Eugene McCarthy’s Failed Attempt at Securing the Democratic Party’s Nomination in 1968

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Photo Source: USA Today

Eugene McCarthy was a former representative and senator from Minnesota who attempted running for president in 1968. One of McCarthy’s main opponents for the Democratic Party nomination was Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s brother, who was also Catholic. Both McCarthy and Kennedy ultimately lost the Democratic nomination to Hubert Humphrey, and all of whom lost to the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, in the actual election.

Sifting through news articles from 1967 and 1968 in order to track the 1968 presidential election in more detail, I have found a few articles that I find to be prominent in understanding how Catholicism could have had an impact on McCarthy’s run for president.

Below is a direct link to a PDF.

In The Nation: McCarthy Enters the Game Roman Catholic Three Useful Result

This article was published by the New York Times on December 3, 1967, shortly after Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the 1968 presidential race. The article makes the claim that Senator McCarthy’s entrance into the 1968 presidential race was unprecedented because there had seemingly never been a case to which one could “judge a politician who says he is running for president not to win but on principle.” The article continues to say that McCarthy “so far has given no one any solid grounds for questioning his sincerity.” The beginning of the article is painting a picture that may have gone unnoticed without an article like this as a reference: Eugene McCarthy’s decision to run for president was unprecedented for the time because he was a senator who was not very well-known and was not particularly known as a “crusader for causes.” His decision to run was met by a large concentration of negative assumptions by the people and politicians of Washington D.C. such that he was only running to spite Lyndon Johnson for not choosing him as Vice President or simply to increase his notoriety. The article also mentions briefly his Catholic faith saying that McCarthy “cannot be angling for second place on some possible Kennedy ticket,” which is basically saying that it is not likely that McCarthy’s intentions are just to make it as Kennedy’s Vice President. The end of the article gives three possible positive results that could have come out of McCarthy’s presidential run such as (1) “It could channel a lot of useful energy,” (2) it could cause “picketing of the president” which could ultimately change President Johnson’s administration policies and/or the Democratic Party platform, and (3) it could strengthen anti-war and anti-president sentiments which could strengthen the likelihood of Kennedy’s race.

As for my analysis of whether or not this article makes any preconceptions or unequal treatment towards Catholics in 1968 visible, I would say no. While the article did outline the dissent that many people in D.C. had for McCarthy’s run, nothing stood out to me that would allude to these assumptions being based around his Catholic faith. The allegation that McCarthy could have been running to spite President Johnson for choosing Hubert Humphrey as his Vice President does not seem to be related to McCarthy’s Catholic faith. There is no evidence to conclude that Johnson chose Humphrey over McCarthy because McCarthy was Catholic while neither Humphrey nor Johnson were. It also does not seem as though running for president just to spite President Johnson would have done anything, or even that it was related to being Catholic at all. If anything, the reason people could have assumed such a thing also does not seem to be in relation to his faith. As for an alleged hunger for McCarthy to increase his notoriety, it can also not be concluded from the article that this has anything to do with his Catholic faith, nor can this be related to a preconception or assumption about him simply because he was Catholic. The only item of dissent to McCarthy in this article that I would consider to be an assumption that is somehow related to Catholicism is the claim that McCarthy was running to be a backup for Kennedy. This could be assuming that simply because McCarthy and Kennedy were both Catholic, that McCarthy would run simply so Kennedy would have another Catholic to which he could lose to and feel good about. This can be concluded from the evidence in the article to be highly unlikely because it states that it was “well-known here that the Minnesotan has never been a full-fledged Kennedy fan, and vice versa.” From reading this article, I cannot definitively argue that McCarthy’s Catholicism played absolutely no role in his failed run for president, but I can however, claim that it seemed to play a small role in the beginning of his presidential journey.

Below is a direct link to a PDF.

Southern Democratic Leaders Belittle McCarthy and Kennedy

On the other hand, this article which is also from the New York Times published further into McCarthy’s race on March 17, 1968, contains evidence that McCarthy’s Catholic faith did, in fact, have an effect on at least one area of the electorate. The beginning of the article claims that many Democratic Party leaders in the south were not in favor of the efforts of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to secure the Democratic ticket. In an interview with the Democratic state chairman in Alabama, Robert S. Vance, it is said that “the McCarthy-Kennedy viewpoint is virtually nonexistent in the south.” At first glance, this does not seem to relate to their Catholicism, until the article outlined a Mississippi Democrat stating that “[southerners] don’t know much about Gene McCarthy except he’s a Catholic and a professor of some kind.”

