April 8, 2005


John Paul II on the American Experiment (First Things, April 1998)

In receiving the credentials of the Honorable Lindy Boggs as Ambassador to the Holy See on December 16, 1997, Pope John Paul II offered some pointed comments on the "credibility" of the United States and its world leadership. Herewith the complete text of a statement that bears close reading.
— The Editors

The Founding Fathers of the United States asserted their claim to freedom and independence on the basis of certain "self-evident" truths about the human person: truths which could be discerned in human nature, built into it by "nature’s God." Thus they meant to bring into being, not just an independent territory, but a great experiment in what George Washington called "ordered liberty": an experiment in which men and women would enjoy equality of rights and opportunities in the pursuit of happiness and in service to the common good. Reading the founding documents of the United States, one has to be impressed by the concept of freedom they enshrine: a freedom designed to enable people to fulfill their duties and responsibilities toward the family and toward the common good of the community. Their authors clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability, and no happiness without respect and support for the natural units or groupings through which people exist, develop, and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others.

The American democratic experiment has been successful in many ways. Millions of people around the world look to the United States as a model in their search for freedom, dignity, and prosperity. But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, makes its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. Their commitment to build a free society with liberty and justice for all must be constantly renewed if the United States is to fulfill the destiny to which the Founders pledged their "lives . . . fortunes . . . and sacred honor."

I am happy to take note of your words confirming the importance that your government attaches, in its relations with countries around the world, to the promotion of human rights and particularly to the fundamental human right of religious freedom, which is the guarantee of every other human right. Respect for religious conviction played no small part in the birth and early development of the United States. Thus John Dickinson, Chairman of the Committee for the Declaration of Independence, said in 1776: "Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of preexisting rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth." Indeed it may be asked whether the American democratic experiment would have been possible, or how well it will succeed in the future, without a deeply rooted vision of divine providence over the individual and over the fate of nations.

As the year 2000 draws near and Christians prepare to celebrate the bi-millennium of the birth of Christ, I have appealed for a serious examination of conscience regarding the shadows that darken our times. Nations and states too can make this a time of reflection on the spiritual and moral conditions of their success in promoting the integral good of their people. It would truly be a sad thing if the religious and moral convictions upon which the American experiment was founded could now somehow be considered a danger to free society, such that those who would bring these convictions to bear upon your nation’s public life would be denied a voice in debating and resolving issues of public policy. The original separation of church and state in the United States was certainly not an effort to ban all religious conviction from the public sphere, a kind of banishment of God from civil society. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their religious persuasion, are convinced that religious conviction and religiously informed moral argument have a vital role in public life.

No expression of today’s commitment to liberty and justice for all can be more basic than the protection afforded to those in society who are most vulnerable. The United States of America was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice. The moral history of your country is the story of your people’s efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good. Whenever a certain category of people—the unborn or the sick and old—are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice. The credibility of the United States will depend more and more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected.

It's interesting to note that even a European who is purported to grasp the importance of religion completely fails to understand that a healthy state requires precisely such a foundation, Man and God in France: a review of La République, les religions, l’espérance by Nicolas Sarkozy (Timothy Lehmann, Policy Review)

France’s religious demons were supposed to have been exorcized with the enactment in 1905 of a law forbidding state funding of religion. This was the culmination of a hundred-year religious war of sorts that began when — after the often strange and violent events following the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 — laïcité triumphed, and religion was banished from the public square, hopefully to die a slow and quiet death in the hearts of the last few believers.

But with the influx of Muslim immigrants from the Maghreb, of whom there are now at least 5 million and counting — including a burgeoning number of youth — the challenge and political necessity of integrating them into France’s increasingly secular society has fallen to its political leaders. Sarkozy has thus far been the most visible and articulate interpreter of the question of religion and politics and his views have come into daylight with the publication of this book. La Republic vigorously challenges France’s existing laws and status quo, reinvigorates questions about the soul, and throws into doubt widely accepted and encrusted beliefs about the temporal and the eternal. While Sarkozy’s practical concern is how to improve French society and promote tolerance among Muslims, Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers in France, his overall approach to the question of religion and society has much in common with the views of many American conservatives.

