How Catholic Americanists Made America Safe for Integralism

Americans under the age of sixty will find it hard to imagine a Roman Catholic running for president (from any party) and having to explain his or her loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. Recent coverage of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court may help thanks to worries about her ties to the People of Faith. But for Joe Biden, being Catholic is as reassuring as mom and apple pie. That was not so for the Democrat who inspired Biden to go into politics, John F. Kennedy. Like Al Smith before him, the first Roman Catholic nominated to run for president (1928), Kennedy needed to prove his faith did not undercut his loyalty to America. Now, in contrast, Joe Biden speaks of faith as a source of inspiration for his public life without the slightest objections from journalists. Of course, many conservative church members and some bishops do not see Biden’s devotion as many in the press do. But for the sake of public perceptions of Roman Catholicism’s place in American politics, current coverage of Biden is a useful barometer of American Catholics.

Even before the 2020 presidential election, the domestication of Roman Catholicism had become a problem for some writers, among them most visibly, Patrick Deneen and Adrian Vermeule. For Catholic anti-liberals, American Catholics have blended faith and politics in unhealthy ways. Deneen is known for his dissent from Anglo-American liberalism in Why Liberalism Failed, a book that contrasts the anthropology of John Locke and his American descendants with the ideas of classical and Christian antiquity. Vermeule advances the idea that the Founders likely built worse than they knew and proposes integralism as an alternative. The arrangements of pre-modern Europe enchant Vermeule who regards a fluid arrangement between church and state as superior to America’s liberal failure. Anyone familiar with medieval theologians’ briefs for Christian kingship has little trouble understanding integralism’s appeal.

What accompanies this critique of America’s polity usually is a rebuke to the leaders of the American conservative movement who themselves were invariably Roman Catholics or converts to the church. If the American Founders failed to create a “more perfect union,” so too the founding generation of American conservatism, so the complaint goes, were naively attached to Lockean liberalism. By implication, those same conservatives, from William F. Buckley to George Weigel, let patriotism obscure piety. According to Kevin Gallagher, Catholic Americanists tended to “dismiss” the publications of popes and bishops, which in turn reflected “rather shallow roots in the tradition.” Church teaching should have led conservatives to be more critical of the nation’s politics than they were. Instead, those conservatives supported “the traditions of American liberalism” that were “far from typical even with the Church itself.”

Part of the discontent among anti-liberal Catholics may owe to limited historical awareness. The creation of the modern conservative movement was up against considerable odds. The traditional home in electoral politics for American Catholics was the Democratic Party. At the same time, in wider American circles, American Catholics labored under tired nativist objections that Roman Catholicism was medieval, opposed to intellectual freedom, authoritarian, and superstitious. Even more challenging was the Vatican’s own anti-modernism, particularly pronounced during the French and 1848 revolutions but still lingering in the 1950s. That version of traditionalism had, after all, through Leo XIII condemned (mildly) Americanism as a heresy. For American Catholics such as Buckley, Russell Kirk, Richard John Neuhaus, and Michael Novak, to stand up to these trends and cultivate a distinctly conservative and faith-friendly outlook was truly remarkable. New York University historian, Thomas Sugrue, no fan of conservatism in politics or the church, concedes that no “sensible” historian or cultural observer from the 1920s or 1940s could have predicted a “Catholic Americanism.” It is “one of the most important and understudied themes in the history of postwar America.”

Even more impressive about this Catholic Americanism was its emergence during a spike of anti-Catholic bigotry in the early 1950s. In 1949, Paul Blanshard, the product of mainline Protestant seminaries (Harvard and Union in New York City) and for a time a Congregationalist pastor, drew attention with American Freedom and Catholic Power. The book relied on standard Protestant and nativist objections to Roman Catholics. It also dredged up earlier anti-Catholic voices, such as the New Republic editorial from the 1928 election which declared that the real conflict in America was “not between a Church and State or between Catholicism and Americanism, but between a culture which is based on absolutism and encourages obedience” and another that “encourages curiosity, hypotheses, experimentation.”

John Courtney Murray almost single-handedly responded to this surge of anti-Catholicism and did so by employing an argument already present in American Catholic legal circles, namely, that the American Founding shared a common foundation with the Church’s tradition of natural law. In the Time magazine cover story on Murray that appeared the month after Kennedy’s 1960 victory, the professor claimed that the Founders shared a moral consensus with fellow Americans that assumed people can only be free if they are “inwardly governed by the moral law.”

