When hyperbole becomes dangerous

A recent editorial in the Knights of Columbus magazine, titled “What Mexico Teaches Us,” compares today’s Catholic political battles in … Continued

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.

  • amelia45

    Thank you for this. I am another Catholic who is appalled at the hyperbole over contraceptives, something that the Catholic Church has dealt with in most European countries, Canada, Australia, and many other countries. The Catholic hospitals and universities in those countries are just as Catholic today as they were the day before the country made contraceptives available and usually supported providing them for low income women.

    We are not served well as Catholics or as citizens of a democratic republic by what the Catholic leadership is doing.


    IRT: “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.”

    ANS: Catholics apparently do not know better; The Catholic majority voted for Clinton’s second presidency, after the expose of his debauchery, his reckless disregard for the law, his oath of office, and his abuse of the sanctity of his office. Then the Catholic majority endorsed a Marxist Socialists obsessed with the ruination of America.

    Recent evidence of Obama’s Marxist advocacy was to reward a self-proclaimed Marxist, Dolores Huerta with the Medal of Freedom, in the context other Marxists, Browner, Van Jones, Anita Dunn, Mao Zedong, The Medal also went to John Paul Stevens a pro-Abortionist anti-Catholic who in Lawrence v. Texas noted that the NML was subjective, and served no legitimate purpose to the State, and therefore, was not a legitimate basis for Civil Law, when it is the basis for all Civil Law.

    The WWII, the expose of the Nazi death camps and the legacy of Hitler’s incomprehensible maniacal madness, and the overall of destruction of Germany, the Russian control of East Germany, prompted one German to ask, “How could this have happened.” You might call to mind Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets. “First, they came for the communists then the unions, the Jews, the Catholics and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t any of them. Then they came for me, and there was no one to speak out for me.”

    Edmund Burk wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

    In the wake of “Roe v. Wade,” over 52 million have died and the toll of murdered unborn continues. The majority has remained silent as the slaughter and continues to never ending of the extirpation America’s poste

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Europeans don’t live under the US Constitution. People of faith have certain rights here in America that we would not have elsewhere, as you have already established for us. People of faith in this country are not so eager to give up our constitutional rights as you seem to be.

  • thehopefulamerican

    Despite obvious context – a speech on U.S. mandates and the U.S. Constitution – Stevens-Arroyo seems to assume that “Americans” to ehom the speech refers are the people of the entire hemisphere, and not the people of the United States of America.

    This speech was delivered at the NATIONAL Catholic Prayer Breakfast, after all.

    Consequently, the majority of this article is a total non sequitur.

  • Bernardian

    It is worth noting the subtitle of Anderson’s Columbia column which the author references. It is “The witness of Knights during the persecution of the Church in Mexico provides lessons as we defend religious freedom today.”. The witness is defined there and elsewhere as definitively “peaceful”. The Knights both in Mexico and in the US sought primarily to raise awareness. The article is not about how we can learn something from the tactics of the Cristero’s – which is what Stevens-Arroyo implies. I find it curious that the author deliberately left the subtopic and the examples of the Knights’ out of his evaluation of the piece. I think that’s unfair and intellectually dishonest. It also silly to say that pointing to peaceful resistance and information awareness campaigns are “dangerous”. The author should read the piece more clearly, as well as the National Review Online piece that Anderson wrote on th same topic. Stevens-Arroyo’s hyperbole may not be dangerous, but it is certainly much ado about nothing.

  • persiflage

    The greater danger here is the up swell of rightwing ideology in every sector of American society. That it permeates elements of the Catholic Church is no surprise – this has been made completely evident with the recent Church-sponsored histrionics surrounding contraception and religious ‘liberty’. Pat Buchanan must be delighted with the complete nonsense of it all.

    Prof. Stevens-Arroyo makes a cogent point regarding the habit of republican administrations to support rightwing regimes and/or counter-insurgent elements in Central and South America. Reagan was certainly one of the biggest culprits in modern times, given his fanatical obsession with communism going back to the McCarthy era. The Catholic Church has its own history as the result of a similar obsession that compromised Vatican behavior in the era of Pious XII.

    All in all, the Vatican hasn’t had so much political support for its repressive, heavy handedness in recent memory. The supporting organizations are all male-dominated as would be expected. Speaking of hyperbole, it makes me wonder when Donald Trump will enter the fray.

  • persiflage

    I’ve always wondered exactly where the Constitution mentions contraception…….can’t seem to find it anywhere. As far as the law goes, it you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.

    Good advice for the Catholic Church to follow, regarding their dalliance with the healthcare industry and civil law.

  • Catken1

    “People of faith have certain rights here in America that we would not have elsewhere, as you have already established for us. ”

    Including the right to use your fairly-earned compensation as you please, and not have your employer dictate your health care choices.