Although it is unwise to try to make windows into men’s souls to know their true beliefs, what is incontrovertibly true is that Nicolas Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian emigrant father and a French Jewish mother, and he is also a member of the Roman Catholic Church. As he puts it, “I am of Catholic culture, Catholic tradition, Catholic faith. Even if my religious practice is episodic, I acknowledge myself as a member of the Catholic Church.” Furthermore, he believes that “spiritual need and hope are not satisfied by the republican ideal. . . . [The republic] is the best way to live together, but it is not the finality of man.” Sarkozy acknowledges the importance of religion in France and of the religious sphere in life generally. He follows America’s friendly critic, Alexis de Tocqueville, who advised Americans to avoid the tragedies of Europe’s past by not integrating politics and religion too closely, but also cautioned us not to remove either from human life altogether. His views stand in stark contrast to those of most contemporary secular French politicians, who see no place for this outmoded, superstitious, dangerous, and apparently superfluous aspect of human life. Sarkozy’s book appeared on the heels of a summer in which Christianity’s meaning and impact on Europe’s traditions and contemporary life had been hotly debated, with scant success achieved by religious leaders.

It is important to make a distinction regarding political secularism that is often forgotten. Sarkozy recoils from any “sectarian” understanding of laïcité and is unequivocally committed to secular democracy. Good secular government also ensures that religious leaders do not manage the untidy business of political power, in spite of all temptation. Spiritual and temporal powers must remain separate, and Sarkozy opposes writing God into the European constitution. But he is an opponent of the absolute secularization of society that attempts to remove any and all religious influence from human life. [...]

In Sarkozy’s mind, religion answers an important need in any healthy society. A stable balance between religion and good politics can be achieved without sanctioning a state religion and forced proselytism, and without favoring one religion over another. Sarkozy doesn’t fail to point out that the religion which he has worked hardest to incorporate into French society, Islam, is not his own. He has labored for it not in the name of his own faith but in the name of the republic. While he is a proud defender of the established French Republic (and its intransigent division between the autonomy of the political, governed by free human beings, and religious authority), he realizes equally the need and importance of religion in any society, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise. “The spiritual question,” he says, “is one of hope, of hope to have, after death, a perspective of accomplishment in eternity.”

One of the ultimate questions is whether a rational and enlightened (or irrationally enlightened) Europe has really figured things out, once and for all. Can people live contentedly in a post-historical paradise of material pursuit? Or is there something not completely satisfying about those circumstances? The debate over religion in Europe is whether it was a noxious (and now discredited) fairy tale that caused needless bloodshed and suffering in the Middle Ages, or an important part of society, the absence of which caused needless bloodshed and suffering in the century just past. Clearly, both alternatives in their extremes sought to establish unnatural utopias on earth. The attempt to satisfy religious longings was horrifyingly damaging to decent political and social life in the Middle Ages. But the attempted extirpation by force of the unsatisfied religious longing from Nazi Germany and Communist Russia was equally, if not more horrifyingly, damaging to Europe. Its unforced extirpation in some of the liberal democracies of the West is damaging in its own way. In Sarkozy’s eyes, “religions must exist elsewhere besides in the museums, and the churches must not become nostalgic conservatories of a glorious past. . . .We’re not in the ussr where the churches became markets and gymnasiums.” He sees in religious structures “a factor of integration, of meetings, of exchanges, whichever religion is concerned.”

-St. Peter's in Chains (George Neumayr, 4/7/2005, American Spectator)
As secularization picked up speed in the 18th and 19th century and went into overdrive in the 20th, modern liberals militated to secularize and control everything, including the Catholic Church, which they regarded as the only cultural obstacle left to surmount. Enlightenment dilettante Denis Diderot spoke of strangling the last priest with "the guts of the last king."

