The Archdiocese of Chicago welcomes the statement of support from the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago in light of recent anti-Catholic caricatures and attacks following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Indeed, many religious leaders have shared with us their distress that such offensive depictions of Catholics have been given legitimacy by a local elected official.
On Friday, June 24, Illinois State Senator Sara Feigenholtz posted on her personal Facebook page an image of a Catholic pope or bishop pointing a gun at the head of a pregnant Statue of Liberty. The senator removed the posting, noting in a statement in the media that she did so when she “later learned it offended people of faith.” And while she said she was sorry and meant no ill will toward anyone who found it offensive, she also noted that she posted it because it “spoke to the moment.” There is no moment in which it is appropriate to traffic in bigoted imagery.
For the sake of the common good, we must not tolerate hate speech against any group in society, for history has shown that when it goes unchallenged it can become normalized. The senator’s public comments on this matter have shown regrettably little understanding of the offense caused by her posting.
It was wrong for an elected official to present such a violent image, especially when our city and nation are still reeling from recent acts of heinous gun violence.
It was wrong because it disrespected the contributions that religious communities of all faiths have made in creating a safe society and an environment of civil discourse to counter the dangerous polarization that has gripped our nation.
It was wrong because the image portrayed Catholics as “other” by indulging in an old anti-Catholic trope: Catholics are a threat to liberty because they aren’t really American. It was not that long ago that Catholics were regularly insulted as “papists” and denied work simply for the faith they professed. The embrace of anti- Catholic tropes at this moment is just as objectionable as the embrace of caricatures of other faiths which have stained our national history and continue to do so today. An elected official should know better than to publish an image that could incite violence against a group of people on the basis of their religious belonging.
Obviously, since Senator Feigenholtz removed the offensive image soon after she posted it, she knows that she made a serious mistake. But our concern is that absent a more fulsome explanation and apology, other officials, and indeed their constituents, will learn a lesson no one should be taught: That it’s acceptable for elected officials to engage in discourse that targets people through caricature on the basis of their identity, whether religious or otherwise. For surely none of us wants to live in an America where matters of public policy are “resolved” by bigoted memes instead of honest debate.