Then, they came after the boys from Covington, Kentucky, who went to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., to show their faith.
Some folks must wonder if Catholics are being targeted for our beliefs. Think of the recent attacks -- verbal and physical -- against Catholics, historical and modern. In an age when thought should be honest and open, the very opposite occurs.
A year ago, California Sen. Diane Feinstein sharply questioned judicial nominee Amy Barrett during a Senate confirmation hearing and her commitment to her Catholic faith. "I think in your case, professor ... the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern." Sen. Feinstein's concerns were echoed by 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.
Pro-life opponents scoured Catholic Brett Kavanaugh's yearbook and social life for evidence that would disqualify him for the Supreme Court. Further background checks called up an unsupportable claim from someone he might have assaulted as a teenager. Was Justice Kavanaugh opposed because of his faith?
Then, they came after the boys from Covington, Kentucky, who went to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., to show their faith. The trip should have been affirming and inspiring. (Full disclosure, several members of our family attended the march on Jan. 18, and some were teens.) But the boys from Covington Catholic High School had an unexpectedly different experience.
Waiting for the bus home, the boys were verbally attacked by a publicity-seeking hate group insulting and taunting them for their Catholic identity, calling them child molesters and future school-shooters. Then, one of the boys, 16-year-old Nick Sandmann, was approached by a Native American, an elder of the Omaha tribe. Confronted by this stranger banging a drum in his face, Nick quietly stood his ground and simply smiled through the ordeal.
Dozens of people recorded the incident, but one went viral on the Internet and cable TV. It was quickly "interpreted" as a privileged Catholic school student smirking in a belittling fashion at a peaceful Native American. What was most egregious was how quickly television networks seized on an edited clip, showing Nick Sandmann and his high school mates in the worst possible light. These print and video commentators raged at these "pampered products of Catholic education." Immediate blame for a confrontation was laid at the feet of the boys. Later, when a fuller and longer video was aired, the Covington boys appeared to be the victims.
Then, there was the Savannah Guthrie NBC "Today" Jan. 23 interview, which bordered on bullying. Sixteen-year-old Sandmann behaved admirably. He was able to make it clear that he did not stand aggressively in the face of the drummer, but merely stood smiling. Yet, many like Guthrie were quick to condemn the Catholic boys.
Last week, an independent inquiry vindicated the boys. Currently, lawyers for the Covington families are drawing up letters for potential lawsuits against media celebrities and network figures, including the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, Bill Maher, and Savannah Guthrie.
Days after the D.C. incident, Notre Dame's president, Father John Jenkins, decided to reinterpret the motives of early Catholics by deciding to cover a dozen murals depicting the life of Christopher Columbus. This regrettable action was perhaps to cave in to non-Catholics who attend or teach at Notre Dame. The claim from the president's office was "Whatever else Columbus' arrival brought for these people, it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures." And so, it goes.
From another perspective, Alejandro Bermudez, director of ACI Prensa, a Spanish-language news service, writes that covering the mural gives in to the current assaults on Western history. He is able to make claims both as a Peruvian American of color (his words) and as a Catholic that there is much to celebrate in how Americans have changed in 500 years. He particularly values Columbus for being the first of many missionaries who showed millions of people the path to salvation.
Simply tearing down the past has never been a great claim for advancing learning. Amnesia deletes too much that should be accounted for. Anti-Catholic attitudes have enough history. Of greater concern is the limiting of acceptable speech. How many times do we whisper: "But you can't say that?" Too often public speech is scrutinized with the torch of politically acceptable.
Anthony Esolen, a professor at Thomas More College, ran into the thought police when he quarreled with the current concept of "diversity." Esolen called upon Providence College to set aside identity politics and instead unite the campus community around a holistic, Catholic view of the human person. The response: students, faculty, and staff marched across the campus to the president's office shouting "What do we want? Inclusion! When do we want it? We want it now." Esolen was then called: "racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic and religiously chauvinist." The administration failed to back up Professor Esolen and he left the college.
Maybe it's time for Catholics to revisit the experience of Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, who was sent to Nazi concentration camps for his talk against the Nazi regime. He first opposed Nazification of Protestant churches, then the Aryan paragraph, which allowed organization, corporation or real estate membership to be exclusively for the Aryan race -- meaning Jews, but also Poles, Serbs, other Slavs, were excluded from all public life.
In 1942, Pastor Niemoller was sentenced to Dachau, where he was housed with Catholic dissenters. At the end of the European war, late April 1945, with other important prisoners, he was transported to Austria, where German army personnel overtook the SS guards and took custody of the group (maybe to use as bargaining chips). Eventually, these lucky ones were freed by the U.S. Seventh Army. After the war, Niemoller made speeches about the cowardice of German intellectuals, including himself, for not resisting the Nazi Party's rise to power. Key points were written as a famous poem "First They Came."
"First, they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
"Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
"Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak because I was not a Jew.
"Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."
As the tide of anti-Catholicism is rising, who is speaking for us?
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.