To me, this seems like an almost direct relation to McCarthy’s Catholicism and the preconceptions that come along with it. How could it make sense for a voter to have a dissenting opinion on a candidate when the only things they know about them is that they are a professor and a Catholic? This overtly alludes to me that McCarthy’s Catholic faith played a role in the south’s blatant dissent against him. If you only knew two things about a candidate, and you had no existing preconceptions related to those two things, then you would likely not have enough information to form a negative opinion on them. For southern voters to negatively view McCarthy with little information other than that he is Catholic and a professor, then it seems as though the voters either have a negative preconception about professors or Catholics, I wonder which one?

 

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The Outdated Notion of a Catholic Vote Meets the Midterm Elections of 2018

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Photo Source: Catholic Charities Diocese of Palm Beach

Assumptions, assumptions.

Assumptions are what elections are built on, such as how people of certain demographic groups will vote, or even how an entire demographic will collectively vote. For example, the picture above is making three assumptions. The first is an assumption that all Catholics care, the second is that all Catholics vote, and the third is more subtle and assumes that Catholics divide themselves among the two major parties. There is no way to prove that all Catholics always care or always vote. For instance, there is never a tally to count whether exactly every person of a certain group does something, and in regard to the color choice for the picture above, the red and blue coloring could allude to propaganda for the choice of either Republican or Democrat. On the other hand, however, around 19% of Catholics in 2014 were either independent or did not lean left or right on the political spectrum which proves concretely that Catholics do not always identify as one of the two major American political parties (per my last blog post: When Will the Myth of a Catholic Vote Go Away?). The purpose of the picture above may not be to make assumptions per se, but to persuade Catholics into caring and voting by instilling guilt or via another method. Therefore, if there is proof of Catholics being split among political parties, then why are Catholics still being lumped together into the notion of a single “Catholic Vote?”

The answer to that question lies in statistics, which rely heavily on past voting habits. Statistics in regard to voting includes data from past elections such as polling data that can help paint a picture of how people from different regions, identities, or demographic groups have voted in past elections to be used for the formulation of predictions. Sometimes, however, these predictions are falsely portrayed as concrete and unable to change (especially by the media) which was observed in the 2016 presidential election where both past and current statistics (as well as polls) predicted that Hillary Clinton would win when she did not. Statistics are helpful, but the predictions made from them must be taken as they truly are: predictions. Every human is unique and it is inadequate to assume that someone who identifies in a certain way will vote a certain way. Every human has multiple facets to their identity and it is inadequate to assume that one will prevail over another, the best example is being a liberal Catholic who is pro-choice in which their liberal identity supersedes their Catholic identity. Statistics should be made separate from assumptions.

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Photo Source: National Catholic Reporter

On the subject of the 2018 midterm elections, the assumption of a collective Catholic vote made its way into the media yet again. The media, as well as the general public, cannot seem to drop the idea of a collective “Catholic Vote.” Although it was not published during the midterms this year, there was an article from 2017 by the National Catholic Reporter titled “Pollsters Confused About Catholic Voters” which alludes to the existence of the false notion of a collective Catholic vote. Without even reading the article, it is evident that the assumptions of how Catholics would vote was present in the subconscious minds of the pollsters who were expecting their assumptions to be true. I will not lie, this article is not a great one, it literally begins by alleging that Catholics are “politically confused.” Just because every Catholic does not vote the same means that they are politically confused? Is this just because there were Catholics who voted against what the pollsters thought they would? The term politically confused is not even a statement that should be used. To say that someone is politically confused is all based on the subjectiveness of someone else’s experiences imposed upon a person who does not fit the model of what would be assumed. If you think someone is politically confused, then it is most likely you who is confused. Anyone can vote however they want, regardless of anything. People can also choose not to vote at all, although they should, but it is within their own personal freedom of choice not to do so if they wish.

The reason that I included an article by the National Catholic Reporter rather than an official study is because I am trying to prove that the false notion of a Catholic vote exists within American culture through means that cannot always be clearly or thoroughly studied. This is similar to the reason why I included a non-academic source in my last blog post. My reasoning for the last blog post was not because I am unaware of how to use my school’s research resources, but rather that I was trying to reflect the extent to which something was inaccessible to the average reader whom Google might be their best or only resource. The examples I use in my blog posts are more about proving my point through the ways in which normal people go about doing things and expressing themselves whether it be through news articles or other blog posts. I oftentimes find it more interesting to examine the way things are exhibited through normal sources constructively and critically.

