I first wrote on the topic of religious persecution over two years ago and since then things have only gotten worse. Clearly the situation in Iraq is awful. But here in the U.S. as well, the threats against religious liberty have continued.

Indeed, here in the States it is rare that a respected segment of American life would become vilified and hated overnight. The usual transformation from respect to vilification progresses in stages that grow in intensity. And thus the Catholic Church, once a respected aspect of American life (along with the Protestant denominations), has become increasingly marginalized and even hated by many. It may help us to review these stages of persecution since it would seem that things are going to get more difficult for the Church in the years ahead. Generally there are five basic stages of persecution.

By way of giving due credit, I want to say that these stages were introduced to me by Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace EWTN. She spoke at a fundraiser here in DC for WMET 1160 AM, our Catholic radio station in the Guadalupe Radio Network. She gave a wonderful talk and a summons to courage. Among the things she set forth was a sober vision of how we have arrived at this current place where the culture is increasingly hostile to Christians, and to Catholics in particular. The stages are from her talk; the commentary is my own.

Here, then, are the five stages:

I. Stereotyping the targeted group - To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number and generalize it to describe the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on the observation of a limited sample.

And thus as the 1960s and 1970s progressed, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as “Bible thumpers,” simpletons, haters of science, hypocrites, and as self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.

Catholics, in particular, were also accused of having neurotic guilt and a hatred of or aversion to sexuality.  We were denounced as a sexist institution filled with clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals, or pedophiles. We were labeled an authoritarian institution stuck in the past, one with too many restrictive rules.

Basically, as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable—even tragic—group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the “shackles” of faith.

To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but those are the basic refrains. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.

II. Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct - As the stereotyping grew in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, and just plain mean and basically bad people.

The history of the Church is also described myopically as little more than a litany of bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades and inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story: that the Church founded universities and hospitals, was a patron of the arts, and preached a gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbaric times in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. The critics won’t hear any of that, or if they do, will give the credit to anyone or anything except the Church and the faith.

In writing this, I fully expect to get a bevy of comments saying, in effect, that this is exactly what we are. And not only will they feel justified in saying this, but even righteous, so ingrained has this vilifying become in the wider culture.

As with any large group, individual Christians and Catholics will manifest some negative traits, but stereotyping, vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of a few to be common to all is unjust.

Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.

III. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society - Having established the (false) premise that the Church and the faith are very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the critics proceed in the next stage to relegate the role of the Church to the margins of society.

To many in secularized culture, religion is seen as something that must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc. within the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.

In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly, or in any way bring his or her Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go; out with Christmas trees. Even the colors red and green during the “Holiday Season” are forbidden in many public schools!

Do not even think of mentioning Jesus or of publicly thanking him in your valedictory address; you could very well have a judge forbid you to do so under penalty of law. You may thank Madonna the singer, but not the Madonna.

The LGBT club is welcome to set up shop and pass out rainbow-colored condoms at the local high school, but Christians had better hit the road; no Bibles or pamphlets had better see the light of day anywhere in the school building … separation of Church and State, you know…

IV. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works - Can someone say HHS mandate?

But even prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our right to practice our faith openly. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.

Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information about or referrals for abortion and to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e., the abortifacient known as the morning-after pill). Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not place children with gay couples. In 2009, the State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization, and running of Catholic parishes. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they planned to mention God and/or Jesus in their addresses. (More details can be found HERE.)

Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them impose a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and it signals the beginning of the steady erosion of religious liberty.

Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct in their work to separate the practice of the faith from the public square.

V. Persecuting the targeted group outright - If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from facing heavy fines and/or incarceration.

Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.

In this country there are greater provisions for free speech, but as we have seen, there is a steady erosion of our religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are very familiar with having to spend long periods in court defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, and ultimately jail.

Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it looks like we’re pretty well set for stage five. You decide.

Maybe a heavy post requires a light video. Here, Paul and Silas land in jail. It’s so bad its good: :-)

32 Responses

  1. Jun alonzo says:

    Mahal na ingkong (the name of the holy spirit) said to us, look at my popes, eventhough they are dressed neatly white, you could feel an energy drawing upon you that is serene and loving, that is charisma, because they are holy! He goes on to say, today in your present times, humility is not enough, even wisdom and knowledge is not enough. My children, always remember that a devil is residing to those judgemental/persecuting eyes. And the only way to arrest a persecuting eye is to walk in holiness! Then mahal na ingkong cited the example of teresa of calcutta, who roamed the earth, from country to another country, mahal na ingkong said, look at her, she seldom speak, instead walking doing nothing but caress the people whatever color of your skin. Then he said, my children, holiness touches the hearts…………….not the persecuting eye nor your armageddon mind.

