Time Essay: The Rise and Fall of Anti-Catholicism

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Some of the most effective anti-Catholics have been writers who were raised in the Catholic Church and left it, sometimes paroxysms of guilt. James Joyce's splendidly horrific descriptions of a Catholic boyhood in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man lent a certain romance to apostasy. In his novels Principato and Farragan 's Retreat, Tom McHale displayed a minor genius for the atmospherics of oppressive ethnic Catholicism. Among certain intellectuals, it is faintly disreputable to be a believing, practicing Catholic; a Catholic becomes spiritually interesting only in his repudiation of the faith.

The most vigorous anti-Catholicism today has been excited by the endlessly inflammatory issue of abortion. Both sides in he decade-long fight have been stirred to intemperate furies. Some of the "pro-choice" zealots have injected a sleazy note of anti-Catholicism. They have often tried to make abortion strictly a Catholic issue, when in fact legalized abortion has been opposed by conservative Protestants, the Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and many others. American Catholic bishops are financing a broad political program to outlaw abortion; it is important to remember, of course, that not everyone who disagrees with the Catholic hierarchy on abortion and contraception is an anti-Catholic. But certain ugly notes recur. Two years ago, the Chicago chapter of the Planned Parenthood Federation sent a mailing to college newspapers that included a cartoon showing a Catholic bishop clutching a gasoline can to his breast as if it were a Bible; he was on his way to torch an abortion clinic. In 1972 the Xerox Corp. published a booklet directed at elementary and high school students called Population Control: Whose Right to Live? The authors, two independent university professors, implied that Pope Paul VI's teachings on birth control sanctioned the starvation of countless numbers ol people around the world and suggested that Roman Catholic students who disagree with the church on the birth control issue consider bringing charges before a world court against the Catholic Church for "crimes against humanity." It appears to many Catholics that the American Civil Liberties Union, which approvingly quotes Catholic views in its opposition to capital punishment, has seemed intent on rescinding Catholics' right to free speech over the abortion issue.

Some Catholics seize upon the anti-Catholic sentiments strewn around arguments over abortion or contraception and in defensive anger begin to think that the entire non-Catholic society is turning against them. That is simply not true. Both Catholics and non-Catholics can, and do, disagree with the church on some issues without being anti-Catholic. A number of Catholics see evidence that the rest of the country is anti-Catholic if it seems to exclude ethnics — Italians, Irish, Poles and so on — from various opportunities. But that logic is also defective. One-third of the nation's Catholics are Hispanics. Does a prejudice against them equal a prejudice against Catholics? Not really. It is not specifically the Catholicism of ethnics that prompts the residual and now diminishing bigotry that they encounter; it is many things — culture, background, accent, even dress and neighborhoods — with religion mixed up among them.

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