Should Rep. Peter King Investigate The Catholic Church?
Rep. Peter King, the Long Island congressman who for years supported the Irish Republican Army as it waged a terror campaign to eject the British from Northern Ireland, says that track record has no bearing on his controversial decision to hold hearings this week on what he calls the “radicalization” of Islam in America.
The two examples are different, he argues, and the main reason is that unlike radical Muslims, the I.R.A. never launched attacks in the United States. (That made sense, since Irish-Americans were sending crucial material support to the I.R.A.)
“I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States,” King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told The New York Times.
Okay, so how about investigating the Roman Catholic Church, another religious community — like Islam — and one to which the Irish-Catholic congressman also professes great loyalty?
As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen pointed out on Tuesday, if Congress is going to start investigating religious groups whose members have attacked Americans, that could be bad news for the Catholic Church given the extent of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. (And Cohen’s piece was published hours before the latest shocker, the mass suspension of 21 priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia following a grand jury probe — the second since 2005 — of the sexual abuse of children by clergy in the city.)
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League jumped on Cohen — as is his wont — for citing an exaggerated figure of 100,000 possible victims of clergy abuse, noting, correctly, that the figure is more like 12,000 (though this crime is notoriously under reported). Donohue did not, however, dispute Cohen’s central premise about the problematic nature of King’s investigation of Islam, and a toll of thousands of children abused over five decades is hardly what the lawyers might call exculpatory evidence.
Little wonder that former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican, onetime FBI agent and federal prosecutor, and devout Catholic, likened some bishops to the Mafia when he was named in 2002 to be the first head of a lay oversight board to keep the hierarchy honest in its abuse-prevention policies.
Such characterizations got Keating forced out by the bishops after a year in the post, and his resignation letter still minced no words: “To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church.”
Of course, a congressional investigation of the Catholic Church would be met with howls of protests from the likes of Donohue and most certainly Peter King, and rightly so.
The point is that the religious community that Muslims today most clearly resemble is the Roman Catholic Church, and it was thus as recently as King’s own youth, when John F. Kennedy barely won election due to concerns that one could not be a “good Catholic” and a “good American.”
Indeed, during the campaign Kennedy famously had to assure Protestant pastors that he would never take orders from the Vatican (a pronouncement many conservative Christians today now hold against Kennedy and his Catholic heirs in the Democratic Party — sometimes you can’t win for losing).
King’s hearing set for Thursday has been compared to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, while others speculated that they would be akin to holding congressional hearings on the role of Christianity in promoting violence against gays or abortion providers.
But the Islamic-Catholic analogy is most apt.
Like Muslims in America today, Catholics were seen as foreign-born immigrants who were subject to a foreign ruler, namely the Pope in Rome, who did not recognize religious freedom and democratic governance.
The latter charges were actually true, more or less, until the reforms of the 1960s, though American Catholics took little notice of such teachings, much as American Muslims would stare blankly if asked about the latest fatwa from some imam in Iran.
(In 1928, New York Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated as a presidential candidate, was challenged by a prominent Episcopal layman to explain how he could expect to uphold the Constitution if elected while at the same time accepting the teaching in papal encyclicals. “What the hell is an encyclical?” Smith reportedly asked. He still got creamed by Herbert Hoover.)
During the 19th century a major political party was founded to combat Catholic influence, and Catholic students were unable to attend public schools without having to imbibe Protestant teachings. Catholics were subject to outbursts of popular violence, and when the pope donated a stone for the construction of the Washington Monument in 1854, an anti-Catholic mob threw it into the Potomac River. Thomas Nast’s famous 1875 cartoon, “The American River Ganges,” showed St. Peter’s Basilica in the background with mitred Catholic bishops as crocodiles attacking the United States to devour the nation’s schoolchildren.
Such sentiments were all too common, as were efforts — as Paul Moses noted in Commonweal magazine — to stop the construction of Catholic churches in U.S. cities, almost a mirror image of the fierce arguments last year against construction of the so-called “ground zero” mosque, also known as the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan.
It was King, in fact, who had a key role in fomenting opposition to the Islamic center, saying early last year that it was “particularly offensive” because “so many Muslim leaders have failed to speak out against radical Islam, against the attacks” of 9/11.
Those arguments laid the ground work for King’s subsequent charges that American Muslims and their leaders are not cooperating with authorities to thwart terrorist plots and that 80 percent of mosques in America are controlled by radical imams. Even though King has provided no evidence for the charges — and the latest research counters his claims — he is going ahead with a hearing to “test” his hypothesis.
King continued his line of argumentation on the eve of the hearing, telling the Associated Press that radical Islam is a distinct threat that must be investigated regardless of whose sensibilities are offended.
“You have a violent enemy from overseas which threatens us and which is recruiting people from a community living in our country,” King said. He could have been talking about his own Catholic community in the 1800s.
It is also interesting to note that Catholics often reacted to such denigration by trying to prove they were more patriotic than the Founding Fathers which, as Notre Dame church historians R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy have pointed out, sometimes led to excesses like Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist hearings of the 1950s.
That’s a historical parallel Peter King may also want to remember.
By: David Gibson, Religion Reporter, Politics Daily, March 9, 2011