Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are Catholics Racist?

Yesterday’s front page story in the New York Times headlined the abortion issue and its decisive role for many Catholic voters. The pages of this blog, which is less than a fortnight old, have already shown the wide variety of opinions on that issue and I suspect there will be further debate about abortion policy and the politics of that policy as the campaign progresses.

But, what jumped off the page with the same stomach-turning surety you get when watching a slow-motion car crash at the movies was the racism of the comments made by the people at Scranton’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church. The one overt racist remark – asking if the name of the White House would be changed - caused the rest of the parishioners to “hush” him. At least everyone knew it was wrong to say that.

What has to worry the Obama campaign was the reaction of a different voter. The Times reports: “But more said they now leaned toward Mr. McCain, citing both his experience and his opposition to abortion. Paul MacDonald, a retired social worker mingling over coffee after Mass at Holy Rosary, said he had voted for Mr. Kerry four years ago and Mrs. Clinton in the primary but now planned to vote for Mr. McCain because of ‘the life issue.’” The difference between Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama is not, alas, where they stand on “the life issue.” All three are solidly in support of Roe v. Wade and of the three, only Obama mentioned reducing abortions in their six speeches at the last two conventions.

It is, of course, possible that this voter has changed his own views on abortion in the past four months since the Democratic primary when he voted for Clinton. But, is it not more likely that the life issue has become a mask, an acceptable reason not to vote for Obama that covers the real reason: he is black.

There were few Catholics in the South and those who were there were mostly in favor of the civil rights movement. Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle of Washington began the desegregation of the Catholic schools in Maryland before the Supreme Court ordered the public schools to do so in 1954. When some conservative lay people met with O’Boyle and suggested that it would take years, maybe even a decade, for the people to be ready for desegregation, O’Boyle said, “Thank you gentlemen, but we are going to do it tomorrow.” O’Boyle gave the invocation at the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King shared his dream with America.

The tension between Catholics and blacks happened later and in the North. When Dr. King tried to end the de facto segregation of some neighborhoods in and around Chicago he met the same hatred and hostility he had met in Mississippi. Then came the “white flight” to the suburbs after the riots following Dr. King’s murder. The 1970s witnessed the conflicts over busing in many northern and Midwestern cities. At root, all of these conflicts involved the issue of tribalism or ethnic identity, an issue that goes back further than Bernstein’s “West Wide Story” and has a similarly unhappy ending.

Racism is a complicated phenomenon. I wrote about it on these pages here and Father Kavanaugh wrote about it for the magazine here. It has been mostly under the radar screen through most of the campaign. Pastors of souls should take to their pulpits in the next few weeks and discuss it openly: There are many reasons to vote for Barack Obama or to vote against him, but the color of his skin is not one of them. "Catholic" is a word with a meaning and it is the exact opposite of hateful tribalism.

Michael Sean Winters


Unknown said...

When Hillary was losing to Barach there were comments that sexism is still greater than racism. Palin proves this wrong. I don't care if you are black (I voted for Alan Keyes in Illinois) and I don't care if you are a woman (I will vote for McCain/Palin). I care for black and white, male and female humans. 40 million have been killed legally in this country since Roe. That is the greatest human rights tragedy in my lifetime.

Jim Belna said...

