The Only Good Catholic is a Bad Catholic

An anti-Catholic cartoon shows Cardinal Francesco Satolli, who was appointed in 1893 as the first Papal Delegate to the United States, casting an evil shadow of Pope Leo XIII across America.

Let me tell you how it is really is in America. I converted to Catholicism in 2000 for very strong religious convictions, and those convictions cause me to believe what the Catholic Church teaches is true. That belief causes me to try my best to act in accordance with Church teaching, and that belief means that I don't try to change Church teaching to accommodate my own personal vices, or my own personal gain. This is what it means to be a "good Catholic." Notice I didn't say "perfect Catholic." I said "good Catholic," and that means one who sincerely tries to live by the faith, confesses when he fails, and never, EVER tries to change or twist the Church's teachings to accommodate his own personal vice or gain.

1875-Thomas Nast anti-Catholic cartoon
from Harper's Weekly magazine.
Early Colonial America was a rough place for Catholics in the 16th through 18th centuries. It wasn't nearly as bad as Britain of course, which is why so many English and Irish Catholics gave up everything to move to this continent. Still, it wasn't very hospitable for Catholics here either. In many of the English colonies, being Catholic was literally illegal, just like it was in Britain, and Catholic worship was absolutely forbidden. Eventually however, and gradually, religious tolerance prevailed in the colonies, until around the time of the American Revolution, when Catholics were free to exist (not flourish but exist) in the emerging United States of America. Catholics were by no means considered equal, of course, but they were tolerated - barely - even though King George III's toleration of Catholicism in Quebec was part of the reason why the colonies chose to rebel from the empire in the first place (read more on that here). Yes, English colonists (early Americans) tolerated Catholics -- barely. Which means they didn't try to kill us -- usually. They didn't burn down our churches -- most of the time. Nor did they bring harm to our families -- on an average day. However, it was permissible to deny Catholic men a good job, and you could legally keep Catholics out of your neighbourhood. Hate speech against Catholics was common, typical and expected in 19th century America, especially from behind the pulpit in many Protestant churches. In fact, there was even a political party in early 19th century America, called the "American Party" which was staunchly dedicated to anti-Catholic prejudice. This party was unofficially called the "Know-Nothing Party" because members were instructed to say "I know nothing" when asked about its inner workings. By the late 19th century, anti-Catholicism was enshrined into most state constitutions, in what are called Blaine Amendments, still a part of forty out of fifty state constitutions to this very day.

Conditions for the average Catholic in North America were so bad by the middle to late 19th century, that the life expectancy of an average Catholic man was about 30. This is because the only jobs they could get were in coal mines, dockyards, sweatshops and other places where the working conditions were so poor that men usually died prematurely. Thus a disproportionate number of Catholic women in America were widows, often forced to work themselves, along with their young children, in similar sweatshops, just to survive. This was the primary reason why the Knights of Columbus was formed, as a means for Catholic men to care for their brother's widows.

Anti-Catholic cartoon, from Guardians of Liberty, 1943,
Published by the pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ.
One would think that, by the 20th century, things would get better for Catholics. Indeed, they did, but anti-Catholic prejudice still remained in a very nasty way. With the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Catholics became the target of cross burning, church vandalism, personal assault and anti-Catholic propaganda. In 1928, a popular New York politician, himself a Catholic, dared to run for President of the United States. Governor Al Smith lost his bid for the Whitehouse, in part because of a nasty lie, concerning a bogus oath, the Knights of Columbus allegedly recite, which swears to kill Protestants and overthrow America in obedience to the pope. The scandal got so big that the bogus oath was read into the United States Congressional Record, and investigated by the U.S. government. It was determined to be a outright lie. (As a side note, I am a 4th degree Knight of Columbus myself, and I can testify the alleged oath is totally bogus and an affront to everything the Knights stand for. It is still circulated on the Internet today by anti-Catholics of various types.)