Photo Source for both photos: CNN

According to CNN, the percentage of Christian voters (including Catholics) in the 2018 midterm elections has decreased from the last election, while the number of religiously unaffiliated voters has started to increase. This information resonates with some of the ideas discussed within this class, but also with a topic that I have mentioned in a few other blogs: people who are religiously unaffiliated. When examining the decrease in Christian voters, it could be interesting to ponder if it is not simply that more Christians skipped out on voting, but possibly that there has been an actual decrease in Christians all together. What if this is alluding to a larger number of Christians “unaffiliating” themselves from their religion and not “affiliating” with any religion? If this is the case, like I have mentioned in a previous blog, this is not necessarily a bad thing. People who do not identify as having any religion cannot be assumed to lack morals or not believe in anything. This is only bad for Christians who likely want to keep their majority, but that could be somewhat of an assumption, so I’ll leave it up for you to decide for yourself.

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Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Above is a photo from Loyola’s “Behind the Tweets: Midterm Post Mortem” event which took place the day after the 2018 midterm elections to discuss the results of the midterms. The speakers included Dr. Michael Murphy, Dr. Leandra Zarnow, Dr. Johnson, and Amanda O’Brien. Many different topics were discussed such as women, Latinos, and Catholics. Much of it would not be too useful in a blog about Catholics, but they all outlined the statistics of the given topic they chose to speak about. All of the speakers brought great viewpoints to the discussion and I enjoyed hearing their perspectives, but on the topic of Catholics and how this event relates to the question of this blog, the contents of Dr. Murphy’s topic will be of the most help.

Dr. Murphy made a statement that I think is interesting to dissect: “You can’t find salvation in any one political party.” In a sense, Dr. Murphy could be alluding to a few of the things I have discussed either in this blog or previous blogs which would be that all Catholics do not fit under the same political party, and that the two-party system is too limiting. On the topic of the limitations of a two party system (since I have already discussed the former), this statement makes evident that neither major political party seems to get it quite right when it comes to Catholics, which leads them to decide for themselves which issues they find more important. Later in his speech, Dr. Murphy listed  a few of the things he thought Catholics should base their vote on such as a call to family and community and much more. I do not necessarily agree with this. His proclamation that no single party quite gets it right seems to affirm my argument about Catholics being split. However, after he started listing the things he thought Catholics should base their vote on, he seemed to begin affirming the notion that all Catholics should vote the same, almost as if he were confused or unhappy that all Catholics don’t vote the same which is what I do not agree with.

I personally advocate for everyone to vote how they believe they should, based on information and issues that they find most important rather than how other people think they should. During this election cycle, I grew annoyed with the assumptions people made about me when I brought up the fact that I would rather vote in Illinois than Missouri. People would say “Well, Missouri needs your vote more.” Wait what? I think they meant, “Missouri needs your Liberal vote more.” That’s not to say that I would have voted Republican, because I would not have, but it is incredibly annoying to have either assumptions made about how you are going to vote or impositions on how people think you should vote. There is nothing wrong with advocating for a cause, but stick to actual advocating rather than imposing, and if someone disagrees, so be it. On the other hand, if someone chooses not to vote, then it is their decision, not yours. People really need to start respecting the right of other people to make their own decisions, especially when it comes to voting. This is not to say that I am not advocating for people to vote, because I think everyone should vote, but I cannot stand when people try to impose things on one another.

Bridging all the information from this blog into a final conclusion, it seems as though Catholics had no more of an effect on the midterm elections than any other group of people. I think this is because Catholics are almost equally split between parties, so there is not an unusually large bloc of Catholics under either party that could be used for victory. If anything, Christian voters as a whole are on the decline as CNN mentioned, so even if they were a large bloc, their usefulness is on the decline. In regard to how things have changed or stayed the same, things most definitely have stayed the same because there has, for the most part, always been no coherent “Catholic Vote” except within the Kennedy election. If there was no Catholic vote back then and there is not one now, then it can be concluded that things have largely stayed the same. The important thing to note from all this information is to not make assumptions, take statistics with a grain of salt, and be aware that no group of people ever votes collectively the same.

When Will the Myth of a Catholic Vote Go Away?

No single group of people ever votes collectively the same way. 

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Photo Source: Pew Research Center

When looking at the graph above, it is evident that there is not one religious group that ever tends to vote collectively the same way. This should be obvious. Of the religious groups included in the graph above, Catholics are one of the more divided religious groups with 37 percent Republican, 44 percent Democrat, and 19 percent independent/other. There is neither a simple majority affiliation nor a trend of any kind. It should be noted that when the “Catholic Vote” is referenced, the intent is likely to reference the statistics of a plurality of how Catholics tend to vote, rather than collective tendencies.

