Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

The Political Culture of American Catholics from the Twentieth to the Twenty-First Centuries

Verbo: Madrid, LVI, 568-569 (August-October 2018)

I. The Splendors and Miseries of the American Way

There is no way to explain the development and fate of Catholic political culture in the United States without first explaining in some detail what can be referred to as the “splendors and miseries of the American Way”. American political institutions have exercised an undeniably seductive appeal. This is due to their demonstrable ability to provide long periods of internal stability and material success, as well as to the effectiveness of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence in providing proper judgments regarding innocence and guilt. Nevertheless, the highly seductive splendors of the American polis have been infected from the outset with a Moderate Enlightenment and Whig-inspired understanding of individual freedom, along with machinery for dealing with divisions and diversity, both of which together guarantee the slow but steady emergence of debilitating and ultimately deadly miseries for any society uncritically accepting them.

A very useful twentieth century guide to the character of the underlying miseries of “the American way” can be found in President Calvin Coolidge’s address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 1925.1 The splendor of the United States as a land where the supreme cause of individual liberty had triumphed over governmental tyranny provides the basic framework for the president’s praise of the particular freedom enjoyed by the American press. Now the Americans, Coolidge assures his audience, are an idealistic people. But its idealism never precludes a concern for “practical” affairs, with the press itself understanding that its very survival is tied up with a cultivation of business. This is especially important in the United States because “the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world”.

Coolidge dismisses any fears regarding the dangers coming from a business mentality---which in the press’s case might center on the threat of collusion with the wealthy, and complicity in dragging the public’s attention down to profitable but ultimately rather debasing material concerns. For rather than cheapening existence, the entire business project enables men and women to realize the intense and ennobling American idealism that I have already noted Coolidge as identifying above:2

It is rare indeed that the men who are accumulating wealth decay. It is only when they cease production, when accumulation stops, that an irreparable decay begins. Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort. In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. And there never was a time when wealth was so generally regarded as a means, or so little regarded as an end, as today.
Here, in a concise nutshell, the Chief Executive reproduces the mainstream Moderate Enlightenment, Whig, Anglo-American understanding of the relationship of the individual and society, with its insistence upon an intimate connection of free, practical, profitable activity and the high-minded consequences of nurturing it. This “pleasant tale” defines the good polis to be that which holds individual freedom to be its driving force, knows that that liberty will be used chiefly to gain wealth, but rests secure in the conviction that the wealth attained is the sine qua non for supporting unquestionable, traditional, higher goals: the intellectual and spiritual exaltation of the human person and the world in which he lives.

Personally, I do not doubt that President Coolidge is honest in his expectation that the philanthropic “dissemination of intelligence” and “encouragement of science” he lauds would support a number of higher, traditional goals in his day. These goals would have been defined by the “basic common sense” that the Whig, Anglo-American society of 1925 continued to treat as defending obvious “givens”, and which did, indeed, still possess some influence over its citizens at that time.

Unfortunately, the substance of that remaining “obvious common sense”, along with the higher and traditional goals so readily funded by a freely sought wealth, was constantly being whittled away at and dragged downwards by the materialist weightiness of the Whig concept of freedom. It was already much worn away in 1925 as compared with 1900, and Coolidge himself points to its basic intellectual and spiritual emptiness in his address to the editors. For in this talk he indicates that “the idealism of the American people is idealism”---providing no further defining guide to the idealism of individuals other than the telling fact that it is always “practical”.

The sole obstacle to the spiritual decay of a “practical idealism” in a Whig---and that means John Locke---driven society is the maintenance of the conventional agreement of the existing community. This can provide a powerful brake on any corrosive development due eitherto the continued strength of forces that do not grasp the full logical consequences of a polis with no substantive existence aside from the wishes of individual, liberty-obsessed, business-focused “idealists” and therefore continue to attack them according to long-established norms, or to those who do recognize them and dig in their heels and refuse to accept them.

Lack of consciousness of where this individualist, materialist, idealism was going did indeed count for much inertia in early American History, but one can also find some social-minded forces openly critical of blatant individualist materialism as well. These latter include the various forms of late nineteenth century Populism, the supporters of William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic Party candidate for President in 1896, and the proponents of the more successful Progressive Movement of the first decades of the 1900’s. Interestingly enough in this regard, the lingering Progressives of the 1920’s saw what Coolidge praised as a “time when wealth was so generally regarded as a means {and} so little regarded as an end” as the exact opposite: as an era expressive of the most banal and socially-mindless individual egotism. Weak as such forces were in the years of that decade, their day seemed in many respects to have finally dawned with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and the many social reforms of his New Deal.

Traditional biblical language, providing a powerful tie with the “basic shared morality” of the Christian past, was popular with many of these anti-individualist forces and their spokesmen. Some Populists viewed themselves as Protestant crusaders for justice. Bryan, a firm Protestant believer, was propelled to fame by a speech in which he begged the government not “to crucify Mankind on a Cross of Gold”. One segment of the Progressive Movement was driven by the demands of what Reformed Christian preachers of various types called the Social Gospel. And Roosevelt, in his first Inaugural Address, vowed, in Christ-like form, to “drive the money changers from the temple”.3

Still, despite their social-minded and often traditional, scriptural-sounding concerns, the critics of the individual plutocrats also focused primarily on material matters. They did so in the name of a defense of the same basic American passion for personal liberty that they believed would be more effectively ensured for everyone---and not merely a tiny, hypocritical, and illogical band of “freedom lovers”---by the wider spread of wealth. Moreover, the more famous and more successful Progressives and New Dealers were eager for an increase in individual freedoms in other, non-economic realms, all of them destined---even openly designed---to break down traditional moral and educational norms in quite dramatic ways. This crusade for other types of individual liberty was not part of the program of most of their social-focused allies.

In any case, the final result of these clashes has been the general breakdown of traditional intellectual and spiritual blocks on both individualism and materialism, with the sole uncertainty being whether that will to power which more and more comes to serve as the sole guide to political action pushes the nation goes down the pathway favored by the economically social-minded (who also agitate for the expansion of non-economic freedoms) or the economically individual-minded (who may continue to demand traditional social constraints on non-economic liberties).

Both groups appeal to liberty against established authorities---they are each “freedom fighters” in their distinct ways---and both end up having a powerful impact upon and actually aiding one another, even coalescing. Each of these libertarian approaches can only illogically oppose the other, since calling for freedom in one realm weakens the fight against expanded liberty in another. The social traditionalism of the economic individualists is eaten away at when they realize that further wealth is produced by liberation in other realms, or at least is not threatened by it. The call to a practical business mentality as the most suitable and profitable individual expression of a new non-economic freedom eats away at much of the social-consciousness of the apparent tradition-breakers. Once again, the illogic of both warring factions remains undetected when they beg to differ, and their hypocrisy stays hidden when they actually compromise with one another due to their common need to appeal to the sacred ideal of freedom and the divisiveness of those opposing them in what really is their joint commitment to an imposition of the raw will to power.

The machinery of the Enlightenment, Whig, John Locke, Anglo-American system was designed to protect an historic, oligarchic alliance. This included Protestants who were horrified that the battling over dogmas among their innumerable denominations was deadly to the cause of “true religion”, which their influential, scientific-minded, physico-theological spokesmen believed was best protected by practical exploitation of the natural laws of God’s Creation and the “unchangeable, common sense morality” that all Christians clearly shared. They also included pragmatic, property owners who did not want any tampering with their individual wealth. Both groups sought to create a system where squabbling churches, along with the states working in tandem with them to promote their own coercive power, were jointly tamed. Hence their creation of what we now call a “pluralist system” allowing for religious toleration (and ultimately outright freedom) for a wide diversity of sects, a division of powers, checks and balances, and conventional, “constitutional guarantees”---all designed to protect an individual freedom to live life privately and pragmatically, for the supposed benefit of both God and man.

The crucial presumption behind it all was that the conventional agreement controlling excess was based upon a Christian morality that was part of a natural “common sense” that would somehow always remain the same. Anyone seeking to change that agreement would, as Voltaire---John Locke’s chief propagandist on the European Continent---understood, and James Madison---the chief author of the American Constitution---so well described in an article in The Federalist Papers, would run up against the reality that freedom in a pluralist society so “multiplied factions” that each force for change, religious or otherwise, would “check and balance” the others out of public influence. This, presumably, would leave the public sphere to be guided by what its founders wished to guide it—their natural “business”: the business of proving all you needed to know about God through nature and then gaining material benefits from your labor. “Freedom” might be the motto, a cornucopia of “idealism” might thus be unleashed, but “the business of the people” would remain “business” and it was this that would ultimately triumph.

