Bullets and Bigots: Remembering Philadelphia’s 1844 Anti-Catholic Riots

It started with a Bible, of all things. Bishop Francis Kenrick, who, like many of the newest Philadelphians in the mid-1840s, had come to America from Ireland, learned that the city’s public schools, which started each morning with a Bible reading, were using the King James version of the Good Book. That was the Protestant Bible; Catholics used what was known as the Douai Bible. Different books for different faiths. Anyway, the Bishop — he’d founded St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1832, the same year he earned commendation from Philly Mayor John Swift for his and his fellow Catholics’ service to the city’s sick in a cholera epidemic — had asked the Board of Controllers of the Philadelphia schools if Catholic children might read the Douai Bible instead of the King James. The Board of Controllers approved the use of other versions of the Bible, and that was that.

In one sense, the board was yielding to the inevitable. Irish Catholics were pouring into the city; between 1830 and 1850, the Catholic population rose from 35,000 to 170,000, and the number of Catholic churches from 22 to 92. As always happens in such paroxysms of change, the extant population wasn’t thrilled with the newcomers. Imagine if, say, thousands of Syrian refugees suddenly descended on the city, with their own peculiarities of language and culture and a different religion. There was gossip about the Irish. Innuendo. Insinuation. Talk of a papal plot to rule the whole world and stamp out other faiths …

It took another year and a rumor to light the fire, though. The story spread that a school director in Kensington, a Catholic named Hugh Clark, had visited a girls’ school and demanded that its principal put a halt to Bible reading completely. Clark insisted he’d been misunderstood; when he observed a group of Catholic students leaving class for their own Bible reading, he merely remarked that if the Bible was causing such division in classrooms, perhaps it would be better if it wasn’t read. But the rumor grew, and flew, among the city’s less-recently-settled Scots-Irish Protestants: Hadn’t it been Bishop Kenrick who wanted the different Bible? There was no pleasing those people. What was wrong with the King James, for heaven’s sake? (Just imagine what Twitter would have made of all that.) Read more »

Philly Religious Leaders Condemn Donald Trump’s Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during a rally coinciding with Pearl Harbor Day at Patriots Point aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Monday, Dec. 7, 2015.

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during a rally coinciding with Pearl Harbor Day at Patriots Point aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Monday, Dec. 7, 2015.

Yesterday, prior to speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump issued a press release calling for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The call has drawn fire from other Republican politicians, including several who are critical of the Obama administration’s strategy for combating the fundamentalist Islamic State organization, also known as ISIS or ISIL. It also may have played a role in acts such as last night’s desecration of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society mosque by an unidentified man who threw a severed pig’s head at its door. It’s also led to the Philadelphia Daily News likening Trump to Hitler on today’s cover.

But as Trump has seized on Islam itself as the grounds for the ban, we thought it more appropriate to ask leaders in the local religious community to respond. Several did: Read more »

Mayor Nutter: Trump Is an “Asshole,” a “Madman” and a “Danger to Society”

nutter mosque attack

[Updated with news of hate crimes reward announcement.]

On Tuesday afternoon, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Mayor-elect Jim Kenney as well as other officials and local religious leaders gathered at City Hall to respond to the pig head left at a North Philadelphia mosque on Sunday night.

Nutter also used it as an opportunity to deliver a blistering tirade against Donald Trump, who this week suggested closing the borders to Muslim immigrants entirely. Read more »

After San Bernardino Shooting, “Thoughts and Prayers” Anger Is Wrong

After Tuesday’s massacre in San Bernardino, this is almost certainly the most viral, most-Facebooked newspaper cover in the country today:

daily news thoughts and prayers

The idea? That “thoughts and prayers” are useless — that it’s time to take action and pass some gun control already!

I’m not unsympathetic to that idea. As has been widely noted, we’re experiencing about one mass shooting per day in the United States this year; and while it’s true that the number of homicides in this country is down, radically, from the 1990s peak, it’s also true that we’re still experiencing levels of gun violence that other countries endure usually only if they’re in the middle of a civil war or some other sectarian violence. And our violence is gun-fueled: We’re not counting the number of “mass stabbings” in America, are we?

Still, the anger over politicians expressing “thoughts and prayers” is misplaced, for two reasons: Read more »

What Lots of Americans Don’t Get About Islam

Veterans during a rally Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, at the Statehouse, in Providence, R.I., held to demonstrate against allowing Syrian refugees to enter Rhode Island following the terror attacks in Paris.

Veterans during a rally Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, at the Statehouse, in Providence, R.I., held to demonstrate against allowing Syrian refugees to enter Rhode Island following the terror attacks in Paris.

I am a Christian. So is Pope Francis. So was the Rev. Fred Phelps.

I don’t think anyone reading this would confuse any one of the three of us for the other.

Yet too many of us here in America do exactly that when it comes to dealing with Islam and Muslims, and in our current paranoid state in the wake of the ISIS attacks on Paris, our inability or refusal to recognize diversity within Islam may mean that we will fail in meeting a humanitarian imperative. Read more »

Dispatch From a Philly Church: Trying to Make Sense of the Paris Killings

Overbrook Presbyterian Church (photo via Google Maps)

Overbrook Presbyterian Church (photo via Google Maps)

Other than during summer, when the Jersey Shore tempts even the most God-fearing families to its surf and sand, the parking lot at Overbrook Presbyterian Church is generally pretty full; a couple of times each year — Easter Sunday and Christmas — it is positively overflowing.

Yesterday’s service had no official significance, but less than 48 hours after ISIS-sponsored militants took to the streets of Paris, committing cold-blooded murder at least 129 times, the parking lot was more reminiscent of one of those holy days than your average Sunday morning. Read more »

City Settles Suit With Catholic Pediatrician Over Birth Control

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The City of Philadelphia has reached a settlement with a Catholic pediatrician who was fired after she refused to prescribe birth control options like Depo-Provera and the morning-after pill to the young women in her care, and part of that settlement includes the implementation of a policy that precludes the city from forcing healthcare workers to provide care that goes against their religious beliefs. Read more »

Chaput: More Big Families, Please

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, listens to a speaker during a news conference Friday, March 7, 2014, in Philadelphia.  Vatican officials say Philadelphia is scheduled to host a large gathering of the Roman Catholic church called the World Meeting of Families in Sept., 2015. Chaput and others are scheduled to visit Rome this month to invite the pope to the eighth World Meeting of Families. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The huge Catholic family is something of a cliché — and these days something of a thing of the past: A reported 98 percent of American Catholic women use birth control, after all, despite church doctrines against doing so.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, in Rome for a controversial synod of bishops advising the church on how it should approach marriage and family issues in the future, misses the old days. He gave an interview to the French Catholic magazine Famille Chretienne, reprinted at CatholicPhilly.com, lamenting tiny, two-children families. Read more »

Delco Group Predicts World to End October 7th

Last Day - New Heaven, New Earth - 17th and Market

Photo | Dan McQuade

Remember when Family Radio president Harold Camping predicted that the world would end in 1994? And then again in 2011? Well, according to Delaware County religious organization eBible Fellowship (they’re adamant that they are not a “church”), Camping wasn’t wrong: May 21, 2011 marked the beginning of the end, while October 7, 2015 (as in this Wednesday) marks the actual end. Here, eBible Fellowship leader Chris McCann (pictured) explains. Read more »

« Older Posts