The New Anti-Catholicism

Philip Jenkins is a distinguished professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Among his many books are works on the embrace of ancient gnostic texts by religious liberals and the pedophile priest scandal. During the course of his researches, Jenkins has been struck by the breadth and depth of anti-Catholic feeling amongst classes of people who otherwise pride themselves upon their tolerance. Although not a Catholic himself, Jenkins is disturbed by what he terms the last acceptable prejudice.

Anti-Catholicism has long been a feature of American life. The earliest English settlers, overwhelmingly Protestant, brought with them the passions of the Wars of Religion. In the nineteenth century, the sudden arrival of masses of Catholics from Ireland and Germany, and later from eastern and southern Europe re-ignited old prejudices that fueled anti-immigrant nativism. As late as 1960, John F. Kennedy had to persuade many fellow citizens that he could be both a good Catholic and a good American.

Today’s anti-Catholicism is no longer driven by national or ethnic hatred. Instead it is kept alive by the ideological concerns of a spectrum of interest groups on the left, strongly supported by academe and the media. Many feminists, gay activists, and religious liberals have strong disagreements with a Church that has resisted changing with the times. Jenkins clearly states that it is perfectly acceptable to criticize an institution and its perceived faults. Unfortunately, he demonstrates that many contemporary critiques of the Catholic Church have gone beyond reasoned disagreement and have degenerated into invective, caricature, and defamation that would not be tolerated if directed against other religions. Jenkins provides a reasoned rebuttal to many anti-Catholic canards. Unfortunately, he does not see this widespread prejudice disappearing any time soon.