When Is Anti-Catholicism not Anti-Catholicism
As Catholics, oftentimes we can see anti-Catholicism where it actually may be legitimate criticism. This happened recently in the pages of The Atlantic Magazine. Daniel Panneton, who according to his Twitter profile (@DBPanneton) is a Canadian museums worker and a hate researcher, wrote about “gun culture” embracing the rosary.
The Atlantic obviously publishes internationally but many see it as a left-leaning U.S. magazine and Panneton’s words hit a nerve with many Catholics here. He wrote about an American culture that seems to mix the rosary with militant images. The first title of his article simply describes the rosary—a set of close to seventy prayer beads for meditation—as an extremist symbol. With those words, many in and out of the media screamed persecution and labeled the Atlantic another left-wing publication attacking Catholics. Later, the title changed to focus on “extremist gun culture co-opting the rosary.” A reversal of terms that took the focus off the rosary and onto the extremism.
Anti-Catholicism in history
Unlike Canada which the French Catholics evangelized in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the United States was actually Christianized by the non-Catholic Christians—Protestants. Harvard was a Puritan seminary long before it became the Unitarian-Universalist based school it is today. The early settlers were notoriously anti-Catholic. The British have a long history of anti-Catholicism and many of the Irish will remind people that Oliver Cromwell tried to eliminate their papist, Celtic existence centuries ago. Boris Johnson in maybe an ill-informed gaff defended protecting statues of Winston Churchill against the takedown statues movement by asking: “Who was next Oliver Cromwell?” Some would say: “No, he must be first.”
Here in this country, where both major parties have anti-Catholic platforms in their histories those of us who are Catholics can be ready to push the “they are attacking us again” button and sometimes for good reason.
In one the greatest acts of anti-Catholicism to blow up in the faces of those against us “papists” various preachers including Norman Vincent Peale and even Billy Graham gathered together to work against the election of John F. Kennedy because of his Catholic faith. The attempt failed miserably. Reverend Billy Graham was deeply regretful of being part of this action and Rev. Norman Vincent Peale had to apologize to his Manhattan congregation. Obviously, John Kennedy became president and the rest is history.
However, just because there is anti-Catholicism in the history of our country, it does not mean that anyone who criticizes us is indeed anti-Catholic. This is why we must carefully discern the hostile enemy from the truthful critic.
Daniel Panneton wrote about what he considered deeply concerning—a culture embracing violent symbolism of militancy and draping the rosary over it.
Militant Catholics will not fight for the pope
The Atlantic occasionally reports on things Catholic, including those who are in the militant fringe of the Church. Prior to the last presidential election, Tish Durbin’s article: The Catholics Who Hate Joe Biden—and Pope Francis (October 21, 2020 The Atlantic on Medium) reported on the Catholic movement to re-elect Donald Trump.
Her article educated me greatly about what was happening behind the scenes in presidential campaigns.
Daniel Panneton’s article was not incorrect though it could have been more well researched. Reaching out to others for their take on his words led me to see his criticism was not unfounded.
Mark Shea, who has a long history of pointing out such issues, posted some of these images of militant symbols and firearms with rosaries draped over them on his blog Stumbling Towards Heaven in his article My Soul MAGAfies the Lord: On the Right Wing Perversion of the Rosary. I showed them to some non-English speakering Catholics not familiar with US gun culture and they had interesting reactions including confusion. One person pointed out the gun is a symbol of power. Catholics have a calling to embrace humility.
I am assuming that Daniel Panneton is not Catholic and has no connection to the Catholic Church. I also do not think that he read Tish Durbin’s article because he would know the people who embrace this militant culture in Catholicism despise the pope. So when Mr. Panneton quoted Pope Francis that the road to holiness includes spiritual combat, no Catholic would understand him rallying these militant troops because, as the pontiff himself admits, many of them would prefer him to be dead.
However, Daniel Panneton’s article was also a wake up call to the rest of us. It is time for us all to ask where this combination of the rosary, firearms and military terminology goes wrong.
Militant terms refer to prayerful actions
St. Maximilian Kolbe formed the Militia of the Immaculata which is a prayer-based organization to fight the kingdom of evil. He himself died at the hands of the NAZIs in Auschwitz giving his life for a Jewish prisoner slotted for death. His mission was against the evil forces that give rise to evil actions. He did not support taking up arms against his enemies. However, the terminology remains.
There is other terminology as well. One is The Blue Army—a group of rosary prayers who have no connection to army/navy hardware. The military terminology comes from a concept of the church militant. This means a Church in a battle against evil. St. Paul called them spiritual forces. The tool most effective against them is prayerfulness and fidelity to Christ. Many in the Church consider the Rosary the most powerful weapon.
I am a United States Navy Veteran. I am trained in various firearms including the Smith and Wesson Colt .45 semi automatic pistol. I do not own a firearm, I do not have an F.I.D. card and I have no intention of owning either. If people see me as a warrior, then it is against the forces of evil and prayer is the weapon of choice. If you ask me to bless your firearm, I will send you away.
Absalom and David
I love to tell the story of David’s son Absalom (cf 2 Samuel 17) riding to Jerusalem to overthrow his father’s reign and take the throne for himself. He got caught by the branches of a tree as he rode under it and was left helplessly suspended between Heaven and Earth. David’s men kill him and send a messenger to tell the king that this threat is no more. David was greatly saddened by the death because Absalom, threat or not, was still the king’s son.
Catholicism does not require pacifism but it does demand that any threat against life and or property must be addressed using the minimum amount of force required to stop the danger. The current militant gun culture which often embraces the death penalty, a tool of execution the church rejects, is clearly not a model of Catholicism I want to represent my faith.
Mr. Panneton could have researched his article more but he was not wrong in his premise. The current mixing of military hardware and rosaries is deeply concerning and I see no place where our Lord would agree with it. After all, if we succeed in destroying a threat using such weaponry we can expect God to remind us—“But this was my child.”
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