Americanism — A Phantom Heresy?

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[Note: While some of the commentary is dated, the article provides a good historical foundation for what is going on today in the Church.]

It began for me when I was about twenty years of age. The Church was being “updated.” She was being modernized , brought more in line with the times, more acceptable to the modern way of thinking. This was what the people wanted. It was a new beginning. The light was finally being let in, and the fresh air was filling the stagnant corners of Catholic traditionalism.

To some, however, it all seemed strange. I would venture to say that most Catholics were taken by surprise, just as much as I, when the changes began to take place. The truth of the matter is that most of us never considered changing anything until we heard about it from the pulpit. Why change something that needed no change? But the changes came, and they occurred so gradually that we paid them little, if any, attention.

First came the vernacular Mass with its new ceremonial, turned around altars, lay ministers, Communion in the hand, and even guitar “Masses,” more suitable for a campfire than a Catholic Church. All this on-going upheaval has left everyone, young and old, spiritually confused and cheated. Consequently, many have literally been driven away from Mass. (Were we not informed that these changes were supposed to bring the wayward back to Church!)

The children who attend the “parochial” schools are subjected to religious classes more like social studies than catechism, and the subject matter includes sex education, once taught only in the home, now taught in class, and hidden beneath the high-sounding title of family life .

The confessionals, now called reconciliation rooms, remain empty, while almost everyone receives Communion. It’s almost as though nobody sins any more; and, if they do, it makes no difference. After all, they are now taught that God is a loving God, and love cannot afford to punish; love only rewards.

Birth control, even recently condemned by Pope John Paul, is discreetly permitted by many parish priests.

Those who remain loyal to traditional Catholic principles are ignored or ridiculed, while non-Catholic ministers are welcomed to our churches, and Martin Luther is touted as a man of “great religiosity.”

The American bishops condemn national defense as a “danger to world peace,” while Communism gobbles up one country after another. Even more perplexing is their comparatively weak defense of the unborn, in light of the fact that millions of innocents die each year without the saving waters of Baptism.

It’s as though the entire Church has been anesthetized while a strange disease eats away at its very reason for existence. The salvation of souls has taken second place to social justice, world peace, and false ecumenism.

That which is considered Catholicism today is, in reality, a watered down, liberalized Christianity. It has become a mere shell of its true self and this metamorphosis is taking place while the vast majority of Catholics slumber peacefully.

Such a sad state of affairs prompts one to ask, “Where did it all start? How did it all come about? What will it all lead to?” No one can answer all the questions. But the situation does exhibit certain symptoms, which, when examined more closely, tend to expose the origin, and, in the process, the sinister power behind it all becomes visible.

Almost from the instant of Christ’s birth, Satan has waged an unending war against the Savior and His Church. When he failed so miserably to have the Christ Child murdered, he enlisted the services of a traitor to bring about His final crucifixion. When the fledgling Church survived in spite of his efforts to crush it, when the martyrdom of the apostles didn’t destroy it, he tried again, enlisting the Roman legions in wholesale persecution. But the Church survived and grew.

Realizing that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church and seeing that open physical persecution was useless, he [Satan] resorted to different tactics shifting the emphasis from bloodshed to heresy and schism. To divide and conquer was the answer for which he had searched.

And his success has been astounding. Through the centuries since the Church was founded, countless millions of souls have been lost because they have been deprived of union with the one true Church. Hundreds of new religions have drawn millions from the bark of Peter since the first heresies occurred in Apostolic times. Yet his final objective, the total destruction of the Church, has eluded him. Try as he will, in his uncontrollable pride, the promise of Christ has held true: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But his pride will give him no rest, and his genius for destruction seems boundless. It is this genius for deception which gave birth to his most recent and vicious attack, an attack which seems to have brought the Church to her knees.

It began in the eighteenth century, when in 1789, the first of the monarchs of Europe was conscripted for destruction. The French Revolution had begun and the Age of Enlightenment was at hand. Before it was over the king of France was dead, the first to go in a long line of European monarchs who had been long-time allies of the Vatican. This was a necessary step in setting the stage for the events which followed.

The Catholic monarchs of Europe, on many occasions, had been invaluable assets in quenching outbursts of heresy, and even in protecting Rome itself from invading armies. If the final phase of this battle was to succeed, they must be eliminated or neutralized. Through the poisonous process known as enlightenment , the people would be convinced that the kings had no right to rule them. They must rule themselves. By this Masonically directed propaganda, and the careful application of force, one by one the friends of the Vatican fell, and Rome was soon in a state of virtual isolation. With the loss of her temporal power, the Church stood vulnerable to the final thrust, so carefully and cleverly calculated.

