The seeds were probably sown centuries ago in a hostile atmosphere for Catholics in the New World. In 1633, as the earliest colonists were about to set sail for “Mary Land”, Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, instructed “his said Governor and Commissioners” that while sailing and upon arrival at their destination “they instruct all the Roman Catholics to be silent on all occasions of discourse concerning matters of religion...”
Had the intimidation begun?
From those days and even to the present, many Catholics have too often felt that we have still to prove ourselves as truly American. Nothing has seemed capable of persuading the Protestant majority that Catholicism could be compatible with American democracy. It has been said that Catholics’ participation in World Wars I and II brought Catholicism a new acceptance. But the rejection of Al Smith, the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate in 1928 and the first Roman Catholic to run for President, largely on religious grounds, and the compromise of faith that John F. Kennedy felt it necessary to make in becoming the first Catholic president. . .
. . .Was it a fear of being “too Catholic” and a hankering to be “mainstream America” that prompted the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to our President not only to give this year’s Commencement address but also be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University?
The response of many Catholics to the Notre Dame case is not a slight on the Presidency or an attack on our President, nor should it be seen as such. It is about a flagship Catholic institution singling out for unique honor an undoubtedly dedicated and popular figure who unfortunately happens to be a most powerful leader in supporting abortion and threatening the conscience rights of medical professionals who refuse to cooperate in the killing of innocent human lives. . .
. . .The fact is that this debacle need not and should not have happened. It is unknown at present, what really prompted Notre Dame’s invitation – and then its awkward attempt to have the staunchly pro-life former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon somehow justify that invitation in a five minute acceptance speech for her reception of the University’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal. Whatever the rationale, it cannot undo the confusion it has caused among Catholics who rightly look to their bishops and to the leaders of major Catholic institutions for moral guidance and for a consistent application of Church teaching. Hopefully, when it’s all over, the administration of Notre Dame will reassess that decision, be willing to bear the traditional and inevitable burden of being solidly Catholic and fully return to the Catholic fold.
But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that there are not a good number of our fellow citizens – and some of them intimidated Catholics – who would be modern-day Lord Baltimores and wish us to be “silent on all occasions” in our secularist culture when our most fundamental beliefs are at stake.
Were that it only intimidation leading some Catholics to urge the bishops to silence.