Is it Anti-Catholic to Believe the Pope is the Anti-Christ?

Writing in the Atlantic, Joshua Green notes that Michelle Bachmann’s (now former) church holds some, shall we say, unflattering views about the papacy:

Bachmann was a longtime member of the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., which belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), a council of churches founded in 1850 that today comprises about 400,000 people. WELS is the most conservative of the major Lutheran church organizations, known for its strict adherence to the writings of Martin Luther, the German theologian who broke with the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. This includes endorsing Luther’s statements about the papacy. From the WELS “Doctrinal Statement on the Antichrist”: “Since Scripture teaches that the Antichrist would be revealed and gives the marks by which the Antichrist is to be recognized, and since this prophecy has been clearly fulfilled in the history and development of the Roman Papacy, it is Scripture which reveals that the Papacy is the Antichrist.”

Bachmann, it seems, never subscribed to the belief in question, and left the church sometime last year. Nevertheless, some are drawing comparisons between the views of Bachmann’s former church and those of President Obama’s former pastor, Jeramiah Wright.

I confess that I am of two minds about this story. On the one hand, Mollie Hemmingway is right. The fact that a traditional Lutheran group subscribes to Martin Luther’s views on a papacy is hardly surprising. On the other hand, the idea that someone in the 21st century could look at the papacy, and still believe this does seem kind of strange. If subscribing to Luther’s theology requires accepting that John Paul II or Benedict XVI were antichrists (and I’m not saying that it does require this), then there are a lot of other denominations out there you might want to look into.

Suppose it turned out that Jon Huntsman was part of the fringe fundamentalist Mormon church that still believes in polygamy (I know, I know, don’t laugh). Presumably no one would defend him on the grounds that, “well, Mormons did originally practice polygamy, so what do you expect?” For that matter, if the WELS website said that, as faithful followers of Martin Luther, the church of course subscribed to the views expressed in On the Jews and Their Lies, I somehow suspect even Ms. Hemmingway would not be so sanguine about this.

Lurking below the surface of this whole controversy is the issue of whether “anti-Catholic” is somehow synonymous with bigotry. Bill Donohue is quoted in the Atlantic article as saying that “[t]his kind of hatred is reminiscent of Bob Jones,” and that “all you have to do is read it — that they clearly have anti-Catholic statements up there.”

In one sense Donohue is clearly right. The view that the Pope is antichrist is certainly anti-Catholic in that it is opposed to Catholic dogma. But so is the view that the Pope is not infallible. All non-Catholics reject at least some of the claims of the Church, but we wouldn’t want to say that all non-Catholics are by definition anti-Catholic. In this context, anti-Catholic connotes a kind of prejudice, akin to anti-semitism, and it’s not clear to me that rejecting Catholic doctrine, or even accepting contrary doctrine that reflects badly on the Church, is necessarily based on prejudice or bigotry. In particular, where a negative belief about the Catholic Church is based not on hatred but on a desire to adhere to the traditions of one’s own religious denomination, calling that belief anti-Catholic seems to involve an halfway stolen intellectual base.

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  1. I have long admired the uncompromising fight the the Wisconsin Synod has waged against abortion:,0

    As for their view of the Papacy, I am not shocked that Lutherans agree with Martin Luther.

    This whole nothing issue in regard to Bachmann does remind me that Mr. Joshua Green, the author of this piece, learned his trade at the Onion, and then polished his skills at the equally fictionalizing, if not quite so hilarious, American Prospect.

  2. Having been born and raised in the Assemblies of God, that the Papacy is anti-Christ was part and parcel of many a sermon I heard as a youngster. Having converted to the Faith as an adult, I don’t hear that from my family any longer, and when I visit my Mom’s church, I don’t hear it there either. They all know I am now Catholic. I think some are afraid of my reaction where they to voice the sentiment. Others – my brothers and sister and my Mom – respect my choice and have heard me often enough talking about JP II and B XVI to know they aren’t anti-christ.

    I don’t think that most in the Wisconsin Synod are anti-Catholic. But Luther surely was, and the statement “the papacy is anti-christ” is anti-Catholic. But those kinds of extreme views are today held only by the more rigorous fundamentalists who often are mis-informed and ignorant, and (in my experience) afraid to learn the truth. They are afraid that if they listen to reason, they’ll be buying into some sort of satanic conspiracy. This is what they have been taught all their lives. So it was a great leap that my mother took to understand that when I visited on Christmas, while I would go with her to her church, Mass came first and I love the Catholic Church and I am not satanic (a little insane, and a work in progress, yes, but not satanic).

