Is There a Substantial Catholic Vote in the 2018 Midterms?

Throughout the semester, when we discussed the Catholic vote, we stressed the intersectionality behind Catholicism. In discussions from 2000 by scholar E.J. Dionne, in There is No ‘Catholic Vote.” And Yet, It matters, the emphasis of an array of Catholic voters provided assurance that Catholics do not vote the same. However, the description of Catholic voters as “the ultimate swing vote” is harder to establish. As Dionne explored the different identities of Catholics, considering their vote a “swing vote” would ignore the other identities and issues they are voting on beyond their Catholic fate. Hank Murphy at the Behind the Tweets roundtable detailed how the Catholic vote in the 2018 midterm elections was split 50/50 among party lines. This split shows that the Catholic vote was not a unified bloc and should not be stressed as a swing vote. Described in many articles, including those from Aleteia.org, Catholicnewsagency.com, and Catholicvote.org, the main issue for Catholics in this election and others are abortion politics. However, given the moral implications of abortion beliefs, it is hard to say whether abortion is the main force behind the Catholic vote as those articles proclaimed. If this was the root to Catholic voting, it would be safe to see a majority of votes to Republicans, the majority pro-life party, but the trend is not always notable—mostly compared to other religious groups shown below. Hank Murphy at the roundtable explained the voting patterns beyond abortion efficiently. He described how some Catholics do vote because of abortion, but many Catholics vote for death penalty legislation or immigration legislation. As the previous, right-leaning articles emphasized abortion politics, the biases restricted visibility of the other issues Catholics care about.

 

 

The above graphic from Pew Research Center shows how different religious groups voted in midterm elections since 2006. The chart shows that in 2018, the party split among Catholic voters was 50:49. This ratio shifted from 2010 and 2014 where a greater number of Catholics voted for a Republican. However, in 2006, the majority was toward the Democrats. The general affiliation can shift throughout the years in this chart, but there has been a variety of voting gaps and majority affiliation. If the trend from 2018 continues, then Catholics will continue to be less of a swing vote if their decisions remain split almost completely down the middle. Catholics view politics in a magnitude of different ways and the party gaps throughout midterm elections have stayed consistent or gotten smaller—regardless of which parties received the majority of votes. As the Catholic vote is not heavily split, multiple issues would take part in decision-making making processes.

Although the Catholic vote was more evenly split than other years, predictions of Catholic votes swaying in a majority toward a specific party are few and far between. As previously mentioned scholar E.J. Dionne put it,“Catholics haven’t voted as a bloc since the early 1960s, when they solidly backed America’s one and only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy.” The close split among Catholic voters has been the trend for decades, and this year was not any different.

 

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A view of the roundtable. (By me)

 

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An Influenced Vote

Discussions of the Catholic vote have floated around our seminar all semester. Considering I had little idea of what the Catholic vote was before I started this school year, it is safe to now say that it does not exist. Although a cohesive Catholic vote is impossible, Catholic upbringing still influences social and political values that tie into voting and legislation. Catholicism influences and justifies all areas of political opinions. The harm of considering a united Catholic vote is ignoring the abundance of personal interpretations.

On Tuesday of this week, the class took a field trip to Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-Op Bookstore to see Steven Millies discuss his book— Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump. Other than enjoying Hyde Park in the fall, the event provided a well-rounded discussion of ways to view the Catholic vote in the present. To Millies, the Catholic vote is not as prominent as it once was considered. Since using Roe v. Wade (1973) as a starting point for his timeline, Catholics were already assimilated into American society. According to Millies, when the scrutiny became whether a person was communist or not, Catholic assimilation finished embedding into US society. Millies’s discussions connected heavily to our discussions in class that the Catholic vote does not exist. As Millies stressed the importance of ethnicity and other factors in voting, I could not help but think about class discussions of the importance of intersectionality in evaluating a person in society.

However, as intersectionality progresses, religion still takes a part in how a person votes. Although there is not a unified vote, Catholics use religion (knowingly or not) to influence their morals and values in all areas of America’s political spectrum. I see the Supreme Court voting record of Justice William Brennan as an example of how Catholicism can still influence political opinions. Scholar Samuel Mills thought Brennan rejected his Catholic upbringing in his progressive voting record: “Justice Brennan faced a number of cases that forced him to choose between following mandates of the Constitution as he viewed them and following the will of his own religious leaders” (Mills 772). The problem with Mills’ argument was that he assumed all Catholics voted the same. Brennan’s Catholic upbringing directly influenced his morals as much as Catholics who disagreed with his decisions.