    Let us all be holy!

  2. annaincalifornia says:

    Monsignor Pope,

    Will Christmas Day still continue to be a holiday? Or will they rename it? Since its a secular holiday now. No one mentions baby Jesus’ birth.

    Your worried lamb, anna

  3. edraCRUZ says:

    There now in social gatherings unwritten rules that we should not discuss religion nor discuss politics. In private conversations it will take a lot of energy and time to uneasy open up on ones faith. Yes, people now abhors anyone who wants to declare ones belief in GOD. They would rather hear of cliches and bland topics such as movies and tv shows. Men are much adept of sports news and women of the latest media gossips but of GOD, they shun anyone who would talk of the spiritual. JESUS asked, ‘Will I find faith, when The SON of MAN returns?’ Maybe all these disasters, wars, famine, tragedies, epidemics, blatant disregard of GOD must come to pass so that men will come to their senses of the Supernatural. Let the persecution progress and GOD will know who will struggle and remain faithful to the end, besides ever since JESUS left, the tribulation never left the faithful with persecutions coming from without and even within the Church. YHWH TSIDKENU!

  4. I Like The Church Fathers says:

    In the discussion of growing intolerance towards religious institutions, it should be mentioned that there is a distinct possibility that churches in the not too distant future may lose their tax exempt status. This would be a disaster for churches everywhere. Many churches would have to close, leading to painful parish consolidations.

    At the moment, it seems unlikely that politicians in democratic countries would eliminate churches’ tax exempt status because they would not wish to incur a potential backlash from religious voters. Still, this situation might change if Christianity becomes even more estranged from mainstream society.

  5. Marie says:

    I agree! Let the persecutions continue. “He who kneels before God can stand before anyone”. Jesus said His church would suffer persecution, but would not be defeated. Jesus told us this would occur. No one is greater than his master. If they persecuted Jesus, surely you know our day was coming. Mariam is a good example of being persecuted for her faith. Even stents chef to death by hanging and still she held right to her faith. Stay strong in your faith! We are not alone and will not be forsaken! Our rewards will be great in Heaven!

  6. MikefromED says:

    The other day I was sitting at a railway station waiting for my train when the lady sitting next to me began talking almost non-stop about all sorts of things but frequently referring to God throughout her monologue. Maybe she was lucky that she was saying all this to me rather than to some secularist who would have had her arrested for infringing his human rights. In the UK, medical staff and educational workers have been dismissed from their jobs for mentioning God to their fellow workers. For some (Protestant) examples see the website ‘Christian Concern’ I have no doubt that the secularists are pushing the LGBT agenda because they see it as the perfect way of removing Christians from their jobs in key sectors of the nations’s life.

  7. CT says:

    Are “Jun alonzo”, “I Like The Church Fathers”, and “Marie” all the same person?

  8. Teófilo de Jesús says:

    Loved the post! The video triggered a quasi-epileptic seizure. Please don’t share it again. Ever.

    ~Theo

  9. a catholic psychologist says:

    There has been a petite persecution of Catholics in the US since the founding of the country. Though I believe with Msgr that it will get much worse, and quite quickly. Historian Arthur Schlesinger called Anti-Catholicism “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people.” Even in the “golden age” when celebrities like Bing Crosby would wear his Catholic heritage on his sleeve (e.g., Bells of St Mary), discrimination was always in play in many cities against Catholic families. Catholic businessmen were often cut out of the bidding process, or semi-organized rumors were used to direct commerce around the Catholic business. Places where the antiCatholic bigotry softened (e.g., Boston) was simply due to demographic factors–Catholics had more babies. But many cities remained difficult, even today e.g., Denver (where i grew up and saw first hand what would become of many small businessmen who were Catholic). Even well into the 1970s, promotions in many companies were denied to professionals. Catholics were key in union organization in the 20s and 30s because of religious discrimination. Across the US, academics was particularly brutal. As a college teacher, I saw real hatred toward the Church, and ironically, some of the worst treatment was directed by secular-establishment-safe Catholics towards Catholic outsiders. To some extent, the liberalization of the Catholic colleges was an attempt by soft Catholics to placate the anti-Catholic bigotry in academics. (it didn’t work, and schools got completely cooped by the progressives.) The venom in schools towards those who openly supported the Pope you could cut with a knife. In the US Army, up until recently, Catholics were effectively excluded from high rank—the scuttlebutt was that Generals had to be freemasons or at least friendly to the FMs. Real Catholics have never been welcomed into the highest ranks of electoral politics. The supposed rapprochement of the political class with Catholics during Kennedy years was always a facade, since the Kennedy boys were CINO. The only Catholic presidential administration was the Reagan administration; and Reagan was a Presbyterian! For at least 50 years, it has been quite clear that the political class is very willing to embrace the CINO but will do what it takes to destroy the career of an effective and committed Catholic leader. The current “Catholic” leadership, e.g., Biden, Pelosi, Durbin, Leahy, are a fifth column and really should have been excommunicated years ago (but that’s another story.)

