Curran, “Papist Devils”

Interesting new work in the history of religion in America–Papist Devils: Papist Devils
Catholics in British America, 1574-1783
, by Robert Emmett Curran (Georgetown) forthcoming in June from Catholic University of America Press. The publisher’s description follows.

This is a brief highly readable history of the Catholic experience in British America, which shaped the development of the colonies and the nascent republic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Historian Robert Emmett Curran begins his account with the English reformation, which helps us to understand the Catholic exodus from England, Ireland, and Scotland that took place over the nearly two centuries that constitute the colonial period. The deeply rooted English understanding of Catholics as enemies of the political and religious values at the heart of British tradition, ironically acted as a catalyst for the emergence of a Catholic republican movement that was a critical factor in the decision of a strong majority of American Catholics in 1775 to support the cause for independence. Papist Devils utilizes archival material, newspapers, and other contemporary records in addition to a broad array of general histories, monographs, and dissertations dealing with the British Atlantic world. The unprecedentedly broad scope of this study, which encompasses not only the thirteen colonies that took up arms against Britain in 1775, but also those in the maritime provinces of Canada as well as the ones in the West Indies, constitutes a unique coverage of the British Catholic colonial experience, as does the extension of the colonial period through the American Revolution, which was its logical dénouement.

Banzhaf Complaint Against CUA Same-Sex Dorm Policy Dismissed

Here is the order of dismissal. The DCOHR did not reach CUA’s and President Garvey’s RFRA claims, relying instead on an interpretation of the DCHRA.  One important reason, in the DCOHR’s view, for dismissing the complaint was that to do otherwise would lead to absurd results, such as compulsory unisex bathrooms and compulsory unisex locker rooms.  Better to hold all of these practices outside the ken of the DCHRA.

I applaud the decision.  At the same time, I think it is extraordinary that in the current legal landscape, we are reduced to depending on the absurdity of forcing everyone, even if against their will, to accept unisex bathrooms, in order to conclude that a private religious institution like CUA can have men and women sleep in separate dorms.  The toilet: our safety-net of common sense. 

Onto the next Banzhaf complaint against CUA alleging discrimination against Muslims, to which not a single Muslim student has put his or her name.

Farrelly, “Papist Patriots”

A very interesting-looking work of colonial history by Maura Jane Farrelly (Brandeis), Papist Patriots: The Making of An American Catholic Identity, to be published next month by Oxford University Press.  The publisher’s description follows.

“The persons in America who were the most opposed to Great Britain had also, in general, distinguished themselves by being particularly hostile to Catholics.” So wrote the minister, teacher, and sometime-historian Jonathan Boucher from his home in Surrey, England, in 1797. He blamed “old prejudices against papists” for the Revolution’s popularity – especially in Maryland, where most of the non-Canadian Catholics in British North America lived.

Many historians since Boucher have noted the role that anti-Catholicism played in stirring up animosity against the king and Parliament. Yet, in spite of the rhetoric, Maryland’s Catholics supported the independence movement more enthusiastically than their Protestant neighbors. Not only did Maryland’s Catholics embrace the idea of independence, they also embraced the individualistic, rights-oriented ideology that defined the Revolution, even though theirs was a communally oriented denomination that stressed the importance of hierarchy, order, and obligation. Catholic leaders in Europe made it clear that the war was a “sedition” worthy of damnation, even as they acknowledged that England had been no friend to the Catholic Church. So why, then, did “papists” become “patriots?”

Maura Jane Farrelly finds that the answer has a long history, one that begins in England in the early seventeenth century and gains momentum during the nine decades preceding the American Revolution, when Maryland’s Catholics lost a religious toleration that had been uniquely theirs in the English-speaking world and were forced to maintain their faith in an environment that was legally hostile and clerically poor. This experience made Maryland’s Catholics the colonists who were most prepared in 1776 to accept the cultural, ideological, and psychological implications of a break from England.   

Catholic Bishops Focus on Religious Liberty

Here is a story that should be of some  interest to those who work on and think about religious liberty.  The story, notwithstanding various slanted statements in it (the bishops did not “reorder their priorities” between the 1980s and the 1990s, all of a sudden deciding that abortion was very important to them) as well as several rhetorical lowlights (using words like “ire” and so on to describe what are religious beliefs, suggesting that Catholic beliefs have been strategically “recast” in certain ways), seems at least accurately to report a new focus of the bishops on questions of religious liberty.

The piece is another indication that John Allen had it exactly right.


Readers are no doubt aware of the horrifying charges arising out of the Penn State University incident, in which it is alleged that an assistant coach of the football team molested several boys and that several members in the front office of the football organization did not report the crimes.  If the charges are true, they are loathsome indeed.

Loathsome in a different way is this line in today’s New York Times column by Maureen Dowd: “Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique.”  Whatever may be the viability of the charges against Penn State officials under Pennsylvania’s failure to report statute, or against specific clerics in the Roman Catholic Church in positions of power in entirely distinct cases (and they may well be legally viable), the blanket smear of this comment — its suggestion that all cases look alike, or that it is appropriate to indict an entire Church, whatever the facts may look like, for what Dowd perceives as “arrogan[ce]” — is, in my opinion, despicable. — MOD


This story asks whether the current political tradewinds exhibit an anti-Catholic “bias” and I think it circles around a fairly sensible answer.  The reflection is occasioned by some of the events that we have been discussing at CLR Forum. 

