Our Country’s Deepest Bigotry Is Not What You Might Think

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. called it “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people.” It’s not racism or anti-Semitism. It’s anti-Catholicism. 

You’d think having a president who identifies as Catholic would help matters. It fact, it seems to have made conditions worse. Since President Biden took office, it’s been open season on Catholics again. 

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, since May 2020, there have been at least 250 separate incidences of desecration against Catholic churches throughout the U.S. Another tracker places the tally at closer to 300. The rampage has included vandalism, arson, and defacement of Church property. Early on, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was littered with graffiti. Vandals have destroyed crucifixes and smashed statues of Jesus. Thieves stolea $2 million tabernacle in Brooklyn and beheaded an angel. Even journalists joined in the mayhem, taking aim at one of Catholicism’s most holy symbols—the rosary—calling it “extremist.” It published the piece on the eve of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In last few weeks, a pipe bomb was found behind a Catholic church in Philadelphia, a beloved Los Angeles bishop was slayed, and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was slashed. 

Appeals to the Justice Department for helphave been largely ignored

Instead, evidence points to the Department’s weaponization against Catholics. In September, an FBI swat team arrested a Catholic father at home claiming violation of the FACE Act. Last month, he was acquitted by a unanimous jury. Despite charging dozens of other pro-life individuals with similar violations, for years the DOJ has ignored violence against pregnancy centers, recently charging but two abortion-activists only after a public outcry.  

In February, a former FBI special agent released an internal memo which discussed the agency’s plans for monitoring traditional Catholics for their so-called extremist views. The FBI retracted the document after it was exposed.  

Attorney generals in 20 states have called for an investigation into the FBI’s memorandum.  

President Biden’s remarks have also fomented internal division among Catholics. He promotes abortion policies that run counter to Catholic beliefs. By presenting himself for communion, he sowed discord among U.S. Bishops. Last October, he proclaimed that Pope Francis allegedly called him a “Good Catholic” who should continue receiving the Eucharist. True or not, what purpose could that statement have had but to further divide our country in general and Catholics, in particular?  

State and local leaders have targeted Catholics as well. Wisconsin lawmakers forced Catholics into litigation over an order that discriminated against churches. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Catholics were targeted for modest outdoor worship.  

My own mayor drew political battle lines. His task force of non-Catholic clergy recommended continued shuttering of churches, after our diocese reopened under extensive safety protocols. “We can reach God without going through a building,” he preached.

Zoom church had been a lifeline for me but, as time wore on, I longed for the Eucharist and reached out for comfort on social media. A local journalist spouted scripture and then blocked me and a fellow Catholic. Another asked why serving myself bread and juice at home couldn’t suffice. Someone suggested I find another god. A Protestant pastor said the desire for in-person worship wasn’t Christian. When I questioned why liquor was deemed essential but not worship, he questioned my compassion for alcoholics.  

Anyone familiar with Catholicism of course knows the pivotal difference between Catholic and Protestant beliefs concerning the Eucharist. I’m not a Covid-denier, and I respected and understood the need for precautions. Intimidation for one’s beliefs is quite a different matter. 

All of which makes Schlesinger’s views well-founded. Indeed, early settlers brought their Catholic prejudices with them and passed laws throughout the American colonies that banned Catholicism and restricted the rights of Catholics. Even Maryland, where I grew up, founded as a refuge for Catholics, eventually turned, outlawing worship and barring Catholics from voting and holding office. Many fled to Kentucky.        

When I moved to Savannah in 2014, I learned that Georgia’s original charter had also forbidden Catholicism. I laughed off the tidbit as ancient history until I converted and witnessed pockets of the city’s anti-Catholic underbelly. 

Granted, certain clergy and hierarchy of the Catholic Church have much to atone for. Every Catholic I know is broken-hearted about their crimes against children and demands they be held accountable. They do not represent the Church or the tens of millions of the faithful.   

This week, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing and called upon Merrick Garland to answer for the administration’s actions. The Attorney General denied any political bias against Catholics. But there’s a Latin phrase in tort law—res ipsa loquitur—which means “the thing speaks for itself.” And in my view, the Justice Department’s actions certainly do.  

During an interview with Time Magazine more than twenty years ago, bestselling Catholic author Tom Clancy said: “You can’t hate black people any more, of course”—nor should you—“and you can’t hate homosexuals any more”—nor should you—“but you can hate all the Catholics you want.”  

And with the tacit blessing of the current administration, spewing that hatred seems easier than ever. It’s time for Catholics to finally hold our politicians and fellow citizens accountable and demand an end to our country’s deepest-held bias.