But in dogmatic Christian terms, this means handing the world over to the unguided activity of fallen man and expecting him still to behave himself the way his pious ancestors had done; playing always by “the old rules”. Unfortunately, nature needed Revelation and Grace to function properly. Without their aid, the machinery of a system handed over to Original Sin was actually placed in the power of Lockean individuals all seeking property to fulfill the demands of the material stimuli upon them, with the State turned into an anti-polis allowing this property-seeking to go on according to whatever rules its anti-social citizens conventionally agreed upon. Its freedom becomes the plaything of every sinner, with the only uncertainty being who is strong enough to impose his interpretation of what liberty does and does not mean, and foist that interpretation upon his fellow jungle animals.

The system works best only against existing intellectual and spiritual principles of some substance; that is to say, those based upon a worldview and a morality that are not conventional and are indeed basically unalterable. The inertia of the system labors on behalf of its underlying materialist individualism against those trying desperately to prevent the tsunami waters of moral and cultural decay to pour in. The miseries of the American Way, with its transformation of Original Sin into a system guaranteeing political and social benefit, have the long-term advantage over its supposed splendors as---to use Lincoln’s words---“the last and best hope of mankind”. The devil is stronger than John Locke, but the latter is a good agent for assuring acceptance and praise of his destructive suggestions.4

II. Catholic Cohabitation with the American Anti-Polis

Believing Catholics of the year 1900 were mostly recent or second-generation immigrants living in the every-expanding industrial cities of the United States. Even when not in urban areas, as was the case with some of the German-American Catholics who had moved to rural areas of the Midwest, believers generally lived in their own ethnic communities, isolated from their non-Catholic fellow citizens. Contrary to the general situation in Europe, Catholics in urban areas practiced their Faith in large numbers. When naturalized, they voted, and mostly for the Democratic Party, whose political organization was strong in the cities, and whose bosses sought their support by aiding them in crucial matters of immediate practical importance from the moment that they “stepped off the boat”. Church authorities wishing to influence political affairs had to work through the party bosses as well. Both Church leaders and voting laity, as good Catholics, took the need for participation in the society around them, whatever its limitations, as a given.

Turn of the century supporters of the Progressive Movement hoping to reform city and state governments did not expect help from the Catholic camp, viewing papists as unconcerned with proper Anglo-Saxon legal procedures and historically tied to a patron-client understanding of political life that the city bosses preserved. An anecdote from the end of the nineteenth century corroborating that view relates a Catholic politician’s response to President Grover Cleveland’s refusal of an unconstitutional favor with the comment: “what is the constitution between friends?” 5

Nevertheless, “the business of the American People is business”, and, once again, there is no difficulty in identifying contemporary American Catholics happily using their political freedom to deal practically with “business” matters of their own. Some of these involved ethnic quarrels, as with Irish efforts to oppose any American foreign policy friendly to the United Kingdom, but most focused upon labor issues. Lay Catholic politicians like "Big Tim" Sullivan (1862-1913) and Al Smith (1873-1944) in New York, Martin Lomasney (1859-1933) and David Walsh (1872-1947) in Massachusetts, and Edward Dunne (1853-1937) in Illinois supported many Progressive reforms of precisely this practical labor-friendly sort, including minimum wage laws, limitations of working hours for women and children, workman's compensation, factory inspection, and widows' pensions.6

Archbishop James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore (1834-1921), Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul (1838-1918), and Fr. John Keane (1839-1918), the first Rector of Catholic University and later Archbishop of Richmond, had a public pro-labor record behind them. They were instrumental in preventing a Roman condemnation of the first serious American workingman’s organization, the Knights of Labor, which was led by a Catholic, Terence Powderly (1849-1924) and supported by many believers from the immigrant community. German Americans were organized in a Catholic Central Union, like its counterpart back in Europe, which published a Social Justice Review, a regular organ for discussion of economic matters on a more intellectual level. Politically pro-labor priests, including Fr. Edward McGlynn (1837-1900) in New York and Fr. Peter Yorke (1864-1925) in California, won immense popularity with the working laity as a result of their activities.7

The most influential, practical, Catholic political activist of the first half of the twentieth century was Fr. John Ryan (1869-1945.8 Ryan was inspired by a number of contemporary Irish fighters for social justice, but mostly by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891) and the scholastic natural law tradition to which it made reference. It was his appeal to a rational, natural law theory in dealing with social justice issues that enabled Ryan to make common cause with those non-Catholics in the Progressive Movement who did not follow the highly influential John Dewey (1859-1952) in his root and branch rejection of the idea of immutable principles.

Ryan’s doctoral dissertation at Catholic University in 1906, published as A Living Wage: Its Ethical and Economic Aspects, propelled him into the ranks of practical, Progressive economic reformers. His 1909 “Program of Social Reform By Legislation," provided a staggering “wish list”, with his key principle of a “living wage” at the center. A position as Professor of Political Science and Moral Theology at Catholic University from 1915 onwards gave him a national pulpit from which to preach, and he was instrumental in preparing the “Bishops’ Program” for postwar “Social Reconstruction”, presented through the National Catholic Welfare Council, established in 1919, whose Social Action Department he then long directed.

Let us remember, however, that the economic “business” of much of the American nation was individualist rather than social-minded, with dread of anything smacking of the socialism terrifying a large segment of the population, poor and rich alike, from the time of the Haymarket Riots of 1886 onwards. Fear of the Red Menace was particularly strong throughout the United States in reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution and the general national flight from involvement in Europe following the First World War.

Influential Catholic leaders were among those sounding the alarm already before the Great War. Archbishop Michael Corrigan (1839-1902) of New York excommunicated Fr. McGlynn for his “socialist” activity, although Pope Leo XIII ended by vindicating the position of the censured priest. And even if Archbishop Ireland was among those aiding in the defense of the Knights of Labor, men like Fr. Ryan, who started out as one of his diocesan priests, were suspicious of just how socially-awakened this passionate Republican and his allies actually were. He disliked Ireland’s open admiration and socializing with anti-labor industrialists, especially the archbishops’ good friend, James J. Hill, a railway magnate.9

This seeming “preferential option for liberal capitalism” is an issue that we will have to come back to in a much more serious way in the third part of our discussion today. It is important to mention at this juncture because it reflected the mentality of many American prelates who had their own practical church, school, hospital, and other building projects uppermost in their minds. These had to be undertaken within the existing economic order, whose order would be disrupted by what a considerable number of bishops considered to be Ryan’s merely personal interpretation of the consequences of Rerum novarum. They, like Ireland, hobnobbed with the industrialists, and felt themselves honored in their eyes the greater their proof of achieving “practical” growth in Catholic numbers and property.10

Leo’s encyclical did, indeed, contain a certain praise for the connection of private property and individual personality that sounded as though it came straight from the work of John Locke. Moreover, Rome rather frequently demonstrated its own rather pronounced preferential option for anything that might stand in the way not just of the Red Menace but clerical “business as usual”. The Vatican displayed on numerous occasions a readiness to jettison the fullness of a Catholic political and social vision in exchange for practical legal guarantees protecting the clergy and its central liturgical and sacramental “business” alone. And the American episcopacy of the interwar years was vigorously at work strengthening its own “business-like” discipline and efficiency by abandoning its earlier penchant for independent muscle flexing in favor of a rigorous alignment with the desires of the Holy See. 11

William Henry Cardinal O'Connell (1859-1944), Archbishop of Boston from 1907-1944, was the most famous proponent of a strict Ultramontanism and generally considered the chief agent---the viceroy---of Rome in the United States. O’Connell followed Rome in avoiding “boat rocking” where the position of cult and clergy was secure, as it was in the United States, especially after the successful fending off of certain legal assaults against parochial schools in the 1920’s. This included support for the efforts of both Rome and the United States to end the Cristeros War in Mexico by means of negotiation. Representatives of the Cristeros, knowing how much the cause of Ireland could stir up American Catholics, quite naturally came to the United States for financial assistance for help in their own national trial, with the “viceroy” targeted as their main pathway to assistance. But O’Connell suggested that they pray for patience and look for good jobs instead. He used his influence only to obtain them an introduction to the Knights of Columbus, perhaps the most significant lay American Catholic fraternal and charitable organization; an introduction which yielded a donation of money used for a publicity campaign urging the value of “religious liberty” in the United States and Mexico.12

Cardinal O’Connell was a vehement enemy of much of what Fr. Ryan and the “bishops’ program” for social restoration entailed, including effective laws prohibiting child labor. He understood the thrust of the program in question to involve a support for “big government” which might someday be used against the Church; a combination of rather traditional Catholic and Whig property considerations. Along with prominent laymen like Conde Pallen (1858-1929), a member of the “big business” dominated National Civic Federation, O’Connell worked to reduce the postwar “bishops’ program” to impotence. Such internal Catholic opposition combined together with that of official political institutions such as the New York State Legislature, which publically identified Fr. Ryan as a dangerous socialist.13

