The Good Old Days: Catholicism in the U.S. Before Vatican II

Men of every generation will regard the days of their youth wistfully. A certain number think of the past itself as superior to the present in at least some ways. They are often not wrong to do so.

Today, grandfathers who were children in the 1940s and teens in the 1950s are correct if they remember life in the U.S. then as better, or at least more pleasant, than now. There was very much less crime. Cities were not as noisy, dirty and violent. Suburban sprawl was just beginning. No one spent an hour or more driving to and from work. Jobs were generally less stultifying. Entertainment was generally more wholesome. The gap between the rich and everybody else was not a gulf. Divorce was still a scandal. The pace was slower. The difference between the sexes was real. Dress was not as sloppy. Sin as a way of life was not commonplace. Civility was greater. Polite conversation existed.

All that, and more, is true. In many ways the 1940s and 1950s were “good old days.” However, today’s grandfathers are wrong about the past in one respect. They are, that is, if they see the U.S. Church in those days — the days of Pius XII, Cardinal Spellman and Bishop Sheen — as enjoying some kind of golden age.

To be sure, the Church in the U.S. looked in great shape, but the point has already been made: so did the rest of U.S. society, at least as compared to today. Consider:

If abortion is not merely criminal but generally regarded as so morally reprehensible as to make the very word unacceptable in polite conversation — as was the case as recently as 35 or 40 years ago — how likely would it be for a Catholic Supreme Court Justice to take the lead in making it legal? By 1973 that happened.

If adultery leading to pregnancy is regarded generally as so shameful that a film star openly guilty of it is obliged to move overseas (Ingrid Bergman in the 1950s), how likely is it that her behavior will be emulated by a Catholic girl, even if the actress has played St. Joan of Arc? A few years ago, by contrast, Madonna, a Catholic girl from New Jersey, announced her out-of-wedlock pregnancy while filming Evita . No one was outraged except Argentines.

If homosexuality is regarded generally as so abhorrent that it cannot be practised except in secret, how hard could it be for the Church to teach that it is one of the four sins “crying to Heaven for vengeance”? By now, of course, we have grown accustomed to priests, as well as members of Congress, who are “gay.” Hearing they are sinful would be a shock.

If church is packed for Holy Mass three times every Sunday, the seminaries are full, and parish schools cannot be built fast enough to accommodate a growing number of eager young pupils, isn’t that testimony to real vitality, not the mere appearance of it? Maybe. As one who grew up Protestant in the 1940s, what the present writer can attest is that our churches were also full. Today, the National Christian Church, the flagship house of worship, in the nation’s capital, of the sect into which I was born, might as well be boarded up. Probably the only time it has been completely full in recent decades was when Lyndon Johnson was buried out of the place back in 1973.

At the opposite end from Holy Mass, a public celebration of the Satanic by someone like Marilyn Manson would have been unthinkable in 1950, as also that it could draw crowds large enough to fill a stadium, which is more than the Pope can do in some places he goes.

In a word, it should not surprise us if the Church in the U.S. looked in great shape as long as the society in which she operated had not yet fallen into decadence as has ours today. It will be implicit in the lines that follow here that the society would not have fallen as it did, or not as rapidly and completely, had the Church after the 1940s and 1950s acted in a serious way to impede it. That the Church could not so act, because in the earlier decades she was not what she seemed (even if Bishop Sheen, as well as Ingrid Bergman, was a star), is the point of our remarks. If the point is to be made, it has to be grasped that if she was not all that she seemed in the Forties and Fifties it is because the bishops of the U.S., as a body, have never been notably sound, the Church has never been entirely herself in the U.S.

No survey of history need be lengthy to lay out sufficient proofs of this. The brief one we now undertake can begin by our noting that the very first bishop in the U.S., the Jesuit-trained John Carroll (named in 1789), thought that Holy Mass should be celebrated in English, and believed in the popular election of members of the episcopacy. He was also influential in the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is interpreted as guaranteeing separation of Church and state.

Other members of his family, the leading U.S. Catholic one of the day, included his cousin Charles, the richest man in the Colonies when he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a great champion of centralized government, the deadliest of enemies to true political freedom. On the personal level, he fathered seven children. Four died in their youth. Those who lived and married did so outside the Church.

