Park51 Controversy Echoes Anti-Catholicism of Another Era

An interesting article from CNS highlights the similarities between the backlash against the building of Park 51 and the prejudice of 19th-century Nativists:

The controversy over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque a couple of blocks away from ground zero in New York is but the latest manifestation of a historic cycle of distrust of immigrants -- and their faith....


At its core, the mosque furor is not unlike what Catholics experienced in the United States for more than 100 years, according to Georgetown University theology professor Chester Gillis. He also is dean of Georgetown College and the founding director of the program on the Church and Interreligious Dialogue within the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. While there are a wide range of political, philosophical and even zoning arguments about the Islamic center plans, Gillis sees anti-Muslim sentiment—based in misconceptions and xenophobia—at the core of the debate.

"The neophytes in society are always on the outside," Gillis said. "With Catholics, people feared they would have loyalty to a foreign power, the Holy See." With Muslims, he added, people fear a possible connection to an Islamic government or to a terrorist organization.

At an impromptu news conference Aug. 18, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan noted that "as Catholics, we ourselves are somewhat touchy about this issue because in the past we have been discriminated against." He said he would be happy to participate in efforts to negotiate a compromise over the Manhattan mosque as part of "a very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion."...

Gillis noted that the "No Irish Need Apply" signs common in Massachusetts early in the 19th century were rooted in fears over how American society might be changed by immigrants, but particularly by their Catholic faith and culture.

The fear of Catholics extended beyond the refusal to hire Irish immigrants.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes mobs descending upon a cathedral in Cincinnati in 1853, on churches in New Jersey, New York, Maine and New Hampshire the following year. It tells of a Maine priest who was dragged from his church, robbed, tarred and feathered; of Ohio churches being blown up and convents burned in Massachusetts and Texas.

The development of Catholic schools, hospitals and organizations for writers, physicians, teachers and so on all happened because Catholics were not allowed in counterpart entities, Gillis explained. "CYO, for example, was intended as a counter-organization to the YMCA, where Catholics were not allowed."

It took more than 100 years after the large waves of Irish and Italian immigrants from Europe arrived for Catholics in the United States to become enough of a mainstream part of society that the prejudices and hurdles they experienced began to fade, said Gillis.

"The tipping point for Catholics was post-World War II, with the GI Bill," he said. "Catholics signed up in large numbers for the war and when they came back they went to college in larger numbers than ever in the past, because of the GI Bill."

From that point on, Catholics were a more dominant part of business, politics and fields such as law and higher education.

It may not take 100 years for Muslims to be similarly accepted in the United States, Gillis said, but it will take time.

Until then, he suggests, "it may sound simplistic, but you really need to know Muslims as people."

Just something to keep in mind as the dialogue about this topic continues.

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8 years 7 months ago

I resent this post extremely.  It implies that disapproval with the location of the mosque at its current proposed position is due to hate.  I am sure that for a few this is true.  But I bet for the majority it is not.  There are mosques all over Manhattan and I have not seen any rallies about that.

So to suggest that the objections to the mosque is due to some form of bigotry is very distasteful and CNS had some soul searching to do.
Peter Lakeonovich
8 years 7 months ago
So, let's get this straight. 

Mr. Gillis believes that, at its "core," the only reason there is opposition to the Mosque near Ground Zero is that people are either stupid or filled with hate or both ("Gillis sees anti-Muslim sentiment—based in misconceptions and xenophobia—at the core of the debateGillis sees anti-Muslim sentiment—based in misconceptions and xenophobia—at the core of the debate.")  Well, I reject that out of hand and why shouldn't I?  The reasons Mr. Gillis gives are just as speculative and unsupported by the facts.  It is just more of the typical liberal attack of calling anyone who does not accept everything as stupid and intolerant.

More importantly, Mr. Gillis remarks: "From that point on, Catholics were a more dominant part of business, politics and fields such as law and higher education.  It may not take 100 years for Muslims to be similarly accepted in the United States, Gillis said, but it will take time."

Not that we can expect the building of schools, and hospitals, and charities, but i?s this really what we want???
Thomas Farrelly
8 years 7 months ago
Isn't it time we admitted that anti-Catholic feeling in the US were fueled in part by unacceptable claims of authority in all matters by despotic Popes?

