A recent editorial in the Knights of Columbus magazine, titled “What Mexico Teaches Us,” compares today’s Catholic political battles in the United States to the bloody Cristeros War in Mexico (1926 -1929).
The piece, written by the organization’s chief executive officer, Carl A. Anderson, diminishes the suffering of persecuted Latinos in making an argument against coverage of contraception in health insurance plans. Its publication coincides with the just-announced lawsuits by Catholic institutions that label Obama’s compromise as the undoing of religious freedom, but by invoking and glamorizing the Cristeros War, the Knights may have taken the battle into a new, more frightening realm.
The Cristeros War, the subject of the new movie “For Greater Glory,” is little known to most Catholics. According to historian Jean Meyer, who studies the Cristeros, this war in post-revolutionary Mexico was repudiated by the Mexican bishops because of its violence in the name of a “just war,” and led to the assassination of the president of Mexico on July 17, 1928.
I wrote to Supreme Knight Anderson urging him to retract or clarify his comparison to the Cristeros War. In a May 15, 2012 response from K of C headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut, I was assured that 1) he wished for only peaceful solutions; and 2) I was “good to raise this topic, enabling us to clarify it.”
In retrospect, I think it was a mistake for Brother Anderson to have relied on the history presented in the movie, “For Greater Glory,” as such productions romantically talk the past to speak the present, and can dangerously feed the illusions of fanatics.
Supreme Knight Anderson once worked in the Reagan White House, so I am surprised he stated at a recent Washington Prayer Breakfast: “Never in the lifetime of anyone present here, has the religious liberty of the American people been as threatened as it is today.” Does Anderson remember his days working in the Reagan White House, when U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick made a pronouncement on the murdered religious women in El Salvador that identified Maryknoll’s Catholic ministry as “political?” Kirkpatrick dined with the man believed to be responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. How about Kirkpatrick’s support for the policies of Rios Montt, the evangelical dictator of Guatemala, presently under house arrest for allegedly overseeing the massacre of 200,000 peasants, many of them Catholic?
I find it odious to overlook these attacks on Catholic religious freedom. How do the Obama administration’s actions approximate the murderous persecution of Latin American Catholics as recently as the 1980s?
How can Catholic leaders appropriate to themselves the mantle of oppression by comparing politics in the present-day United States with the bloody persecutions in the past? Painting our present U.S. government as attacking Catholic religious liberty invokes dangerous hyperbole and disrespects the exceptional character of our country. Catholic America knows better.