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By: Keith A Fournier, Esq.
© Third Millennium, LLC

The "Know-Nothing party" hated immigrants and Catholics. So do the modern "Know Nothings". They did not like the way Catholics believed, practiced their faith, the way they refused to separate their faith from their public service and the way they infused their faith in the cultural framework in which they lived their lives. They still don't.

This movement, rooted in bigotry, flourished between 1852 and 1856. America was the home of a nativist movement that had grown in reaction to immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany. This influx brought with its teeming masses many Catholics who were also "yearning to be free".

At the time it was predominantly a movement of Democrats but that shifted to include Republicans as well. Actually, then as now, the labels were a problem. After all what characterizes a political party is its ideas and the people who lead it. This movement was popularly known as the "know-nothings" because its members answered "I know nothing" when asked about their anti-Catholic aims. In effect, they hid their bigotry behind denials.

This Anti-Catholic sentiment has re-emerged in our day.

For example, it was clearly demonstrated in the judicial confirmation hearings of Attorney general William Pryor a devout Catholic and an accomplished public servant with a stellar record. He has been nominated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush.

He once referred to the Roe v Wade opinion as "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.

In his appearance before the committee considering his nomination he was probably expected to give some sort of nuanced response when asked about these prior statements. Instead he referred to abortion as "murder." He was right.

As the hearings unfolded, the committee received a dose of refreshing truth from Mr. Pryor in this response:

"I stand by that comment. I believe that not only is [Roe] unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent, unborn children. That's my personal belief... I believe that abortion is the taking of human life ... I believe that abortion is morally wrong."

General Pryor is a Catholic. His position on the inviolable dignity and personhood of children in the womb is that of any faithful Catholic citizen. Those Catholics in public life who claim otherwise (and there are some in both major political parties) are being unfaithful to their baptism and placing their own souls in jeopardy. The teaching of the magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church on this issue is unequivocal.

General Pryor is also a patriotic American and an exemplary public servant who is eminently qualified for the bench. He, like the patron of all public servants and politicians, Thomas more, is ""the Kings good servant but Gods first". This is the path for all Catholic citizens who serve in public life. After all, the struggles that sometimes occur between Caesar and Christ are clearly addressed by the Lord. (See, e.g. Luke 20:21-26)

The General's opinion is also the opinion of a majority of Americans, religious or not. The recent cover of Newsweek magazine and countless polls have revealed the encouraging reawakening of America to truth. This issue concerns the fundamental human and civil rights issue of our age. The child in the womb is our neighbor. Medical science has confirmed it, common sense knows it and even our national deadened conscience, long deluded by the siren song of those who seek to define freedom as a raw power over others, can no longer pretend it isn't so.

His reasoned legal analysis that the Roe opinion is constitutionally wrong is shared by a growing number of constitutional lawyers and scholars. That opinion, a cousin of the infamous "Dred Scott" decision, is based on incorrect legal analysis, faulty history and junk appeals to junk science.

Because of a filibuster by Democrats, this committee has all but denied his appointment to the Federal Appeals Court.

"Your Catholic Voice" first raised the issue of this "know nothing" approach that is making it extremely difficult for faithful Catholics to serve on any Federal bench. YCV President, the Honorable Ray Flynn, clearly framed the current debate when he coined the phrase "Judges Needed, Catholics Need Not Apply", reminiscent a phrase used by the "Know Nothings" and also reminiscent of the signs that used to appear in Boston shop windows, "Help Wanted, No Irish Need Apply".

Pryor's "Know Nothing" opponents strutted out some Catholics whose voting records are unfaithful to the clear teaching of their own Church. A new kind of "collaborator" group which I have referred to in the past as "anti-Catholic Catholics", these folks sent up the smoke of confusion which some of the personalities could not blow away because they did not know Catholic social teaching.

This issue is neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative or liberal. It is about bigotry and the same kind of anti-Catholicism that fueled the "Know Nothing" movement in the nineteenth century. This filibuster constitutes arrogance of power and reveals a not so hidden anti-Catholic bias that is a real threat to any authentic democracy.

Article VI of the United State's Constitution makes this very clear:

"....This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding".

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States".

The Pryor nomination is not the only evidence of the growing influence of the new "Know Nothings".

With extraordinary clarity, courage, compassion and deep conviction the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, a Vatican department, issued its long awaited document entitled "Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal recognition To Unions Between Homosexual persons." Along with millions of Catholics, other Christians, other people of faith and good will, I am deeply grateful for the wisdom, the pastoral care, and the authority of the Catholic Church in speaking to one of the most vital issues of our day.

The document presents nothing new. It simply restates the unbroken tradition of the Catholic Christian Church for two thousand years:

"The present Considerations do not contain new doctrinal elements; they seek rather to reiterate the essential points on this question and provide arguments drawn from reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific interventions, appropriate to the different situations throughout the world, aimed at protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society, of which this institution is a constitutive element. The present Considerations are also intended to give direction to Catholic politicians by indicating the approaches to proposed legislation in this area which would be consistent with Christian conscience"

However, it does so at a time when such a clear, forceful and unquestionable restatement is absolutely necessary. Let's face it; there is a social revolutionary movement, led by those on the fringes of the homosexual activist community that is seeking to force legal recognition of homosexual unions, and equivalency between those unions with marriage. Such a movement not only undermines marriage and family, it threatens the civil order and the common good.

