The Catholic Thing
Catholics and Article VI Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 19 October 2011

In early October, a Baptist minister publicly denounced the Mormon religion of Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney as a “cult” and “not Christian.” The attack, in effect, questioned Romney’s fitness for office because he is one of the 4 million members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

This was not the first assault on the Mormon religion. Since Romney started running for president five years ago, there have been exposés from the left and the right denouncing Mormonism as an alien group of zealots who have strange rituals and secretly approve of polygamy.

Catholics should be very wary about this anti-Mormon climate. While we clearly disagree with many of Mormonism’s basic doctrines and reject alleged revelations vouchsafed to founder Joseph Smith, that does not mean we should applaud attacks on the Mormon faith. For the better part of our nation’s history, Catholics were denounced as unfit for public service because we were perceived as cultists and slaves of a foreign potentate, the Pope of Rome.

   Same old . . .

Here’s just a sampling of attacks on the Church and measures intended to exclude Catholics from the public arena:

 ŸJohn Jay, who served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, proposed an amendment at New York’s 1777 Constitutional Convention to exclude from office those who believed in “the wicked and damnable doctrine that the Pope has power to absolve men from sin.” (Thanks to the efforts of Governeur Morris, the measure was defeated.)
Ÿ  Until 1844, the New Jersey Constitution forbade Catholics from holding state office.
Ÿ  North Carolina’s original constitution stated that “No person who shall deny. . .the truths of the Protestant religion. . .shall be capable of holding any office or Place of Trust or Profit in the Civil Department of this state.” These restrictions were not lifted until 1835.
Ÿ  Until the 1830s, officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire had to take an oath “to abjure all obedience to a foreign ecclesiastical power.”
Ÿ  During the 1824 presidential campaign, John Quincy Adams gave a speech in Baltimore – the seat of the nation’s first Catholic Diocese – in which he described the Catholic Church as a “portentous system of despotism and superstition.”
Ÿ  At its 1843 National General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church approved this resolution: “Resolved. . .that the Roman Catholic Church has essentially apostatized from the religion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and therefore cannot be recognized as a Christian Church. . . . That it be recommended to all our communion to endeavor by the diffusion of light by the pulpit, the press and all other Christian means, to resist the extension of Romanism.”
Ÿ  The Know-Nothing Party, which in the elections of 1854 gained control of eleven state legislatures and elected seven governors, eight U.S. senators, and 104 congressmen, stated in its platform that Catholics must be prohibited from holding public office and called for stronger immigration laws to keep Catholics out of the United States.

 Although tens of thousands of Catholics fought and died for the Union during the Civil War, in the post-war period Republican Presidents Grant, Garfield, and Hayes, as well as the editorial pages of Harper’s Weekly, The Nation, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times feared the growth of Catholicism. Historian John T. McGreevey observed, “They worried that an authoritarian church continued to stand against liberal reform, that an international church threatened national unity, and that Catholicism might slow scientific and intellectual progress.”
Ÿ – The American Protective Association, which in 1892 had 2.5 million members and elected scores of candidates in the Midwest, demanded that Catholics be dismissed from all railroad and manufacturing jobs. They circulated phony documents that claimed Catholics intended to exterminate Protestants. In the presidential election of 1896, the APA condemned Republican William McKinley for appointing too many Catholics to Ohio’s state government and spread rumors that his campaign manager, Mark Hanna, was secretly a Catholic.
 During the presidential campaign of 1928, Protestants of every class and region vigorously opposed the candidacy of Roman Catholic Alfred E. Smith. Five million viciously anti-Catholic pamphlets, flyers, and newspapers were distributed across America every week. Smith and his supporters were accused of forming an “alien Catholic conspiracy to overthrow the Protestant, Anglo-Saxon majority under which the country has achieved its independence and its greatness.”
Ÿ – As recently as 1960, POAU – Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – alleged that Catholics were using their growing influence at the ballot box to overthrow the government and create a religious state to be ruled by the pope. The Fair Campaign Practices Committee reported that, after the November 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, 392 different anti-Catholic pamphlets were published. Estimates of their circulation were as high as 25 million.

. . . same old

Do you get my point? Catholics have been on the receiving end of vicious bigotry; we must be very vigilant and ready to oppose those who question or denigrate a presidential candidate merely because of his religious affiliation. There’s plenty to question each candidate about in terms of policies and past performance. But every time Catholics hear a scurrilous accusation about some public figure’s faith, they should recall Article VI of the U.S. Constitution: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of the forthcoming Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Chuck Harding, October 19, 2011
Someone belonging to one of the cults like LDS, Islam, or Scientology may run for office, but any Catholic that votes for them, or any Democrat, is putting their souls in jeopardy. This is according to the new introduction to the U.S. bishops’ document on political responsibility which reminds Catholics that some issues “involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified,” while others “require action to pursue justice and promote the common good.”
written by Brennan, October 19, 2011
On the one hand, perhaps the anti-Catholic pamphleteers should be afraid. Catholicism is not merely a private, behind closed doors religion. It teaches there is one true Church and one true Faith. Protestants, and others in general, instinctively abhor this.

Plus, the laws of a nation are to reflect the eternal laws of God, and Catholics should be doing all they can to bring this about--another reason to fear the Church.

I certainly could potentially vote for Mitt Romney. And it wasn't improper to ask JFK or other Catholics about how their faith would affect their politics (hopefully quite a bit in the areas of justice and the Natural Law). So it isn't off limits to ask Romney questions about how his faith might affect his politics.

