Thursday, March 11, 2010

Was the American Founding Inherently "Anti-Catholic"?

At The American Catholic, Joe Hargrave explores the subject of the Catholic experience in America from the founding in "God Bless America?":
... But the rate at which Catholicism grew and spread in the United States, at least in my view, undermines any notion that there is something inherent in the American experiment that is hostile to Catholicism.

The Papacy has always shared this view. Though I don’t have many encyclicals written by Popes prior to Leo XIII on hand, his Pontificate is as good as any a place to begin. In Longinqua, written in 1895, Leo writes,
Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. (4)
What do today’s trads know that Leo XIII didn’t know? I’ll wait for them to tell me. Expounding on the subsequent development of the American Church, Leo writes,
That your Republic is progressing and developing by giant strides is patent to all; and this holds good in religious matters also. For even as your cities, in the course of one century, have made a marvellous increase in wealth and power, so do we behold the Church, from scant and slender beginnings, grown with rapidity to be great and exceedingly flourishing. (5)
What was he smoking when he wrote that?


But the Papal story doesn’t end with Leo. I’ll turn next to Pius XII, perhaps the greatest pontiff of the 20th century. After mentioning some of the difficulties faced by the fledgling American republic in Sertum Laetitiae, he goes on to write:
This ruinous and critical state of affairs was put aright by the celebrated George Washington, famed for his courage and keen intelligence. He was a close friend of the Bishop of Baltimore. Thus the Father of His Country and the pioneer pastor of the Church in that land so dear to Us, bound together by the ties of friendship and clasping, so to speak, each the other’s hand, form a picture for their descendants, a lesson to all future generations, and a proof that reverence for the Faith of Christ is a holy and established principle of the American people, seeing that it is the foundation of morality and decency, consequently the source of prosperity and progress. (3)
Evidently Pius XII bought into that same old patriotic hokum that Leo XIII was fond of. Maybe he was just being diplomatic. Or maybe in a world in which the supposedly more encultured, enlightened, socially-conscious Europeans had turned their continent and the world upside down with inhuman totalitarian ideologies, and threatened the Church with total destruction, the American experiment and the Church’s place in it look liked a new Promised Land, at least in comparison.

[Read the whole thing]

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