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Culture & Religion

U.S./ Protestants think in a Protestant way, as many Catholics do

The American secular media’s lack of attention to Pope Benedict’s trip to the UK seems to be rooted in Protestant anti-Catholic prejudices. Sadly enough, many Catholics in America also seem to think about faith in a Protestant way  


I do not know how much attention Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to England and Scotland received outside of the United Kingdom. Here in the United States, the secular media of communication paid very little attention to the event, and when it did report about it, the one topic of interest was the paedophilia issue. It seems to me that the American secular media’s lack of attention to this trip is not necessarily a gesture of disdain for this Pope or for Catholicism. Instead, it seems to me to be something rooted in the American view of the Papacy as a medieval institution that is not a factor in the shaping of American life and history.

That is, in the American view, the Papacy is, at most, a source of ethical and spiritual guidance for conservative or traditionalist Catholics. It is more a matter of the Protestant anti-Catholic prejudices of American Christianity than the increasing power of an aggressive secularist ideology. Protestants think in a Protestant way, and that is as expected. What is sad is how much many Catholics in America also think about faith in a Protestant way.

I am not prepared to make a scholarly analysis of this situation; let us say that I am just offering my “impressions.” As an example, consider the devotion to native-born saints.

I am writing this column on the day when the universal Church is celebrating the feast of the Korean martyrs St. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and “companions.” This is what the Liturgy of the Hours says about them (which is all that I and most not-Koreans know):

“For centuries, Korea was closed to all outside influences, and all contact with foreigners was forbidden. No missionaries went there. Nevertheless, a number of laymen sought to find out all that they could about the outside world through the annual embassy to Peking. Some books about Christianity fell into their hands, and they were converted.

Because of the secrecy involved, it is impossible to date the origin of Christianity in Korea with any precision: it may have started in the early 17th century, but the first known baptism is that of Yi-Seoung-Houn, who was baptized under the name of Peter when he visited Peking in 1784.

The first known martyrs are Paul Youn and James Kouen, who in 1791 refused to offer sacrifice on the death of their relatives. Over the next century, over ten thousand Korean Christians were executed, with great cruelty; and many others perished.

For most of this period, the church in Korea had no priests and was an entirely lay phenomenon. The first priest, a Frenchman, entered the country in 1836 and was beheaded three years later. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest, secretly trained in Macao, entered Korea in 1845 and was executed in 1846, together with his father.