There was a time when America was Catholic. That is to say, there was no Christian presence in the vast territory of North America which is now the United States except the Catholic one. Even as late as the beginning of the 19th century three-quarters of the territory — all the land west of the Mississippi — remained Catholic. Before we consider developments which led eventually to the conditions prevailing at the time of Fr. Feeney’s controversey — conditions which virtually dictated that action would be taken against him and which still prevail today — let us recall the Catholic America which earlier was.
The event which today marks in the minds of most Americans the beginning of their history was the landing in 1620 of the so-called Pilgrim Fathers at a place they named Plymouth on the coast of what is now Massachusetts. However, nearly a century before that, in 1528, a Spanish Franciscan priest, Fr. Juan Juarez, was designated Bishop of Florida.
That was but 15 years after Florida was discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon on Easter Sunday, 1513, and no more than 36 after Christopher Columbus, sailing under the flag of Catholic Spain, made his first voyage to the New World and planted the cross on its shores. (In Spanish, Easter Sunday was known as Pascua Florida, Flowery Easter, which is how the land discovered and named by Ponce de Leon is still called Florida.)
Bishop Juarez died in his diocese the year of his appointment. If he was killed by Indians, as were many in his party (we do not know how, or exactly when, he died), he would be the first American martyr. However, of the 116 American martyrs whose names over the years have been submitted to Rome for canonization, the title of American protomartyr is bestowed on Fr. Juan de Padilla, another Franciscan. A chaplain attached to the 1541-42 expedition of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado deep into the American heartland, Fr. de Padilla was slain by Indians at a spot in today’s Kansas which is practically the geographical center of the continental U.S.
Three more martyrs: Fr. Luis Cancer, Fr. Diego Tolosa and Hermano Fuentes, all Dominicans. They were murdered by Indians soon after going ashore on the Feast of the Ascension, 1549, near Tampa Bay. The bay had been discovered 10 years before, in 1539, by Hernando de Soto, and was named by him Espiritu Santo, Holy Spirit, because the discovery took place on Pentecost. (From Florida, de Soto would go on to explore lands we now know as Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. At one point his path nearly crossed that of Coronado.)
The Spanish explorations of Florida would lead to the founding, on September 8, 1565, of the first city in what is now the U.S. This was St. Augustine, named that by its founder, Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, because he sighted the peninsula on which it stands of the feast day of the great saint.
Accompanying the admiral were 12 Franciscan priests and four Jesuits. They would be followed by an army of missionaries who set out to evangelize Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and later the Carolinas and Virginia, as well as Florida, from their base in St. Augustine.
To speak of an army of missionaries is not to exaggerate. In all, from the end of the 15th century until 1822 Spain sent to America 16,000 missionaries who were members of religious orders. Also active as missionaries were countless diocesan priests and religious who were born in Spanish territories in the Western Hemisphere.
If their work of evangelization was initially blessed, it soon enough suffered because of the incursion of Protestants. The first on the scene were Huguenots to whom it was seldom sufficient to destroy the Catholic settlements they attacked and overran. It was common for them to put to the sword the Catholic missionaries and native converts who fell into their hands.
It was the same story with the English after they began settling coastal areas north of Florida. For instance, in 1704 the English governor of South Carolina, Moore, led a military expedition against Apalachee Mission in Florida. Capturing three Franciscan priests, he executed them along with 800 Catholic Indians. He also forced into slavery another 1,400 Indians who were living at Apalachee.
Nearly a century before then and far to the northwest, in today’s New Mexico, Pedro de Peralta in 1609 founded a city which he named Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis, and which soon became known simply as Holy Faith, Santa Fe. Peralta built on one side of the town’s central plaza, in the manner typical of Spanish capitals, a Governor’s Palace, a long one-story edifice of adobe and log beams. Serving well into this century as the residence of New Mexico’s governors, it still stands.
More important to the work of planting the Faith within our shores and once again typical of Spanish settlements, 11 churches or missions had been built in and around Santa Fe by 1617, and in 1625 there were 43 Churches serving 34,000 Catholic Indians.
The existence in the early 17th century of a thriving center like Santa Fe wants to be known not simply because it predates the arrival at Plymouth in 1620 of the Pilgrims and their first encounter with some Indians. There is also a widespread notion today that America west of the Mississippi, the whole territory that was Spanish and French and therefore Catholic as late as 1800, was a wilderness untouched by civilization until English-speaking Protestants settled in it during the 19th century. The existence of a center like Santa Fe shows the notion to be false.
If the Huguenots and English Protestants impeded the Spanish missionaries’ work of evangelization, it also has to be admitted that these heroes of the Faith were not always as successful in bringing it and its civilizing influence to the native population as they were at Santa Fe.
There was much about Christianity and Christian living that many Indians at first found unacceptable. Thus, five Franciscans were martyred in Georgia in 1597 for trying to introduce monogamy among local Indians.
At Mission Santa Elena in South Carolina, the Jesuit Fr. Juan Rogel found that eight months of religious instruction led to nothing when a council of Indian chiefs objected to renouncing the devil before Baptism. (Many Indians worshipped the spirit of evil. It was to him they offered human sacrifice.)
In all, from Juan de Padilla in Kansas in 1542 to Antonio Diaz de Leon in 1834 in Texas, 80 Spanish missionary priests and brothers were martyred in America. Most of them were Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans. Twenty-one Franciscans died at one time in New Mexico in 1680 . Eight Jesuits were killed at one time in Virginia in 1570 at a site near the Rappahannock River which would be within commuting distance of today’s Washington, D.C.