However, one large difference between Catholicism and Mormonism is that the further one delves into Mormonism the, quite frankly, wackier it becomes. God used to be a man? You will rule your own planet eternally begetting spirit children who will one day worship you as a god? Beliefs like these are part of Mormonism even today and they certainly aren't Christian. I tend to think that any man who embraces a faith as an adult ought to be able to give a rational defense of it, and this doesn't exclude Mormonism.
written by Manfred, October 19, 2011
You might be overplaying religion in the political realm, Mr. Marlin. While governor of MA, Romney was solidly pro-abortion and it was he who introduced state sponsored health insurance, complete with the individual mandate. This plan was the chassis which the Obama admin. adopted and which the American people find so distasteful to the point that 26 states are suing the Fed. Gov't. over it. Romney is no more a Mormon than Biden, Pelosi,the Kennedys, Cuomo et al. are Catholic. It is merely a cultural accident of birth. Once you accept the fiction of ecumenism, the opinions of Rick Perry's Baptist minister have as much weight as the Pope's. This fact, probably more than any other, has pushed the American people into secularism.
written by Allen , October 19, 2011
I would not be surprised that the Protestant Minister who criticized the Mormons would have equally damning things to say about the Pope and Catholics. Mr. Jay's animus towards Catholics stemmed from his family's persecution by Catholics because they were French Huguenots.
written by Titus, October 19, 2011
The key distinction between criticism of Catholicism and criticism of Mormonism, of course, is that Catholicism is true, while Mormonism is false.

So while it won't do merely to fling unsubstantiated accusations or wild bigotries at a Mormon candidate, it may be worthwhile to ask how his false beliefs may influence his fitness for office, or how electing a man who holds such beliefs would affect our polity as a whole. Perhaps the proper answers to such questions do not, in fact, provide any reason for voting against a Mormon candidate. But they might.

When asked by individual members of the electorate(by themselves or in groups) as a means for guiding their votes, nothing in the exercise of considering such questions runs afoul of Article VI. Cf. the absurd stunts by the members of the Judiciary Committee every time a Catholic is nominated to a federal judicial post, exercises that do implicate Article VI.

The alternative, implicitly suggested by Mr. Marlin---although I doubt he would embrace the thesis intentionally---is to agree with Kennedy and Cuomo that the things a man believes have no role to play in his decisions as a political figure. Surely this cannot be the case for a faithful Catholic, and surely we ought not to presume that it would be the case for any other man.
written by Howard Kainz, October 19, 2011
One "red flag" about having a Mormon president is the fact that the Book of Mormon refers to the Catholic Church as the "great and abominable church" and the church "founded by the devil" (1 Nephi 13:5, 6). But LDS authorities began to downplay this reference in 1966. Mormon "doctrine" is flexible -- e.g., in regard to polygamy and the status of blacks.
written by Eric Giunta, October 19, 2011
Marlin grossly misses the point: the Constitution (rightly) keeps *Caesar* from imposing religious tests on political candidates; it does *not*--nor should it!--keep *voters* from doing so. Voters are *supposed* to take into account their candidates' worldview when determining who they want to represent their interests in public office. I'm surprised Marlin would argue in favor of Catholics being functionally atheist and secularist in their voting habits.
written by Louise, October 19, 2011
Re: Allen's comment: "Mr. Jay's animus towards Catholics stemmed from his family's persecution by Catholics because they were French Huguenots."

For the true account of who was persecuting whom between Catholics and Huguenots, see Belloc: "How the Reformation Happened." Things were not necessarily the way we were taught in school. BTW, did you know that there were TWO St. Bartholomew Day Massacres? Neither did I until I read Mr. Belloc's book.

Here's another gem from HTRH that touches on current events (p.51):

"The peasants' revolt was sporadic, random, abominably violent, murderous, and full of all the very simple doctrines whereby men hope to restore justice on earth through the destruction of all privilege--that is the destruction of all framework, and therefore the destruction of society."
written by Allen, October 19, 2011
Louise, I was referring to the Jay family experiences. They were French Huguenots and they were persecuted by Catholics. I do not believe Belloc documented the history of the Jay family. If I am wrong please pass along the reference from Jay.
written by Louise, October 19, 2011
Perhaps Mr. Jay was ill-informed and his hatred of the Church was based on mis-information. From the very early years of the 16th century to the life of Mr. Jay is two- to two-and-a-half centuries. When you think of how quickly (only one or two generations) the truth of the events of the Reformation in England, France, and Germany (the north countries) was obliterated in favor of the myth that supported the cause of the vicotrs, It is likely that Mr. Jay never heard the truth any more than we have. That is all that I was saying. His animus against the Church more than likely had no basis in fact at all.
written by Grump, October 19, 2011
In other words, only atheists and agnostics are safe targets.
written by Manuel Morales, October 20, 2011
To compare Mormonism - a cult not a Religion - to Catholicism is an aberration. Furthermore, there is not even one single point to compare.
I read the "Book of Mormon" and I didn't find any point in favor of our Dear Lord Jesus Christ, on the contrary.
So, this author should have had a second thought before writing his article.
written by Allen, October 22, 2011

I would agree that Mr. Jay's opinions were based on a lot of misinformation.

written by Graham Combs, October 23, 2011
Some things never change.

Harper's, The Nation, and the New York Times still think and feel that way about the Church.

And did no one notice a similarity between the above cartoon and a more recent one depicting the members of the Supreme Court wearing mitres?

At a former employer (that late Borders Books) I heard the Catholic Church regularly attacked and misrepresented by managers, employees, and customers alike. This at a company that made "diversity" an obsession and in an affluent Detroit suburb that prided itself on "tolerance."

written by Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz, October 27, 2011
I'm just amazed that someone on The Catholic Thing would miss the obvious point that Eric Giunta raised -- Article VI is not directed to voters. It is directed to those who hold civil offices. To tell voters they can't take a person's religious beliefs into account when they're in the booth would be a dictatorial excess that most of the Founding Fathers would have found abhorrent to even consider.

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