The liberal brainwash: If the kings had no right to rule in the temporal sphere, the Church had no right to rule in the moral. If mankind was free to rule himself in matters of politics, he was also free to rule in matters of religion. If one form of government was just as good as another, providing it had no king, then one religion was just as good as another, providing it had no Pope. And so, from the Age of Enlightenment was conceived religious indifferentism. An evil child! Fathered by Satan, and mothered by the Enlightenment. A child whose eventual birth would be attended by a midwife known as liberalism.

The only remaining detail was to choose a place suitable for training such a midwife, and, as history proves, he chose it well: a young nation, predominantly Protestant, and recently divorced from the British king who once ruled her. She was a multi-denominational society already accustomed to tolerating differences in religion, and her Catholic minority was eager to prove that they too could be good citizens.

By the late 1800’s, the American Church had already been exposed to nearly one hundred years of ” the attractive theory of democracy,” which the Protestant majority had long since extended to religious government as well. Many American Catholics hoped that this new-found democratic principle might be employed to “modify traditional Catholic authoritarianism. ” 1

In 1878, James Gibbons was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore by the Apostolic Delegate to Canada, Archbishop George Conroy. At Rome’s request, Conroy also made a tour of the United States in the same year, and he sent a report which was critical of what he had seen to the Vatican. Pope Leo XIII became concerned and asked for more information on what he called the “young enthusiastic country across the sea.” 2

It seems as though the American Church had developed an attitude more inclined to befriend their non-Catholic countrymen, than to be concerned for the salvation of their souls. Matters of religion were taking a back seat to matters of civil harmony; and, as time progressed, it would become evident that Archbishop Gibbons was one of the most effective propagators of this attitude. In fact, this tendency became so pronounced that it created a considerable controversy. So unique was this self-defeating attitude that it was named for the country in which it was spawned. It was called Americanism , and the trend it started has grown like a parasite, eating away at the very substance of the Church until only the shell we see today remains.

All of this prompted requests for a third Plenary Council, and once the Pope gave his approval, the American bishops succeeded in having Archbishop Gibbons appointed as the Apostolic Delegate to preside at the Council. The new Bishops were against having an Italian serve in that capacity for fear that he would not be in sympathy with the American spirit . Upon completion of the preparations, the Council convened in November of 1884, with Archbishop Gibbons presiding. 3

Pope Leo had left, naively, the council agenda and direction mainly to the cardinals, and many American clerics, especially the younger members of the hierarchy, interpreted his solicitude toward the council as sympathy for the new Nation. They believed that Leo had a desire to see “Roman Catholicism reconciled with the American spirit. This reconciliation led to a liberal-conservative conflict among the clergy.” 4

The situation reached the boiling point when, as a result of the council, “In 1889 a group of progressive bishops, headed by [the new] Cardinal Gibbons, succeeded in founding the Catholic University of America at Washington, D.C. Gibbons, the second U.S. Cardinal (1886), perhaps best represented the Catholic mind to most Americans during the nearly half century (1877-1921) that he occupied the See of Baltimore. He was forward-looking and desirous of accommodating Catholicism to the national spirit. Gibbons stoutly defended the orthodoxy of the U.S. Church when conservatives in Paris and Rome accused it, in 1897-1899, of promoting a liberalized Christianity, styled, Americanism.” 5

The establishment of the University caused such a stir among the hierarchy that progressives like Gibbons and Bishop Ireland were openly at odds with conservatives, including Bishops Corrigan, McQuaid, and Katzer. The first Rector was Bishop Keane, a progressive , and his administration (1889-96) was marked by ideological controversy between the factions in his faculty. The situation was so bad that Abbe Peries wrote articles claiming Keane had been removed in 1896 because Catholic University had become the “fortress of American liberalism.” Gibbons was accused of showing “a singular contrast to the orthodoxy of the Vatican” in the Edinburgh Review of April, 1890. 6

Undaunted by the criticisms leveled against him, Gibbons, along with other prelates, took part in the Parliament of Religion (an interfaith gathering) at the Chicago Exposition in 1893. While speaking to his multi-denominational audience he remarked that “though we differ in faith…we stand united on the platform of charity and benevolence.” Now this remark seems harmless at first glance, but it also seems to place the importance of one’s faith in a secondary position to the more active virtues of charity and benevolence. The Review of Reviews was quick to accuse Gibbons of doing exactly that. 7 Although this remark was considered as mild by some (in view of the Cardinal’s liberal tendencies), it is not difficult to understand why the Review reached the conclusion it did.

