Richard John Neuhaus, the ex-radical, ex-Lutheran convert to Catholicism and neoconsevatism, buddy of George W. Bush and chief ideologue of the Catholic right, has made a frank endorsement of religious bigotry in politics.
Since Mormonism is “false” and only dubiously Christian, says Neuhaus, it is “reasonable” for people to oppose Mitt Romney’s Presidential candidacy for fear that his election would “give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism” and thus “help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion.” (That “many,” of course includes Neuhaus, who writes of Mormon scripture: ” … these tales cannot help but appear to be the product of fantasy and fabrication.”)
Therefore, it is “legitimate for … Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate”: i.e. to vote against Romney because they don’t like the church he goes to.
Of course, according to Fr. Neuhaus this doesn’t mean that Protestants were justified in voting against John F. Kennedy in 1960, though many Protestant denomintions back then, and more than a few today, consider the Catholic Church to be what Luther and the other early Reformers called it: a Satanic plot, “the Whore of Babylon.” Why not? Because “Anti-Catholicism is, in my judgment, an unreasonable prejudice.” (Imagine that! A Catholic priest thinks that anti-Catholicism is unreasonable.) “Others, of course, will disagree, but not enough others to prevent the election of a Catholic president.” I guess tolerance is just a matter of numbers, then?
So, says Father Neuhaus, in voting for a candidate, those who “take religion so very seriously” need to inquire not only into whether the candidate’s religious beliefs will influence his public actions in undesirable ways, but also into whether his religion is “false.”
I’m not sorry that anti-Catholic prejudice in this country has largely dissipated, despite everything Fr. Neuhaus and the John Paul II/Benedict XVI papacy have done to foster its revival. But it’s hard to resist the reflection that as religious bigotry becomes less and less of a threat to American Catholicism some of America’s Catholic leaders find themselves less and less committed to the virtue of tolerance.