Daniel Carroll, brother of the bishop, should also be mentioned. Besides being one of the two Catholic framers of the Constitution, he donated the land on which the U.S. Capitol was constructed. (The ceremonies for the laying of the Capitol’s cornerstone were Masonic, presided over by George Washington in the apron he wore as Grand Master of a lodge in Alexandria, Virginia.)

With the likes of such as the Carrolls giving the lead, were other Catholic families in the early U.S. likely to uphold the traditional Faith without compromise?

Of course it is hard to think of a Catholic family outside the South that had any real importance during the republic’s first several decades. That the great majority of U.S. Catholics in the 19th century were working-class immigrants or simple laborers with no social standing and little education, helps account for the low estate of the Church all during the time. Some foreign-born bishops were fairly learned, but the same could not be said for very many priests of the era, and apart from Orestes Brownson, a convert, practically no laymen exercised a national intellectual influence even within Catholic circles, let alone outside them.

It was not merely of letters, the arts and science, that most Catholics were largely ignorant. Their understanding of the teachings of the Faith usually was not very deep. That might not prevent ordinary layfolk — especially women — from devoting themselves to popular pietistic practices, but it did preclude their challenging error if it was proposed to them by clergy who often were scarcely better equipped for discerning it. Thus, when the notion of three baptisms started being taught in the U.S. after it was introduced by the so-called Baltimore Catechism in the 1880s, not many years were needed for it to be widely accepted.

For the same reason, it would have been a small minority of U.S. Catholics who were able to comprehend all that was at stake when their 45 bishops at Vatican Council I showed themselves, as a bloc, either inopportunist or flat-out opposed to a definition of the dogma of papal infallibility. To the extent many were aware of what was being debated in Rome — and most were not — they would have been astonished to hear that the majority of prelates from other parts of the world believed the definition necessary precisely in order to strengthen authoritative Church teaching against one of the liberal-democratic ideas that was foundational to the national ideology of the U.S., that of “freedom of conscience.” It would be natural for them to be astonished. U.S. Catholics were already used to hearing that the practice of the Faith, which requires doing the will of God, is perfectly compatible with liberal democracy’s tenet that the life of society should be governed according to the “will of the people” instead of His. They are still hearing it.

That the politics of liberal democracy ought to serve as a model for the government of the Church as well as the nation, was a core belief of the heresy of Americanism, which became full-blown by the end of the 19th century. With the intellectual life of the Church in the U.S. not being deep enough for most Catholics to recognize error and defend themselves against it, it was likewise scarcely possible for them even to contrive a heresy of their own. So it was that Americanism actually arose in France, the nation where the sin of liberalism had first exploded politically, in 1789, but it was in the U.S. that it found the soil to take root and the sponsors in high places to give it its name. So it was that when Leo XIII in 1899 finally saw it necessary to condemn the thing, his letter of condemnation, Testem Benevolentiae, was addressed to one of the chief sponsors, James Cardinal Gibbons, Primate of the Church in the U.S. (In a desperate, last-minute cable, Gibbons pleaded with the Pope not to send the letter, but his message arrived at the Apostolic Palace in Rome after the document was already shipbound.)

In it, Leo, knowing full well the true situation, played the diplomat by allowing himself to express the confidence that the heresy he was condemning was not held by any of the bishops of the U.S. Otherwise, there would arise “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.”

The heresy of Americanism may have originated elsewhere and merely took root in the U.S., but it was from here that it backwashed to “the rest of the world.” That was, notably, at the Second Vatican Council with its disastrous Declaration on Religious Liberty whose spiritual father was the American Jesuit John Courtney Murray.

(We have said that at the First Vatican Council, the U.S. bishops were inopportunist or openly opposed to a definition of the dogma of papal infallibility. At Vatican II only one U.S. bishop, James Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles, declined to sign the Declaration. )

