Op-Ed: Catholics deserve respect too

Like many of my peers at Tufts, I explore my identity through the multitude of religious and cultural groups on campus. For me, the Italian Club and Catholic Community at Tufts represent two important aspects of who I am. Additionally, I participate in and organize interfaith events on campus. Over the past two and a half years, I have recognized and valued the support that the Tufts administration, faculty, Chaplaincy and TCU Senate give to religious and cultural groups. As Jumbos, we hold dearly the uniqueness and beauty of the diverse traditions on campus.

Unfortunately, a few days ago I received worried texts from my friends about a campus satirical magazine mocking Catholicism in its semester’s publication. After reading the publication, I too felt angry. A campus publication had deliberately taken the time to plan, discuss and write comedic articles about a religion that many Tufts students actively practice and take comfort in.

It is possible that those involved in its publication did not expect backlash or outrage from the student body for explicitly targeting Catholicism. Polarization and intolerance already bruise American society, in forms such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Tolerance must also include acknowledging my concerns without meriting an eye-roll or being brushed off. As a campus we need to seriously ask why a group of students thought it would be appropriate to offend members of my faith.

This all fits into the narrative of anti-Catholicism which has been long unaddressed in American society. Anti-Catholic sentiments in America became prevalent during the period of massive Irish and Italian migration in the 1850s, though executions of Catholics date back to Puritan times (see Ann Glover). The Islamophobic rhetoric we see today is a close comparison to the type of anti-Catholicism we would find a hundred years ago. I recognize anti-Catholicism is not a safety concern to me like the intolerance directed at Jews and Muslims is, yet it still merits attention. These attitudes still persist in innocuous but offensive ways. First, nuns and priests are sexualized and misrepresented by Halloween costumes, television and other media. Second, political rhetoric questions Catholics’ loyalty to American values and law because of our religious leader, the pope. This attack was common during John F. Kennedy’s campaign and presidency, and it re-emerged a few months ago in Congress. Currently, the news covers the vandalization and desecration of nativity scenes, an explicit attack against Catholics in this sacred time of the year.

This stigmatization of Catholicism has no place in contemporary society, including at Tufts. As Catholics and as Jumbos, we are called on to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized and oppressed in our society. I hope the community can do the same for those of us who practice the Catholic faith.

I do not deny the imperfections of the Church as an institution. Consequently, I acknowledge and struggle with the crimes and abuses of the Church throughout history. I sympathize with those who the Church has pushed to the margins, or those who are treated antithetically to the inclusivity and compassion that Jesus preached. As a young Catholic, my calling is to authentically live my faith in a manner that reflects the Church as I know it can be. 

We Catholics share a responsibility in addressing historical injustices, uplifting human dignity and pursuing justice. Figures like Dorothy Day, St. Katharine Drexel, Fr. Greg Boyle and Sr. Antona Ebo embodied the spirit of the call to justice, even if it meant confronting the Church. While our efforts are imperfect, we are contemplatives in action. You see this in the tens of thousands of shelters, orphanages, hospitals, relief centers and schools the Church operates worldwide. Its contributions to art, literature, philosophy, astronomy and biology are unrivaled. To truly understand Catholicism, it is important to understand the distinction between the patriarchal institution (the Vatican) and the billions of believers who live their faith on a daily basis. I can look back on 2000 years of history and know that I am part of this living, breathing and evolving Church. 

In the years leading up to college, I began to discern what it means to be Catholic. I attended mass on holidays and other special events, but I was left craving something more. In the Catholic Community at Tufts, I have found spiritual direction, strength and nourishment. Between weekly mass, Rosary circles, meetings, service projects and pilgrimages, Tufts has given me, like many other students, that reconnection to our faith. Catholics on campus form a special group of individuals who support each other with the utmost respect for tradition, faith formation, identity, tolerance and, most importantly, acceptance of all Jumbos. With all the topics that the magazine could have satirized, attacking a specific religious group is unacceptable. In a country of divisiveness, we here at Tufts should be held to a higher standard. We, together, should promote acceptance and respect for all, regardless of religion, culture or ethnicity.