By Father Peter J. Daly
September 8th, 2010 | Catholic News Service
I have a cordial relationship with the local imam (leader). He is also a physician. We serve on the board of our community hospital together. I see him at meetings several times a month. He is a gentleman and a friend.
We have exchanged gifts. I have a set of Muslim prayer beads and a Quran, the Islamic holy book, which he gave me. He has a rosary and a Bible that I gave him.
Our faith communities live in peace.
After Sept. 11, 2001, the women of our communities started a group called Daughters of Abraham to foster dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews, the three Abrahamic faiths.
Catholics who are opposed to the building of mosques in New York City and elsewhere should recall our own troubled arrival on the shores of the United States.
In the 19th century, angry mobs burned Catholic churches in major cities throughout the Northeast, including New York. People accused Catholics then of the same things they are saying about Muslims today: They said we were loyal to a foreign power (the pope). They said we were seeking to institute Catholicism as the official religion of the nation and establish our law. They said we were disruptive of the public peace.
In the 1830s and 1840s, the Know Nothing party spread vile rumors about Catholics, inciting mobs to burn Catholic churches and convents.
In 1834, a Know Nothing mob burned the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Mass. The local police and volunteer fire brigade looked on, giving tacit approval. The nuns and their students were forced to flee for their lives into the woods.
After the fire, the local bishop, considering the failure of the police to stop the arson as governmental approval, made application to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for reimbursement.
A state legislature commission responded, saying “that Catholics, acknowledging as they do, the supremacy of a foreign power, could not claim under our government the protection as citizens of the commonwealth.”
In the 1850s, the New York papers editorialized against the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. It offended their sensitivities.
After the Civil War, the American Protective Association spread throughout the Midwest. Formed in Iowa in 1887, it had thousands of members. They were required to swear an oath not to hire Catholics or aid in the building of any Catholic institution or support any Catholic for public office.
As such, Catholics above all should support the religious freedom of Muslims. We have been where they are today.
And Catholics should not buy into this argument about “sensitivity.” They made the same argument about our churches once. Our mere presence offended others.
If Muslims cannot build a mosque on their private property two blocks from ground zero, then where can they build it so they don’t offend? Is five blocks away enough? How about New Jersey?
The clear implication of this sensitivity argument is that all Muslims are somehow responsible for the atrocities of Sept. 11. This is absurd.
We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with terrorists.
I do not want to be made to answer for the behavior of the billion Catholics around the world. Should Catholics be labeled terrorists because some bomb-throwing member of the IRA uses our religion as a cover?
Sensitivity is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution; religious liberty is.
Catholics who oppose the building of the mosque near ground zero may have forgotten our own history. In view of our past, we should be the strongest supporters of religious liberty.
Father Peter J. Daly is a pastor in Maryland and writes a column for Catholic News Service.