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Catholics on Park51

[Chang W. Lee, The New York Times]

In the days since I wrote about the Park51 Community Center (also called Cordoba House, the Burlington Coat Factory Cultural Center, or, erroneously, The Ground Zero Mosque), a few interesting pieces have appeared in Catholic outlets or by prominent Catholics. I have nothing to add to these. I simply want to bring them to your attention.

First, there is the commentary, now online, that will appear as the editorial in the September 10 issue of Commonweal. An excerpt:

The controversy over Park51 was manufactured by opportunists on the Right stoking outrage against what they describe as a “victory mosque” to be built “at Ground Zero” by radical Muslims intent on commemorating their “triumph.” . . . It is an overt appeal to religious bigotry, one that both victimizes Muslims at home and makes it more difficult for ambassadors from the United States to the Muslim world, including Imam Rauf, to win cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

. . .

Muslims were among those who died in the September 11 attacks. They were among the emergency personnel who responded to the disaster and the workers who sorted through the wreckage at Ground Zero. Muslim Americans, like all other Americans, responded to 9/11 in anger and fear, prayed for peace, grieved the loss of loved ones, and enlisted in the armed forces to fight terrorism. Any version of what happened that day that excludes their presence among the victims is inaccurate. Any argument that places all American Muslims outside the definition of “American” or fails to distinguish between ordinary Muslims and terrorists must be rejected.

Asking Imam Rauf and his community to retreat in the face of a deficient understanding of Islam is unreasonable and deeply harmful to attempts to combat Islamist terrorism at home and abroad. It is also a betrayal of the church’s call to rise above prejudice in relations with other faiths. American Catholics should be standing against the opposition to Park51 and all other manifestations of anti-Muslim prejudice. The bishops should be leading the way.

As a complement to this editorial, Paul Moses writes, also at Commonweal, about similarities between anti-Catholic attacks in New York in the nineteenth century and anti-Moslem attacks now. Moses takes us back to 1880 and provides several examples. It’s hard to imagine now that St. Patrick’s Cathedral could have been an object of controversy, but it was:

At the Church of the Disciples of Christ on 28th Street near Broadway, the Rev. Joseph Bradford Cleaver spoke under the title “Crucifix Smiting the Cross; or shall the Papacy govern New York City?” He was among those who saw the opening of the magnificent new St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan the previous year as a dangerous sign of Catholic power and warned that Cardinal John McCloskey, who was “enthroned” there, would rule America as the pope’s viceroy and bring on a new Inquisition if Grace were elected mayor.

Lastly, at the website of the New York Review of Books, R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy (the John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame and the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame) have a post with a similar theme. They open with the observation that “As historians of American Catholicism, and Catholics, we are concerned to see the revival of a strain of nativism in the current controversy over the establishment of an Islamic center some blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.” After reviewing some Catholic history, they turn to the current controversy, concluding:

Is it imprudent for Rauf and his supporters to locate the proposed Islamic center so close to the site of terrible violence against Americans committed in the name of Islam? In fact the fault lies less with Rauf than with a debased effort to whip up partisan fervor around the issue. Must Muslims unequivocally reject all forms of terrorism—especially those Muslims who wish to promote full Muslim participation in American society? Of course. But if the Catholic experience in the United States holds any lesson it is that becoming American also means asserting one’s constitutional rights, fully and forcefully, even if that assertion is occasionally taken to be insulting. The genius of the American experiment in religious liberty is precisely this long-term confidence that equal rights for all religious groups builds the loyalty every democratic society needs. Certainly American Catholics learned that lesson long ago.

All three pieces are worth reading in full.

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Categories: History, Politics, Religion
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