Anti-Catholicism is arguably the oldest bias in the history of the American people. Or so Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. — who had no dog in the fight — once told the dean of U.S. Catholic historians, Fr. John Tracy Ellis. Over the centuries, however, anti-Catholicism in America has taken on several forms.
Catholics, particularly Catholic clergy, have been accused of all manner of collusion, immorality, and particularly of sexual depravity:
In the early 19th century, the indictment against Catholicism was expanded to include the charge of sexual slavery in convents and Catholic schools. No one today would be surprised to be told that antebellum America’s bestselling book was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; it’s probably a safe bet that 99 percent of the country doesn’t know that Number Two on the pre–Civil War bestseller list was a potboiling fiction, Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal, which purported to be the memoirs of an escapee from this sexual Devil’s Island, one Maria Monk, but which was in fact written by two Protestant ministers. The Maria Monk trope — the Catholic Church as haven for sexual predators — was later revived in secular form in the cartoons of muckraker Thomas Nast, who regularly portrayed the miters of Catholic bishops as alligators’ jaws opening to attack children; it says something about the lack of imagination of today’s editorial cartoonists that this tawdry and tired image is regularly repeated on 21st-century editorial pages.
The truth about the Church in America is that she had stood steadfast against a tide of Dionysus in our country that has even engulfed many venerable Christian denominations.
She is hated for it.
Weigel's essay is a fine summary of the viability of the oldest religious bigotry in America, and the only one that is still practiced openly and unapologetically in American media and among American elites today.