Another scholar, William Blake, provided a better opinion: “justices may be right in the sense that they never consciously base their judicial behavior on their religious values, but it would be impossible for a judge to suppress her or his values completely” (Blake 814). Even if the influence is subconscious, religion and upbringing still took part in intersections of Brennan’s and others’ decisions. Although the Catholic vote is not united, the influences in all opinions are legitimate. Additionally, the pronouncement of Humanae Vitae procured a division in the Catholic Church where both sides of opinion used Catholicism in their justifications. The split from Humanae Vitae was explored in a Studs Terkel interview with Father John O’Brien. An anonymous mother in the interview also proclaimed that the writing is “making sinners out of good Catholics.” O’Brien discussed that the Vatican needed to catch up with the Church as a living organism. Also, the birth control issue would not have been an issue if a majority of the hierarchy leaders were married or interacted with women more. I like to think this could have implied giving women a larger role in the Church, but it is not explicit or confirmed. As O’Brien thought that Humanae Vitae contradicted the Catholic Church, Pope Paul VI thought writing benefited the Church. The same foundation provided arguments for and against a political opinion.

Studs Terkel’s interview also discussed the current level of political participation from nuns. Nuns provide a better argument of the drastic changes in how Catholics govern. In the 19thcentury and prior, “nuns were expected to provide the services to which they had committed their lives in a spirit of meekness, humility, and detachment” (Hoy 65). Evaluated in this quote by Sullen Hoy, Catholic nuns were expected to be obedient and not be directly involved in politics. However, by discussions in the 1960s, the opposite was encouraged. O’Brien in the Terkel interview put the modern roles of nuns well when he said they, “do good and serve God by going out and giving bread to the starving, bandaging the wounds of the suffering, cooling the feverish brow of the sick.” The change of nuns in the mid-20thcentury is a product of the call for direct political action in the global climate and the need for the Church to catch up in a rapidly changing society. Catholics, like any other political figures, change how they govern by adapting to their modern values. Humanae Vitae can be seen as an attempt to stay with the traditional, docile expectations by the Church, but the response triggered by the writing proved that the Church can also support the other end of the spectrum. Some areas of the Church will grow faster than others.

This informational video of Catholic Charities provides an example of Catholics who came together in a time of “immense political, social and economic change” to directly interact and help those in need. As I explored a Chicago Catholic Charities Center in the Open House Chicago, it is important to note the influence of nuns not provided in this video. As nuns were encouraged to interact directly with the public, Catholic Charities provided a segway to achieve this modern change.

Referenced Work:

Blake, William. “God Save This Honorable Court: Religion as a Source of Judicial Policy Preferences.” Political Research Quarterly 65, no. 4 (2012): 814-26.

Hoy, Suellen. “The Journey Out: The Recruitment and Emigration of Irish Religious Women to the United States, 1812-1914.” Journal of Women’s History 7, no. 1 (1995): 64-98.

Mills, Samuel A. “Parochiaid and the Abortion Decisions: Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. versus the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy.” Journal of Church and State 34, no. 4 (1992): 751-73.

 

1968: A Year Like Any Other?

This week, the class had to attend panels at the Global ’68 Symposium at Loyola. I attended three of the panels and the movie showing for the week (Medium Cool). The three panels I attended were: “Resistance and Riots, Murders and Martyrs,” “Catholics at a Crossroads,” and “Struggles for Justice: Race, Class, Gender, and Immigration in 1968.” As each event focused on Chicago, US, and international politics and events from 1968 to today, I began noticing the patriarchal structure and hypocrisy of the Church (and world governments in general) which many members still deal and struggle with today to a farther extent than I have before.


When one of the panelists, Kathleen Belew, discussed white power, I made connections to our older class discussions about Catholic voters. Not everybody in white power movements agrees on the same issues, just like Catholic voters do not all agree on the same issues. Both of these matters are easily assumed to be the opposite. It is important to remember the dynamics of a person’s point of view within a broad movement. The importance of noticing differing sides of a movement was brought up throughout the Symposium. 1968 was a year of conflict and every conflict has more than one side.

In the same panel as Belew, Firmin DeBrabander discussed the gun right’s movements. Along with discussing the hypocrisy of the NRA and their largest supporters, DeBrabander dissuaded the argument that the public needs guns to defend themselves from a tyrannical government. When the US military is so well-funded, it would be impossible for a single gun owner to withstand the force which would come from a tyrannical government in the US. As seen through the week’s movie event of Medium Cool, the 1968 Chicago protests exemplified the outcomes which would occur if a police-state went against the general public. 1968 around the world, not just the United States and Chicago, showed the troubles for individuals or small groups to stand up to a powerful government.