If that document represented the ultimate triumph of Americanism, “the rest of the [Catholic] world” did not have to wait until Vatican II to be made different by the U.S., always with the compliance of the country’s bishops. In 1846, for instance, the U.S. went to war against Mexico after that nation enacted a law stipulating that Americans settling in then its state of Texas had to be Catholic or convert to the Faith. The chief outcome of the war was U.S. annexation of about half of Mexico’s territory, including (besides Texas) California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and other lands whose Catholic culture would soon be submerged in that westward, Anglo-Protestant expansionism known as “manifest destiny.” In 1898 the U.S., victorious in a conflict hailed as a “splendid little war,” and with the solid backing of the U.S. bishops, stripped Catholic Spain of her last important overseas territories: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Nineteen years later, in 1917, the U.S. entered World War I and dictated as a condition for peace the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the last Catholic world power. This was after Cardinal Gibbons, the day before the U.S. declared war, told a gathering of journalists: “It behooves every American citizen to do his duty and to uphold the hands of the President.” He went on to say, “The primary duty of a citizen is loyalty to country. . . . It is exhibited by an absolute and unreserved obedience [emphasis added] to his country’s call.” (After World War II, numerous high-ranking German military officers who exhibited an “absolute obedience” to their country’s call were hanged for it.) In 1963, as the U.S. became involved in Vietnam, the Boston Brahmin Henry Cabot Lodge was sent to Saigon as our ambassador. At an airport press conference prior to his departure, he told reporters that his mission was to “defend religious liberty.” This would soon entail, with the personal approval of the Catholic John F. Kennedy, the violent overthrow of the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, who was guilty of wishing to see his Asian nation become a faithful daughter of the Church.

In all these and other instances when the interests of the Church and her children in foreign places have suffered because of our national faith in messianic liberal democracy, the U.S. bishops have never dissented. However, objectivity demands acknowledgment that on one occasion during Americanism’s not-so-long march from 1789 to Vatican II and today, Their Excellencies did not ignore or support the undermining of those interests. It was largely their vocal backing of the Nationalist fight against the Red government in Madrid that frustrated Franklin Roosevelt’s desire to intervene on the side of that government (along with the Soviet Union) in the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. Yet, by 1956, at the height of the supposed “golden age” of the Church in the U.S., the liberals were consigning that aberration to their memory hole. That was when the ineffable Msgr. John Tracy Ellis wrote in his history, American Catholicism : “A point that would greatly improve relations between Catholics and Protestants in the United States would be a cessation to the practice of blaming American Catholics for the policies of the Spanish government and the Spanish hierarchy.” That was like blaming American Calvinists for apartheid in South Africa, he said. What he meant was that the liberalism of U.S. Catholics, thanks to the leadership of their hierarchs, could be counted on as much as that of all other good Americans opposed to the “fascism” (i.e., Catholic government) of Francisco Franco.

More will be said here of Msgr. Ellis and American Catholicism , and not simply because Ellis was a best-selling popularizer of the liberalism in Catholicism which the very title of his book, (one of many he produced), signified. Before then we must speak of the affair that was the great controversy of the “golden age,” the so-called Boston Heresy Case, and the priest at its center, Rev. Leonard Feeney. Many reached by this article may be familiar with the “heresy” and supposed “excommunication” of Fr. Feeney, but some number will not. It is in order, therefore, to summarize the affair because little else could better illustrate the truth that beneath the golden veneer of the 1940s and 1950s there was not much more than brass with a great deal of tin.

Perhaps the only thing that might illustrate it as well is a simple observation. For years it has been the well-known wont of conservative Catholics of a certain type to argue that Vatican II was actually a positive development in the history of the Church. What went wrong, they contend, was that the Council’s directives were badly or mischievously implemented. Well, the hierarchs in charge of the implementation were either already bishops during the “golden age” or at least had their priestly formation at the time.

An example would be John Dearden, who ended his ecclesiastical career as the extreme liberal Cardinal-Archbishop of Detroit. As such, he presided over the original 1976 Call to Action conference that did so much to set the post-conciliar agenda of the Church in the U.S. Earlier, when Bishop of Pittsburgh under the papacy of Pius XII, he earned his nickname of “Iron John” on account of the uncompromising way he was seen to enforce orthodoxy in his diocese — or what passed for orthodoxy in those days.

“What passed for it,” we can say, because Pius XII himself, after making a survey of prelates like John Dearden, Francis Spellman, Richard Cushing, et al ., decided against convening an ecumenical council to affirm traditional Catholic teaching against the chief errors of the day. The pontiff had concluded that the bishops could not be counted on to do what was needed. He was proved correct when his immediate successor, John XXIII, did convene a council, Vatican II. Much less condemn them, it scarcely even addressed the chief errors of the day, but remained officially and notoriously “pastoral” in character.

