We know that the Klan was racist. What isn’t often mentioned is that the Klan also targeted Catholics, whom they considered to be anti-American.
Gano E. Senter, a politician and owner of a restaurant named Kool Kosy Kafe, sold Cyana cigars (Catholics, You Are Not A
mericans). He was the regional director of the Klan, while his wife Lorena headed up the woman’s auxiliary, whose main issue was to ensure that innocent white children were kept out of Catholic orphanages.
Buy a catechism!
The PBS documentary rightly named the Denver Catholic Register, and its editor then Father Matthew Smith (later Msgr. Smith), as one of the main players who “made an intense effort to expose the inner workings of the Klan,” and who “kept fighting the Klan, constantly.” For his efforts, he was, at least six times, nearly run over in the streets.
The Register featured a steady stream of stories about the Klan during 1924-25, the peak years of control of the Klan in Colorado. Many were national stories that the paper followed closely, such as the Klan’s efforts to push the national expansion of Oregon’s anti-private school legislation, which was ultimately deemed unconstitutional. Klan members proposed similar laws, which would make it illegal for parents to send their children to anything but a public school, in Washington State and Michigan.
One of the first mentions of the Klan was Jan. 3, 1924, when the Denver Catholic Register published a front page story with the headline: “Father Donnelly Recommends Ten Cent Catechism for Ku Kluxers Prospective Members.”
The paper reported that a Protestant minister attempted to explain the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Denver Express, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper. Father J.J. Donnelly, pastor of St. Francis de Sales, found the explanation “Amusing, offensive, saddening!” He suggested that if the Klan really wanted to know what Catholics believe, then it should buy a Baltimore Catechism. “It costs only 10 cents,” he added.
The Catholic newspaper was an early target of the Klan’s bullying. A short notice in the April 3, 1924, paper noted that the Klan had been calling local businesses telling them not to advertise in the Denver Catholic Register. “One of the largest advertisers of the Register told the KKK ‘phoner to go—well, where we don’t want to spend eternity,” the paper reported in its characteristic tongue-in-cheek style.
The boycott backfired, so another plan was hatched. In June of that same year, a group put together a list of 800 Catholic businessmen and printed at the bottom of the list: “Do not patronize heretics,” and “Only trade with Roman Catholics.” The problem, according to the story in the June 19 issue of the Register, is that Catholics normally didn’t refer to themselves as Roman Catholics, and they don’t refer to their Protestant brothers and sisters as “heretics.” Whoever put the list together, the paper suggested, wasn’t even Catholic. So, who wrote the list?
The Register doesn’t say, as the issue was still under investigation, but it did end the article with this thinly veiled accusation: “The local Klan has been under investigation from Atlanta headquarters. The money-grabbers are decidedly worried over the clownish position and the constant slipping that have characterized His Majesty’s efforts in this section” (a reference to Dr. John Galen Locke, the Grand Dragon of the “Colorado Realm”).
(Story cotinues below)
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In an article published in the Feb. 5, 1948, edition of the Register, Msgr. Smith revealed that years after the Klan had folded he was told by former Klan leadership that his information on the inner workings of the Klan was surprisingly on target. They asked him how many spies he had embedded in the organization. He never had a spy, he wrote – just good sources.
Fake nuns, Mass wine
In 1925, the Register covered the proliferation of “fakers” who pretended to be ex-priests or ex-nuns and who would speak as “experts” at Klan events about the Catholic Church and the depravity of its priests. The worst offender was “Sister Angel,” who said she was a Franciscan nun in Massachusetts for a year in her 20s. She was 58 at the time. Her talk was deemed by the Denver Catholic Register as the “lewdest lecture ever given in the history of Denver.” The paper refrained from going into detail, for fear of being sent to jail for publishing obscenities!
The most high-profile story covered by the Denver Catholic Register was the campaign launched by Klan-backed Governor Clarence Morley to ban sacramental wine, which he announced in his inaugural address in 1925. The total ban would essentially prevent the celebration of Mass in the state of Colorado, or at least the legal celebration of Mass (our priests would have found a way to continue offering the sacraments).
A strongly-worded editorial in the May 1, 1924, edition of the Register asserted that “wine in itself is not evil,” and furthermore, the 2,000-year old Catholic Church “does not need half-baked theologians and newspaper writers to teach her morality.”
The stories of Father Smith on the topic gained national attention and sparked an outcry that was heard all the way to Washington, D.C. The paper’s unwavering stand was expressed in a rallying cry dated Jan. 29, 1925: “We stand ready, if needs be, to die or to rot in jail.” The measure was ultimately defeated, and it marked the beginning of the end for the Klan in Colorado. They had reached too far.