However, we must also be brutally honest about our own house. We have serious confusion in some circles of the Christian community. Purporting to speak for the Church, or to promote some "new way", some Christian voices, (some deeply confused or misinformed, others deluded or disingenuous, and some overtly rebellious) undermine the Church, do violence to the truth, cause scandal, injure the common good and put their own souls in jeopardy.

Numbered among these folks are some unfaithful Catholic politicians who have already hidden behind a "public/private" duplicity concerning their absolute duty to defend life. Now they are doing the same thing by failing to defend marriage and family and thus undermining the common good. The document could not be clearer in speaking to these folks:

"10. If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications. When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."

The document also acknowledges that the Church is not simply speaking to Catholics in this powerfully written, clear, undeniable ringing defense of marriage and opposition of any efforts to equalize or legitimize homosexual practice or unions. It is also not only speaking to other Christians or people of faith. It is speaking to all people because the truth about marriage is meant for all men and women:

"Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society."

The document then systematically presents a lucid, solid, powerful defense of the truth about marriage and family. Yes, it presents that truth from biblical revelation, but also from the order of right reason, the natural law, the biological and anthropological order, the social order and the legal order. That is because truth is truth. Things are not true because they are Catholic; they are Catholic because they are true.

The greatness of this document is that it partakes of the greatness of Catholic thought and the Catholic Tradition. It beautifully presents the truth about marriage as just that, truth, not simply a "religious" position. Catholic thinking presents a wonderful asymmetry between faith and reason, not an opposition. It presents a consistent unity of the truth in the natural law and in revelation. It provides a coherent, philosophically rich framework for the real work ahead for Christians in this age. An age wherein there is a rebirth of a pagan world view.

Well, here come the new "Know Nothings".

This time, a candidate who presents himself as a Catholic is again riding point for their movement. Today's Boston Herald ran this headline: Kerry raps Pope: Senator fuming over gay marriage order .

This presidential candidate maintains that the Pope "crossed the line'' and then deems it appropriate to tell the Vatican to stop doing what the magisterium (teaching office) of the Church has always done, speak truth to matters concerning faith and morals.

Kerry stated that the pope and the hierarchy of the Church had somehow erred `` by instructing pols to block legalization of gay marriage...It is important not to have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country,'' Kerry said. ``President Kennedy drew that line very clearly in 1960 and I believe we need to stand up for that line today.''

I have written about what I have called "The Kennedy Mistake" (see, "No More Hiding behind J.F.K." under Featured Articles at and now I will begin to also call it the "Kennedy/Kerry Mistake".

Fortunately, the same newspaper article had a salient quote from "Your Catholic Voice" President, Ray Flynn who is former Boston Mayor and former Ambassador to the Vatican, and in his own words, a "pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, John Paul II Democrat".

This champion of truth and loyal son of the Catholic Church said "I don't see it as crossing any line at all...Too many Catholic politicians want to have it both ways, they want the Catholic vote but then they go ahead and ignore Catholic teaching.''

The Vatican directive made it refreshingly clear, just as Catholic politicians MUST (if they are faithful) fully and completely support the right to life for unborn persons-period-, they also must support marriage ``The Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition (to gay marriage laws) clearly and publicly and to vote against it,'' the directive read. ``To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.''

Kerry also took the opportunity to join the "Know Nothing" crescendo on the Pryor nomination as well in commenting on Ray Flynn's quote in print ads equating Democrats' opposition to Pryor as saying "Catholics need not apply''. This phrase was used by the "Know Nothings in the nineteenth century.

Kerry stated ``That couldn't be further from the truth. This judge is not a good judge...He should not be appointed to the court, and many of us who are Catholic voted against him without regard to Catholicism.''

Well, the Catholics who voted against him may not understand the teaching of their Church on their obligations in public life to live a consistent unity of life. At least the ones who voted against him PRECISELY because he acknowledges the pre-eminent human right, the right to life. Many of these opponents hide behind the "Kennedy/Kerry" mistake". Well, they will do so no longer.

Just as Catholics in the nineteenth century rose to oppose the "Know Nothings" so we are doing so again. We will also oppose their collaborators. Of course, we hope that these mistaken Catholics return to being faithful to the Church.

The "Your Catholic Voice" movement has been raised up for such a time as this.


Fournier is a constitutional lawyer and long time policy activist. He is also a deacon of the Catholic Church and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University. He is one of the founders of the "Your Catholic Voice" movement and serves as the President of the "Your Catholic Voice Foundation"

Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice


Catholic Online Publications VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - activist, 757 546-9580



Politics, Catholic, Pryor, Kerry, Your Catholic Voice

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