Throwing mud at the Catholic Church has become fashionable. Whether it be blasphemous artwork, insulting movies or sacrilegious plays, open anti-Catholicism is wide-spread and ever present. Convinced that this is due to Catholics failing to stand up for their beliefs, three full-time volunteers of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) set out for Chicago on September 21 to take such a stand.
From York, Penn. they traveled to help rally Chicago Catholics to a September 25 protest in front of the Chicago Reader’s downtown office, in response to Garret Gaston’s blasphemous cartoon, “La Petite Camera, Papal Makeover.”
Outfitted with hallmark red capes and 10,500 invitations they hit the streets to tackle three days of vintage TFP-style campaigning. Three days passed, all the flyers were gone, spirits were high and everyone eagerly awaited the protest, merely hours away.
In their anticipation, however, they stopped to reflect on several incidents they had experienced in the streets. As always, responses varied from all-out support, to indifference, to blind fury.
Some feigned courage in face of the campaign. One man read the invitation and after awaiting a favorable traffic light which would offer him an escape route, crumpled it up and threw it at a TFP volunteer.
Others walked by the campaign, pretending not to notice. No amount of speaking or persuading could break them out of their apparent stupor.
However, others were greatly encouraged. One young man, looking admiringly at the rampant lion which bedecked one volunteer’s red cape, inquired about the symbol. After being told about it, he exclaimed, “Yes, that is exactly how Jesus is going to be when He comes back, He is going to be rampant and He is going to be a lion!”
Another man stood silently reading the description of Garret Gaston’s blasphemy then adamantly affirmed, “I am no longer going to allow the Chicago Reader into my place of business!”
September 25 finally arrived, and the protesters gathered before noon directly across from the Chicago Reader offices in downtown Chicago. No huge crowd appeared, but what the protesters lacked in numbers they made up for in quality and enthusiasm.
The splendid cast of speakers began with Pro-Life Action League president Joseph Scheidler, who observed, “It is characteristic of a civilization in moral decay that most of its people are not aware of its decay. A nation in moral drought does not recognize the seriousness of their sins, because they have no principles to be judged by. And this describes us now.”
Catholic Citizens of Illinois president Mary Anne Hackett also spoke asking, “Why is Garret Gaston so filled with hate?” She also warned, “Shaking your fist in the face of God is dangerous business. Smearing His Divine Son with vulgar comments is a fearful and serious thing to do. Jesus said, if you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father in Heaven.”
Radio talk show host Kevin McCullogh persuaded protesters to boycott the advertisers who pay for the Chicago Reader. “It is one thing to be out here protesting today, but another way to get the Reader’s attention is to hit them in the pocketbook.”
Before leading the rosary, TFP volunteer Norman Fulkerson, commenting upon passersby ridiculing and laughing at the protest, encouraged the crowd to never be ashamed of being Catholic and to pray the rosary with pride.
American TFP founder John Spann also addressed the protesters, commending them for their presence, but exhorting them to develop such a burning love of God and His Church that it will set others on fire with that same love and prevent such blasphemies from taking place in the future.
Protest coordinator and TFP Chicago Bureau director C. Preston Noell also addressed those present. “Chicago Reader, wake up!” he exclaimed. “If you think you mock God and the Catholic Church without consequences you are wrong, dead wrong!”
Mr. Noell also read a letter sent by Cardinal Francis Eugene George, to encourage the protest. Writing about Mr. Gaston’s cartoon, the Cardinal said, “I found the cartoon to be insulting and vulgar, but not particularly original. Though we cannot know the cartoonist’s heart, we do know that he has returned to themes both old and distorted.” Cardinal George also wrote that he was joining the rally through his prayers.
Catholic banker Joseph Wemhoff reminded protesters of the words of Pope Leo XIII, who said, “Nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good.” He went on to explain, “Unless evil is actively resisted, it wins. You know that and that is why you are here today.”
The last speaker of the day was Illinois State Senator Patrick O’Malley, who commended the TFP initiative. “I can’t think of a more important organization, fighting for what is important for America than the American TFP,” he said. “If you look at it, Tradition, Family and Property my friends, we are talking about the foundation upon which America continues to exist.”
Across from the demonstration, a protest of another kind took place. A group, which at times swelled to seven participants, gathered purportedly to support the Chicago Reader’s freedom of speech. Ironically, the literature they were distributing spoke mostly about The American TFP and little of free speech. The messages which appeared on their T-shirts further showed their true motivation. One said merely, “Militant Heretic” while another claimed, “God is just pretend.”
On the following day, the three TFP volunteers set off for Pennsylvania. The thirteen-hour return trip afforded them many opportunities for conversation and many topics were discussed. One and all they remained undeterred and glad they had stood tall in the face of adversity. They were all firmly encouraged to march on, certain of the victory Our Lady promised at Fatima when she said, “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!”
Their attitudes could be summed up by the closing words of a philosophical self-portrait of Brazilian TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “The skeptics will smile, but the smiles of skeptics were never able to hinder the victorious march of those with Faith.”