Democracies should allow the public to demonstrate their views through protests, but Communism and other governments which theoretically praise protest and revolution are also not acting on their word. In panelist Alan Shane Dillingham’s presentation, kickback from Mexico’s 1968 student movements was discussed. When the protestors in Mexico were criticized by the government, it is important to note the history of the political party in power—the PRI. The PRI gained power through their own revolutions and are literally called the Institutional Revolutionary Party. In a government which would presumably accept and encourage protest, the opposite happens if it means maintaining their own power. Also, in the Communist government of Poland, students began questioning Marxist discourse and how the government actually acts (Malgorzata Fidelis). However, as Communism encourages revolution, people under a Communist regime were frequently punished if they acted in protest.

As many governments acted contrary to discoursal expectations, the Catholic church did and continues to, act against expectations. Previously discussed in class and in another blog post, traditionally Catholics were considered second-class citizens and heavily discriminated against. However, even when Catholics have felt discrimination themselves, the Church is quick to discriminate other groups—like women, the LGBTQ community and the 1968 Humanae Vitae. The discussions of the “Catholics at a Crossroads” panel demonstrated the divides which still exist today in regard to discriminatory actions of the Church. As one of the audience members asked the panelists why they have decided to stay in the Church, the answers varied across the board. For many, the struggle is continuous—especially faced with the patriarchal structure of the Church.


As the first event of the week was the showing of Medium Cool, the stark sexism in the political movements of 1968 was evident. Although the film focused on Chicago, this sexist structure is apparent throughout the US and the world. The patriarchal nature of political movements mirrors that of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Left. The woman characters were quickly pushed aside, literally and figuratively, by the main character of Medium Cool. The women’s justifications and suggestions were ignored without any pause. Women in movements of the mid-twentieth century were pushed away and discredited frequently. As scholar Marian Mollin compares the hardships of women activists with the struggles of Catholic women, “the masculinized nature of the Catholic Left—the ways in which radical protests were gendered male… The Catholic Left was, at its core, a prime example of how the politics of identity, in this case masculine identity, indelibly shaped the culture of American radical dissent” (Mollin, 51). Women in movements were not allowed to speak their mind because of the machismo which fuels and festers in political unrest.

However, like any movement, there is more than one side. With the Vatican II fresh in the minds of Catholics in 1968, some women began to find their rightful duty by participating in political movements compared to the traditional ideal of a silent woman. Prior to the 1960s and Vatican II, women, especially nuns, were expected to express their views with silence. In the words of scholar Kathleen Brosnan, “[the nuns] presence was essential to the Church, but so was their quietude within its patriarchal structures” (Brosnan, 10). By staying silent, the women were considered to be acting politically—“the conscious avoidance of controversy… allowed them to pursue their larger goals in a public forum” (Brosnan, 10). However, I find this similar to the discussions of Communist and revolutionary governments oppressing the expressions of parties who are threatening their current state of power. When there are nuns who later consider directly acting in political protest the true duty they have been called to do, like Sister Mary Peters described in an interview with Studs Terkel, the credibility of women in political movements or the Church should be reevaluated. This was not a genuine assumption about the ability of women to act politically and in protests, but a victim of genetic determinism pushed in international power struggles. Although 1968 provided a tumultuous year of events around the world, it was still victim to the same power struggles which continue to exist.


Referenced Work:

Brosnan, Kathleen A. “Public Presence, Public Silence: Nuns, Bishops, and the Gendered Space of Early Chicago.” The Catholic Historical Review 90, no. 3 (2004): 473-496.

Mollin, Marian. “Communities of Resistance: Women and the Catholic Left of the Late 1960s.” The Oral History Review 31, no. 2 (2004): 29-51.

Photos by me, unless otherwise noted.

Chicago’s Unique Catholicism

This week, the class participated in the Open House Chicago weekend. Exploring Catholic churches and separate political, the strong influence of Catholicism in Chicago was evident. However, throughout our readings for the week, Chicago’s relationship with Catholicism shined uniquely compared to other American cities. In this post, I will discuss my own experiences in the Open House and how those sights related to Catholicism and/or Chicago politics, followed by a discussion on how Chicago Catholicism is different than the rest of the country.


The first site I visited was the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. Although a Catholic cathedral built in 1915, the Byzantine style reflected the growing parish in the Ukrainian neighborhood. According to the guides at the Cathedral, St. Nicholas was modeled after St. Sophia’s in Kiev—the capital city of Ukraine. The chandelier was made in Greece, but the stained-glass windows were made in Chicago. Through the leadership of a Chicago architecture firm, the church combined the influence of Ukraine, Greek artisans, and Chicago based companies. The Ukrainian Village Catholic parish growing at the turn-of-the-century was still young enough to have a deeper connection to their home country but were also beginning to create local ties to the communities around them. The Catholic cathedral provided a fundamental component of the developing neighborhood where the Ukrainian ethnic population was not yet fully assimilated in the rest of Chicago. Constructed during the mayoral era of the younger Carter Harrisons of the Carter Harrisons, the church was rooted against the push for Americanization opposed by Carter Harrison. Discussed by John D. Buenker, Harrison Jr., although not from an immigrant family, gained the respect of minority groups because “the conviction that [he] understood their handicaps with an old world culture facing puritanical narrow-mindedness” (Buenker, 176). The construction of this beautiful Catholic cathedral was possible because of the strong ethnic community in the area, and the support of a pro-minority mayor who would have allowed the parish to use Eastern European influences. St. Nicholas provided an example of Chicago Catholic activity in the context of local political leadership.

