An old example of liberal Protestant anti-Catholicism
When my Mom died a couple years ago, as we were sorting out her stuff to give to charity, I went through her boxes of books and pulled out some for my own library. My mother was a great reader, and she helped nourish my own love of books. We never read many of the same things: she was a big fan of mysteries and (later in life) romance novels, and I am pretty much a fantasy and science fiction reader when I am not plowing through some weightier tome on philosophy or theology. But I did grab some of her mysteries that she had shared with me. I got a complete set of Harry Kemelman‘s Rabbi mysteries. They are great stories and I learned a lot of things about American Judaism from them. (I would not call him definitive, but especially in his earlier books he captures a lot of nuance about conservative Judaism.)
I also picked up a few of the Reverend Randollph mysteries by Charles Merrill Smith. Smith was a Methodist minister and later bishop, and his satirical critique of mainline Protestantism, How to Become a Bishop without being Religious is quite funny in parts. The Reverend Randollph mysteries are about a minister in an unidentified Protestant denomination (though I suspect from some details it is intended to be Methodist), a former pro football quarterback and professor of church history at a seminary. He is recruited to run a socially prominent congregation in Chicago by his bishop. The stories are interesting, though all in all I do not think they are as good as the Rabbi novels. But worth a read, I think.
However, as I started re-reading them recently I was somewhat taken aback by a passage that was rather surprising in its anti-Catholicism. The setting is the funeral of the murder victim, and while leading the service he notes that the police detective in charge of the investigation is in the back. This leads to the following internal monologue:
And Lieutenant Michael Casey, barely noticeable in a shadowed corner, here not as a mourner but as an observant bloodhound, did he believe in God? Was it a conventional Catholic God who granted special favors to Catholics, especially Catholics who were faithful at mass and confession and refrained from practicing artificial birth control? No. Casey would be more likely to reflect Teilhard de Chardin or Maritain or Hans Kung or even Paul Tillich on God, Randollph guessed. Casey was a college man, as he had so carefully informed Randollph. He might go through the prescribed Catholic motions out of habit or to please aged and devout Irish parents or prompted by his knowledge of Chicago police politics (a good word from his pastor dropped in the right place could make all the difference in a policeman’s career). But Casey wouldn’t be taken in by the hocus pocus. Case would know that you can’t tickle God’s fancy by devout posturing or wheedle His cooperation with candles and novenas. Casey was sharp.
Now to be fair, the author also has a low opinion of traditional Protestant piety: the hero and the various Protestant divines who appear favorably in the story are all much too sophisticated for that sort of thing and they readily voice their (i.e., the author’s) opinions on the subject. But this passage really stood out to me for the rather casual way it repeated one of the classic anti-Catholic tropes of post-Enlightenment Protestantism: that Catholics are trapped by superstitious mummery and that they lacked the knowledge and education to realize this. The novel was written in 1974, well past Vatican II, but it clearly reflects a pre-Vatican II Protestant sensibility in its contempt for Catholicism.
I do not mean to cast any particular opprobrium on the author: originally, I only wanted to share it as a relic of a different age. But as I was trying to wrap up this post, I realized that it was also a useful reminder to us that this sort of thing was considered quite acceptable not that long ago. Anti-Catholicism has changed in America, but it has not gone away. There are probably lots of liberal Protestants today who do not like Catholics, but the reasons behind their dislike have changed considerably, and are more in tune with the secular left/liberal critiques of Catholicism. But I think it would be worth examining the evolution of anti-Catholicism since the 1950s to see in what ways historic Protestant fears have been incorporated into the secular rhetoric. La plus ca change….I don’t have any particular thoughts at the moment, but would be happy to bat this idea around in the comments.