The French arrived in what is now the United States later than the Spanish, but they, too, helped make most of the country what it first was: Catholic. Numberless existing place names testify to it, and none more gloriously than the “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis, named for France’s great King Louis IX, crusader, friend and patron of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a saint canonized in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII after the Church examined 65 miracles attesting to his sanctity. “A Christian should argue with a blasphemer only by running his sword through his bowels as far as it will go,” King St. Louis once declared. As for Boniface VIII, the pontiff who canonized him, he declared in his Bull Unam Sanctam in 1302: “We declare, say, define and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
(The ” Feeneyites” have compiled more than 3,100 quotations from Scripture, the decrees of popes and councils, and the writings of Fathers and Doctors of the Church and hundreds of saints, blesseds and venerabili in support of their position on Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. [see The’ Apostolic Digest; ed. Michael Malone.] However, the quote from Unam Sanctam is one of the three they cite most often on account of their solemnity. The other two:
“There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved.” [Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215]
“The most Holy Roman Catholic Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” [Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441].)
The city named for St. Louis was founded fairly late, but before there was a United States. It was in 1764. By then, French explorers and missionaries had been active in and around today’s U.S. for more than two centuries, the first being the Italian-born mariner Giovanni Verrazano. In the service of France’s King Francois I, he became in 1524 the first European to enter New York Harbor. During that voyage he explored most of the East Coast from the Carolinas to Newfoundland.
The list of French who brought the Faith and European Catholic civilization to these shores is long. It includes Marquette, Cartier, Champlain, LaSalle (who opened Illinois to French settlement), the brothers Lemoyne (one of whom founded New Orleans in 1718), and others. None matter more than the eight canonized by the church in 1930 as the Martyrs of North America. They are Sts. Rene’ Goupil, Jean Lalande, Isaac Jogues, Antony Daniel, Jean de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Cornier and Noel Chabanel, listed here according to the chronology of their martyrdom from 1642 to 1649.
We need to understand what it was that motivated these men and their Spanish brothers in the Faith. Why were these men willing to die as they did? ( In all cases it was horribly.) The answer is very relevant to our inquiry into the Boston Heresy case. That is, if Fr. Feeney was never called upon to give his life (thanks, perhaps, to the mounted police who surrounded him on Boston Commons), why was he ready to sacrifice his brilliant career and reputation as “an American Chesterton”?
In reference to the canonized North American Martyrs, Coulson’s biographical dictionary, The Saints, tells us that Fr. Charles Garnier, born to considerable wealth in Paris, “would walk thirty or forty miles in the Summer heat over enemy country just to baptize a dying Indian.” “Just” to baptize him?
Did Fr. Garnier not believe that “baptism of desire” would be sufficient for the Indian? Sufficient to what?
The answer is suggested by Fr. Garnier’s Jesuit superior, Fr. Paul LeJeune (all of the canonized Martyrs of North America are Jesuits). Coulson tells us that in his missionary travels, Fr. LeJeune “tasted the four worst aspects of Indian life: cold, heat, smoke and dogs. Of these he found smoke by far the worst. It filled the hut in which men, women and dogs slept together around the fire, and prolonged exposure to it usually brought blindness in the end, a fact which caused LeJeune to remark: ‘Unhappy infidels who spend their lives in smoke, and their eternity in flames.'”
Taking Fr. LeJeune’s words on their face, the canonized North American Martyrs (like their uncanonized but heroic Spanish brethren) were ready to undergo all they did in order to save as many Indians as they could from eternal fire. They paid dearly for their charity. How dearly? Here is some of the account we have of the martyrdom of Fr. Jean de Brebeuf. (It is provided by another Jesuit missionary, Fr. Christophe Regnant. We shall begin by summarizing him, and then go to direct quotation.)
Taken captive by Iroquois, Fr. de Brebeuf was stripped naked and tied to a post. He was beaten with clubs. His fingernails were then torn out. In a mockery of Baptism, a cauldron of boiling water was poured over him, There followed a string of hatchets heated by fire to red-hot and which was strung around his neck. Next, a belt of pitch was tied around his waist and set afire. The Indians then cut out his tongue. After that they began to flay him, which is to say cut and strip the skin off his body.
They still were not done. Says Fr. Regnant: “Those butchers, seeing that the good father began to grow weak, made him sit down on the ground, and one of them, taking a knife, cut off the skin covering his skull. Another one, seeing that the good father would soon die, made an opening in the upper part of his chest, and tore out his heart, which he roasted and ate. Others came to drink his blood, still warm, which they drank with both hands.”
Centuries later, in 1991, a feature film entitled Blackrobe would be made about the early encounters of French missionaries with American Indians. Not nearly as politically correct as another film of the day, Dances With Wolves — besides the savagery shown the missionaries, it realistically depicted Indian cruelty to other Indians — the movie did poorly at the box office. Besides its political incorrectness, the chief reason for the picture’s poor acceptance was doubtless accurately fingered by the New York Times’ senior religion writer, Peter Steinfels, in a review of the film. A contemporary audience, Steinfels said, simply could not understand the missionaries’ willingness to sacrifice themselves. The missionaries looked misguided or positively idiotic to such an audience. It was not necessary for Steinfels to say this was because the audience would consist mainly of unbelievers, or at least of persons who do not believe as did the North American Martyrs — and all other Catholics once upon a time, it should be added.
Here is a piece of writing from the pen of another Jesuit missionary and canonized saint, Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit Apostle to the Indies who lived (1506- 1552) a century before the North American Martyrs: “Before their Baptism, certain Japanese were greatly troubled by a hateful and annoying scruple: that God did not appear merciful and good because He had never made Himself known to the Japanese people before, especially if it was true that those who had not worshipped God were doomed to everlasting punishment in Hell. One of the things which torments them most is that we teach that the prison of Hell is irrevocably shut, so that there is no escape from it. For they grieve over the fate of their departed children, their parents, and relatives, and they often show their grief by tears. So they ask us if there is any way to free them by prayer from the eternal misery. And I am obliged to answer that there is absolutely none.”
