Should we really worry about anti-Catholicism in the United States anymore?
After all, we've come a long way from the days of the Revolutionary War when George Washington, motivated, some say, by a desire to ensure the support of French Canadian Catholics and Catholic France. (See story, Page 7).
Catholics in those days numbered less than one percent of the colonies' population. Today, at roughly 70 million (about 23 percent of the population), the number of U.S. Catholics is four times that of the second largest denomination, Southern Baptists.
While there's only been one Catholic U.S. president, the 2008 presidential campaign has seen a disproportionate number of Catholics among the candidates: a full 35 percent, or six out of the original field of 17.
It's safe to say that Catholicism has gone mainstream in America.
But anti-Catholicism hasn't gone away, and some say it is entrenched like never before in the cultural elitist establishments of media, arts, academia and entertainment. In arenas where tolerance is supposed to be king, Catholic-bashing remains respectable recreation.
And there are still some hard-line fundamentalists who nurture an animus toward Catholics. One example is John Hagee, pastor of a mega-church in San Antonio, Texas, who says the Catholic Church joined Adolf Hitler "in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews."
Hagee was in the news again recently when he hosted one of the presidential candidates, Republican Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who called Hagee "one of the great Christian leaders of our nation." Huckabee didn't denounce Hagee's anti-Catholic bent, but his staff did point out that three of his senior campaign managers are Catholic.
Should Catholics be outraged when a presidential candidate praises an anti-Catholic? The Catholic League labeled Hagee a "veteran bigot" and a few Catholic bloggers made hay, but most Catholics didn't seem bothered.
Why not? Well, belonging to the largest U.S. religious denomination may give Catholics a sense of security and immunity from feeling threatened. We're no longer a minority facing extinction.
But it could be that Catholics have worked so hard to become accepted in America since Washington's day that we've made a neat, artificial boundary between our faith and the culture we live in. And it could be we've heard some lies so often we're starting to believe them ourselves.
A recent study shows Catholics are more disconnected from their faith than most Americans.
According to The Barna Group, Catholics are 20 percent less likely than other Americans to share their faith with someone who has different beliefs and 24 percent less likely to say that their faith has greatly transformed their life.
Statistically, Catholics were more likely to recycle. But they were indistinguishable from other Americans in stealing, getting drunk, using illegal narcotics, lying, committing adultery and seeking revenge.
Yes, we should be concerned about anti-Catholicism in America. But we should be more concerned about building a well-formed and informed, prayerful, engaged laity to face it.