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Know-Nothings, Bible Riots and the Catholic Church
June 13, 2002 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Know-Nothings, Bible Riots and the Catholic Church Take a break from priest abuse news with this detailed history of anti-Catholic bias in the United States. In 1834, an angry Boston mob burned down a convent after Harriet Beecher Stowe's father preached that Catholic immigrants were a threat to democracy. In Philadelphia, the 1844 Bible Riots lasted for days, destroying Irish-Catholic churches and neighborhoods. In 1855, Louisville Know-Nothings went on a "Bloody Monday" rampage that left dozens of Catholics dead. Even telegraph inventor Samuel Morse got into the act with a series of anonymous anti-Catholic letters. Fascinating stuff, but oops, break's over. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.
posted by mediareport (25 comments total)

 
Catholic parochial schools were created in this country as a response to the attempts by 'reformers', especially Horace Mann, to institute the Protestant Bible as the religious text of choice to be taught in public schools. I believe that is what the Bible Riots were specifically about. Ironic that Protestants were the reason Catholics created one of America's largest private educational institutions. They used to build hospitals and schools in this country, but now the reputation of the American Catholic Church has been damaged almost beyond repair, at least in the eyes of non-Catholics (like me).
posted by insomnyuk at 10:00 PM on June 13, 2002


I see this less as "anti-Catholic bias in the United States" and more as just another example of different religions trying to impose their beliefs on others.
posted by UrbanFigaro at 10:06 PM on June 13, 2002


Interesting, the religious strife of this country wasn't a topic in my history classes, but it's pretty damn insteresting to see where we were 100 years ago.
posted by chaz at 10:30 PM on June 13, 2002


Ideological territorial pissings.
posted by skallas at 12:57 AM on June 14, 2002


Of course there's a deeper reason- it wasn't just that they were Catholics, but that Catholics of the time seemed to be of certain ethnic classes from Europe that were thought to be less civilized than WASPs. It wasn't what the Catholics were preaching, but who was practicing the faith.
posted by rodz at 6:35 AM on June 14, 2002


Oh, I see, so the attention paid to pedophile priests is yet another example of anti-Catholic bias. That's what I infer from your post, Mediareport. I think you're wrong, but, hey, lots of scoundrels blame the media for their problems.
posted by Holden at 6:50 AM on June 14, 2002


insomnyuk: Well, I'm a non-catholic (athest, kinda) and the Catholic church hasn't been discredited in my eyes. Not that it really had that much credit with me to begin with.

But honestly, catholics and the catholic church seem to be much better alternatives to the fire and brimstone psychopaths of people like the Southern Baptists and other fundy, creationist morons.
posted by delmoi at 7:11 AM on June 14, 2002


Ah, to Catch a Falling Catholic...
posted by brownpau at 7:12 AM on June 14, 2002


In 1960, concern about Catholicism was such a concern that JFK addressed Southern Baptist leaders:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
My mother was 16 when Kennedy was elected, and she has always described how significant that event was for Catholics. I doubt many people knew or cared whether there were Catholic candidates in the 2000 race, which is a good sign that at least some of our prejudices can be cured.
posted by subgenius at 7:49 AM on June 14, 2002


Sorry, that should read "concern about Catholicism was such an issue"
posted by subgenius at 7:50 AM on June 14, 2002


I'm a little concerned at the implication that identifying and stopping adults who molest children might somehow be driven by anti-Catholic bias.

And while I'm on the topic, why is it even a consideration that there should be anything other than zero tolerance for this type of behavior? Did someone tell them it was OK to molest little children? Are we going to give a pass to all adults that molest kids? Hell no, we're even arresting non-priests for virtual p0rn. Seems to me that priests are and have been really getting pass on all this for many years.

So this isn't anti Catholic. It's just bringing priests into line with the rest of society.
posted by Red58 at 8:18 AM on June 14, 2002


I doubt many people knew or cared whether there were Catholic candidates in the 2000 race, which is a good sign that at least some of our prejudices can be cured.

Sure was a lotta fuss about that there Jew, though!
posted by rushmc at 8:19 AM on June 14, 2002


Is anyone struck by the passage in the Kennedy speech excerpted above in which he said he believes in an America where "no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote"? Today's evangelicals go around saying God is a Republican. I prefer Kennedy's vision.
posted by Holden at 8:50 AM on June 14, 2002


Granted, I don't like all of the religion bashing in the current issue of Free Inquiry (unfortunately no previews on the web) but I do think that one of the commentators had a valid point in that the mere accusation of child molestation was used as a justification for the Branch Davidian siege and storming the compound. In most jurisdictions, teachers, doctors and therapists are legally required to report suspicions (or known cases) of child abuse at the threat of loosing their license and/or jail time. Legally, failing to report a crime and assisting the perpetrator in covering up the crime makes one an accomplice.

So in fact, it looks like there is quite a bit of prejudice FOR the Catholic Church in this case because the criminal court system seems to be dragging its heels while Cardinals debate zero tolerance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:54 AM on June 14, 2002


rusmc: How big a deal was it, though? It was bound to be big news because Lieberman was the first Jewish person to run for VP, but did it discourage many people from voting for his ticket? According to this BusinessWeek poll, only 4% of voters said it made them "less in favor" of the ticket. Considering that a significant minority of people polled were somewhat concerned or confused about the significance of his faith, that doesn't sound too bad. (I'm not saying it was good that it became an issue, but I'm sure that people would still admit to being confused about the personal beliefs of a Catholic or Mormon candidate.)
posted by subgenius at 9:12 AM on June 14, 2002


The difficulty with crying "anti-Catholicism!" about the current scandal is that many of the individuals criticizing the Church are Catholic. It does seem to me, however, that someone could make a case for anti-clericalism being partly at work, since anti-clericalism is "native" to the Church itself (vide a considerable amount of medieval satire). Not, however, that it lets anybody off the hook.

