Various crimes have targeted Catholic churches in California in recent years. In January one or more vandals spray-painted the misspelled phrase “Kill the Cathlics” on churches in Anaheim and Irvine.
Sometimes it seems that we Christians aren’t happy if there’s no way we can convince ourselves that we’re being persecuted. At least, that’s what many non-Christians believe, and there were times in the past I would have agreed.
But I felt a frisson climb up my spine when I read this paragraph in a story about the burning of St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights, California. How is this different from “Kill the Jews” or “Kill the n*****s”? How is this different from any church burned down in the Deep South in the time between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act?
So okay, nobody’s died yet. No priest has been lynched; no bishop is sitting in a jail cell on trumped-up charges; Catholics aren’t wearing yellow crosses or being forced to the back of the bus. So why won’t my hackles lie flat?Now, we can run through a series of events in the last couple of years, from the religious harassment that followed in the wake of the passage of Prop 8 to the targeting of religious groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” for their pro-family orientation, to efforts by yellow journalists to act as unpaid advocates for anti-Catholic activists.
But the bare fact of the matter is that St. Thomas Vianney isn’t the first Catholic church in the USA to be burned simply for being Catholic. While Debbie Schlussel makes the valid point that two out of every three religious hate crimes are committed against Jews, and that anti-Islamic crimes outnumber anti-Catholic crimes, it’s still true that anti-Catholicism has been an American pastime since Plymouth Rock. And while that hatred rarely bursts into violence, it’s always been there.
I realize that, in many respects, I’m preaching to the choir. Yet even though we’re regularly sullied and libeled by the pseudo-journalism of sock puppets like Laurie Goodstein and talking empty heads like Glenn Beck, the naked anti-Catholic bias of the media is second only to the rabid conspiracy theorists, such as used to be spouted by Tony Alamo, that run under the surface of our national memory.
Nor is anti-Catholicism considered politically incorrect; the left still considers it a valuable political tool. Let me take you back to a column by Pat Archbold, showing a postcard distributed by the Minnesota DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor): a priest wearing a button which reads “Ignore the Poor”. Then we have MoveOn.org, who in 2006 printed a cartoon of Pope Benedict with a gavel in his hand, standing in front of the doors of the Supreme Court, with the caption: “God already has a job …… [one ellipsis isn’t enough?] He does not need one on the Supreme Court.”
In 2003, a Jewish businessman named Sam Miller, speaking to the City Club of Cleveland, reminded his audience: “This prejudice against your religion, and mine has never left this country and don’t ever forget it, and never will. Your people were called Papists, Wops, Guineas, frogs, fish eaters, ad infinitum.
“And then after the Civil War, around 1864, the fundamentalists, conservatives, Protestants and a few WASPs began planting burning crosses throughout the country, particularly in the South. And today, as far as I’m concerned, very little has changed. These gentlemen now have a new style of clothing; they've gone from bed sheets to gentlemen’s suits.”
But “Kill the Cathlics”? Your ordinary anti-Catholic nutjob is a little more discreet … not to mention a little more literate. Ordinarily, anti-Catholics go for the grandiose sweep, such as passing laws against foreign immigration or slapping unreasonable tax bills against archdioceses. (Or, in the case of former Connecticut state senators Mike Lawlor and Andrew J. McDonald, writing laws targeting the Catholic Church’s administrative structure.)
Besides the concerted effort by the liberal media and legal establishments to marginalize Catholics and other religious people who stand with us on moral issues, we must mull the possibility that the persecution may take a more lethal turn. The California Catholic Daily adds some detail to the increase of crimes against Catholic churches; while some of them look like ordinary burglaries, others have positively satanic overtones.
And in one case, vandals spray-painted swastikas and the message “Niederauer, Ratzinger – where is the love” on the front walls of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in San Francisco. Given the viciousness displayed against supporters of Proposition 8, it’s not hard to imagine who the criminals were in this particular instance. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re capable of realizing the irony of their behavior.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:10-12).
As we enter the Triduum, we’re forced to contemplate the cost our Lord paid for—among other things—speaking the truth in love. The prophets were persecuted for speaking the truth in love; in persecuting them, the wicked souls of their generations were trying to kill their own consciences. We’re called to repent for our own sins, and to call others to repentance with us.
We don’t require the feeling of being persecuted to be happy. In fact, like other people, we’d just as soon not be persecuted at all. Like Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, we do none harm, we think none harm; and if that be not enough to keep us alive, then why should we wish to live any longer?
Just remember that when they come to kill the Cathlics.
 Kevin J. Jones, “Calif. parish pledges to rebuild after arsonist destroys church,” CNA, 4/20/2011, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/calif.-parish-pledges-to-rebuild-after-arsonist-destroys-church/, retrieved 4/20/2011.