberty. Encroachments on religious liberty are not unrelated to the anti-Catholic bigotry one finds in the Times ad, even if that degree of hatred is not usually expressed openly.

Anti-Catholicism — both in Canada and in the United States — used to be the poisoned fruit of disunity in the Church, i.e., rivalry between Christians. Catholics were subject to hostility because they were not proper Christians; there was some wrong with their religious belief and practice. Today, we encounter a secular mindset which is hostile to all religion, with the Catholic Church bearing the brunt of the attack.

What Protestants at a certain time thought about Catholics is now what secularists here think about religion in general; it is alien, anti-American and dangerous. Hence the confusions promoted by the Obama administration, which has decided that those things it likes about religion — teaching children, caring for the poor, healing the sick — are not really religious activities at all, even if done by the St. Vincent de Paul Society or the Little Sisters of the Poor.

It’s not only the Obama administration of course. That mindset is at work all over the United States (and Canada). Just recently, New York City banned religious groups from renting space in public schools. It won’t affect Catholics in New York, as parishes usually have their own churches and halls, but will have a serious impact on small congregations who use schools to meet for worship and study. Why would religious groups be banned when everyone else is allowed to rent the space? Because religion is alien, anti-American and dangerous. The anti-Catholic spirit of old has now been given wider application.

Yet the Catholic Church remains a special target. White House officials have told the bishops that they don’t adequately understand Catholic teaching and should follow the lead of those Catholic institutions which are more partisan than faithful. It’s not as crude as the Times ad, but the message is the same — leave the Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and become something rather different made in the image and likeness of those who hold political power and cultural influence.

America’s proud tradition of religious liberty and tolerance is being betrayed by an old prejudice being applied in new ways, not by the backward and the brutish, but by the White House and The New York Times.

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