Sunday, September 26, 2021

Is the United States a Catholic Country? An interview.

By Jean DuBois

FIRENZE-NUOVA ROMA 26 September 2021 (NRom)

Il Nunzio Romano recently interviewed Papa Rutherford I to get His Holiness's views on the question of whether or not the United States of America is a Catholic country. Here is the transcript of that interview with the Holy Father.

NR: People always say that the United States is not a Catholic country, and this widely held belief influences how Catholics and even Catholic clergy act. Do you agree that the United States is not a Catholic country?

PR: Sì e no... (Yes and no.) In terms of the culture in which the United States originally was formed, no. Geographically, considering the territory of the United States today, the answer is resoundingly yes.

Of course, the United States is officially a secular country, but we are talking here about culture. The founding principles of the United States grew out of the Enlightenment and deism, both of which are really quite opposed to Christianity, especially traditional Christian doctrine. The Declaration of Independence is an adaptation of the Treatise on Government by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. Thomas Jefferson's phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is adapted from John Locke's phrase "life, liberty, and property." The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant's writings really reminded me of a lot of Catholic social doctrine with God removed completely as if everything happens in a vacuum.

Meanwhile, the British colonies in North America (because that is what became the United States) were staunchly anti-Catholic. The attempt at a Catholic haven in Maryland completely failed, including bloody conflict such as the Battle of the Severn. Declaration of Independence itself includes is one of his grievances against the King a blatantly anti-Catholic statement. That is, there was a grievance that complained about the King of England giving full religious freedom to French Roman Catholics in Québec. It has been argued that this act by the king, granting the same religious freedom that the British American colonists wanted for themselves, nevertheless sparked fear that there would be a "papal takeover" launched from Québec (conspiracy theories existed then as well!). Considering that disputes over money and taxation rarely seem to lead to actual armed conflict against a government, the fear of French Catholic influence arguably more than anything lit the fuse to the American Revolution.

So, when it comes to the culture of what formed the United States, no, it is certainly not a Catholic culture or country. However, when you take into account the geography of the continental United States today, the overwhelming majority of it was under the Spanish or French crown, even if only for a time --  and therefore Catholic. The original United States was comparatively small, and it grew to its present size by taking over the French and Spanish holdings. It is ludicrous to me to consider that hundreds of years of Catholic culture should simultaneously be erased simply because political borders change, whether in the eastern seaboard or moving westward.

NR: What are these differences in how Catholics act that we have heard about in the United States due to the Protestant influence?

PR: One of the biggest is in the visual. A dispensation was given to Catholic clergy in the United States to wear the clergy suit instead of the cassock or religious order habit in public so as not to "offend" the Protestant majority or invite discrimination. I entirely disagree with this decision, of course, but it is nevertheless what was done and is still influencing how Catholic clergy in the United States act today. Now, even in Rome it was common for quite a long time (in fact until the very end of the 19th century) for clergy to wear the "short habit" regularly as street dress (the Anglican Patriarchate maintains this custom). That can be considered somewhat of a period version of the clergy suit. The important thing is that it was done merely as an element of style and tradition, as well as for practical reasons, not to prevent discrimination or to accommodate those who dislike the Church.

Also, after the Second Vatican Council, which largely modernized, in the theological sense, the Church and brought in Protestant and other influences, Catholics did indeed become more accepted in the United States – at least to a point. The fact that that only came after such sweeping changes to the fundamental theology and traditions of the church should give any faithful Catholic pause for thought.

NR: Many have spoken of anti-Catholic discrimination in the United States, including Your Holiness. Can you elaborate more on this? Is it still around today?

PR: Absolutely. I already mentioned the colonial roots of anti-Catholicism. In fact, the first Catholic martyr in what is now the United States is believed to have been hanged in Boston by the Puritans, who believed she was a witch. There are actually still laws on the books in some areas in the United States against priests and religious brothers and sisters wearing their habits in public schools. That is bigoted discrimination, but comparatively minor to earlier forms of discrimination. Nevertheless, such policies need to be overturned. Remember that anti-Catholic discrimination (which does not have to be a law on the books, but can easily come from public sentiment) is a basic principle of the racist organisation the Ku Klux Klan. They are not just opposed to ethnic minorities, but to both the Catholic and Jewish faiths. When opposing the Catholic Church, especially traditional Catholicism such as We shepherd, people should ask themselves whether or not they want to be associated with something backed by groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

NR: Sometimes people say they are not opposed to Catholics, but they want Catholics to keep their faith hidden away at home and in the church, citing "religious neutrality." Do you agree that is a valid justification?

PR: Any sense of religious neutrality, for example on the part of a business or a secular state, is not violated by an individual living his or her faith openly. Wearing a crucifix or clerical habit, for example, is a statement of belief and sometimes a religious obligation. It is not something being forced on someone else. If you are offended by a particular sports team, does that mean someone cannot wear a shirt bearing the logo of that team? I doubt anyone would agree with such restrictions, even though sports disputes sometimes actually end up in violent conflict! To claim that anything religious may not be expressed openly is to disenfranchise religion and therefore to disenfranchise a very large segment of the population from complete participation and complete exercise of rights and freedom.

NR: Returning to the question of whether or not the United States is a Catholic country, in light of what Your Holiness said, what do you think the faithful and clergy should do now?

PR: That is a very good question. First, we should not persecute those with differing beliefs. In other words, we should not do unto others as many others have done to us, but instead we should exhibit the behaviour that we ourselves expect. Second, the faithful should – and really, I believe the faithful must – openly exhibit their Catholic faith and openly embrace the Catholic culture and heritage of the geographical area of the United States that has been suppressed for so long. This absolutely especially applies to the clergy, who need to remember to dress traditionally in accordance with the canons when in public. In the same sense as the "short habit" that I mentioned as being quite common in Rome in past times, the clergy suit is still absolutely fine provided it is worn for the right reasons. I encourage clergy to wear the cassock in public at least some of the time as a witness to the faith – especially to the traditional faith.

NR: Could this be difficult specifically for the people of the modern Pontifical States, the Anglican Patriarchate of Rome, and the New Roman Communion since they are so dispersed?

PR: It is often easier to do things when it is being done by many others, and it is often difficult to stand alone. What you say is certainly true. The Anglican Patriarchate, which leads the modern titular Pontifical States and the New Roman Communion, is most certainly a diaspora. We are good in number, but spread over a diverse geographical area. Thus we are an ethno-religious minority and are defined as an intangible cultural heritage. Yes, all of this makes things challenging at times, but no one ever said life was necessarily easy, let alone living the Catholic faith. Ultimately we must witness the Cross of Christ and His Holy Church no matter where we are.

NR: What about Europe? Much of it is traditionally Catholic, but it is now highly secularized.

PR: That is, unfortunately, very true. Both what you asked about the United States situation and my replies actually apply equally to Europe. Many of the same principles against the Church, by the way, were a major part of the French Revolution. (That is why I never celebrate Bastille Day!) In France, the revolutionaries engaged in wholesale murder of both the nobility and the clergy, even going so far as to create a new 10 day calendar in an attempt to stop Catholics from knowing what day was Sunday.

NR: Does Your Holiness have any parting thoughts?

PR: Secularisation is a worldwide phenomenon. Rather than submit, however, it is time that we peacefully reclaim our cultural heritage and our faith. May God bless each and everyone of you.