In all fairness to the Cardinal, Pope Leo had given him permission to address the Parliament, and, to many, it was considered a “high watermark in co-operation between Catholics and non-Catholics. Europeans, however, criticized it because they thought the American bishops were willing to play down some articles of faith not to the liking of Protestants.” 8

At any rate, the uproar became so intense that Leo reconsidered his decision. “In 1895, he sent a letter to Archbishop Satolli forbidding future participation in inter-denominational congresses.” 9

It seems that no matter what Gibbons said or did, his inclination to bend Catholic teaching to the liking of his non-Catholic neighbors almost always manifested itself.

Isaac Hecker was a convert to Catholicism whose liberal methods made him the target of conservative criticism, and before it was over, he would also become a part of the Gibbons story. This controversial man eventually became a Redemptorist priest, and, in March of 1858, he was released from his Redemptorist obligations by Pope Pius IX. He founded the Society of Paulist Missionaries, in the same year, for the espoused purpose of converting America to Catholicism. 10

In his early 20s, before his conversion, Hecker became a member of Brook Farm, an experiment in socialism which eventually earned a reputation as “the most celebrated American utopian community.” His friends included such transcendentalist notables as George Ripley, the founder of Brook Farm, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Orestes Brownson. It was through the influence of Brownson, himself a dynamic convert, and noted Catholic writer, that Hecker decided to join the Catholic Church. (Not to his credit, and previous to his conversion, it was Brownson who introduced the contemporary French philosophers into New England.)

“Hecker’s impact on the American scene was twofold: he directed the attention of Americans to the Roman Catholic Church, and stimulated Catholic interest in non-Catholic America.” 11 But his entire background seemed filled with the transcendentalist philosophy, a philosophy so Liberal in nature that James Freeman Clark could say of these people collectively, “We are called like-minded because no two of us think alike.” 12 He was well conditioned to accept a liberal attitude with regard to religion, and, no doubt, there were others who recognized his tendency to do so.

In 1890, Father Walter Elliott, editor of the Paulist Catholic World , which was accused of “liberalizing tendencies” by Archbishop Corrigan, published a Life of Father Hecker. This work overly stressed an activist thesis in opposition to the more passive virtues, much as we see in the Church today, and it bore the introduction of none other than Cardinal Gibbons and Archbishop Ireland, both of whom were considered progressives. 13

By 1897, the theories of Father Hecker had caught on so well that they backlashed to Europe via a French translation of his life by Louise, Comptesse de Ravilliax. The introduction for this work was supplied by Abbe Felix Klein, who emphasized Father Hecker’s innovations even more than the English version. French Catholics were encouraged to hold Father Hecker as an example for forward looking Catholics. But European conservatives were on the alert, and, by March of 1898, articles began to appear denouncing this new Americanism , which had found its way into Europe. These articles were written by Abbe Charles Magnien, of the Brothers of Saint Vincent, and he accused American Catholics of “advocating a false liberalism: absolute separation of Church and state, limitation of submission to lawful authority, criticism of older religious orders, and just as Gibbons and Hecker both emphasized, exaltation of active and natural virtues over passive and supernatural ones.” 14

Gibbons, possibly realizing things were getting out of hand protested that there was no such thing as Americanism . But by then it was too late, and it condemnation was recommended by a commission of cardinals.

On January 22, 1899, Pope Leo sent an Apostolic letter to Cardinal Gibbons known as Testem Benevolentiae . Although the letter was not primarily concerned with Americanism, and was quite cordial in nature, the Pope did bring out the main error embodied in it:

1) The contention that there is a need of adapting the Church to the demands of modern civilization and slanting it toward a more democratic method, 2) that there should be more scope for individual freedom of thought and action, since the Holy Spirit operates on the conscience of the individual more directly than on the hierarchy. The errors of Americanism take away from the importance of the passive virtues-such as mortification, obedience, contemplation and concentrate on the active virtues, such as the active apostolate and organization. After a thorough examination, the Pope concluded with these words: ‘We cannot approve the opinions which constitute the so-called Americanism.’ Though acting with the highest motives, the ‘Americanists’ find themselves eventually, as regards doctrine, in a position which is difficult to reconcile with the doctrine and traditional spirit of the Church. 15

According to Brother William Keifer, S.M., in his book Leo XIII , the above reference to Testem Benevolentiae referred to “the thoughts that he [Leo] had on the preface of the French version of the Life of Father Hecker . But he goes on to say, “Archbishop Ireland, who was in Rome at the time, wrote to the Holy Father, repudiating and condemning all the opinions which the apostolic letter repudiated and condemned. Later Gibbons also wrote to Leo on this matter. The letter stated that no educated American Catholic sided with Americanism . Corrigan and the German bishops still insisted Americanism did exist in the United States. Some have stated that the Pope was ill-advised, but if so, it was not for long.” In a footnote he says, “Cardinal Gibbons wrote Leo XIII, March 17, 1899, in part: ‘This doctrine, which I deliberately call extravagant and absurd, this Americanism , as it is called, has nothing in common with the views, aspirations, doctrines and conduct of Americans.’ Ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons , Vol. II, p. 71.”