This is not only seen within religious groups, but nearly every group of people. What I mean by this is that it is a fact of human nature that not every person within any given group of people will always vote exactly the same, or ever. Now statistically speaking, yes, occasionally there tends to be trends between the ways in which a group of people may tend to vote. However, this does not guarantee that every person involved in a group will always vote either the same way, or for the same issues. For instance, Catholics are generally said to support efforts against abortion, yet there are Catholics that identify as pro-life for reasons crucial to their identity other than their religion. To assume that a group of people can be amounted to a statistical stereotype of past voting trends is preposterous and ignores the individual uniqueness and complexity that makes up the identity of every single human being. In this statement, I am alluding to intersectionality of one’s identity. When it is assumed that someone will vote a certain way solely based on the fact that they identify as a Catholic (or anything else for that matter), the rest of their identity is then thrown in the trash and ignored. You can be a Catholic and a woman, or a Catholic and an African-American, or even a Catholic and gay. All facets of one’s identity come with their own feelings and experiences which make it impossible, and even disrespectful, to assume that one aspect of someone’s identity will prevail over another. That being said, statistics can be helpful, but should be taken with a grain of salt and not the end-all-be-all. When considering how Catholics have voted in the past compared to present day, my observation holds true: while trends may exist from time to time, there is always at least one person who is in dissent, therefore, Catholics were no more a collective voting population back then than they are today. Statistics and pluralities aside, the catholic vote does not exist.

When considering “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s” by Patrick Allitt, it seems as though the existence of Catholics on both sides of the aisle existed as far back as the 1950s and proves that this is not a new phenomenon. One thing that did change, however, was a shift in the ideology of conservatives which according to Sarah Bradstreet, was a shift from a moderate stance to more extremely right-winged ideology within the Republican Party. What is interesting is that Sarah Bradstreet is not a name associated with the article I had cited. She is actually an advanced placement U.S. history high school teacher from a website called Magoosh.com that provided one of the clearest definitions of what “New Conservatism” was and what it consisted of that I could find. One critique of mine in regard to Allitt’s article is that he does not always do a good job of clearly distinguishing or defining ideas in a concise or productive way. I was left to google a clear definition of “New Conservatism” because he wrongly assumed the reader would already know.

Besides my critique, it is also said in Allitt’s article that two new conservative journals by the names of National Review and Modern Age were emerging in the mid 1950s and both possessed a large number of Catholic contributors. This alone is proof enough of my claim that Catholics do not collectively identify with the same party affiliation nor vote in the same ways. In fact, they do not always agree on the same issues either. Allitt states that “A study of these conservatives shows that it was not only politically liberal Catholics who were becoming restless under the close embrace of the pre-conciliar Church, but also politically conservative Catholics.” This shows liberal as well as conservative Catholics garnering similar feelings for a common concept. However, he also states that a liberal animosity to the new conservatives existed as well. This lightly demonstrates the complexity involved in observing these types of situations because while both sides may have both grown restless over a general topic, they were still divided among one another. The content of “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s” by Patrick Allitt generally provides insight to the existence of a divide among Catholic party affiliation, as well as the absence of the idea of a single and collective “Catholic vote.”

Slightly unrelated in a sense, but this also brings forth the problem of a two-party political system. A two-party system takes all the issues within a country, splits them into two, and lumps them together within two separate groups pitted against each other. This effectively makes politics into a black-and-white process and ignores the complexity of political beliefs. Why is it that only one party can endorse equal civil rights? Am I not allowed to want smaller government while promoting the equal treatment of my fellow human beings? If one party endorses something, why does the other automatically and blindly disenfranchise it? Maybe the reason that people do not read into the other side is because of the way the party system is built. Could that also be a factor in why voter turnout is so low? I am convinced that our two-party system has a larger effect on the way our politics play out than people want to admit, but we can save that for another blog.

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Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Getting back to the subject, my classmates and I went on a field trip last Tuesday, October 30th to Hyde Park. There was an event at the University of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore where the author of one of our class texts, Steven P. Millies, was to discuss his book on Catholic Americans and their relationship with voting called “Good Intentions.”

Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

The University of Chicago’s campus was absolutely beautiful, as you can see above with the photo I took of my gorgeous friend, Alice Gordon, and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore that had an insurmountable selection of books. I had never actually been to Hyde Park nor the University of Chicago so I was incredibly happy to get to see another Chicago neighborhood. The disparity between the appearance of the area that the University was in and the area around it was quite big. I would be very interested in finding out why, but once again, we can save that for another blog.

On the topic of the actual content of the event, Mr. Millies upheld much of what he said about the “Catholic vote” in his book, “Good Intentions.” Millies outlined perfectly in his book that “Catholics do vote, but their voting behavior is not distinctively different from any other group of Americans. They vote for Republicans or Democrats in nearly the same proportions as other groups of Americans.” This is once again, evidence to support my claim that since Catholics are just as divided among party affiliation, that a “Catholic vote” ceases to exist. Millies even says it explicitly himself: Study after study for more than twenty years has confirmed the same result—there is no such thing as a ‘Catholic vote.'” What more evidence could you ask for?