By the middle 20th century, mainstream anti-Catholicism changed in America. Oh sure, one can still find the old-school anti-Catholic propaganda among some Protestant fundamentalists and hate groups. However, the majority of anti-Catholics managed to get smarter. They figured out how to oppose Catholicism, without looking like bigots. It's really quite brilliant actually. It was built on the old Blaine Amendments from the previous century, and its principle is what allowed this nation to elect its first "Catholic" president in 1960 -- John F. Kennedy. The principle is simple, and JFK defined it succinctly in his speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960. You see, in order to be accepted by the political establishment in America, all a Catholic need do is accept the premise of the Blaine Amendments, and divorce his religion from his political conscience entirely. Kennedy put it as follows...
But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me
Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
This was the foundation of the new Anti-Catholicism which would plague American Catholics from the 1960s onward. In it, Catholic politicians are judged by how well they subscribe to the teachings of the Catholic Church. So long as they are willing to disobey the Church, break its precepts and laws, and do so in the name of this nebulous idea of "the public interest," they are smiled upon by the political establishment, especially the Democratic Party. However, to his credit, John F. Kennedy said something else that is generally not adhered to by many Catholic politicians today...
But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.
That is something a good number of Catholic politicians never do. They almost never resign over conscience violation, but rather promote the idea that they are "personally opposed to," a certain issue, "but, they will not force their views upon the public interest." They do this for their own political gain, allowing themselves to adopt positions that will further themselves in politics, while simultaneously distorting the teachings of the Church in the process, and bringing great harm to American society. This is called the "Mario Cuomo Position," the former governor of New York and also a Catholic, who is most remembered for saying he was "personally opposed to abortion," while supporting public laws that favoured abortion on demand.  Since then, the Democratic Party has lavishly rewarded Catholics who held to this mindset. So in short, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who can give some mental recognition of the teachings of the Church, but never act upon them in any concrete way. In fact, he may even act against them, in the name of the "public interest," with no mind to his conscience at all.

Today, in the Democratic Party, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who is willing to violate the moral teachings of the Church. Those willing to do this are rewarded with appointments and nominations to high-ranking government positions. Meanwhile, Catholics who are faithful to the teachings of the Church are typically derided as a "threat" and a "danger" to democracy, freedom and civil rights, much in the same way Catholics were derided by anti-Catholic propaganda in the 19th century. We saw this scenario play out in the 2004 presidential election with the nomination of John Kerry to the presidency. Then again in 2008 and 2012, with the nomination of Joe Biden to the office of vice president. Alas, we're seeing it once again in 2016, with the nomination of Tim Kaine to the office of vice president by Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

From court appointments, to presidential nominations, modern anti-Catholicism has materialised in the form of coddling Cafeteria Catholics. Promising rewards for not following the teachings of the Church. However, if you're one of those "dangerous" Catholics who actually does believe and obey the teachings of the Church, you will be shunned and shamed, regarded as unfit and unworthy for government office.

Sadly, this form of prejudice could not prevail without the assistance of Catholics. By that I mean Catholics who have sold out their consciences, and their souls, usually for political gain or personal vice, and there are plenty of them to go around. Without "Catholic" politicians like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Mario Coumo, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine; this form of prejudice would fail. In order to work, you need "useful idiots," willing to sell their souls, enabled by complicit clergy, willing to silently let them do it.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Pair O' Dimes said…
Thank you very much for this important and informative blog entry.

I'm curious about something (I don't know if I've read all of your blog entries so I don't know if you've already addressed this): do you know why Catholics used to primarily vote Democratic in the 1800's? I don't--at best I might make some guesses but that's all they are.

Do you know why Catholics voted for a political party founded by Freemasons, a party also responsible for the Ku Klux Klan, and a party that largely didn't want to touch slavery before 1865?

Is it because of subsidiarity? Or because of the Southern culture outside of non-Catholic religion and slavery, where it otherwise differed significantly from Northern culture? Or because the Democrats' 19th-century opponents were more anti-Catholic than the Democrats at the time (like your example of the "Know Nothing" Party)?

Do you know? I've been curious about this for some time now.
Matthias said…
These links may help give you an australian perspective on the same issue and then this one on the
equivalent of the Democrats over here the Australian Labor party