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.


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.


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.


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.

President U.S. Grant: “Catholicism is A Greater Threat Than the Confederacy”

Photo Source: Thomas Nast

Since the “alleged” first landing of Spanish explorers in North America during the 1400s, to the creation of the United States controlled by a predominantly English population, the cultural idea of citizenship has remained murky. The idea of citizenship in American culture is not the same as legal citizenship. One can be a legal citizen, but largely not regarded or treated as such within the culture itself. A modern example of a group of people being treated as second-class citizens is the unequal treatment of people of color. However, a group of people whom many Americans would not immediately assume were treated as such are Catholics. Much has changed, and much has stayed the same, but there was a time in American culture that Catholics were seen as an enemy to American democracy and were not treated as full citizens.

Numerous relics left behind throughout American history prove a long-standing fear and support for anti-Catholicism in the American colonies. Prime facets of anti-catholic expression throughout American history include political cartoons, policy, and speeches.

The Americans River Ganges by Thomas Nast, largely known by historians as an anti-catholic political cartoon, is shown above. The cartoon symbolically depicts Roman Catholics as crocodiles who were invading to devour American school children. This not only depicts Catholics as foreign invaders trying to dismantle the country and cause fear, but also further instills fear by involving children. At the time the cartoon was published in 1871, there was a movement of sorts in which religious schools were seeking state funding since there were no laws previously passed to deal with the funding of schools. Thomas Nast, as well as many Republicans at the time, believed that the separation of church and state would disintegrate if government funding were provided to religious schools. Additional details in the background of the cartoon such as the school resembling a fortress depict the level of protection people felt was necessary to protect themselves against the threat of a “Catholic American Theocracy.” The American River Ganges by Thomas Nast is historical evidence of an anti-catholic view in the U.S. that lasted well into the Civil War.

Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar, appropriated for their support, shall be appropriated to any sectarian schools. Resolve that neither the State nor Nation, nor both combined shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford to every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistical dogmas. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. –President U.S. Grant at the Society of the Army of Tennessee Convention in Iowa, 1875. Source: Huffington Post

Above is a quote from a larger speech given by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 on his stance regarding the funding of “sectarian” schools. It is important to notice that President Grant is referring mostly to Catholics when he says “sectarian” schools. This quote from a 2 term president of the United States is further proof of how widespread and long-lasting the perception of Catholics has been in the United States. Not only were Catholics treated as if they were invading America, but also as if they were a larger threat than the confederacy by a major president of the United States.

It somewhat makes sense that not much changed from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War in regard to the treatment of Catholics, because not much with Catholics at the time had actually changed. Compared to 2018, where according to “A Closer Look at Catholic America” by Michael Lipka, 42% of American Catholics are of an ethnicity or race other than white Americans. Throughout much of American history, especially between the signing of the Declaration and the Civil War, not much changed in the demographics of American Catholics which would have likely been the vehicle for change. It is commonly known throughout history that major shifts in cultural perception can take decades if not centuries to develop and change. This begs the question of why were Catholics seen as different in the first place?

Why Haven’t Catholics Been Treated As Full Citizens Throughout American History?

Analyzing historical expressions of an anti-Catholic American past go to prove that there was, in fact, a real anti-catholic perception perviously held culturally by Americans. However, what the evidence at its surface does not yield, is why Catholics were ever treated negatively in the first place.

“Conciliarism and the American Founding” by Michael D. Breidenbach provides an interesting look inside the history associated with the underlying perceptions of Catholic immigrants in the early American colonies. Breidenbach alludes to the fact that the American perceptions of Catholics at the time did not come out of no where. The American perception of Catholics was not specifically unique to North America, it must not be forgotten that everyone residing in North America other than Native Americans are indeed immigrants. When a new country is beginning to form on the basis of a large population hailing from a different land, the perceptions, world view, and culture of the immigrants are likely to travel along with them.

What made Catholicism so odious to early American Protestants and justified English and colonial penal laws was the pope’s claim (and Catholics’ apparent acceptance of it) that he held temporal power over all civil rulers, including the right to depose a secular authority. The fear of “popery,” then, stemmed in part from the specter of “ecclesiastical tyranny.” -Michael D. Breidenbach on page 486 of “Conciliarism and the American Founding”

In the quote above, Breidenbach is identifying that the central reason Catholics have been feared in American culture is because the pope was claimed to be “superior to all civil rulers.” In relation to the cultural perceptions of the 1870s, it makes sense that Americans would see Catholicism as a threat to democracy because of the Catholic rhetoric involving the pope and his proclaimed powers, which could have struck a nerve in Americans’ pre-existing fear of a theocracy and imposition of their democratic process; however, it is not to say that this fear was justified.

What Were the Implications of This In More Modern Day Chicago?


Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Reflecting back on the second-class citizen treatment of Catholics in America, unions can also be seen as proof of an enduring and lasting effect of history on the cultural perception of Catholics. Without much knowledge pertaining to the exact becomings of unions and their relationship with Catholics, their existence as a necessity can still be concluded. If unions were born out of an abuse of factory workers imposed by the factory owners, then it would make sense that the somewhat culturally underprivileged Catholics would fall victim to negative treatment as well. According to Heath W. Carter in “Union Made,” “Many wage earners were faithful churchgoers who eschewed class activism.” Seemingly the only way to negotiate wages and fair treatment was to come together in the formation of unions, even though many Christians “considered it wrong according to [their] conscience to become part of an organization which governed the rights of [their] fellow-man.”


Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Nearby Union Park, the site and home to many of Chicago’s unions (hence the name UNION Park), still exists many unions functioning to this day. One difference however is that the surrounding area is now inhabited by high-income earning people housed in massively expensive apartments. The more east one goes from Union Park, the “nicer” the stores and facilities seem to become, most likely to appeal to the neighborhood’s new inhabitants.



Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

How Many Mexican Immigrants and People of Color Have to Die Before U.S. Officials Realize There Is a Problem?

Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new

Photo Source: The Atlantic

According to the International Organization For Migration (An agency of the United Nations), “412 migrant deaths were recorded” along the US-Mexico border in 2017 “compared to 398” recorded the year prior. This comes after a stark 44% drop in border crossings in 2017.

Despite the high death toll associated with crossing the border between the United States and Mexico, the numbers do not even account for the amount of deaths after ICE detainment, or other causes of death that are highly overlooked.

According to CNN, nearly half of the 16 migrant deaths recorded while in immigration detention between December 2015 and April 2017 were a result of inadequate and untimely medical care.

Why is it that ICE continues to treat detained migrants inhumanely? Although detained migrants have allegedly broken U.S. border laws, why is it that their intentions are battered up to “bad hombres” who are just crossing to “smuggle drugs?” Why is it that an entire nation of people, and entire racial group for that matter, are denounced to an inhumane motive while crossing the border and a false perception on behalf of American society? Finally, a food-for-thought question to ask yourself:

Would similar events unfold if there was a rise in illegal crossings between the US-Canada border?

The real purpose of this information is to demonstrate one of the most important domestic political issues facing the United States in 2018: immigration. The reason to consider whether or not similar events would unfold if the immigration debacle were occurring between the US-Canada border is because it sheds light on an important factor worth considering: race.

Considering popular American cultural perception, it is within general public knowledge that a majority of Canada’s population is perceived as being “white,” while a majority of Mexico’s population is “latin or hispanic.” Given the deeply rooted racial bias and racist tendencies embedded in U.S. culture, it could be observed that race likely plays a role in the treatment of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. Why else would the migrants be treated so poorly? If this was occurring at the US-Canada border with white migrants attempting to cross “illegally” would families be ripped apart, migrants left to die, and needs for medical care be ignored? Maybe. Maybe not. There is no way to know for sure, but the purpose of this question is to provoke thought into whether or not America is as “not-racist” as it thinks it is.

This directly leads to another massive political issue facing the United States: RACE.


Photo Source: Time

Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Jamar Clark, Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Charles Kinsey.

Above are the names of 13 Black Americans killed by police in the United States from 2012 to 2016 which sparked the Black Lives Matter Movement. The 13 Americans listed are not even a fraction of not only Black Americans being killed while unarmed, but the sheer amount of Black Americans being arrested for pursuing normal everyday acts within their own country.

It should be clear to anyone who has lived through the Black Lives Matter Movement, read about it, studied it, participated in it, or been involved directly in relation to a victim that the United States still has a race problem. Not long ago, many sheltered white Americans would go as far to claim that racism did not exist anymore. It is only now that these important issues are coming back into the forefront of American culture and conversations about race are starting to be had. This is not even to mention the long list of other problems and injustices faced by Black Americans in the United States.

Why is it that, in 2018, the content of someone’s character is still being judged solely on someone’s gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability, or race? Why is it that Black Americans are more likely and disproportionately killed by police? It is only when we begin to ask questions like these that we begin to arrive at an answer, or if not an answer, a more robust definition of what the search for an answer should consist of.

Are These Issues New to Recent Times? Were They Important Back Then?

Immigration and racial issues are issues that have existed in the United States since the beginning of the country’s history and have remained important up to modern-day. Racial issues between “white” Europeans and people of African descent have long predated the existence of the United States. Racial issues between people of European and African descent are rooted in the history of the forced migration and enslavement of African people. According to the course material curated by Dr. Timothy Gilfoyle in “American Pluralism” at Loyola University Chicago, the modern enslavement of African people can be traced back to the 1440s when Portugal began importing African slaves, but can also be traced all the way back to 800 A.D.

As for immigration, although the United States has not necessarily kept its doors closed to migrants since the very beginning, it has most definitely kept its cultural doors closed. For example, when English settlers were first colonizing North America, they did not prevent other ethnic and religious groups from coming as well, but instead they ostracized them and held false beliefs based on irrational fear, much like what goes on today. As for official regulation of who can come in, the United States has had a long history of regulating certain ethnic groups, anywhere from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the “Muslim Ban” of 2017.

How Do Catholics Vote on These Issues?

In relation to Catholics and immigration, it is important to remember the widely held perception of Catholics when they first immigrated to what is now the United States. According to Dr. Timothy Gilfoyle, when Catholics first arrived, many of the existing groups in North America feared a Catholic invasion of such in which Catholics could never assimilate into American Culture. Today, there either is or has been a Catholic in nearly every form of political office, setting an example that rarely, if ever, are fears of someone from a differing background true.

When considering racial issues in the United States, it is not very clear where Catholics have stood in relation to racial issues because it is too divisive. While parts of Catholicism has condoned certain types of enslavement, it also preaches ideals that go against such a concept. As for today, it is a question of relevance whether Catholic voters take their Catholicism into account when thinking of their views on race.

Since Catholic people are very diverse as well as divisive when it comes to voting, it is not necessarily appropriate to assume all Catholics would feel the same way about any given issue.


Half of recent immigrant detainee deaths due to inadequate medical care, report finds

Migrant Deaths Remain High Despite Sharp Fall in US-Mexico Border Crossings in 2017

Timeline: The Black Lives Matter movement