All this was changed not only through the economic disaster of the Great Depression but also as an effect of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical letter Quadragesimo anno (1931), which corrected whatever individualist Lockean language might be found in the work of his predecessor. Catholics provided overwhelming support for the New Deal legislation of the Roosevelt Administration. This Democratic President appointed many Catholics to high office. His Administration even directly violated American principles of separation of Church and State by funneling charitable relief in Chicago through ecclesiastical organs, when George Cardinal Mundelein (1872-1939), Archbishop from 1915-1939 and a friend of Roosevelt, expressed concern that government control of the funds would weaken the role of his clergy. Fr. Ryan was courted throughout the Roosevelt years and delivered the invocation at the President’s Inaugurations in 1937 and 1945. And Catholic New York Senator Robert Wagner (1877-1953) became the author of both the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act.14

The Congress of Industrial Organizations, a basically secularist force freed from previous legal restrictions on union activities in the 1930’s, equally courted Catholics. The Catholic Philip Murray (1886-1952), the first President of the United Steelworkers of America, became the CIO’s second leader, and each of its national conventions from 1938 to 1946 began with an invocation offered by a priest or a bishop of the host city. In Chicago, Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Shiel became a champion of the Packinghouse Workers; in Buffalo, Father Charles Maxwell was an adviser to the USWA; in Pittsburgh, Father Charles Rice defended the unions and became a confidante of Murray's. Delivering the benediction at the CIO's first convention, Rice declared, “A victory for labor in its struggles for decent conditions is a victory for Americanism and Christianity.”15

No discussion of the CIO can neglect mention, on the one hand, of Peter Maurin (1877-1949) and Dorothy Day (1897-1980), the co-founders of The Catholic Worker in 1933 or, on the other, of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU), established by some of the Day’s disciples in 1937. Despite their sometimes more radical stands on current issues, particularly a pacifism more general than that of their simply isolationist fellow Catholics, and an unwillingness to join with them in open support for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, Maurin and Day always were keen to emphasize their ultimately “spiritual” and somewhat “personalist” influenced social justice vision.16

If men like Fr. Ryan and Senator Wagner were the most influential Catholics inside the official political structure, and The Catholic Worker was, for a number of years, the chief competitor of the Communist Daily Worker on the outside, their fellow believer with the greatest political influence among the interwar Catholic population at large had to be the radio priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin (1891-1979). 17 Coughlin was an enthusiastic supporter of the Roosevelt Administration’s National Recovery Act, which he believed to reflect a clear cooperative-minded rejection of both liberal capitalism and Marxism echoing the spirit of Quadragesimo Anno. But the United States Supreme Court declared the National Recovery Act unconstitutional, and Coughlin looked upon the subsequent mesh of legislation and labor union activity supported by the Administration as favoring the survival of the immoral, capitalist, international banking community as well as an opening to the immoral, international communist movement---in both of which he saw the influence of secularized Jews dangerous to religion as a whole alongside social justice.

Initially Roosevelt sought to keep Coughlin in the fold, sending such prominent New Deal Catholics as Joseph P. Kennedy and Frank Murphy, the Quadragesimo anno friendly Michigan politician, to try to rein the Detroit based priest in. By 1936, however, Coughlin had abandoned Roosevelt entirely and founded the populist Union Party, along with old-age pension advocate Francis Townsend (1867-1960) and Gerald L.K. Smith (1898-1976), who had taken control of Governor Huey Long’s (1893-1935) “Share Our Wealth” movement after Long’s assassination in 1935. The party ran William Lemke (1878-1950) for President. Fr. Ryan, who remained a staunch supporter of the Administration, was one of the people who took up the cudgel on its behalf and delivered an address called “Roosevelt Safeguards America,” denouncing Coughlin's attacks on the president.

Following a temporary retirement from broadcasting after Lemke’s obtaining only two percent of the vote for the Presidency, Coughlin returned to radio once again. He was sent back to parish work after the entry of the United States into World War Two, for fear of his influence over a Catholic population as overwhelmingly opposed to American involvement in the conflict as the rest of the population was preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Before moving into the third part of today’s discussion, let us once again emphasize the fact that Catholic political activity from 1900-1945 had very pragmatic goals ranging from protecting individual property, guaranteeing a living wage, and even keeping out of war, and this as an integral part of the existing political system. It was this integration into the system requiring a response from Catholic politicians to their own often quite diverse constituencies that guided decisions that they took on other matters---such as agitation for the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel, which New York Democratic Senator Wagner, with a heavy Jewish vote to placate, enthusiastically supported from the war years onwards--- rather than any “thinking through” of a specific religious position.18

John Ryan’s projects were indeed rooted in natural law theory. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin’s social work and pacifism laid claim to a certain personalist inspiration. And Fr. Coughlin’s anti-international capitalism and communism had roots in the very wide-ranging populist vision. Nevertheless, the actual intellectual influence they exercised was minimal. But without a sound intellectual foundation, any Catholic political activity using the “splendors” of the American system was destined to fall prey to its miseries. This fate was descending upon it from the very outset of the faithful’s involvement with this spiritual anti-polis, and it was soon to ensure the creation of the Catholic branch of the American Pluralist Church.

III. Creating the Catholic Branch of the American Pluralist Church

Although the average practicing Catholic voter was understandably concerned with his pragmatic interests, and too ignorant of the history of the American system as such to offer any intellectual criticism of its political institutions, there was no dearth of concern for possible dangers emerging from the national environment at the turn of the century. The second and most important of Leo XIII’s interventions in American affairs, his apostolic letter Testem benevolentiae nostrae, dated January 22, 1899, well indicates this, responding as it did to alarm bells coming from three diverse sources.

One of these was the well-organized Catholic German-American community, whose most important spokesman back in Europe, Peter Paul Cahensly (1838-1923), was a member of the Catholic Centre Party and a representative in the German Reichstag. Cahensly echoed the German-American fear of losing believers to the Protestant environment around them. He called for the Church in the United States to protect distinct immigrant cultures by organizing herself along ethnic lines, something that many bishops were willing to do at the parish level. A second alarm bell was set off by prelates worried about what they considered to be the naive dismissal by some of their fellow bishops of the dangers of attendance at state schools, where Protestant bible culture remained dominant, simply because the words of the Federal Constitution prohibited the favoring of any specific religion. And, finally, concerns were aroused by several German and French professors at the Catholic University of America, shaken by the adulation of the American system expressed by a number of their colleagues, and shocked to hear the same arguments being utilized back in Europe in circles appearing to reiterate the teachings of the Abbé de Lamennais and his various disciples through the rest of the nineteenth century.19

Although Testem benevolentiae mentioned no “Americanists” by name, the various critics of the American scene could readily pinpoint them: the already mentioned Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Ireland, Archbishop Keane, the first Rector of Catholic University, and their many allies, almost all of them of Irish-American background. These “Americanists”’ conviction of the need for assimilation---above all, for Catholic self-protection---was enhanced by a sense of the beneficence of the spirit of the national institutions for the cause of true religion. This feeling was perhaps best captured by a quotation carved onto the tomb of Rev. Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), founder of the Paulist Fathers, in New York City: “the union of Catholic Truth and American Liberty---a future brighter than any past”. 20

It is interesting to note that Americanist assurance of the “basic sense of fairness” of their fellow citizens, so worrisome to the proponents of a distinctly Catholic parochial school system, made another appearance in the letter sent by Cardinal Gibbons with the help of Archbishop Ireland to Pope Leo XIII defending the Knights of Labor. Here, one finds the astonishing statement---in a country whose political institutions were almost entirely dominated by anti-worker industrial interests---that the American Congress was “engaged in framing measures for the improvement of the condition of the laboring classes” and that American political parties “vie with each other in championing the evident rights of the workingmen”. 21

Despite Testem benevelontiae’s chastisement of Americanism, and, along with it, any claim that the religious liberty and separation of Church and State operative in the United States could be turned into a universal ideal, the Americanist vision lived on to confirm itself in the post-World War Two era as “the idealism of the American Catholic people”. By the 1960’s, the Roman Church in the United States had become the Catholic branch of the American Pluralist Church very much on the lookout for heretics to punish. A number of factors ensured this development from the very outset.