    • mark says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more, and thanx for a most enlightening post. God bless. Hope things change after the midterms, but who knows? The CINO’s are very well connected and dug in.We sahall see.

    • Ronk says:

      Not all the Kennedy boys were CINOs. Bobby was a sincere and practising Catholic.

  10. […] The Five Stages of Religious Persecution Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington […]

  11. Annette Strachan says:

    From a recent Reading 1 from The Book of Wisdom 1: 4 For wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell
    In a body subject to sins.

  12. […] The Five Stages of Religious Persecution Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington […]

  13. Anne says:

    We capitulated in NYC. The Cardinal will be Grand Marshall at the 2015 parade that will allow gay groups to march for the first time under their own signs. Twenty years ago, Cardinal O’Connor weighed in on the parade controversy by saying political correctness was not worth “one comma in the Apostles’ Creed.” He sustained a lot of persecution for upholding Church teaching while compassionately emptying bedpans for AIDS patients. How should the people in the pews know what to do when we see two such divergent ways of dealing with a hostile culture by our shepherds?

  14. mark says:

    Very interesting, thought-provoking post, once again, by Msgr. Pope. You should be commended for writing it. For me, I think we’re rapidly approaching stage IV, and unless there’s some kind of a miracle, stage V won’t be far behind. And I also believe that America is in the beginning stages of a chastisement that’s probably well-deserved. Just meditate upon 60,000,000 or more abortion MURDERS just since the legalization of Roe V. Wade, probably the weakest-argued SCOTUS decison ever. The medical groundwork for the decision was largely supplied by a leftist agnostic doctor who later, by a most circuitous route, became a Catholic, and spent the rest of his life trying to undo what he had helped pass. Let’s not forget what we as Catholics, especially, know but must always remind ourselves of: every “legalized” abortion is an ABOMINATION before the Lord of Hosts. Then there’s the abomination called “same-sex marriage,” that’s really legalized sodomy. So just think of the millions here in the U.S. and around the world clamoring for it, and all advocating S.S.M. marinate in false comassion and delusional thinking. Just read the new book by Robert Reilly, “Making Gay O.K., an incredibly powerful book. The consequence will probably be another ‘Roe V. Wade’, but obviously of another sexual fantasy altogether.And can anyone spell ISIS? They’ve already threatened to drown us in OUR OWN BLOOD. At this stage of our national malaise, only Our Lady and Her God-Man Son can really save us, so we must say many “Litanies of the Precious Blood” and, of course, Rosaries of reparation for the innocent unborn blood shed because of our many sins of fornication and adultery, and now, increasingly, sodomy. There’s not much else that can save us, certainly not the Republican Party (although their plank, unlike the Democrat Party plank, STILL contains pledges AGAINST abortion and S.S.M.), now run by R.I.N.O.’s Holy Mother Mary, Co-Redemptrix of the human race, please pray for us!

  15. […] – Elizabeth Scalia Remembering “Don Alvaro” – Russell Shaw, OSV Newsweekly The Five Stages of Religious Persecution – Msgr. Charles Pope Another Parish Moves East: Greenville, South Carolina  – Ben Yanke The […]

  16. Lauren says:

    Dear Mgr Pope,

    I read almost all of your blog posts because they encourage me and help me advance in the faith.

    As a former Protestant who converted about ten years ago to Catholicism, I see significant reasons to believe that Stage V will not happen in the United States, although it is already in place in many countries world-wide. The French poet Paul Claudel, who was ambassador to the U.S. in the 1930s, predicted in one of his (gorgeous) plays that the United States would become the Holy Altar of the whole world. He thought our country would be the place in which peoples from all over the world would meet and take Communion together in the one universal Church. Looking in on the US from the outside–I live in France–it seems that this is increasingly true. It may seem like the American fabric is unraveling as a whole generation of educated Protestants leaves the faith, but the reality is that a significant minority has become Catholic.

    The Catholic Church has become the new foundation of Christianity in American life, thanks to immigration and also thanks to the Catholic evangelization of the educated. As that happens, Catholic marriage is becoming a significant force in the younger generation–the marriages that last are Catholic, and those Catholics are raising many, many children! And happy Catholic marriages, experience proves, lead to religious vocations … My feeling is that this wave of persecution in the USA will prove to be transitory, and what will last is a profound and Catholic evangelization of American culture: strong Catholic families and parishes as well as a new monasticism that will connect the USA to the rest of the world.

