Start with Puritan New England, where ministers taught their flocks that the Pope was the “Beast of Rome” – that is, Satan incarnate. “This is a Catholick Church of the Devil, but not of Christ,” preached the Cambridge-educated John Cotton, who migrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s.
After America split off from England, evangelical clergy added a new charge: that Catholicism was incompatible with democratic self-rule. According to Connecticut minister Lyman Beecher, whose daughter Harriet would author the anti-slavery classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Catholicism was itself a system of mental and theological enslavement. Whereas Protestants thought for themselves, Beecher said, Catholics yoked their minds – and their souls – to Rome.
In the 1930s, when fascism enveloped Germany and Italy, American Evangelicals blamed the allegedly authoritarian tendencies of Catholics in both countries. And when a new totalitarian enemy arose in the 1950s, critics likened America’s Communist enemy to, yes, Catholicism. Both institutions brainwashed Americans and bound them to a “foreign” power, the story went, whether in Moscow or Rome.