    When your religious organization sponsors, or when you as a religious individual found or sponsor, businesses that act as public businesses, and employ people of all faiths, you have to abide by laws applicable to all public businesses. Your religion may say that black people and white people, or men and women, should not mix – but you are not allowed to refuse service to one or the other. Your religion may say that people must refrain from eating pork or drinking alcohol, but you may not dock your employees’ pay for eating pork or drinking alcohol, and you may not refuse them health care coverage for trichinosis or alcohol-related illnesses.

    What has caused this is the fact that Catholic doctrine concerning women is no longer acceptable to most women, or most decent human beings. Those who believe that women must be property of any fetus implanted inside them, and may not even seek to prevent such implantation by any means other than lifelong celibacy, are welcome to follow that belief in their own life – but they are not permitted to force or coerce their employees or patients to do so, or even to use compensation to pressure them to follow Catholic law.

  • Elohist


    Jean Meyer is a woman. The citations here are from her 3 volume book which the film’s producers admitted to “modifying.”

    Mel Gibson served as “historical consultant” for The Passion of the Christ, but that did not make it bibliical.
    The major point here is that Anderson was in the Reagan White House when Cathoics were being murdered, assassinated, purged, etc. and said nothing. In fact, he used it as a step up from his previous employment as aide to the racist Senator, Jesse Helms.
    Talk about playing politics with the truth. Start with the evidence.

  • Elohist

    Catholics follow the teachings of St. Paul who makes no such difference for our compassion. Besides, the article cites what the US and Anderson WERE doing, which is worse than what we are suffering.
    Moral theology always emphasizes agency. At any rate, unless you endorse hypocrisy, everything in your post is a non sequitur.

  • Elohist

    He says that the Knights told him he was right to bring it up. You lose.

  • Marilyn Holm

    I went to see the movie yesterday, and it portrayed the Catholic priests, etc as being killed violently by their government. Isn’t that called self defense to retaliate? Catholics see abortion as murder and if anyone has an imagination to project a human being being born and not a frog in a few short mo. then that is what it is, aborted life.. Pro-choice is actually pro-death, and where and when does that child get the “right’ to defend themself?

  • persiflage

    The movie is pure anti-government propaganda. I wonder when the movie with the pedophile theme will be coming out. Who was defending the innocent against pedophile priests?

  • persiflage

    make that pedaphile priests…………

  • charladan1

    Your article keeps citing foreign struggles when President Obama has made a direct assault on American religious freedom. There no doubt about this fact. The movie is not great but it is riveting in depicting how politicians can act to advance their own agendas. It does show the flaws of all participants.

  • charladan1

    Only the USA has a Bill of Rights protecting religious freedoms in its Constitution. Those other nations, if they have one, have separately passed laws addressing religious freedom. The cowardly President Obama could have pushed for a Single Payer Health Care plan while Democrats had control of Congress but he chose expediency over conviction. Which is why his administration thought they could force churches to fund things that they fundamentally oppose.

  • Catken1

    How is it “assaulting American religious freedom” to say that employers may not use preferential compensation to pressure employees to follow employers’ religious beliefs?

  • Catken1

    “Catholics see abortion as murder and if anyone has an imagination to project a human being being born and not a frog in a few short mo. then that is what it is, aborted life”

    Well, I see it as murder for you to kill an actual live human being – not a frog- by denying it your blood, your kidney, your bone marrow. Defending your right to control your own body and decide who gets to use it is really pro-death. Why are you pro-death? When and where does that innocent child who needs a pint of blood from you (a heck of a lot less of an investment of time, money, energy, pain, work, and bodily resources than pregnancy) get the chance to defend themselves against your right to say no?

    Oh, right, you’re human. Until you conceive a child. Then you’re property.

  • persiflage

    ‘The cowardly President Obama could have pushed for a Single Payer Health Care plan while Democrats’

    You apparently weren’t paying attention – he did but since the democrats never had a super-majority in both houses, the republicans forced changes in the legislation that made healthcare reform the imperfect law that it is today.

    Repubicans have sabotaged every decent piece of legislation presented in the last 4 years in order to pursue their own limited and narrow agenda – which is focused entirely on the wealthy 1%.

  • usapdx

    Most USA RCs do not agree with the RCC teaching on birth control. In the developed world, many RCs beliefs differ from the RCC’s view. When it comes to a right of a American, no one can take that right away. If Obama Care makes it out of the Supreme Court under the current argument of force Americans to buy the insurance, once it is the people heath insurance, the RCC will not be able to take the right of a American to receive a needed part of the policy account of our supreme law, the Constitution. Why do so many think that RCs agree with the RCC 100%? Most do not. Ask them.


    The catholics over-react and go into silly drama queen mode because they HAVE to over-react.

    The catholic church’s own bloody and tyrannical past is with it today and looms over any serious discussions about their continued existence in a modern pluralistic society.

    All this over-reaction WILL come back to bite them.