My Letter in The Nation

May 2, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Anti-Catholicism | 3 Comments
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I know I promised not to post anything else for a while, but this letter, which appears in the May 9-16 2016 issue of The Nation magazine, is quite short and may amuse you.

 

Not-So-Ancient History

In light of the virulent anti-immigrant sentiment widespread in the United States these days, the reminder in the March 28/April 4 issue of Thomas Nast’s 19th-century anti-Catholic cartoons is more than welcome [“Papist Invasion”]. As a scholar of American Catholicism, I have on more than one occasion reminded others of the similarities between current anti-immigrant discourse and Nast’s portrayal of Catholic bishops as salivating crocodiles coming ashore to consume American youth.

But I can’t help also being amused by the appearance of this sidebar in The Nation, since, in the late 1940s, The Nation itself published a series of ferociously anti-Catholic articles by an associate editor, Paul Blanshard. The articles were later published in book form as the best-selling American Freedom and Catholic Power. As Philip Jenkins, by no means a Catholic advocate, observes in his 2003 book The New Anti-Catholicism, “While Blanshard does not conjure up crocodilian Catholic bishops, the image is certainly implied.”

It sometimes surprises me that I, an Irish-American Catholic, am such a dedicated reader of The Nation. And I imagine your Nast sidebar has Paul Blanshard turning over in his grave.

Marian Ronan
New York City

 

 

The End of Anti-Catholicism?

July 9, 2015 at 10:42 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Most people who took a course in U.S. history learned something about the American anti-Catholicism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Bigotry against white ethnic immigrant Catholics, attacks on Catholic churches and convents, the KKK burning crosses in front of Catholic institutions, “No Irish Need Apply” signs, and so on.

Not everybody grasps how long such anti-Catholicism continued, however. John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 aimed to rebut claims that a Catholic president would answer to the pope rather than the electorate. Journalist Paul Blanchard published some of the most widely read and influential of such claims in the ostensibly progressive magazine The Nation in the 1940s. In 1949 the Unitarian Beacon Press republished Blanchard’s articles in book form as the  American Freedom and Catholic Power. It became a best-seller. Blanshard wrote five more books with “Catholic Power” in the title over the next fifteen years, and a second edition of American Freedom and Catholic Power appeared in 1958. After JFK’s election, of course, it became harder to say the sort of virulently anti-Catholic things Blanchard built his career on, at least until the sex-abuse crisis really got going in 2002.

A few months back The Nation celebrated its 150th anniversary with an extended issue of selected articles from each of its fifteen decades. I noted with interest that no articles by Paul Blanchard were included in the selections from the 1940s and the 1950s. Perhaps, I speculated, anti-Catholicism, at least of a certain sort, really has come to an end.

A July 7 article on The Nation‘s webpage makes such speculation even more conceivable. In “Did the Catholic Church Endorse Fossil-Fuel Divestment?” Episcopal priest and author-activist Bob Massie explores in some detail the possibility that Pope Francis’s encyclical on the “Care of Our Common Home,” Laudato Si’, will result in dioceses and other Catholic institutions taking their investments out of fossil fuel corporations. Drawing on the words and work of relentless Catholic divestment activists like Franciscan Michael Crosby and Sister of Charity Barbara Aires, Massie makes such divestment sound possible and important.

The article does not engage in the kind of “pope-mania” that afflicts some media coverage of Pope Francis. Massie acknowledges, for example, the high degree of confidentiality that many institutions maintain regarding their actions and holdings, the skepticism that some bishops have expressed regarding calls for divestment. and the crack down on student divestment activists at Boston College. Yet overall, Massie is hopeful, even enthusiastic, about the boost Pope Francis’s encyclical is giving to the fossil fuel divestment campaign:

“For a long time, fossil fuel titans…seemed to hold the ultimate power to shape energy and environmental policy.  Now however, a new and transcendent authority has emerged as a powerful counterweight….With more than a billion followers and the attention of all humanity, Pope Francis may be offering us a new chance to save ourselves.”

For anyone who’s ever read Paul Blanshard, the idea of The Nation publishing an article whose author uses the phrase “transcendent authority” to describe a pope in as positive, almost ecstatic way as Massie does is virtually unimaginable.

Francis as Person of the Coming Year as Well?

December 30, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Well, what the NCR’s John Allen calls “pope-mania” seems only to be increasing as the year winds down.

Last night, Bill Moyers started his weekly show by interviewing the popular writer and Jesuit-educated Thomas Cahill on Pope Francis and poverty.  Now truth be told, Cahill sometimes sounds like a pre-Vatican II cleric; at one point in the interview he explains, in all seriousness, that there are two tendencies in the world–kindness and cruelty. About those who are sometimes kind and sometimes cruel (i.e., most of us), he had nothing to say. Nonetheless, there he was, holding forth about the pope as a living example of the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, etc.

Then, in this morning’s New York Times, we find a former head of the World Bank, Robert Calderisi, explaining that although Pope Francis may seem radical, he is actually promoting traditional Catholic social teaching, from Pope Leo XIII, through Pius XII, to pope-to be John XXIII. This may come as something of a shock to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who not so long ago condemned U.S. nuns for being too concerned about such matters, as well as for the majority of U.S. Catholic bishops, who have been making clear for several decades that Catholic social teaching (unlike sexual teaching) is at the bottom of the church’s ideological hierarchy and therefore entirely optional.

But for me, the most astonishing example of ongoing pope-enthusiasm is Harvey Cox’s article on Pope Francis and liberation theology in the January 6/13 issue of The Nation. To grasp the full significance of this, you need to understand that before the election of JFK, The Nation was a blatantly anti-Catholic magazine, publishing, for example, a series of virulently nativist articles by Paul Blanshard that eventually became the best-selling,  American Freedom and Catholic Power. Yet here in that same magazine we have the distinctly Baptist (though not Southern Baptist) Harvey Cox announcing with glee that Pope Francis may bring about a second act for the enormously influential liberation theology repressed by his two authoritarian predecessors.

Those who have read my previous posts about Pope Francis know that I am less than enthusiastic about his position on women, especially women’s ordination. Announcing that “the door is closed” on an issue does not constitute a theological argument, as a scholar-friend pointed out recently. And I was appalled once again by the apathy of all the commentators cited here regarding the pope’s position on women’s ordination. It’s just not something the pope can do anything about, said Cahill. And Cox cites the ordination of women (but not the ordination of married men) as an (in fact the) prime example of the ways in which too many people have excessively high expectations of what Francis can do. That the inferior status of women in the the world’s largest religious organization may contribute to the fact that the majority of the world’s poor are women seems beyond the imagination of these white male commentators. Anyhow, everybody knows that feminism is over.

But even I am forced to admit that after so many years, having a pope speak out about the poor is a terrific first step. Let’s pray that Pope Francis does even more brave and wonderful things in 2014.

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