Four years ago, a bipartisan group of prominent Catholic laity led by former Ambassador-to-the- Vatican Thomas Melady put out a statement calling for greater civility in American politics and got slammed for their effort by Catholic riiht-wingers who considered this an assault on the pro-life movement. And inasmuch as the statement opposed bishops’ denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, you can understand why the right-wingers thought so.

Now, Melady and Co. have released a new statement attacking the anti-Mormon remarks of Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress and expressing their “determination to assure that not only civility be maintained in the
public discourse but that all inclinations to raise the issue of
personal religious affiliation be avoided.”

As Catholics, we have felt the sting of bias in previous national
elections. We share the concern of many of our citizens of all
religious faiths that allowing the question of a candidate’s religion to
be subject to public ridicule is a grave regression from what we have
accomplished in our forward movement as Americans since the
establishment of our Republic.

Thus far, there’s been no pushback from the right. Indeed, the statement has received virtually no notice at all since being reported by Michael Sean Winters in his NCR blog. It’s pretty clear that conservative Catholics barely have anti-Catholicism from the right on their radar screens. Note how quickly Bill Donohue shut up about Jeffress after receiving assurances from Rick Perry that he didn’t share Jeffress’ point of view.

This strikes me as altogether too blithe. Evangelicals may not, these days, harbor the same kind of animus against Catholics that they once did. But don’t think for a moment that anti-Catholicism won’t be working its way through the evangelical underground should either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum come to the fore as the Un-Romney in the GOP presidential sweepstakes. To paraphrase Pastor Niemoeller, “First they came for the Mormons. But I wasn’t a Mormon…”

Categories: Beliefs

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

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