Rather than take encouragement from Murray’s response to anti-Catholic bigotry, professors at the Catholic University of America and officials in the Vatican’s Holy Office objected to the American’s views on church and state. Eventually his Jesuit superiors forbade Murray from writing about the subject. But his fortunes changed with the inauguration of John XXIII as pope in 1958 and Kennedy’s election. Not only had the former U.S. Senator broken the glass ceiling of the White House for American Catholics, but the pope called for a council of bishops to understand and articulate how the church should engage with modern social circumstances. In Rome the global church revised its understanding of religious freedom (among other matters) in ways that made Murray’s views acceptable. Murray was himself an adviser at the Council, though he continued to face suspicions during it. His case for religious freedom prevailed (mostly) in Dignitatis Humanae, which according to George Weigel “sought to ‘solve’ the problem of Catholicism-and-modernity through an embrace of ‘pluralism’ understood in Murray’s terms.” Members of the American church have since regarded Vatican II as a vindication of the American church’s success in the United States.

If the church’s hierarchy is not disposed to reject Locke or Murray, perhaps anti-liberal Catholics can take encouragement from a long line of Catholic intellectuals who have found the nation’s ideals of liberty to be impoverished.

Whether anti-liberal Catholics knowingly play to nativist stereotypes, their objections to Americanism mirror both Blanshard’s brand of anti-Catholicism and the Vatican’s fears about Murray. The author of American Freedom and Catholic Power noticed that Murray had “set out to prove through a series of complicated historical analyses” that the religious freedom and church-state relations of U.S. law “might possibly win the approval of Leo XIII if he were alive today.” For Blanshard, Murray represented “nothing more substantial than scholarly wishful thinking.” This verdict foreshadowed ones often made by anti-liberal Catholics today. According to Edmund Waldstein, Murray was wrong to see the United States as congenial polity, not because of republicanism’s defects, but because American law “enshrined a liberal conception of political life in their constitution” that is theologically at odds with the church. Murray’s conception ensured that “Enlightenment ideas would subvert the teachings of the Church, making of them a metaphor for inner-worldly progress.”

This contrast between Rome’s medievalism and America’s liberalism reveals what may be the greatest irony of anti-liberal Catholicism. A return to an older social order—one where the church’s understanding of human purpose and the godly magistrate rule—needs the blessing of the church’s hierarchy. Yet, ever since Vatican II, when the church adopted a welcoming posture to modern politics, popes and bishops have sounded more like Catholic Americanists than anti-liberal Catholics. In fact, the American hierarchy since 2012 has made freedom central to its political profile if the Fortnight for Freedom is any indication. In their pamphlet that called church members to celebrate and pray for liberty during the two weeks before July 4th, the bishops declared “Freedom is not only for Americans, but we think of it as something of our special inheritance, fought for at a great price, and a heritage to be guarded now.” They added a quotation from James Gibbons, the Baltimore archbishop famous for Americanism: “in the genial atmosphere of liberty [the Church] blossoms like a rose.”

If the church’s hierarchy is not disposed to reject Locke or Murray, perhaps anti-liberal Catholics can take encouragement from a long line of Catholic intellectuals who have found the nation’s ideals of liberty to be impoverished. In his book, Catholicism and American Freedom, John McGreevy writes that for many American Catholics liberty meant something different from what it signified for Protestants and liberals. “What bothered Catholics was freedom as freedom to choose, diversity of opinion for diversity’s sake.” “This sort of freedom,” McGreevy adds, “without the virtue or character to make proper choices, was dangerous.” In other words, American Catholics have often conceived of liberty in the broader context of order. The same was true of the Catholic Americanists who supposedly embraced libertarianism. As Bruce Frohnen put it, “Conservatives support liberty that is properly—that is socially, politically, and morally—ordered and understood.” In a line that echoes Russell Kirk, “ordered liberty is the ability to pursue the good in common with one’s fellows.”

If that is the way Catholic Americanists understand liberty, anti-liberal Catholics have created a caricature since the likes of Weigel and Buckley always situated freedom within a broader set of legal, political, and social considerations. Just as dubious is the notion that anti-liberal Catholics stand with the church’s hierarchy, an assertion that depends heavily on interpretations of Vatican II and its teaching about religious freedom for non-Catholics. Still, the greatest irony in the critique of Catholic Americanists is the debt that anti-liberal Catholics owe to their imagined foes. Thanks to the explicit and implicit ways that Catholic Americanists opened national debates for Catholic voices, those conservatives created space for anti-liberal Catholics to gain a hearing beyond the forums to which older versions of integralism used to be confined. Even the errors of anti-liberal Catholics now have rights.