Sources

Allitt, Patrick. “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s.” U.S. Catholic Historian, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 15–37.

Millies, Steven P. Good Intentions: a History of Catholic Voters Road from Roe to Trump. Liturgical Press, 2018.

A Whole New World

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Photo Source: Nepa Lab

According to the infographic above made by Nepa Lab, it seems as though Catholicism is spread across every continent (except Antarctica of course). Although not evenly distributed, Catholicism reaches far and wide considering its geographic origin, but maybe that isn’t as surprising as one may think.

Is it actually surprising that Catholicism reaches vast locations around the globe? Without any background information, possibly, but with even the smallest bit of knowledge about European history, it hardly seems astonishing. What I am alluding to is the basic knowledge of Catholicism’s origin within the vicinity of Rome, Italy, and the history Europeans have had with colonization. Europeans have colonized places such as North and South America, Australia, and even parts of Africa all while there were already indigenous groups of people residing on the land. It is then made clear that without colonization, Catholicism would not have reached such great lengths across the globe. With the previous statement, I am not arguing for or against colonization or even condoning it, but it is important to consider when delving into how Catholicism is so widespread. Most of the colonizing was done by the English or Spanish, but this is not to be the main focus of this blog. The main purpose of this particular blog is to evaluate and analyze my personal feelings regarding Catholic politics around the globe and in the U.S. (mostly the U.S.) based on a few events that I have attended the week prior.

In a text called “History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Working-Class History,” the author, James R. Barrett, recounts of his experience as a Catholic and the politics that came along with his identity. Barrett’s autobiography of sorts is a good recount of the complex ways in which personal identity politics can form; however, be mindful that this is only the recount of one person and his experience rather than that of a larger area or group of people. That being said, my only critique of this text in regard to the topic of this blog is that it’s strictly personal and what may hold true for James Barrett may not be the same for other Catholics. Though, an important point made by Barrett in recounting his experiences is just how much Catholicism had an effect on not only his political beliefs, but his discovery of politics in the first place. Barrett states that “My first taste for history and politics came through the peculiarly Catholic approach in our texts, which seemed not only to organize the whole narrative around the development of the Church in various parts of the world, but also explained most historical change in terms of famous Catholics.” What struck me about this sentiment most of all, even over the rest of the content in this text, is not only the degree to which Barrett’s Catholic education affected him, but the fact that it was indeed where he discovered politics all together. Generally, when discussions about Catholic politics come up in public discourse, it is never really discussed just how powerful the “Catholic education machine” is.

Just simply attending Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit university in Chicago, I have somewhat noticed the power of the Catholic influence on education (especially as a “none”: someone who does not identify with any religious affiliation or identity), yet through this text I am still being enlightened on how deep it goes especially in lower level education systems as well. Catholic politics are so complex that to this day, they still confuse me. Prior to coming to Loyola, I had thought that religious Christians were always conservative, and most likely because I am from Southern Missouri: where nearly everyone is conservative. It made almost no sense to me how Loyola, a Catholic Jesuit university, could even be remotely liberal (and not that I didn’t want it to be, I definitely did). Throughout this class though, I am continuing to realize that not only are all Catholics diverse and complex, but they are no different in that sense when compared to any other group of people anywhere in the world. Every human has their own unique and personal rational agency and no two people are exactly the same.

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Photo Source: Pew Forum

I would also like to make a case for dissent against something that is generally brought up in class that I have not yet gotten to debunk: being a “none” is not a bad thing, and the world is not going to end because of it. This is not to say that anyone has specifically said that the “none’s” will be the demise of the U.S, but I almost feel like since no one denies this statement, that they’re almost leaving the door open for it to be enabled. My main argument is relative to the argument of this class: Catholics have never been the demise of this country, they are a complex group of people who cannot be amounted to one characteristic. Similarly, the growing number of people who are not religiously affiliated will not be the demise of this country. It is also completely incorrect to assume that non-religiously affiliated people do not believe in anything or that they do not have morals.

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Photo Source: Loyola + Spencer Bailey
I edited myself into this picture from Loyola’s webpage dedicated to the 1968 series because I forgot to take pictures at the event and I wanted to include something.

Moving on, I attended an event last week for the 1968 series that Loyola held in regard to the unique political climate that was associated with 1968 and its relation to today. You can find out more here. The event consisted of 3 panelists: Firmin DeBrabander, Don Stemen, and Kathleen Belew, all of whom drew from their personal field of expertise and related it to the topic of events during 1968, as well as Elliot Gorn who was the moderator.