But the reference a few lines ago to Richard Cushing brings us right to the so-called Boston Heresy Case. As the author of a book about it (After the Boston Heresy Case , Catholic Treasures, 1995), the present writer wishes he had known when preparing the volume some things learned since then. They would have helped to show how mistaken it is to imagine the U.S. Church in the 1940s and 1950s as enjoying a “golden age,” at least if true Catholic orthodoxy as well as the construction of impressive physical plants (churches, schools, hospitals, etc.) ought to mark such a time. For example, I know now that contemporaneous with Fr. Feeney’s troubles, there appeared a book about “Protestant saints,” including none other than Martin Luther. A laudatory foreword to the book was contributed by Richard Cushing.

He was, of course, the very prelate most directly responsible for Fr. Feeney’s difficulties, which may be said to have begun in the summer of 1947. By then Fr. Feeney had been the spiritual director and leading light of St. Benedict Center for two years.

The Center, located a block from the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, had opened its doors in March, 1940, under the direction of its founder, a remarkable woman named Catherine Goddard Clarke. Mrs. Clarke, who would become the first woman to head a religious order while still raising children since St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, intended the Center, complete with a lending library and program of lectures, as a kind of intellectual refuge for students of Harvard — and of Radcliffe College, which was also nearby. Today it would be called a place of Catholic “outreach.”

It was a singular operation, and would be still today, insofar as Mrs. Clarke, with the help of some younger associates, set it up as a purely lay enterprise. No clergy or religious were involved initially, though the pastor of the local parish did at first give it his blessing and lend a measure of material support.

The existence of the Center, especially as a lay entity, represented an important change in the Catholic scene in the U.S. If most Catholics in this country had been largely ill- or uneducated and poor immigrant workers during the 19th century, at least in the Northern states, by 1940 some of them had become wealthy and even enjoyed a degree of real, if grudging, acceptance by the elite of a predominately Protestant but increasingly secularized society. For instance, Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future President John F. Kennedy, had been named U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Another Catholic, Alfred E. Smith, had already run for President in 1928, though he came nowhere close to being elected.

More to the point, a real intellectual life was being led by U.S. Catholics by 1940. A parochial school system that provided basic education to the majority of Catholic children had been flourishing for decades. Further, though some no longer practised the Faith that was their birthright, Catholics were writing important novels and plays, performing in night clubs and on the concert stage, making movies, and in other ways putting their stamp on American popular and high culture. The world of ideas was no longer foreign to them. Certainly it was not to Catherine Clarke and the young persons gravitating to her Center for discussion and like-minded company.

As the Center grew and developed towards becoming a real place of learning — eventually it would be accredited by the state as a school — some of the students voiced a desire to have a priest sit in on their discussions. Fr. Leonard Feeney, who had been an occasional visitor, was invited by Mrs. Clarke to become a Center regular.

At the time of the invitation, he was well-established as “an American Chesterton.” Nationally famous as the author of verse and “light” essays and as a much-in-demand speaker, he was also once described by a high Jesuit official as “the greatest theologian we have in the United States.” In other words, Fr. Feeney epitomized the U.S. Catholics to whom the world of ideas was no longer strange. Catherine Clarke thought it highly unlikely that he would have enough interest in the Center, or could find the time if interested, to take an active role in its life.

He surprised her. Without hesitating, he joined the Center as a member of its faculty. World War II was just then winding down. The actual end came with the nuclear incineration of the Japanese Christian centers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a barbarous action that profoundly affected Mrs. Clarke, Fr. Feeney, and the young persons around them. That they mourned the action even as it was cheered by the rest of America, including virtually the entire Church in the U.S., is itself a commentary on the true state of the society as well as the U.S. Church in the 1940s. “Why was no one else shocked?” they asked at St. Benedict Center. It was but one question that got the men and women of the Center thinking, first, about the nature of liberalism and, second, how the false philosophy had become influential in the Church, at least in the U.S.

With the war over, young men who fought in it returned home, some to take up studies at Harvard and elsewhere in the Cambridge area. Often they were not so young as their years would suggest. The fighting they did had made them older. Their concerns were not boyish. They had important questions on their minds. What is the meaning of life if it can be snuffed out by a sniper’s bullet? Is the sacrifice of one’s youth in war worth nothing more than the promise of being able to accumulate mere material goods in peacetime? Does education consist of no more than an elaborate job-training program?

