The idea that anti-Catholicism is a significant force in American life today is a complete canard, perpetrated by theologically and politically right-wing Roman Catholics–a minority among the Catholic laity–and aimed at anyone who stands up to the Church’s continuing attempts to impose its values on all Americans.The people who scream “anti-Catholicism” at every opportunity use the same tactics as right-wing Jews who charge that any criticism of Israeli policies is anti-Semitic. And just as the Jewish Right attacks liberal Jews, the Catholic Right attacks liberal Catholics as well as liberal non-Catholics. ~Susan Jacoby
Via Pro Ecclesia
I have no particular brief for the Donohues out there, but the idea that contemporary anti-Catholicism is simply the figment of right-wing Catholic imaginations is loopy. Exhibit A, which is only the most recent, would be Amanda Marcotte and the blog left’s zealous defense of her disgusting blasphemy. This could not have happened and been so widely tolerated and defended unless there was a well-entrenched prejudice against Christians generally and Catholics in particular. You could argue that these progressives are unrepresentative of America as a whole (you would be, I hope, be right), but you cannot argue that they are politically irrelevant or obscure or a minor blip on the screen. Arguably, the phenomenon we see in the Marcotte case or in the screeds written against The Passion (or past insults, such as the famous elephant dung-smeared Virgin in New York, an indecent portrayal of the Virgin Mother in a Santa Fe art exhibit a few years back, The Priest, The DaVinci Code, etc.) is not so much anti-Catholicism but hostility to traditional Christianity of all kinds. It is possible that complaining about this prejudice can be overdone and the charge may sometimes be thrown around loosely, but those making the charge are pikers compared to those who wield the label anti-Semite if creating a tremendous climate of fear of criticising your group is the goal.
Granted, anti-Catholicism is a lot less virulent and less widespread today than it once was, but it isn’t just concentrated among the coastal secular snobs, either. You don’t have to go very far into conservative Protestant America before you will run into the same old anti-Catholicism that has existed as long as there have been Protestants. Much of this is mostly ignorance, fed by popular DaVinci Code-style “history” that convinces people already biased against Catholics that they really do have secret orders of albino assassins who kill to keep the entire racket afloat, but it is all over the place. Fewer people speak explicitly in terms of “popery” and “priestcraft” and “worshipping Mary,” and all the old nonsense, but there are plenty of Protestants in this country who believe that all of these things are deeply wrong and view the people who engage in them to be scarcely recognisable as Christians. We may wonder why American Catholics are indifferent to their brethren in the Near East, but for Protestants the explanation is easy: for them, those people aren’t really Christians and should be targeted for missionary work just like the Orthodox or anybody else. (Of course, if Catholics and Orthodox mean what they say, they believe the same about Protestants, but they have not typically had the unusually poor form of preying on particularly poor and miserable populations for new converts.) Pentecostalism is booming in Latin America (as it is elsewhere in the world), and it is certainly not because the Pentecostals are saying nice, conciliatory things about the Catholic Church.
In truth, many converts to Orthodoxy, especially those who have converted from Catholicism, make Catholic-bashing into a minor pastime, which they know will go over just fine with their Protestant or secular interlocutors who will basically nod along with the Orthodox fellow’s critique of papal supremacy–at least until he begins talking favourably about icons and the Theotokos. Just get together the ex-Catholic, ex-Anglican crowd (there are more of these double converts than you would think) at an Orthodox gathering and watch them go! They know more about the ins and outs of Episcopal church politics than most Episcopalians. But that is beside the point. There are perhaps some people who convert to Orthodoxy instead because it is sufficiently traditional, liturgical and hierarchical without having the perceived “baggage” that being Catholic carries with it in what is still a significantly Protestantised culture. In my case, I genuinely found Orthodox theology to be more compelling on those points where the two confessions differed, but after a brief Slavophile, “the West is dying from Catholic-inspired rationalism” phase I have moved well away from defining my Orthodoxy by how upset I can make myself about, say, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Speaking of ignorance about Catholicism, you will not believe how many people in this country do not understand that the Immaculate Conception refers to the Virgin Mary and have no idea what it means–it is fairly frightening the level of ignorance about their own civilisation’s history some people have.)
All of this is by way of saying that anti-Catholicism in America is very real and it is sometimes quite vicious today. If certain people exploit or abuse this truth for other ends (which I don’t necessarily accept, but I’m willing to entertain that it’s possible), that does not make the phenomenon less real.