I'd add that criticism from within the Church often overlaps even the most biased criticism from outside of it. The distinction between faith and a "manmade" Church, for example, made by Andrew Sullivan among many others, rehashes popular claims by genuinely bigoted Victorian anti-Catholics like the Presbyterian John Cumming. (And which still exist today in the writings of people like David Cloud.) This goes for other groups as well; to use another nineteenth-century example, Victorian Jewish apologists like Grace Aguilar and Charlotte Montefiore criticize the Talmud in exactly the same terms as contemporary philosemitic evangelists.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2002


I agree with KirkJobSluder's point. The fact that anyone would even suggest that these crimes not be dealt with by the proper civil authorities is heinous. There is no right to "self-police" for religious organizations. If facts and allegations like these were coming to light about Microsoft, do you think people would be content to hear them say "we're dealing with it" and wait to see what steps they took? Where are the arrests?
posted by rushmc at 9:34 AM on June 14, 2002


rusmc: How big a deal was it, though?

I'm not sure. And I find that unnerving.
posted by rushmc at 10:43 AM on June 14, 2002


Oh, I see, so the attention paid to pedophile priests is yet another example of anti-Catholic bias. That's what I infer from your post, Mediareport.

Well, then, get a grip, Holden. That's your assumption, not mine. Nowhere did I make the suggestion that anger over sexual abuse by priests is an example of anti-Catholic bias. Jesus. The last link above is a detailed database of the coverups and corruption by specific bishops, in case you missed it. Please read more carefully before letting your emotions get the best of you.

What I am suggesting is that understanding the historical background and its influence on the mindset of diehard Catholics (who are certainly aware of these violent episodes) is crucial to understanding where the "it's just anti-Catholic bias!" defense comes from. Not to mention crucial to countering it effectively.

It wasn't what the Catholics were preaching, but who was practicing the faith.

Actually, it was both, rodz. Anti-poor, anti-Irish bigotry was an element, sure, but according to the links above the specific heirarchical nature of Catholicism, particularly allegiance to the Pope, was what alarmed Reverend Beecher, Samuel Morse and the like. They were very clear on what they saw as the nature of the Catholic threat to the American way of life: they felt the structure and beliefs of the religion itself were incompatible with democracy.

The fact that anyone would even suggest that these crimes not be dealt with by the proper civil authorities is heinous. There is no right to "self-police" for religious organizations.

Almost makes you wonder if Morse and Beecher were right. The rigid, heirarchical structure sure did interfere with the proper reporting of a long series of horrible crimes.
posted by mediareport at 10:57 AM on June 14, 2002


I inferred wrong and I thank you for the clarification.
posted by Holden at 11:01 AM on June 14, 2002


Interesting, the religious strife of this country wasn't a topic in my history classes

Bingo. Too hot for them to handle, I guess, like labor unrest. I knew nothing of any of this, and it was fascinating for someone who got the "they all hate us" history in Hebrew school to see the Catholic equivalent.

Red58: what I said to Holden.
posted by mediareport at 11:18 AM on June 14, 2002


To me and at least one or two others, your headline implied that you were seeing this as anti-Catholic bias. Perhaps you should phrase your head lines with more forethought.
posted by Red58 at 11:43 AM on June 14, 2002


The headline was about as bare-bones descriptive of the actual content of the link as I could make it, Red. How again did it imply that I was seeing "this" (by which you apparently mean the sex abuse scandal) as anti-Catholic bias? Help me understand the thinking behind the "implication" you saw and I might be able to improve my phrasing. But right now, it just looks like you (and one or two others) jumped the gun in an emotional way without really looking carefully at the words I wrote.
posted by mediareport at 11:52 AM on June 14, 2002


They were very clear on what they saw as the nature of the Catholic threat to the American way of life: they felt the structure and beliefs of the religion itself were incompatible with democracy.

If the structure and beliefs of the religion were allowed to enter into the American political structure, they would be incompatible, and I believe that they are at heart, philosophically, anyway. God was not elected, nor were any of those purported to represent us to him. We have no say in his policies, nor are we provided with a mechanism for impeachment. More specific to the Catholic church, it is a top-down organization, not bottom-up like representative democracy is supposed to be. I could go on, but I think you get the point. The system (and supporting beliefs) of the Catholic church have proven very effective but are in many ways contrary or even directly opposed to traditional American values and the systems which derive from them.

Which is not to say that Catholics, themselves, cannot submit to and participate in the American system. That's where separation of church and state becomes so important.
posted by rushmc at 1:10 PM on June 14, 2002


Which is not to say that Catholics, themselves, cannot submit to and participate in the American system.

I agree that American democracy seems capable of handling even the most rigidly heirarchical religious groups. It's disappointing that so many 18th Century politicians (Samuel Morse ran for NYC mayor on an anti-Catholic platform) were unable to recognize that.
posted by mediareport at 3:38 PM on June 14, 2002


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