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CATHOLIC WAY: "Anti-Catholicism: The "Acceptable" Discrimination?"

© Deacon Keith A. Fournier June 23, 2002

My thirteen year old son and I had just finished our "guy's night out." He is our youngest out of five, with three already out of the home.

We had just seen "When We Were Soldiers" and were both deeply moved by this excellent film. Among the many unique aspects of the movie is the honest presentation of the lead character's Catholic faith as a vital and essential part of his family and his ability to lead with such integrity. It was refreshing to see his faith presented as so "normal" in this day and age.

"Dad" my son asked "is that actor a Catholic in real life?" "Yes" I said, wondering why he would ask such a question. He sighed "I thought so, because he understands."

What followed was enough to prompt my writing this piece about the last "acceptable" discrimination, anti-Catholicism.

My son told me of a recent conversation with a neighborhood friend who asked him what "religion" he was. "Christian" he responded. "What kind" came the response "I'm a Catholic" my boy responded, and then the conversation took an interesting turn.

"That's the one with the Pope and all that other stuff isn't it --, oh wait till you get into ninth grade next year and hear about all the corruption in the Catholic Church" he said. He proceeded to relay to my son what he had heard about all of this in the local public high school.

I was disheartened, but not surprised to hear of this. The first time we lived in Southeastern Virginia, we had moved to Chesapeake in 1991. I came to build a pro-life, religious freedom law firm. As a "cradle" Catholic who had "reverted" back to practicing my Catholic Christian faith after a teenage search for truth, I have spent three decades working alongside of Evangelical Protestant Christians (and Orthodox) on what I believe are the great civil and human rights issues of our age.

The driving force behind most of my career moves and the fruit of my life's experience has been my bedrock, passionate commitment to honest reconciliation among Christians, my belief that we could be more effective working together and my own insistence upon teaching my children about the "full face" of Christianity, Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic.

Back then, my kids were younger and so were my wife and I. In order to compliment the Christian education and example that we gave them in the "domestic church" of our home, we had considered enrolling one of them in a local Baptist run Christian Academy.

After an interview process, we changed our mind. I discovered a strong anti-Catholic animus in the instructors and the lesson plans. This came at the time that a controversy had hit the local newspaper. It was discovered that the textbooks at that same school presented blatantly anti-Catholic bigotry as if it were real history. I was not surprised at that disclosure following my interview.

For obvious reasons we chose not to enroll our child in that school. We also had our eyes opened to the experiences that would follow as we tried to live as a Catholic family in this part of what is often called the "bible belt."

Over the years that we lived in Chesapeake we have raised our children as Catholic Christians and as a part of that faith we have sought to instill within them an honest respect for other Christians, along with a respect for other religious traditions.

It was during the seven years that we lived in Chesapeake, Virginia that I accepted the Lord's invitation to ordained service as a Clergyman, a Deacon, in my Church and I continued my work, both in ministry and as a lawyer, with a genuine commitment to promoting authentic ecumenical cooperation.

My own experience with the evangelical subculture that infuses this area of the country has been mixed. It has been both enlightening and, frankly, disheartening. Arrogance sometimes accompanies the ignorance that is used to justify discrimination against the Catholic Church. This is not the case with many sincere Christians in this area, evangelical, charismatic or mainline Protestant. For the others, well, if it is changing, it is doing so ever so slowly.

For example, Catholics who live here know the now common drill of being seen as the "subject" of "evangelistic" encounters that proceed from a presumption that they are not Christians at all. Unfortunately, too many Catholics (not unlike Christians of some other churches) are often poorly educated about their faith. This lies at the heart of the call for what is called the "New Evangelization" in the Catholic Church.

I have been accepted in many circles because I was considered a "saved" or "good" Catholic, meaning I could talk the language of this subculture. To some others however, the rest of "the Catholics", well. they were either ignorant captives to a Church that is the "Whore of Babylon" (a bizarre misinterpretation of the apocalyptic books of the Bible) or simply dwell among the ranks of the "unsaved."

Please do not misunderstand me. In my pro-life and pro-family work I have always worked alongside of Evangelical Protestants who respected my Church. Oh, there was some anti-Catholicism, but it was confined to the usual suspects, the more overtly fundamentalist groups within evangelicalism.

Prior to moving to the "Bible belt", I spent many years in Ohio working on these same issues alongside of many different Christians from the full confessional spectrum. We had disagreements on many important theological issues but we accepted the truth that we were Christians together.

However something was different in this place.

In 1997, we moved to Northern Virginia where I continued my work. The experience was decidedly different. In fact, since there were so many Catholics in that area, many of the evangelical Protestants had a very different opinion of them. They sometimes actually looked to them for intellectual, spiritual and moral leadership.