It is painful for me to even have to explain this, but maybe there are some readers who are as confused by this post as its author seems to be. The Democrat Catholics in Scranton did not change their minds about the life issue in the last four months; there were NO PRO-LIFE CANDIDATES OF ANY COLOR in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, so they were forced to vote for a pro-abortion candidate like Hillary Clinton. In the general election, they have a choice between a Democratic candidate with a perfect NARAL rating who is such a pro-abortion extremist that he opposed a bill to protect babies that survive an abortion, and a staunchly pro-life Republican candidate (with the ultimate pro-life running mate). Is it really all that surprising that they like McCain better? Michael Sean is quite possibly the only person in America who believes that Obama is a better choice for pro-life voters than McCain; in fact he wrote a whole book based on that amazing premise, which surely explains why he would seize on a single comment by a solitary bigot at a church in Scranton as evidence that American Catholics are racists at heart. This is a baseless and disgusting charge, and is a reflection of Sean Michael's own bigoted view of Catholics as insular white ethnic simpletons. I suppose we should be grateful that Sean Michael conceded at the end of his post that there are many reasons besides skin color to vote against Barack Obama. It's too bad he can't understand that Catholics are perfectly capable of doing so.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Sean Micheal's argument that all Catholics are racially voting against Barack O'Bama. This one man in Scranton spoke on behalf of himself, not the rest of the Catholic voters. The Catholic faith is not like a jacket thrown over one's shoulders when the weather gets cold. It is carried with that person for as long as they live and cannot be disregarded when making a political decision. For so long Catholics have hungered for a pro-life president and whenever one is found, it doesn't matter what ethnicity the candidate is, their beliefs guide them to vote for that man. In Barack's case, he is not receiving the Catholic vote because he is African American, but because he is pro-choice, and that goes against the Catholic moral. So to answer your question Mr. Michael, Catholics are not all racists, but they are voting upon a matter of great importance. As long as abortion remains a choice in the White House, you can count on the Catholic vote for the next pro-life candidate.

Eoin Nugent said...

The author of this blog post, Michael Sean Winters, is painting Catholics with a very broad brush. To take one person as a sample size for all Catholics is just downright unfair. Even the remark made by Paul MacDonald is not necessarily racism, as evidenced by Jim Belna's response to this blog post, but even if it was blatant racism it's only one person. It's not at all like the Catholic Church teaches, or even encourages, racism. This is just evidenced by Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle's efforts for desegregation, and many other times throughout history.

There are definitely some bad apples within the Catholic religion, just as there are within any large organization in any society. There is no overwhelming evidence, or any evidence whatsoever, to even imply that the majority of Catholics are racist. There is nothing within the Bible or the Church's oral tradition to encourage looking down upon any other race.

Racism is a serious problem facing this country and the world as a whole. Since the beginning of time, or at least history, racism has existed by some members in a society. It's not something that will be easy for Obama to overcome, but that also does not mean that it will go away. In the end, the vast majority of educated voters will vote for whomever they think benefits this country the most. Whether that person be black (Obama), white (McCain, Palin, Biden), male or female, will not matter in the end. This country has just come way too far to let something so insignificant as outward physical appearance affect something so serious as our leader and president.

To conclude, Catholics as a whole are not racist. An extreme minority within this religion, are racist, just as any other organization this size. There is nothing to note about the Catholic faith to make it stand out as a racially motivated organization as much as one might try to construe it as. This response does not necessarily attack the author's specific point within this blog post. Rather, it attacks the assertion in general that Catholics are racist. This is much more effective just because it can apply to any specific assumption of Catholic racism, rather than focusing on one specific one.

Eoin Nugent
Regis High School

Justin S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I believe to say all Catholic are racist is not at all the case. Racism is something that few Catholics do posses but it does exist in only a minority of Catholics today. You cannot use one Catholic as a example for all followers of Catholicism because just as easily as you can say a Catholic is racist, you can say a Jewish or Islamic person is racist. Racism, sadly, exists everywhere and in every culture and religion however today most people are much more accepting of racial integration. So you cannot technically say the only reason why Mr.Macdonald switched his vote from the Democratic party to the Republican just because Barack Obama is black as maybe he really did switch his vote because of learning of Mccain's experience and pro-life position. Yet if this was a racist decision on his part then that is just him, one person out of the many Catholics that live in the USA. Some Catholics may in fact be racist from being raised that way and other racist surroundings but the majority is very accepted of all cultures and races. Most Catholics vote for the person who obviously believe in the same issues as they do. Be it a woman or a man, white or black a person who actually believes in their issues will not change their vote simply because of race or gender. So in conclusion I do not believe all Catholics are racist but some in fact may be just like in any religion. Hopefully in the end as I believe is true people, Catholics and all, will vote for who they believe will lead the country well and not base it on skin color.

Martin Mundzik
Regis High School