So wrote St. Francis Xavier in the 16th century. But in the 20th, another Jesuit, James Brodrick, author of a biography of the saint published in 1952, could say of the Apostle to the Indies that “it is impossible not to feel a little sorry for the Brahmans whom Francis trounced so mercilessly [in a letter to Rome]. For one thing, it was their country, not his, and the religion which they professed and served had a title to some respect from a foreigner, if only by reason of its venerable antiquity, so much more impressive even than that of the Holy Catholic Church. Besides, it has a metaphysic, a philosophy of being, as profound in its own way as any of which the Western world can boast, but of that St. Francis was completely ignorant. He does not seem even to have heard of such deep-rooted and cherished doctrines as those of karma, maya, bhakti and yoga….Of course, St. Francis was not alone or singular in the hastiness and superficiality of his views. They were shared by all Western men of his time, and we too would have shared them had we been alive then, so there is no particular reason why we should imagine ourselves to be superior.”
No, there certainly is not, one is inclined to respond. In fact, how many “Western men” today can be regarded as even equal to Francis Xavier and the countless other missionaries who took seriously Christ’s last commandment to His followers, to make disciples of all the nations? The missionaries would include, first of all, the very Apostles who heard the commandment directly and set out to convert the lands of the Roman Empire, but also those who sought to make America Catholic beginning virtually as soon as Catholics discovered her. If these missionaries are today incomprehensible to “Western men,” as Blackrobe was to its audience, the incomprehension is rooted in unbelief. “Western men,” which is to speak of men who used to be Christian, do not believe in the same things as did Francis Xavier and the North American Martyrs, or they do not believe in anything at all. Remaining Catholics among the “Western men” are apt to be of the “cafeteria”-type. They pick and choose which of the Church’s teachings they will believe, including extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, and then feel “free” to decide whether or not they will live according to them. They may do so, they contend, because every man enjoys “freedom of conscience.” Every American knows that.
It was precisely such incomprehension and unbelief which Fr. Feeney foresaw if the leaders of the Church in the U.S. continued on the course they were following a half-century ago. He also understood it was a course to which the U.S. hierarchy had bound itself earlier. Did he additionally see that the heresy of Americanism with its view of liberal democracy as a model for the Church would spread far beyond the frontiers of the country to influence the life of the Church Universal? He was in decline during most of the years following Vatican II and until his death in 1978, and his sense of Americanism’s triumph therefore may not have been very sharp. Besides, he might not have wanted to believe in the development, even if he foresaw it. After all, like Fr. de Brebeuf he had sacrificed himself in the conviction that the Church is the Church and outside her there is no salvation. To give them their due, most of the original Americanists probably shared his conviction. They simply held that in a Protestant nation the teaching extra Ecclesiam nulla salus was not to be taught. Somehow they failed to understand that if it were not taught, one day it would not be believed.
Who were the Americanists? What were they about? To answer these questions now is to fast-forward our account of the devolution of Catholic America into the officially pluralistic and secular United States of the late 20th century, but without doing it at this juncture it will be impossible to understand how there arose the circumstances which eventually prevailed, were prevailing when the controversy surrounding Fr. Feeney was at its height, and which prevail today.
Americanism was condemned as a heresy by Pope Leo XIII in 1899 in an Apostolic Letter, Testem Benevolentiae. The document was addressed to Baltimore Archbishop James Cardinal Gibbons, Primate of the United States. Himself an Americanist, Gibbons tried to block the letter. At the last minute he even sent a cable to Rome, beseeching Pope Leo not to dispatch it. However, the cardinal’s cable was received at the Apostolic Palace after Testem Benevolentiae was shipbound for transport to the U.S.
(Interestingly enough, no Archbishop of Baltimore has been canonically invested with the title of primate since Gibbons. The most recent one before today’s incumbent was installed, William Borders, was not even made a Cardinal.)
In his letter, Pope Leo says that Americanism can be identified by certain “doctrines” (his word) which it promotes. They may be summarized: Christian perfection can be attained without external spiritual guidance; natural virtues are superior to supernatural ones and should be extolled over them: even among natural virtues, the cultivation of “active” ones (doing good works), as compared to “passive” ones (praying or contemplating, for instance), is more suitable to modern times; religious vows are out of joint with these times because they limit human liberty; traditional methods of winning non-Catholics to the Church should be abandoned for new ones.
Of these “doctrines,” the first and last interest us the most for purposes of tracing the historical background against which the drama of the so-called Boston Heresy Case would eventually play out. The first, that Christian perfection can be attained without external spiritual guidance, can lead to the view when developed far enough that the Church herself is not necessary for salvation. As for the last “doctrine,” it had always been the way of the Church to proclaim her truths “from the housetops” (Matthew, 10:27). That was so from the days when St. Paul preached in the Athenian agora. It was still so with the North American Martyrs and St. Francis Xavier in India and Japan. The Americanists-Bishops John J. Keene and Denis J. O’Connell, Archbishop John Ireland and Cardinal Gibbons were among the leading ones-believed it should be otherwise.
They saw that the evangelization of a Protestant nation suspicious of “undemocratic” Catholicism and “Popish plots” against separation of Church and state was a difficult problem. They proposed the “Americanization” of the Church as the solution. That would entail leaving untaught teachings which truly were undemocratic. Among them would be the teaching that membership in a particular religious body, theirs, was necessary for salvation. No democrat believing in the principle of equality — equality of beliefs as well as of men — would want to hear that.
