Anti-Catholicism in American Culture, edited by Robert Lockwood (Our Sunday Visitor, 2000, 221pp, plus appendix, $42.00. Available from AD Books)
Anti-Catholicism in American Culture, an anthology of essays on this topic, explores the phenomenon of "no popery" in the American context from an historical perspective and the manner in which the Catholic Church is often treated by today's media.
However, while modern Western culture frowns on any displays of prejudice or discrimination against minority groups, with legislation in place to deal with transgressors, it appears that Catholics do not count as a minority group.
Present-day media treatment of issues involving the Catholic Church might suggest that anti-Catholic sentiments remain alive and well.
While the present book deals with the United State situation, it has relevance for Australia - even apart from their common British heritage. In this respect, the editors Lockwood and Baldwin argue that anti-Catholic bias is "as American as apple pie," being an integral part of the cultural baggage the Pilgrim Fathers and successive waves of emigrants from Britain during the colonial era brought with them.
The settlement of North America by the British occurred in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, so that, in the popular non-Catholic imagination, Roman Catholicism would for many years thereafter be linked as a "fifth column" with subversion and disasters.
More recently, this book suggests, anti-Catholicism has undergone a transformation. These days, it has become secularised, with Gospel truth vs. popish superstition replaced by progress vs. outdated medieval thinking.
But the signals are sometimes mixed. On the one hand, the Catholic Church is portrayed as an autocratic institution that oppresses its members, particularly women. On the other, the Church is said to be irrelevant, with Papal teachings disregarded by the majority of Catholics.
Anti-Catholicism in American Culture explains this continuing hostility towards the Church on the basis of the challenge its teachings pose to today's hedonistic, individualistic values. While other religious bodies may do this to some extent, the Catholic Church is easily the most powerful challenge to the prevailing secular ideology.
The present work suggests some possible solutions to this state of affairs.
The Church admittedly faces difficulties, given the dissent within its own ranks which limits the prospect of a united front. Also, many Catholics feel "disempowered" and vulnerable in light of the "open season" against their Church and Christianity in general. And not infrequently, much of the media appears eager to carry hostile material - no matter how absurd or superficial - but less keen to allow adequate scope for a Catholic right of reply.
However, those sections of the media prepared to allow more fair play need to be targeted with letters, articles and ideas. The forming in the US of alliances and coalitions in recent years has had some success, e.g., the Catholic League has demonstrated the impact organised monitoring of the media can have.
Michael Daniel teaches at a Melbourne independent college.