Reader Discussion

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on January 07, 2021 at 08:38:27 am


“Even the errors of anti-liberal Catholics now have rights.”

All persons have the inherent Right to come to know, Love, and serve The True God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, and thus, The Author Of Our Unalienable Right To Life, To Liberty, And To The Pursuit Of Happiness.

The Sacrifice Of The Cross Is The Sacrifice Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

God Is Love. Love Exists In Relationship. Love Is Trinitarian. Love Is Ordered To The Inherent Personal And Relational Dignity Of The Persons Existing In A Relationship Of Love. God, Is The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

“What bothered Catholics was freedom as freedom to choose, diversity of opinion for diversity’s sake.” “This sort of freedom,” McGreevy adds, “without the virtue or character to make proper choices, was dangerous.”

True, because to deny The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, is to deny The Integral Essence Of The Cross, and thus deny Life-affirming and Life-sustaining Salvational Love, God’s Gift Of Grace And Mercy.

We can know through both Faith and reason that the denial of The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, The Perfect Love Between The Father And The Son, (Filioque), is the source of All Heresy. To deny The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, is to deny The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, And Holy Ghost.

The error of Russia was to deny the Essence Of The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, and thus The Integral Essence Of The Sacrifice Of The Cross.

No doubt, the errors of Russia have spread through Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church. However, it is not possible for a counterfeit church to subsist within Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic And Apostolic Church, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost. For it Is “Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost”, That Holy Mother Church exists.

“It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion” due
to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

Hail The Integral Essence Of The Cross, Our Only Hope, In Heaven And on Earth.

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on January 07, 2021 at 11:06:43 am

This essay's troubling for two reasons: it's confusing, at least to me, and its penultimate and ultimate conclusions, that Catholic Americanists made America safe, first for Catholicism and, now, even for integralism, seem counter-factual and illogical.

First, the first paragraph is wrong: Hart asserts that Roman Catholicism is politically non-controversial (he means, on the left) and that Catholic political figures are accepted as a commonplace in contemporary (left) American politics, and he cites Joe Biden as his proof. The counter argument would be that ONLY Democrat politicians who do not take Catholicism seriously are treated without serious contempt by the media and tolerated by their party. These are the likes of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and, yes, the three dearly departed brothers Kennedy, all of whom led or lead lavish private lives not of spiritualism but of materialism, privately distanced themselves from the Catholic community, engaged in or excused and even endorsed behavior offensive to the Church, whether by themselves or by political supporters and campaign funders, and aggressively espoused and worked successfully to enact public policies that are strongly at odds with, indeed, repugnant to, natural law, Catholic doctrine, orthodoxy and moral teaching, as in, just for example, same sex marriage and the counter culture litany of LGBTQ devotees, abortion (with 50 million dead babies), public funding by Congress and mandated private funding of abortion and birth control by Obamacare, and similar public policies which kill babies, shock and deny the Catholic conscience, defeat the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, and destroy the Church's theologically-cherished family unit.

In other words, it's okay to be a Catholic Democrat so long as you're not too Catholic, not too cozy with Catholics socially, don't preach the Gospel in public, especially at cocktail parties and fundraisers, and work your ass off to undermine the Church, ignore the Pope, flout the lives of the saints, and support the Devil, all the while going to Mass very publicly and Confession quietly and occasionally but just enough if asked to say you went.
America has a two-century history of anti-Catholic bigotry, much of it by the Democrat Party, which runs much longer and far deeper than the recent disturbing eruption of mere anti-Christianity and religious hostility which now characterize contemporary leftist politics and the modern Democrat Party. Catholic Americanists have not dented it, let alone defeated anti-Catholicism.

As for the essay's penultimate and ultimate conclusions, I would agree that Catholic writers from Kirk to Murray to Novak to Buckley to Weigel (with a lot of TV help from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen) demonstrated that Catholic doctrine and Americanism are compatible and that their (essentially journalistic) success helped accommodate Catholicism with American politics. Yet, while it was mildly akin, perhaps, to Aquinas' reconciling revelation and reason, the political Americanization of Catholicism (the intellectual undertaking by Catholic Americanists to reconcile Catholic doctrine with America's founding and American politics) was not the same thing as politically gaining American acceptance of Catholicism. Nor did it, unlike Aquinas' work accommodating reason and faith, have the theological effect of strengthening revelation and the institutional effect of strengthening Catholicism. Rather, while Catholic Americanists did, indeed, demonstrate the intellectual compatibility of Catholicism with America's founding and its politics, at the risk of diluting its orthodoxy and undermining Catholic orthopraxy, the Catholic Americanists' efforts gained the political acceptance of Catholicism only insofar as Catholicism behaved like politicians who happened to be Catholic, i.e., it did not take itself so seriously as to interfere with the political success of the Democrat Party.

