I was working in a Catholic parish the year Obama was elected. Before the election the parish priest preached about the issues the country was facing.
He said clearly and simply that a Catholic could not vote for any candidate or any party that openly and deliberately supported the crime of abortion. As I recall, he did not mention “Democrat” or “Barack Obama” nor did he tell people to vote for John McCain, nor did he mention Republicans.
He did say that a Catholic could not vote for a politician or a party that openly supported abortion. To do so would be a mortal sin because that person would be knowingly voting for a person and a party platform that supported the murder of the unborn.
I don’t remember the actual details, but I do recall that the diocesan officials at the time commended the priest for his position and even said, “We wish more priest would speak clearly on this matter.”
Then after Barack Obama was elected the priest told his people that if they had voted for Obama they should go to confession because they had committed a grave sin.
That’s when the newspapers got hold of it, and that’s when an orchestrated, planned and deliberate hate campaign started up. All the usual anti-Catholic propaganda was wheeled out, but added to it was the fact that the priest was a white man and the church was in the South.
It started with emails, text messages and letters. They rolled in thick and fast. The diocese quickly issued a statement throwing the priest under the bus. The parish and parish school email addresses were swamped. Everyone associated with the staff of the church started to get emails once the church address was turned off.
I was only an assistant priest and I began to get phone calls and emails. I had death threats. They said they knew where I lived. They threatened to rape my daughter and turn up at my workplace.
If you think the people of Covington Catholic are enjoying themselves right now, think again. Those boys and their families are going through hell, and here’s the worst part: It’s not getting any better. In fact it is getting much worse, and if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that this irrational rage does not remain just talk and threats.
The threats are simply the planning stage. Oh yes, I realize that right wing extremists could, theoretically, be just as violent, irrational and rage driven. I understand that MAGA people could theoretically turn into a right wing, neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang of thugs, but in the present situation it doesn’t seem nearly as likely as a leftist mob torching someone’s house, hounding someone out of a job, harassing kids or attacking a church.
I don’t wish this to happen and I’ll continue to give everyone the benefit of the doubt as much as I can, but I’m worried because our religious and political leaders seem so spineless that they bow to the slightest bit of social media pressure. They give in. They are so scared of the howling mob.
Should such anti Catholic action happen in the USA? Of course it could. It’s part of America’s history. Read The New Anti Catholicism: the Last Acceptable Prejudice.
It is sobering to recall a blog post of Msgr Charles Pope from a few years ago. He sets out the five stages of religious persecution. I think there’s a sixth…
I. Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number and generalize it to describe the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on the observation of a limited sample.
And thus as the 1960s and 1970s progressed, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as “Bible thumpers,” simpletons, haters of science, hypocrites, and as self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.
Catholics, in particular, were also accused of having neurotic guilt and a hatred of or aversion to sexuality. We were denounced as a sexist institution filled with clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals, or pedophiles. We were labeled an authoritarian institution stuck in the past, one with too many restrictive rules.
Basically, as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable—even tragic—group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the “shackles” of faith.
To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but those are the basic refrains. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.
II. Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct – As the stereotyping grew in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, and just plain mean and basically bad people.
The history of the Church is also described myopically as little more than a litany of bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades and inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story: that the Church founded universities and hospitals, was a patron of the arts, and preached a gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbaric times in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. The critics won’t hear any of that, or if they do, will give the credit to anyone or anything except the Church and the faith.
As with any large group, individual Christians and Catholics will manifest some negative traits, but stereotyping, vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of a few to be common to all is unjust.
Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believersand of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.
III. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society – Having established the (false) premise that the Church and the faith are very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the critics proceed in the next stage to relegate the role of the Church to the margins of society.
To many in secularized culture, religion is seen as something that must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc. within the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.
In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly, or in any way bring his or her Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. So candidates for judicial seats are thought unacceptable if they belong to Knights of Columbus or are publicly mocked by leading politicians because “the dogma speaks strong in you” or funding for the Vice President’s wife’s security team is challenged because of her clear Christian convictions.
IV. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works –
But even prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our right to practice our faith openly. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.
Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information about or referrals for abortion and to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e., the abortifacient known as the morning-after pill). Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not place children with gay couples. In 2009, the State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization, and running of Catholic parishes. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they planned to mention God and/or Jesus in their addresses. (More details can be found HERE.)
Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them impose a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and it signals the beginning of the steady erosion of religious liberty.
Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct in their work to separate the practice of the faith from the public square.
V. Mocking the religion and the religious believers – Name calling, isolation, and verbal action based on the stereotyping and vilification in the first two stages.
VI. Persecuting the targeted group outright – If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from facing heavy fines and/or incarceration.
Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.
In this country there are greater provisions for free speech, but as we have seen, there is a steady erosion of our religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are very familiar with having to spend long periods in court defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, and ultimately jail.
Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through three are pretty well in place and four is bubbling away in our society. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it looks like we’re pretty well set for stage five. You decide.
So should the troubles escalate, don’t expect support and strength from our leaders.
Be prepared to buckle up and sit tight.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride.