Many times during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century the Archbishop of Baltimore longed to concentrate on the affairs of his archdiocese. As it was, one question affecting the welfare of the Church of the United States was hardly settled before another appeared. Not until the opening of the twentieth century did there emerge a period of relative peace.
Before the establishment of an Apostolic Delegation in Washington in 1893, Gibbons was called upon to act as the official agent of Rome in a number of disputes in the American Church. In the spring of 1888, he received a distasteful assignment to act as arbitrator between Bishop Richard Gilmour of Cleveland and the Sisters of Charity, or Grey Nuns, of St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum in Toledo over the title to the asylum's property. Archbishop Ireland reflected something of Gibbons' frame of mind about what lay before him: "I assure you he was more afraid of Richard, than Richard was of James, and he started out from Notre Dame for Toledo in fear and trembling." After reaching Toledo, Gibbons gathered all the facts as presented by both sides, then returned to Baltimore. O'Connell kept him abreast of Rome's various opinions on the case, and he indicated the difficulty with which the situation was viewed by Vatican officials: "If you can succeed there, you will lose nowhere." By the first week in October the cardinal pronounced judgment. On all points except the most important, the question of legal title, the decision favored Gilmour. Gibbons had been instructed several times from Rome that he should be guided by the prescriptions of Leo XIII's constitution, Romanos pontifices, on May 8, 1881, which regulated the relations between bishops and religious. "Until our legislation in this subject is radically changed," he told Gilmour, "I see no possibility of obtaining the redress you have so ably contended for."
p111 The Bishop of Cleveland, unhappy over the outcome, believed that the consequences would extend far beyond the limits of the orphan asylum. Yet in spite of his disappointment, he wished the cardinal to know that "the result in no way changed the pleasant and I hope lasting kindness that has grown up between us."
Before the year was out, Cardinal Simeoni sent Gibbons another chore in the Diocese of Cleveland, asking that he investigate a dispute of long standing between Bishop Gilmour and Father Patrick F. Quigley, a pastor in Toledo. The quarrel between Gilmour and Quigley had developed because the priest had disregarded the bishop's admonitions against abusing parishioners from the pulpit and fighting battles in the public press. The cardinal was able to remove at least part of the friction, but the differences had gone too far to enable the cardinal to head off a crisis. On March 19, 1889, the bishop suspended Quigley for a period of three months and removed him from his pastorate. Gilmour later outlined his procedure to Cardinal Simeoni, but he put himself in the wrong by giving no specific reasons for the penalties he had inflicted on the priest, a procedural form required by canon law, and Quigley won a restoration of his suspension. Within a very short time after Quigley's reinstatement, he and Gilmour were at odds again over the bishop's order that the orphans in Quigley's parish be moved to Cleveland. Quigley sent Gibbons a long telegram appealing for his judgment. The cardinal promptly wired back: "Obey." Some days later he told the priest that he did not feel warranted in rendering a decision on this new issue unless instructed to do so by the Holy See. He had seen more than enough of the Cleveland troubles, and he was not going to be drawn in again except on orders from Rome.
The year after Gibbons' appointment as cardinal, the Holy See entered upon a new and acute crisis in its relations with the Italian government. The radical elements that supported the Crispi regime were determined to paralyze the influence of the Church in Italian life. Pope Leo XIII issued a solemn protest against it. Catholics in several European countries also made public protests, and certain officials of the Vatican let it be known that they would like to see similar manifestations from the Catholics of the United States.
After consulting the other archbishops, Gibbons decided against p112 any public demonstrations supporting the Holy See. They agreed instead on a letter to the Pope. Although the Vatican authorities doubtless found it difficult to understand this reluctance to move more decisively, the archbishops were behaving prudently. Anti-Catholic bigotry was at this time steadily on the rise in the United States because of the recently founded American Protective Association. For this reason, Gibbons and his colleagues were more than ordinarily sensitive to anything that might offer further weapons to the Church's critics. Gibbons' careful letter steered a middle course. It deplored the recent antireligious laws and the growing fury with which the enemies of God and His Church persecuted His followers. These men, it was said, were not satisfied with their victory in fraudulently occupying the lands of the Holy Father; now they defiled good morals by their attacks upon theists of religion. The letter stated that the Holy Father's suffering was deeply lamented in the United States. The American hierarchy also affirmed that the Pontiff could not properly fulfil his functions unless he were entirely free. On the subject of the temporal power itself, however, Gibbons spoke only in general terms. The letter pleased most of the metropolitans, and Gross told the cardinal that "in this as on so many other occasions Your Eminence has most decidedly succeeded in voicing the opinions of the entire body of the American Episcopate."
One problem, the Knights of Labor, soon ceased to occupy Gibbons' time. During the year since Gibbons had left Rome the officials of the Holy See moved slowly toward a decision. The final judgment, rendered on August 16, 1888, noted that the Knights were to be tolerated, but only on condition that
whatever in its statutes is improperly expressed or susceptible of wrong interpretation shall be corrected. Especially in the preamble of the constitution for local assemblies words which seem to savor of socialism and communism must be emended in such a way as to make clear that the soil was granted by God to man, or rather the human race, that each one might have the right to acquire some portion of it, by use however of lawful means and without violation of the right of private properly.
Gibbons had his own way of handling the attached condition. He told Ireland: "I attach little or no importance to the conditions imposed by the H. Office. . . . Something had to be done to save them from the charge of inconsistency." Gibbons emphasized to p113 Denis O'Connell that he did not wish the decree to be given any publicity, even among the bishops, until he had taken "the little sting" out of the document with Powderly's pledge of cooperation. The cardinal was in a contented mood: "I now breathe freely, thanks to God, & to your vigilance."
The second meeting between Gibbons and Powderly took place in a cordial atmosphere on September 24, and the following day the cardinal assured his fellow metropolitans that the labor leader had cheerfully promised to make the emendations required by the Holy Office and to comply at all times with the wishes of the Church. Powderly's promise was likewise reported to Simeoni, along with a vindication of Gibbons' prediction that the Knights would decline — of the order's 700,000 members, scarcely 350,000 were left. Gibbons had, indeed, made a deep impression on the Roman officials by his handling of the Knights' case. Speaking to O'Connell, Archbishop Francesco Satolli of the Propaganda praised the alertness and skill of the American bishops. In speaking of Gibbons as the "great statesman he is," he gave him the main credit for saving Rome from "the commission of a great mistake."
When a year later the proposal for an international conference on labor legislation was taken up by Leo XIII and Emperor William II of Germany, the aging Cardinal Manning reminisced:
We little thought when we were writing about the Knights of Labour in Rome, a few years ago, that every word would be so soon published to the world by an Emperor and a Pope.
This is surely the New World over-shadowing the old, and the Church walking with its Master among the people of Christendom.
Were we prophets?
Archbishop Ireland, when he saw Manning's letter, reacted with a typical flourish:
You were a prophet! The people are the power, and the Church must be with the people. I wish all our own bishops understood this truth!
To have taken the stand Gibbons did on the Knights of Labor in 1887 required courage of the first order. On the subject of the Knights, as on few other things in his life, this ordinarily mild man displayed an unrelenting firmness that withstood every effort, from any quarter, to deflect him from his goal. Near the end of his life p114 Gibbons was asked to write some of his reminiscences for the Dublin Review. Referring to the Knights he said:
I can never forget the anxiety and distress of mind of those days. If the Knights of Labor were not condemned by the Church, then the Church ran the risk of combining against herself every element of wealth and power. . . . But if the Church did not protect the working men she would have been false to her whole history; and this the Church can never be.
The danger of another condemnation had already reappeared. In the excitement over McGlynn's disobedience, a judgment on the doctrinal aspects of Henry George's writings had temporarily faded from view. But Rome had not been allowed to forget it, for Archbishop Corrigan had again suggested a condemnation to the Holy See. The cardinal had been quick to respond to the new threat. In March, 1888, he had told O'Connell that, just as he had predicted in his memorial, book was almost forgotten, that its doctrines boasted few adherents. If the American bishops were consulted, he had said, they would unite in deploring the condemnation of a "dying book." In the ensuing weeks he had busily solicited letters from those in the hierarchy whom he knew to be friendly to his point of view so that he might furnish Denis O'Connell with weapons to be used at the Holy See. "We cannot too often & too strongly impress this thought on the H. See just now," the cardinal had said. He had also begged Cardinal Manning, who was a member of the Congregation of the Index, to assist in preventing condemnation.
In July, 1888, just before Rome issued its decree on the Knights of Labor, the Cardinal of Baltimore, at O'Connell's suggestion, sent a detailed account of his position on Henry George to Leo XIII. All the familiar arguments were used again: the fear of reviving George's dying popularity, the danger of criticism from the Church's enemies, and the near unanimity of the American hierarchy in opposition to condemnation of the book. He told the Pope that no light would be shed on social problems merely by putting the book on the Index or condemning some propositions extracted from it. In his different encyclicals the Pope had treated questions of the highest importance with a force, clarity, and wisdom that had convinced readers, Gibbons said. A similar instruction on the right of property, given with the authority attached to his apostolate and to his person, would p115 dissipate the shadows and would have a salutary influence in solving the great questions that disturbed modern society. From Rome O'Connell reported his deep satisfaction. "Your letter on the George question," he said, "is masterly."
The minority of prelates who supported Archbishop Corrigan likewise made their position known to the Holy See, and in the fall of 1888 they enjoyed the advantage of having a very forceful advocate when Bishop McQuaid made a trip to Rome. Rome was now confronted with a flow of documentary evidence and personal exhortation from both sides. As usual the curial officials took their time, but finally on February 6, 1889, the Congregation of the Inquisition ruled that the works of George deserved condemnation. In transmitting this ruling to Gibbons, Simeoni stated that in view of the peculiar circumstances of time and place, and by reason of the vigilance with which Rome credited the American hierarchy in guarding its people against doctrinal errors, the condemnation need not be published. It was forwarded to Gibbons, therefore, under the seal of the Holy Office.
The decision seems to have been a compromise between Gibbons' and Corrigan's positions. Corrigan could rightly feel that the decision vindicated his view that the teaching of Henry George was not reconcilable with Catholic doctrine. But his disappointment in not being able to reveal his triumph was probably reflected in the remark of his friend McQuaid to Denis O'Connell: "What's the use of it, if you can't publish it?" Certainly the Cardinal of Baltimore would have preferred no action, but he doubtless consoled himself that the secrecy of the decree gave him a substantial victory. For that much — and it was a major point in his policy — Gibbons could breathe a sigh of relief.
The Cardinal of Baltimore worried a great deal, nevertheless, about the attitude of Archbishop Corrigan toward him. Regardless of their discretion, the coolness between the two archbishops afforded a subject for comment among both their friends and enemies. Archbishop Ryan suggested direct communication between the two principals. Following this advice, the cardinal, in October, 1890, wrote a detailed explanation of all that had taken place from the time Burtsell first made his unsuccessful appeal to him for friendly intervention, including as well copies of the exchange of correspondence between him p116 and the canon lawyer and his own letter to Simeoni. On the condemnation of George's works, Gibbons frankly told the Archbishop of New York:
I regarded & still regard that subject as neither local nor personal, but one affecting the general interests of the Church of the U. States. And while having no sympathy for George or his doctrines, I deprecated a public condemnation as calculated in my judgment to do harm to religion.
I sincerely regret that my action in this matter did not accord with your judgment; but I assure you that it was prompted solely by a conscientious sense of duty & the interests of religion.
While the correspondence of the Archbishop of New York with Baltimore continued in a polite but terse form, there was no acknowledgment that the cardinal's explanations had been found satisfactory. Time alone would calm the ruffled feelings.
While the controversy over the Knights of Labor and the condemnation of Henry George still raged, the Catholic University of America moved ahead. Cardinal Gibbons laid the cornerstone May 24, 1888, at a ceremony attended by President Cleveland, several members of his cabinet, and more than thirty bishops. In July Archbishop Corrigan returned to the university committee. In November, Bishop Keane sailed for Europe to hire professors and to win the Holy See's consent to the statutes governing the new institution. The following March, Pope Leo XIII issued his apostolic letter, Magni nobis gaudii, in which he placed his final approval on the university. The formal opening was scheduled to coincide with the centennial of the American hierarchy in November, 1889.
The centennial celebration was opened with pontifical Mass in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore on Sunday, November 10. On the next two days a Catholic Congress was held at the Concordia Opera House during which thirteen papers on a variety of subjects such as the Church's relations to the press, labor, social order, temperance, education, the state, and the independence of the Holy See were heard. On the opening day Gibbons addressed the delegates. The cardinal confessed his early skepticism concerning the congress, but he now saw it as an excellent means for drawing the clergy and laity closer together in a land where they needed to cooperate more than in any other on the face of the earth. He paid a generous tribute to the Catholic laity for its support of the Church p117 in the United States, where churches and schools were built and maintained by free-will offerings, where the salaries of the clergy came not from the government, but from the "warm hands and hearts of the people themselves."
On the day preceding the four‑day celebration, the Baltimore Catholic Mirror had defended the Pope's complete independence, but then continued:
The Holy Father, as Vicar of Christ and visible Head of the Church, has no absolute need for extensive territory wherein to wield the power and exercise the rule of an earthly kingdom.
Gibbons did not see the editorial until someone called his attention to it a week after it was published. The editorial may well have represented the opinion of a considerable number of American Catholics, but the cardinal realized at once the painful impression it would create in Vatican circles. He instructed Monsignor O'Connell, who was then in Baltimore, to call on the lay editor to "reprimand him for his indiscretion, not to use a stronger phrase." Gibbons wished it to be known in Rome that O'Connell had charged the editor in Gibbons' name never in the future to publish anything on the temporal power of the Papacy without first submitting it to him.
The ceremonies in Baltimore were concluded on Tuesday evening, November 12, with a gigantic torchlight procession through the streets. It was viewed by thousands of onlookers headed by two cardinals, nearly twenty archbishops, over seventy bishops representing the United States, Canada, England, and Mexico, hundreds of priests and laymen from all over the country, and many more from foreign lands.
On Wednesday, November 13, the hierarchy and their guests moved to Washington for the opening of the university. Once more, as on the day of the cornerstone ceremony, it rained the entire day. In the morning Cardinal Gibbons, as chancellor, dedicated Caldwell Hall. Then followed the solemn pontifical Mass in the chapel celebrated by Archbishop Francesco Satolli, the Pope's representative, with the sermon by Bishop Gilmour. After the Mass a dinner was served to the guests, including President Benjamin Harrison and three members of his cabinet as well as the distinguished prelates headed by Gibbons and Cardinal Taschereau of Quebec. At p118 the end of the day the original band of thirty-seven priest-students entered upon a retreat, and on Monday, November 18, the first classes were held.
This second week of November, 1889, had been exhausting for the Cardinal of Baltimore, but the general enthusiasm attendant upon the festivities repaid all his anxiety and labor. The entire program had delighted Archbishop Ireland. He felt that never before had the Catholic Church stood so well in the United States, and in one of his typically flamboyant passages he attributed it all to Gibbons:
We have to thank you for all this. You have the ear of the American public as no other man in the Republic. Your words are heeded by all & God be thanked, they are always the words that are needed.
Mariano Cardinal Rampolla, Secretary of State, said that Leo XIII wished to extend the highest praise for the celebration and his full approval for Gibbons' prudent conduct in every endeavor.
Once the university had opened Cardinal Gibbons generally confined himself to acting at the instance of the rector on matters requiring attention between meetings of the board of trustees. He likewise made himself available at all times for counsel to the rector, the trustees, and the professors. Gibbons gave the prestige of his name to the university as chancellor, and he was always faithful in attending the principal functions of the academic year and in presiding at meetings of the trustees. It meant a tremendous amount to Bishop Keane and his successors to have the strong support of a national, even an international, figure.
Just after the celebrations, Gibbons' second book, Our Christian Heritage, appeared. In the introduction he made it clear that, far from despising or rejecting the support of Protestants who retained faith in the divine mission of Christ, he "would gladly hold out to them the right hand of fellowship, so long as they unite with us in striking the common foe." He went to reach those who, he feared, were increasing in number, persons who through association, absence of Christian training, distorted education, and pernicious reading had become estranged, not only from the teachings of the Gospel, but even from the truths of natural religion that underlay Christianity.
In thirty-five chapters running to over 500 pages the author in p119 his customary language, but with the familiar richness of biblical quotations and of reference to works in theology, philosophy, history, and science, discussed such fundamental topics as the existence and attributes of God, the dignity of Christ, the relations of the Church to science, the moral and social conditions in Christian history and in pagan antiquity, and the rights and duties of the laboring classes. The concluding three chapters were devoted to the religious basis of civil society, the religious element in American culture, and the dangers that threatened civilization in the United States.
The work was widely reviewed in both Catholic and Protestant journals, as well as in the secular press, and in the main it was well received. The Independent, the leading New York Protestant weekly, liked the work for its defense of Christian principles, but regretted the tone of Gibbons' comments on Luther. It considered the cardinal's tone "high, bold and sound" on temperance, Mormonism, the relations of capital and labor, and the need for social and industrial reform. Though entirely opposed to his position on the school question, the Independent was glad to find it discussed in a frank way. The most extended and critical review came, unexpectedly, from the Lyceum of Dublin. The reviewer, a Jesuit of the Irish province, approached his task as a professional theologian, and as such he found the book seriously wanting. He particularly censured the omission of the metaphysical proof for the existence of God, which, he said, was almost universally admitted to be the strongest. The review was not entirely negative, however; there were words of commendation for the style, the choice and use of illustrations, and the arguments adapted to the popular intelligence.
As soon as the attention of the General of the Society of Jesus had been called to the review, he sent an apology to the cardinal; he expressed his deep sorrow that a member of his society should have written in such a spirit. In reply, the cardinal said that he was profoundly touched by the evidence of this sensitive regard for his literary reputation. Gibbons confessed that he considered the criticism in some particulars unfair and captious. As for the metaphysical argument for the existence of God, the cardinal thought the average American reader would find it too abstruse to grasp. He assured the Jesuit general that the review had left no painful impression on his mind.
p120 In the spring of 1890, Gibbons was vividly reminded that Rome's decision on the Abbelen petition in 1887 had not ended the German question in the American Church. After Archbishop Michael Heiss of Milwaukee died on March 26, the bishops of the Milwaukee Province drew up a terna of three bishops all of German extraction: Frederick X. Katzer of Green Bay, Kilian Flasch of La Crosse, and Henry J. Richter of Grand Rapids. John Ireland got wind of the first choice and immediately urged Gibbons that the American metropolitans delay sending their judgments until he could be heard from. The Archbishop of St. Paul felt that Katzer was "thoroughly unfit to be an archbishop."
Gibbons, also in favor of a thorough discussion of the Milwaukee candidates, requested Simeoni to delay the appointment. When the first annual meeting of the archbishops of the United States convened in Boston on July 23‑24, 1890, the name of Katzer was unanimously set aside. For his place as the first on the list they close John Lancaster Spalding, Bishop of Peoria. Gibbons promptly sent off the choice to Simeoni. Shortly before Christmas, however, Katzer was named Archbishop of Milwaukee. The appointment was a severe disappointment to Gibbons, but characteristically he accepted defeat in good grace. He quickly sent his congratulations to the archbishop-elect, and in the interests of peace in the Church of the United States, he counseled Archbishop Ireland to do the same. The aspect of the whole after that Ireland found most galling was the slight put upon the archbishops by the Holy See. Denis O'Connell wrote ominously of a few intransigent cardinals in the Propaganda who were determined to teach the American bishops a lesson in docility toward the Holy See. Donato Sbarretti, the minutante of the Congregation, did not hesitate to say that German influences in Rome were invoked to win the miter of Milwaukee for the Bishop of Green Bay. Sbarretti was quoted as having told O'Connell concerning the Germans in Rome: "There are some of them in the congregation and you have no voice there at all. We should have Gibbons here." The aptness of this advice became clearer later in the year when, despite the efforts of Gibbons and Elder, Ignatius F. Horstmann of Philadelphia, one of the German party, was named Bishop of Cleveland.
In May 1891, a new storm broke; the fierce excitement that it aroused made all other aspects of the problem appear trivial. Following an international conference of the European St. Raphael's p121 Society held in Lucerne in December, 1890, a memorial to the Holy See recommended the creation of separate parishes for each nationality; the appointment of priests of the respective nationality to these parishes; the provision of priests who understood the language in those areas where there were foreign-born Catholics but not in such numbers as to enable them to form a parish; the erection of separate parish schools for each nationality whenever possible; equal rights and privileges for priests who served the immigrants; Catholic confraternities; mutual aid and protection societies for the immigrants. Finally, said the document, it would be desirable as often as judged feasible for the immigrant groups to have in the hierarchy some bishops of their own race.
When the so‑called Lucerne memorial was published in the United States in May, 1891, indignation burst out in American Catholic circles. Ireland inquired of the cardinal if Peter Paul Cahensly, a leading layman at the Lucerne conference, was to be permitted to tell Rome how the Church of this country was to be ruled. He knew that Gibbons' "delicacy of sentiment" might tempt him not to act lest jealous minds complain; yet there were times when delicacy must yield before stern duty. "We are American bishops," said Ireland, "an effort is made to dethrone us, & to foreignize our country in the name of religion."
Gibbons communicated his views privately to Monsignor O'Connell who, in turn, made them known at the Holy See. In reply, Cardinal Rampolla stated that the Pope had instructed him to reassure Gibbons and his colleagues that the Lucerne proposal was not viewed with favor in Rome.
Early in July Archbishop Katzer informed the cardinal that he had set August 20 as the date for conferring the pallium and that he hoped Gibbons' health would permit him to fulfill his promise to do Katzer that honor. Gibbons had not been well of late, so about this time he decided to take a holiday at Cape May, New Jersey, to regain his health. On July 11 while taking a walk with Abbé Magnien, the cardinal happened to meet President Harrison, who invited him into his cottage for a visit. The president brought up the subject of the Cahensly memorial and expressed his pleasure that Gibbons deplored the movement. Gibbons had the satisfaction of being able to tell the president that on that very morning he had received the Rampolla letter in which the Holy Father had rejected p122 the Cahensly proposal. Some weeks later Gibbons sent Rampolla a complete report on this interview.
Less than a month after this report, at the ceremony conferring the pallium on Frederick X. Katzer in St. John's Cathedral in Milwaukee, the cardinal delivered a major pronouncement. Gibbons cited the large number of nationalities represented in the Catholic body of the United States, united, as he said, by the precious bond of Christian brotherhood. Then he came to the heart of the warning he had determined to utter:
Woe to him, my brethren, who would destroy or impair this blessed harmony that reigns among us! Woe to him who would sow tares of discord in the fair fields of the Church in America! Woe to him who would breed dissension among the leaders of Israel by introducing a spirit of nationalism into the camps of the Lord! Brothers we are, whatever may be our nationality, and brothers we shall remain. We will prove to our countrymen that the ties formed by grace and faith are stronger than flesh and blood. God and our country! — this is our watchword. Loyalty to God's Church and to our country! — this our religious and political faith.
Gibbons developed the double loyalty that should motivate American Catholics, love of God and of country, and he exhorted his audience to glory in the title of American citizen. Directing his remarks to the Catholic foreign-born, the cardinal stated that when they decided to cross the Atlantic to seek a new home in this country they should be animated by the spirit of Ruth in the Old Testament when she determined to join her husband's kindred in the land of Israel. Gibbons would have the Catholic immigrant say in the words of Ruth:
thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there will I be buried.
Reactions to the sermon were both widespread and favorable. The Chicago Tribune pronounced it "patriotic in every sense," and said if it had not been delivered before the altar it would undoubtedly have been frequently applauded. Over twenty years later Gibbons himself said the Milwaukee sermon was one of the most audacious things he ever did; "When I finished they were aghast, but I think the lesson had its effect."
p123 The animus aroused over this question pervaded the atmosphere of American Catholicism through the closing years of the century. The strife occasioned in the early years of the Catholic University of America, the "school controversy" in Minnesota, and the struggle over the alleged heresy of Americanism would have been robbed of much bitterness had not the atmosphere been poisoned by the unfortunate differences between German- and English-speaking Catholics.
The "school controversy" gave the American Church some of the most acrimonious moments in its history, exciting its most tempestuous spirits over an issue of central importance, the parochial schools. The Church was intent upon the spread of its parochial schools as a major safeguard for the religious faith of its children. At the same time the growing spirit of secularism in American society lessened its emphasis upon religious instruction and aroused resentment against any effort to offer religious training in the public schools or to give financial aid to private religious schools. When agitation over the issue of public versus parochial schools slackened, sensible compromises worked to the advantage of both sides. In Poughkeepsie, New York, and in some communities of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania in the 1870's, instruction in the Catholic religion had been given after the regular school hours. In the 1880's, controversy had developed. The authorities of the Church in Rome, concerned for the faith of thousands of immigrant children, yet wishing to hold aloof from an American political question such as public funds for parochial schools, had urged the construction of more parish schools as the only remedy and the Third Plenary Council had made it almost mandatory for pastors to erect parochial schools.
With the question very much in the public eye, the National Education Association invited Cardinal Gibbons and Bishop Keane to address its annual convention at Nashville in July, 1889. The cardinal's brief paper, which was read by Keane, explained why he regarded education as incomplete without religious instruction. Gibbons based his argument on man's spiritual nature and eternal destiny, and near the close of his remarks he cited the example of Canada as a way in which the public and parochial school systems could work in harmony.
The following year archbishop John Ireland spoke to the same p124 N. E. A. in his see city of St. Paul. The address was entitled "State Schools and Parish Schools." At the very outset the speaker proclaimed in eloquent phrases his advocacy of the public schools, although, as he said, in the circumstances of the time he also upheld the parochial school. He wished there was no need for the latter; if he had his way, all American schools would be state schools. Nonetheless, the speaker saw no solution to the difficulty of the many varieties of the Christian religion in the teaching of a common Christianity in the schools, for "In loyalty to their principles, Catholics cannot and will not accept a common Christianity." This situation, therefore, called for a compromise in which the state could play a part. In Ireland's judgment the right of the state school to exist was beyond discussion. He maintained, however, that the primary right to educate belonged to the parents, and if they performed their obligation by seeing that their children received in parochial schools an education that would properly fit them for citizenship, then they should be free of all interference. Ireland went on to point out the chief objection of Catholics to public schools, namely, their failure to teach religion, and to state his belief in the necessity of religious instruction for the complete education of the child. In an effort to offer a compromise he made the following proposal:
I would permeate the regular state school with the religion of the majority of the children of the land, be this religion as Protestant as Protestantism can be, and I would, as is done in England, pay for the secular instruction given in denominational schools according to results; that is, every pupil passing the examination before state officials, and in full accordance with the state program, would secure to his school the cost of the tuition of a pupil in the state school. This is not paying for religious instruction, but for the secular instruction demanded by the state, and given to the pupil as thoroughly as he could have received it in the state school.
Ireland, already disliked by German Catholics because of his opposition to the use of German in their numerous parish schools, now excited the resistance of other conservative churchmen who believed they detected the germ of European liberalism in Ireland's attempts to accommodate American Catholicism to the national spirit. Gibbons was quick to sense danger to his friend when he learned that someone had sent the text of Ireland's address to Rome for p125 examination. Nor were his misgivings allayed two weeks later when he heard that while the archbishop would escape ecclesiastical censure this time, Simeoni was greatly troubled by the controversial speech. Uneasy, the cardinal decided upon a personal defense of his friend. He told O'Connell that Simeoni should know that not a bishop in the country had done more to advance the Catholic release than John Ireland, that he was admired by the entire community, and that Protestants regarded him as a fearless champion of the Catholic faith, while Catholics venerated him as an eloquent exponent of their religion. Consequently, the circulation of even a rumor that he did not enjoy the entire confidence of the Propaganda would do immense mischief to religion, dampen the zeal of Ireland, elate the Church's enemies, and sadden the hearts of Catholics. "Had he been a dumb dog," said the cardinal, "no whelps would have barked at him here."
Later that year Gibbons, under prodding from O'Connell, followed up this letter with another major statement of American policy for the guidance of the Holy See. The cardinal first emphasized the efforts that American Catholics were continuing to make in behalf of the parochial schools. But he informed Leo XIII that these efforts would always have limited success, since circumstances would always make it necessary for some Catholic children to attend the public schools. Lest the Pope form a false impression of the American public schools, Gibbons was at pains to explain that
the religious question is set aside in the schools in order not to offend the sentiments of the children who attend them and the parents who send them there. The care of providing the religious education of the children is left to the Church and the Protestant sects.
If Ireland's tribute to the public schools was read in the light of the principles set forth in the second section of the address, the cardinal could see nothing reprehensible from the viewpoint of sound doctrine. After quoting for the Pope a number of the most controverted passages of the speech, Gibbons then continued:
It appears to me, Most Holy Father, that the various sentences in their context have no other meaning than this: The Catholics are not against state schools in principle; they recognize the great success of these schools; they desire neither their suppression nor diminution; what they ask is that the defects of the system be corrected, that religious teaching be given the place it is entitled to; in particular p126 that Catholics be given the guarantees demanded by their consciences in the most important task of the education of their children, then these same Catholics will be glad to patronize these schools as their conscience will no longer oblige them, in order to have their parochial schools, to take upon themselves the heavy burdens which weigh upon them in the present circumstances.
The opponents of the Archbishop of St. Paul had likewise suspected his faith because of his remarks concerning Protestantism. To the cardinal it was obvious that a religion that helped "to maintain in the public mind belief in revelation and the supernatural order" was certainly preferable to unbelief. That, too, was the meaning of Ireland when he made his appeal for Protestantism.
With these various factors in mind, it would be, said Gibbons, disastrous if the archbishop were condemned or even simply blamed. Protestants constantly proclaimed that there could be no liberty of thought in the Catholic Church. The censure of Ireland would confirm this charge since he was a living challenge to such accusations. Furthermore, Ireland's zeal for religious education was proved in his own archdiocese, where 12,000 Catholic children attended parochial schools. The campaign against the Archbishop of St. Paul was motivated not by disinterested love of truth nor pure zeal for sound doctrine, Gibbons observed acidly, but by less worthy motives.
In the interval before the next archbishops' meeting, Gibbons encouraged Thomas Bouquillon, professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, to publish a pamphlet, Education: To Whom Does It Belong? which gave vigorous support to Ireland's view of the right of the state to educate children. Even before the Bouquillon work became generally known, news of it reached the opposition. Some days before the meeting of the archbishops in St. Louis, Bishop McQuaid expressed his pleasure to Archbishop Corrigan that Bouquillon was to be answered seriously. McQuaid was doubtless referring to the effort of Father René I. Holaind, S. J., of New York, who wrote a thirty‑two page pamphlet called The Parent First.
When the archbishops assembled in November, 1891, Archbishop Ireland explained the arrangements between the local school boards and the parish schools of Faribault and Stillwater in his archdiocese. The pastors in these towns had agreed with the respective school boards to rent their parish schools for $1 a year with stipulations p127 similar to those in Poughkeepsie. Ireland received the explicit approval of several archbishops present, the open congratulations of Archbishop Williams, and no word of censure from his other colleagues.
With the publication of the opposing pamphlets the controversy entered it bitterest phase. Both sides supplied their European friends with letters and newspaper clippings, and the debate received wide coverage in English and continental journals. By the early days of 1892 the question had become, probably to the surprise of all concerned, a matter of international interest.
True to his nature in facing opposition directly, Archbishop Ireland sailed for Rome on January 16, 1892, armed with documentary weapons for the defense of himself and of Dr. Bouquillon. Within a month after Ireland's arrival, O'Connell reported that the Pope and Rampolla had espoused Ireland's cause. Gibbons' acknowledgment not only showed his joy, but his depth of feeling on the subject:
God bless the Pope. Yesterday I prayed at Mass that the Lord might inspire him & that right & justice should prevail. It is not the Faribault school that is on trial, but the question to be decided is whether the Church is to be governed here by men or by children, by justice & truth, or by diplomacy & intrigue, whether the Church is to be honored as a bulwark of liberty & order, or to be despised and suspected as an enemy of our Institutions.
For one blunder the Archbishop of St. Paul was himself responsible. In his eagerness to score a point against his enemies, Ireland insisted that the editors of the Civiltà publish a private letter in which Cardinal Gibbons had explained the circumstances, as he remembered them, of the St. Louis meeting in which Ireland had outlined the Faribault-Stillwater school plan. The three sentences of the letter that gave rise to trouble were the following:
The Archbishop expressed a willingness to discontinue this system, if his colleagues advised him. But he got no such advice, for the advantage is all on his side. The Archbishop answered several questions, put by his colleagues, and the result was a triumphant vindication of his course.
Although the letter was published without Gibbons' prior consent, he stood by it when challenged by Corrigan. Unsatisfied by the explanation, Corrigan launched an effort to get certain archbishops p128 to go on record at Rome against the cardinal's interpretation. Without Gibbons' knowledge, Corrigan drew up a document that expressed an impression contrary to that of the cardinal's letter. When he found six archbishops who supported his account, he forwarded the document to the Propaganda.
Needless to say, this incident was the source of deep distress to Cardinal Gibbons, even though several of the signatories denied any thought of questioning his veracity before the Holy See. Despite the apologies Gibbons revealed to Ryan how keenly he felt: "the last few days have been to me days of intolerable anguish." Gibbons was consoled to learn from Ireland that Cardinal Ledochowski, the Prefect of the Propaganda, "emphatically impressed on me the duty of assuring you of his utter confidence in the veracity of your report."
During the public debate over Ireland's school plan, the cardinals of the Propaganda were quietly investigating, and on April 21, 1892, they reached their decision, confirmed by the Pope, that although they wished to derogate in no way from the legislation of the councils of Baltimore on parochial schools, yet, taking into consideration all the circumstances, the arrangements at Faribault and Stillwater could be tolerated. Gibbons, of course, was elated, but in this moment of triumph the cardinal had fears that the archbishops' ardent temperament might get the better of him. Gibbons therefore, gave him a sage bit of advice. "Be sure," said the Cardinal, "that no public expression will come from you which might be used by your enemies against you. Do nothing to wound or irritate. Your victory is a sufficient ground for the humiliation of others."
Archbishop Ireland concluded his Roman visit in high spirits, and when he reached Genoa, he wrote the story of his triumphs to Gibbons. Looking forward to the meeting of the archbishops in New York in the fall, he said he would be prepared to silence Corrigan. He added a word to stiffen Gibbons' firmness for the coming meeting: "Please, do not be afraid."
Hardly had Ireland arrived in St. Paul in mid‑July before he was confronted with a serious revolt in the two communities; both non‑Catholics and Catholics opposed continuing the Dominican Sisters as teachers in the two schools. The Stillwater school board had terminated the contract of the Sisters even before Ireland reached home, and the excitement at Faribault was only calmed sufficiently to permit a contract for one more year; but this, too, was later annulled as p129 of October, 1893. The experiment, therefore, had proven a failure. When the fall meeting of the archbishops was held in New York, the issue was no longer a practical one.
The following year, when the Holy Father reaffirmed the compromise, even the strongest opponents in the hierarchy subsided; insofar as the bishops were concerned, the debate was over. Archbishop Corrigan received the papal decision with a spirit of resignation, and in thanking Gibbons for a copy of it, he said: "I trust the words of our Lord's Vicar will have the consoling effect of His own when He commanded the winds and the waves, and 'there came a great calm.' "
The school controversy finally brought to a head the pressure for an apostolic delegate. When John W. Foster, the Secretary of State, requested the Vatican to lend some fifteenth-century maps to the World's Columbian Exposition scheduled for Chicago in 1893, the Holy See promptly granted the request and appointed a personal representative of the Pope, Archbishop Francesco Satolli, to bring them to this country.
On October 12, 1892, Archbishop Satolli, accompanied by Monsignor O'Connell from Rome, arrived on the Majestic. After a brief stop in the city, during which they took dinner with Archbishop Corrigan, the ablegate and his party hurried on to Baltimore where they were the guests of Cardinal Gibbons. Two days later Gibbons accompanied Satolli to Washington for a visit to Secretary of State Foster, and on October 18, the cardinal, the ablegate, Ireland, and O'Connell left for Chicago where Gibbons gave the invocation at the ceremonies dedicating the buildings for the Columbian Exposition. From Chicago Satolli traveled on to St. Paul with Ireland, whose guest he was for nearly a month.
In one sense the visit of Archbishop Satolli was singularly ill‑timed. The appearance of the papal ablegate played directly into the hands of the American Protective Association. From the outset of his visit Satolli was attacked in the A. P. A. press, and other papers were soon carrying alarming rumors about the powers with which the Pope had invested him over the lives of American citizens. The atmosphere was sufficiently charged with tension to create in the minds of the American bishops the hope that he would not prolong his stay beyond the time necessary to transact his business.
When the archbishops of the United States assembled in New p130 York in mid‑November, Satolli presented the great desire of the Holy Father to establish with their concurrence a permanent apostolic delegation in the United States. All the archbishops, with the exception of Ireland, stated that, in view of "the serious difficulties connected with the subject," they did not feel warranted in taking action until they had first consulted with their suffragans. For the moment there the matter rested. Gibbons was instructed in a unanimous resolution to thank Satolli for the able discharge of his "special mission" and Leo XIII for sending so holy and learned a representative.
Meanwhile Archbishop Satolli returned to Washington where he took up residence at the Catholic University of America. On December 3 he received certain faculties from the Propaganda for settling disputes between bishops and their priests. Probably on the strength of these faculties, Satolli freed Father McGlynn from ecclesiastical censures and restored him to the exercise of his priestly functions, an incident that, to be sure, did not endear the ablegate to Archbishop Corrigan. Other bishops also feared for their prerogatives. Bishop Keane, rector of the University, was anxious to have Gibbons impress upon the ablegate that he was to receive cases only as the Holy See did, that is, after they had passed through the court of the metropolitan. Keane added: "Were he a circuit court of the first instance, it is easy to imagine how much confusion & disorder would be occasioned."
The day following the mailing of this letter, there appeared in the Chicago Tribune of January 5 and in other American papers a story from London that the Pope was "unusually irritated by the collapse of his project to appoint a nuncio to the United States." The next day the Tribune, on the authority of the Corriere del Mattino of Naples, stated that the ablegate's brusque manner had caused the Roman Curia to understand that the Americans would not tolerate the arrogance of its envoy and that Satolli had, therefore, been recalled. A group of priests of the Archdiocese of New York were alleged to have signed a circular protesting against the attacks on Satolli, and stating that these attacks were instigated by certain bishops who opposed his presence here. Archbishop Corrigan indignantly repudiated any personal connection with the attacks, though Archbishop Ireland believed he had proof that the Archbishop of New York had inspired the press campaign against p131 Satolli. Ireland was burning with indignation. He told the cardinal: "We have fallen upon sad times. Religion is suffering; Catholics are scandalized; Protestants laugh at us." The enemies of the Church, Bishop Kain of Wheeling told Gibbons, "are chuckling over discord in our ranks."
In the midst of the discord Gibbons received a cablegram from O'Connell; it read: "American delegation established. Satolli first delegate." The gordian knot had been cut by the personal action of the Pope, and the American hierarchy was now faced with an accomplished fact.
Gibbons immediately sent his congratulations to the new delegate in Washington. Two weeks later, Gibbons forwarded to Leo XIII his thanks for the establishment of a permanent apostolic delegation. He told the Pope that his personal sentiments even more than the circumstances urged him to express his gratitude, that the cablegram had brought him one of the great joys of his life, and that he blessed from the bottom of his heart the Providence that had inspired this act of His Holinessand had induced him to execute it without delay. Nothing, said the cardinal, could have been more opportune since for some time there had been attacks upon Archbishop Satolli, directed by men who were determined to hound him out of the country. Leo's action had put an end to this disorder, checked the intrigues, reduced to silence the most bitter of Satolli's opponents. Referring then to the reaction shown toward the appointment, Gibbons said:
Satisfaction has been very general in our ranks, and even those who had been surprised or even piqued by this exercise of your apostolic authority have already been led, or soon will be, by their personal reflection and by public sentiment to change their views and to accept with good grace the decision of Your Holiness, even to rejoice heartily in it.
Obviously the circumstances demanded a respectful acceptance of Leo XIII's action. Equally obviously, the American bishops had been confronted with a fait accompli that they were powerless to reverse. For reasons of prudence and common sense, therefore, they should have made their acceptance as graceful as possible. But when Gibbons stated that the news of the permanent appointment had brought him "one of the great joys" of his life, that it had been well received by Protestants as well as Catholics, and that p132 the news had silenced all opposition against Satolli, the Cardinal of Baltimore was taking an unaccustomed liberty with the truth.
Gibbons helped Satolli get established by arranging for him to meet President Cleveland, by helping him buy a house on I Street in Washington, and, under insistent prodding from Rome, by serving — successfully — as a conciliator for Satolli and Corrigan. Since Gibbons' silver jubilee as archbishop was to be celebrated in October, 1893, he extended his peacemaking efforts by inviting Archbishop Corrigan to preach the sermon at the pontifical Mass at the cathedral in Baltimore. The Archbishop of New York accepted, and in his sermon on October 18, 1893, he referred to the affection in which the cardinal was held by his priests and people and by the very large number of prelates who had assembled to honor him, including "the venerated representative of the Holy Father," as evidences of how deeply he had engraven himself on the hearts of those who knew him. Corrigan's sermon made its contribution to setting at rest the talk about their differences over public questions, even as it excited, in certain quarters where Corrigan was not liked, misgivings about Gibbons' firmness. By the close of the year 1893, therefore, the worst of the storm was over. In the thirty years that elapsed from the appointment of Satolli to the death of Gibbons, the latter had ample opportunity to see the usefulness of the Apostolic Delegation for the Church of the United States. As subsequent delegates came and went, the Cardinal of Baltimore worked harmoniously with them.
The festivities that marked Gibbons' twenty-five years as a bishop in 1893 called forth tributes from all over the land. A dinner in Gibbons' honor for civic officials was given on October 19, and there Vice-President Adlai Stevenson led the distinguished audience in tributes to the guest of honor. Governor Frank Brown made known that he would be present for the celebration to show by his presence the high esteem in which he in common with all the people of Maryland held the cardinal. Another of Baltimore's distinguished citizens, Daniel C. Gilman, president of the Johns Hopkins University, expressed his congratulations that amid the arduous duties of Gibbons' high station, he had been able, beyond the bounds of his own communion, to exert "so strong an influence in the promotion of Christian charity and in defense of the political institutions of this land."
p133 The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia in its editorial of October 20 rejoiced that the Catholic Church in the United States had patterned itself after him, one of its best exemplars. The New York Tribune on October 22 paid tribute to the liberal views of the cardinal, but as a liberal who did not offend his conservative colleagues. "Between the extremes of both parties," said the Tribune, he stands as a harmonizer, a peacemaker." The Baltimore Sun of October 19 hailed him editorially as one who by his life had made the world richer morally, intellectually, and industrially.
Two other issues that troubled Gibbons — secret societies and "Americanism" — showed a persistent vitality despite the apparent amity that surrounded his jubilee. The spring of 1892 brought an article in the American Ecclesiastical Review from Archbishop Katzer in which the more conservative point of view on the societies was set forth, and two months later Francis Janssens, Archbishop of New Orleans, in the same journal came out against the Knights of Pythias as a forbidden society, although, as he was careful to explain, it was not condemned under pain of excommunication.
In this instance Gibbons' policy of "masterly inactivity" was not working to his advantage. By their forthright public stands the Archbishops of Milwaukee and New Orleans took the lead from the other metropolitans; their decisive moves were bound to attract recruits to their side. On September 14 the New York bishops adopted a unanimous resolution that in their opinion the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and Knights Templar were prohibited societies in the sense of the decrees and pastoral letter of the Third Plenary Council. Six weeks later their colleagues of the Province of Philadelphia reached a similarly unanimous decision on these three societies, to which they added an explicit condemnation of the Sons of Temperance.
The actions of these provincial meetings were taken with an eye to the approaching third annual conference of the archbishops in New York in November, 1892. In preparation for the meeting, the noted Jesuit theologian, Aloysius Sabetti, professor of moral theology at Woodstock College, sent the cardinal a copy of a study on secret societies that had been made by Salvatore M. Brandi, S. J., when he was on the faculty at Woodstock. Brandi reached the conclusion that no society except the Masons must be condemned in the United States unless it was proven that it worked against p134 Church or State. Thus Gibbons had support from one of the leading moral theologians of the United States. At the archbishops' meeting no unanimous judgment could be rendered on groups like the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias. So all available material on the disputed lodges had to be communicated to the Holy See for a final decision. The cardinal doubtless viewed with considerable misgiving the transfer of the responsibility out of American hands. Yet there seemed to be no other course to follow.
The Roman Curia proceeded in its usual leisurely manner. On August 20, 1894, Raffaele Cardinal Monaco of the Congregation of the Holy Office forwarded a decree to Archbishop Satolli in which the three disputed societies — the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, and the Sons of Temperance — were condemned by the Church. The decree directed that the American bishops be warned against the societies; if Catholic members persisted in the ranks after being warned, they were to be deprived of the sacraments. Rampolla told that the carrying out of the decree should be committed to the prudence and conscience of the metropolitans.
The terse language of the official minutes of the Philadelphia meeting of the archbishops in October, 1894, gives no direct evidence of the role played by Gibbons as chairman, but in the action taken on the decree it is not difficult to detect his hand. The minutes stated:
The Most Reverend Prelates were unanimous in their opinion that it was inopportune under the present circumstance to publish said condemnation; they moreover agreed not to communicate this condemnation even to their suffragans; and in fine they resolved that no individual Archbishop or Bishop should promulgate it, unless its promulgation were expressly ordered by the Holy See or by the Archbishops in convention assembled.
The moderates carried the day at Philadelphia principally because at the very time of their meeting the A. P. A. was growing noisier in anticipation of the congressional elections less than a month away. Even the most conservative archbishops were fearful lest the publication of the decree arm the Church's enemies.
This stay of proceeding was nullified when in early December, 1894, the Holy See ordered that the condemnation of the societies be promulgated and communicated at once to the suffragans. Archbishop p135 Ireland was indignant, saying to Gibbons that few things in the past decade had amazed and saddened him more than this action of the Holy See; the disregard of what Ireland believed was the larger portion of the American hierarchy irritated him. Cardinal Gibbons was also annoyed, especially since the bishops would have to bear the odium and responsibility without being able to give a reasonable answer to those who would ask about their motives. Gibbons himself was not going to let the incident pass without a protest: "I wish to put myself on record. Let the responsibility rest on them that brought about the condemnation."
Several weeks later the Cardinal of Baltimore addressed a strong communication to the Secretary of State containing none of the customary thanks for the Holy See's solicitude for American Catholic affairs. Gibbons told Rampolla that it would not be opportune to publish the decree in Baltimore, since the Catholic members of the banned societies saw nothing evil in them and the Protestant members had shown no hostility to the Catholic Church. He feared the decree's publication would only irritate the Protestants and tempt the Catholics to disobedience because of the financial losses they would sustain should they abandon their membership. The cardinal pointed out that confessors could effectively withdraw Catholics from the forbidden societies in a gradual and quiet manner. Therefore, he hoped the Holy See would approve his accepting the judgment of Rome but not officially publishing it.
The reply to Gibbons came through Archbishop Satolli. The delegate had drawn up the following points as a practical guide for all concerned. Catholics were not to be allowed to join the three societies, but this ban would be lifted in the future if the societies would modify their constitutions so as to remove all grounds for suspicion; second, those Catholics who already belonged were not to be obliged to resign if their interests would suffer a serious injury. Since in practically every instance withdrawal would cause grave injury to the financial interests of Catholic members, they did not have to resign. Third, no public promulgation of the Roman decree was necessary or desirable; private instructions concerning the decree could be given to the clergy by the bishops. Gibbons was hopeful about Satolli. The cardinal told Ireland that Satolli
is fully alive to the situation & in entire sympathy with us. His interpretation of the Decree takes the sting out of it & practically puts p136 us where we were before. He has his mind & heart set on having the whole question reopened in Rome & I strongly advised him to do so. . . .
The Archbishop of Baltimore meanwhile made preparations for a visit to Rome. Ireland was jubilant when he got word that the cardinal was going: "You are needed there. Go to conquer, and return having conquered." Still fresh in the minds of Gibbons' admirers, and in his own mind, was the triumph he had won some years before in prevailing on the Holy See to reverse itself on the ban against the Knights of Labor.
His attempt, however, failed. Several cardinals said unequivocally that the matter was settled, and even the Pope was reported to have told Gibbons to publish the decree in his archdiocese. Just before his departure from Rome, Gibbons acknowledged his failure in a letter to Keane:
The H. Office is inflexible, & a few days before I arrived a letter was sent to the Delegate urging more explicit promulgation. Interested parties were working with H. Office before I arrived, & representing some Prelates as neglectful in this regard. But those high in authority suggest an interpretation which moderates the severity of the decision. I will have much to say to you viva voce.
Essentially the issue was settled, though the details remained to be worked out. Gibbons knew that he had suffered his first major setback at the Holy See.
In several ways this European journey proved to be an unpleasant experience, for scarcely a week after Cardinal Gibbons' arrival in Rome, he received the exceedingly painful news that Monsignor Denis J. O'Connell had been forced to resign as rector of the American College. Over the previous ten years his identification with the party of Gibbons, Ireland, and Keane damaged his prestige as liaison man for the American hierarchy with the Holy See. Criticism lodged with the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, under which the American College operated, convinced certain officials of the congregation that the rector must go. The opponents of the so‑called liberals regarded O'Connell's resignation as a triumph. To the Cardinal of Baltimore, the entire affair was a cruel blow, though he accepted the decision with outward serenity. For nearly thirty years he had been an intimate friend of O'Connell's, had promoted his interests on every possible occasion, and had followed his advice p137 on important questions. Now Gibbons threw over O'Connell the mantle of his protection; for the present, he appointed the deposed rector as vicar of his titular Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He assured O'Connell: "You are almost hourly in my thoughts."
The forced resignation of Denis O'Connell offered only a foretaste of what was to come. The archbishop of St. Paul noted gloomily: "I remain most pessimistic as to Rome's general influence on the movements of the American Church." The cardinal shared this mood. Wild, misleading statements concerning his motives and his policies in Rome were appearing in American newspapers under European datelines. Greatly annoyed, the cardinal felt prompted to say: "On this side of the Atlantic intrigues and deceitful diplomacy are reduced to a science." Not often did Gibbons speak in such sharp tones even to his intimate friends. It was evident that his temper was growing short.
The gloom was justified. Although most major controversies had been settled by summer of 1895, the most serious of all was about to erupt — the problem known as Americanism. Among the leaders of the American Church there were two fairly discernible schools of thought. One, to which men like Gibbons, Ireland, and Keane generally adhered, interpreted the Church's attitude in a tolerant manner, in the dual hope that this approach would assimilate the thousands of foreign-born Catholics to their American home, and at the same time deprive enemies of the argument that the Church was un‑American. The other, numbering bishops like Corrigan, Katzer, and McQuaid, took a more strictly legalistic view, feared the germ of philosophical liberalism they detected in the opposition; they were less inclined to a spirit of accommodation to American ways. At times the ranks broke, to be sure. For example, Cahenslyism, which rallied so many of the conservative German bishops, had no more unflinching enemy than McQuaid, while the resistance to an Italian delegate, which gathered in most of the democratically minded bishops, found the progressive John Ireland in the opposite camp. In neither wing was there a bishop who was not entirely orthodox in doctrine and fundamentally loyal to the United States.
In April, 1891, Monsignor Thomas S. Preston, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of New York, published an article, "American Catholicity," in which he deprecated the views that American Catholicism p138 was more consonant with the spirit of the age and less hostile to those who differed from Catholics in faith and morals, that the American form of government was the best possible and most suited to the Catholic religion, and that all religions were good and conducive to the salvation of men, while the Catholic religion was only better and more complete. On this issue of Church and State, Preston said: "We yield to no one in devotion to our own country; nevertheless, we cannot hold that the form of government is that in which the Church is entirely separated from the State and the State from the Church." He also believed that good Catholics were bound to work by every legitimate means for the restoration of the temporal power of the Pope.
These views were shared by Preston's superior, Archbishop Corrigan. A year after Preston's article, when the Superior General of the Paulists, Augustine F. Hewit, asked the archbishop to write something for the Catholic World, Corrigan courteously declined and sent a private memorandum to Hewit in which he said: "When last in Rome, I was directed to repress certain Liberalizing tendencies observed in 'The Catholic World.' " A far more important indication that so‑called liberal tendencies were being watched — and at times reported to the Holy See — came the following year. The cause of complaint was the Catholic participation in the World's Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in the fall of 1893 in connection with the Columbian Exposition. At the American Catholic Congress held during the exposition, Archbishop Satolli had words of high praise for both Church and State in the United States, and in concluding he said:
Go forward, in one hand bearing the book of christian truth and in the other the constitution of the United States. Christian truth and American liberty will make you free, happy, and prosperous. They will put you on the road to progress. May your steps ever persevere on that road.
Then on the fourth day of the World's Parliament of Religions, Bishop Keane read a paper written by Gibbons, "The Needs of Humanity Supplied by the Catholic Religion." In an address carefully worded for the mixed audience, the cardinal summarized the outstanding work done by the Church in purifying the marriage bond, proclaiming the sanctity of human life, and providing remedies for human misery in the persons of orphans, erring women, widows, the sick, and the slaves. Gibbons reminded his audience that every man p139 had a mission from God to help his fellowman. In conclusion, the cardinal said: "Though we differ in faith, thank God there is one platform on which we stand united, and that is the platform of charity and benevolence!"
Knowing the sensitivity of Rome about mixed religious gatherings, the cardinal was at pains to explain to Cardinal Rampolla that the bishops had felt it would be well to help offset the agnosticism and atheism of the day and, moreover, to make known the truths of Catholicism to people who were entirely ignorant of or even prejudiced against them. He stated that during the days of the parliament the Catholic bureau of information had distributed around 18,000 books, brochures, and tracts. Gibbons told Rampolla that the Catholic Church's doctrines, morals, and discipline were explained in all their sincerity without the least spirit of compromise or concession. There had been no attempt made at a false union of the churches, nor had any such idea been proposed. The Pope recognized the burden imposed by the parliament on Gibbons and his colleagues; the fact that the delicate and dangerous aspects of such gatherings were avoided was certainly due to the perspicacity of His Eminence of Baltimore. The Holy See seemed satisfied.
The following fall, at the seventh German-American Katholikentag assembled in Louisville, Father Henry M. Tappert, an assistant pastor from Covington, Kentucky, repeated a charge that he had made the previous month at the congress of German Catholics in Cologne, that liberalism, the great enemy of the day, had made great inroads on American Catholic leaders:
It holds sway over certain Catholics who have inscribed on their banner: "Union of the Church with the age, with modern ideas, with Americanism." Hence the extolling of modern liberties, not as a requisite for a justified tolerance, but as the ideal of political and ecclesiastical wisdom; hence the cautiousness of preaching Catholic truth, under which truth and Catholicity suffer; hence the more than sparing attitude of this third kind of liberalism towards secret societies; hence the unreasonable breaking away from sane Catholic tradition in the temperance and liquor question; hence, finally, that coquetting with a more or less general, all‑embracing christianity to which a far‑reaching expression was given at the Chicago religious parliament of unholy memory.
p140 Tappert went on to say that from this same source arose the praise of the public schools and "that ridiculous boastfulness about Americanism" that reproached other Catholics for their attachment to the language and customs of their forefathers. Tappert succeeded in expressing most of the charges made by conservative American Catholics during the controversy over Americanism.
These charges — "these clouds of whispers of suspicion" about "the general tendency of so‑called 'liberalism' among us," O'Connell called them — led to anxiety when word circulated that the Pope had decided to write a letter to the Church in the United States. When it appeared under the title Longinqua oceani on January 6, 1895, the Pope gave high praise to the American nation and expressed esteem and affection for the young and vigorous branch of the Church. The only sentence likely to give rise to unfavorable comment from non‑Catholics was Leo XIII's statement that it would be erroneous to think that in the United States was to be sought "the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced."
The generally sympathetic reception of the encyclical was reflected by Archbishop Corrigan. Archbishop Ireland was less impressed. "I am sorry," said Ireland, "so much was expected, & so little came. . . . That unfortunate allusion to Church & State cannot be explained to Americans."
Gibbons, publicly silent, meanwhile quietly published his third book, The Ambassador of Christ, addressed principally to the clergy. In a text just under 400 pages running over thirty‑one chapters, the cardinal covered virtually every aspect of the priesthood from its divine origin through the virtues that should especially characterize the priest in his relations to God, to himself, and to the fellowmen whom he served. Gibbons revealed the paramount importance he attached to the priest as a man of books by giving seven chapters to the need for constant study: The Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Father of the Church, dogmatic and moral theology, canon law, the Greek and Latin classics, and English literature. His own taste received particular emphasis in the chapter called "The Study of Men and the Times," in which he explained the importance of public issues to the Church and the necessity, therefore, for priests to inform themselves on social, political, and economic problems. In a sermon p141 that he called "Obedience to All Lawful Authority" he deplored a lack of reverence for those in authority as one of the greatest social diseases of the age. Gibbons would not have citizens uncritical of their government, but he pleaded for calm, dispassionate judgment on the acts of those in authority, rather than reckless and partisan carping.
In his preoccupation with the things of the mind, the author of The Ambassador of Christ did not forget practical works, and there were chapters on the priest as a preacher, catechist, instructor of converts, as well as chapters on ministerial relations with the parochial school, the parish choir, the sick, and the dead. The volume closed with a chapter called "Consolations and Rewards of the Priest."
Gibbons' comment on politics and the state had some relevance to the forthcoming presidential campaign between William McKinley and the young Democrat, William Jennings Bryan. It was the last time that the A. P. A. was to figure seriously in national politics, but during the campaign its attacks grew so threatening that some candidates for public office, in the hope of winning votes, showed signs of equivocating on the principles of religious liberty for Catholics. Quite contrary to his customary policy in political matters, Gibbons decided to speak out. In language very strong for the mild Archbishop of Baltimore, he said:
. . . much as I would regret the entire identification of any religious body as such with any political party, I am convinced that the members of a religious body whose rights, civil and religious, are attacked, will naturally and unanimously espouse the cause of the party which has the courage openly to avow the principles of civil and religious liberty according to the constitution. Patience is a virtue, but it is not the only virtue. When pushed too far it may degenerate into pusillanimity.
While the Democratic platform went a long way toward meeting Gibbons' demands, it failed to attract enough votes to carry the election, and McKinley emerged the victor.
In the midst of the political turmoil, the struggle between the opposing factions within the American Church cropped again, this time at the Catholic University of America. In the last days of September, 1896, Cardinal Gibbons received a letter from Cardinal Rampolla dismissing Keane from his post as rector of the university. With a view to softening the blow, Keane was promised the rank p142 of archbishop, with freedom to remain in the United States or to come to Rome. This altogether unexpected decision of the Holy See had behind it the full force of the opposition to Keane and his associates in the hierarchy. The conservatives like Corrigan, McQuaid, and their episcopal friends, the leaders among the German Catholic nationalists, and some of the more active members of the Society of Jesus had scored a new triumph. For the moment those charged with spreading philosophical liberalism in the American Church appeared to be in complete rout. Bishop Keane, a forthright man with pronounced views on the German question, on the Knights of Labor, and on the condemnation of the writings of Henry George, felt an especially strong compulsion to urge upon American Catholics an uncompromising loyalty to their country. Occasionally the bishop indiscreetly gave his enemies an opportunity to make capital, for example, when he delivered the Dudleian lecture in Appleton Chapel at Harvard University in October, 1890, in his episcopal robes and closed the ceremony by imparting his blessing to the audience. In addition, internal disturbances that had arisen during his administration of the university had become widely known and were undoubtedly reported to the Holy See. The cumulative effect of all this evidence had damaged Keane's reputation in the Eternal City.
At the opening of the new academic year, the retiring rector announced his departure to the assembled faculty and students, and the cardinal chancellor, the most deeply affected of all those present, was reported to have said: "I am a hard man to move, but today I am moved with the most profound sorrow I have ever felt in a long life full of sorrow."
Seldom in the history of the American Church, either before or since, did the Catholic and secular press react so universally and so unfavorably to an action of the Holy See affecting this country. In fact, as the weeks wore on, the press became quite irresponsible. By November it was being reported that Cardinal Gibbons and Archbishop Ireland might be removed from their sees. Bishop McQuaid, on the other hand, was gleeful. He told Archbishop Corrigan: "What collapses on every side! Gibbons, Ireland, and Keane! ! ! They were cock of the walk for a while and dictated to the country and thought to run our diocese for us. They may change their policy and repent. They can never repair the harm done in the past." In reply to an appeal from Archbishop Sebastiano Martinelli, the second p143 apostolic delegate, Rampolla authorized a denial of the reports about the deposition of bishops. The publication of Rampolla's telegram set at rest the more absurd published rumors, although it did not succeed in killing all the inaccuracies current at the time.
Gibbons continued his efforts to retrieve the reputations of his friends O'Connell and Keane. In early September, 1896, he had written to Serafino Cardinal Vannutelli, a friend of O'Connell's, asking if he could not do something for the monsignor, and a month after Keane had gone to Rome, the cardinal reminded Rampolla that Leo XIII's letter promising Keane an honorable post at the Vatican had been made public. Gibbons warned that further postponement would give substance to the rumors then emanating from Rome that nothing was to be done. On the very day that Gibbons wrote his letter, Keane was made titular Archbishop of Damascus and given other offices and titles in the Roman Curia that made his status honorable and dignified.
On January 19, 1897, when the cardinal chancellor installed Father Thomas J. Conaty as second rector of the university, he used the occasion for a pronouncement on the relations of Church and State in the United States that indicated that he still held fast to his brand of Americanism:
If I had the privilege of modifying the Constitution of the United States, I would not expunge or alter a single paragraph, a single line, or a single word of that important document. The Constitution is admirably adapted to the growth and expansion of the Catholic religion, and the Catholic religion is admirably adapted to the genius of the Constitution.
What Keane called the "war of ideas" did not abate, either in the United States or in Europe. Especially in France, the debate over Americanism was becoming bitter and passionate. The startling growth and impressive strength of the Church in this country naturally excited the curiosity of the Catholics of the Old World. At a time when the German Church had only recently emerged from Bismarck's Kulturkampf, when the anticlerical government of Italy was making it increasingly difficult for the Church to carry on in that country, and when France was in the throes of one of its worst crises between Church and State, the robust Church of the United States seemed to democratically minded European Catholics to offer a useful model for their own branches of the Universal Church. p144 The enthusiasm for things American was particularly high among the Catholic republicans of France.
But to French Catholic royalists, the independent status of the American Church in its relations to the State yielded promise of little more than the ultimate separation of Church and State in France, a goal toward which they rightly believed the government of the hated republic was inexorably moving. To these conservative minds the republic — whether in France or in the United States — represented an offspring of the French Revolution, and in that tradition they could see nothing beneficial for Catholicism.
In their anxiety to push the policy known as the Ralliement, by which the Catholics would reconcile themselves to the republican form of government, a number of French Catholics were prepared to put forth extraordinary efforts. In the mind of some of these men Walter Elliott's Life of Father Hecker embodied the very ideas that they sought to promote their coreligionists. Unfortunately, Elliott's expressions concerning some of Hecker's ideas on subjects like the need for a new apologetics to win converts, the relations of Church and State, the question of vows taken by members of religious orders, and the action of the Holy Spirit on individual souls could easily lead to misinterpretation. To the French edition, partly reconstructed and inaccurately translated, the Abbé Félix Klein of the Catholic Institute of Paris added a glowing preface, which the Tablet of London later said out‑Heckered Hecker. The French life of the founder of the Paulists was an immediate success, and within a short time after its publication in Paris in 1897 it passed through seven editions. Yet the more it was read the more did the storm grow, the French Catholic republicans hailing it as a kind of charter for their program, and the conservative and royalist Catholics maintaining that it contained the seeds of heresy that they characterized under the name of Americanism.
