The American people have been inundated with conspiracy theories from both the right and the left. To name a few: Russian collusion in the 2016 election; Russians blackmailing Trump; child sex rings control the media; and the Hunter Biden hard drive exposé of a Russian plot.
Such theories are not new. Since our nation’s founding, there have been loony tune political factions and secret societies that have believed religious and ethnic groups have designed clandestine plots take down our government and to destroy the American way of life.
A primary target of these crackpots has been Roman Catholics.
Here’s a sampling of the transgressions against Catholics:
In the 1820s and 1830s, anti-Catholic nativists circulated spurious conspiracy books. Titles included Female Convents: Secrets of Nunneries Disclosed and Jesuits Juggling: Forty Popish Frauds Detected and Disclosed; Mary George’s An Answer to Six Months in a Convent: Exposing its Falsehoods and Manifold Absurdities; and Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosure of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery. These books accused Catholic clerics and nuns of being sexual degenerates.
The conspiracy literature incited one particularly gruesome mob incident in Boston.
On August 11, 1835, crowds gathered outside the grounds of an Ursuline school carrying banners and screaming "Down with the Cross." Over fifty men broke into and ransacked both the convent and the school’s dormitory. The mob also violated the graveyard and dug up coffins. After clearing the children from the dormitory, the buildings were torched. Hundreds of onlookers, including members of the fire brigade, cheered as the structured burned.
During this period, numerous anti-Catholic societies were founded. Their intent was to disseminate "No-Popery" propaganda and to encourage members to adopt bigoted nativist attitudes.
Followers were asked to believe that immigrants were plotting with the Roman Catholic Church to destroy the United States. They were told that the pope and European royalty, by way of Catholic New Orleans, were going to seize control of the Mississippi Valley. The claim was made that Catholic pioneers migrating west were plotting to unite with a papal army and launch an insurrection.
Pamphlets warned Protestants that Rome wanted to dominate the region and “build up a system of ignorance, priest craft and superstition, such as now casts a blight over some of the fairest portions of Europe.”
In the 1850s, the Know Nothing Party promoted a philosophy of hate directed toward Catholic immigrants. Its leadership promoted the absurd falsehood that the pope was planning to move to Louisiana and establish a kingdom there.
Another anti-Catholic secret society that appeared in the late 19th century was the American Protective Association (APA) whose membership hit 2 million. Inductees had to take an oath that included these words: "I hereby denounce Roman Catholicism. I hereby denounce the pope…. I denounce all the priests … and the diabolical intrigues of the Roman Catholic Church…."
To gin-up their membership, the APA published a phony papal encyclical that read in part: "We proclaim the people of the U.S. have forfeited the right to rule said Republic…. [I]t will be the duty of the faithful to exterminate all heretics found within the jurisdiction of the U.S."
When the Catholic N.Y. governor, Alfred E. Smith was the Democratic nominee for president in 1928, the conspiracy theorists came out in force. Millions of warped, vicious anti-Catholic pamphlets and flyers were distributed by the Klan and other organizations across America. Over 100 anti-Catholic newspapers were pumping out 5 million copies a week.
A leading New York Baptist minister declared that Smith represented, "card playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, dancing, evolution, overeating, nude art, prize fighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism."
Fast forward to 1960, and similar lamebrains came out of the woodwork to oppose John F. Kennedy.
The Fair Campaign Practices Committee reported that 392 different anti-Catholic pamphlets were published. Estimates of their circulation—as high as 25 million. These brochures, pamphlets, and newspapers published issues claiming that a Catholic’s first allegiance is to the pope; that the Catholic hierarchy controls the lives of the faithful; that a Catholic president will establish a Catholic state and that a Catholic president will force Catholic moral codes on all the American people.
Are anti-Catholic conspiracy theories still circulated in the 21st century? Yes.
Appearing on numerous talk radio shows after my book, The American Catholic Voter, was published in 2004, I noted that there were still plenty of people who believe that Catholics are determined to take over the government.
A number of callers on several shows in the south and southwest told me the pope was moving to New Orleans, and that every American’s IRS records are held in the Vatican archives.
Also, when researching my book, I came across contemporary pamphlets distributed by fringe organizations that were similar in content to those distributed back in 1928.
In the 21st century, the level of distaste for Catholicism is the same as in previous eras. Sadly, Catholics are still viewed by many fanatics as public villains and anti-Catholicism is still an acceptable prejudice.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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