The Church had smelled a rat before the French Revolution. Pope Pius VI warned that the misnamed "Enlightenment" would destroy Europe's God-centered culture, decimate its moral foundations, and turn government into a pitiless impostor god. For daring to see that the "Rights of Man" would mean eradicating real rights in the name of fake ones, and warning his clergy of the coming culture of death -- "Beware of lending your ears to the treacherous speech of the philosophy of this age which leads to death" -- Pope Pius VI was stripped of his liberty by Europe's new forces of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." He ended up dying in Valence under French arrest. The French later arrested Pope Pius VII. Napoleon, the Enlightenment's favorite strongman, seized papal territories in 1809 and had Pius VII imprisoned in Fontainebleau until 1814.

What's the point? What does any of this have to do with the death of Pope John Paul II and the liberal elite's reaction to it? A lot, actually. The Church remains the single most potent obstacle to the enlightened pretensions of modern liberalism, and the revolutionary children of Diderot still seek to control the papacy, evident in their envy masquerading as admiration and their angling disguised as advice to a "troubled Church."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2005 9:47 AM

The left's response to that (or to just about anything else the Pope had to say about the culture of life) would be "Yea, but he was against the Iraq war," which seems to be their King's-X way of declaring that because of that, conservatives can't use anything else John Paul II ever said in the cultural debate or about the religious basis of the founding of the United States.

Posted by: John at April 8, 2005 10:00 AM

I came across the following in an article of the Spectator entitled "Rome vs. Washington" (this and other links are too old to access):

Despite Islam's fierce hostility to Catholicism, the societies it controls exhibit many values whose abandonment by the materialist Western world is deplored by the Pope. ... Close-knit family life, in which women's role although unacceptably circumscribed is closer to the Marian model of womanhood than to the extreme feminism of urban America; daily life revolving around regular prayer and, in season, fasting; even the misplaced fanaticism of Muslim fundamentalists, reflecting a certainty and a spirit of martyrdom long departed from his own Church much of this, with heavy qualification, must strike a sympathetic chord with the pontiff. Nor can he have any illusions about the kind of society that America would like to substitute. McDonald's burger bars, rap music, sexual license, individualism demolishing family life and consumerism banishing all sense of religion: those forces have conquered Catholicism in the West should the Pope take comfort from a similar overthrow of Islam? ... These likely reservations reflect a deeper tension between Catholicism and American culture. Historically, the American identity was strongly antipathetic to Rome, deriving as it did from the British Whig tradition. The descendants of Puritan settlers devised the Declaration of Independence, a document in conflict with Catholic doctrine, which was also the inspiration for the French Revolution. The high-water mark of hostility came in 1899 when Pope Leo XIII, in the Apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae, formally condemned Americanism the socially progressive errors espoused by such prominent American Catholics as Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, who had gone native in the pluralist atmosphere of the United States. This miniature controversy subsided immediately; but Americanism came back with a vengeance at the Second Vatican Council, as the New World chapter of resurgent Modernism.

And from a related article at MSNBC:

Still, for the past three decades Catholic leaders have found a convenient scapegoat in the "moral decay" of Western society to justify the drastic decline in church attendance and new priests. Though forward-thinking Catholics see this as a cop-out on the church's part, the older generation will privately tell you that they are fighting a losing battle for souls in the West because it's much too easy for young people to go to bed with each other. ... How are the Catholic elders to keep young seminarians focused on the mysteries of the Gospel when a short walk through the streets of any modern city exposes them to constant temptations of the flesh? ... Which is why this pope was so troubled and hurt when he saw his beloved countrymen fall prey to Western-style sexual temptation after the fall of communism in Poland. Much of the religious devotion that sustained the power of the Catholic role model during the Soviet oppression went out the window when MTV brought a new moral model of tight jeans, nightclubs and throbbing musical rhythms. ... Off-the-record prelates will utter phrases like: "Oh, it's the Americans again. They're never happy, and it's always about sex. Women priests, married priests, birth control, abortion, divorce, active gays they always want something. Why can't their bishops control these people! It's not the church that has to change, it's them!" The openness of American society is often perceived as a threat by an old-fashioned institution that is used to obedience, secrecy and dealing with its problems in private.