And isn't it time we faced the fact that the history of Islam has been one of aggression against Christian countries and Christians, and that it is perfectly reasonable to fear it?
8 years 7 months ago
I think the analogy to the nuns who wanted their convent at the Auschwitz death camp but came to a compromise pushed by JPII is more appropriate than this hateful analogy.  They moved the convent out of respect for the emotions of the Jewish people.  If only the people in the current controversy could be as humble as the nuns and Pope JPII.
Thomas Farrelly
8 years 7 months ago
Tim Reidy, I suggest that you and others supplement your reading of Donner's book
with additional reading of the history of Muslim conquests of Christian lands and subjugation  of Christian peoples.  Centuries of aggression and conquest ended only in the 19th century, when a partial rollback occurred, in the Balkans. 
And then acquaint yourself with the current murder and persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Pakistan, which has been covered in the mainstream American press, and in magazines like America and National Geographic, to name a couple.
David Nickol
8 years 7 months ago
JR Cosgrove says: ''It implies that disapproval with the location of the mosque at its current proposed position is due to hate.''

No, I would say it's due to prejudice. There seem to be two justifications for demanding that the Islamic center be built somewhere else.

The first is that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center, and therefore Muslims should not be allowed to build and Islamic Center nearby. This is holding all Muslims responsible for the terrorist attacks, and it is a classic example of prejudice.

The second is that although the Muslims who want to build the Islamic center are in no way responsible for the terrorist attacks, nevertheless so many people are reacting as if they did, out of sensitivity for all of the irrational feelings, the Muslims should relocate just to keep the peace.  

But both reasons have at their core the fact that prejudiced people do not want an Islamic center near ground zero. 
David Nickol
8 years 7 months ago
Joe Kash,

Before offering the controversy over the Auschwitz convent as an analogy and perhaps a model of the type of compromise that might be reached, people ought to take a look at accounts of the controversy and see how ugly and protracted it really was.
Here's an account from a Jewish viewpoint and another from a Polish-Catholic viewpoint

One of the major differences was that the Jews (rightly or wrongly) were concerned about keeping the focus at Auschwitz and the Holocaust. They were not accusing Catholics of being the perpetrators of the Holocaust and saying Catholics were desecrating a sacred spot by being there. 

It took eight years for the situation involving the Auschwitz convent to be settled. I think we need to look elsewhere for a situation to follow as a model.

8 years 7 months ago
Mr. Nickol,

I find your comments as equally distasteful as Kerry Weber's post.
ed gleason
8 years 7 months ago
If any of the Park 51 anti-mosque posters would condemn any of the many anti-mosque actions  popping up 1000 2000 3000 miles away from lower Manhatten maybe they could relieve themselves of bigorty charges. Silence on that  issue is a sign of approval. and the anti-mosque posters are anything but silent.  
Christian Rideout
8 years 7 months ago
The Catholic Church prospered and flourished in the 19th century because of the rights of religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution.  Islam, Moonism, Hare Krishas, and countless others prosper now, due to the same constitutional protections.  We may not like the outcome of freedom of religion or freedom of speech, but would any of us want to live without it?

Stephen O'Brien
8 years 7 months ago
It is disturbing that so many Catholics and other Christians are allowing themselves to be manipulated by jumping onto the bandwagon of interfering with the religious liberty of Muslims wishing to locate a mosque in lower Manhattan.  It is wrong to take a position, which, in effect, unjustly links all Muslims and their religion to terrorism, just as Pope John Paul II’s mistaken directive to move the Auschwitz convent unjustly linked all Catholics and Catholicism itself to crimes against Jews, even though such an outcome was not the Pope’s intention.

Catholic opponents of the mosque’s placement are disregarding the Church’s official teaching that “[r]eligious bodies also have the right not to be hindered, either by legal measures or by administrative action on the part of government, [. . .] in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of suitable funds or properties” (Vatican II, *Declaration on Religious Freedom*, section 4).

By the way, should we hand verbal bullets to people who might wish to object to the location of a Catholic church?  If the logic of those protesting the Manhattan mosque were sound, then that reasoning could pave the way for opposing the hypothetical construction of a church two blocks or so from a “gay” community center.  Please consider the following reaction from the center’s members and supporters: “How can Catholics, who cause us anguish by reproving our life decisions and personal relationships, be so insensitive as to locate one of their churches in such proximity to our center?”

I do not understand why some Catholics refuse to acknowledge that we cannot spread the Gospel to our Muslim brothers and sisters if we take stances that risk leaving them with the impression that we hate them.
8 years 7 months ago
''Silence on that issue is a sign of approval. and the anti-mosque posters are anything but silent.''

I haven't seen widespread objections to mosques in general only some occasional ones so this comment is not relevant.  I personally have no objections to people building mosques in most locales nor have I seen a lot of anti mosque activity in the country supported by large numbers of people.  It has been going on for years and no one cared much.  I would be interested in the funding for some of the mosques though.   