For one thing, whether they veered down the social justice pathway, or along the road that carried them to an overriding focus on church, school, and hospital construction, the “business of the American Catholic people”, clerical and lay, was clearly “business”; “business” conducted within the same political and social framework utilized by their fellow citizens. Theological, philosophical, and historical issues were generally quite alien to their daily concerns. Moreover, a number of the German-Americans and foreign critics from Catholic University aside, most of those who militated in the anti-Americanist camp did so only partially and temporarily, often for highly specific and sometimes rather cheap personal reasons. Normally, they were just as accepting of Americanist principles on the intrinsic value of religious liberty and separation of Church and State, just as fearful of appearing to favor anything that might be construed as threating to an individual or group’s “freedom”, as their opponents were. Hence, the anti-Americanist New York Archbishop Michael Corrigan’s (1839-1902) refusal to allow the Jewish Catholic priest, Edgardo Mortara (1851-1940), whose baptism had become a cause célèbre illustrating papal tyranny under Pius IX, to preach in his diocese lest it offend public opinion.22

It was this lack of any real intellectual critique among Catholics in the United States that allowed for the triumph of the standard argument of the clear targets of Testem benevolentiae; an argument which denied the existence of Americanism entirely, calling it “a phantom heresy” that had no actual supporters except in the minds of obsessive heresy hunters. Proponents of this argument underlined the solidity of American Catholic orthodoxy by pointing to the lack of any real significance of the Modernist movement in the United States. While basically---though not completely---true, such local orthodoxy much more indicated Catholic acceptance of the national disdain for the uselessness of intellectual “game playing” that took time away from the practical activities American “freedom” allowed real men to cultivate, rather than any awareness of the implications of the errors condemned by St. Pius X.23

World War One proved to be a godsend for further development of the Catholic branch of the American Pluralist Church. No only did it devastate the distinct and often critical German-American community in the United States, which had begun the war with an expression of support for a former homeland destined to become the enemy of its host nation, but it also allowed those eager to demonstrate the assimilation and the loyalty of the multi-ethnic Catholic population to their sole new fatherland to organize that allegiance more effectively.

Fr. John J. Burke (1875-1936), an irreproachably orthodox Paulist priest, editor of the Catholic World and typical in his conviction that America provided fertile soil for nurturing the fullness of a Faith with practical consequences, urged the creation of an organ to coordinate the contribution of the faithful to the war effort: the National Catholic War Council. The NCWC---which in 1919 transformed itself into that National Catholic Welfare Conference enabling Fr. Ryan to promote his social principles---did much practical work for the cause of victory.

On the other hand, the Council also presided over a war effort that spiritually armed Catholic soldiers with pocket sized New Testaments whose preface, written by Cardinal Gibbons, explained that their fight was one for the sacred defense of democracy. Even more importantly, the NCWC’s Handbook of 1917 reiterated the Third Council of Baltimore in 1887 in its insistence that: “We consider the establishment of our country’s independence, the shaping of its liberties and laws, as a work of special Providence, its framers building better than they knew, the Almighty’s hand guiding them.” 24 The spirit of that handbook breathes the certainty that Providence was nurturing an international role for this divinely inspired American achievement.

Still, American conviction of the special, God-given character of the United States operated in a defensive way in the interwar years, by seeking to keep the evil represented by the rest of the world out of God’s Country. Rejection of Wilson’s call for a permanent involvement with Europe through the League of Nations reflected a general “turning inward” that had an enormous impact on the American Catholic world through the almost total end of immigration. This was accompanied by an intensified assault on everything deemed “un-American” by the still dominant Protestant Establishment; an assault that translated into an increased pressure for assimilation. This was pursued most especially through the medium of education, often in grotesque form, such as that tossing of symbols of national differences into a bonfire, as promoted by Henry Ford in his immigrant rich factories and factory schools during the war.

The superiority of everything American, including American openness to all differing religions and American business-like “practicality”, was promoted by the ever more powerful film industry as well. Acceptable and heroic Catholics were depicted as men who indeed looked and generally sounded orthodox, but who proved to be the most ecumenical in their approach, most jovially down-to-earth, and most ready to bend the rules for “obvious” pragmatic reasons. Although Catholics did indeed defend themselves successfully against the state assaults on parochial schools mentioned above, against slander of Al Smith, the Catholic candidate of the Democratic Party for President of the United States in 1928, and against the serious revival of the anti-Roman, anti-foreign Ku Klux Klan, they did so as Americans eager for assimilation, appealing to religious liberty and, once again, their fellow citizens’ “basic sense of fairness”. 25

In any case, by the time of the Second World War, tales of George Washington’s vision of the Virgin Mary at Valley Forge and his conversion to Catholicism on his deathbed had become current in Church circles, along with other illustrations of the pro-Catholic character of the Founding Fathers. But perhaps no one better illustrated Catholic acceptance of the splendors of the American Way than the prelate often viewed as O’Connell’s successor as Rome’s viceroy and the pillar of orthodoxy in the United States: the Archbishop of New York from 1939 to his death, Francis Cardinal Spellman (1889-1967). Allow me to quote at length from Martin Marty’s authoritative history of religion in the United States, Pilgrims in Their Own Land, to emphasize the Cardinal’s Americanism:26

Spellman more than anyone else invented the midcentury Catholic version of Christian America. His predecessors had to spend time showing how Catholicism was at home with the Republic, but he virtually made an icon out of the national flag. The white of Old Glory stood for ‘the basic righteousness of our national purpose’…‘And these United States, united still, In opposition, stand before the world. Above all passing pettiness and sloth, In one unflinching purpose— righteousness’. When World War II was first approaching, Spellman proudly insisted that Americans envied none, wronged none, and coveted nothing. They generously spread charities in a distressful world with a goodwill that other nations never reciprocated. When American soldiers later died for the cause, he saw their blood mingling reverently with that of Christ as they brought “salvation and peace to their fellowmen”. Using language of the kind that Lincoln once cautioned against, Spellman declared that the entire American struggle grew out of a motive of charity to the neighbor, that every drop of blood fell in what was ultimately God’s cause.

A possible deepening of the American Catholic intellectual understanding of political and social issues could have emerged from the varying group of European thinkers brought to American shores, temporarily or for good, by the disruptions of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many of these men and women possessed a serious knowledge of the whole of the Catholic reaction to the Enlightenment and the revolutionary changes taking place in modern times. Some, like Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), and Thomas Molnar (1921-2010) obtained positions at American universities. Some wrote for the German-American Social Justice Review. Many also found a forum in which to express their ideas in an organization called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, founded in 1953, with William F. Buckley (1925-2008), the future editor of The National Review, as its first president. Thinkers such as Frederick Wilhelmsen (1923-1996), profoundly influenced by the European Catholic tradition, also worked with the ISI and its journal, Modern Age, as well as founding a much more traditional journal, Triumph, with L. Brent Bozell (1926-1977) in 1966. Although these Europeans and their American fellow travellers had a definite impact on a certain small segment of the Catholic world---myself, an Eastern Director of the ISI in 1978-1979, included---two quite different forces overwhelmingly shaped the overall postwar development of Catholic political and social life.27

The first of these was a Cold War driven, Manichean sense of sense of being part of an ultimate battle of Good versus Evil as represented by the contest of the American and Soviet Blocs. Believing Catholics obviously found the American battle against the spread of communism appealing because of Soviet persecution of the Roman Church. This accounts for the basically favorable Catholic hearing given to Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) in his anti-Communist crusade in the 1950’s, with the Kennedy Family playing a notable role in his work at the height of his senatorial fame.28 Nevertheless, the American government and a powerful segment of the press---aided by an assimilated, pragmatic clergy and laity that possessed no intellectual means of critiquing their campaign---took Catholic anti-Communism well beyond a simple concern for defense of the Faith.