Brother Kiefer then continues: “An interesting letter of Archbishop Ireland has proved that point (that the Pope was ‘ill-advised’).” The Archbishop, writing to a certain Mrs. Bellamy Storer in 1900 stated: ‘The Pope told me to forget the letter on Americanism , which has no application except in a few dioceses in France.’ Shortly afterward, Abbe Klein repudiated Americanism and indicated that he did not realize what he had started.”

And so, the liberalism of that “young enthusiastic country across the sea” escaped the condemnation it deserved. Either Pope Leo was extremely naive, or he was the victim of a conspiracy to isolate him from the truth. The latter of the two possibilities seems the more likely.

Six years after ascending the Chair of Peter, on April 20, 1884, Pope Leo issued his Encyclical, Humanum Genus . In it he gave a stinging condemnation of Freemasonry. In addition to the in-depth study of Masonry it contained, he listed his predecessors who also condemned it. They include Clement XII, Benedict XIV, Pius VII, Leo XII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI, and Pius IX.

Leo said that Masons

“teach the great error of this age—that a regard for religion should be held as an indifferent matter, and that all religions are alike. This manner of reasoning is calculated to bring about the ruin of all forms of religion, and especially the Catholic religion, which, as it is the only one that is true, cannot, without great injustice, be regarded as merely equal to other religions…

“It may seem to some that Freemasons demand nothing that is openly contrary to religion and morality, but, as the whole principle and object of the sect lies in what is vicious and criminal, to join with these men in any way or to help them cannot be lawful.”

Pope Leo knew full well the danger posed to the Church by the Masons. He knew what they had already started in Europe, and he knew of their ultimate goal, expressed by Adam Weishaupt, who became the father of Illuminated Freemasonry in 1782. “We will infiltrate that place [the Vatican] and once inside we will never come out. We will bore from within until nothing remains but an empty shell.”

At the very moment when the Illuminism of Europe and the Liberalism of America were scheduled to be joined for the purpose of poisoning the Church itself, Leo XIII occupied the chair of Peter. He was a force to be reckoned with, and, as he closed in on the Americanists, Satan saw the opportunity he needed to divert Leo’s efforts at stopping this evil union. He would pull Leo’s attention from the real threat, and draw his fire instead to “a few dioceses in France.”

To accomplish this seemingly impossible task, he would enlist the services of Leo’s most trusted Lieutenant. This was Cardinal Rampolla del Tindaro. Upon the death of Cardinal Jacobini in 1887, this sinister character became Pope Leo’s fourth Secretary of State. For the remainder of Leo’s Pontificate, Rampolla served in that capacity. So close was the relationship between these two men that some referred to Rampolla as Leo’s “alter ego.” 16 There can be no doubt that Rampolla’s advice and influence had a profound effect on Leo’s policy-making decisions regarding Americanism . As we will now see, Rampolla turned out to be the Alger Hiss in the Vatican Department of State.

After Leo’s death, the cardinals entered the conclave, on July 31, 1903, to elect a new Pope. Cardinal Rampolla seemed to have enough influence and popularity to become the next Pontiff. After all, he had served as Secretary of State for sixteen years, and no one seemed more qualified than he.

However, Monsignor Jouin, a learned scholar, was aware of the evil plot of the Masons, and he was convinced that Rampolla belonged to a Masonic lodge. He asked Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria to use his power of veto to block the election of Rampolla.

The voting was heavily in favor of Rampolla at first, and his lead increased with successive ballots. It was then that Cardinal Puzyna conveyed the Austrian Emperor’s intention to use his veto. Rampolla strongly protested, but the tide turned, and the conclave elected, not Rampolla, but Cardinal Sarto the new Pope, and future Saint Pius X.

From that moment, all through the Pontificate of Saint Pius, Rampolla’s influence was cut off. But, as Adam Weishaupt had declared, “…we will never come out,” history seems to have proven him right. Let the reader be the judge.