What I find interesting is the emotional divide on this.  What drives people to line up in lock step on certain sides of an issue. 
8 years 7 months ago
''I do not understand why some Catholics refuse to acknowledge that we cannot spread the Gospel to our Muslim brothers and sisters if we take stances that risk leaving them with the impression that we hate them.''

This is again a framing of a non existent objection and implying some people are deficient morally and that the commenter is some how better than others.  Which makes it also an extremely objectionable comment.  

Nearly all of those who are objecting to the mosque are objecting to three things, the closeness to Ground Zero, the name and the type of building.  If the facility was moved a few blocks away and the name changed then all the protests would go away.  How is that treating our Muslim brothers unfairly.  So to imply that there is prejudice or hate as this post and other comments do is a non sequitur.  You could argue that the prejudice and hate are on the other side by the constant inflaming of emotions that these posts are producing.
David Nickol
8 years 7 months ago
JR Cosgrove says: 'Nearly all of those who are objecting to the mosque are objecting to three things, the closeness to Ground Zero, the name and the type of building.'

People are offended by the name Park51??? And by a building modeled after the 92nd Street Y???

John Stewart
is right on target about this issue.
Stephen O'Brien
8 years 7 months ago
In addition to Jon Stewart’s hilarious (but incisive) clip mentioned in David Nickol’s comment above, please see Congressman Ron Paul’s essay entitled “Mosque Demagoguery Is Bipartisan”:

Please ponder especially the following paragraph in Congressman Paul’s essay:
“It is repeatedly said that 64 percent of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built.  What would we do if 75 percent of the people insisted that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City?  The point being that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as much as individual dictators.  Statistics of support are irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society - protecting liberty.”
James Lindsay
8 years 7 months ago
OF course, the sad and tragic thing is that many Catholics are now opposing not only the rights of Muslim Americans, but also of their co-religionists from south of the border.
David Pasinski
8 years 7 months ago
Would those who defend the idea that this should not be built there point out any other contemporary religious structure that has been so characterized as offensive that should not be built near some other revered site? (I think the Auschwitz argument is likewise irrelevant for reasons David Nickol cited.) I think that the uniqueness of this argument against a mosque/cultural center is ironic given the interfaith chapel at the Pentagon which is feet away from where the plane hit. I f those who daily walk through the Pentagon or even pray in that shared chapel on the site where friends and colleagues died, I do not understand how one can defend not building a structure 2 1/2 blocks away. What distance would be appropriate?
Maxim Faust
8 years 7 months ago
We must now begin a public discussion of the objectives of Islam. Scholars already provide the details, and so now, with the scholar's coorective eye standing by, the question must be moved up to common understanding.

Islam's ideal objective is a Theocracy. The executive power of it's Law is exercised  autocratically. Any degree of a democcracy is considered heretical. The 20th century has know this type of goverment, but under different names.

Basicall, my point is that we now must enrich discussion in the public square. I want to be sure that Islam knows that we know about their objective and that we reject any action on their part that would weaken what achievements of the Western Nations that we can legitimatle claim, poor imperfect lot that we are.

David Nickol
8 years 7 months ago
Maxim Faust:

Thanks for the warning about Islam. Now here's one for you about Catholicism. 
8 years 7 months ago
Mr. Reid has suggested a book by Fred Donner.  I have not read the book but only the reviews.  This book does not make Islam look like a friendly religion.  It has nothing to do with Islam today but says that it origins were more friendly than portrayed in most accounts.  It however morphed very quickly into something completely different according to Mr. Donner's reviewers and is what we see today and has been that way for a long while.  So this book has nothing to do with whatever our images are of Islam and Muslims.  Unless I am missing something.  So I am not sure what point Mr. Reidy was trying to make.  

This book does not dispel any of our perceptions about Islam unless he is referring to those who have studied its origins.  For such a massive movement relatively little remains that can explain its early days.  It quickly swept a lot of the known world and from what I understand not too gently.  It will be interesting to see how others react to this book as to Islam's friendly origins.  

It has been long known that Christians in the East helped the Arabs because they wanted to be free of the Roman Empire in Constantinople.  There was a major fight within the Church over the Credo that lasted centuries and Constantinople and Rome both adopted the Nicene Credo but this was fought by Monophysites and Nestorians who helped the Arabs but were eventually swallowed up by them and they became dhimmi.
Tom Maher
8 years 7 months ago
The church is playing a very distructive role in ignoring two-third majorities concerns and feelings about immigration.  Dismissing majority opinion is very reckless and presumptuous behavior on the part of the chucrh.  America;s strenght is derived from the rule of its people.   There is a wisdom to people's concerns and opinions.

