They told me not to overreact. Read the comments “in context,” they said. And, after all, Christine, you’re an immigration lawyer; you have a tendency to blow these things out of proportion. Chill, lady. Go say a rosary and call us in the morning.
That’s pretty much the reaction I got when I posted Stephen Bannon’s comments on Facebook. In case you don’t know what comments I’m referring to, let me help you with a few choice tidbits:
This: “I understand why Catholics want as many Hispanics in this country as possible, because the church is dying in this country, right? If it was not for the Hispanics.”
And this: “(Paul Ryan) is rubbing his social justice Catholicism in my nose every second.”
And this: “That Whore of Babylon stuff, who’s to say it’s not really true?”
OK, OK, he didn’t say the last one. He might have thought it, but he didn’t say it. Still, I wouldn’t put it past Donald Trump’s new campaign chief executive to say something along those lines, and still get thunderous applause from Trump supporters, even Catholic ones.
On my own Facebook page, after posting a link to Bannon’s comments, some of my virtual friends fired back about the pedophilia scandal and sanctuary cities, as if there was a direct correlation between Bannon’s rather racist implications and the very real problem of weak or fluid borders.
There isn’t, my friends. You can legitimately have concerns about the interplay between unemployment, criminal justice, national security and the broken immigration system without plunging deeply into the oozing La Brea Tar Pits of bigotry known as “the national discussion on political pandering.”
In fact, I’m all for a real discussion about sanctuary cities, because I generally oppose any system that allows criminals, regardless of their immigration status, to slip through the hands of our police and prosecutors. Call it “sanctuary city,” call it “political correctness,” call it whatever you want, the safety of those living in this country must trump every other consideration. Every other.
But I won’t allow slurs against my faith to be justified by irrelevant and off-point debates about illegal immigration. Bannon basically said my church was in the business of supporting illegal immigration so that it could pad its numbers and add money to the weekly collection plate. He knew exactly what he was doing when he conflated “immigrant” with “Hispanic,” puckering up for that high-pitched dog whistle that identifies all “undesirable foreigners” as papists. The man is not only offensive. He’s wrong.
While most Mexicans, Central and South Americans and other Latinos self-define as Catholics, a very large minority are evangelical Christians or belong to one of the other Protestant denominations. This is something that’s been lost on Bannon, who presumably whispers in Trump’s ears. And I’m thinking that’s because it’s an easy thing to slam the Catholic Church these days, which has been living through a rather dark period.
What? You hadn’t noticed? Well let me fill you in. Over the past 15 or so years, my church has been picked apart by jackals in the media and turned into some kind of finishing school for pedophiles. While there is a problem, and it is being addressed, you would think that the Roman collar is similar to a gang tattoo, indicating that the person wearing it is engaged in criminal activity.
I’m sick of it, and I’m used to dealing with that attitude from liberals who never saw a vestibule they didn’t want to refurbish as a transgender bathroom. I’ve dealt with the rants of pro-choice Catholics who’ve added abortion to the list of sacraments and who see absolutely nothing immoral or evil in allowing “other people” to choose infanticide. Yes, I said infanticide. Sorry if that upsets you. Actually, I’m not.
But as much as I’m repulsed by the left-wing haters, I’m equally disturbed by those on the right who cloak their anti-Catholicism behind this law-and-order rhetoric, this affinity for walls, this sympathy for young, white women from California killed by brown men from Honduras. I’m not saying we should welcome criminal aliens into our midst. I am saying we can’t be dishonest and try to lay the blame for that criminality on an organization that exists to do God’s work, even where it stumbles mightily.
Bannon is just another example of what I like to call “the backdoor bigots.” They don’t actually come out and say they hate the church, because even though anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice, it still doesn’t fly in polite company. Instead, then, of actually coming out and calling Mother Teresa the sister of Miss Babylon, they will point to some negative societal influence or occurrence and then deftly tie the church to it.
Liberals of the “they’re all pedophiles” ilk, the former Catholics and the “recovering Catholics” and the rest of the motley crew, will point to homophobia and sex abuse (in the case of priests, usually same-sex abuse) and policies that allegedly hurt and disenfranchise women to undermine the good that the church has done and will continue to do. The greatest private social network of charity across the nation is supported by the Roman Catholic church, including schools, hospitals, women’s shelters, crisis pregnancy clinics, orphanages and a host of other institutions that exist to be “their brother’s keeper.” But for the left, this pales in comparison with the fact that this church stands in the way of social engineering, which upsets their secular apple cart (and we all know what happens when you mess around with apples).
But the brother and sisters on the right are equally adept at their delegitimization tactics, and Bannon is Exhibit A. It’s ingenious, really. Take someone who is already persona non grata in society, a Catholic. Conflate him with someone who is even less desirable, an immigrant. Push it a little further, and make that immigrant “illegal.” Add water, stir, and you have the perfect souffle of blame.
People who think the church is a den of pedophiles and hates women will likely vote for Hillary in the fall. On the other hand, people who think the church hides criminal aliens behind the altar will gravitate toward Trump.
Once again, I’m reminded why I’m disgusted by both sides. And once again, I’m reminded why Al Smith lost that presidential race, and JFK needed to assure the Houston pastors that he wasn’t in the pope’s pocket. The times, they’re not a-changing.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email her at email@example.com.