Usually when people use the term “bias,” they mean some sort of totally irrational judgment which is also unfair and perhaps even unintelligible.  But if this is the meaning of “bias,” it does not seem to me to apply in this context.  We are living in an age when (some of) the beliefs and moral views of the Catholic Church are being (or, perhaps better, have been) rejected, but the reasons for the rejection generally do not strike me as irrational or unfair, let alone unintelligible.  Just as the reasons adduced by Catholics for the positions that they hold are not irrational or unintelligible, so too are the opposed reasons not “biased” in this way.  In fact, it sometimes seems to me that the epithet “bias!” slips a little too easily from the mouths of the warring camps, as a rapidly economical way to delegitimize the much more difficult and entrenched problem of genuinely intractable disagreement.  — MOD

Legal Indictments and Indictments of Other Kinds

When someone is indicted in criminal law, the meaning of the indictment is that a grand jury has found that it is more probable than not that the accused has committed a specific criminal offense.  An indictment is an accusation by the government.  The accused cannot be brought to trial without it.  One ought to take note of an indictment, but one ought also to recognize that different standards of proof govern indictments than criminal trials and that little in the way of evidence is often needed to obtain an indictment.  Lastly, there is generally no opportunity to present exculpatory evidence or make any pre-trial motions in the indictment process.  The indictment is the prosecutor’s instrument alone.  I know that many readers will know this, but I thought it might be useful to clarify the specific and limited quality of a legal indictment since Bishop Finn was indicted under a Missouri statute.  I believe, but am not sure, that the statute is section 210.115.1 of the Missouri Code, which states:

When any . . .  minister . . . has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or may be subjected to abuse or neglect or observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect, that person shall immediately report or cause a report to be made to the division in accordance with the provisions of sections 210.109 to 210.183 . . . .

One of the reasons that I think it important to emphasize the particular and somewhat arcane legal meaning of an indictment is because of columns like this one by Anthea Butler, a professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, who titles her piece, “Bishop Finn-dicted For Protecting Pedophile Priest.”

Professor Butler properly notes the fact of Bishop Finn’s indictment, but then makes some statements which, at least from a legal perspective, are not sound.  She claims, for example, that “the indictment is another warning shot aimed at the enclave of the Vatican.”  The expression of symbolic minatory messages is not the purpose of a legal indictment.  She connects the indictment to “[c]hanges to the liturgy” which she believes “have many up in arms[.]”  Again, liturgical preferences have nothing at all to do with this indictment.  She claims that “Cardinals and Bishops like Philadelphia’s Bishop Chaput can only whine about how terrible the press is, without being accountable for the actions that have caused the press to scrutinize the church so intensely.”  If this is a reference to the indictment of Bishop Finn, I’m afraid it is misplaced.  “Cardinals and Bishops like Philadelphia’s Bishop Chaput” had no legal duty to report child abuse under the Missouri statute.

And Professor Butler concludes with this: “The church does not need another plan; what’s needed is action and more indictments to get the attention of an institution that has sacrificed children to protect its rotten hierarchy. I for one cannot wait for the real purge of tainted clerics to happen.”  Once again, Professor Butler’s excitement for the coming purge and the issuance of “more indictments” has nothing to do with the legal indictment of Bishop Finn.

Obviously Professor Butler is interested in indictments of other kinds — political, social, cultural, religious — but these are not legal indictments, and I think it important to keep the difference clearly in view.  — MOD

Lund on The New Victims of the Old Anti-Catholicism

Christopher C. Lund (Wayne State University Law School) has posted The New Victims of the Old Anti-Catholicism.  The abstract follows. – ARH

This short piece examines four modern church-state cases which span the First Amendment spectrum. The plaintiffs are religiously diverse — one is a Wiccan, one is a Muslim, one is an evangelical Protestant, and one is an atheist. Unsurprisingly, their claims find support in very different political communities. But the plaintiffs in these cases all have certain things in common. They are all, in their own ways, religious minorities. All of their legal cases were ultimately lost. And most importantly for our purposes, each of their cases connects deeply with the nineteenth century history of anti-Catholicism in this country.

In various ways, Catholics of that century were mistreated by the Protestant majority. The injustices they faced were sanctioned by courts as well as legislatures, and legal rules were created to render their injuries both judicially noncognizable and socially invisible. Our four modern plaintiffs are, in some ways, latter-day Catholics. They suffer some of the same injustices; indeed, they are often inhibited by the some of the very same legal doctrines created to repress the Catholic minority over a century ago. We can think of these four plaintiffs as the new Catholics — or, to put it more accurately, as the new victims of the old anti-Catholicism. As we struggle with our twenty-first century challenges of religious pluralism, it helps to realize how much our struggles have in common with earlier ones. Perhaps, armed with this knowledge, we can do a bit better now than our forefathers did then.