    The best thing to show people like this is your love of the Bible. That’s the only thing they respect. If you can explain the Faith from the Bible (not hard to do – after all, we gave the Protestants the Bible, though they took 7 books out), then you will win a lot of good will except among certain die-hard Baptist successionists and like-minded people.

  3. Did her pastor (the one that baptized her) scream “God damn America!” for 20 years while she sat nodding in the pew?

    Shameless liars. Obama-worshiping imbeciles . . .

  4. I guess it depends on what you mean by “anti-Catholic.” Under a broad definition, you’re anti-Catholic if you believe Catholicism is harmful (e.g., the pope is leading people away from Christ). Using this definition, anti-Catholicism is fairly common in the US, particularly among atheists.

    Under a narrower definition, you’re anti-Catholic (or an anti-Catholic bigot, to differentiate), if you unjustly discriminate against Catholics. Using this definition, anti-Catholic bigotry is practically non-existent in the US.

    Under neither definition would merely disagreeing with papal infallibility make you anti-Catholic. It might make you anti-papal-infallibility though.

  5. Mr. McClarey:

    With all respect should a faith’s anti-abortion teachings excuse all of its other tenets? Islam is very anti-abortion and the Holy Father has often had no bigger supporters in international forums on abortion and other family issues than fundamentalist Islamic nations. Does this then allow us us to ignore their other beliefs which we may view more negatively by dismissively saying “I am not shocked that Moslems agree with Mohammed.”

  6. Eva, you would have a point if the Wisconsin Synod had radicals attacking the Church and Catholics with suicide bombers, were attempting to impose a Lutheran Theocracy behind the cheddar curtain and were driving out Catholics from the land of cheese. Instead, we have peace and harmony prevailing on the religious, if not the political, front in a state I know rather well and will be making my annual visit to in just two weeks. If the same were the case with Islam, what a sweeter world we would live in. Since we do not, you are comparing apples and rock salt.

  7. This is not about the Pope. This is detraction; throwing steaming, stinking male bovine feces at Obama potential opponents.

    Re: “Obama-worshiping imbeciles” N.B. “Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.” Benjamin Franklin

    Case in point: Aim your dishonest long-range sniper scope on Obama not everyone that has the nerve to run against Obama.

  8. “Under neither definition would merely disagreeing with papal infallibility make you anti-Catholic. It might make you anti-papal-infallibility though.”

    Whew! That means a lot of Catholics aren’t anti-Catholic. 🙂

  9. Again, Mr. McClarey, I must respectfully disagree. You know as well as I that anti-Catholicism in this country hasn’t always been a case of respectful disagreement. Your Irish ancestors I’m certain could provide a very different opinion.

  10. Baloney Eva. Your attempt to raise the specter of Know-Nothingism into this non-controversy is just as wrong-headed as your attempt to invoke Islam. Catholics in Wisconsin suffer no public discrimination as a result of the Wisconsin Synod.

    As for my Irish ancestors, they could have an interesting debate. On my Dad’s side they were Protestant, and on my Mom’s side they were Catholic. I have a little first hand experience of how confessional differences can play very little role today in how people treat each other.

    Catholics who become exorcised over the Wisconsin Synod’s views of the papacy are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to contemporary anti-Catholic bigotry in this country. A trip to virtually any leftist, atheist or homosexual website would, I trust, awaken even the least discerning Catholic as to where true bigotry against Catholics lives in this country. No doubt Joshua Green is readying an expose on this topic that will appear the second of Never.

  11. A good overview of this exercise in partisan news hackery:

    What Joshua Green’s piece reminds me of is the type of tripe that was written in 1960 about whether Kennedy should be elected President due to his allegiance as a Catholic to the Pope. (The irony unknown at the time was that John Kennedy was unwilling to impose several Catholic teachings on himself let alone others.) Under the guise of discussing an issue it is an attempt to whip up religious animosity against a candidate.

  12. “Lapsed, but the Insurer may still allow me to renew my policy.”

    I think He’s knocking at the door now. Let Him in.

  13. Anti-Catholicism still exists in the US. I went to public high school and in an English class our teacher railed against Catholics. The one time I remember the most, she got the Baptists and Lutherans to start verbally attacking the Catholic Church also. I regret to this day that I did not walk out of the class and file a complaint.

    In the military, many of the units I was in had a significant amount of southerners. There would always be some “evangelical” that railed against the Catholic Church and the pope.

    I am of the opinion that if we just scratch the surface it will reveal anti-Catholic bigotry in the US. There are two Lutheran Churches in the town that I live in and one Catholic. Even though each church is on a hill, the Lutherans insist on derogatorily calling the hill the Catholic Church is on “Holy Hill”.