Thus, since Catholic Americanists failed to make the Democrat Party politics safe for Catholicism or Catholic politicians, they hardly can be said, as the author claims, to have "made America safe for integralism." Further, America was never unsafe for integralism, so how can it be said that America was made safe for integralism? No one in the 21st century, even Professor Vermeule, so far as I know, has been persecuted, burned at the stake, imprisoned, suspended by You Tube, Facebook or Twitter, or even threatened by the cancel culture for espousing integralism. Nativism, ethnicity, economic competition and cultural hostility, not a theological/political divide, not advocating integralism, have fueled America's historic hostility to Catholicism, at least since since the mid-19th century.

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on January 07, 2021 at 14:51:27 pm

I say that you've spoken with more clarity on the issue than Hart. Being of the faith and having lived through and with the issues over a lifetime, I see the American Catholic Church facing a critical situation in the Biden era that it will wish it had never allowed to develop.

I had occasion to read just recently "American Priest" by Wilson D. Miscamble as I saw the prospect of the three departments of government led by Catholics, two of whom I believe can be said to scandalously flaunt the moral teaching of the church. It's the story of Theodore Hesburgh, the iconic and compelling president of Notre Dame in the modern era. More than any other figure he represents the path of the Catholic Church integrating into the public sphere of life. That path began, tellingly, through academia of course, but soon erupted into
the overwhelming need or desire to play on the greater stage of political life. Miscamble has with great care, but with firm judgement, rendered Hesburgh guilty of failure to acknowledge and live the life of his faith.

We can say the same of Biden, Pelosi, Kaine, et.al., There is no conservative Catholic faith, there is no liberal Catholic faith, there are Catholics who want to be politicians, their faith be damned. Bishops will soon have to confront the dilemma of never being able to deny to anyone who presents himself the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Faith and reason are not mutually opposed to one another. Faith does ask us to go a step beyond, but it does not ask us to abrogate our faith when reasonable people without faith can reach the same conclusions. This is the indictment against the politicians in question, and it can and should inform the answer as to how Catholics can participate in public life.

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on January 07, 2021 at 17:43:14 pm

Good stuff.
Hesburgh was always an enigma to me, so I may read the book, albeit I had already reached the judgement which you have reported. The Sixties' Kool-Aid did that to priests who drank too much of it, but it destroyed what was left of the dying mainline Protestant denominations.

You may be interested in Archbishop Vigano's recent interview of damnation regarding the corrupt Bergoglio/Francis and Joe Biden.

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on January 07, 2021 at 20:21:08 pm

Michael and Paladin,

I think the case of Father Hesburgh is instructive. When you start whittling Catholic teaching to fit political agendas, you really aren't talking about Integralism any more.

Some Anglicans trace the start of the long decline in that Confession's influence to the Lambeth Conference of 1930, although that is probably too simplistic. American Catholics likewise date a drift in the temporal/spiritual emphasis of their faith to the liberalizing reforms of Vatican II, or the public dissent of prominent theologians such as Charles E. Curran to the contraception teachings of Humanae Vitae. A more specific survey would begin with the decline of the most influential Catholic institutions, i.e., Catholic Hospitals, Catholic K-12 education, and Catholic higher education.

Hesburgh's prominence was due to two main things: his role in the civil rights movement, and the Land-O-Lakes Statement regarding the independence of Catholic Colleges and Universities from ecclesiastical control in certain areas. What this Statement did was create something of an identity crisis in one of the central institutions of American Catholicism. Catholic Colleges and Universities wanted to be perceived as more like Princeton or Stanford than religious institutions that were founded as stewards of a long intellectual and religious tradition. It culminated in events like Notre Dame's current hapless president giving an honorary degree to Barack Obama, a transgression made all the worse by Arizona State refusing to confer a similar honor, albeit on institutional integrity, rather than moral grounds.

If one were to assess the state of Catholic thought in American life just by sampling the institutional stands of places like De Paul, or Georgetown, or St. John's you would get the idea that Catholicism is pretty mainstream American liberal. You might then be confused if you undertook to read Gaudium et Spes or Evangelium Vitae.