The discussion took on such proportions that Monsignor O'Connell read a paper entitled "A New Idea in the Life of Father Hecker" at the fourth International Catholic Scientific Congress in Fribourg, August 20. O'Connell traced the basic ideas of American institutions back to the Declaration of Independence, which created a government by the people with the ultimate source of all power and political rights in God. O'Connell recalled the words of praise uttered by Leo XIII for the American Constitution in 1887, and he went on to p145 say that never did anyone surpass in eloquence Cardinal Satolli himself when he spoke at Chicago in 1893 and recommended the Gospel and the American Constitution taken together as the complete charter of human life. In moderate language the monsignor insisted that Americanism, when fairly considered, meant nothing else than the loyal devotion that Catholics in the United States bore to the principles on which their government was founded, and the conscientious conviction that these principles afforded Catholics in this country favorable opportunities for promoting the glory of God, the growth of the Church, and the salvation of souls.
Gibbons thought that the happily chosen reference to Satolli's memorable remark about the Bible and the Constitution ought to have a telling effect in Rome. Revealing his thorough sympathy with the speech, the cardinal wrote to O'Connell:
"If this is treason, let them make the most of it," to use the words of Patrick Henry.
La Quinzaine of Paris reprinted the Fribourg address with high approval, Vincenzo Cardinal Vannutelli pronounced it a "bravissimo discorso," and the first one to send O'Connell his thanks was Archbishop Corrigan!
With a major battle over Americanism shaping up, Elliott approached the cardinal for a letter praising Hecker and the Paulists. Gibbons' response left nothing to be desired. He stated that he regarded Hecker as a providential agent for the spread of the Catholic faith in the United States:
His spirit was that of a faithful child of Holy Church, every way Catholic in the fullest meaning of the term, and his life adorned with the fruits of personal piety; but especially he was inspired with a zeal for souls of the true apostolic order, aggressive and yet prudent, attracting Protestants and yet entirely orthodox.
With words of the highest commendation for the Paulist Fathers, Gibbons concluded: "I am very pleased to learn that Father Hecker's apostolic career is every day more and more appreciated in Europe by the publication and circulation of his life and writings."
This powerful endorsement, promptly published in the Univers, headed off the imprimatur of François Cardinal Richard, Archbishop of Paris, for a forthcoming book against Americanism by Abbé Charles Maignen, for Richard disliked conflicts between bishops. p146 Balked in their efforts to enlist the Archbishop of Paris, the enemies of Americanism appealed to Alberto Lepidi, O. P., Master of the Sacred Palace in Rome. Lepidi granted the imprimatur, and the book appeared in 1898 under the title Etudes sur l'Américanisme : le Père Hecker : est‑il un saint ? In the indictment drawn up against Americanism, Elliott, Ireland, Keane, and O'Connell were accused of limiting the external submission to the Church, advocating a false separation of Church and State, opposing the evangelical virtues and the older religious orders, and advocating the practice of the active virtues as against the passive and the natural virtues as against the supernatural.
Gibbons was indignant at the Maignen book:
I regard the attacks of Protestantism as mild compared with the unprincipled course of these so‑called Catholics. Our mission is surely a hard one here. While trying to exhibit the Church in all her beauty, we are assailed by those who would exhibit her in an odious light. But truth will prevail.
In April, 1898, the United States' declaration of war against Spain gave a new cause for complaint. In the eyes of unfriendly European critics, the bluster that accompanied American reaction to theological criticism resembled the bravado with which Americans greeted their country's triumph over Catholic Spain and its entry into the race for world empire.
During the summer of 1898 Cardinal Gibbons sought the counsel of his friends, and by late August he forwarded a protest to the Holy See. The book of Charles Maignen revealed, said Gibbons, the most violent hatred of Hecker and the Paulists. Americanism was spoken of as a quasi-heretical and schismatic doctrine, and the most ignoble insults were heaped upon American prelates whose love of the Church and of souls made them worthy of every respect and honor. He protested against
these revolting calumnies against an episcopate and a clergy entirely devoted to the salvation of souls and filled with veneration for the Holy See and in particular for the sacred person of Leo XIII.
Gibbons stated that Maignen created the impression that Americans were hardly Catholics, that they lacked obedience to the teachings p147 of the Holy See, and that they nurtured a strong spirit of schism among them. Yet, he went on:
I have no hesitation in affirming, you have not in the whole world an episcopate, a clergy, and believers more fundamentally Catholics, firmer in their faith and more wholly devoted to the Holy See. In this, moreover, we are only following our traditions. The Sovereign Pontiff Pius IX was able to say in complete truthfulness that nowhere was he more completely the Pope than in the United States, and His HolinessLeo XIII could say the same.
"The imprimatur of the master of the Sacred Palace," Gibbons asserted, "granted to this libel gives it the meaning of a serious work and one worthy of confidence." For many it would no longer be Maignen who accused the Catholics of the United States but rather the Holy See.
Later in the year O'Connell reported from Rome that Gibbons' letter had made quite an impact. During the vacation period, the decree condemning Hecker had actually been placed on the Pope's desk for his signature. "Just at that time," O'Connell wrote, "a letter came from Card. Gibbons that 'shook him.' " When the Pontiff was pressed to sign, he refused and announced that he would from then on handle the case personally. Despite frantic attempts to avert a papal letter, the Pontiff affixed his signature to the famous Testem benevolentiae on January 22, 1899. Rampolla told Gibbons that the Pope could no longer delay in making his mind known on the subject, in view of the controversies raging among the Catholics of France which were likely to create further dissension. "When Your Eminence sees the letter," he said, "you will be immediately freed of any misgiving and will be perfectly satisfied."
Keane had a somewhat less complacent view:
We must simply make the best of it, and carry on our game of explaining away to the American people the administrative blunders of our superiors.
Archbishop Ireland was similarly distressed: "Fanatics conjured up an 'Americanism,' & put such before the Pope. Lepidi & Mazzella wrote the body of the letter. I cannot pray that God forgive them."
In his letter, addressed to the Cardinal of Baltimore, Leo XIII denied that the Church should show indulgence to modern popular theories and, relaxing its ancient rigor, leave each individual freer to p148 act in pursuance of his own natural bent. With this premise, the Pope listed the faulty opinions, under the name "Americanism," that deserved condemnation: first, that all external guidance should be rejected as superfluous for those who desired to devote themselves to the acquisition of Christian perfection; second, that the natural virtues should be extolled much more than formerly since they were in accordance with the ways of the present age; third, that the virtues should be divided into active and passive; fourth, that the vows taken by members of religious orders were out of keeping with the spirit of the age and narrowed the limits of human liberty. The Pontiff expressed his confidence that the bishops of the United States would be the first to repudiate the ideas that he had outlined for censure.
On the other hand, the Pope said, if the name of Americanism designated the characteristic qualities that reflected honor on the people of the United States, just as other nations had special characteristics, or if Americanism referred to the institutions, laws, and customs that prevailed in the United States, then surely there was no reason why these should be questioned.
Deeply regretting the appearance of Testem benevolentiae, Gibbons maintained complete silence in public. He could not, however, ignore the duty of an acknowledgment of the letter. For a month he thought and consulted with his advisers before he addressed himself to Leo XIII. On March 17, his reply was ready, and it was dispatched to the Holy See. In it, he said:
This doctrine, which I deliberately call extravagant and absurd, this Americanism as it has been called, has nothing in common with the views, aspirations, doctrine and conduct of Americans. I do not think that there can be found in the entire country a bishop, a priest, or even a layman with a knowledge of his religion who has ever uttered such enormities. No, that is not — it never has been and never will be — our Americanism. I am deeply grateful to Your Holiness for having yourself made this distinction . . . between the doctrines which we, along with you, reject, and those feelings of love for our country and its institutions which we share with our fellow citizens and which are such a powerful aid in accomplishing our work for the glory of God and the honor of Holy Church.
The following year the atmosphere cleared somewhat. During the summer Leo XIII invited Ireland to give an address in Rome p149 in the presence of the Pope and many cardinals. Upon his return to this country in the autumn, Ireland brightened the cardinal's view of his standing in Rome. "He will now surely go to Rome early in [the] spring to see for himself how much good his letter on 'Americanism' did," Ireland told O'Connell. "He is a new man."
Thus encouraged, the cardinal pushed the interests of his friend Keane. In March, 1900, the death of John Hennessy, Archbishop of Dubuque, created an opening, and all were agreed that Keane should now be given a chance to return to his native land. On September 12, his sixty-first birthday, John Keane received official notification that he had been appointed second Archbishop of Dubuque. Thus one of the principal figures in the controversy over Americanism and one of Gibbons' closest friends had at last been vindicated after four years of practical exile.
By the turn of the century, then, the last great internal struggle within the Catholic Church of the United States had, for the most part, run its course. In all this anguished struggle Cardinal Gibbons had never allowed himself to be frightened off from the strong Americanism that he had always professed.
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