We moved back to Hampton Roads two years ago. We love the area and I had a professional opportunity that afforded us the opportunity to get back to the sunshine and the beauty. I was surprised and disappointed to confront this phenomenon of anti-Catholicism again.

Back to the discussion in the car during this "guys night out." Here I was trying to help my thirteen year old son who was concerned about having to defend himself -and his Church- when he went to the local public High School next year.

I have an older daughter in that same High School who has also made me aware of this problem. In this high school "history" is being taught with a feigned "objectivity." In truth, it is actually the usual anti-Catholic drivel that has fueled the last acceptable discrimination that is being presented as history.

For example, in some areas of contemporary controversy such as the recent uproar concerning Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Churches' opposition to the horrors of the Nazi regime, revisionism is being presented as true history. Rather than present the full picture, including the case for that Pope's heroic defense of the Jewish people (which is supported by many Rabbi's and editors such as Bob Woodward) the presumption of corruption is passed on to students leading to a one sided presentation of this vitally important topic.

In fact, some things are worse. That kind of disingenuous "history" is woven into an anti-Catholic cloak of several classroom lectures on alleged church "history" that presents the acknowledged corruptions of certain members of my Church during the Middle Ages as though they are fresh and real today. This revisionism is presented while the instructor apparently fails to present the wonderful historic people and contributions of the Catholic Church during those difficult times that far outshone the mistakes and corruption.

It appears the discriminatory and defamatory "stuff" that was discovered in the textbooks of that Christian Academy in the early 1990's (resulting in their removal) is being presented in public High School history classes as "history" but this time with my own tax dollars!

"Dad" continued my son "what about the reformation.?" "Which one" I asked. "What do you mean" he responded. I explained that what is referred to as "THE Reformation" in these classroom lectures was only one, albeit an important one, and that the Catholic Church is in the midst of another reformation right now.

"Dad was there ever any corruption in the Baptist or evangelical churches" he asked? I said "yes, anytime there are human persons involved there will be corruption." Oh, I could have pointed to contemporary "evangelical" American history and had a wail of a time with all the scandals of the last decade, but I know that such an approach solves nothing. In fact, it participates in the very sin it claims to expose.

"Son" I explained, "Catholics who are honest about their faith and their history believe that the Church is a very human institution that is protected by the very Lord from whose wounded side she was birthed at Calvary's Cross. She is our mother." I asked, "You know that if your mother made mistakes, she would still be your mother right? We believe that God has protected her, sometimes in spite of her leaders, because she is His plan to bring His message and ministry of Salvation to the entire world."

I also gave him a brief review of the rifts in the Christian Church beginning in 1054 A.D. and winding through the Protestant reformation until the current day. This is one of the unique "benefits?" of having a Dad who is also trained in theology and Church history, right? Wrong. He is a kind of Catholic equivalent of a "P.K.", a preacher's kid. I realized that I had lost him in my lecturing.

Fortunately, I was able to recover the ball. The rest of the conversation proved to be equally revealing. His friend had much to say about Martin Luther (who apparently had no blemishes) and the rest of the "reformers" who had protected the world from the "corrupt" Catholic Church.

We talked for a long time.

He knew that what his friend had presented was not history but what I would refer to as revisionism. "Son", I said, "If we still live here next year and you have that teacher, I am here to help you sort it through." "Thanks Dad" he responded as we turned into the driveway of our home in Hickory.

My heart was heavy.

I thought that it was unfortunate that after seeing this wonderful movie about an authentic warrior, a man of integrity, whose Catholic faith is portrayed so beautifully, I had to be confronted with the anti-Catholicism of the Bible belt. This time, unlike years ago, it was in the Public High School and purveyed by a teacher who maintained that he was telling students the "truth" about history.

I was reminded of a passage in the Bible (which Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox all share) where St. Paul warns the early Christians at Ephesus (Eph. 6:14) of the need to defend themselves against the fiery darts of their adversary. One of the "weapons of warfare" that he writes to them about is truth. He tells them to buckle it around their waist.

That is what I must prepare my son to do for when he begins his freshman year at that local High School. That is also all I am asking for from the Chesapeake Public School system, truth in the classroom.

However, what seems increasingly clear is that the "acceptable" discrimination, anti-Catholicism, is rooted deeply in this "bible belt" community. Racism, sexism and anti-Catholicism, all spring from a similar root.

They spring from ignorance and what all Christians call sin, which is simply the wrong choice.

The "Bible belt" needs a new belt, not a new Bible.

They just need to look a little more deeply into the message and meaning of the one that they have and follow its teaching.

___________________________________________________

Keith A. Fournier is the founder of "Common Good" (http://www.commongoodonline.com) a way, work and movement dedicated to life, family, freedom and solidarity and the founder and editor of "Catholic Way" (http://www.catholicway.org). He is a lawyer, Catholic deacon and the author of seven books including "A House United: Evangelicals and Catholics Together"

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