And the following from the Nation Catholic Reporter entitled "The Pope's Too Liberal":

... five reasons why Christianity should be resistant to the ideology of human rights: Duties to God and neighbor come before one's own rights...Pronouncements of a hierarchically structured church grounded in divine revelation take precedence over individual conscience...Original sin implies distrust of weak and fallible human beings...The common good must come before individuals...Charity and sacrificial love are higher goods than the potentially selfish assertion of rights.

Apparently there aren't too many libertarians in the Vatican. The purpose of the above quotes was to illustrate the often profound differences in world views between the Vatican and America, differences that have always been there if only below the surface - and put American Catholics in the crossfire. What is apparent in retrospect is that the American-Vatican alliance forged by William Casey during the Reagan presidency was an alliance of convenience. The Pope saw the Soviet Union as the greater immediate threat to the Church. Now that the USSR has ended up on the dust heap of history we we have set the stage for an uber-culture clash, no mere clash of civilizations but a conflict of mentalities.

It will all come to a head under the next papacy.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 8, 2005 10:28 AM

Yes, that's why the future of Islam looks better than that of Europe.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 10:38 AM

Who said anything about Europe? I thought the topic of this thread was American/Vatican culturekampf.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 8, 2005 10:57 AM

Secularism is the enemy of all three.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 11:06 AM

daniel: The differences between the Vatican and American worldviews have indeed "always been there" because America is fundamentally a Protestant country. However, only in the last generation or so has there been a strong push to remove the religious underpinnings of society, which has changed the difference from a competition between alternate views of how religion is organized in society into a conflict between two inherently incompatible worldviews. And if "Americanism" really does naturally lead to the sort of "culture" that you see exhibited nowadays on billboards, TV, urban bus-stop ads, etc, then it deserves to lose such a conflict. Luckily for us, it's a false choice--no American who ever lived before about 30 years ago would recognize the ACLUs views on church&state as "American" in any way, shape, or form.

Posted by: b at April 8, 2005 11:26 AM

Who cares about Europe? It's already an unimportant backwater. Give it no more thought than a Roman at the height of empire gave to Greeks living on the glories of their dead past.

There are only two superpowers, America and the Vatican. They will be joined in the future by China and India, but for now only Washington and Rome matter in the contest for the world's hearts and minds. The value systems of both are in direct opposition in many (but not all) areas. The differences were papered over by the charisma of JPII. If the next pope is a dogmatic hard liner who throws down the gauntlet, we'll have ourselves a cultural cold war.

It would be a classic asymetrical struggle pitting America's vast material and cultural resources against the Vatican's soft power. Which is why Ratzinger's proposal to hunker down in a bunker would be disasterous for the Church. If the Church cannot meet and/or adapt to the challenges of American led modernizm the RCC becomes as irrelevant as the Amish.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 8, 2005 11:26 AM

In none. There is a near perfect convergence of America and the Vatican, which is why Evangelicals are so enamored of the Pope.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 11:42 AM

b, America culture is not solely responsible for for our current cultural mess, the Vatican has a large share of the blame.

First off, no organization racked by sexual scandal from the US to Ireland to Austria and around the globe can hope to be taken seriously as a moral guide. That's not Donatism, that's reality. Yes, I know only a small portion of priests committed these vile acts (which were mostly gay ephibophilia with very few actual cases of pedophilia), but the majority participated in the cover up or turned a blind eye to it - from the parish priests who must have know what their colleagues were doing right up to the likes of Cardinal Law. I know OJ loves hypocricy, but it destroys the Church's credibility (as does bishops living in palatial mansions and priests lving in material comfort complaining about Western materialism). So the Church, as a matter of credibility and survival must do away with priestly celibacy. Such a move will end the priest shortage (which will cripple the Church in a few years) and start the break up of the gay mafia that has ruled the RCC for decades if not centuries.