    Possible obstacles I see to this work of the Holy Spirit: pride–we Americans really believe that we are an “exception” and that there is the US, and then the rest of the world–and wealth. Spiritual growth, personally and culturally, is only possible in humility and poverty. That’s where you come in! Thank you for your good example, Monsignor!

    Faithfully yours,

    Lauren Bergier

    • Scott Woltze says:

      You definitely live in France. There are small pockets of strong Catholic communities, but only 1 in 5 Catholics go to weekly mass, and of those who do, most disagree with some Church teaching or practice. I once did the math, and only about 1% of Catholics in the US are under 40 adults who go to weekly mass and believe in and practice the faith (including abstaining from birth control or the hook-up culture). That group is the future of the Church and it is tiny.

      If you doubt the math, go to mass next Sunday and imagine in your mind if all the over-40 adults, children and “cafeteria Catholics” disappeared. In most parishes there would only be a handful of people left.

    • Lorraine says:

      No offense, Lauren, but you are dreaming. As a lifelong American of six decades, you are definitely dreaming. This country is gone.

    • Charles King says:

      THANKS WELL WRITTEN

  17. Janie says:

    Thank you for your truthfulness Father!! The “Five stages…” come right out of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”. Saul Alinsky dedicated that book to Lucifer, the first radical to gain his own kingdom…!

  18. George Carson says:

    Taking a victim stance does not sound much like the church of the saints and martyrs. There have always been and will always be influences that run contrary to the gospel and the word of God. Taking on the attitude of Christ is a we need. That alone will bring about the Kingdom of God. The. magisterium (the teaching authority of the church) has produced a abundent harvest. One can only wonder. How much bigger the harvest would be without the weed the imperium(relying on earthly power). Tha imperium has existed along side of the magisterium. The imperium is contray to the gospel, The gospel invites. The Imperium seeks to force and seeks to defend itself through force. The magisterium has never sinned. The insitutional sins are a result of the imperium. Some may think the magisterium and the imperium are the same or that the magisterium could not exist without the imperium. Not so. Look only at the crucifix. There is not a hint of the imperium. He opened himself to the abuses of the world. He testified through humility and resignation to the will of God, We were invited to do the same. We don’t to be defensive. Living His example is enough. We must invite all. Not seek to divide or classify. The imperium seeks to divide to protect power. The Word is enough. We must all learn to trust and let go of our weed.

  19. Mark Citadel says:

    Let me spell this out for Catholics reading.

    For almost all of your history, Catholics have acknowledged that they alone possess the Truth, and that in the interest of the society, it is necessary that this Truth be enshrined into law, that society be oriented ‘upward’ towards the Divine, rather than downward towards the lowest common denominators.

    Your decline and eventual persecution is a direct result of your tacit and in many cases active support of democracy, liberalism, pluralism, multiculturalism, diversity, tolerance, etc.

    Notice before these ideas came along in that awful period known as the Enlightenment, none of these problems existed. If you wish to survive persecution, it is time to cease supporting the doctrines that persecute you. You must cease supporting liberal democracy, and return to the classical Catholic position on politics, a politics that explicitly entwines the Church with the Sovereign, for the moral betterment of the people.

    When you foolishly declare that all other people’s ideas are as valid as yours, of course they are going to place their ideas above your and criminalize your activity. You have opened the door for them.

    I say this as an Orthodox Christian, not a Catholic, but someone who has a great love for my Catholic brothers and sisters. I implore you to abandon these 300 year old principles in favor of the collective human knowledge of 2000 years and more.

    • George Carson says:

      The early church survived and thrived under unbelievable perecution. As with the disciples on the road to Emmus, their hearts were on fire. When we focus on the divisions and classification and take a defensive posture we turn in. The gospel calls us to turn out. When we turn out the fire spreads.

  20. LandGmom says:

    Great article. I wish more people who called themselves Christian understood this. We have a country of “Christians” (both Catholic and Protestant) who do not want to speak out. They do not want to “offend” someone so they let the government and liberal secular humanists run rough shod over them. They allow atheists to have the last say. They don’t defend the Bible. How do we get these Christians engaged? How do we get them to defend their faith as Peter exhorts us to do?
    And the video is just bad. Not so bad that it is good, it’s just bad. Lol!

  21. Francis Choudhury says:

    From a living prophet among us:

    “The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

    She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes… she will lose many of her social privileges… As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

    It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain… But when the trial of this sifting is past, a GREAT POWER will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a TOTALLY PLANNED WORLD will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

    And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope BEYOND DEATH.”

    - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future”, 1969

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