The New Anti-Catholicism

DWIGHT LONGENECKER

One of my claims to fame is that I am a graduate of the fire breathing, fundamentalist Bob Jones University. This is the college deep in the Bible belt that gave Ian Paisley his honorary doctorate and still makes headlines for its anti-Catholic bigotry.

In America, when I say I went to Bob Jones, people treat me with a certain troubled awe, as if I'd admitted that I once fought for the Taliban or had escaped from a Moonie commune.

The anti-Catholicism at Bob Jones was the old fashioned kind based on centuries of mis-information, black propaganda and sincere misunderstanding. This was the anti-Catholicism in which the pope was the anti-Christ riding on the back of that great whore of Babylon — the Catholic Church. It fed on Lorraine Boettner's Roman Catholicism, that classic collection of calumnies, lies and half-truths. As youths we read the sensational 'Chick tracts'. These riveting comic books portrayed the Catholic Church as a pagan cult complete with crazed priests, murderous popes and the bodies of illegitimate babies buried in tunnels under convents. It was juicy stuff. It was totally paranoid and wacko, but hot and juicy nonetheless.

In this ecumenical age such mainstream Protestant bigotry is dying out. It is also dying out because more and more Evangelical Christians are coming to realise that the 'old old story' of God's love for a dying world and the saving work of Christ on the cross is now most fully and vigorously told by the modern Catholic Church. They are coming to this conclusion since so many of their own churches are buying into the secular, morally indifferent agenda of the world around them.

The old-fashioned Protestant anti-Catholicism is dying out, but in its place a new and equally virulent form of anti-Catholicism is rising up. A new book by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University, chronicles this new phenomenon in the USA. In The New Anti Catholicism Jenkins recounts some recent anti-Catholic incidents that illustrate the point. He reports how, in New York in 1989 a gay activist group demonstrated in St Patrick's Cathedral. They interrupted mass, forcing the archbishop to abandon his sermon. They threw condoms around the church and desecrated the host. In a 1994 'gay pride' march in New York, the protestors stopped outside St Patrick's to yell four letter words and make obscene gestures toward the church. They were dressed as nuns, cardinals and priests. Some of them wore nothing at all. In other parades they have sat on the steps, done satanic dances, and semi-nude, have simulated gay sex outside the church during mass.

The radical homosexualists are not the only ones. In 2000, twenty ski-masked members of a Feminist Autonomous Collective interrupted mass in Montreal. They spray painted slogans on the walls of the church and altar, tried to overturn the tabernacle, stuck used sanitary napkins on pictures and walls, threw condoms around the sanctuary and chanted pro-abortion slogans. These are a few of the most extreme examples, but Jenkins shows how the anti-Catholic attitude that fuels the extreme protests is woven, both subtly and blatantly, throughout the American media and educational culture.

Jenkins isn't a Catholic, so in a recent interview I asked him what motivated him to write the book. He answered that he had recognised, 'a significant social and political phenomenon that nobody seemed prepared to address, though it has major political consequences.'

As an expatriate American, what interested me about the book was whether or not the new anti-Catholicism was purely an American phenomenon. Jenkins pointed out that American anti-Catholicism actually has its roots in British ideologies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He went on to draw links between anti-Catholicism in Britain and continental anti-Semitism. Jenkins commented, 'In both instances, the imagined outside enemy subverts accepted standards of decent behaviour, including through sexual contamination. He operates clandestinely in order to take over and destroy the decent Christian society; and he is a sinister cosmopolitan. English Catholics faced very much the same charge of divided loyalties that European Jews would face throughout the twentieth century. While European Jews were blamed for unleashing the Black Death by poisoning wells, so English Catholics were obviously responsible for setting the Great Fire of London in 1666.' Jenkins said feelings do not run so high now simply because religion is not so important to modern British people. Nevertheless, he observed, ' Britain has a long-lasting hostility — as the old phrase goes, in Britain, there are two religions. Catholicism, which is wrong, and all the others, which don't matter.'

I pointed out that Britain has strict laws against racial and religious hatred and asked whether such laws exist in the USA and if they are enforced. Jenkins replied, 'That is one of the reasons I wrote the book. There is a huge inconsistency over issues of social tolerance… Nobody would dare mount art exhibits or show films that depicted (say) Martin Luther King in a derogatory or scoffing way, or would make films mocking gay-bashing. Yet the same sensitivity ends with Catholics. Even when churches are vandalised or trashed, when they are the centre of riots and demonstrations, nobody thinks to apply hate crime laws in the same way if a mosque was treated in the same fashion…All I want to see is consistency.'

The main ideological campaigners behind the new anti-Catholicism are feminist and homosexualist. The agenda is bigger than simple homosexuality or feminism, and the issues are more complex than just equal rights for minority groups, but inasmuch as these two groups are at the forefront of the new wave of anti-Catholic prejudice I wondered what effect it would have on ecumenical relations. If non-Catholic churches are increasingly dominated by the feminist and homosexualist campaigners could we see the anti-Catholic spirit that marks secular feminism and homosexualism infect church groups as well?

Jenkins answered, 'Most mainline Protestant churches ordain women, and some, like the Anglican Church, are ready to ordain gay clergy and bishops. This distinction has led to some nasty attacks on the Catholics here, from well-known figures like Newark's former Episcopal (Anglican) bishop John Spong. Ecumenism will likely suffer as the two traditions grow further apart. Having said that, though, Catholics are probably closer than they have ever been to evangelicals, who are very numerous and strong here, since evangelicals respect the strict Catholic moral teachings, and have formed close tactical alliances over pro-life issues.'

Jenkins' book points like the prophet's finger, to a possible future. Given the Church of England's endorsement of feminism and homosexuality will we see those now benign elements turn nasty? As Anglican theological and moral drift continues will our ecumenical future lie more with the Evangelicals than with our traditional partners-the Anglicans? Will feminists and homosexuals gain increasing influence in the Anglican Church? If they do, will the Anglicans' patronising and polite attitude towards Catholics shift into something not quite so pleasant? They say everything in America crosses the Atlantic in about five years. Let's hope this is one export that is never granted a license.

The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice by Philip Jenkins can be ordered here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rev. Dwight Longenecker. "The New Anti-Catholicism." The Catholic Herald.

The Catholic Herald was founded in 1888 by Charles Diamond, and has a long tradition of quality news coverage, integrity and loyalty to the Church, whilst always remaining independent and challenging in its stance.

This article is reprinted with permission from the author.

THE AUTHOR

Rev. Dwight Longenecker (dwightlongenecker.com) studied for the Anglican ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and served for ten years in the Anglican ministry as a curate, a chaplain at Cambridge and a country parson. In 1995 he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He is the author of eight books on apologetics, conversion stories and Benedictine spirituality including: Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers, More Christianity, Challenging Catholics: A Catholic Evangelical Dialogue, St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule & the Little Way, Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate, and The Path to Rome. Dwight Longenecker writes for The London Times, The Catholic Herald and The Universe in England and Our Sunday Visitor and The National Catholic Register in the USA. In 2006 Dwight and his family moved back to his native USA. He lives with his wife Alison and four children in Greenville, South Carolina where he has recently been ordained to serve as Chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School.

Copyright © 2003 Dwight Longenecker


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