Some of the men who returned to Cambridge began to find answers to such questions at St. Benedict Center. A number of them actually left Harvard, Boston College, and other “elite” schools to become full-time students at the Center. They were joined there by young women less than overwhelmed by the prospect of the kind of life that beckoned were they to go on and graduate from Radcliffe.

Many of these young men and women were not born Catholic. It was the Center that brought them to the Faith. Indeed, no fewer than 200 would convert during the years that the Center was located in Cambridge. It was Fr. Feeney, of course, who prepared them.

Even before the summer of 1947, these conversions began the undoing of the Center, or at least its undoing as a school. First, the conversions inspired the envy of other priests, especially other members of Fr. Feeney’s own order, the Society of Jesus. Nothing, if we think about it, is more terrible than the envy of priests. It is what killed Our Lord.

Beyond that, some of the converts were from among America’s richest and most powerful Protestant families. One was a relative of J.P. Morgan on his father’s side and an Astor on his mother’s. Another was young Avery Dulles, whose father would become President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State. (Avery himself would become a Jesuit.) Such families did not look benignly on their sons being diverted from their intended destiny as leaders of U.S. finance and politics. They let the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cushing, know how they felt.

Another prelate in another time and place would give thanksgiving that souls were being harvested as at St. Benedict Center. The American Richard Cushing of 1940s Boston did not. After all, since the days when John Carroll promoted the separation of Church and state, the bishops of the U.S. had never claimed to seek more than equality for the One True Faith, a “fair share” of the great American religious pie. Seeking and receiving converts — evangelizing — was never what they were about. Too often they failed even to preserve cradle Catholics in their Faith. Thus it was that a saint, Mother Cabrini, was sent to the U.S. with the exact mission to keep uncatechized Italian immigrants from falling away. Now here was St. Benedict Center actively making converts — moreover, converts out of a Morgan, a Dulles, a Huntington, and so on. This cast doubt on the bishops’ sincerity. Besides, Richard Cushing had a beloved sister who was quite happily married to a non-Catholic, a Jew. His Excellency could genuinely say not simply that some of his best friends but actual relatives were of other religions. How could he face them with the Center doing as it was? His displeasure soon became evident to the Center.

How it did can be traced in my book and the writings of others. Two points want to be made here. The first: Before the Center showed itself as being seriously Catholic instead of a glorified social club, it enjoyed Cushing’s support. He even contributed articles to its publication, From the Housetops , when the Center launched it. (Articles from other Catholic luminaries of the day also appeared. Clare Booth Luce was one writer.)

The second point: The very earnestness of the personal search that most of its students brought to the Center gave added urgency to the Center’s own search for an answer to the question: How did the false philosophy of liberalism become so influential in the U.S. Church?

It was in the summer of 1947, in July, that Fr. Feeney settled on the answer and thereby put the Center on a direct collision course with Americanism. What was missing from the life of the Church in the U.S., he saw, was a vigorous upholding, or any upholding at all, of the thrice-defined dogma, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “outside the Church there is no salvation.” This dogma, he now understood, was as foundational to the Faith as the notion of “freedom of conscience” to liberal democracy. Without it, nothing else would stand.

The dogma had always been neglected in the U.S. Anyone rash enough to preach it had always run a risk. In the 19th century one such was Rev. Michael Mueller, C.SS.R. By the 1940s no high American Churchman was quite ready officially to pronounce the Church in the U.S. as “pluralistic,” as has been common now for some years, but the Archbishop of Boston was prepared to laud a book about Protestant “saints.” So it was that Leonard Feeney was as effectively silenced in the 20th century as Michael Mueller had been in the 19th .

The silencing came in 1949. It was in the form of an archdiocesan interdict prohibiting Catholics from visiting St. Benedict Center or having anything to do with Fr. Feeney. Of course, by then he and the Center’s faculty and students had been preaching the dogma and writing about it for two years, and of course they were not completely silenced. For years to come they would continue to preach in a place from which no archbishop could ban them, a public park.