Leo knew exactly what Americanism entailed. It is why he wrote that all of the “doctrines” summarized above were based on a single “First Principle”: “That in order the more easily to bring over to Catholic doctrine those who dissent from it, the Church ought to adapt herself somewhat to [the Pope is being ironic] our advanced civilization, and, relaxing her ancient rigor, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods.” The Pope then allowed himself to express the confidence that “the Bishops of America would be the first to repudiate and condemn” the First Principle. Otherwise, there would be raised “the suspicion that there are some among you who conceive and desire a Church in America different from that which is in the rest of the world.”
Now, it needs to be known that the formal heresy of Americanism did not first arise in America. Its true home was France. However, it could not take root in that country in the late 19th century. It was only in America that it could possibly find the right soil for taking root at that time, and Leo knew very well what it could one day mean for the Church Universal if it did anywhere. Equally well, he understood that among the U.S. bishops were men who did desire “a Church in America different from that which is in the rest of the world” and who believed the one in the rest of the world should be as theirs.
One such has already been identified — Denis J. O’Connell. In 1898, the year the U.S. went to war against Spain ostensibly over Cuba, he was rector of the North American College in Rome. As such he was the man in charge of the formation of young clerics selected for training in the Eternal City in order for them to play leading future roles in the U.S. Church. Here he is writing from Rome to his good friend and fellow-Americanist, Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul, in May of that year:
“For me this [the Spanish-American War] is not simply a question of Cuba. If it were, it were no question or a poor question. Then let the ‘greasers’ eat one another up and save the lives of our dear boys. But for me it is a question of much more moment:-it is the question of two civilizations. It is the question of all that is old & vile & mean & rotten & cruel & false in Europe against all this [sic] is free & noble & open & true & humane in America. When Spain is swept of [sic] the seas much of the meanness & narrowness of old Europe goes with it to be replaced by the freedom and openness of America. This is God’s way of developing the world. And all continental Europe feels the war is against itself, and that is why they are all against us, and Rome more than all because when the prestige of Spain & Italy will have passed away and when the pivot of the world’s political action will no longer be confined within the limits oft the continent; then the nonsense of trying to govern the universal church from a purely European standpoint — and according to exclusively Spanish and Italian methods, will be glaringly evident even to a child. ‘Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree.”‘
O’Connell continued: “Let the wealth of Convents & Communities in Cuba & the Philippines go; it did nothing for the advancement of religion.”
There is still another, quite amazing passage of this letter which asks for citation: “Again it seems to me that above all nations, moving them on along the path of civilization to better, higher, happier modes of existence is the constant action of a tender divine Providence, and that the convergent action of all great powers is towards that common & destined end: to more brotherhood, to more kindness, to more mutual respect for every man, to more practical and living recognition of the rule of God. At one time one nation in the world now another, took the lead, but now it seems to me that the old governments of Europe will lead no more and that neither Italy, nor Spain will ever furnish the principles of the civilization of the future. Now God passes the banner to the hands of America, to bear it:-in the cause of humanity and it is your office to make its destiny known to America and become its grand chaplain. Over all America there is certainly a duty higher than the interest of the individual states — even of the national government. The duty to humanity is certainly a real duty, and America cannot certainly with honor, or fortune, evade its great share in it. Go to America and say, thus saith the Lord! Then you will live in history as God’s Apostle in modern times to Church & to Society. Hence I am a partisan of the Anglo-American alliance, together they are invincible and they will impose a new civilization [emphasis added].”
Let us for a moment (but only a moment) abstract from the letter’s obvious racism and voiced contempt for religious in convents and monasteries (they would be guilty of practicing “passive” virtues). O’Connell’s letter is documentary proof that leading Americanists really did want “a Church in America different from that which is”-or then was-“in the rest of the world.” Indeed, it shows they wanted a different Church Universal, one annealed to “the cause of humanity,” not the cause of Jesus Christ (who is never mentioned).
It was said a few lines ago that we would soon return to the racism of Bishop O’Connell’s letter, the note of Anglo-American superiority he struck, and we shall. Right now, there asks to be answered the question, why might the heresy of Americanism take root in America but not in France where it arose-and take root so deeply it would become known as Americanism? The answer is simple.
The heresy essentially represented an effort to accommodate the Revolution, the one that began with the Protestant Revolt commonly called the Reformation, which erupted politically in France in 1789, subverted most of Spain’s empire in the Americas at the beginning of the 19th century, erupted again in 1848 in France and elsewhere in Europe, then in 1917 in Russia, and the spirit of which has held sway almost everywhere in ex-Christendom since 1945. This Revolution amounts to a revolt of man against God and it shows itself politically in the notion that society should be governed according to “the will of the people” instead of God’s. But in France in the late 19th century there was an intense Catholic feeling, one so intense that monarchists for a time were the majority in the French parliament. It was this feeling that led to the construction on Montmartre, approved by the parliament as a public utility, of the spectacular Basilica of the Sacred Heart (the Sacre Coeur) in expiation for France’s revolutionary sins.
In contrast to France, the U.S. was the nation where “the will of the people” governed as nowhere else in the world at that time, and given fallen human nature,”the people,” if left uninstructed (and to speak in terms of the “doctrines” condemned by Pope Leo), will never readily concede the need for authoritative external direction for anything; will not even acknowledge supernatural virtues; will not imagine, if only due to sentimentalism, that anything could be more important than doing good; and will (at best) turn a deaf ear to truth. (At worst-we have already seen it – the bearer of truth may have to suffer martyrdom, if only a “dry” one.) As for the racism of Bishop O’Connell’s letter, it was doubtless more rooted in a cultural attitude than in actual belief in the superiority of one set of genes over another. (“Greasers” were seen as wont to “waste” time sitting in cafes — or praying in monasteries; things were run more “efficiently” in North America than in Latin Amcrica; Latins were not as democratic in their institutions; and so on.) Margaret Sanger worshipped Anglo genes, but the Church has never proposed the worship of anything or anyone except God, at least not until quite recent times when the spirit of the Revolution finally so infected her that most clerics began openly to suggest that serving creatures (like the “poor and oppressed”) is more important than serving the Creator (exactly as if the Church really were dedicated to “the cause of humanity” instead of the cause of Jesus Christ).
In any event, it was the arrival on these shores of English-speakers, especially including Catholics among them, which began to undo the Catholic America founded by the Spanish and French. It was natural for Protestant Anglos to want to undo it, but more important to what transpired was the attitude of the Catholics among the new arrivals. They did not resist the Protestant enterprise. Search the history books as you will, you can find no instance of an early-arriving English-speaking Catholic ever saying more than that Catholics simply wanted their Church in this country to be equal to other religious bodies.
The Carroll family, the first Catholic family to enjoy real prominence in the United States, are emblematic of all the Catholics in their day and ever since who were and have been American before anything else, and to such a degree that no one has ever spoken of Catholic Americans, but always of American Catholics.
Charles Carroll (of Carrollton), schooled by Jesuits in Maryland and Flanders, would be the wealthiest man in the colonies when he signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We are told by the old Catholic Encyclopedia (the edition of 1909): “As a democrat he opposed all distinctions and titles.” He was also a champion of centralized government, that deadliest of enemies to true political freedom. On the personal level, he had seven children, four of whom died in their youth. Those who lived and married did so outside the Church.
John Carroll was the cousin of Charles and, like him, was Jesuit-trained. But John became a Jesuit, being ordained at Liege at the age of 34. That was in 1769, by which time the Society was no longer what it had been when it produced the North American Martyrs. Indeed, four years later Pope Clement XIV published his Bull dissolving the order. History best knows John Carroll, of course, as the first bishop named in the U.S., his see being that of Baltimore (which is what makes it the primatial one in the U.S.).
The old Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that although he accepted his office from Rome, he “hoped that some method of appointing Church authorities be adopted by Rome that would not make it appear as if they were receiving their appointment from a foreign power.” That is a delicate way of saying John Carroll advocated the popular election of bishops.
It was not all he advocated. Again we turn to the old Catholic Encyclopedia. “Doubtless to him, in part,” it says, “is due the provision in Article Sixth, Section 3, of the Constitution, which declares that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,’ and also the first amendment that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”‘
Helpful also in erecting the famous wall of separation between Church and state in the U.S, would have been John Carroll’s brother Daniel, one of the two Catholics present in Philadelphia in 1789 as framers of the Constitution. Daniel also owned the land, which he gifted to the United States, on which the U.S. Capitol was erected. (The ceremonies for the laying of the Capitol’s cornerstone, presided over by George Washington in the apron he wore as Grand Master of a lodge in Alexandria, Virginia, were Masonic.)
Such was America’s first eminent Catholic family. In light of the lead they gave, there should be no surprise that when in a few decades the United States engaged in its first foreign war, the one it waged against Mexico in 1846, no important Catholic voice was raised against the aggression. That was even though the proximate cause of the U.S. invasion of Mexico was a law enacted by the Mexicans which required that U.S. citizens settling in Texas (then a state of Mexico) should be Catholic or convert to the Faith.
( If no important Catholic voice was raised against the war, simple Irish immigrants sent to Mexico in the U.S. Army quickly perceived the anti-Catholic nature of “the Crusade,” as it was called in the U.S. They defected to Mexico and formed the Brigada de San Patricio, St. Patrick’s Brigade. Also, Abraham Lincoln, a man who is not known to have joined any church and who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846, was the only member of that body to speak out against the war. There is a statue of him in Mexico City on account of it.)
It is an aside but illustrative of how far America got away from her Catholic origins that from the seizure of half of Mexico’s territory (Texas, California, Colorado, all of today’s Southwest) in the war of 1846, to the “liberation” of Spain’s last important colonies in 1898, to the dissolution of the Catholic Habsburg Empire demanded by Woodrow Wilson as a condition for peace in World War I, to the U.S.-approved overthrow and murder of President Diem in Vietnam, the Catholic interest has suffered in every foreign war fought by the U.S. That is with the arguable exception of the “police action” in Korea, but conducted as it was under the auspices of the United Nations, that fighting can be seen as a precursor to more recent undertakings in the Persian Gulf, Somalia and elsewhere in defense of the New World Order-which order is certainly inimical to the Christian one.
As for World War II, the atom-bombing of the principal center of Catholicism in Japan, Nagasaki, was celebrated by most Americans, but at St. Benedict Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the effect was traumatic, as we shall see. However, to speak already of the years of World War II really is to get us far ahead of ourselves.
The point has here been made that as late as 1800 all of today’s U.S.which lay west of the Mississippi was still Catholic. That is because it was all Spanish. It should be added that east of the river, all of today’s Florida and the coasts of today’s states of Alabama and Mississippi also belonged to Spain. To give some sense of what Spain was doing to evangelize her lands, it is sufficient to know that in Florida alone there had been established 87 Spanish missions, with 17 Spanish forts to defend them.