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on January 08, 2021 at 08:01:23 am

“The Founders shared a moral consensus with fellow Americans that assumed people can only be free if they are “inwardly governed by the moral law.”

That consensus was that God Is The Author Of The Moral Law, not Caesar.

God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, and thus The Author Of our unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit of Happiness, the purpose of which can only be what God intended.

The Heresy of, modernism, which denies The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, and thus denies the Filioque, evolves with the winds of Time, whereas, Divine Law, which proceeds from The Eternal Ordered Complementary Love Between The Father And The Son, remains Divine Law, Eternally, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

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on January 08, 2021 at 15:13:04 pm

I hesitate to comment on this topic because, as with most every other topic, I am neither expert nor well read on it.
However, I must say that what I find striking is the inability or determination to not consider the role that Christianity itself played in the creation of the individual. Indeed, as far back as William of Ockham, we may observe the seeds of the "atomized" individual empowered, rhetorically and philosophically to pursue his own inner feelings or beliefs, albeit characterized as "conscience." Would not the present day work find comfort in a Christian scholar / theologian of the Middle Ages encouraging the pursuit of even a "wrong" conscience. Is this not what we observe in today's "wokesters" even if the terminology is dissimilar?
I am not arguing that Christianity is to blame for this. Rather, I am asserting that there were and are trends within Christianity that may, and perhaps, perforce encourage these changes.
I have observed over the years of my life that humans are rather selective in which codes, mores they choose to take from an otherwise overarching system of thought. We pick and choose that which suits us and pretend that we have apprehended a proper moral code. But, by this active selective process, we give evidence that we do not "comprehend" the code, be it moral, legal, philosophical or theological.
From this selectivity, as Z9 has argued, societal change occurs, new mores both cultural and legal are advanced and legitimized - but perhaps not for the reasons that Z9 posited (or maybe, Yes). If we are to make sense of these changes, if we are to combat them, then we must recognize and admit that what, at times, we seek to defend may in fact contain the seeds of the offense we seek to counter.
Just as Ockham and the other nominalists were seeking to counter the dominance of rationalism and the consequent submergence of individual conscience without understanding or, more importantly ACCEPTING the value of the previous theology / philosophy, so too have the Classic Liberals have failed or refused to accept the "ordered" component of ordered liberty. We now observe, as Paladin and Z9 have herein observed that the Church itself is choosing to deny the importance of "order" in ordered liberty. What will be the consequences of that decision?
The above is a thimble size sketch of the evolution of moral, legal and philosophical postulations on the concept of the "individual." I can not do it justice. I can only make the observation that all too often we fail to see / consider the role that our preferred theology or philosophy may have played in the rise of that which we seek to counter.
Like me, I suspect that some of these authors do not fully understand the historical contributions of either Liberalism or Christianity. Before we cast stones, let us at least select the proper rocks.

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on January 08, 2021 at 16:04:23 pm

OOps! 2nd sentence in 2nd paragraph should read:

"Would not the present day WOKE find comfort in a..."

NOT present day "work"

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on January 08, 2021 at 18:41:47 pm

I would also add that the errors or "seeds" blossoming from Christian dialectics were, in a sense, an attempt to counter the "integralism" of the Middle Ages, if integralism is meant to imply more sectarian influence / control over secular matters (as some previous essays implied.

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on January 09, 2021 at 11:15:41 am

“The question is sometimes raised, whether Catholicism is compatible with American democracy,” observed John Courtney Murray, S.J., in his 1960 book, We Hold These Truths. “The question is invalid as well as impertinent; for the manner of its position inverts the order of values. It must, of course, be turned round to read, whether American democracy is compatible with Catholicism.”

Just as there is no such person as an autonomous Catholic, there is no such person as an autonomous individual.

All persons exist in relationship.

As to whether The American Republic is compatible with Catholicism, the answer is both simple and profound; whenever and wherever we render onto The American Republic what belongs to The American Republic, and to God, what belongs to God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, The American Republic is compatible with Catholicism.

To be, in essence, Catholic, is to be in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, in The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, thus one cannot be Catholic, if one is not in communion with The Christ.

To be Catholic is to recognize the integral essence of The Cross, The Sacrifice Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, and the fact that can be known through both our Catholic Faith and reason, there is no greater Love than this, to desire Salvation for one’s beloved.

And that is why The Cross Of Christ, is our only Hope, and why every validly elected Pope, like every authentic Catholic, must first and foremost desire to be in communion with Christ and His Church.

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on January 10, 2021 at 10:11:54 am

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