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Contending with ModernityCatholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century$
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Philip Gleason

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780195098280

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195098280.001.0001

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Controversy: Backlash Against the Catholic Revival

Controversy: Backlash Against the Catholic Revival

(p.261) Chapter 12 Controversy: Backlash Against the Catholic Revival
Contending with Modernity

Philip Gleason

Oxford University Press

The eruption of anti-Catholic feeling that reached its climax around 1950 is best understood as a backlash against what was regarded as undue Catholic influence in politics, public morality, and general social policy. Although it testified in a negative way to the reality of the Catholic Revival, it came as a shock to Catholics who did not think they had given just cause for complaint. Their predominant reaction was an impassioned rejection of the charges against them. At the same time, however, reasonable Catholics wished to mitigate the existing tensions by removing any grounds for legitimate criticism. Hence a more irenic and accommodationist line of thought developed, which, though based on the natural law, set in motion tendencies not fully consonant with the premises of the the Catholic Revival. To understand how these crosscurrents affected the ideological context of Catholic higher education, we turn first to the anti-Catholic backlash. Suspicion of and hostility toward the Catholic church, which had subsided after the Al Smith campaign of 1928, began to reawaken in the mid-thirties. Political liberals, a group which included secular humanists as well as Protestants and Jews, were the first affected. On the domestic scene, Father Coughlin’s shift to an anti-New Deal position in 1935-36 alerted them to the fascist potentialities of his influence. Over the next few years, their fears were reinforced by his growing extremism on the menace of Communism, his increasingly open anti-Semitism, and the sometimes violent behavior of his “Christian Front” followers, especially in New York City. Internationally, the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in 1936, was the decisive issue. To American liberals, the war was a clear-cut contest between fascism and democracy, and the church had shown its true colors by rallying to the fascists. But most American Catholics, deeply shocked by the widespread desecration of churches and slaughter of priests that marked the early months of the war, saw the struggle as a conflict between Christian civilization and atheistic Communism. They bitterly resented the indifference displayed by American liberals to the persecution of the church in Spain.

Keywords:   Academic freedom, Birth control, Cana Conference, Ecumenicalism, Family issues, Gelasius I, Humanists, Korean War, Law schools

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