The September, 1976, issue of Lectures Francaises [French Readings] published a list of names, along with the corresponding offices held by certain high Church officials, and the dates they were accepted into the Masonic order. This list was published “in the Italian press and by some traditionalist French publications.” Among other high ranking Church officials, the names of the private secretary of Paul VI and his chaplain were included. His Secretary of State, the Secretary for the Congregation of the Eastern Churches, and even the prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops were also included. In all, there were eighteen names listed, many of which were almost household words at the time because of their activities during and after Vatican II.

On February 18, 1984, the Vatican Secretary of State and Italian Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi, signed a treaty which took sixteen years to negotiate. “Under the treaty, known as the Concordat, Catholicism would no longer be the state religion in Italy . The treaty acknowledges the rights of members of other religions to practice on an equal footing with Catholics.” 17

“Another tragic provision of the new concordat is the removal of Rome from its official status of ‘Sacred City.’ Among the privileges that designation afforded was the banning of offensive and pornographic books and shows inside the city limits. The floodgates of filth are now open.” 18 The power of the Church has been greatly diminished, and the concordat even “makes Church marriage annulments subject to state confirmations.” 19

Following the signing of the concordat, the Cardinal Secretary of State “declared that the pact was consistent with the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council, particularly those involving religious liberty.” 20

It is interesting to note that Craxi is the Prime Minister of the first socialist government of Italy. Vatican spokesman Rev. Romeo Panciroli said that the negotiations took so long because of frequent changes in Italian government. But an advisor to Craxi, Gennavo Aquaviva, said the socialist government “gave the matter a higher priority than previous Christian governments which had traditional ties to the Church.” 21

Mr. Aquaviva seems to make sense, considering the fact that he represents a system formerly condemned by the Church. What doesn’t seem to make sense is that the Church waited for a socialist government with which to reach such an accord! An accord in which the Church comes out the obvious loser. An accord which permits pornographic materials within the city limits and puts all religions on an “equal footing”!

But when we examine the list published by Lectures Francaises , in 1976, the clouds begin to clear. The Vatican Secretary of State who signed the new concordat is Agostino Cardinal Casaroli. According to the list, he was serving as Secretary for the Public Affairs of the Church in 1976, and he entered Freemasonry on September 28, 1957. Is it any wonder that the new Code of Canon Law at first gave the impression that a Catholic could join a Masonic Society that was not “against” the Church? (As if the naturalistic religion of Masonry in itself is not “against” the Church of Jesus Christ!) All the double talk and deliberate ambiguity forced Pope John Paul to make a clearer statement, namely that no Catholic can join any Masonic sect without committing a mortal sin. Undoubtedly, things are not all harmony and peace behind Vatican walls.

And so, the child is born — religious indifference — Satan’s child — conceived in the womb of the Masonic Enlightenment — delivered by the liberal philosophy of Americanism, in a maternity ward known as Vatican Council II. This is an evil offspring who has brought about a modernized and updated Church with a new liturgy, tailored to avoid ruffling the sensitivities of non-Catholics—a Church with a clergy more interested in being popular than preaching the truth. Mortification, obedience, and contemplation have been replaced by social justice, a utopian search for world peace , and false ecumenism .

The major error of Masonry, “that a regard for religion should be held as an indifferent matter,” now seems to have been almost totally accepted, and our Popes seem powerless to reverse the trend. Pope Paul VI said as much when he declared: “The smoke of Satan has entered the Church.”

But his victory is a hollow one. He may cripple the Church for a time, but her most effective weapon, one which she has for a time ceased to use, will bring about his ultimate downfall. It is a weapon so powerful that if it were in use, he could never have achieved his present level of success. It is the dogma of the Faith contained in the teaching of the Church from the very beginning; “Outside the Church there is no Salvation.”

When this dogma is once again upheld by Rome, preached from our pulpits, and taught in our schools, Satan will be defeated. The Church will return to the business of salvation; her liturgy and doctrine will again be sound, and Christ will rule where Satan has failed.

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus


1 A Survey of American Church History , Newman C. Eberhardt, C.M.

2 Leo XIII , Brother William Kiefer, S.M.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Encyclopedia Americana , 1979.

6 A Survey of American Church History , Newman C. Eberhardt, C.M.

7 Ibid.

8 Leo XIII , Brother William Kiefer, S.M.

9 Ibid.

10 Encyclopedia Americana , 1979.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 A Survey of American Church History , Newman C. Eberhardt, C.M.

14 Ibid.

15 The Bible: Catholic Action Edition , 1953.

16 Leo XIII , Brother William Kiefer, S.M.

17 The Way , March 4, 1984

18 TFP News Letter , Vol. IV – No. 3 – 1984.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 The Way , March 4, 1984

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