Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Recently, I was asked to write an opinion piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on what seems to be an emergence of anti-Catholic prejudice. The subtleties are emerging in political dialogue and the rationale for various approaches at social questions, i.e., immigration, women’s health issues, welfare etc. I thought it would be important for Catholic Herald readers to view my presentation.
Noted historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., called anti-Catholicism the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people. In this toxic climate of the politics of 2016, candidates tear one another apart with almost childish statements. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The political discourse has always entailed some ad hominem remarks and dirty tricks are part of the territory.
However, in the midst of the name calling, one begins to detect that old anti-Catholic bias as it manifests itself in the subtleties appealing to people’s fears and ignorance.
One can understand if this is coming from individuals who lack an educational background or are fed information from unfounded fears, but please, today? After the Kennedy years?
I’m old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy had to appear in Houston at a ministers’ convention.
There he assured them if he were elected president, the pope would not direct the presidency of the United States from Rome. If you asked any Catholic, they would have told you as much.
No one asked Kennedy if the pope gave him permission to heroically serve in World War II. I guess when your faith forms you as a responsible citizen to defend your country, it doesn’t matter that you are Roman Catholic.
Nativism is not new to the history of the United States. There is a deep prejudice toward Catholics stemming from various historical roots transported from European nations to the shores of America. We all have a short historical memory, but many fraternal organizations were founded because Catholics were not allowed membership in societal organizations.
Many immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Poland and Germany were Catholics. Their worship was strange to others, as were some of their customs, which reflected the practice of the faith.
Even when economic barriers were broken and some Catholics achieved a higher social status, they were still prohibited from joining certain country clubs.
Recall that the Ku Klux Klan was originally founded in opposition to Negroes, Catholics and Jews. Laws were written and court judgments rendered to prevent the growing influence of Catholics, especially in the area of education.
As political correctness has mastered our day, political candidates avoid offending groups or movements knowing that a single misstatement will generate a lasting mark throughout the campaign. However, this is not true for any remarks disparaging Catholics.
Whether in the field of art, media or politics, Catholic trashing is permissible and shock is manifested when any Catholic organization like the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights protests the remarks.
Catholics: pay your taxes, provide your charitable services and serve our country, but don’t object to being ridiculed.
One out of five people receive medical care from Catholic health services. Catholic schools provide education to more than 3 million students, saving government billions of dollars. Catholic Charities, parishes and charitable organizations provide food, clothing and shelter to a multitude of people in need, regardless of race, gender or faith.
There is a secular elite in the country that represents almost an “established religion.” That is, whether you’re on the left or right, or whether you are Democrat or Republican, you must fit into its categories of what is acceptable.
It’s obvious Catholics are liked by one or the other party when they support attention to the environment, or the need for health care and organized labor, yet are labeled as single-minded when they attack abortion, contraception or speak up for traditional marriage and the freedom of religion.
Every politician wants a picture with the pope when he visits the United States and they nod in agreement at his addresses in the public forum, but they don’t want the pope to make any references to building bridges instead of walls.
What would you expect from a world religious leader? A religious leader is a teacher and, unless one is the Son of God, we all question whether we are following Jesus in a proper manner and with a proper heart.
Donald Trump found it offensive his faith was questioned, but I don’t think Trump has any problem questioning ISIS and making the judgment that its terrorism is not an adherence to their faith. Or, the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz is an evangelical from Cuba (Really, aren’t all Cubans Catholics?) and that some of his antics are “unchristian.“
Yet, Trump is shocked when Pope Francis questions and challenges the practice of the faith. When you are a religious leader, to borrow a phrase from Geico’s popular TV commercial, “it’s what you do.” Unless you’re a Catholic, then you should be quiet.
Every country has a right to protect its borders. Protection should not be isolation, because collaboration is the only way to achieve a lasting peace through mutual understanding and economic development.
A subtlety remains that “those people” from the south are not only people of color and speak a different language, but many are Catholic. It has been the Catholic Church that has protected the immigrant and it will continue to do so.
So-called secular intellectual elites like Ann Coulter pontificate by using social media. Many choose this forum because it protects them from defending their comments. It is called freedom of speech.
She manifests her anti-Catholicism through humor. Here is an example: “Quick quiz: Between Trump and the pope, which one runs a huge multinational that protects subordinates when they rape little boys?”
You’re expected to laugh. I guess Coulter would call this humor. Black face was humorous in its day, but I don’t believe anyone would find it laughable today.
The Catholic Church has weathered the Roman Empire, the Vandals, rise of nation states, the reign of terror, rationalism, Fascism and Communism. The church will be here long after we have been laid to rest and it will not cease in offering its voice, even if there are those who mock and demean it, wishing to eliminate the Catholic Church’s view from the public discourse.
Our nation is not a melting pot. Rather, it is a mosaic made of a multitude of diverse shapes and colors. We all lose when we attack the uniqueness that gives us our national character.
Archbishop Listecki is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis.