Calling Out Anti-Catholicism
Voices across the religious and political spectrum decry religious bigotry in the Senate
Two U.S. senators — Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) — made headlines in December after they questioned whether a judicial nominee’s membership in the Knights of Columbus would prevent him from being an impartial judge. The nominee was Brian C. Buescher, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Council 13080 in Omaha, Neb.
Sen. Hirono stated that “the Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions” and then asked Buescher whether he would withdraw his membership with the Order if confirmed, “to avoid any appearance of bias.” In a similar vein, Sen. Harris called the Knights “an all-male society” and asked if Buescher was aware that the group “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and “marriage equality.”
Buescher responded that he has been a member of the Knights since age 18 and that his membership “has involved participation in charitable and community events in local Catholic parishes.”
The senators’ line of questioning was widely viewed as a “religious test” for lawmakers, drawing a response from many political and social commentators, as well as from other legislators. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson’s response took the form of a letter to members Jan. 1. Below are excerpts from three of the many op-eds and articles written in the days and weeks following.
From “Another Religious Test in the Senate” — Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4:
IS THE POPE AN EXTREMIST? Should anyone loyal to the church’s teachings be barred from public office? There is no reason to accept such political bigotry. But this isn’t about anyone’s membership in a particular group. It is about silencing believers of any kind whose views differ from the progressive view on social issues.
As a leader of black Christians, I feel particularly strongly about the Knights of Columbus. For more than a century they bravely defended minorities. The group ran integrated hospitality and recreation centers for troops in World War I — the only charitable organization that did so. To confront prejudice in the teaching of history, in the 1920s the Knights commissioned books on black and Jewish history in America. They stood against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the height of its power, helping fund the Supreme Court case that defeated the Klanbacked ban on Catholic education in Oregon. The Knights spoke out against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany as early as the 1930s. Today they assist victims of Islamic State.
If Catholics like the Knights can be targeted, what should members of my Pentecostal church expect? We share traditional views on abortion and marriage. What about Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons and evangelical Christians? Even the Rev. Martin Luther King’s biblical beliefs would be anathema to Sens. Harris, [Diane] Feinstein and Hirono. JFK, himself a proud Knight of Columbus, would be unacceptable too. …
We non-Catholics must also stand up, if not for courage, then for survival. When first they come for the Catholics, we can be certain that all of us are next, and that the respect for faith and diversity of belief that made this country a beacon of freedom is now under severe threat — even from those we entrust with its defense.
— Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a Pentecostal minister, is director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies in Boston.
From “Senators employ stalking horse to oppose Catholic judicial nominee” — Crux, Dec. 30, 2018:
OPPOSITION TO ABORTION and gay marriage are not policy positions of the Knights of Columbus but of the Catholic Church, as articulated most recently by the current leader of the Church, Pope Francis.
On abortion, Francis takes a remarkably strong rhetorical line, even comparing the decision to have an abortion to “hiring a hitman to resolve a problem” during one of his weekly general audiences in October. …
Francis also has been firm in his opposition to gay marriage.
In a book-length interview last year with Dominique Wolton, Francis argued that by its very definition, marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Decrying what he called a “critical confusion” about marriage in the culture, Francis responded to a question about gay marriage by saying, “Let’s call this ‘civil unions.’ We do not joke around with truth.”
This past June, in unscripted remarks to an Italian organization representing Catholic families, Francis said, “It is painful to say this today: People speak of varied families, of various kinds of family,” but “the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one.”
One could go on piling up examples, but the point ought to be clear: Saying “no” to abortion and same-sex marriage is not an idée fixe of the Knights of Columbus, but rather the corporate stance of the Catholic Church and its leadership.
In other words, Hirono and Harris are employing a “stalking horse” in the Buescher case, because their real target isn’t the Knights of Columbus but Catholic teaching.
Presumably, however, they felt it would be poor form to say they wanted Buescher blackballed because he’s Catholic, so they picked a softer target. …
For integrity’s sake, it’s important to be clear whom their argument is with — and it’s not the Knights of Columbus or anyone else. It’s with the Catholic Church and the man in white.
— John L. Allen Jr. is editor of Crux, specializing in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Visit cruxnow.com.
From “Elected leaders who weaponize religion are playing a dangerous game” — The Hill, Jan. 8:
IF BUESCHER IS “UNQUALIFIED” because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy would have been “unqualified” for the same reasons.
Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that there “shall be no religious test” for any seeking to serve in public office.
No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because “the dogma lives loudly within you” as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit.
While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office.
The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today. …
Elected leaders engaging in religion-baiting are playing with fire. They are sacrificing the well-being, peace and harmony of our country to satisfy their own political ambitions for partisan political interests.
We must stand together, call out and reject religious bigotry no matter where it comes from, and fight to protect the freedoms and principles that bind us together as Americans.
— U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, represents Hawaii’s 2nd District.