This government-press alliance was eager to unite all American religious forces against the latest form of Spinozan atheism: the Red Menace. Working against such a project was a renewed Protestant crusade, led by men like Paul Blanchard (1892-1980), who were frightened that a possible future Catholic majority would unite Church and State in the United States, turning into their worst nightmare: Franco’s Spain. Its power was great enough to hinder the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations efforts to create a regular American diplomatic representation at the Vatican. 29 In order to defuse it, the government-press alliance had to fly the traditional Pietist-Whig religious flag, seeking to render all dogmatic differences impotent, calming Protestant fears by teaching Catholics that Catholic anti-communism must be the American form of anti-communism; that this, given the “pragmatic” American system’s role as “the last, best, hope of mankind”, could not help but work to the benefit of the Church, as well as for all other groups and individuals yearning to be free.30 Most American Catholics believed this already anyway, and new supporters of pluralism and religious liberty, most importantly John Courtney Murray, S.J. (1904-1967) and Jacques Maritain, were there to encourage them in this conviction. Its final victory was assured through aggiornamento, the Second Vatican Council, and its Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae.31

Everything that I discussed in the first part of this presentation was emphatically underlined by the American government’s “Psychological Strategy Board” (1951), “Operations Coordinating Board” (1953), and “Doctrinal Warfare” program (1953), designed to destroy all non-American as well as anti-Soviet communist outlooks---with as much internal Catholic assistance as possible.32 And this project was then promoted by Henry R. Luce’s (1898-1967) Time/Life network, many of whose personnel moved back and forth between government to journalist positions. 33 The United States was openly identified by both government and press allies as “a revolutionary nation”, “still in the business of revolution”; a revolution that “values the individual as an end in himself”,34 thus requiring a “deep tolerance” and “the diversity of its doctrines and philosophies”.35 In typical Moderate Enlightenment, Anglo-American fashion, however, this revolution was said to be equally rooted in tradition: the suitably ecumenical sounding “Christian-Judaic religion which, in its very concept, recognized the dignity, worth, and right to freedom of the individual, as do most of the other major religions of the world”.36 But this tradition, along with all others that could only fulfill their innate potential through the American concept of freedom, had to rid themselves of any remaining “totalitarian” tendencies. The programs in question would help them to do this, as might be expected, by multiplying factions, giving voice to “’new and stimulating ideas, even contradictory ideas’” and “’when advisable, deviationist movements designed to split organizations promulgating hostile ideologies’” that “exploit local divergences, heresies or policy disagreements within opposition systems”.37

“The founding purpose of the United States”, Luce wrote in one article in Time, “was to make men free, and to enable them to be free and to preach the gospel of freedom to themselves and to all men”.38 And, once again, religions should not worry about this project, since America “is at once revolutionary and conservative, traditional and progressive”,39 a land that was forging a “Holy Alliance with God”, a non-dogmatic unity of “all people who believe in a Supreme Being” to fight off atheistic Communism.40

Not surprisingly, this “idealism of the American People”, in Luce’s mind, was ultimately designed “to make all the money you can and ‘to do as you damn please with your own’”---apparently, as his wife noted, without any concern for moral questions or right and wrong.41 Luce’s understanding of the real purpose of freedom was confirmed by a speaker at a conference he organized in Princeton on behalf of a “World Economic Plan” (1954) who defined it as “the capacity of the individual to produce more per capita, and to enjoy a greater degree of pleasure”.42 Meanwhile, the real purpose of the Holy Alliance was underlined at the1955 meeting of the Luce-backed Foundation for Religious Action in the Social Order:43

{O}ur Christian religion and our competitive business system {are} in themselves the two most revolutionary forces in the world today. Communism and socialism, which we frequently think of as revolutionary, are, in fact, reactionary movements---leading man back to the bondage from which he has only so recently emerged. What we call ‘free enterprise’ or ‘competitive capitalism’ or ‘the American way of life’…upsets the old established order. Christianity endowed the individual with spiritual dignity; our American Constitution endowed the individual with political dignity; but it has remained for American industry to endow the individual with economic dignity.

One of the main participants at this Foundation conference was John Courtney Murray, S.J., the editor of Theological Studies, based in the Jesuit Woodstock College in New York. Murray shared all of Luce’s concerns.44 American constitutionalism, he insisted, had finally given the Faith the chance to set itself free, permitting the Church to return to “the true Christian Tradition”; i.e., a pluralist vision of life.45 Its acceptance was the unum necessarium in the postwar world. “For {the} Catholic Church cannot with full effectiveness oppose Communism as long as it is itself regarded as being in opposition to the American political system”. This was---the mantra continues---“man’s best, and possibly last, hope of human freedom”, “that stands out most strongly against the spread of Communism.”46

Aid for the unum necessarium also came from Fr. Felix Morlion, O.P., the founder, with financial assistance from “all the usual suspects” of governmental and private background, of the Pro Deo University (1944) in Rome.47 Morlion used Pro Deo to apply “the solid and balanced work of the American Founding Fathers as expressed by their correspondence (1773-1776), by the Federalist papers, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the U.S.A.” to European practice. He did so because this “most realistic way of establishing a free but God-centered way of life” was “an inspiration for the Italian and other democracies”.48 Of course that faith-friendly way of life was not to be taken as specifically Catholic in character, for American principles were “profoundly united with the principles of living faith in God common to all authentic religious denominations”.49 And there could be little surprise in the fact that Pro Deo understood that promotion of a system dear to freedom and to God very much entailed a “spreading of the philosophy of American Business”. 50

Luce, inevitably one of the main supporters of Morlion’s project, gave a speech before 4,000 persons, including Alcide de Gasperi, at the opening of the Pro Deo academic year on November 29th, 1953 entitled “the American Proposition”. He consulted John Courtney Murray to ensure intellectual depth to his comments and admitted that he lifted much of the content directly from his response.51 The “American Proposition” presented for Pro Deo was one that Luce summarized more succinctly in a Time article of 1963; namely one that “consists of a word, a tendency and a method. The word is liberty. The tendency is equality. The method is constitutionalism.”52 Its most practical element was said to be that of getting rid of governmental obstacles to personal belief and action, thereby making men ever more free. American freedom, in consequence, could “support much pluralism in religious beliefs, political opinions, and local customs”, as well as, mirabile dictu, economic freedom and the encouragement of “business”. Luce read from “our National Scriptures”---the Gettysburg Address—to back his argument, discussing various American governmental institutions, such as the Supreme Court---which he called the “Keeper of the Ark of the Covenant”---with the same hushed, sacred awe.

The “intelligent American can legitimately long for a world in which all men will think his political thoughts and talk his political language”, he explained, because insofar “as the American way of life rests upon natural law principles, understood in their “traditional” Western sense, it is exportable---but only because it is, or ought to be, indigenous everywhere”.53 And besides the natural law, the Founding Fathers had a deep commitment to God, reflected in the thoughts of the “Christian” John Adams (he was a Unitarian) and the Deist Thomas Jefferson, both of whom agreed that “God reigned and, directly or indirectly, ruled”.54 In short, the Enlightenment understanding of man, enshrined most securely in America, was that of the traditional natural law and the best means of fulfilling Catholic along with all other human values. And anyone present at the talk knew from its tenor that the only possible alternative to the American Proposition was atheistic communism.

Murray, Luce, Time/Life, and presumably those behind the Doctrinal Warfare Program as well, were very pleased with Jacques Maritain’s Integral Humanism and his influence in spreading openness to what amounted to an American Liberation Theology.55 Maritain’s experiences while living in the United States, expressed in his Reflections on America (1958), encouraged the conviction that her pluralist system represented another great leap forward whose appreciation would work for the benefit of Christianity. Maritain’s apparent ignorance or naiveté regarding just how open to a “basically fair dialogue” and true religion American society actually was in practice is regrettable. Among the peculiar benefits that he claimed came from it---benefits that slaves, Indians, Mexicans, exploited Latin American economies, and anyone familiar with the Christmas shopping season might well have contested---was America’s total freedom from any and all Machiavellianism, as well as a possession of many consumer “gadgets” that freed men to pursue more spiritual goals.56

At this moment, we must bring up the second overwhelmingly significant influence on Catholic Americans after 1945, a sociological one. This was the practical aid given to the cause of pluralism by the postwar move of Catholics out of ethnic neighborhoods to the multi-religious, multi-ethnic suburbs under the siren call of “the American Dream”. Their new suburban existence made the reality of American religious and pluralism and the peace with one’s neighbors---and fellow party, business, and union members as well---an obvious problem for Catholics in a way that they had not known beforehand. And the postwar boom making the “business of the American people” something whose profits seemed readily in every person’s reach---with overwhelmingly tempting benefits for ordinary believers’ individual bank accounts, as well as for church, parochial school, and hospital construction and the prestige of the prelate-entrepreneurs presiding over it---gave “getting the good life” the central goal of everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Under these sociological conditions, the call to forgetting substantive differences---the call to ecumenical cooperation with all religions and to acceptance of all the diverse groups making up American pluralist society for the sake of unity in the one necessary fight for “freedom” versus the Red Menace---could not help but favor the system’s built-in “free pass” for the consequences of Original Sin. Any discussion of Original Sin and the dangers coming from were prohibited by the need to avoid a divisiveness that could only aid the atheist communists. Besides, the wisdom of the Founders guaranteed that the checks and balances and “basic common sense” of the Lockean-Whig understanding of life would control its satanic effects anyway. With any distinctly Catholic threat to the public sphere thus weakened, the obstacle to the election of a Catholic president was removed as well. John F. Kennedy made this perfectly clear by appearing before a panel of Protestant ministers during his campaign and assuring them that his Faith would have no impact on his Administration if elected. Why should it? The American system already protected it better than any Catholic teaching or authority could do so.