A large section of Spain’s North American lands, known as the Louisiana Territory and extending from the Mississippi River on the east to the Sabine River in the west and to the Missouri in the north, had been ceded to Spain by France in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. (The entire Mississippi Valley-most of today’s Midwest-was claimed by France after La Salle explored the length of the “Father of Waters” in 1682.) The Louisiana Territory reverted to France after Napoleon’s conquest of Spain soon after the turn of the 19th century. Subsequently, Napoleon literally sold everything claimed by France, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, to the U.S. The latter still consisted of nothing but the former British colonies hugging the eastern seaboard, but already, merely 25 years after George Washington’s installation as the first president,those states felt the westwards expansionist urge whose eventual fulfillment, our textbooks tell us, was the realization of “Manifest Destiny.” Napoleon’s sale of the territory is what we know as the Louisiana Purchase.
After it, much of the territory west of the Mississippi still belonged to Spain, and then to Mexico after that nation declared independence from Spain in 1821 . We have already seen how this remaining Catholic territory came to be governed by the U.S. as a consequence of the war against Mexico begun in 1846. (Florida was ceded by Spain to the U.S. in 1819, by which time there had grown up in addition to St. Augustine cities which are now known as Jacksonville, Miami, Gainesville, Tampa, Tallahassee and Pensacola.)
From a Catholic point of view, the importance of the takeover by the predominately Anglo, English-speaking Protestant U.S. of the lands west of the Mississippi cannot be exaggerated. As Bishop David Arias, Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar for Hispanic Concerns of the Archdiocese of Newark, explains in his 1992 book, Spanish Roots of America (he writes in the present tense): “The taking of this vast region by the United States is not like coming into an uncivilized land, but into a territory that is explored and unified. It is a territory with a culture deeply rooted in its people and cities. Also, this is a territory with mining, agriculture, cattle raising, and economy in progress. It is a territory with its Indian population, to a large extent, settled, civilized, and Christianized from a slow but steady labor of Spain for over three hundred years.” In a word, it was not wilderness. It was Catholic.
Bishop Arias, still writing in the present tense, also notes the terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo by which Mexico lost all her territories north of the Rio Grande. “The Treaty includes three conditions for its validity: respect for the property of its present owners; keeping of the Spanish language, culture and customs of its people; and freedom to practice their Catholic faith. None of these conditions will be respected in the years to follow.”
By way of illustrating the difficulties faced by Catholics in the former Spanish and Mexican lands after their takeover by the U.S., Bishop Arias points out that within a year of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, there were but 12 priests in the entire State of Texas to serve 20,000 Catholics.
The Indians of whom he speaks-“settled, civilized, and Christianized to a large extent”-especially suffered as a consequence of the takeover. Great historians have acknowledged this, historians whose works, alas, were not the ones read at Harvard or the other exclusive eastern seaboard universities which for too long served as models for all so-called higher education in the U.S. In those schools, books like The California and the Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman, were the preferred texts. What they provided-to generations of the sons of the nation’s governing elite-was the notion of an unexplored Western wilderness finally being civilized thanks to its settlement by English-speaking Protestants.
One of the neglected historians was Herbert Eugene Bolton, author of numerous scholarly volumes on Spain’s civilizing mission in the Western Hempsphere in general and North America in particular (History of the Americas; Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains, etc.). It looked for a time during the 1960s that Bolton would finally enjoy the recognition he deserved, but the interest in him faded. It is even less likely that his work will be revived in these days of political correctness. “The conquistadores who threaded their way through the American wilderness,” he wrote of the original explorers of the continent, “were armored knights upon armored horses; proud, stern, hardy, and courageous; men of punctilious honor, loyal to the king and to Mother Church, humble only before the symbols of their Faith.” Of another time, the years after the U.S. began to expand into the formerly Catholic West, Bolton said: “We must admit that the accomplishments of Spain remained a force which made for the preservation of the Indians as opposed to their destruction so characteristic of the Anglo-American frontier.”
Of course that was not about to be admitted, no more by Americanist bishops like Denis O’Connell than by Harvard professors.
Even before the Anglo-American frontier was pushed westward, the ideology driving the push found expression in the Monroe Doctrine, avowedly designed to exclude European influence from the Americas — and by European was meant Catholic. Theodore Roosevelt was explicit about that at the turn of this century after a visit to Argentina. “While these countries remain Catholic,” he said, “we will not be able to dominate them.” That European meant Catholic was again evident in 1982 when the U.S., in violation of the Monroe Doctrine, actually assisted England in its war against Argentina in the Malvinas Islands (called the Falklands by England).
At no time did the Catholic bishops in the U.S. or any Catholic laymen of note raise their voice in protest against the clear anti-Catholic policy of the U.S., much less try to stand athwart developments stemming from the policy. Either to protest or act, at least in a Catholic way, would necessarily have entailed the championship of undiluted Catholic truths. Of course a defense of the Church and her material interests within the settled U.S. was made, but it was made in an American way, on the basis of religious freedom, equality of beliefs, and so on. John Carroll, as we have seen, led in this way.
By mid-19th-century, so anxious were Catholics in the U.S. to show themselves as Americans before they were Catholic that even the greatest apologist the Faith has ever produced in this country, Orestes Brownson, felt obliged three years before his death to write: “I willingly admit that I made many mistakes, but I regard as the greatest of all the mistakes into which I fell…that of holding back the stronger points of the Catholic faith…of laboring to present Catholicity in a form as little repulsive to my non-Catholic countrymen as possible; and of insisting on only the minimum of Catholicity.”
