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American Catholics: One Past, Another Future

May 11, 2019 Frontpage No Comments


A century ago, American Catholics had borne the brunt of years of fervid anti-Catholicism. In one wave after another, bigots assailed Catholics as unpatriotic papists. These charges came not only from fringe groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but also from many prominent members of Protestant society (and yes, some very prominent Protestants were members of the Klan as well).
Yes, Cardinal Gibbons had to convince American Protestants that Catholics could be good Americans. However, in the face of such hostility, he had to convince a lot of Catholics too. Assimilation into American society was not a universal goal among Catholics, but Gibbons strongly endorsed it.
And he had been working at it for years.
German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck launched his Kulturkampf in 1871, oppressing the Catholic Church and driving millions of German Catholic immigrants to the United States, where many started their new life by subscribing to The Wanderer. In the second half of the eighteenth century, thousands of parishes had been created, with Irish, Italian, and German priests and parishioners.
All Masses were in Latin, of course, but often German pastors would give their homilies in German. For Cardinal Gibbons, this constituted an impediment to assimilation and, ultimately, a potential danger to a unified and patriotic America citizenry. When bishops in German-speaking areas refused to order their pastors to speak in English, Gibbons went all the way to Rome to force them to do so.
When Rome supported him, Gibbons, the “Primate of America” called on President Benjamin Harrison to tell him of his triumph. Harrison coolly replied that, “of all men, the Bishops of the Church should be in full harmony with the political institutions and sentiments of the country.”
Its theological problems aside, this vision of harmony inspired Gibbons the politician to emerge as a pivotal advocate of Wilson’s goal to enter the United States in the European War. Fearful that Catholics opposing the war would be branded as anti-American, he promised Wilson that he wouldn’t let that happen. In fact, Catholics would support it.
“The world must be made safe for democracy,” Wilson declared — and Cardinal Gibbons quickly dispelled any notion that Catholics would not be on board. After Congress declared war on April 6, 1917, he wrote, “The primary duty of a citizen is loyalty to country. Whatever, therefore, Congress may decide should be unequivocally complied with by every patriotic citizen. The members of both Houses of Congress are the instruments of God in guiding us in our civic duties.”
When widespread antiwar sentiment among Catholics continued, Gibbons reassured Wilson that “we are working to the end that our countrymen may see the folly and grave disobedience of unjust and ill-tempered criticism of national policies.” He explained that Americans “see the present situation from only one angle, whereas the Government sees it from every viewpoint, and is therefore alone in the position to judge of the expediency of national affairs.”
Former President Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with Gibbons’ role that he wrote to him in January 1917, congratulating him for his patriotism: “taking our life as a whole, I think you now occupy the position of being the most respected, and venerated, and useful citizen of our country.”
Can we imagine any American bishop today being such a “useful citizen” that he would order his priests ministering to the Hispanic Catholic community to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass only in English?
As we have chronicled in these pages over the years, Cardinal Gibbons’ alliance with President Wilson and the Democrat Party during the Great War produced two important and lasting consequences. The first was the formation of what is today the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the second was the integration of the conference into the Democrat Party for the next hundred years.
This intimate history presents two issues that are central to the future of the American Church. The first is the total rejection by today’s USCCB of Gibbons’ ardent support of assimilation; the second is the direction in which the conference’s abiding alliance with the Democrats will take the Church in coming years.

Hispanics As The “Next America”

The growth of U.S. Hispanic population is “a blessing for the Church,” according to a headline in the weekly paper of the Arlington Diocese. Hispanics “are not a problem to be solved, but a blessing and an opportunity,” it continued. The article was reporting on a January presentation at Catholic University in Washington by Professor Hosffman Ospino of Boston College. “More than 20 million immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean are transforming the U.S. Catholic experience,” Ospino said. He called it a “tsunami.”
The article reports that by 2050, according to USCCB figures, Hispanics will represent 30 percent of the nation’s total population. Already today, about 60 percent of Catholics under 18 are Hispanics, we are told.
Perhaps these figures help to explain the policy agenda of our bishops in recent years. The Pew Trust reports that some thirty million living Americas have left the Church and now identify themselves as “ex-Catholics.” We can assume that, since the 1960s, tens of millions more “ex-Catholics” have died.
Whatever their reasons, the USCCB clearly isn’t focusing on bringing those thirty million back, or preventing more from leaving. In fact, its member bishops, in the main, have taken to criticizing Catholics who support the rule of law regarding the manifold chaos caused by illegal immigration on both sides of our southern border.
The bishops take for granted that people will disagree with their political agenda, and that they will cause many more to leave the pews. It’s the price they have to pay in order to prepare for the “future Church,” in what Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles calls “The Next America.” Bishops agree with Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who recently told The Washington Post that the Chamber is supporting more Democrats because “we’re out of people” and the country has to condemn the “nativism” of President Trump and allow more immigration.

Curious Bedfellows Indeed

Well, true enough: Rarely have our bishops taught Humanae Vitae since 1968. Consequently, the size of Catholic families has diminished along with those of other Americans. But imagine the irony — are our beloved shepherds really allying with Big Business to bring into our country cheap labor that will supply the enterprises of all those greedy capitalists so disdained by Pope Francis?
And what impact will that alliance have on the 2020 elections? Will Big Business join the USCCB and mount a joint effort to oppose the reelection of President Trump? Yes, he’s implemented more pro-life policies than any other president, which the bishops acknowledge with a faint nod. But they do nothing regarding the one action which is proper only to them: implementing canon 915 regarding the more than 100 pro-abortion Catholics currently serving in the U.S. House and Senate.
In addition, we must acknowledge that the political agendas of the USCCB and the Democrat National Committee are virtually identical, with the single exception of magisterial issues regarding human life (but even there, the USCCB and its NGOs in effect favor the full federal funding of “family planning” efforts, across the board, at home and abroad).
The USCCB agrees with the DNC on issues including health care, refugee policy, Cuba policy, the Paris agreement, the death penalty, global warming, the environment, migration, immigration, taxes, foreign aid, sanctuary cities, deportations, labor unions, the Second Amendment, and border security.
They also resonate the Democrats’ vocabulary on moral issues. For instance, Socialist Bernie Sanders, who is running for the presidential nomination of the Democrat Party, calls Trump “the most racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted president in history.”
Isn’t that how many bishops refer to millions of Trump supporters?

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