Is America experiencing a new uprising of anti-Catholicism?
That’s what New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a doctor in U.S. Church history, argues in an op-ed article that he submitted — unsuccessfully — to The New York Times, and that he then posted late last month on his archdiocesan blog (see article, Page 5).
“It is not hyperbole to call prejudice against the Catholic Church a national pastime,” he writes, noting that even non-Catholic historians of international fame have called anti-Catholicism “the deepest bias in the history of the American people” and “the last acceptable prejudice.”
To be clear, this prejudice doesn’t — yet, anyway — manifest itself like other forms of discrimination or the anti-Catholicism of the past, in which Catholics were denied jobs, or housing, or other basic opportunities — the sort of hate this newspaper was founded to combat nearly a century ago.
Today things are different. It is a more idea-driven, institutionally directed discrimination. Paraphrasing an influential American professor of history, Peter Viereck, Archbishop Dolan calls modern-day Catholic-bashing, for which he cites four recent examples from the pages of the Times, the “anti-Semitism of the left.”
Strong words. But closer examination bears out the charge.
First, it is clear that Church teachings are increasingly counter-cultural on virtually all of the hot-button topics of the day: The Church defends the rights of the unborn, the integrity of the conjugal act, the basic societal building block of the family constructed on the marriage of a man and woman, an all-male priesthood, and the pre-eminence of the dignity of the human person, no matter how small or “unproductive.”
T he culture-war phenomenon has been exploited by various groups with often self-aggrandizing intentions , but, as Colin Sautar famously said, “Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” There is no denying that authentic Catholicism means running counter to the prevailing culture. And it is plain that the prevailing culture won’t take that without a murmur.
But perhaps most disturbing is that the expressions of anti-Catholicism today betray an unwillingness to engage the issues on their merit. Archbishop Dolan singles out an “intemperate and scurrilous” column by the Times’ Maureen Dowd, who was raised Catholic. “Her prejudice, while maybe appropriate for the Know-Nothing newspaper of the 1850s, the Menace, has no place in a major publication today,” he writes. In criticizing the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of U.S. women Religious, she bounces “from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, condoms, obsession with sex, pedophile priests, and oppression of women, all the while slashing Pope Benedict XVI for his shoes, his forced conscription — along with every other German teenage boy — into the German army, his outreach to former Catholics and his recent welcome to Anglicans.”
Rather than sound defensive or bitter, Archbishop Dolan strikes cheery self-confidence. It is the Catholic paradox. The Church is holy and bound to prevail; yet it fails. We are sinners; but anointed by God to accomplish great things.
“The Catholic Church is not above criticism,” he says. “All we ask is that such critique be fair, rational, and accurate.”
Not only is that not too much to ask; it is our duty to confidently and determinedly demand.
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