Having admitted his mistake to himself, Brownson ended his life (he died in 1876) as a vocal defender of the teaching Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Doubtless it helps explain why his name and work were let fall into obscurity after his death. (It took the archliberal Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., of all men, to revive the memory of Brownson. It was with his first book, published in 1939, Orestes Brownson; A Pilgrim’s Progress.) There can certainly be no doubt as regards the reason for the silencing of the Redemptorist priest Michael Mueller, another 19th-century figure. He was the Bishop Sheen of his day, but without television. His medium was books, and his principal theme was extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. The books were always best sellers for that era. Fr. Mueller’s publishers could not print them fast enough. Yet, he was silenced. Today his name is hardly known. The present writer did not know it until I started the research for this book.
If there could ever have been a time when U.S. Catholicism might develop in other than an Americanist direction, it was probably precluded from doing so by a single factor: From the days of the signing of the Declaration of Independence until very recently, the majority of the Republic’s Catholics have been Irish or of Irish extraction. Well before the end of the 19th century it was the same with the bishops. Even today, with the majority of the Church in the U.S. likely to become Hispanic in the near future, the Irish influence remains predominant. More bishops are still of Irish extraction than any other, for instance.
For a time in the 19th century and early in this one, German-speaking Catholics centered in the northern Midwest offered some challenge to the Irish influence, but the Germans generally fell into silence in the face of the widespread anti-German feeling that seized the U.S. during World War I.
Also in the 19th century there were numerous Spanish and French bishops in the U.S., but their mere arrival within these shores seemed to change them. An example would be the famous Archbishop Lamy of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a Frenchman and the model for Willa Cather’s justly celebrated novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop. Archbishop Lamy, like the majority of the bishops from the U.S., was an inopportunist at Vatican I.
(The record of Vatican Council I shows that Ven. Pope Pius IX and the majority of the bishops at the council-they were continental Europeans-intended the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility precisely in order to strengthen the papacy’s ability to defend Catholic truths against the spread of the democratic conception of liberty of ideas and freedom of conscience. Besides the Americans opposed to the definition, another inopportunist was the Englishman, Henry Cardinal Newman.)
In terms of the U.S. Church developing in an Americanist direction and thus becoming one virtually certain to condemn Fr. Michael Mueller in the 19th century and Fr. Leonard Feeney in the 20th, what is the significance of the Irish influence? To answer in as few words as possible, Irish Catholicism by the time it reached America was deeply imbued by the spirit of Jansenism. No one will dispute this. It is too widely recognized. Had a Catholic gone to confession as recently as 30 years ago in Dublin or Boston or New York, and then confessed the same sins in Naples or Marseilles or Buenos Aires, he would have had sharply different reactions from the priests. Your Irish-American priest in Boston would have been outraged, and rightly so, at the confession of a sexual transgression. The priest in Naples would also be disturbed by that, but it would probably draw his first attention if you additionally confessed, say, purposely harming another man’s reputation.
There would have been no question of the priests practicing different religions. Had you asked the one in Boston and then the one in Naples to draw up a list of ten grave sins, they could well end by listing the same ones, but it would have been in a different order. Generally speaking, the Irishman would put sins of the flesh at the top.
That there was a Jansenist spirit in the Irish Church has significance in the story of the so-called Boston Heresy Case because most of the great Irish immigration into the U.S. that followed the Potato Famine and during subsequent years was via the Northeast, and for a long time stopped there. It made Boston, as it did New York City, a great Catholic center. Unfortunately, New England after Plymouth Rock had become the heartland in America of Protestant Puritanism. This native Puritanism simply reinforced the Jansenist tendencies of the Irish immigrants and their clergy The tendencies reinforced, they made the Irish-American Church — that is essentially what the Church in the U.S. became — a very peculiar institution. No doubt the Church everywhere and in every age should be anxious for the sexual morals of her sons and daughters, but the concern of the Irish-American Church could be excessive. There are women living today who can remember being instructed by parochial-school sisters not to look at the toes of their patent leather shoes. At home they were made to wear a slip when they bathed.
Though it certainly did not shape his outlook as it would that of countless others, even Leonard Feeney was not untouched by the Jansenism of the Irish-American Church. Some of his poetry could be quite sensual. (One thinks, for example, of a poem he wrote about the martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria.) On the other hand, during the years he spent in New York City as a critic for America magazine, he never went to the theater, not even to the most serious of plays, for fear of exposing himself to impurity.
But the effect of the Irish-American Church on her individual members is not our real concern here. Rather, the larger point that wants to be made is that a predominantly French or German or Italian immigrant Church would have been immunized against the native Puritanism of New England. The predominantly Irish one was not. However, the native Puritanism did not simply make her even more Jansenist than she was at home. It made her, from the beginning, American — i.e., different from what then was the Church in the rest of the world and especially in her heartland, continental Europe. The real question is, how could a Church which was American from the beginning ever have been disposed to convert America? The answer is that she never was.
The tragedy is that non-Catholics did not believe the Church in the U.S. was not disposed to convert the nation. They looked at the Church in Europe and Latin America and supposed the one at home was the same. Seeing that this is what they believed, Catholics in America, and especially the Catholic clergy, became all the more determined to prove they were as American as everybody else. They proved it by becoming exactly that, even though it meant ignoring our Lord’s last Commandment to his followers, the one we have already recalled: to make disciples of all the nations. In time, they would feel driven to go beyond ignoring Christ’s injunction. They would positively deny that the Church had a mission to convert the nation, and to deny also the reason for converting anyone: that outside the Church there is no salvation. In other words, they began by asserting that the Church sought no special position for herself in the U.S., she simply wished to be equal with other “denominations,” and hence Bishop Carroll’s instigation of the First Amendment. They ended by teaching that there is nothing special about the Church, period. You could get to Heaven without her. If pressed, some might allow that it was “better” to be Catholic, as it is “better” to ride first-class on an airplane. But you’ll still arrive at the destination if you’re seated in coach.