    We may not be killing each other but it does not mean we are not facing discrimination. Just listen to shows on evangelical radio stations.

  14. I think reactions to this (as to Obama’s pastor) are going to have a lot to do with how people read them in a larger context.

    Of the various types of Protestant around these days, many of those who are most serious about actually accepting Christian doctrine and following Christ as those who take a fairly direct lead from original Christian sources — whatever they perceive those to be. As such, serious Catholics will often find themselves having more in common with strains of Protestantism which have traditionally been quite strongly against the Church, if only because they take their faith seriously enough to allow it to make them be against anything. Along these lines — of the converts from Protestantism that I know, most are actually from the more bible-thumping type of Protestantism who would traditionally be accepting of the idea that the papacy is the anti-Christ. Several describe themselves as growing up fairly “anti-Catholic”. By comparison, I don’t know many converts from the more mainstream liberal Protestantism which might be seen as more acceptable from this point of view. (And several old friends who are this more liberal type of Protestant have actually become increasingly anti-Catholic over the last ten years because of their strong gay rights and pro-choice advocacy has caused them to see the Church as evil.)

    By comparison, think people mostly saw Obama’s church affiliation as so troubling because they took it as being indicative of generally belonging to a worldview which despised the United States and indulged in weird racial conspiracy theories.

    So while, clearly, I strongly disagree with the WELS beliefs about the papacy, I don’t really find someone’s membership in the WELS all that troubling. My concerns about Bachmann as a candidate mostly center around her seeming like more of a firebrand than a leader, and not generally being electable.

  15. That Evangelicals would have strong feelings regarding the Catholic Church should hardly be surprising. And, while it may, in a sense, make them “anti-Catholic”, it doesn’t necessarily make them bigots. Like Don, I too have a Catholic side of the family and an Evangelical side of the family. The Evangelicals in my family (including my own parents and siblings) tend to feel pretty strongly that being Catholic is an impediment to having a “real” relationship with Christ. They reject the authority of the Pope. They reject much of our theology. They will rail against indulgences and statuary and praying to saints and to “worshipping” the Blessed Virgin, and the like. There is a reason they are Evangelicals and not Catholics.

    Does that make them “anti-Catholic”? Probably. But that makes them opinionated and wrong, not bigots. There isn’t a bigoted bone in their bodies.

  16. As a former member of the WELS, the synod that Bachman was a member of, I must agree with Eva. Any group that has anti-catholicism written into it’s confessions of faith can’t be trusted by Catholics. Also, The WELS suffers from extreme sectarianism. They honestly believe the Missouri Synod is apostate because they’re not as “pure” as the WELS! One can easily guess how they feel about non-Lutheran Protestants, let alone Catholics! Bachman may no longer be a member of the WELS, but nless she shows that she has shed the anti-catholicism and extreme sectarianism the WELS is famous for, she’s not fit to be a presidental candidate, let alone president.

  17. First, I don’t disagree that there is anti-Catholic bigotry on the left. Secular leftist anti-Catholicism exists and is a problem. Believe me I know because of my own family dynamics. Orange and green parentage has nothing on Bridget and Bernie parentage.

    However, that does not mean we should minimize evangelical anti-Catholicism. As Catholic Lawyer points out their tolerance of Catholics in this country is skin deep. I have many evangelical friends and I find it humorous that when their kids go on mission trips to convert the heathens it is not to places where non-Christians are predominate but to traditionally Catholic countries in Central and South America. I know a few who have even gone on mission trips to Poland and Ireland.

  18. Jay:

    How can one be “anti” something and not be intolerant our prejudiced against it? Does it mean that they wouldn’t burn a cross on my lawn but might stop and roast a marshmallow?

  19. Interesting how Protestants and Catholics have more feuds with each other than they have with agnostics/atheists. Both religions profess to follow Christ but exhibit anti-Christian behavior by their disdain of each other. Yes, disdain. As a ‘neutral’ observer and agnostic who has sat in on many debates between the two, I must say the so-called Church has never been united.

  20. “How can one be “anti” something and not be intolerant our prejudiced against it? Does it mean that they wouldn’t burn a cross on my lawn but might stop and roast a marshmallow?”

    That’s nonsense on stilts! I’m anti-leftist, but that doesn’t mean that I would discriminate or act violently toward someone for being leftist.

    What you just wrote is FAR more bigoted than anything I’ve ever heard from my evangelical relatives. Get the chip off your shoulder regarding protestants and evangelicals. Get over your counter-Reformation impulses. They are NOT the ones you have to worry about. The REAL threat to the Church is coming from the secular left, NOT our separated brethren.