Second, the Church has to reform it's dark age attitudes towards women. Since the gay mafia goes a long way to expalain the RCC's cultural and official misogyny, it's break up will pave the way for female ordination (though probably not in my lifetime). In the meantime, the Church had better take a more positive towards women or it will lose the bulk of half of the world's population to American culture. In doing so it will be surrendering to American culture without a fight.

Lastly, the non-issue of married couples wearing condoms (or using any other non-abortifactant birth control) has to be declared a matter of conscience. It already is for 90% of the laity and 67% of the clergy. It is not an issue worth destroying the Church over. While Church officals and conservative Catholics may fear that this will set us on a slipperly slope to Soddom, let me respond by quoting (very conservative)Judge Bork, "Life is full of slippery slopes, every step is made on a slippery slope, the trick is to find the right place to dig in your heels". On this issue, today's Church is reminiscent of Pope Leo X clinging to and defending the sale of indulgences long after they had blow up in his face by triggering the Protestant Reformation. Stubborn adherance to the ban on ABC for married couples has already blown up in JPII's face. All that remains is the formalization of the defacto separation of the laity from the heirarchy.

Apres JPII, le deluge.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 8, 2005 12:03 PM


We've hashed over these issues to a painful extent in the past few days, and further iteration is pointless. There are more Catholics in the Phillipines than in the US, and I rather doubt that they're demanding any of the things you want, and some of them are so intense in their faith that they crucify themselves on Good Friday.

Have you by ever chance read the Decameron, by Boccaccio? It's a sort of Canterbury Tales type collection of stories from medieval Italy, full of crooks, adulterers, lustful priests & nuns, murder, etc. It contains one story summarized as "Abraham, a Jew, at the instance of Jehannot de Chevigny, goes to the court of Rome, and having marked the evil life of the clergy, returns to Paris, and becomes a Christian." At the climax he explains himself:

Jehannot expected Abraham's conversion least of all things, and allowed him some days of rest before he asked what he thought of the Holy Father and the cardinals and the other courtiers. [024] To which the Jew forthwith replied: "I think God owes them all an evil recompense: I tell thee, so far as I was able to carry my investigations, holiness, devotion, good works or exemplary living in any kind was nowhere to be found in any clerk; but only lewdness, avarice, gluttony, and the like, and worse, if worse may be, appeared to be held in such honour of all, that (to my thinking) the place is a centre of diabolical rather than of divine activities. [025] To the best of my judgment, your Pastor, and by consequence all that are about him devote all their zeal and ingenuity and subtlety to devise how best and most speedily they may bring the Christian religion to nought and banish it from the world. [026] And because I see that what they so zealously endeavour does not come to pass, but that on the contrary your religion continually grows, and shines more and more clear, therein I seem to discern a very evident token that it, rather than any other, as being more true and holy than any other, has the Holy Spirit for its foundation and support. [027] For which cause, whereas I met your exhortations in a harsh and obdurate temper, and would not become a Christian, now I frankly tell you that I would on no account omit to become such. Go we then to the church, and there according to the traditional rite of your holy faith let me receive baptism."

(quote taken from http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/decameron/engDecShowText.php?myID=nov0102&expand=day01)

Posted by: b at April 8, 2005 12:29 PM

None OJ? Didn't you read my first post? Or perhaps you confuse Evangelicals with America.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 8, 2005 1:10 PM

Hoo hah! The man who wanted to make Pio Nono a saint telling a representative of the American government how happy he is that America espouses the 'fundamental right of religion freedom'!

He really had no shame, did he?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 8, 2005 1:15 PM

b, The Decameron story is the source of the old joke that the existence of the RCC proves the existence of God, since only a divinely protected institution could survive 2,000 years of corruption and grossly incompetent mismangement.

It is also besides the point.

