National Catholic Register

Commentary

Moving Beyond the Catholic Stereotype

BY DONALD DEMARCO

September 23-29, 2007 Issue | Posted 9/18/07 at 2:22 PM

 

To stereotype a person is to locate him in a category that forbids recognition of his individuality.

It gives preference to the fictional over the real, the abstract over the concrete. Hence, it is an act of injustice, and has much in common with a laundry list of detestable “isms”: racism, sexism, colonialism, communism, etc.

And yet, despite the near universal repudiation of stereotyping, it remains active, indeed, even fashionable, to stereotype Catholics.

According to this stereotype, a Catholic is a one-dimensional creature that acts solely on the basis of a faith that he cannot share with non-Catholics. As a consequence, Catholics are often disenfranchised from the political process simply because they are Catholics. As we read over and over again in the secular press, “Catholics should not try to impose their faith on others,” “Church and state must remain separate,” “We live in a pluralistic society,” and so on.

In reality, a Catholic is not simply a believer. He is also a knower, and one, as a matter of fact, who has a great enthusiasm for reason. The philosophy of politics is not alien to the Catholic mind either historically or presently.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have sought passionately and persistently to remind Catholics of their proper place in the democratic scheme of things, which is to help in providing society with a rational basis that makes justice and peace possible.

In other words, a Catholic is a humanist in the best sense of the term. To limit him to his faith is to stereotype him unjustly.

In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Pope Benedict draws a clear line between the Church and the state when he writes, “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the state.”

On the other hand, the role of the Church, according to the Holy Father, “is simply to help purify reason and to contribute here and now to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.”

Properly formed Catholics provide a corrective when reason gives way to trends, opinion polls, political correctness, pressure groups, convenience and a peculiar form of relativism that claims to be absolute (the “dictatorship of relativism”).

The Holy Father alludes to the fact that “relativism creates the illusion that it has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past.” Yet relativism itself, strictly speaking, can make no such claim since it purports that no philosophy can be better than any other.

The Holy Father also notes how secular politicians can easily fall prey to “a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.”

The world of politics should welcome Catholics because they actually show a more cultivated appreciation for reason than what is usually displayed by self-serving politicians or legislators who sacrifice justice for convenience.

Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, has made the observation that the Catholic Church is far more committed to reason and rational discourse than is the world of secular politics. “It seems to me,” he states, “that these people have it backward. The Church’s moral teachings are in line with reason; secularist ideology is not.”

The plain truth, which secular newspapers, in general, fail to grasp is that the Catholic Church is an incomparably better witness to reason than is the secular world. The Church is passionately interested in truth, nature and objectivity because she knows that they provide the indispensable framework for a true humanism. Peace and justice cannot flower in a relativistic vacuum.Unfortunately, Catholics are prevented from making as great a contribution to politics as they can because the stereotype that stigmatizes them does not recognize their rich potentialities for reasonableness, fairness and consistency.

Stereotypes can blind people to vital human assets. This blindness is unjust to the stereotyped victims. But it also deprives society of all the benefits Catholics could confer if they could only be seen for who they are in reality, namely, human beings who want to help other human beings without prejudice.


Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.