Another site I visited was the Holy Name Cathedral. Going inside the church was exciting because of the vicinity to our downtown campus and the beauty hidden inside. As the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, the history of the site is easily present. However, on their website’s description of their history, the church emphasizes, “The history of Holy Name Cathedral Parish is as much the story of Catholic immigrants and their new city, Chicago, as it is the story of bishops and seminaries.” Discussed during a tour, the Cathedral began when the University of St. Mary of the Lake was established to provide priests in the rapidly growing immigration of Chicago. As Ellen Skerrett, Edward R. Kantowicz, and Steven M. Avella explored in their work, “in no other city did such a wide range of Catholic groups make their mark” (Skerrett, Kantowicz, Avella, xvii). The first location of the Cathedral Parish was at the university. The emphasis of a “new city” was described in the tour when the guide emphasized the architecture of the church created a mixture of traditional Gothic influence in a modern church. Coincidentally, a theme throughout the Open House sites and the readings for the week was how Catholicism in Chicago grew along with the city itself. As St. Nicholas was built with the help of European business and inspiration, Chicago’s growing businesses began to take a part—although Chicago could not provide all the resources yet. With the Holy Name, when Chicago’s population began to flourish, Holy Name’s history was a resource for religious leadership in a rapidly modernizing city.

St. Peter’s in the Loop Roman Catholic Church, built in 1953, showed the evolution of Catholicism growing along with Chicago. Approaching St. Peters is shocking because the church is a modern stone-faced building directly attached and surrounded by city buildings. When you go inside, it feels like another world compared to the busy city outside. The intention of St. Peters was a place of prayer for those on-the-go in the city. When Chicago has efficiently developed into a thriving metropolis, the Catholic Church adapted to meet the parishioner’s new needs. St. Peter’s was built to reflect a modernized Chicago but was also literally built within the city life—showing the never-ending presence of Catholicism in Chicago.


My fourth site of the weekend was Chicago’s City Hall. Considering the current location was the seventh City Hall of Chicago, it is safe to say the changing locations reflect the growing needs of the expanding city. However, the Open House allowed us to explore the City Council Chambers where a neighborhood-district alderman represents their local constituents needs in local Chicago politics. Although initially challenging to create an immediate connection of Catholicism and City Council, the reading by Skerrett, Kantowicz, and Avella provide insight: “The first two marks of Chicago Catholicism, ethnic diversity and the close identification between parish and neighborhood, hark back to the beginnings of Chicago” (Skerrett, xvii). When the parish is heavily connected to the neighborhood, the alderman would have to consider the religious influence in decision-making. If there is a city council ruling which would negatively impact the religious groups of the neighborhood, the alderman would likely feel local pressure to vote against such a ruling. Additionally, when I visited City Hall with my aunt, I asked her how I might be able to connect Catholicism to what we observed—beyond the obvious influence of the Daley family—and she brought up how challenging it is to forego religious views in politics. Even if not obvious, religious affiliation increases social capital, which then increases political participation. With Chicago’s historical Catholic presence, the aldermen likely could have Catholic roots which could influence their decision-making.

Another political site had more obvious relations to Catholicism—the Catholic Charities St. Vincent Center. Founded by nuns and now a part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Although it was formed originally to serve parishes struggling to provide for their community, Chicago Catholic Charities assist anyone who looks for service in a wide variety of considerations. The St. Vincent Center is the current headquarters for Chicago’s Catholic Charities but also houses the St. Louise de Marillac Chapel. According to a guide I talked to on-site, the original church was converted into office space, but then recently converted back into a chapel. Although the transformation of a chapel to office space is a bit peculiar, I think it may demonstrate how those serving through the center realized the growing need for their services in Chicago. The nuns and workers at the Catholic Charities prioritized serving the community over the convenience of an in-house chapel. The direct involvement of Catholics in civil services provides a clear connection between Catholicism and local politics.


Over the weekend, we also had the option to visit the “Hairy Who?” exhibit at the Art Institute. The art was interesting, to say the least, and the exhibit was very enjoyable. One of the informational panels on the wall described their work well: “At the moment when the personal was first being recognized as political… they always approached these themes from individualistic, rather than ideological, positions.” Their work was influenced by relationships, gender, and sex while relying on the spontaneity of everyday situations in naming work and choosing subjects—“fearless and disobedient yet technically refined.” What was unique about the “Hairy Who?” art shows were the unfortunate consequences which prevented a show opening—Martin Luther King’s assassination protests in Chicago and a janitor throwing away work in New York.