The Church is in sorry shape and already losing its cultural war to America. I recommend an article in the ultra-conservative National review (whose editorial and writing staff appear to have been taken over by right-wing Catholics) by John Derbyshire (see http://nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire200504071043.asp):

It is therefore sad to reflect that the quarter century of his papacy was a terrible disaster for the Roman Catholic Church. Regular attendance at Mass* all over the traditionally Catholic world dropped like a stone all through John Paul IIs papacy. Everywhere in the great Catholic bastions of southern Europe Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal the story is the same. In France, eldest daughter of the Church, the only argument is whether regular Mass attendance today is just above, or just below, ten percent. In Ireland Ireland! the numbers declined steadily from the 90 percent of 1973 to 60 percent in 1996, since when they have fallen off a cliff, to 48 percent in 2001 and heading south. A hundred years ago the U.S. Church imported priests from Ireland; now Ireland imports them from Nigeria.

And then of course there have been the scandals and the exposs, with their dire effects not only on the image of the priesthood, but on Church finances. Twenty-seven years ago, when John Paul II ascended the papal throne, the natural reaction of a Roman Catholic on hearing that a young man had been ordained would have been: His parents must be so proud! Nowadays it is more likely to be: Oh, I didnt know he was gay. And the most elementary duty of the Catholic laity, the making of more little Catholics, is now widely neglected: The old Catholic nations of Europe have the lowest birthrates in recorded history.

As for the Third World becoming the new center of the Church and saving this, he has this to say:

I have been hearing for 30 years since at least Paul Johnsons History of Christianity came out in 1976 that hope for regeneration of the Church is to be sought in the third world. Is it?...All this talk about the third world coming in to redress the balance of the first strikes me as irrelevant, anyway. Either the third world continues to languish in poverty, corruption, and disease, in which case we shall all do our best to continue ignoring it, expiating our mild guilt with a cash donation now and then, or else it will become stable, healthy, and prosperous, in which case the delights of hedonistic secularism will likely have the same effect on spirituality down there as they are having up here.

The Church is a cross roads. I pray it choses the right path. Somehow, the Church becoming as small and irrelevant as the Amish (even if as pure in its beliefs) does not strike me as the proper path. Besides, a married clergy, female ordination or wearing condoms (whose ban is the result of natural law interpreation and Vatican politics, not divine revelation) would not diminish the Church's treasure of recieved truth.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 8, 2005 1:25 PM

Derb hates Popery because he hates the Irish.

Posted by: at April 8, 2005 1:40 PM

Somehow, the Church becoming as small and irrelevant as the Amish (even if as pure in its beliefs) does not strike me as the proper path.

That will not happen.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 8, 2005 3:20 PM


Where's the conflict?

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 4:10 PM


America is Evangelical.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 4:11 PM

National Review is libertarian, not conservative.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 4:20 PM

Most of the writers at National Review are orthodox Catholics (e.g. Kathryn Jean Lopez, Rod Dreher) or at least respectful of and sympathetic to the Catholic worldview (e.g. Jonah Goldberg). True, they have a liberterian streak (on drugs, especially), but they're about as close to the mainstream of conservatism as you get. Among them, Derbyshire is an outlier -- he's the one who publicly invited Michael Schiavo and his shack-up honey over to his house for a beer! -- and seems sometimes to express contrary opinions for the sheer naked fun of being contrarian.

In the culture war, the Catholics and Evangelicals are on the same side -- orthodox Christians opposing libertine secularism. The libertine secularists are disproportionately represented in the MSM, and so look more formidable and successful than they really are. Every Protestant denomination that has "liberalized" in the past thirty or forty years has lost membership to the more orthodox (Evangelical) denominations.

There is no danger in the Catholic Church holding to truth. The danger would arise if it discarded orthodoxy and became The Church Of What's Happenin' Now. However, that's not part of the plan.

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 8, 2005 4:43 PM

daniel - You can put out misinformation quicker than an ordinary mortal can reply. One note: The 'Americanism' that was repudiated by the Pope in the 1890s had nothing to do with America as modern-day conservatives would recognize it; it referred to a leftist movement within the Church led by Isaac Hecker and the order he founded, the Paulists. To this day the Paulists remain a left-wing order; they operate the church where John Kerry went to mass during the 2004 campaign.

