Thursday, September 13, 2007

Those Papist Jurists

"Bigotry may roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions." – G. K. Chesteron

I was skimming the editorial/op-ed/letters page in our local newspaper the other day when I began reading a piece by a Linda Stephens of Planned Parenthood (“Support bill to update abortion rights”).

She was talking about the Partial Birth Abortion case, and Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito who, she said, “showed their true colors.”

“Joining hands with the three other conservative Catholic justices on the court…”

I stopped short. Why did she mention the fact that they were Catholic? Why not just say they joined other conservative justices in voting that way? Why didn’t she mention the faiths of the other people cited in the article, such as Justice Ginsburg or New York’s Governor Spitzer?

If she had stopped there it might have slipped by, but she went on to say “… they rendered a decision that probably pleased the pope but left most American women in shock.”

Whether she intended it or not, she was echoing one of those old anti-Catholic charges.

Catholics are under the control of the pope. They are the pope’s legions, seeking to pervert and undermine our Christian nation.

Dirty papists.

“Catholic” has become in some circles a convenient code word, a short-hand way to portray a set of beliefs they don’t like, a label.

A stereotype.

President John Kennedy had to battle that stereotype 47 years ago, but it still lingers.

At one time in our history, it was “acceptable” to use stereotypes of various groups. African Americans. Gays. Poles. Women. The Irish. Italians. Jews. Those stereotypes provided fodder for endless cruel jokes, or were cited unthinkingly by otherwise educated or literate people (an offense Chesterton himself has been accused of committing)>.

I’m happy to say we have grown and voicing those prejudices directly or indirectly is generally no longer accepted in mainstream society. Just ask Don Imus, Isaiah Washington or one of our local radio hosts Bob Lonsberry (who made reference to monkeys when talking about Rochester’s African American mayor).

But Catholics? I’ve heard it said that Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice. Some folks extend it to include people of orthodox religious beliefs (and more recently, Muslims).

Would we have accepted using labels of other groups that were not essential to the point being made?

I doubt it.

Should Catholics just lighten up?

That’s what African Americans were told. That’s what women were told. That’s what many of the other groups thus targeted were told.

Fortunately, they didn’t.

Prejudice is not a laughing matter. It’s an ugly thing no matter the target, or how it’s veiled.

(This is a slightly altered version of a piece I posted as a blog in the newspaper.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I see the accepted anti-Catholic prejudice in all kinds of places, it's inserted into plot lines of tv shows for example, in such a way that it reminds me of the way racial minorities were stereotyped in the old movies.

One of the most well researched and written exposes on Anti-Catholicism in America that I've read was written by a socialist (to my surprise) in the book about Sacco and Vanzetti "Justice Crucified".