Although the “Hairy Who?” group began in Chicago and held their first shows there, they are not rooted directly in Chicago culture or politics beyond what is also evident in other cities. The fearless disobedience of their work reflected the post-Vatican II ideologies of direct action—whether one is Catholic or not. Given the universality of Vatican II changes, it is difficult to relate “Hairy Who?” uniquely Chicago like the Open House sites.


When Chicago was born, Catholicism quickly took root in the culture and politics. As Catholicism and Chicago grew synonymously, the classic Catholic political machines were famous in Chicago. As Daley carried the machine into the Cold War, Catholic presence in politics proved unique to other major cities. Boston had the “long-standing social dominance of the so-called Boston Brahmins;” New York is “often considered a ‘Jewish City’” (Skerrett, xxi). For other cities, the Catholic dominance already fell or fell during the Cold War.


Referenced Work:

Buenker, John D. “Dynamics of Chicago Ethnic Politics 1900-1930.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984)67, no. 2 (1974): 175-99.

Skerrett, Ellen, Edward R. Kantowicz and Steven M. Avella. “What Has Made Chicago Catholocism Distinctive?” Catholocism, Chicago Style (1993): xvii-xxii.

All photos by me.

Catholics and Civil Rights

 “This is important, because the Catholic Church has basically lost its moral authority, really. But he has been able to take St. Sabina and bring credibility back to that church.” -Haki Madhubuti 

 

This past summer, thousands of protesters marched on the Dan Ryan Expressway against gun violence. Many of the protestors were from Chicago’s South Side communities and felt action as large as shutting down an expressway is the only way marginalized communities can be heard. At the head of the protest was Reverand Micheal Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church—the largest African American Catholic church in Chicago. A religious community in the like minds of Father Groppi, a notable civil rights activist in the 1960s: “Marching… is not only a protest, it is a prayer” (McGreevy, 241). Marches continued to be a long-lasting favorite for Catholic activists. According to scholar John McGreevy, “Catholic participation in the southern civil rights movement culminated at Selma in March 1965” (McGreevy, 221). However, there is a difference between fighting for a movement which directly affects you and fighting for a movement you have the privilege to avoid. A complicated barrier to overcome, the predominately white Catholic communities in the mid-twentieth century did not always impact civil rights movements to the best of their ability. African Americans were distrustful to the Church’s declining moral authority as traditional, white Catholics saw Church involvement in the Civil Rights Movements as “destruction of their communities—once fostered by the church and now seemingly threatened by the church’s own representatives” (McGreevy, 243).

This week, the class visited mass at Pfleger’s St. Sabina Church. One of the most notable aspects of mass was the combination of a traditional Catholic mass and influences of other African American Christian churches. However, this adaption was necessary to attract a congregation when Reverand Pfleger started his service in Auburn Gresham. Especially since Pfleger is white, his childhood in a nearby neighborhood would not be enough to attract a large congregation in a black community. A 1960 conference in Chicago concluded “if the priest is not present [at protests], no amount of preaching will ever convince the Negro that the Catholic Church is his church” (McGreevy, 226). In San Francisco during the 1950s and 1960s, only 1.4% of the Catholic population were African American, leading to the tendency among white Catholics “to minimize the seriousness of racism in their midst” (Issel and Wold, 42). Without direct involvement in racism and civil rights, the Catholic Church would lose their authority over communities and would not be able to grow and expand as a religion. The Catholic Church needed to show that they always care for their members—although whether that is genuine or not is a separate discussion. Saint Sabina’s success is evident as Jerimiah White described in the New Yorker, “I accept him so much that you forget, oh, yeah, he really is a white guy.”

In a 1964 meeting with Chicago inner-city pastors, there was surprise to the consideration of “direct action protests on the civil rights question… since the pastors by and large in the Negro areas have been completely quiet on the race questions” (McGreevy, 225). Reverend Pfleger’s popularity in his church and the South Side combined with his own direct involvement in civil rights and other issues dominating African American communities showed the importance of a pastor’s response to “race questions.” A pastor has to be rooted in his community beyond his comfort zone for a church to survive and thrive with genuine trust from its congregants. As McGreevy discussed how by the 1950s, “young African Americans often ignored the priests and nuns that their parents treated so respectfully” (McGreevy, 225). As younger generations tend to be the generation who radically participate in activist movements, the younger African Americans may have noticed the disconnect between the church officials and the congregants.