What struck me about my attendance at the 1968 Symposium panel was not particularly the content of the panel itself, but the presence of two of the panelists in the first place. That sounds odd at face value, but what I mean is that two of the panelists—Frimin DeBrabander and Don Stemen—were speaking outside of their expertise. Kathleen Belew was the only panelist whose expertise was specifically in U.S. history (who was a great speaker with an impeccable amount of knowledge). Mr. DeBrabander’s expertise is actually in Philosophy, while Dr. Stemen’s is in Criminal Justice and Criminology. I think the fact that two panelists from outside the expertise of history, and U.S. history in particular, was a great addition that can teach us something about inclusivity and holism. By including a panelist whose academic focus was philosophy, criminal justice, or anything other than history at a history-centered event, a bridge between the two realms were connected and similarities were made present. By including people who are different from one other in some aspect and including them equally in a conversation, a broader more holistic picture is painted and creates a better understanding. If we were to implement a principle similar to this socially within American culture, maybe we wouldn’t be as divided, or at least we could coexist more peacefully with greater understanding for one another.

Sources

Barrett, James R. History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Working-Class History. Duke University Press, 2017

 

Are American Catholic Politics Local, National, or Both? Well, It Depends on Who You Ask…

Author's Note: Beginning with this blog post, I am going to reformulate how I format and compose the content for each blog. Starting now, I will be more clear about my personal feelings as well as my reasoning behind why I choose to bring light to certain historical relics and leave out others. Be mindful that everything I choose to say or not say has a reason. Thank you.

Continue reading “Are American Catholic Politics Local, National, or Both? Well, It Depends on Who You Ask…”

Civil Rights Have Proven to Be Just as Divisive Among American Catholics as It Was Throughout the Rest of the Country

IMG_9084Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Throughout American history, with the country’s perceived 205 years at war and decades of various political movements, one thing has always been present: a divide among groups of people in regard to their positions on political issues. The American Civil War split Americans into groups of abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, while the Vietnam War split the general American public into those who supported and those who opposed the war. The split of Americans does not just pertain to the general public, but to all facets of American life. Throughout American history it has been assumed that Catholics and other religious groups would always be on the same side and hold the same positions on certain issues; however, this is not the case. Catholics are just as diverse as any group of people and it must be noted that while there are examples of Catholics largely taking the same position, this does not allow for them to always be grouped together in their perceived perspectives.

Beginning as far back as the pre-Civil War era in the United States, the divisive thoughts regarding civil rights and Catholics’ opinions of it have been documented throughout American history. “Catholicism, Slavery, and the Cause of Liberty” by John T. McGreevy outlines the particular thoughts of Catholics in regard to their positions on slavery in early American history. The main example of such used by McGreevy was the “most influential American Catholic Intellectual of the nineteenth century:” Orestes Brownson. McGreevy cites that near the end of the 1850s, Brownson had began to find a newfound sympathy for antislavery and had grown increasingly in favor of abolition. As a result, many of his colleagues and members of the Catholic community denounced his perspective, and were quite confused.

A Baltimore Catholic journal expressed surprise that “so eminent a controversialist as Dr. Brownson” would align himself with abolitionists who “pronounce the opinion of the Court in Dred Scott to be flat ‘Popery.'” Brownson explained to Montalembert, “I have nothing encouraging to write you of my own country. I am under a cloud now because I refuse to defend slavery as a natural right, and have received also my ‘warning’ from a portion of the Catholic public.” –John T. McGreevy

Dr. Brownson’s controversial perspective at the time and the reaction it received among catholics is a perfect example of the divisiveness of civil rights among the Catholic public as far back as the times of Slavery in the United States.

Moving forward in time, another massively controversial point in time for civil rights with respect to Catholics was after the Pearl Harbor attack during WWII. The focus of the Catholic struggle with civil rights after WWII and the Pearl Harbor attack is embodied by William Issel and Mary Anne Wold in “Catholics and the Campaign for Racial Justice in San Francisco From Pearl Harbor to Proposition 14.” The authors began by laying out the condition of San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s which was beginning to attract larger numbers of minorities such as Japanese families returning from internment camps, Chinese, Filipino, Hispanic, as well as African-American migrants coming into the city seeking residency. The newcomers hailing from minority groups were met with the nearly impossible task of obtaining housing, getting a job, education, and health care that was all mostly restricted to those who fit the description of “white.”

San Francisco Catholics did not speak in one voice then anymore than they do today…

The quote above from the beginning of a sentence in “Catholics and the Campaign for Racial Justice” is a great confirmation of the main point to be made by this blog: while Catholics may have banded together during certain times of American history, they cannot be added up to one single group of people who always think the same things; all catholics are different.

