February 05, 2019

Anti-Catholicism: “the last acceptable prejudice”

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli *
Cross and book / Credit: Pexel
Cross and book / Credit: Pexel

In The Innocents Abroad, published in1869, Mark Twain humorously narrates his travels thorough Europe and the Holy Land. He goes out of his way to praise the great hospitality that Catholic priests offered to any pilgrim traveling through 19th century Palestine. They readily welcomed all, whether they came “in rags or clad in purple.” Twain was pleasantly surprised by this, because, as he readily confesses, he had been “educated to enmity toward everything that is Catholic.” Enmity toward everything Catholic! Not a thing of the past.

Most recently, the hatred was aimed at one of the most charitable and benevolent group of individuals in this country, the Knights of Columbus. During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s review of Omaha-based lawyer Brian C. Buescher for the position of judge on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Senators Mazie Hirono, a democrat from Hawaii, and Kamala Harris, a democrat from California, grilled Buescher on his membership in the Knights of Columbus. In their questions, they boldly gave voice to an anti-Catholic prejudice in our society.

Hirono accused the Knights of having “taken a number of extreme positions.” And, what are those extreme positions to which she is so vehemently opposed? The Catholic teaching on marriage as a union established by God. The sanctity of human life. The rights of a child in the womb to take his or her place at the banquet of life. For many, when it comes to birthing a child, only a woman has rights. And, when it comes to marriage, only what an individual wants matters. In their eyes, God’s design for his creation cannot limit the freedom of anyone to choose as they wish. 

Holding to what the Catholic Church has always taught, according to their line of questioning, now disqualifies someone from public office. In effect, both senators were applying a religious test as a qualification for public office. Responding to this blatant attack on a man’s religion, on January 17, 2018, the United States Senate unanimously passed the resolution that disqualifying a member of the Knights of Columbus for a federal office actually violates the Constitution of the United States. Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Sadly, this recent attack on Catholicism is not an isolated incident. Last September, Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed serious concern about the qualifications of Amy Barrett for a judgeship on the 7th Circuit. Feinstein is an unflinching supporter of abortion. It was no surprise that she zeroed in on Barrett’s position on Roe v. Wade. Because Barrett is a practicing Catholic who faithfully holds to Catholic teaching on this and other hot button issues, Feinstein remarked “in your case, professor…the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” Clearly, the Senator sees no place for what the Catholic Church teaches on major moral and societal issues. 

It is becoming more and more obvious that the Catholic Church is being targeted as the public enemy of our society. Talk shows and news media attack the Catholic position on the right to life as misogyny and the Catholic teaching on marriage as intolerance and hatred. One can only wonder why those States that are investigating the Catholic Church on its record of protecting children are not looking into other public institutions. Why is there not a comparable investigation into their own school systems or other religious groups? Is the terrible crime of child abuse limited only to Catholics? Today’s media would even have people believe that abuse of minors is becoming more frequent within the Church. Patently false. But, too often facts do not matter when a villain is needed.

Those who advocate for the radical autonomy of the individual find in the Church an indomitable opponent. The Catholic Church stands firm in her teaching on contraception, abortion, stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, marriage and divorce. The Church teaches that every choice that touches on the gift of life and the beauty of marriage is judged by a law higher than the autonomy of the individual. And, for this reason, today’s secularists judge Catholics as public enemies to the good of the society they wish to construct. A society without God. A society without a future.

Almost every day, a politician or teacher or public speaker is lambasted for a statement that is judged to be homophobic, misogynistic, racist or anti-Semitic. In some cases, not even an apology can save their careers. Yet, a free pass is given by society to any anti-Catholic view or statement. Someone can make an insulting or slanderous remark about Catholics, Catholic teachings or the Church herself and emerge unscathed. In his essay on The Significance of Jacksonian Democracy, historian and Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., himself not a Catholic, made the often cited assertion that anti-Catholic prejudice is “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” According to Baylor University professor Philip Jenkins, anti-Catholic prejudice is “the last acceptable prejudice.”
 

Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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