Throughout the twentieth century, the Catholic Church continuously faced criticism that they were not doing enough, even when they were more involved than before. In San Francisco, “entire neighborhoods were still off limits to all but white residents; access to jobs, health care, education, and cultural opportunities continued to be difficult and sometimes impossible unless one qualified as white,” beyond the end of World War II (Issel and Wold, 23). The Archdiocese released comments in support of fair housing movements, but many “faulted the Archdiocese for failing to take a more active stand in the community at large and called for an all-out campaign to defend fair housing” (Issel and Wold, 40). Pfleger has also faced criticism for his activism and whether he has genuine intentions; according to the New Yorker, “some people in Chicago dismiss Pfleger as a huckster who is more interested in getting attention than in working to find solutions… [or] a moderate posing as a radical.” Even if Saint Sabina looked like a perfect example of a successful relationship between Catholicism and African Americans, any movement is subject to criticism.

Beyond the criticism and messy history of Catholics involved in civil rights movements, many Catholics still see social justice as part of their duty. Sister Mary Peters was interviewed by Studs Terkel in 1965 to discuss her involvement in Selma. She stressed that active involvement in the movement was her duty as a Catholic nun and fulfilled her vows. Bishops in San Francisco also stressed that the “duty of a citizen [was] to try to relieve racial tension” (Issel and Wold, 25). To many others, Pfleger has been genuinely involved in fighting for civil rights in his neighborhood and beyond Chicago—“This is important, because the Catholic Church has basically lost its moral authority, really. But he has been able to take St. Sabina and bring credibility back to that church” (Haki Madhubuti). There may always be questions of words versus actions, but there continues to be a more efficient involvement of the Catholic Church in civil rights politics. Hopefully, the involvement of the institution of the Catholic Church is beyond the desire to only regain their role as a moral authority and, in fact, coincides with motivations of Catholic figures to find solutions and be morally good.


 

Referenced Work:

Issel, William and Wold, Mary Anne. “Catholics and the Campaign for Racial Justice in San Francisco From Pearl Harbor to Proposition 14.” American Catholic Studies 119, no. 3 (2008): 21-43.

McGreevy, John T. “Racial Justice and the People of God: The Second Vatican Council, the Civil Rights Movement, and American Catholics.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 4, no. 2 (1994): 221-54.

Catholic Resistance

This week’s Berrigan Week events and readings tackled the complicated relationship between American Catholics and war. As Berrigan Week covered questions of American involvement in Vietnam, I will compare and contrast Catholic response to Vietnam and other wars which were discussed in our readings. In my previous blog post, I discussed the Catholic immigrant’s longing to be respected as full Americans. One of the many ways Catholics tried to achieve this goal was through intense patriotic support for the American side in a conflict. However, as I will discuss in this blog post, a Catholic’s response to war also relies heavily on their own morals—creating a complicated relationship between patriotism and morality.


Before this week, I have never heard of Daniel Berrigan, his brothers, or William Stringfellow. Berrigan Week events began on Tuesday with Bill Wylie-Kellerman’s discussion titled: Berrigan and Stringfellow: The Politics of Friendship. The event was a helpful introduction into who Berrigan and his peers were and what they believed in. Also, the event raised awareness that war was not the only issue contested by Catholics in the mid-1900s. Stringfellow was controversial to the public because of his proclamations that racism is a demon, and his warnings not to read the Bible too “americanly.” Also, Berrigan and Stringfellow disagreed with female Catholic peers on matters of abortion when they aligned with pro-life movements. The question of war in the mid-1900s intertwined with questions of civil rights and abortion—political questions which involved direct moral influences. It is with no surprise that war found a place in the moral debates of the mid-twentieth century.

Before the Vietnam War, many Catholics used wartime as an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to the American cause. With the exception of the Civil War—which will be further discussed later—Vietnam was rare in the outright Catholic resistance formed in response to the war. As described by historian, William Au, “Catholic bishops, who had previously been viewed as a monolithic, nationalistic body, were numbered among the most prominent advocates of the anti-nuclear and disarmament movements” (Au, 50). Before Vietnam, Catholics used fighting and participating in the war effort to reach the level of respectability they so yearned for. For example, in the Spanish-American War, Cardinal Gibbons “threw his entire weight behind the effort, admonishing Catholics that pacifism was tantamount to treason and cowardice” (Rowland). The enthusiastic support from Catholics was a relatively constant during wartime. As such, it is important to take note of the continued support of Catholics during wartime even when the Catholic Resistance took a stand against wartime atrocities. There are two sides to every movement.

In the film screening for Berrigan Week, Seeking Shelter: A story of Place, Faith, and Resistance, one of the people interviewed discussed his decision to become more involved in Catholic Resistance. When he ultimately decided he was against the war in Vietnam, he never knew of any other anti-war Christians. Although the community the film focused on, Block Island, was isolated and famous for their involvement with Berrigan and Stringfellow, the public still disagreed on anti-war opinions. When Berrigan sought refuge on the island, a neighbor was one of the biggest informants to his whereabouts and activity to the FBI. It is important to acknowledge the exceptions to a movement as complicated as war resistance—mostly when we routinely establish the complexity and difficulty in generalizing Catholics throughout the Ramonat Seminar.

