Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 21, 1934 when Father James J. Kane offered Madison's first Mass in Madison's Memorial Town Hall.
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weigel_halfGeorge Weigel

I’ve long had a high regard for Pope Benedict XV, least-known pontiff of the 20th century, whose slight, stooped figure masked a diplomatic and historical intelligence of the first caliber. Benedict saw with clarity that World War I, prolonged, would be a civilizational catastrophe for Europe. The Great Powers refused to listen; Italy blackballed the Holy See from any postwar peace conference. Benedict nevertheless spent out the Vatican’s financial resources in supporting wartime prisoners and refugees – to the point where Pietro Gasparri, the cardinal camerlengo, had to borrow money from the Rothschilds to pay for the 1922 conclave to elect Benedict’s successor.


Benedict XV began his pontificate, however, by trying to stop another war: the civil war within the Church over Modernism, which his predecessor Pius X had condemned in the 1907 encyclical Pascendi as “the synthesis of all heresies.” Anti-Modernist sentiments ran high after Pascendi; clandestine ecclesiastical networks dedicated to rooting out Modernists, crypto-Modernists, and/or alleged Modernists from seminaries and theology faculties ran amok; some entirely reputable scholars were gravely damaged in the process. It was a tawdry business, even if the principal Modernist paladins (like Alfred Loisy and George Tyrell) were men of highly dubious theological opinions. Benedict XV called off the dogs, and a measure of stability, if in a more subdued mode, returned to Catholic intellectual life.

On the centenary of Pascendi, Peter Steinfels dedicated his New York Times column to some predictable progressive bleating about the encyclical’s deleterious effects: Pascendi, Steinfels mourned, “crippled those very elements in European Catholicism that might have resisted the Church’s sympathy for authoritarian regimes after World War I, when liberal parliamentary governments were besieged by rising totalitarianism.” Pascendi, in other words, decisively shaped the Church’s role “in the blood-drenched history of the first half of the 20th century.”

I wouldn’t go so far as some commentators in the Catholic blogosphere, who charged Dr. Steinfels with suggesting that “less Catholic dogmatism would have prevented the Holocaust.” Steinfels is too clever a writer for that. But his column did seem lacking in a broader historical perspective, which would have suggested the possibility that the popes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had been put in a very difficult position by the modern liberal state in Europe – a position that inevitably shaped their attitudes toward other aspects of modernity, including modern theological adventurousness.

Historians like Michael Burleigh (Earthly Powers), Owen Chadwick (A History of the Popes 1830-1914) and Michael Gross (The War Against Catholicism: Liberalism and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Germany) vigorously disagree with certain papal tactics vis-à-vis anticlerical European governments. But they also demonstrate, in vivid detail, that those governments indeed waged a kind of war on the Church.

“Liberalism,” to the popes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, did not mean William Jennings Bryan, Teddy Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson. It meant the French government closing all Catholic schools, monasteries and convents in the early 20th century; it meant Bismarck’s late-19th century “culture-war” against the Church; it meant anti-clerical violence in Spain and Portugal; it meant the destruction of the old Papal States by the Italian Risorgimento. Small wonder that the popes, given their Eurocentricity (and continental Eurocentricity, at that) did not view “liberal democracy” as the Church’s friend. To suggest, however, that this “conservative” theological and political critique of real-existing-liberalism in continental Europe helped pave the way for fascism is not a claim that will withstand much scrutiny, not least because it was theological innovators, not those benighted conservatives, who were seduced early-on by the siren-songs of Nazism. The Steinfels column was of a piece with the Cowboys-and-Indians interpretation of Vatican II, in which Good Liberals defeat Evil (anti-Modernist) Conservatives. Fortunately, for both the Church and the historical record, we have been blessed with two papal veterans of Vatican II, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who have proposed a far more interesting interpretation of the Council as both a reaffirmation and a development of classic Catholic truth claims.

Some people, it seems, take rather a long time to get the message.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.