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remember May 3, 1844!

By Hugh McNichol

Hopefully we have come quite a distance from the Know-nothing riots of May 3, 1844 that endangered the lives and properties of Irish Catholics in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The entire escapade can be attributed to a miscommunication regarding Sacred Scripture that was wrongly conveyed. Contrary to rumor, Irish Catholic’s in the 1840’s did not maintain a secret allegiance to the Bishop of Rome.

The suggested subversive activities of American Catholics was maligned and a highly speculative accusation. Irish Catholics in the United States were suspected of political and cultural intrigue because there was a lack of true understanding on the part of the non-Catholic Nativist American party in the ethnic Irish expression of Irish Catholicism.

A similar misunderstanding of mutual faiths has divided Northern Ireland since the age of Queen Mary. The issue resonates as well throughout theocratic governments in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Quite simply, theological plurality is not something everyone is quite secure in following. Although our own United States government has the freedom of religious expression as a pillar of our republic, there still remains some sentiments of anti-Catholicism throughout the country.

The riots of 1844, and subsequent anti-Catholic movements in the 19th century as well as the 20th century threaten to manifest themselves in new manners. There are no longer signs that state, “No Paddys for Hire”, or, “No Catholics Need Apply”. The basis of anti-Catholicism is much more sublime than such overt displays of religious intolerance. In our own era, we Catholics are under attack not only from those outside of the faith, but also under attack by our own misguided in theological appreciation by erroneous Catholics.

We see direct attacks on Catholic doctrine advocated in the causes of pro abortion rights advocates, there are campaigns against Catholic rituals and sacraments on television and on the stage, and finally our own clergy at times have dismissed our treasured beliefs as antiquated and antimodern in the expression of political correctness. American Catholics need to develop an apologetical stance and stand firm for Catholic beliefs and principles. The symptoms of the disease are more deeply rooted than we think.

The malady of AntiCatholicism extends not only to the religious arena, but to the political culture of the country as well. Politicians that are Catholic quickly evade their Catholic identities and beliefs and proclaim a “separation” of personal and political convictions. What they theologically believe offers no consideration in the pursuit of political office. The misconception that misguided political leaders offer is like trying to extricate the particles of a compounded solution without the use of a centrifuge.

Catholicism and its root expressions of belief cannot be extracted out of a politician like a toy boat can be plucked from a childs bathtub. The practice of Catholicism is…to turn a phrase… political correctness. You cannot be a little bit Catholic, just like you cannot be a little bit pregnant! In the coming months we will continue to see the examples of political rhetoric that versus Catholic theology and beliefs with political appropriateness and correctness. There will be the progressive and continuous string of advocates that insist on diminishing the value of the Church’s teaching.

Catholics need to be like their counterparts that survived adversity and violence in 19th century America and base their votes on theologically sound information and candidates. The methods of anti Catholic sentiments are sublime in the 21st century, but the hazards are just as dangerous as the Know-nothing riots that burned Catholic churches and killed faithful believers.

In our 2008 Catholic mandate as we freely elect new representatives of government, we must look to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the teachings of the Church, for direction in matters of Catholic political activism. We need to decide now that May 3, 1844 will not happen again, either on our streets nor in the ballot box. Hopefully, we have progressed quite a bit from the raging mobs of anti-Catholic hysteria of the 19th century. But we should not forget these unfortunate acts of history, and remember the perseverance our Catholic ancestors endured for the right to freely express our Catholic faith and actively live our Catholic lives.


trinet  DE, US
Hugh McNichol - author, 302 6339348



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