Rorate Caeli

America and Established Religion

The most interesting answer of the Holy Father in the impromptu press conference which took place during his Rome-Washington flight was in response to a question by Andrea Tornielli:

[Tornielli:] Your Holiness, when welcoming the new Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, you remembered positively the public role of religion in the United States. Do you think that, from this perspective, the US is a model for secularized Europe? Do you not believe that there is the risk of using religion and the name of God to justify a policy or a war? [sic]

[Pope Benedict:] "We certainly cannot simply copy the USA in Europe. We have our history. But we must all learn from one another. What I find fascinating in the USA is that it began with a positive concept of secularism. Because this new people was made up of communities and persons who had escaped the State religions and wished to have a lay, secular State, which opens the doors to all confessions, to all forms of religious exercise. It was thus a willingly secular State, it was really contrary to a State Church, but secular truly for love of religion, of its authenticity, which can be lived only freely. And thus we find this fusion of a willingly and honestly secular State, but really for a religious will, to grant authenticity to religion. And we know that A.[lexis] de Tocqueville, studying America, saw that the secular institutions depend on a de facto moral consensus which exists among the citizens. This seems to me a fundamental and positive model to be considered also in Europe; in the meantime, 200 years have passed, with so many developments. Now, there is even in the US an attack of a new Secularism, a new completely different Secularism, and, therefore, new problems. [As] Immigration and the ideal of the WASP. Therefore, the situation has become complex, differentiated with history. But the fundamental model seems to me, even today, worthy of being acknowledged."
The Pope is not incorrect in his historical view of the matter. It is perhaps enough to remember that, in the most Catholic of the Colonies, Maryland, Catholic subjects, who for nearly a century had been persecuted by the clergy and members of the Established Church (the"Church of England"), enthusiastically supported Independence from the British Crown for good reason.


  1. Anonymous4:45 AM

    Wow! Two great men of God on the same stage! I'm going to have that picture blown up poster size.

  2. I am going to have to side with Benedict XVI on this one. Many Americans do not realize that America's reaction to authoritarian state centered religion such as the Church of England was one of aversion. Thusly in our quest to liberate ourselves from this tyranny while maintaining our religious value system we allowed all people to practice their religion with all the protections contained in the constitution of our land.
    On the contrary, Europe’s quest for secularization was an unwarranted, Masonic, liberal war against Catholicism. Europe's secularism took the forms of deep repression of the Catholic Church and spawned anti Christian movements such as Nazism, Communism, and Socialism.

  3. Well, freedom of religion in Maryland didn't last long. By the Act of Religion of 1704, Catholics in Maryland were prohibited from practising their religion; priests were debarred from the exercise of their functions; priests and parents forbidden to teach Catholic children their religion, and the children encouraged to refuse obedience to the rule and authority of their parents.

  4. Anonymous9:13 AM

    Dear Gallicman1,

    While the Pope has correctly identified the context of the American enterprise, yet he fails to specifically point out that the current model is failing against the "New Secularism", which is merely the old secularism of Europe, specificaly anti-christian.

    Indeed a form of government which is not inherently Catholic, that is, based on the moral and theological principles taught by Christ, cannot stand against any anti-christian ideology, simply because it fails to recognize the true religion, and thus recognize as evil and to be opposed, anti-christianity.

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo

  5. Exactly, Orlando Furioso: Catholics would not be able to live again in all freedom in Maryland until ... 1776...

    Naturally, this does not mean that there were no anti-Catholic sentiments in the independence process - there were, as the reaction to the Quebec Act of 1774 had shown. Yet, in general, Catholics in the thirteen Colonies lived far more freely after Independence than before it.

  6. Anonymous11:22 AM

    I prefer Leo XIII's analysis to Benedict XVI's: "...the true liberty of human society does not consist in every man doing what he pleases, for this would simply end in turmoil and confusion, and bring on the overthrow of the State; but rather in this, that through the injunctions of the civil law all may more easily conform to the prescriptions of the eternal law."
    Libertas, 10

  7. 1st anonymous, you are too funny!

  8. Anonymous12:53 PM

    "[As] Immigration and the ideal of the WASP"

    Unwittingly, Pope Benedict XVI might have insulted the "WASPS" in the USA...and I'm glad he did.

    They don't like the term. LOL !!!!

  9. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Gallicman1 said: Thusly in our quest to liberate ourselves from this tyranny while maintaining our religious value system we allowed all people to practice their religion with all the protections contained in the constitution of our land.

    A move in that direction was made by King James II of England -- his decree of religious toleration was one of the things that provoked the Whigs to rebel and ask William of Orange to be their king.

  10. Anonymous1:38 PM

    What an honour for the USA, the soil of that land sanctified by the footsteps of Christ's Vicar on Earth.

    Let us pray that before too long the Lefebvrist bishops will be granted the humility to kneel before him and beg full and perfect communion with Christ's True Church

  11. Anonymous3:34 PM

    Seriously, is it possible to square the present pope's words with those of Leo XIII in the encyclical "Libertas"? Is it a case of theory versus realpolitik?

  12. Anonymous3:36 PM

    The aspect which the Holy Father does not address is the federal nature of the United States, and how this original affected religious liberty in the US.

    The First Amendment to the US Constitution, prohibiting the establishment of a state church and guaranteeing free exercise of religion, was originally only operative at the federal level. It was a compromise of neutrality between the states, some of which had state churches of different denominations. Massachusetts, for example, had a Presbyterian state church.

    Not until long after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in the wake of the Civil War, did the Supreme Court deem the religion clauses of the First Amendment to be applicable to the individual states, and so to prohibit official religious expression by the states. This is the primary official means by which the "new secularism" of which the Pope speaks has been moved forward.

  13. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Bush is taking full advantage of the photo-ops, and our poor Pope appears to be lapping it--and the American ethos--up.

    Pray that the Pope exercises his prophetic office, as the did Peter who was the first of many pontiffs killed by the state.


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