Posted by: pj at April 8, 2005 4:56 PM

The Americanist controversy is well summarized here: http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum=862

Note that the Pope was opposing secularism, not American values.

Posted by: pj at April 8, 2005 5:04 PM

I might also note that Ratzinger did not propose "hunkering down in a bunker," but rather becoming more faithful and not being discouraged by the minority status of the Church.

Posted by: pj at April 8, 2005 5:07 PM


If the Catholic Church is going to continue pushing the kind of corporatist claptrap it has been doing for the last century, it will offend enough decent American Catholics that it will end up on the scrap heap. Perhaps a truly American form will replace it.


If you are so bothered by American billboards, take a flight to Paris, change planes at Charles DeGaulle and take a nice direct flight to Teheran. I'm sure you'll be much happier there.

Posted by: bart at April 8, 2005 6:00 PM

bart, based on your penchant for advocating extermination of different groups of people on a regular basis, I'm surprised you haven't decamped to Pyongyang yet.

Since you don't have children, you can't possibly conceive what it's like to walk with your young daughter past a billboard of larger-than-life strategically-covered nearly nudes. It's not a case of "If you don't like Deadwood, just don't watch HBO at that time", so your cooler-than-thou libertarianism (which I used to share, until I became a productive adult member of society) doesn't apply.

Posted by: b at April 8, 2005 6:26 PM

Given a choice between lower taxes and keeping mental defectives and violent felons alive, I'll take lower taxes. If that makes me a bad guy, I happily plead guilty. And sadly, the IRS sees me as a 'productive adult member of society' no matter how much I try not to be. I've been called many things in my life but nobody I know has ever called me 'cool.' I'm far more Neanderthal than metrosexual.

I grew up in a house with pornography all over the place. One of our neighbors was a publisher in the business as well. My 79 year old father and his 83 year old brother to this day regularly bring shopping bags of porn to each other when visiting. And both are affluent political conservatives still married to their first wives. That anybody would be upset about 'a billboard of larger-than-life strategically-covered nearly nudes' is utterly hilarious to me. My advice to you is don't even think of visiting a European beach in the summer, or a Caribbean beach in season, you'll have heart failure.

Posted by: bart at April 8, 2005 7:11 PM

The Muslims will take care of Europe's beaches.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 7:22 PM

You mean like the nude beaches in the Turkish Riviera which are bottomless as well as merely topless.

The Euros would probably fight for their right to sunbathe in the buff.

Posted by: bart at April 8, 2005 7:27 PM

Move to Hawaii. Billboards are illegal here.

The 1890 encyclical was not against 'Americanism,' (however defined) but against modernism.

You know -- self-government, freedom of conscience, stuff like that.

Orrin, you can pretend all you want, but everybody knows that the church is antidemocratic. Certainly everybody in it or ever in it knows that.

I have found a Jesuit-trained frog intellectual to quote:

In the standard dream of every religious hierarhy, any breach of religious law would have been punished by the secular authorities."

Gerald Messadie, 'A History of the Devil,' p. 87.

Should Pio Nono ever have become your secular/religious leader, the first thing that would have happened is that you would have been suppressed.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 8, 2005 10:00 PM

Yet he didn't want to.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 10:29 PM

Gee, bart, do you think that perhaps there might be a connection between your misanthropy and your apparently being surrounded by porn as a child? And I'm glad that you're so amused by 95% of American society (try finding a politician anywhere who won't attack Hollywood to gain traction among the "middle"--it's a guaranteed vote getter). My wife thinks MoveOn.org is a resonable political organization, and she's far more outraged by these things than I am...

Harry, I am 100% aware of the legal status of billboards in HI. What would make you suspect you know anything about where I live?

Posted by: b at April 9, 2005 10:44 AM

All I know is you live next to sexy billboards.

Non around here.

Although, it may be that your definition of lasciviousness may be more typical than mine. I was listening to the voice of Christianity (Calvary Satellite Network) a couple weeks ago, and a caller was anguished that her children were seeing pornography at the grocery checkout stand.