Discussions at the Berrigan Week Symposium successfully tied the week together. Continuing on divides within Catholicism regarding war, there were differences among popular Catholic leaders on whether pacifism makes a true Catholic. To the Berrigans, you could not be a true Catholic if you were not a pacifist. Dorothy Day never explicitly stated that you had to be a pacifist to be a true Catholic—although she did preach “love and respect even to the enemy” during the worker movement (Au, 54). To Cardinal Gibbons during the Spanish-American War, pacifism was against Catholicism. Also, when Fred Marchant was discussing his journey to be honorably discharged from combat, he brought up other religious soldiers who did not find that the war conflicted with their beliefs. Although religion helps foster morals and beliefs, the question of wartime resistance weighs more on personal opinions than the opinions of a religious body as a whole—mostly when the leaders of the religious body have differing personal opinions.

As seen prominently in the Catholic Resistance movement during Vietnam, a big contention with the war was the idea of being made to fight for something you do not morally support through a draft. However, this was also seen by Catholics in the Civil War. Explored in his book, John McGreevy stated, “the most violent disputes came in response to the draft” (McGreevy, 73). The resistance to the draft during the Civil War corresponds with the draft raids of the Catholic Resistance. As Kathleen “Cookie” Ridolfi explained her own experience participating in a draft raid during the Berrigan Week Symposium, the ideas of moral justification to the fight come to mind like in the Civil War. The Civil War physically and mentally divided the country and families in half. The Vietnam War involved horrific civilian killings and a distrust in America from the Pentagon Papers. As Au describes, when Catholics “condemned the war, they did so in the name of the values that they saw America representing in the world… The war was destroying America as a moral symbol of the world” (Au, 64). When faced with war, the Just War Theory is subjective to an individual Catholics experiences and morals. The question of war is complicated and reliant on personal belief.


Referenced Work:

Au, William A. “American Catholics and the Dilemma of War 1960-1980.” U.S. Catholic Historian 4, no. 1 (1984): 49-79.

McGreevy, John T. “Catholic Freedom and Civil War.” in Catholicism and American Freedom, 68-90. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003.

Rowland, Thomas J. 1996. “Irish-American Catholics and the Quest for Respectability in the Coming of the Great War, 1900-1917.” Journal of American Ethnic History 15 (2): 3.

The Dynamic Catholic Other

The question posed to the Seminar this week is: to what extent do you think Catholics have been treated as full citizens, and if the treatment has changed throughout the history of America. Through our readings this week and the scavenger hunt activity we had to complete, I will argue that Catholics have, and continue to, not be treated as full citizens—predominately, the Catholic immigrant population and the Catholic union worker population. The first half of my post will explore the treatment of Catholic immigrants, followed by an exploration of Catholic union workers which stems from last week’s work on Catholics in unions.


During the American Founding, Catholics were viewed under a distrustful eye because of their connection to the Papacy. As Papal authority extended above civil law, the Protestant America foresaw Catholics going against the American government at the word of the Pope (Breidenbach, 468). Although there was a division in Catholicism regarding the Pope’s authority, many still viewed all Catholics supportive of temporal power. The side of Catholicism which advocated for a lesser authority of the Pope—conciliarism—has also been ignored in many histories of the American Founding (Breidenbach, 473). However, as scholars have made clear, the only way Catholics could effectively participate in politics and society was under a conciliarist view. Given this distrust in Catholics, there was a limited scope of their ability to participate as full citizens. The distrust of Catholics alluded to their ultimate status as an “other” in American society during the Founding.

The question of where a Catholic’s alliances stand still exists today—although in different regards. Considering Catholics are more likely to be immigrants or children of immigrants than other Americans, Catholics are still seen as an “other” in society. Also, the percentage of the American Catholics population who are Hispanic increased by 5% from 2007-2015 and continues to grow. The political relevance of immigration, especially from Mexico, puts a majority of US Catholics on a pedestal. Although scholars today claim the Catholics who received the brunt of the discrimination during the Founding to the early twentieth century lost their label of “other” after the 1960s (McCartin, 9), a new generation of Catholics is fighting for full citizenship in the eyes of America. Although other Catholic nationalities assimilated, Hispanic immigrant Catholics have become the new target for American discrimination. As we discussed in class, the discrimination against earlier Catholics dripped down onto the new group of Catholic immigrants today.

