Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

By Margaret M. McGuinness; James T. Fisher | Go to book overview

ONE
Ambiguous Welcome: The Protestant Response
to American Catholics

Patrick Allitt


Introduction

The United States has a long history of bigotry, intolerance, and violence against outsiders and minorities. The Catholic Church and Catholic immigrants, at times, were among the victims. The nation also has a long tradition of civility and tolerance, of which at other times Catholics were the beneficiaries. The story of America’s attempts to persecute, exclude, or reject Catholics should be balanced against its welcome for and inclusion of them. Otherwise the development of an immense, thriving, fully acculturated U.S. Catholic population by the mid-twentieth century would be incomprehensible. This chapter surveys the history of Protestant reactions to Catholics and their church from the colonial era to the present. It demonstrates that verbal and physical attacks on Catholics were, in many eras, offset by some Protestants’ attraction to Catholicism and that the phenomenon of public anti-Catholicism, potent in the nineteenth century, disappeared almost completely after the 1960s.

The three or four thousand Catholics in the pre-revolutionary American colonies came mainly from England. About four million Irish and German Catholic immigrants swelled their ranks between that era and the Civil War and transformed the character of U.S. Catholicism. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, eight or ten million more at least nominally Catholic immigrants arrived from Italy, Poland, and Southeastern Europe. In the twentieth century as many again arrived from Central and South America, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Most of these immigrants, in each generation, overcame initial difficulties, found work, intermarried, sent their children to American

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