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Nothing sacred

[This editorial appeared in the June 28, 1996 issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, in response to two recent anti-Catholic acts of so-called journalism. Used with permission.]

About a century ago, the press in this country felt free to insult any religion outside the mainstream of American Protestantism.

Jews were easy targets. Catholics, too. Yarmulkes, the Star of David, Latin Masses and plaster statues--it all seemed so superstitious, so "foreign" to nativist journalists and their provincial readerships. In their social circles, these objects were nothing sacred, so the trappings of Catholicism and Judaism were fair game for derisive cartoons, columns and even news stories.

This bigotry faded for a time, at mid-century, as journalistic tolerance and objectivity came into fashion.

But now that another century's about to turn, maybe the secular media are getting nostalgic for the good old days of open religious bigotry. Over the last two weeks, two publications--one a national pop-culture magazine, the other a local business paper--decided that it would be fun to bat around the most sacred beliefs, practices and symbols of the Catholic faith.

The local author had a rollicking good time: punning on the name of the Lord ... conjuring up images of profaned eucharistic Hosts ... poking fun at the vestments of priests and bishops. [Ellipses in original.] And all this took place on the editorial page, in a column entitled "Editor's Notebook."

Amazing, in this day and age, that a business newspaper would allow itself to be associated, officially, with that sort of--uh--humor.

The national piece--courageously published under a pseudonym--was an anti-Catholic diatribe dressed up as an investigative report. And you can bet the bigots loved it: wild claims that all but 2 percent of priests are unfaithful to vows (not documented, of course) ... caricatures of Church teaching on sexuality and family life ... dark descriptions of the "guilt and denial" of the sacrament of Confession ... You get the idea. [Ellipses in original.]

The truce of tolerance, it seems, is over. At the turn of a century, once again, Catholic beliefs are just too outside-the-mainstream for respectful treatment in some corners of the press.

Who's next? Jews (again)? Fundamentalists? Muslims?

When we see such bigotry in the media, we should congratulate the editors on how well they are defining their readership--and on how effectively they've defined us off the rolls.

Our part in the truce of tolerance was our subscription and advertising dollars. But we should know where we're not welcome. And we should take our money and our readership to a place that treats our religion with the honor and tolerance any religion deserves.

Mr. Mike Aquilina, Editor
The Pittsburgh Catholic
135 First Avenue #200
Pittsburgh, PA USA 15222-1506
(412) 471-1252

See also History of Anti-Catholicism (incomplete) by Fr. Donald Tenoever.
See also Catholic Bashing and the American Media by Fr. Benedict Auer, OSB.
See also Conflict of Interests: the Sacred Versus the Secular at Vanderbilt University's Freedom Forum First Amendment Center.
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(Created July 6, 1996)