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 ...
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