Catholic Racism Again

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


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10 years 4 months ago
What a repugnant thing for someone to have said, and more importantly, believed. Yes, someone clearly needs pastoral intervention, and perhaps they could start by quoting the homily given by a former bishop of Scranton, the late Cardinal O'Connor, at a Mass to encourage the canonization efforts for the holy Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian slave: "There is no room in any Christian heart for one shred of racism, for one shred of hatred based on color or ethnic background," "There cannot conceivably be even the slightest scintilla...of Christianity that calls itself racist." But at the same time let us not let the politicians off the hook either. This story recalled to me Sen. Clinton's remarks back in May about her electability, which was barely disguised code for invoking race. More gross to me were Gov. Ed Rendell's comments about his state: “You’ve got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate". Perhaps the Governor was merely echoing reality but the bully pulpit of his office should have compelled him to add : "...and I think this is wrong."
10 years 4 months ago
Many people are inexperienced at articulating their convictions well, and I think it's a mistake to reduce all of their various motives down to the single issue of race. It's just as insidious to suggest you are a racist if you don't support Obama as it is to say you are a sexist if you don't support Palin. And I've got to say the ''Black House'' comment is not exactly the most outrageously racist thing one could say. Sounds more like some old coot who likes saying the ''controversial'' thing than a rallying cry for the Ku Klux Klan. This post would be a lot more relevant if Obama were thoroughly pro-life and was still rejected by Catholic voters. My guess is that all those poor benighted Catholics of the hinterland would enthusiastically support Obama if he were pro-life.
10 years 4 months ago
This is an offensive slur against pro-lifers. You have literally defamed the man quoted in the New York Times article by saying, without a scintilla of evidence, that he is a racist who uses the issue of abortion to mask his true motives. What probably is actually the case is that, unlike Barack Obama, he is horrified by abortion. In addition to facilitating over a million deaths a year in this country, legalized abortion makes us complicit in those deaths, corrupts our laws and our culture, and offends justice. As is well known, Barack Obama enjoys the support of NARAL, Planned Parenthood and virtually every other proponent of abortion in the nation; consistently receives a “perfect” NARAL rating on abortion issues; voted multiple times against legislation that would have prohibited the deliberate killing of babies who survive an abortion; supports public funding for abortion; supports a pro-Roe v. Wade litmus test for judicial nominees; supports a dramatic expansion of federally funded research involving the destruction of human embryos; and is for the elimination of legal protection for the conscience rights of health-care professionals and hospitals that object to participating in abortions. Someone who claims that a politician with this record is the better pro-life candidate has no credibility with me whatsoever. Go ahead and call me a racist – as a pro-lifer I am used to being called names – but because of his record on abortion I will NEVER vote for Barack Obama.
10 years 4 months ago
Obama practicing what he preaches:
10 years 4 months ago
Thank you for this. I hope you don't mind, but I've linked it in my own blog. This is an important message to hear.
10 years 4 months ago
I was born in Texas and grew up in Texas. In the 40's and 50's while I was growing up in Texas, Catholics and members of the Catholic hierarchy in Texas and in the South for the most part favored a racially segregated society. They didn't think it was wrong. I still remember separate water fountains, separate restrooms, separate schools, separate hotels, separate schools (Catholic schools), separate places in church or separate churches (Catholic churches) etc. etc. I did not go to school with African-Americans till I left Texas and went to the University of San Francisco in the early 60's. Legal segregation no longer exists anywhere in the United States. Nevertheless, many Americans, including many American Catholics, live in de facto segregated communities. Racism is still alive among Catholics.
10 years 4 months ago
This is a good commentary and gets to the root of why the Democrat is not running away in the polls after our 8-year GOP catastrophe. The parishioner's quip about "The Black House" was nauseating but, alas, unsurprising. I work about 90 minutes from Scranton in Allentown, Pa., where the racists generally target the Latino population, but I have found more overt racism in this area than anywhere else I have lived. As a journalist, what jumped off the page to me in the Times piece was the reporter's mischaracterization of the Pelosi flap. She did not "contradict" the church's stance on abortion, she misrepresented it entirely and the bishops rightly corrected her.


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