Anti-Islam Slurs Remind Catholics of the Past. (Editorials)

National Catholic Reporter, March 8, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Anti-Islam Slurs Remind Catholics of the Past. (Editorials)


Islam and Roman Catholicism, each billions strong, are the equivalent of religious superpowers.

"Superpower" then is one of the contexts into which TV preacher Pat Robertson's latest salvo -- accusing Islam of being "a religion of violence" bent on world domination -- should be placed. (Russian Orthodox protestations against the Vatican's establishing dioceses in that vast nation are, in a way, reverberations of this religious "superpower" fear.)

The second context for considering Robertson's remark is that of the United States itself. And here, Catholicism in the United States can offer some historic pointers to Islam in the United States.

First, it isn't sufficient to note that America constitutionally enshrines religious freedoms. Whatever the document says, the American populace retains its own reservations until convinced otherwise.

Two hundred years ago, the Irish swarmed into New York City. They were entering a city in which an American flag once raised in Manhattan had the U.S. colors on one side, and "No popery" on the other.

The anti-Catholicism of the early decades of the 19th century was very much rooted in Protestant fears that immigration would turn this into a Catholic country dictated to by the pope in Rome.

As the century proceeded, the anti-Catholicism worsened.

Not until the mid 20th century -- urged on by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the example of John F. Kennedy's presidency -- did Catholics prove themselves and explain themselves as Americans to the bulk of Protestant America.

Through their good works they had also simultaneously developed a track record that offset much of the suspicion.

Even then, something else had to be cleared up first. It wasn't sufficient to be a good Catholic citizen. Catholicism had to reveal itself to be a "good" religion. "Good" meaning tolerant.

That hadn't been the case before. Catholicism's disdain for Protestants and its "Christ-killer" charges and intolerance toward Jews won it no friends in either religious camp.

Gradually, publicly, through word and deed, Catholicism began to reform itself, to explain itself and -- certainly where the Jews were concerned -- to finally apologize.

Worldwide and domestically, Islam contends with the shadows cast by the World Trade Center.

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