Q - It is a common misconception that Catholics are discouraged from reading the Bible. While this isn't the case today, is there anything in recent Catholic history that could have spawned this idea? I'm thinking about my grandmother's generation, people in their sixties and seventies now.
A - Thanks for the question. You are certainly on the right track, but we have to go back much further to see the beginning of this idea.
The first thing we need to do is shed ourselves of our on preconceptions. We take for granted now that anyone can have a Bible if they want one. Yet not only has this not been the case through most of Christian history, but it isn't the case in many parts of the world (North Korea, Middle Easter countries, etc). Remember that a majority of people during Christian history couldn't read well, if at all. Most didn't have access until books, even after the printing press, because of large costs.
With all of this background, we can see that throughout most of the 2,000 years of history of the Catholic Church, Bibles were not a common possession of common people. So, the way they learned about the Bible was through other means - Mass, fine art (think stained glass windows, murals, paintings, etc), stories, and oral tradition. With this being said there are a number of "myths" surrounding the Catholic Church and the Bible:
1 - The Catholic Church chained Bibles to keep the from the people.
-more accurately, they were chained because they were so valuable and a church might have only one copy. Not to "keep them from the people" but rather to keep them from thieves.
2 - The Catholic Church discourages personal Bible reading because they know that if you read the Bible for yourself you will find the truth behind their lies.
-This one sounds silly, but many believe it to be true. The problem is that the Catholic Church has always maintained that Scripture is indispensable to a Christian.
3 - The Catholic Church banned early translations of the Bible (even killing some of the translators), because they didn't want common people to read it and know the truth.
-Rather, the Church banned early translations because they were done "unofficially" and without proper Church oversight. They contained many errors and the Church banned them to protect the people from bad translations just as the Jehovah's Witnesses have a bad translation today. [if only they protected us from some of the bad translations we have today :-) ]
There are many more myths, but what happened is that they worked there way into the consciousness of many people, even today.
Another factor in perpetuating the myth is the confusion that ensued after Vatican II in the 60's. If you want to read about some of that, you can in previous posts I have made here and here. Suffice it to say that many problems in the Church were amplified after Vatican II, including Biblical teaching.