Anti-Catholic Chronicles Section B

What began as a dispute about divorce between England’s King Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII mushroomed into a civil war and a long-lasting hatred of Catholics by English Protestants.

According to the Royal Museums of Greenwich website, “ In 1509, Henry married his sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon after his brother Arthur had died aged 15. After Henry VII died in 1509, Henry was  crowned King Henry VIII.”

Despite seven pregnancies Catherine only had one baby survive- their daughter Mary. But Henry wanted a male heir to carry on the Tudor line.  Since his union with Catherine did not produce a male heir, Henry started an illicit affair with one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn became pregnant. Henry secretly married her even though he was still married to Catherine, thereby becoming a bigamist.

Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry and Catherine’s marriage. Instead, he excommunicated him. Henry responded by enacting a law replacing Pope Clement as the leader of the Church in England with Henry and all of his heirs. Henry subsequently not only divorced Catherine but helped himself to all the Catholic monasteries in England liquidating them and keeping the proceeds from the sale of land and other assets. Catholic resentment and Protestantism only got worse.

Over the next several decades there were persecutions in England of Catholics by Protestants and of Protestants by Catholics. Protestants prevailed and so did their hatred of Catholics. So fervent was this hatred that even a suspicion, during the 1630s, of King Charles I’s religious policies being too Catholic, resulted in a civil war.

Such was the environment in England when the English began settling in North America, so it is no great revelation that anti-Catholic thought crossed the Atlantic with English settlers. One example of colonial American misoCatholicism, anti-Catholicism, or whatever term one wants to use is that of John Winthrop, the man who thought of his colony as if it were a “…city upon a hill. The eyes of all people upon us.”

If anyone had looked at Winthrop in the 1600s, they would have seen a man with a deep scorn for Catholics. He explained to his followers that they must counteract the French Jesuit priests’ construction of a Kingdom of the AntiChrist in North America.

MisoCatholicism was still active two centuries later during the 1830s and 1840s. A Protestant mob burned down a convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1834. During that same period, another prominent misoCatholic was Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher – father of Harriet Beecher Stowe. He wrote a book in 1835 titled, “ A Plea for the West” in which he argued that Catholicism was antithetical to a republican form of government. According to John C. Pinheiro, Beecher “led the way in fusing traditional, theological, and Enlightenment anti-Catholicism with nativism and evangelical impulses. This “Beecherite Synthesis” appealed to common definitions of liberty and republicanism.” Essentially, Catholicism was anti-American.

Anti-Catholic riots consumed Philadelphia in 1844. Churches and convents were burned. Casualties amounted to about 70 people and approximately several million dollars of damages in current dollars.

By 1850, Catholicism was the largest Christian denomination in America, which stoked fears of papal domination even more. MisoCatholicism resulted in employment discrimination against Irish workers who were Catholic. Public schools also discriminated against Catholicism opting to teach a nondenominational Protestant version of Christianity.

An 1870 idea by a New York judge named Hurlbut proposed an amendment to the Constitution eliminating religious establishment by the states. His main fear was that Catholics would take over the government.

Another amendment to the Constitution was proposed in 1875 by Speaker of the House James Blaine to deny public funds for religious ( read Catholic) schools. The bill failed. Yet 37 states enacted similar laws.

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast routinely depicted Irish Catholic immigrants as drunks and uncivilized. They were not material for American citizenship.

MisoCatholicism grew even more in the 20th century. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw an influx of Catholic immigrants from Italy. These immigrants were portrayed as criminals, apes, and lazy. African-American newspapers portrayed Italian-Catholic immigrants as less than human, according to Arnold Shankman’s seminal 1978 paper The Image of the Italian in the Afro-American Press. One newspaper, for example, the Washington Colored American,  dismissed the Italian immigrant as a “dago” and a “periputetic (sic) organ grinder.”

The Ku Klux Klan also targeted Catholics- Italian, Irish, and Eastern European. An August 1926 journal article by Father Martin J. Scott of St. Francis Xavier College, New York, described it this way:

Recently there has arisen in our country a secret organization known as the Ku Klux Klan, whose object is stated to be patriotic. Doubtless, some of its members are convinced that in their purpose they are serving a noble cause. It is claimed by

this society that certain elements of the population are detrimental to the country’s welfare..… Among the elements of our population, which it opposes are the members of the Catholic Church. It is affirmed that Catholics do not amalgamate with the rest of the people, that their system of parochial schools makes them a people apart, and that they are really not American because they owe allegiance to a foreign power, the Pope of Rome.

This bigotry against Catholics existed until the end of the 20th century despite loyal service to the country by Catholics in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It continued despite a Catholic President and Catholic governors, mayors, police chiefs, legislators, and judges.

At present it is the Catholic jurists  – and two specific issues- that have become the flashpoint for misoCatholicism in America. What makes this modern bigotry unique is the current hatred of the Catholic Church is not just by Protestants but also by Jews and even some Catholics. We shall see this in the next installment of the Anti-Catholic Chronicles.

@Michael P Tremoglie  2024

Editor’s Note: Please read Chapter 1.

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