Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 14
BOSTON BAKED BEANS MEET IRISH STEW
There was a battle royal in America during the 19th Century, and I don’t mean the Civil War. It was fought between the German Catholic clergy and the Irish Catholic Clergy. Germans had been emigrating to the Americas since the 1680's, but the great immigration started in earnest after the American revolution. In the 1700's, the largest export of Hesse was its sons, in the form of mercenary soldiers. Georg von Braunschwieg-Lueneburg, King of England, (You may have heard of him referred to as George III) hired the Hessians to help him stamp out the “Presbyterian Revolt” in America. The Presbyterians won, and a lot of us Hessians decided to stay in America. Nice place. No hereditary nobility. Lots of free land vacated by friendly Indians.
Hessians went back home and told the rest of us and we started coming over. Around 1830, my family started emigrating to Detroit, a nice little French town. There had been a Catholic Church there since 1701. Things really picked up after the failed revolution of 1848. That’s when my great-great grandpa, Johann von Schmalzegau came to Cincinnati (Zinzinati, as Grandma called it) where he drank himself to death. (Have you ever BEEN to Cincinnati?) In 1866, my mother’s grandfather left Hesse and moved to Detroit in order to dodge the draft. Otto von Bismarck, mastermind of the modern German state, and inspiration for the jelly doughnut, was quickly taking over Germany and whenever a boy in grandma’s village turned draft age, he got on a boat, said goodbye to the new Deutschland and went to work with Uncle Anton in the furniture business in Amerika. From 1830 to about 1900, my people left the old country, draft dodger by draft dodger. Germans were as likely to be Protestant as Catholic, and the Puritans’ descendants thought them close enough to the “Anglo-Saxon Race” not to mind them. The IRISH! Now that was a different matter.
Irish Catholics were hardly Anglo-Saxon. They started coming over around 1820 and then during the Great Famine, largely engineered by the English, It was emigrate or die. In a population of perhaps 8 million, one million died and one million left for “Amerikee.” They were desperately poor and desperately Catholic and were given the most menial of jobs, but they spoke English. Their votes were courted by the politicians of New York and Boston and community leaders who could get out the vote were rewarded with political jobs. The Boston Brahmins sneered at them, but needed them. They were good enough to be the cops on the beat, but not good enough to join the country club. Irish, as the saying went, “need not apply”. There is another saying: “Forbidden fruits are sweetest.”
Poor Catholic laborers longed for the standard of living that their Protestant neighbors enjoyed. Catholics were excluded from most labor organizations. If a poor Catholic worker wanted to join a fraternal organization he had to join a Protestant one, if they would let him in. It was precisely this situation that prompted the Venerable Fr. Michael McGivney to found the Knights of Columbus, as a mutual aid society. When the breadwinner of a family died, as often happened under the difficult conditions to which the Irish immigrants were exposed, his widow and children ended up on the street. McGivney wanted to provide a way for them to have some security in a country that cared little for them. K. of C. was a Catholic alternative.
Meanwhile, as the Irish and other non-Protestant, “lesser races” crowded into east coast slums, the Puritan “City on a Hill” was discovering American Exceptionalism and its manifest destiny.
American Exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is qualitatively different, superior to other nations. After the Civil War, Americans liked to think that the best of Anglo-Saxon England had come to America with the Puritans. The Anglo-Saxon “race”, tracing itself back to the freedom loving Germanic tribes that had defeated decadent Rome would bring about the (Protestant) Christian Millennium. America was, after all, the city on a hill. American social Darwinists loved this nonsense. In 1885, Josiah Strong wrote “Our Country” in which he justified U.S. imperialism by referring to Charles Darwin and the Bible. Strong, a Protestant clergyman, claimed that the Anglo-Saxon race, that is America, was destined to bring Christianity to the world. Thus, American imperialism was a religious duty! Back in Mother England Rudyard Kipling wrote “Take Up the White Man’s Burden” in 1899 and subtitled it, “the United to Take up the White Man's burden--Send forth the best ye breed--Your new-caught sullen peoples,(Filipino Catholics) Half devil and half child... slowly (lead them) toward the light.... (They may ask) Why brought ye us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?.. The silent sullen peoples.... Shall weigh your God and you.” It seems rather clear that as far as Rudyard was concerned God was Protestant and the Devil was Catholic.
Teddy Roosevelt and his friends believed all this nonsense wholeheartedly but worried that the Anglo-Saxon race was being diluted by the influx of inferiors. What was needed was a nice, victorious war to restore America’s Anglo-Saxon “virility.” The remnants of the Spanish Empire were nearby. War became an inevitability. We call it the Spanish American War, but in fact, it started as the War of Cuban Independence and was hijacked by a bunch of Harvard grads (and a smattering of men from Yale, Dartmouth and Brown). Cuban hopes for independence were used to extend the American Empire to the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Men like Teddy Roosevelt and William Randolph Hurst, Harvard men both, incessantly beat the drums of war. President McKinley, not a Harvard man, had originally been opposed to the war, but in the words of John Hay, (Brown University, Rhode Island) Ambassador to England, it was “such a splendid little war.” He joined the war faction.
After it was all over, McKinley paced the White House halls, worried about what he was going to do with all these non-white, non-Protestant millions that had suddenly become the responsibility of the United States. He told a group of Methodist ministers, “I am not ashamed to tell you, I fell to my knees...and prayed...for light and guidance...One night late, it came to me...There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos and uplift them and Christianize them.” And that applied to Guam, Puerto Rico and Cuba. It never occurred to McKinley that those lesser peoples had been Christian for four centuries, heirs to a Spanish Catholic Tradition that went back to the first century. When the Anglo-Saxons had been painting themselves blue and chasing around the forests of Germany with pointy sticks, the founders of the Christianity of these distant places were already believers. The war was religious as well as military. Protestants focally divided Puerto Rico among their different denominations and influenced government policy until the 1940's. Though less formally, the same theological invasion arrived in the Philippines and Cuba.
At the same time, the struggle for dominance in the Catholic Church in America was going strong and the Irish were winning. No one wanted to be as American as the Irish Bishops of the late nineteenth century. In order to be accepted in the New World, they embraced American Exceptionalism, or as Pope Leo called it, the “Americanist Heresy.”
We Catholics believe in the religious authority of the Bishop of Rome and the universal humanity of all people. For us there are no master races. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII condemned Americanism in his encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. “We are not able to give approval to... “Americanism.” There can be no...doubt that...the bishops of America, would be the first to repudiate.. (Americanism) ...For it would give rise to the suspicion that there are... some who...would have the Church in America to be different from what it is in the rest of the world...the true Church is one, as by unity of doctrine, so by unity of government.. Wherefore, if anybody wishes to be considered a real Catholic, he ought to.. be able to say...the words which Jerome addressed to Pope Damasus, I...am bound in fellowship...with the chair of Peter. I know that the Church was built upon him as its rock, and that whosoever gathereth not with you, scattereth.”
America at the time was full of societies; fraternal orders, new religious movements, self-betterment clubs, and the temperance movement. Catholics had always shied away from such groups in Europe, but in America things were different. If the Church banned participation in civic organizations it would seem undemocratic and to ban membership in the temperance movement would bring charges of “Rum, Romanism and Ruin”, especially among the Irish who had been unjustly labeled by the Puritan establishment. The Germans saw no need for temperance unions. After all, Germans don’t drink that much, do they? The Irish tended to embrace these movements, but the Germans, in addition to their respect for beer, also had a language issue. To lose the German language would be to lose German culture. So German Catholics fought to have German parishes and schools that used the sweet, musical German language. Germans were increasingly relegated to second class status as the Irish bishops “Americanized” the Church. The German clergy petitioned Rome to strengthen ethnic parishes in large cities and to assign parishioners to the church of their particular ethnicity. The Irish American bishops lobbied against these requests and Rome initially seemed to side with Americanization.
Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Bishop John Keane of Richmond and Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, the only Cardinal in America at the time, were some of the leaders of the Americanist movement. While touring France, Ireland said “The Church in Europe is asleep.” and “The people is king now!” Ireland also thought Eastern Rite Catholics un-American. In 1891, Ireland refused to allow Greek-Catholic priest Alexis Toth, to minister to his flock even though Toth had jurisdiction from his own Bishop. Ireland wanted to expel all Eastern Catholic clergy from the United States. Another ally of the Americanists, Msgr. Denis O'Connell wrote to Archbishop Ireland in 1898, that the Spanish “greasers” lives are not worth those of the Americans fighting them in Cuba. O’Connell also called for the closing of convents and monasteries in our newly conquered possessions, because religious orders had done nothing for the advancement of religion.
With the help of O’Connell, the Americanist movement had a lasting influence on Catholic scholarship. The Catholic University was founded by the Americanist bishops Spalding, Ireland and Keane. Rome gave its approval in 1887, thanks to Ireland and Keane, who had gone to Rome to lobby. With Monsignor, later bishop, Denis O'Connell as rector of the North American College in Rome, soon to be rector of The Catholic University of America, the Americanists influenced the pastoral and theological future of the Church in America.
The Americanist Heresy was soon forgotten, but the harm was done. The ground was ready for the perfect storm of modernism, ecumenism, and Annibale Bugnini. (Did he say ecumenism? What’s wrong with Ecumenism?)
Next Week: STINKING PIGEONS AND THE SPANISH AMERICAN WAR -- FR. MERTZ REMINISCES