…but in early 1942 Catholic racial liberals joined with Protestant and Jewish civil rights activists, and made common cause with members of ethnic minority rights organizations, when they helped establish the Bay Area Council Against Discrimination. –William Issel and Mary Anne Wold

The fight against housing discrimination in San Francisco is an example of an issue that largely brought Catholics of the Bay Area together which prompted the participation of many Catholics in groups such as the Bay Area Council Against Discrimination which was the driving force for legislation throughout the entire state of California. The participation achieved a large amount of the goals it sought to reach all the way up until the defeat of Proposition 14 which involved the nullification of the Rumford Fair Housing Act.

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Photo Source: Topics of Meta

Around the time of the fight for fair housing in San Francisco in the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement had been in full swing in Memphis, Tennessee, garnering a multitude of Catholics on their side as well. “Change from the Inside Out: The Contribution of Memphis Catholics in Civil Rights Activism, 1961-1968” by Amy Delong encompasses the role Catholic Tennesseans, although only making up 2.2% of the Tennessee population, played in the fight for equality long before and long after the efforts of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.

The Memphis Catholic Human Relations Council, founded in the early 1960s by a group of motivated clergy and laypeople, employed Catholic social teachings to raise issues of inequality in the community and work for their demise. Although the group first developed as a means to end discrimination within the church, their work soon spread to causes including school integration, inner-city poverty, and the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike. -Amy Delong

The seemingly positive unification of Catholics in the beginning of this process was in reality little more than an official proclamation rather than a whole-hearted position held by all the members of the church. Delong writes that when ordering churches to desegregate:

According to Reverend Milton Guthrie, there was quite a stir the first Sunday when a large number of African-Americans attended Mass at St. Therese. After they sat down, some white parishioners moved to seats in front of them, reasoning that “No black person is going to sit in front of me.” These parishioners had become so accustomed to the “lawful” segregation that pervaded the American south that they could not see past skin color to accept even Catholic African Americans as equals in the church. -Amy Delong

The reactions of Catholic parishioners at St. Therese in opposition to that of the church officials is another example of a time in American history in which Catholics have been divided upon their positions on political issues.

In another article by John T. McGreevy titled “Racial Justice and the People of God: The Second Vatican Council, the Civil Rights Movement, and American Catholics,” McGreevy outlines a similar instance in Selma, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement in comparison to the attempted integration of churches in Memphis, Tennessee. McGreevy cites that it was customary in much of the South for segregation to be extended to Catholic Churches, and that when one of the city’s white parishes attempted to integrate it was countered by a fierce opposition from the church.

It is the slowness of integration and the long predominance of segregation that created many predominantly African-American churches which were places in which African-Americans could worship in peace, further distilled from the discrimination of the outside world. An example of a church of this type that still exists to this day is a sacred place of worship known as the Saint Sabina Faith Community Church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. The ethnic makeup of St. Sabina’s participants is vastly different from the ethnic groups of which first attended the church. According to St. Sabina’s website, the church’s participants used to consist mostly of Irish Americans until the 1960s when there was a shift in the residents of the area. Most of the Irish Americans moved out, while an increasing number of African-Americans moved in. St. Sabina was one of the very few churches of the area to accept the new residents into their perish. Today, African-Americans are the predominant attendees at the St. Sabina Faith Community Church and have shaped its history for more than 50 years.

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Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

During my visit, from the second I walked, I was greeted numerous times by congregants of the church. Members of St. Sabina welcome newcomers with open arms, similar to how the church welcomed the new community members nearly 6 decades ago. While waiting for the service to begin, I witnessed first-hand the extent to which the Faith Community of St. Sabina was knitted together. If someone greeted one person, they were likely to greet 10 others, which shows just how regular the attendees are to the church and just how deeply involved they are within their community.

A large part of the teaching of the church during the service pertained to racial issues as well as how the guest speaker they invited was a visible example of a doctor “who looks like” the children of the church. Throughout the entire service, although the priest was notably white, the subject of faith and how it relates to the demographic of St. Sabina was loudly present. This demonstrates the individuality of St. Sabina in that it is a place of worship that has adapted to the change in its demographic, welcomed it with open arms, and aided in its relation to their religion.

This further demonstrates the complicated role of Catholics in civil rights politics because not all Catholics are the same. It is obvious that the politics of Catholics at a predominantly white and predominantly African-American church will not and historically have not been the same on a large-scale. As demonstrated through the above article references, white Catholic parishioners have long been on the other side of the civil rights debate historically which have actually driven African-Americans to form their own churches. To say that all Catholics have been on the same side in relation to the issue of Civil Rights is a blasphemous generalization that is clearly not true and is further evident because of the sheer existence of this blog in the first place.

