Being Persecuted for Being Catholic

I am having issues with my peers and even elders attacking me and I guess bullying me when I say I am Catholic. They start getting rude and of course all the ignorant junk about 'oh those priests...we know what they do'. It really gets to me and I want to usually leave or yell. But I know that isn't good. What can I do when this happens to me?

Thanks so much for contacting us about an issue that many people struggle with.  Some have even said that Catholics are the last safe group to attack.  A few years someone (who isn’t even Catholic) wrote a book called The New Anti-Catholicism; The Last Acceptable Prejudice.  Unfortunately, for some people, talking bad about Catholics doesn’t seem to have the same social stigma (and consequences) as making racist, sexist or other negative comment - even about other religions. 

As you probably know, most of these comments come out of ignorance and lack of understanding.  As Bishop Fulton J. Sheen famously and powerfully said, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”  So, keep in mind that some of this negativity maybe rooted in ignorance, hate or a bad personal experience someone had with the Church – or a representative of the church.  Either way, it’s never okay to be unkind to another person.  Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  He goes on to say that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31).  People who persecute and ridicule others either think very lowly of themselves or have not yet realized how to live out the second greatest commandment.

As followers of Jesus we are called to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  Make sure that as you interact with your persecutors that you try to respond only with love, and that you pray that their hearts can be softened.  But don’t be afraid to tell them how what they are saying is making you feel.  It has become common in our culture to make jokes out of things that are quite serious, like the scandals involving priests.  Let others know this bothers you.  Let them know that you recognize that there have been some people who represent the church that have done very bad things and are criminals, but you also know good priests and many other very good Catholics.  The problem of sexual abuse in churches is not a Catholic only issue; sadly it happens (with the same frequency) in every denomination.  For some reason, however, the incidents in Catholic churches seem to get more exposure in the press.  That anyone would think it’s funny to joke about the lives of so many people being forever damaged because someone in authority preyed upon them upon is disturbing.

If you think it would be helpful, and if those who are bothering you are good friends, ask them specific questions about what their issues are with the Catholic Church.  Listen carefully to their concerns, and try and find out where their negativity is coming from.  When you can, give them solid responses so that they can understand the Catholic faith better. If they say something and you don’t know how to answer their concerns, be honest.  Tell them that it’s a good question and you’d like to know the answer, too.  Then seek answers from good sources of information, like your parish priest, catechist, parents, and others who are knowledgeable about the faith.  Then let your friends know later what you found out.  If we can ever help you find good answers, let us know.  Our favorite places to start when trying to help others understand Catholicism better are The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catholic Answers, and LifeTeen  - and all three of these sites have good search engines if you are looking for information on a certain topic.  We are confident if you try to respond to any criticisms of Catholicism with love and truth, you will end up learning more about your faith and loving it more than you ever have; we know that is what has happened to us! 

Some times being kind and trying to engage productive conversation doesn’t work and the harassment continues.  If you find yourself in this situation, there is nothing wrong with walking away.  In fact, it may be the most loving thing you can do for yourself and for them.  Simply state that you feel like the conversation isn’t going anywhere, that you don’t want to say anything you’ll regret, and that you are going to leave the conversation.  If it is someone you are in a relationship with (like a friend or classmate) let him or her know that you would be happy to talk about the topic again some time in the future if they are open to trying to understand your point of view.  Tell them you are praying for them – ask them to pray for you - and then walk away and pray.

Being persecuted for your faith puts you in very good company.  Many of our saints suffered for their faith.  Jesus was persecuted, and he told us that the same thing would happen to us in John 15:20 “Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  And, while that is true, it certainly seems like a reasonable expectation that you would be treated with respect and not ridiculed or persecuted in today’s culture.  We hope that this response has been helpful for you.  Please let us know how things are going and know that you are in my prayers.

The REAP Team

And, here are a couple of articles we found that might be encouraging for you to read - since they were encouraging to us!

Standing Up for Truth: It's Worth It 

How to Handle Anti-Catholic Persecution

Awkward Moments (responding to anti-Catholic comments)