Mgr. Joseph Fenton (1906-1969), editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review, and Fr. Francis J. Connell (1888-1967), the main founder of the Catholic Theological Society of America, understood that what actually was being promoted by men like Murray through their insistence upon a universal validity of the national vision of religious liberty, was a divinization of the materialist American attitude towards life.57 They were furious with the incessant propaganda for these ideas in the American Press, and even more so with the way in which the Time/Life position was devoured and slavishly copied by Catholic newspapers throughout the United States.

Nevertheless, what most irritated both men was the increasingly obvious fact that nothing could seem to arouse the vast majority of bishops to do anything serious about this subtle subversion of the Faith. Fenton’s diaries in particular indicate his ever-greater demoralization, based upon a conviction that there was no real belief in the concept of the Social Kingship of Christ any longer. He finally came to the conclusion that Rome itself---a Rome under tremendous American influence after 1945---was run “by vain and money hungry cowards who are afraid of the manifest opponents of the true faith within the ranks”; men who were easily seduced and bullied by materialist society in all its forms.58

The inner circle here lives on a diet of steady promotion….They go to foreign lands as diplomats mixing with and living like the richest of the rich. They occupy archbishoprics or fill-in posts. Then they return and drive around Rome in super-sized chauffeur driven German cars, and, at the top of the ladder there is always the big prize….Here are members of the Church who are obviously in a state of mortal sin. Some of them do not believe Our Lord’s message at all…What nonsense!

Fenton was talking about Rome in the 1950’s, before the Second Vatican Council. This took place under a Time/Life press Blitzkrieg of staggering persistence. Correspondents like Michael Novak---who was destined to play a major role in the “conservative” Catholic camp in the future--- were urged by Luce to take sides in this monumental battle of “good” versus the “bad”; i.e., American Pluralism versus the past Catholic tradition. They were aided in their lobbying activities by the ever more obvious collaboration of the Catholic Press at home and the American bishops present at the Council itself. 59

But it was too late to stop the move towards divinization of the pluralist system, whose full innate “miseries” even Fenton and Connell themselves do not appear to have understood. For even in their defense of the traditional Catholic teaching on religious liberty, they themselves assured their fellow Americans that a Catholic domination of the country would not really change its character. To anticipate the argument of many future conservatives, they seem to have believed that it was only the tragic corruption of the essentially good American political society that was responsible for the contemporary materialist problems they lamented.

John Courtenay Murray was more prescient. “Aggiornamento”, he explained, means getting the Church of 1965 up to where the US Constitution was in 1789”. 60 In other words, Catholics the world over where to be allowed to be free to promote an “idealism” whose many variants could not be opposed by any substantive social authority, and which, in practice, degenerates into whatever the materialist individuals composing Lockeland desire, and whatever economic structures best give them the goods to satisfy their empirical needs. Catholics the world over were to be liberated to praise this development as the best expression of the apostolic tradition every known to man.

Murray’s own “spiritual” trajectory serves as a key to the way in which “getting the Church up to the US Constitution of 1789” actually means “getting the Church up to the demands of a basic pluralist common sense”---as understood in 1965 and beyond. Already before the Council’s end, he began to reject a Catholic’s right to intervene in the public square by means of even verbal condemnations and economic boycotts of indecent films and literature. Daily contact with LSD started to look to Murray as though it might provide a definitive pathway to true sanctification. Both he and Clare Booth Luce occasionally took the drug with the blessing of an intimate friend and spiritualist guru, Gerald Heard, who not surprisingly lamented the nefarious influence of morality on business freedom and saw homosexuality as a sign of creative evolutionary development.61

Any worries Murray might have had about continued calls for State aid to parochial schools would soon disappear, due to the collapse of religious orders after the Second Vatican Council and the total entry of a laicized Catholic educational system into the business-minded pluralist mainstream. But open Catholic opposition to socially divisive issues such as birth control and abortion stood next in line for stigmatization. And despite his descent into 1960’s madness, Murray still felt his undegenerated religious and philosophical tendencies working upon him. Hence, he anxiously admitted the swift dissolution of that common understanding of the natural law which he once argued would be sufficient for preservation of a moral social order. “The thing we have not yet proved in the United States”, he said in 1966 shortly before his death, “is that the social consensus, as at least moral, can be maintained in the absence of religious unity, in the presence of radical divisions. There are signs that the consensus is eroding.”62

Of course the only force that could stop this decline would be a Catholic Church seeking to curb the degeneration of the “common sense morality” of the population and its “basic sense of fairness”. But that is the one thing that pluralism, ever fearful of “divisiveness”, can never permit. Pluralism’s refusal to allow any social authority to interfere in blocking atomization of the moral order already ensured that American cardinals testifying at the Congress of the United States in the 1970’s against the Supreme Court’s decision favoring abortion throughout the nation felt compelled to do so not in their robes as Princes of the Church, but in simple business clericals as “individual American citizens”. And it ultimately ensured that a Catholic American Supreme Court justice would later declare that every individual American had the right to create and live by his own version of reality.63

Post-conciliar Catholics continue to participate in all of the political and social activities of American society, in even greater numbers and with greater individual practical success than ever before. But almost all of these “Catholics” participate not as Catholics per se, but as members of contending factions that have been successfully “multiplied”; factions that reflect the guiding themes presented to them by the outside secular world, whether they be radical leftist, anti-war, pro-war, liberal, neo-liberal, conservative, neo-conservative, libertarian, and, most recently, populist and Tea Party stimulated. All of these factions have at least a few clerics active in their ranks; most of them, many. Insofar as some of their members have a concern for the Faith---and each does possess a professing Catholic clientele---they all interpret their Catholicism within the limits imposed by the American definition of freedom and “the will of the Founding Fathers” as they define these. Factions with a sizeable Catholic clientele actively try to exercise an influence over Rome on behalf of their sexual, economic, or imperialist American pro-war agendas. And when Rome does not “pronounce” for them as they see fit, they simply ignore her judgments as meaningless and even anti-Catholic.

In sum, “Catholic”, “will of the Founders”, and what, exactly, “pluralism” does and does not permit, mean whatever the strongest and most willful among these multiplied factions say that they mean. That basic fact of life explains why the repeated efforts of those who have tried to “opt-out” of the system to create their own Catholic “cells” ultimately discover that their “Benedictine options” are mere parlor games, whose limited “clubhouse” boundaries are defined by the “big shots” who control the daily reality of the “free society”.

Mainstream ecclesiastical organs, as well as newspapers and journals under the control of dioceses and religious orders, have generally followed liberal and even more radical positions on ecumenical and some moral issues. Once again, when they do so, ecumenical and moral destruction of the Deposit of Faith are defined as being Catholic, or at least not anti-Catholic in character. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the average American who calls himself a Catholic (and has no idea any longer of what this theologically and historically means) accepts the abandonment of doctrine, the right to abortion, and, ever more commonly, gay marriage as well. He accepts them as obvious dictates of that unchangeable “basic common sense” that is somehow in a constant state of devolution. Any efforts to reiterate the accurate Catholic position on such issues---and on divorce and remarriage, which was a lost cause already long ago---would be looked upon by him as strange and even anti-Christian. Moreover, such efforts would bog him down in pointless intellectual game-playing taking time away from the “business of the American people”: business.

Mention of business leads to the fact that the average Catholic in the United States is not so easily guided down the American liberal or radical path where economic matters are at stake. Here, nominal Catholics are just as likely to support what in this country is called the “conservative” position; that is to say, the neo-liberal call for liberation of the market and individual property rights in general from government interference. Such neo-liberalism, which is also supported by most of the neo-conservative global imperialists and, in an even more pronounced way, by libertarians, is perhaps still more popular with practicing than nominal Catholics. This includes those who define themselves as Traditionalists and are ready to label traditional Catholic Social Doctrine as communist subversion.

The economic anarchism of the libertarian faction---promoted by Lew Rockwell, the Acton Institute, and educational organs such as the above-mentioned Intercollegiate Studies Institute---is very influential among many such practicing Catholics. Predictably, this works to weaken, if not destroy, any attempt politically on their part to control the immoral anarchism resulting in the right to abortion and gay marriage.