With that teaching is how they ended, it was said a moment ago. However, it was not quite the end. In fact, the U.S. bishops took the teaching with them to Rome in 1962, and the result was Vatican II’s promulgation of the Declaration on Religious Liberty. That particular Americanist triumph is another story, however, one already told by Michael Davies as here earlier noted.
We have said that the Church in the U.S. went from ignoring Christ’s commandment to make all nations Catholic to denying positively that the Church had such a mission, and that she was driven to do so in order to prove the sincerity of her Americanism. It remained that many persisted in not believing in her sincerity.
One such was writer Paul Blanshard. Wrong as he proved to be, this name is not much remembered today, but in 1949 it was a household one. Blanshard was a lawyer by training who became a very successful professional anti-Catholic. In 1949, Beacon Press, a Boston publishing firm run by Unitarians and with national reach and respectability, brought out one of his books, American Freedom and Catholic Power. To describe the book as merely a best-seller would be seriously to misrepresent it. The thing in fact went through no fewer than 26 printings in its first edition. In a word, its sales were phenomenal.
We want briefly to look at Blanshard’s book, bearing in mind that the year it came out, 1949, was also when the controversy surrounding Fr. Feeney and St. Benedict Center was at its height.
Blanshard posited a “struggle between American democracy and the Catholic hierarchy.” That there was no such struggle is right now beyond the point. Catholics, Blanshard said, were “outbreeding non-Catholic elements in our population,” and once they became the majority in threefourths of the states, there would be “Catholic control of the United States.” Once this “control” existed, went the line, there would be passed “three comprehensive amendments to the United States Constitution.” The first Blanshard styled as the “Christian Commonwealth Amendment.” Its first provision, as imagined by the best-selling writer: “The United States is a Catholic Republic, and the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion is the sole religion of the nation.” Another provision: “The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” That, of course, was the amendment in part contrived by Bishop Carroll in the first place.
Blanshard’s second imagined amendment was the “Christian education Amendment.” Two of its projected provisions, which the writer said “could be expected with confidence” ; ” 1 . American religious education belongs pre-eminently to the Roman Catholic Church, by reason of a double title in the supernatural order, conferred exclusively upon her, by God Himself. 2. The governments of the United States and the states shall encourage and assist the Roman Catholic Church by appropriate measures in the exercise of the Church’s supreme mission as educator.” Finally, Blanshard said there would be a “Christian Family Amendment”. Some of its provisions, as envisioned by the writer:
1. All marriages are indissoluble, and the divorce of all persons is prohibited throughout the territory of the United States, providing that nothing herein shall effect the right of annulment and remarriage in accordance with the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church.
2. Direct abortion is murder of the innocent even when performed through motives of misguided pity when the life of a mother is gravely imperiled.
3. Birth control, or any act that deliberately frustrates the natural power to generate life, is a crime.”
Now, cradle Catholics who grew up in the U.S. during the forties and fifties know that Blanshard’s notion of a Catholic threat to American democracy was preposterous. They know that the Catholic hierarchy did not seek a “Catholic Republic”. However, the present writer can testify that non-Catholic Americans often did believe the kind of things Blanshard claimed. It is exactly the kind of stuff I used to hear around the house, growing up in the forties as a Protestant.
To the non-Catholics, Blanshard’s predictions seemed plausible for two reasons. First, Catholics at that time were “outbreeding” the rest of the population. Indeed, had the practice of contraception and then abortion not become as widespread among them as the rest of the population, they would be the majority today. However, more important to Blanshard’s credibility was the fact that he could point to the predominantly Catholic nations of Western Europe and Latin America where at that time divorce, abortion and the sale of birth-control devices were all still illegal. (Of course in 1949 abortion was still illegal in all the states of the [non-Catholic] United States except in cases where the mother’s life was supposedly gravely endangered.) As far as that goes, in two heavily Catholic states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, the sale of contraceptive devices over the counter was illegal. What Blanshard chose to ignore was that by 1949, Catholic politicians in the U.S., with no censure from their bishop, were already ignoring Rome’s teachings. for instance, the young John F. Kennedy, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was telling his constituents that he was opposed to the continued prohibition against the over-the-counter sale of contraceptive devices in Massachusetts. Kennedy always enjoyed the support of his family’s close friend, Richard Cardinal Cushing.
Yet, in 1949 there was still one nationally-known cleric, a priest standing in the same line as his heroic Spanish and French predecessors to these shores, who publicly preached that there was no salvation outside the Church and that accordingly for the sake of her citizens’ souls, America should be Catholic. She would become that by converting non-Catholic Americans as well as by “outbreeding” them. Preaching this is exactly what now made the cleric nationally known since he was no longer writing much poetry, but he did not merely preach it. Working out of a storefront operation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was successfully converting hundreds of young men and women, students of Harvard and Radcliffe, including members of some of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful Protestant families.
The assimilation of Catholics in the U.S. as complete social equals is what was wanted by the leaders of the Church in the U.S. Assimilation would not be as easy, it could be made impossible, if families belonging to the nation’s governing elite were antagonized.
The cleric in Cambridge was Rev. Leonard Feeney, S.J. Unless he and his associates were silenced now, in 1949, and a cloak of obscurity cast over the teachings they upheld, it would be impossible to prove once and for all that Blanshard and his ilk were wrong, that the Catholic hierarchy was not at odds with American democracy. Of course, too, if the teachings continued to be proclaimed in America and accepted by very many on account of their proclamation, it would be impossible (at least it would be much more difficult) for the Church elsewhere in the world to be persuaded and to accept that it really was desirable for her to “adapt herself” — we are quoting Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae — to liberal, democratic, pluralistic “advanced civilization.”