“2004: Year of ‘The Passion’,” by Frank Rich, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/19/arts/19rich.html, 19 December 2004 (from The Corner).
“The U.S. Catholic Church: Historical Background,” Archdiocese of Saint Louis: Archdiocesan Archives, http://www.archstl.org/archives/about/cathhist.htm.
Frank Rich is not a happy man.
The power of this minority within the Christian majority comes from its exaggerated claims on the Bush election victory. It is enhanced further by a news culture, especially on television, that gives the Mel Gibson wing of Christianity more say than other Christian voices and that usually ignores minority religions altogether. This is not just a Fox phenomenon. Something is off when NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week,” mainstream TV shows both, invite religious leaders to discuss “values” in the aftermath of the election and limit that discussion to all-male panels composed exclusively of either evangelical ministers or politicians with pseudo-spiritual credentials. Does Mr. Falwell, who after 9/11 blamed Al Qaeda’s attack partly on “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians,” speak for any sizable group of American Christians? Does the Rev. Al Sharpton, booked on TV as a “balance” to Mr. Falwell, do so either? Mr. Sharpton doesn’t even have a congregation; like Mr. Falwell, he is a politician first, a religious leader second (or maybe fourth or fifth).
I’m unsure what Mr. Rich means by the “Mel Gibson” wing of Christianity. It certainly can’t be the Catholic Traditionalist Movement, an infinitesimally splinter off Roman Catholocism most noted for an admiration of the Latin Mass. Maybe Frank himself doesn’t know. In all seriousness, he might lump all visibly religious and tradional-oriented folk in an undifferentiated mass.
Certainly Catholcs by themselves did not make The Passion the hit it is. Evangelicals played a huge role, not to mention the fact it was a very well made movie that is vicerally moving, regardless of personal beliefs.
But if Frank Rich is not happy now, can you imagine him in twenty years? Or thirty?
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Catholics made up only one per cent of the total population of the 13 colonies. Philadelphia, site of the first Continental Congress, had the largest number of Catholics.
The state of Maryland was founded by George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, as a haven where Catholics could live without fear of persecution for their religious beliefs.
The first U.S. bishop was John Carroll, a former Jesuit priest, who was appointed by the Pope as bishop of Baltimore in 1789. The Pope designated Baltimore the first Catholic diocese in the United States.
Until about 1850, the Roman Catholic population of the United States was a small minority made up primarily of English Catholics. Following the potato famine and other events in Europe in the 1840s, millions of Irish and other European Catholics began a massive emigration to the United States. In the early to mid-1800s, Catholics made up only 5 percent of the nation’s population. But by the end of the 19th century, the Catholic population had grown to represent 14 percent of the total U.S. population (14 million out of 82 million people).
By the early 1900s, Catholicism was the single largest religious denomination in the country.
In 1960, the nation elected its first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy.
Today there are more than 65 million Catholics in the United States, making up 23 percent of the nation’s population.
Would Mr. Rich believe that this growth rate will stop? Or that new Catholic immigrants (overwhelming from Latin America) are more cosmopolitan than the average American, let alone the average Catholic? A professor at the Naval War College predicts a Mexican-American President being elected directly from a former-Mexican state by 2050.
Catholics are a plurality religion in the United State. They are not a majority. Yet.