Sources:

DeLong, Amy. “Change from the Inside Out: The Contribution of Memphis Catholics in Civil Rights Activism, 1961-1968.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 2, 2008, pp. 124–147. JSTOR.

Issel,William, and Mary Anne Wold . “Catholics and the Campaign for Racial Justice in San Francisco From Pearl Harbor to Proposition 14.” American Catholic Historical Society , vol. 119, no. 3, 2008, pp. 21–43. JSTOR.

McGreevy, John T. Catholicism and American Freedom: a History. W.W. Norton, 2004.

McGreevy, John T. “Racial Justice and the People of God: The Second Vatican Council, the Civil Rights Movement, and American Catholics.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, vol. 4, no. 2, 1994, pp. 221–254.

205 Years at War and Generations of Catholics Later…

All the peace of the United States

Photo Source: Elijah Meeks

According to a graphical claim shown above made by Elijah Meeks using historical data, the United States seems to have only been at peace for 37 out of its 242 year history. Considering this information, the United States has been at peace for roughly 15% of its history, while it has been officially at war for 85% of its existence as an independent country. 

It is no secret that the United States has been involved in a plethora of wars, from the American Revolutionary war that birthed a new nation within “The New World,” to the Iraq war and the “war on drugs.” To any spectator, outside or in, it seems as though the United States is obsessed with war. It is not to say that its citizens are, but its government most definitely is, whether they are aware of it or not. Some would argue that going to war is not a particularly bad proposition because wars are good for the economy. Perhaps certain wars have had somewhat of an economic benefit, but the killing of thousands upon millions of innocent people is not a force to be reckoned with in the name of “the economy.” The United States is perceived by many Americans to be the super power of the world protecting freedom, liberty, and justice for all. In regard to that statement, maybe it is, maybe it’s not, that’s for you to decide. What is certain in the U.S. war dilemma throughout its history is that it is one of the country’s most polarizing and divisive topics when it comes to public opinion surrounding whether or not the U.S. should go to war. 

With polarizing topics comes polarizing views, and the topic of war is one that has sent many Americans into a frenzy of divisions. Divided in opinion among class, race, and generation to mention a few, some have even received Supreme Court recognition, changing the tone of the war as well as extra-war issues. A famous example of a “war opinion” making headlines as a Supreme Court case is Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1968. 

Students Hold Peace Arm Bands

Photo Source: Time

Tinker v. Des Moines was brought to the Supreme Court after Mary Beth and John Tinker, shown above, wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War and were suspended for it. Eventually, the Tinker’s stayed home from school for an entire week, and returned to school wearing all black to no avail. The Tinker’s brought the school to court and after the case ended in the hands of the highest court of the land, they won and it was proclaimed that symbols are included within one’s freedom of speech. 

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is simply one of many cases, protests, and “disapprovals” of an American war throughout the country’s alleged 205 years at war. Another prominent resister to the Vietnam War in particular was a Jesuit Priest by the name of Daniel Berrigan whom took his civil disobedience to another level by allowing himself to get arrested to back up his cause.

Photo Sources: The Intercept (left), RT (right)

Specifically according to The Intercept, Berrigan opposed all acts of violence, no matter the source. Berrigan was a trailblazing Jesuit leader of his time leading an effort to resist all acts of violence through which gained strength through his beliefs. 

How have American Catholics Felt About American Wars?

As stated earlier, wars have been one of the most divisive topics in American politics when it comes to whether or not the war is logical, or anything else for that matter. Indeed, wars were not only divisive within the general American public, but also within the American Catholic community as well. If it has not become apparent yet, the main idea to be taken away is that Catholics are a very large and diverse group of people, and not all Catholics align the same way on any given issue. Wars in the United States are no exception. For instance, there was Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest whom took his passion for pacifism and upheld it all the way to prison. On the other hand, there has also been a large group of American Catholics who have historically preferred to refrain from involvement, which is best portrayed by William A. Au in “American Catholics and the Dilemma of War 1960-1980:”

While American Catholics have had a strong tradition of involvement in issues of domestic reform, they have never been represented in large numbers or by a strong institutional presence in American anti-war movements.

Au also states that many Catholics at large were too conscious of being minorities that they would rather not dissent from the government, and if in need of help, they would rather look to the government for help rather than criticize it.

With two sides of the Catholic aisle in regard to American wars, it can be said that Daniel Berrigan is an example of a Catholic force that exemplified the subtle but harsh reality of  Catholics and their relation to war in regard to their faith.