The pernicious bias that few recognize: anti-Catholicism

J. FRASER FIELD

How does it happen, that just at a time when prejudice is finally being rooted out with respect to every other identifiable group, mocking comments about the Catholic Church and her representatives are still seen as perfectly acceptable, even de rigueur in modern day Canada.

Could the famous British journalist, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), possibly have anticipated the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation? He once observed that there is no worse dogmatist than he who is unaware of his own beliefs, for he constantly runs the risk of falling into the very intolerance that he claims to abhor.

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to CBC radio one before my grade four students began streaming into the class to begin the day, when the interviewer made a sudden, sniggering, and off hand remark that she wouldn't be at all surprised if the present pope had a couple of girls hanging around the Vatican just for his pleasure. I took offense.

Now what, you might well ask, could I possibly find offensive in such a comment. Everyone has a right to their opinion. And besides, surely we all know by now that all, or virtually all, Catholic priests are a bunch of hypocrites and perverts, that Catholic lay people are all a bunch of mindless sheep, and that the Catholic Church is the main obstacle to social betterment in the world today.

We've certainly been reinforced in that opinion enough times by the CBC.

Click went the radio, and there I was -- once again -- angry after hearing my Church, and the Holy Father, who has worked so heroically to make the world a better place, the object of another calumnious hit by our "publicly funded" national radio station.

If remarks of this kind were made about any other group in Canada -- native people, homosexuals, Jews -- the reaction would be immediate. The public would be justifiably outraged; the statements would be condemned as blatant discrimination and a call for a retraction and apology would be immediate; and very likely the interviewer's job would be in jeopardy.

Yet mocking comments about the Catholic Church and her representatives are seen as perfectly acceptable, even de rigueur in modern day Canada. Why the double standard?

How does it happen that just at a time when prejudice is finally being rooted out with respect to every other identifiable group in Canada, that negative representations of Catholics are still seen as perfectly acceptable, that contemptuous remarks against the Church have become almost a trademark of Canadian media feature writers, and that government policy and court decisions regularly discriminate against the Christian population, making it increasingly difficult for Canadians to give faithful Christian witness?

I believe, perhaps naively, that if you asked most of the people throwing stones, they'd be completely oblivious to the fact that they had even given offense. In fact most would probably define themselves as fully committed to helping build Canada into a truly pluralistic, fully inclusive, and multicultural society.

Surely such a commitment should involve eliminating the odious practice of extending the hand of accommodation and inclusion to some cultural groups while denying it to others. Why is it so difficult, in Canada, to see anti-Catholicism as a prejudice?


How does it happen that just at a time when prejudice is finally being rooted out with respect to every other identifiable group in Canada, that negative representations of Catholics are still seen as perfectly acceptable...


Well for one thing, there is a long history of anti-Catholic persecution in our country, one which remains largely unrecognized by the average Canadian. And the most poisonous and persistent prejudices are, of course, the unacknowledged, the unrecognized ones.

University of Prince Edward Island history professor Ian Dowbiggin has written that over the years anti-Catholicism has been the force behind much of the debate in this country over immigration, temperance, labour, language, and public schooling.

In the U.S., there is a much more open acknowledgement of the history and effects of anti-Catholicism. Peter Viereck of Yale university describes anti-Catholic bigotry as "the anti-Semitism of liberals" while Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. once described it as "the deepest bias in the history of the American people." Unlike U.S. history textbooks, where anti-Catholicism is a prominently featured topic on its own, Canadian history books rarely present this aspect of our sullied past.

As a consequence the very idea that one has a responsibility to treat the Catholic Church or her representatives with any kind of civility still seems entirely foreign to many Canadians. Fact is, Catholic bashing has been around so long it seems to have become part of the air we breathe.

Well back to my teaching, and forward to the idea that the CBC, as our national public broadcasting system, is fully committed to promoting Canadian culture -- purified, of course, of any notion that the Catholic Church is part of that culture, has contributed anything of value to the country, or deserves a place at the multicultural table.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

J. Fraser Field, "The pernicious bias that few recognize: anti-Catholicism," Vancouver (British Columbia) Sun, 8 June 1999.

THE AUTHOR

J. Fraser Field is the Executive Officer of The Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 1999 Vancouver Sun




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