 Please note that the concerns express against the mosque location are nationwide and bi-partisan.  Key politcal leaders of both parties have urged the the mosque developers to re-locate away from the nearby destryed World Trade Center site. 

People are expressing appropriate and normal disapproval over the location of the mosque.  Free speech expression should be expected in America. iNo violence or threats have been directed or implied.    Free-speech expressions of disapproval including rallys are inherently wholesome and constructive and the reason are political system works so well.  People get to tell their government what they think and why.   It is very backward to presume that free speech expression of disapproval is somehow harmful or threatening.   Free speech is normal behavior in America.

It is appalling thet Cathoic elites hold such cackward and aleintated views of Americans and their insitutions and clultures.   When will the church ruling elites stop being so insular and alienated from America?   The church's alienation to American culture and institutions is a great disservice to the church and to America.
Thomas Farrelly
8 years 7 months ago
Michael Lind, going off topic, says "OF course, the sad and tragic thing is that many Catholics are now opposing not only the rights of Muslim Americans, but also of their co-religionists from south of the border."

Michael, are you referring to the 262,000 illegal immigrants WHO HAVE COMMITTED CRIMES IN THE US, who have been deported by the Obama administration since it began? 

And if you think that illegals have mysteriously acquired "rights" to remain here,
you will have a difficult time convincing most Americans of this.

8 years 7 months ago
Mr. Reidy, you said

''JR, I was pointing to the work of a well respected scholar of Islam whose works cuts against the grain of traditional Islamic history. I do no dispute that the history of Muslim expansion has been violent at times, but Donner's account raises the possibility that the standard histories of Islam-some of which hail from the West-have not been fully accurate.''

Maybe I am missing something.  But something that happened almost 1400 years ago and which you and apparently the author has said has nothing to do with Islam's history since, is now brought forward to change our attitudes toward Islam as it exists today.  Whatever, happened in the first 30 years apparently led to Islam as a religion of conquest, warfare, submission and deception.  I do not think that is under dispute.   So how that has anything to do with the Mosque at Ground Zero is beyond me.
Tom Maher
8 years 7 months ago
The June 25, 2010 New York Time book review by Max Rodenbeck, author and scholar Fred Donner new book titleof " of Fred Donner's new book titled "Muhammad and the Believers" greatly overstates the validity and impact of the books on interpresting 1,500 yers of Moslem hisory.

 Mr. Rodenbeck who is very knowledgable contemporary Midlle East journalist is nevertheless not a journalist not a historian ar all.  He is a classic opinionated journalist gone far beyond reviewing Fred Donner's book and conclusion and is interjecting his own historic interpretation.

The review specifically say Donners book only cover no more than the first 100 years of Islam.   Given that limited scope of the book it is impossible to reinterpret the 1,500 years of Moslem history. 

But even Donner portrayal if the first hunderd years as a kinder, gentiler and more tolerant Islam fails to account for the fact moslem invaded, continuously attacked and and finally conquered all of Northern Africa beginning immeadiately after Mohammeds death and lasting through most of the 600s.

Outside the scope of this book of course - the other 1,400 years of noslem history  - there was  continuous invaions and attempted conquest century after century by Moslems armies in all of southern Asia,Europe and sub Sahara Africa.  This non-stop military invasions do not lend themselves overall to the limited conclusions of Donner's book   Donners book even with all of Max Rodenbeck help come close to revising the Moslem thirst for conquest to bring all the earth under God rule as intrepreted by Islam.   That desire for the dominacne of Islam over all human instituitons  is very much alive in 21 st centruy belief and practice of many Moslems.   

The Donner book does just not expalin adequately the immeadiate existance at the founding of Islam of the existance and constant use of large Moslem armies and th ehistoric fact that these army did indeed conquer voer extensive over three continents.   Islam has spread so widely due to military conquest and coercion. Area that beat back Moslem invasions are not moslem, area that wer conquered are exclusively Moslem.   We need to be objective in what the historic record clearly shows.   Massive worldwide invasions can not be rationalize and ,must be properly accounted for and explained. 
8 years 7 months ago
Mr. Reidy,

I do not use my words carelessly.  I am often wrong and appreciate when corrected but no one has ever shown me that the words used in that comment are not appropriate.  Maybe you should read more about Islam.  I do not believe that even Fred Donner doubts what I said.   Islam does have a lot to admire but is so completely different from Christianity that it cannot be looked at from a perspective of one brought up in Western civilization.

From what I have read and it is more than a few authors, Islam is a religion that is held firmly by its adherents and that is certainly something to admire given the failure of the Catholic Church and its teaching arms to inculcate belief in its members in the last 40 years.  That is essentially a modern phenomenon as it was not long ago when that was not an issue for Catholics.


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