  21. Heck, we have more to fear from Catholic politicians on the left than we do from protestants and evangelicals, if what has happened in Illinois with regard to adoption and Catholic Charities is any indication.

    Joe, your observation is dead on – some people would rather fight the battles of 500 years ago than address the real existential threats facing us today, often from within our own ranks.

  22. Part of this is: Within the ranks of Christians, I’m more comfortable with those who passionately disagree with me through their attempt to take Christ’s teachings seriously than those who accept everyone (except those whom they judge to be judgemental) because they don’t believe in much at all.

  23. Jay, I agree that the chief threats to the Church today comes from secular liberalism. But, I would argue that the origins of secular liberalism are firmly rooted in protestantism. If that opinion makes me a reactionary Catholic then so be it. However,I might then argue that your opinions on the matter are colored by conflicting family allegiances.

  24. I’d have no problem with a man of Bachmann’s background becoming a bishop, if he clearly stated (as she did) an opposition to the anti-papal teachings of a prior church.

    She’s not running for bishop, is she?

  25. My opinions on evangelicals may be colored by actually knowing evangelicals and having spent time as one myself, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing or disqualifies me from having an intelligent and well-informed view on the matter.

  26. I mean, it’s not like I’m not aware of the shortcomings of evangelicalism vs. the Truth of the Catholic Faith. Otherwise, I would not have left behind the former to become Catholic. But I do believe my experiences with evangelicalism, rather than making me blind to the shortcomings, actually gives me a little more insight than someone who has known only the stereotypes of evangelicals.

  27. “Heck, we have more to fear from Catholic politicians on the left than we do from protestants and evangelicals, if what has happened in Illinois with regard to adoption and Catholic Charities is any indication.”

    Precisely Jay.

  28. Is this all your “elites” have in the arsenal to move the 2012 election away from being an “Anybody but Obama” fiasco?

    One of my best and oldest friends is a Lutheran and a lawyer. He married a Catholic woman.

    He is not anti-Catholic. He still talks to me despite the fact that my wife and I introduced him to his wife.

    And, neither my Lutheran friend nor Ms. Bachmann shuts down convesrsations on Catholic Faith and Morals, e.g., Archbishops Dolan’s opposition to NY regularization of sodomy with, “Bishop Dolan ought to be more concerned about priests molesting children. And, keep his opinions to himself.” As I heard that on Imus this AM and almost drove the car into a ditch.

    I bet Ms. Bachmann also does not believe as anti-catholic bigot Bill Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart publicly stated that Clito believes that Catholic beliefs amount to “ancient religious hatred.”

  29. my immediate reaction–have not yet read comments–
    You’ve parsed it down into pinhead territory– as in how many angels dancing and how worthwhile is this consideration…
    don’t forget hierarchy in truth– their are levels of gravity (seriousness)
    … there are mortal and venial sins…EVEN THOUGH when you break one of the ten commandments it is as if you have broken them all… rended truth… It is still diddling to go off on whether not accepting some various levels of Catholic teaching equate with believing the pope to be the anti Christ.

  30. I find much in common with Evangelicals and Pentecostals who dislike the Papacy, but love Jesus and actually believe in His holy word (though yes, they are wrong about the Papacy) than I do with any liberal progressive pseudo-Catholic Democrat who replaces the true Gospel of repentance and conversion with the false gospel of social justice, the common good and peace at any price, including the price of the lives of unborn babies. “Oh just be nice because you’re hurting my feelings.” What horse hockey!

    My family (as I said before) is Assemblies of God (AG) Pentecostal – just about as fundamentalist as one can get. Yet talks between the AG and the RCC have been going on for some time:

    Things are changing. And given a choice between someone like pseudo-Catholic Nancy Pelosi or John Kerry or Joe Biden, and Evangelical Michele Bachmann or AG Pentecostal Sarah Palin, I will vote for Bachmann or Palin any day of the week even if they do believe the Papacy is the seat of anti-christ (and they don’t, BTW).

    We have a far greater threat from liberals masquerading as Catholics in the Church than we do from Baptist Successionists or Pentecostal tongue speakers.

  31. Islam is very anti-abortion….

    This is not true, and I have no idea why so many Catholics choose to believe it. Perhaps deep down, some of them actually do think that treating women like 2nd class citizens and restricting abortion do go together. Islamic scholars have traditionally followed the notion that the fetus becomes a living soul after four months of gestation”. Some scholars claim that abortion after conception is wrong, but the majority allow it in those first months. It depends on which scholar one chooses to follow. If there’s a more certain recipe for abortion on demand, I am unaware of it. Exceptions are also made in case of danger to the mother’s life, deformity or disease that would make a baby exceptionally difficult to care for, and in some cases, rape.

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