Regardless of the intersectional traits of American Catholics today, the American Catholics during the Founding to the early 1900s (i.e. Irish) still showed “racist, anti-Semitic, and other intolerant attitudes” (Barrett, 10). Although Catholic parties in American history has received countless amounts of discrimination, they were still able to be intolerant toward other minority groups. One could argue that Catholics in America today are receiving more discrimination than their ancestors because of a Hispanic Immigrant’s low power position in America. However, I also think earlier Catholic Americans were quick to ridicule others in support of their persistent effort to receive respectability and acceptance from the rest of America. As explored throughout Barrett’s The Irish Way, Irish Catholics “often embraced a hyperbolic brand of American patriotism, as if wrapping themselves in the flag might finally bring them acceptance” (Barrett, 7). The hyperbolic patriotism could have become a brand of hostile nationalism which infringed upon newer immigrants and “others.”

The “lace curtain class” of Irish Catholics in America also searched for the respectability from the rest of America. The intense need of Americans to feel accepted and respected within their community is also broadly seen in the Chicago Cultural Center. The Cultural Center was one of the options to visit during our class’s scavenger hunt assignment. I always thought the Cultural Center was beautiful, but I never paid attention to the history of the building. For years, the Chicago Cultural Center was a delivery space for the Chicago Public Libraries. As one of the greeting plaques advertise, the library “has served visitors in pursuit of inspiration, information, and enlightenment.” In many ways, this description is still relevant today—the building now holds many community offices, art exhibits, and information areas for pamphlets and information of what is happening in the city. The Cultural Center is a tourist attraction and meet-up point, but that was always the intent. The Cultural Center website even explains the splendor of the architecture was meant to show off to visitors that Chicago was a sophisticated American staple—“Come for the beauty, stay for the events.” The emphasis on appearances parallels the Irish Catholic’s “lace curtain” and the general desire of acceptance by the rest of America.

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Although immigration status is one of the big roadblocks in a Catholic’s road to full citizen participation, Catholics in unions also face restrictions on their political participation. Three out of the four scavenger hunt sites revolved around the discussion of labor unions last week. Union membership is another aspect to consider when discussing a Catholic’s societal citizenship in America given the restrictions and overall bad reputation put on unions.

Exploring Union Park, I could not help but enjoy the ample space and the fieldhouse to encourage communal activities. However, the neighborhood was eerily quiet and the only other people in the area were playing frisbee in the park. Perhaps this was because I visited on a Tuesday afternoon, but the emptiness of the park was still suspicious on a beautiful day. Unions and parks encourage communal events and family outings—so you would suspect Union Park to double that emphasis. Considering the location far out of downtown, public access to the park was restricted.

Another union site with restricted public access was the Haymarket Memorial. Although it was awkwardly positioned right at the side of the road, it close to impossible for a tourist to wander onto the memorial or Union Park without prior knowledge of the location. Union Park and the Haymarket Memorial give recognition to the unions, but also resist further recognition or encouragement in the eyes of the public.

Given the events which occurred during the Haymarket Riots, the random position of the memorial was less surprising. When I was at the memorial, there was only a middle-aged couple visiting too. The woman brought up how the commemorative plaque on the memorial called the rally organizers anarchists. With further reading, the plaques description of events was a bit inconsistent. Although it called the organizers of the event “anarchist activists,” the plaque then explained how none of the organizers could be tied to the bombing itself and endured an unfair trial. The contested legacy the Haymarket Riot put on unions continues in its own memorial dedicated to workers all over the world.

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The commemorative plaque. Photo by me.

Perhaps with the Haymarket legacy in mind, the Plumbers Union Hall is right next door to the Fraternal Order of Police building. The police building provides a subconscious threat to the unions to thwart any other riots and strong activity. The ongoing “big brother is watching” mentality restricts the activity of the union members. The secluded locations and police presence at union sites take away the power from the unions. The limit of power on unions obstructs their ability to participate politically and socially in society as a full citizen. Therefore, considering the intersections of traits in Catholic Americans, the populations of Catholics in unions experience these restrictions.


Although not all Catholics experience the plights of a union member or an immigrant, a majority do. The discrimination and hardships in these groups restrict their ability to participate as a full citizen. Considering many Catholics congregate in unions and hold immigrant status, they feel these restrictions. Also, considering the historical distrust of Catholics in the American government, the precedent to limit a Catholic’s societal influence has existed since the Founding, regardless of the American Catholic’s persistent efforts to rid their status as an “other.”


 

Referenced Work:

Barrett, James R. “Introduction.” in The Irish Way, 1-12. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.

Breidenbach, Michael D. “Conciliarism and the American Founding.” The William and Mary Quarterly 73, no. 3 (2016): 467-500.

McCartin, James P. “The Waning of the “Catholic Other” and Catholicism in American Life after 1965.” Revue Française D’études Américaines, no. 95 (2003): 7-29.