Political liberals (e.g., the kind of people who make up the membership of NARAL, the ACLU, and MSNBC) have no objection to Catholic candidates for high office – provided that the Catholics in question don’t belong to what may be called “the Catholic wing of the Catholic religion.” In other words, political liberals have no objection to Catholic politicians if the Catholic politicians in question deviate from the Catholic faith in a liberal direction. Their membership in the Catholic Church can be overlooked as long as the Catholic politicians are supporters of such fine liberal causes as abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Thus former Speaker Nancy Pelosi is okay, and so is Vice President Joe Biden.
In fact they are more than okay. They are positively desirable from a liberal point of view. For by approving of Pelosi, Biden, and their ilk, liberals are able to deny the charge that they are anti-Catholic.
But let a genuine Catholic come along – Rick Santorum, for instance – and the liberals show their true colors. The thing they despise about Santorum (and they really do despise him) is that he actually believes in the moral doctrines of the Catholic Church. He believes that abortion is homicide; that homosexual behavior is unnatural; and that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Therefore liberals despise him. But they despise is not so much Santorum the individual person as the religion he represents. They despise Catholicism, and by extension they despise all authentic Catholics.
According to the liberal definition of Americanism, Catholics – that is, faithful Catholics – are not, and cannot be, good Americans. For to be a good American, as liberals see it, you have to be a believer in moral relativism and sexual freedom.
The charge that Catholics cannot be good Americans is an old one. It stems from the still older charge that began in England in 16th century in the age of Queen Elizabeth (“Good Queen Bess” as she was somewhat inaccurately known), the charge that a Catholic couldn’t be a good Englishman. For English Catholics were loyal to the pope at a time when Parliament and the monarch had abolished papal authority in England. Worse still, many English Catholics believed Elizabeth’s claim to the throne was bogus, and that the true queen was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. (Elizabeth “refuted” Mary’s claim by cutting her head off.)
Late in the 17th century that famous liberal John Locke wrote a “Letter on Toleration” in which he argued for religious freedom for all Christians – except Catholics. He made the Catholic exception because Catholics were loyal to a “foreign prince” (the pope), and hence could not be loyal Englishmen.
When the English settled America, quite naturally they brought their anti-Catholic prejudices with them. They continued, for instance, to celebrate the old anti-Catholic holiday, Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) until, during the Revolutionary War, General Washington banned the celebration for fear it would give offense to our ally, the Catholic King of France.
It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that non-Catholic Americans finally decided that it was possible, and even probable, that American Catholics would be good Americans. Only then could a Catholic be elected president. We Catholics thought at that point that the old anti-Catholic prejudice had vanished forever. We were wrong; now it’s back – but with a vital difference. The old prejudice was a Protestant prejudice, the new a secularist prejudice.
For a number of decades now, secularists have been out to redefine America and Americanism, and they have been rather successful in their project. Their aim has been to define the United States as an essentially godless society. Hence their very strong objection to bringing religious ideas or values into the public realm. If you’d like to be religious in the privacy of your own home or church, that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine for religion to be a private thing, rather like stamp collecting. But please, not in public. In the public realm, only the beliefs and values of secular humanism count. Religious beliefs and values are taboo.
Rick Santorum is very openly violating this secularist taboo. Hence the animosity and scorn that political liberals (strong supporters of the secularist taboo) are directing at Santorum. Once again, after a lapse of less than a century, Catholicism is charged with being an un-American religion.