I wondered where she lived.

Turned out her idea of pornography was Redbook.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 9, 2005 1:23 PM

I hardly think that 95% of the American people are offended by Victoria's Secret, let alone Coppertone ads.

If anything, my early exposure to porn demystified women to me. I frankly find a good game of chess or an Elmore Leonard novel, let alone a good paella or a football game with a clear betting angle, far more interesting than picking up women for a cheap fling. Most women are like artichokes, you have to go through a lot of crap to get to something which isn't so great anyway.

My misanthropy is far more the result of frequent disappointment in my youth and about the reality of unfairness. Since I expect the worst of my fellow man, I never experience disappointment but am sometimes pleasantly surprised. Hence, the seeming contradiction between my near permanent anger and my essentially cheerful nature.

Posted by: bart at April 9, 2005 1:35 PM

Sports Illustrated swimsuit, Cosmo, etc., are inappropriate. One of the reasons Wal-Mart is where America shops is they cover such up.

Posted by: oj at April 9, 2005 9:31 PM

Ah, but the heart, Bart, the heart. (To die faw, with a creamy, spiced---cumin and green Tabasco, but easy on the cumin---yoghurt-lemon sauce.)

(And just when we thought there was nothing left to offend...---careful: artichokes can be very sensitive.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at April 10, 2005 3:51 AM

Wal-Mart is where America shops because they give you value for money.

At our local one in Saddle Brook, they don't cover up Cosmo or the SI Swimsuit issue. And in Cosmo, it's not the photos that offend, it's the articles. They are all variants of 'How to Pick Up a Rich Old Guy, Kill Him, Take His Money, Run Off to the Cote d'Azur with the Fitness Instructor/Pool Boy/Chauffeur And Look Great Doing It.'

Posted by: bart at April 10, 2005 7:10 AM

'It' was in all the papers, Orrin. I work with a lot of Catholics, but only one (a former teacher at a Catholic high school) knows much about the history of his church. When he saw me the morning the news about sanctifying Pio Nono came out, he turned green around the gills.

Of course SI is inappropriate -- if you are afraid of sex.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 10, 2005 3:09 PM

Or if you'd like to be in control of what your children are exposed to.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2005 4:44 PM

We should control what our children are exposed to, not what other people believe their children should be exposed to. Why one should refrain from exposing one's children to pictures of beautiful women in various states of undress no different from what one sees on the Jersey Shore in summer, where the women are staggeringly uglier, is beyond me.

Are you also in favor of covering up the nude statuary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or perhaps putting a pair of boxer shorts on Michaelangelo's David?

Posted by: bart at April 11, 2005 10:55 AM


We're controlling what or society is exposed to.

Cosmo ain't Michelangelo.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 10:59 AM

You and I can undoubtedly tell the difference between a Rubens painting and a copy of 'Big Fat Large Breasted Women in Heat' from Larry Flynt. I, however, am not so confident that James Dobson or much of the political class is capable of that not terribly difficult distinction, let alone being able to create a sensible written guideline for the even more backward in the bureaucracy to follow, and I have no interest in letting the Philistines into the Temple. Ashcroft's decision to cover the nude statuary at Justice is a case in point. If I were President, and deciding on my Attorney General, the question,'If you were to become Attorney General, would you cover up the nude statuary on the Justice Building?' wouldn't even enter into my mind. I'd be more likely to ask him if he were a cannibal. I'm amazed that such people don't walk on all fours.

The question is where to draw the line. I don't believe we can change men's hearts, but we can change their actions, so I would pretty much allow any merchant to decide how to display his wares and allow the market to decide how he should be rewarded or punished. Most people don't object to the SI Swimsuit issue being apart from Cosmo or the Weekly World News but most people would object to Hustler being next to Highlights, so most stores would react accordingly.

There is no good reason for the State to substitute its judgment for the marketplace's.

Posted by: bart at April 11, 2005 12:11 PM

Yes, we're talking about changing actions.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 12:13 PM