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Prelates And The Party: Some Considerations

September 30, 2018 Frontpage No Comments


Isn’t it amazing that the Catholic Church was once the Democrat Party’s strongest ally?
In 1916, Democrats could rely on Cardinal Gibbons sternly to instruct Catholics to support U.S. entry into “the War to end all Wars,” even as Woodrow Wilson was promising to stay out of it (at least until he had won the 1916 presidential election). In 1940, Democrats could rely on Bishop Hurley of St. Augustine to advocate U.S. entry into another European war even as FDR was promising “again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
For the first sixty years of the last century, Catholic luminaries like Clarence Manion, Dean of Law at Notre Dame, and theologian John Courtney Murray, SJ, believed that the Natural Law and the Catholic Faith could enrich a harmonious relationship with the political realm that would allow the people to flourish.
Murray’s “American Project” advocated “liberal democracy,” while Manion, a staunch Democrat, advocated a constitutional republic, with strict limits on government power. Both believed that the faith could American inform public life in a manner unique in history, and make the United States the country that historian Christopher Dawson has long sought — one in which Catholic principles and civic virtue could happily and peacefully abide.
Given the country’s unhappy experience of anti-Catholicism that had flourished in the nineteenth century, the prospect of a more “Catholic” America was little short of revolutionary. Cardinal Gibbons had struggled mightily to encourage assimilation of newly arrived Catholic immigrants into the larger society, a challenging task, since anti-Catholicism thrived among the non-Catholic population, including many Democrats. As the primate of America, Gibbons was willing to work with Wilson in spite of the president’s blatant racism and advocacy of eugenics. He had higher goals: the acceptance of Catholics as good Americans.
Curiously, today’s American hierarchy opposes assimilation of the millions of newly arrived Hispanics. Our bishops consider today’s society — Catholics included — to be bigoted, greedy, and mean-spirited. Many prelates agree with Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, who considers the values of the newly arrived Hispanics to be superior to those of the existing citizens.
In an admittedly feeble and halting fashion, they attempt to force this view on the faithful by advocating a radical political agenda. Some might consider themselves to be heroic successors of Gibbons, but clearly, these men are not the stalwart, faithful, and intrepid champions of the faith that Gibbons was.
No, there were giants in those days. Not ours.
From Gibbons’ day through the mid-fifties, generations of dedicated Catholic leaders strived to “Catholicize” politics, encouraging the federal government to do good works that, to be sure, expanded the powers of the state — but for the “good.” Early on, they saw some success.
And, as historian Allan Carlson notes, many federal welfare programs of the New Deal were much more amenable to the family than those of the past sixty years.
The brilliant sociologist Robert Nisbet once observed that “in 1913, the year I was born, the only connection the average citizen had with the federal government was the Post Office.” Nisbet championed the social institutions that were, on reflection, “pre-political”: families, churches, neighborhoods, civic organizations, and fraternal organizations that had blossomed in the early twentieth century — the Elks, Moose, Rotary, and, of course, the Knights of Columbus.
But in those same years that the Church aimed to instill Catholic principles in public and political life, advocates of government power were also hard at work. They did not share the goals of Manion and Murray. Quite the opposite: Their goal was to politicize the Church.
Unfortunately, they won. How did it happen?

The Cheap Allure
Of Money And Prestige

In the 1960s, LBJ’s “Guns and Butter” policies — the Great Society and the Viet Nam War — exploded government spending, at home and abroad, and Catholic institutions — especially the academy and the bishops’ conference — quickly fell into line.
In the fall of 1964, this writer was intrigued by bumper stickers outside Notre Dame’s Engineering Building reading, “Scientists and Engineers for Johnson-Humphrey.” Why would no-nonsense, practical men (yes, men, in those days) advocate a vast expansion of government, I wondered?
The answer was easy then and it still writes the rules today: It was money. By 1964, Notre Dame’s president, Fr. Ted Hesburgh, was a leader far beyond academe. Groomed by eastern elites that funded conferences on population control and social activism at Notre Dame, Fr. Ted led the way in 1967 to the signing of the Land O’Lakes Statement, a declaration of independence from the Catholic Church signed by representatives of major colleges and religious orders (including Georgetown, Boston College, and the Rome office of the Jesuit Order).
Some minor institutions also signed on, notably the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, represented by its president, the “Right Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick.”
They wanted to be “accepted” by the prevailing secular culture. But that required that they pay the price.
In 1968, Bishop Joseph Ber-
nardin became the Catholic Conference’s secretary and, later, its president. Under the cover of “the Spirit of Vatican II,” he labored valiantly with his successor as conference secretary, Bishop Robert Lynch, to impose liberal politics as the conference’s permanent and prime agenda. He succeeded. (Barack Obama once called Bernardin his favorite bishop.)
The two presided over a determined decline of the moral and magisterial teaching of the Church, replacing it with a political agenda that mirrored that of the entrenched government bureaucracy that provided an increasing portion of their income. Rather than champion the “pre-political” realm of American life, they advocated its erosion, replacing voluntary charity with welfare programs that no longer imparted the pro-family values that Carlson discerned in those of Roosevelt’s New Deal. They drifted away from the faithful, and the faithful, to the tune of some fifty million, drifted away from the Church.
In view of this collapse of fundamentals, it does not come as a surprise that, after years serving as the powerful conference secretary, Lynch was rewarded with an appointment as bishop of St. Petersburg, Fla. There he was later forced to settle a lawsuit for sexual harassment of an adult male employee.
In the meantime, McCarrick was serving as a “spiritual adviser” to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In hindsight, none of these actions by our leading shepherds surprises us, although it undoubtedly confers upon the faithful a sense of desolation.
As a man at the center of power for decades, Lynch will undoubtedly play as significant role as McCarrick in an independent investigation of the savage destruction wrought by the “homosexual network” in the American Church, should Pope Francis and USCCB leaders ever allow such a thorough review to come to pass.

Toward An Uncertain Future

As our bishops leaned further left, millions of American Catholics remained Democrats. Early on, they had little reason to change party loyalty. We must recall that, in the sixties and early seventies, some of the most powerful advocates of population control were Republicans, among them New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Cong. George H.W. Bush, and President Richard Nixon. A majority of those justices voting to affirm Roe v. Wade had been appointed by Republicans.
Historian James Hitchcock told The Wanderer ten years ago that, even after eight years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the majority of American pro-lifers were still Democrats; it is doubtful that such is the case today, since their party has now declared itself officially pro-abortion. Will Catholic prelates abide in their loyalty to the Democrats? Will the faithful?

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