Nevertheless, I believe that more damage has been done in this economic realm through the work of the conservative and neo-conservative factions. Unlike the libertarians, who have opposed the warmongering American Crusade for pluralist freedom throughout the globe, these factions have also endorsed the conflicts deemed necessary by non-Catholic neo-conservatives. Here, leadership has come from the now deceased Michael Novak and Fr. John Neuhaus, along with the living and ubiquitous George Weigel. That leadership has been exercised through their all too numerous books and journals such as First Things, as well as the organizations that they have either directly controlled or financially enticed into their camp. 64

Fr. Neuhaus---whom I first encountered at a conference defending the heritage of Lamennais that he organized some thirty years ago while he was still a Lutheran pastor---was famed for his argument in the 1980’s that “the Catholic Moment” to dominate the national scene had arrived. What he meant by this “Catholic Moment” was a leading Catholic role in championing the defense of the Moderate Enlightenment-Lockean-Whig system in its special American “business” manifestation that had been abandoned by liberals. It is perhaps Michael Novak---a Catholic pluralist who progressed from being one of Henry Luce’s correspondents to becoming a chief opponent of Humanae vitae in 1968 and finally a libertarian fellow traveler praising the new Adam created by “democratic capitalism”---who best translates this “Catholic” economic thought into theological language. To take but one example from many, Novak had no problem in equating the structure of an American corporation to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Nevertheless, I still prefer to utilize the declaration to be found in Neuhaus’ very President Coolidge-sounding Doing Well and Doing Good, to proclaim the common Novak-Weigel-First Things Gospel: “America”, he says, “is the first creedal nation in human history. America did not just happen. It was professed into being. In that sense, America is the first universal nation, for all who are convinced can join in professing its creed…”65

Like all of the factions with some influence among believers, the conservative and neo-conservative sects claim to know definitively what American freedom, the will of the Founding Fathers, and the best interests of the Roman Catholic Church really are. They identify the Republican Party, which has become the Most Christian Faction of all, as the obvious defender of all things bright and beautiful. And all things truly American, Founder Friendly, Catholic, and Republican then seem to require an unrestrained, individualist free market, an ecumenism best demonstrated through friendship with the Jews and support for the demands of Greater Israel. All things truly Christian demand a non-divisive, freedom-loving unity---no longer to battle Spinozan atheism or the Red Menace, but the threat that comes from a Moslem menace whose chief evil seems not so much from its false religious vision but its anti-pluralism.

Persistent reference to the “American” concept of individual freedom crushes all that stands in its path: the political and social corrections due to Original Sin that Catholic Social Doctrine addresses, the central danger of liberal Enlightenment secularism as identified by the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX, and reference to the “Social Kingship of Christ” included. Relying on that replacement of any serious examination of ideas with the pure mockery so effectively nurtured by representatives of the anti-doctrinal Moderate Anglo-American Enlightenment since the very outset, the leaders of the conservative and neo-conservative Catholic factions have characterized all such orthodox concerns as, in Neuhaus’ words, “bizarre”. They are dismissed as the blathering of untouchables who have failed to understand that opposition to the salvation that came in 1776 is either fascist, communist, or simply criminally insane.

American “Catholic” political activity of the libertarian, conservative, and neo-conservative variety is well funded and evangelical, exercising its apostolic mission through its labyrinthine international connections: especially in Rome, whenever the interests of the new Adam---“democratic, capitalist man”---and an America whose government is more closely united with this new kind of Church than any previous State in history are in any way threatened. “You must know my good friends John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel”, former Italian President Francesco Cossiga boomed to me over drinks in Rome some years ago, as though connections with these regular Roman lobbyists were a given, once I told him that I ran a Catholic cultural organization called the Roman Forum. Why would he not presume this to be the case? After all, according to a November 25, 2004, report on Zenit.com, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, responding to the secularization of Europe, made the following comments on Vatican Radio:

I think that from many points of view the American model is the better one. Europe has remained bogged down. People who did not want to belong to a state church, went to the United States and intentionally constituted a state that does not impose a church and which simply is not perceived as religiously neutral, but as a space within which religions can move and also enjoy organizational freedom without being simply relegated to the private sphere… One can undoubtedly learn from the United States [and this] process by which the state makes room for religion, which is not imposed, but which, thanks to the state, lives, exists and has a public creative force. It certainly is a positive way.

Conservatives may worry about Pope Francis, who claims to represent a more radical current of Social Doctrine, but he, too, goes about his work of “reform” with the aid of American public relations companies. Moreover, the current pontiff has enjoyed an enthusiastic support from almost every other multiplied faction in pluralist America, non-Catholic and Catholic alike. In short, the Catholic Church the globe over, whatever its peculiar hue, has in one way or another, whether consciously or unconsciously, been exposed to the political pressure of the faithless, irrational, individual willfulness of the American Lockean system, along with that coming from believers and non-believers happily engaging in “the business of the American people”.

One bright spot might seem to be the basic American conservative and traditionalist opposition to abortion. It is impossible not to be impressed by the Catholic contribution to the pro-life movement, which has been very great indeed. Through the activism organized by groups such as the truly ecumenical Rescue Movement, which itself was modeled along the lines of the non-violent civil rights protests of the 1950’s and 1960’s, pro-life work has involved an immense amount of individual self-sacrifice, both financially as well as through time served in prison.

But, with notable exceptions, the entire pro-life project has been hampered from the very outset due to the generally rather weak support given it by the Catholic episcopacy, clergy, and laity---particularly by successful, lay Catholic politicians. And, once again, those that do honestly aid the cause are crippled by their religious faith in the American political system, whose checks and balances, constant reference to the need for moral judgments to be made by the conventional dictates of sovereign democratic majorities on the federal or state level, and ultimate appeal to an “individual freedom” that is attractive to many Catholic pro-lifers on the economic level and to all Protestant pro-lifers as part of their essential theological baggage. These limitations render the call for authoritative social controls on abortion alone both politically impotent and downright illogical. In any case, it is hard to forget that perhaps the most famous, serious, Catholic pro-lifer with political influence, the late Judge Antonio Scalia, himself felt bound constitutionally to defend any “right” that had enough people ready to fight for it, aiming the hopes of the movement towards the gaining of the support of the sovereign people---and that, presumably, on a state-by-state level.

American Catholic pro-lifers have been almost universally enthusiastic about the Trump Presidency, a number of them openly calling him a “New Charlemagne”, who, with all his flaws, stands at the beginning of a true renewal. Such enthusiasts insisted that support for Trump’s candidacy was a moral obligation, a failure to vote for him being, in one influential commentator’s words, “a mortal sin”. This euphoria has been accompanied by a refusal to criticize the rest of Trump’s program, which, in fact, many of them are enthusiastically in favor of as well.

That program, which calls itself “populist”, does indeed reflect a “grass roots” revulsion with “politics as usual”---including a notable xenophobia and identification of a set of clear villains responsible for all of the country’s ills---that reminds the historian of many of the previous manifestations of American populism. On the other hand, Trump’s blatant favoring of “entitlements” for the rich over various social programs serving the middle classes and the poor, his efforts to eliminate governmental controls over private financial speculation, his replacement of the Red Menace with a “First Crusade” versus Islam that seems mostly to benefit Greater Israel, and a “Second Crusade” against Latin American immigrants smack of a great number of rather traditionally conservative and neo-conservative American positions rather than purely populist ones. Unfortunately, should the pendulum turn against Trump, the pro-abortionists who admittedly militate in his opponents’ ranks will definitely use their victory to hurt a pro-life cause that has been too uncritically associated with him. The Catholics in their anti-Trump ranks will then label their triumph a Catholic one as well.

Sophists---word merchants---throughout history have repeatedly come up with “nice stories” regarding the extraordinary Christian character of the particular State whose cause they serve and whose benefits for Catholicism they extol. These benefits often turn out actually to weaken or render impotent the work of transformation in Christ. Throughout much of history, the Church, the clergy, and laity have repeatedly proven themselves vulnerable to such “nice stories” with respect to supposedly “Catholic States” actually committed to imperial and national forms of caesaro-papism dangerous to the Christian life. The Abbé de Lamennais came up with another of these stories regarding the value of a “free Church in a free State”, that he claimed would liberate Catholicism from such dangers. Alas, this story has proven only to guarantee the same perils. The system it praises has been different only in being more effectively destructive, especially in its peculiar American manifestation.

Catholics are meant to engage in politics, and to do so realistically and prudently under all systems of government. They tried to do this in the United States, and they could, conceivably, have succeeded in doing so if they had worked with the legitimate splendors of the American system, while fighting, tooth and nail, its much more dangerous miseries: its Moderate Enlightenment, Lockean, materialist individualism, with their insouciance about the consequences of the abandonment of Faith and Reason as the “last, best guides of mankind”.

This, they did not do. Believers came to view the American Way as a Liberation Theology that has a right to call itself Catholic in a way that Scripture, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, magisterial papal teachings, and previously flawed “Most Christian States” do not. They came to accept the willful materialist individualism of the system, dismissing any attempt to criticize this evil as being a crime against “the last, best hope of Catholicism”. They have sown the wind with their thoughtless adulation, and they have reaped the whirlwind as a result. They have contributed mightily to creating a brave new world where there is a seemingly ironclad union of “a willful Church in a willful anti-State” that condemns true Catholicism as an enemy of God and man.

1 Calvin Coolidge: "Address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D.C.," January 17, 1925. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=24180.

