Posted June 1, 2003
Historian Laments the New Anti-Catholicism
Philip Jenkins, an Episcopalian, Faults the Intellectuals and Liberals
in the United States
The United States doesn't display anti-clericalism but rather anti-Catholicism, says a scholar.
Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religion at Pennsylvania State University, in his book "The New Anti-Catholicism," argues that attacks against Catholics are allowed in ways that would not be tolerated against Muslims and Jews.
In an interview today with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, Jenkins, an Episcopalian, said that anti-Catholicism has always been present in the United States "from the first Protestant immigrants to the Populist movement and the racist Ku Klux Klan."
Today, however, anti-Catholics "are, above all, intellectuals and liberals," Jenkins said.
"It is even said that anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the educated man," he observed. "Demagogues attack Jews; educated men attack Catholics. It is a paradox, as the Catholic Church in the United States calls for social reforms, disarmament, peace, in other words, many of their causes."
According to the author, the cause of this anti-Catholicism lies in "the centrality of sexual problems in U.S. society: Catholicism is considered anti-gay, anti-feminist, etc. ... The accusations strike home in the public."
Jenkins said that the issue of priests' abuses has been used to deepen prejudices.
"Sexual abuses in the Catholic Church are no more frequent than in the other churches or among schoolteachers," he said.
"Moreover, in very few cases is it about pedophilia, as the victims have reached or are beyond puberty," he continued. "The abuses are horrendous; they are crimes that must be punished and eradicated, but they must not be manipulated."
In regard to U.S. anti-Catholicism, Jenkins believes that its particular version is anti-papal. "I recall that years ago a Muslim plot was discovered against [the Pope] and the liberals rejoiced," he said. "It is not John Paul II's person but the institution -- his successor will have to face the same hostility."
Jenkins added: "It is difficult for anti-Catholicism to disappear, as it is difficult for anti-Semitism to disappear. The difference is that the anti-Semite is denounced in the United States and obliged to keep quiet.
"I'm afraid that anti-Catholicism is so rooted that it represents the opposite of what the United States wants to be at a given moment. The United States often changes its mind: If it regards itself as progressive, it presents Catholicism as conservative, and vice versa."
Yet, Jenkins thinks that Catholicism will grow more in the United States than in Europe.
In the Old World, he explained, "immigration will be above all Muslim; in the United States, it will be especially Latin American and Asian. The appearance of U.S. Catholicism will change; it will be more ethnic. And one of the greatest changes will affect the Virgin: Now, in America, her figure is secondary; but it will become central."