Statues, Dog Whistles, and Anti-Catholicism

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The sudden rise and recent wave of anti-Catholic violence has come as something of a shock. What exactly do protests about George Floyd and accusations of police brutality have to do with Catholic churches, Saint Junipero Serra, Christopher Columbus, the Good Shepherd, and the Blessed Virgin Mary? 

On the face of it, absolutely nothing. But as we have seen throughout history, once unconstrained mobs harboring malevolent grudges and ill-defined resentments are encouraged to prowl the streets without fear of law enforcement, nothing good is likely to result.  

And if systemic racism infects all powerful Western institutions, why would any leftist protestor believe the 2,000 year-old Catholic Church is uniquely immune? If statues and monuments commemorating renowned figures of European heritage are actually stand-ins for bigotry, slavery, and exploitation, why should a militant give the innocent Blessed Virgin Mary a free pass, even though she was not European, and infallible Catholic doctrine teaches she was free from all sin, racism presumably included. Sadly, in today’s America, neither historical veracity nor the Catechism is an effective defense against the pillager.

The mainstream media deliberately ignores and refuses to label this vandalism as anti-Catholicism. There is little talk and less awareness of this kind of hatred, which once seemed nearly extinct everywhere outside college campuses, media newsrooms, and Hollywood. Now, once again overtly hostile Catholic-bashing is rearing its ugly head. 

“Anti-Catholicism,” observed scholar and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Peter Viereck, “is the anti-Semitism of the intellectual.” To the extent that observation is correct, one may safely conclude it is very difficult for liberal opinion-makers to acknowledge what stares them directly in the face. To them, the multiplying acts of violent desecration constitute nothing more than a coincidence, barely worthy of notice.

The notable American historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. classified anti-Catholicism as “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” Despite this background, most observers imagined anti-Catholicism was as dead as the Know Nothing political party and as dated as references to popery and Romanism. A series of recent events shows that the vampire has risen from its grave in an increasingly virulent and grotesque left-wing form.

News item:  In Ocala, Florida on July 11 a man crashed his minivan into Queen of Peace Catholic Church, poured gasoline, and lit the foyer of the church on fire, all while worshipers were gathered to pray. 

News item:  In Los Angeles on July 11, a suspicious fire ravaged the San Gabriel Mission, a historic mission founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771. Father Serra was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis, who said “let us contemplate the witness of holiness given by Friar Junípero.  He was one of the founding fathers of the United States … and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country. In this way may all Americans rediscover their own dignity, and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church.”

News item:  In the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston on July 11 an arsonist set a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on fire on the grounds of St. Peter’s Parish Church.

News item:  In Brooklyn, New York on July 10, a vandal smeared paint to desecrate a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral Prep School and Seminary.

News item: In the city of St. Louis, Missouri, Catholics gathered to pray the rosary on June 27 at the statue of King Louis IX, a canonized Catholic saint and name-patron of the city. At least two Catholic men who participated in the peaceful, prayerful gathering were physically assaulted by so-called protesters, demanding the removal of the Catholic saint’s statue.

News item:  In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was knocked over and decapitated at St. Stephen Parish on July 11, in an incident eerily reminiscent of the most virulent anti-Catholicism of the French Revolution.

News Items:  In the state of California, three separate statues of Saint Junipero Serra were torn down by vandals in the cities of San Francisco (Mission of St. Francis of Assisi) on June 19, Los Angeles (City of Angels) on June 20, and Sacramento (named for the Blessed Sacrament) on July 4. As in these and other Democrat-dominated cities, police were ordered not to stop the lawbreaking, wanton destruction, and anti-Catholic hate crimes.

News Items:  In Boston and other cities, statues of Christopher Columbus were decapitated, vandalized, or toppled by ransacking protestors. Democrat mayors and officials offered passive support for the vandals by ordering police not to protect statues or prevent destruction.

One imagines that these leftist Democrat politicians had no inkling that the honoring of Christopher Columbus with a national holiday on October 12 has roots in an action taken by the greatest Democrat president in American history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his time, the Democrat Party broadly represented a majority of church-going American Catholics, and President Roosevelt was affirmatively responding to the requests of the Knights of Columbus, the largest national Catholic fraternal order. 

The 32nd President of the United States proclaimed:  “I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT… do by this proclamation designate October 12, 1937, as Columbus Day and do direct that on that day the flag of the United States be displayed on all Government buildings; and, further, I do invite the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and churches, or other suitable places.”

One concludes that in today’s Democrat Party, Roosevelt would be quickly canceled for mentioning the flag, churches, and Columbus Day.

Today’s Democrats don’t think in such terms.

On the 4th of July in Baltimore, Maryland, the childhood hometown of Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a gang of despoilers tore down a statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus, the courageous Catholic explorer honored by FDR four score and three years prior. The mob then rolled the broken Columbus statue into a canal at Baltimore Harbor. A mob wreaking havoc on Independence Day does not exactly match the “pomp, parades, and solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God” that founder and President John Adams foresaw as the appropriate celebration of that historic moment in 1776.

Fifteen days prior, in today’s San Francisco, the political home to Speaker Pelosi, marauders tore down a monument to Saint Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park, as noted briefly above. The statue presents the figure of Friar Serra wearing the traditional Franciscan robe or tunic with cincture or rope belt and rosary, and he is holding a towering cross. The anti-Christian and anti-Catholic motivation for the pillaging such an image can hardly be doubted.

What was the response to the rampant destruction by the most powerful Democrat in America?

Speaker Pelosi’s message was about as understandable a dog whistle as one can hear in politics. “People,” she said about the Columbus wreckage in Baltimore, where she grew up, “will do what they do.”

No sense of disgust or even mild criticism of the criminal behavior. Rather, a politicized dog whistle conveying approval or at least toleration of similar destruction in the future. The vandals get it; the media largely ignores it; the rest of America will suffer its consequences. 

“If the community doesn’t want the statue there,” the Speaker emphasized, “the statue shouldn’t be there. … I don’t care that much about statues.”

Perhaps Pelosi, who says she is both Catholic and Italian-American, really doesn’t care about statues. The deeper question is whether she cares about anti-Catholicism, along with the sacking of churches, statues, monuments, and symbols with profound religious meaning.

One such statue with profound religious meaning stood outside the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Miami, Florida. It was an eminently peaceful and gentle image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. On the morning of Wednesday, July 15, the Good Shepherd was discovered desecrated and beheaded.

But what the heck? Maybe Pelosi’s “community” didn’t want it there. As the Speaker observed, “People will do what they do.”

All of which leads directly to the final question:  Do Democrat dog whistles incite anti-Catholic people to do what anti-Catholic people do?


Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer. Read other columns by Mr. Tortelli here.