2 Coolidge, in Op. cit.

3 For speeches, see http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1876-1900/william-jennings-bryan-cross-of-gold-speech-july-8-1896.php; http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres49.html; an example of Social Gospel is Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (Martino Fine Books, 2010).

4 See John Rao, Black Legends and the Light of the World (Remnant Press, 2011), pp. 515-518, 582-586, 598-604; “Why Catholics Cannot Defend Themselves” in Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States (Tan, 1995).

5 19 June 1886, The Washington Critic (Washington, DC), “Gotham Gossip,” p. 2, col. 2.

6 “The Practical Priest: A Reform Thinker and Advocate in the Catholic Church”, The American Catholic History Research Center and Archives (The Catholic University of America, https://cuomeka.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/bishops/ryan/1919ryan-intro4); Jean-Marie Mayeur, ed., Histoire du christianisme (Thirteen Volumes, Desclée, 1995), XI, 490, 905-911.

7 Martin Marty, Pilgrims in their Own Land (Penguin, 1984), pp. 277-285; Dominic Scibilia, Edward McGlynn, Thomas McGrady, and Peter C. Yorke: Prophets of American Social Catholicism (ETD Collection for Marquette e-Pubs, 2018); Mayeur, Op. cit., XI, 490, 905-911.

8 Marty, Op. cit., p. 400; Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 907; M. Barga, “Monsignor John Augustine Ryan (1869-1945): Economist, Theologian, Writer, Social Reformer”, Social Welfare History Project. (2012) Retrieved from from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/ryan-monsignor-john-a/.

9 H. Jedin and J. Dolan, History of the Church (Crossroad, Ten Volumes, 1981). IX, p. 163; Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 905-914; Robert Emmett Curran, The McGlynn Affair and the Shaping of the New Conservatism in American Catholicism, 1886-1894," Catholic Historical Review (1980) 66#2 pp 184-204; http://archnyarchives.org/wpcontent/uploads/2013/04/004GuidetoArchbishopMichaelCorriganCollection.

10 “Conservative Critics and the End of Reform: the 1920s”, https://cuomeka.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/bishops/hiatus/1919hiatus-intro; Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 905-914; Marty, Op. cit., p. 350.

11 Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 905-914.

12 Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 910-912; Julia G. Young, The Catholic Historical Review (Volume 98, Number 2, April 2012), pp. 271-300; Gary Potter, “Valor and Betrayal”, http://catholicism.org/valor-betrayal-cristeros.html; James M. O’Toole. Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O’Connell and Boston Catholicism, 1859-1944 (Ph. D. Thesis, Boston College, 1987).

13 “Conservative Critics and the End of Reform: the 1920s”, https://cuomeka.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/bishops/hiatus/1919hiatus-intro

14 F. L. Broderick (1963). Right Reverend New Dealer. (Macmillan Company, 1963); M. Barga, (2012), Op. cit.

15 Harold Meyerson, “God and the New Deal”, The American Prospect (November 21, 2004), http://prospect.org/article/god-and-new-deal

16 Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 226, 909; Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin: Apostle to the World (Orbis, 2004); The Catholic Worker Movement, http://www.catholicworker.org/petermaurin/easy-essays.html; http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/dd-biography.html

17 On Coughlin, see Marty, Op. cit., pp. 372, 396-400; Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 890; http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5111/; https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/coughlin-father-charles; Michael Casey and Aimee Rowe. "'Driving Out the Money Changers': Radio Priest Charles E. Coughlin's Rhetorical Vision." Journal of Communication & Religion 19.1 (1996).

18 J. Joseph Huthmacher, Senator Robert F. Wagner and the Rise of Urban Liberalism, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1969): 330-346.

19 Mayeur, Op. cit., XI, 903-911; Thomas T. McAvoy, The Americanist Heresy in Roman Catholicism 1895-1900 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1963); John Rao, Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States.

20 On Isaac Hecker, see Joseph McSorley, Isaac Hecker and his Friends (New York: Paulist Press, 1972); McAvoy, Op. cit.; Also, https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/570/article/uniting-america-spiritually

21 Cardinal Gibbons to the Holy See on the Knights of Labor, cited in: http://the-american-catholic.com/2012/09/03/cardinal-gibbons-and-the-knights-of-labor; Marty, Op. cit., pp. 278-285

22 John L. Allen Jr., "Pope of infallibility set for beatification". National Catholic Reporter, Online (September 1, 2000).

23 Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 833-934; see, also, John Rao, Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States, and “He Who Loses the Past, Loses the Present: Putting Dignitatis Humanae in its Full Historical Context”, Dignitatis Humanae Colloquium (Dialogos Institute Collection, 2017) Volume I, pp. 6-44.

24 See The Handbook of the National Catholic War Council (NCWC, 1918); M. Williams, American Catholics in the War: National Catholic War Council, 1917-1921 (Macmillan, 1921); see Pat O’Brien as Fr. Duffy in The Fighting Sixty Ninth (1940); Marty, Op. cit., p. 409; Mayeur, Op. cit., XII, 833-924. Fr. John Ryan (1869-1945) is an interesting and much more nuanced critic of many aspects of the American system; on Henry Ford, see https://www.thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/digital-collections/artifact/254569/; See D.A. Wemhoff, John Courtney Murray, Time/Life, and the American Proposition: How the CIA’s Doctrinal Warfare Program Changed the Catholic Church (Fidelity, 2015), p. 378.

25 See The Handbook of the National Catholic War Council (NCWC, 1918); M. Williams, American Catholics in the War: National Catholic War Council, 1917-1921 (Macmillan, 1921); see Pat O’Brien as Fr. Duffy in The Fighting Sixty Ninth (1940); Marty, Op. cit., p. 409; Mayeur, Op. cit., xiii, 833-924. Fr. John Ryan (1869-1945) is an interesting and much more nuanced critic of many aspects of the American system; on Henry Ford, see https://www.thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/digital-collections/artifact/254569/.

26 Marty, Op. cit., p. 409.

27 Jeremy Beer, Nelson Jeffrey, and Bruce Frohnen, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (Open Road Media, 2014); https://home.isi.org/about/about-isi; https://home.isi.org/freedom-or-virtue-meyer-v-bozell; L. Brent Bozell, Mustard Seeds: A Conservative Becomes a Catholic (Christendom Press, 2004).

28 See, for example, William Buckley, McCarthy and His Enemies (Regnery, 1995).

29 See Paul Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Praeger, Revised Edition, 1984).

30Wemhoff, Op. cit., p. 52-53, 116-120, 143-149, 168-169, 235.

31 Ibid., pp. 143-149, 168-169.

32 Ibid. pp. 151-318.

33 Ibid., pp. 151-180, and passim.

34 Wemhoff, Op. cit.., pp. 305, 297.

35 Ibid., 449, 450-451.

36 Ibid., p. 449.

37 Ibid., pp. 304-306.

38 Ibid., p. 576.

39 Ibid., p. 393.

40 Ibid., p. 294.

41 Ibid. pp. 294, 172, 465, 551.

42 Ibid., p. 433

43 Wemhoff, Op. cit.., pp. 467, 53.

44 Ibid., pp. 122-276, 467, 505-509, 575, 746; Marty, Op. cit., pp. 417-422.

45 Ibid., pp. 133-142,182-207, 220-221, 719.

46 Ibid,, pp. 228, 235, 223, 147-148.

47 Ibid., pp. 366-372.

48 Ibid., p. 368.

49 Wemhoff, Op. cit., p. 376.

50 Ibid., p. 371.

51 Ibid., pp. 374-382.

52 Ibid., p. 381.

53 Ibid., p. 379.

54 Ibid., p. 377.

55 Wemhoff, Op. cit., pp. 220, 225, 235, 269, 506, 518, 627, 882, 943.

56 Martain, La fin de machiavellisme (NV, 1942), p. 125; Wemhoff, Op. cit., p. 518.

57 Wemhoff, Op. cit., pp. 514-516.

58 Ibid., p. 625; also pp. 191, 245, 247,418, 425, 493-494, 514-516, 607, 685-686.

59 Wemhoff, Op. cit., pp. 659-901.

60 Ibid., p. 819.

61 Wemhoff, Op. cit., p. 869. p. 483-491, 535, 537-549, 858-895

62 Ibid., p. 869.

63 See this critique of Justice Kennedy’s decision: https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/07/obergefell-and-constitution.

64 On Novak, see https://www.michaelnovak.net; on Neuhaus, see https://communications.catholic.edu/news/2018/03/neuhaus.html; on Weigel, see http://georgeweigel.blogspot.com.

65 Rev. John Neuhaus, Doing Well and Doing Good (New York, Doubleday, 1992), pp. 4, 55.

Email Dr. John Rao.

Return to main page.