The Sunday afternoons spent in Boston Common were not all that kept the neglected dogma from being relegated to total obscurity. In 1949, the same year that Archbishop Cushing banned them, Fr. Feeney, Catherine Clarke, Fakhri Maluf, and the other Center stalwarts transformed their lay educational and evangelistic enterprise into a religious order, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Fifty years is not a long time in the history of the oldest institution on earth, the Catholic Church. It is not even a long time in the history of most of the Church’s religious orders. It is long enough for the Slaves to have institutionalized themselves, to become well-established, to make it clear they are not going away, that the Catholic truths they have upheld for half a century will continue to be proclaimed “from the housetops.” By contrast, most Catholics alive in the U.S. today probably could not say who Richard Cushing was.

How the Slaves have endured and prospered is its own story, as is that of Fr. Feeney’s supposed “excommunication” in 1953, his expulsion from the Jesuits and so much else. It would all be extraneous to the point of these lines: that the 1940s and 1950s were no “golden age.” Had they been, there would have been no action against Fr. Feeney. Neither would the Slaves have come into being. There would have been no need.

Other evidence abounds that there was never a golden age of the Church in this country, let alone that the Forties and Fifties of this century constituted it. Only one piece of it needs to be cited here because, as evidence, it is devastating.

It was swept under the rug, seldom talked about even in whispers during the “golden age,” and not acknowledged anytime since by “conservative” Catholics wanting to pretend that things were once as they never were. It has to do with the growth of the Church in the U.S., a growth that never seemed more vigorous than a half-century ago.

It is true that Dearden, Spellman, Cushing, et al ., were great builders. Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, etc., never went up at a greater rate than when they were on the scene. It is equally true “the people of God” were growing in such numbers that we ought to have become the majority of the U.S. population in the 1960s.

Consider the statistics. The Official Catholic Directory for 1900 gave the figure of 12,041,000 as the number of baptized Catholics in the U.S. By 1956, the height of the “golden age,” the figure was 33,574,017.

The figures are misleading. They are only of the baptized. Not everyone who has water poured on him stays Catholic. As early as 1836, the Irish-born John England, first bishop of Charleston, wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith that at least 1,200,000 Catholics had abandoned the Church in the 47 years since the U.S. hierarchy was set up. The number of apostasies would only grow. In April, 1954, the Christian Herald , a Protestant organ, could report that during the previous decade exactly 4,144,366 Catholics had defected from the Church to join Protestant sects. Even Msgr. John Tracy Ellis in American Catholicism (it was said we would return to him and his book) felt obliged to acknowledge that “there have been substantial losses to Catholicism” and that “the exact extent of the leakage among American Catholics is known only to the recording angel.”

In short, almost as fast as Catholics were being born into the Church, adults were leaving. To be sure, if Catholics did not become the majority in the 1960s as they ought, it was less due to defections than to their starting to practise contraception at as great a rate as U.S. non-Catholics, after the Pill was developed (by a Catholic doctor) in that same decade. However, that they took to contraception as they did, and later to abortion, is not simply the reason why our numbers would now be declining except for massive legal and illegal immigration. It is also testimony to the sorry state of the Church and the failure of her teachers to teach. Yet, surely, the teachers were already failing before the advent of the Pill, failing back there in the “golden” Forties and Fifties. Otherwise there would not have been so many apostasies that Msgr. Ellis reluctantly would have to acknowledge the number as “substantial.” Whatever went on in the magnificent buildings, it was not enough to keep millions from walking out.

Of course, liberal that he was, Ellis saw no evidence of anything but a “maturing process,” of an “increasingly mature outlook,” of “symptoms of maturity in twentieth-century American Catholicism,” maturity, maturity, maturity.

Msgr. Ellis was anticipating the exact language of all the post-conciliar liberals, who have surveyed these past three decades of falling Mass attendance, declining vocations, decimated religious orders, closed parochial schools, etc., and pronounced them to be signs of, yes, maturity.

Since liberal Catholics do not produce liberal Catholics but only non-Catholics, the Church in the U.S. could be expected eventually to mature right into the grave, something like today’s moribund Episcopalianism. That is, except for one thing. Not simply here and there, but increasingly everywhere, a new kind of U.S. Catholic is emerging. He is not ignorant like so many in the past. Few who wear the collar may be ready to teach him what he needs to know, but he is finding those who are, including the Slaves, or is teaching himself — and his children. In this he shows himself to be no clericalist. Thus, not merely does he not wait for someone in a collar to teach him. When he learns the truth, he is not about to be told by anybody in “authority” that abandoning it, forgetting it, or ignoring it would be a sign of maturity.

May his number continue to increase. The result could be a true golden age.