The Issue Is Joined


THE nomination in the New World of a Roman Catholic for the Presidency of the United States, and the consummation in the Old World of the ItaloVatican Agreement, have focused attention on the relation of Roman Catholicism to society at large and to political States. The one event revealed that, in the popular mind, the candidate’s religion required a subordination of obedience to his Church in matters belonging to morals — a subordination which might embarrass his free action as President; the other event demonstrated what the Church, represented in the Pope, would demand, and what a Roman Catholic majority would do, in changing the constitutional law of a State in conformity with Roman Catholic doctrine if opportunity offered. The Agreement has confirmed the convictions of a large part of the American people that Mr. Smith’s assertion of his own high personal belief was in conflict with his Church — a conviction strengthened by the silence of the supreme authority of the Church during the campaign.

Non-Catholics have become conscious of the menace to their rights. Their questions ought to be authoritatively answered. The plea will not avail that Roman Catholicism is a sacrosanct and esoteric cult, in dealing with which we must accept the assurances of the local clergy. The two events are of world-wide significance and demand illumination from the Pontifical sovereignty itself.

Our Roman Catholic citizens profess a religious belief the effects of which are not confined to the Church of which only they are members — in which case it would be their own affair. The effects penetrate society and the State, of which we all are members, and therefore their belief becomes the affair of all. It destroys, we submit, all equality of right in society and unsettles the security of civic government, subordinating the interests of society to the interests of Roman Catholicism and the sovereignty of the State to the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to this belief, society has long been in transformation, under an alleged Divine Revelation, in respect to the organization of religion; natural or aboriginal conditions have been gradually changed through the intervention of God; at last in His Revelation in Jesus Christ the Roman Catholic Church has been established — the sole, universal religious society in ‘Divine Right’ among men.

Society is thus divided against itself by a stupendous schism: one part asserting the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church over the State in morals and education, as a result of a Divine Revelation exclusively bestowed; the other part repudiating the Divine Revelation as a religious illusion, and, therefore, denying the supremacy. The cleavage divides the State, whose autonomy is impaired and even paralyzed by that part of its electorate under obedience to the sovereignty of the Pope in matters belonging to morals and education.

The Vatican Council of 1870 formally declared that there was no ‘parity’ between the condition of Roman Catholics and those of other religions, and Pius XI in his late Encyclical has said that no one is a member of the Church of Christ, nor can he remain a member, unless he acknowledges and accepts, in the spirit of obedience, the supreme authority of the Popes.

The claim of Divine Right has always been the chief resource of politico-religious institutions. In the Jewish theocracy it made the High Priest the supreme ruler of the State. In the Roman Empire it apotheosized the Emperor and made him Pontifex Maximus. In Roman Catholicism it has for some centuries made the Bishop of Rome Pope and Pontifex Maximus in an alleged religious or Pontifical sovereignty, which, as Cardinal Cerretti has lately assured the American people, the Pope ‘exercises by divine mandate, not over one people or one nation, but over all the peoples and all the nations of the earth.’1

The claim of Divine Right in the Christian Church has not been confined to Roman Catholicism. Luther and Calvin claimed it; Canterbury shared it with the Tudors and the Stuarts; but wherever it has flourished the disruption of society and the demoralization of the State have been accomplished. European society collapsed beneath its accumulated evils in the Reformation. By its assertion the very garment of Christ has been torn asunder, the East separated from the West, and Catholic Christianity from Roman Catholic Christianity. By it were sedition and revolution in civic States generated from 1500 on. To-day, in Italy, in Spain, in Mexico, in Turkey, and in Russia, where Divine Right in Church or ruler has been most persistently asserted, civic order hangs on the edge of revolution, steadied for the time being by autocratic power. It remains to-day exclusively the doctrine of Roman Catholicism. By it the authority of the Pope and of the Roman Catholic Church over the moral and the educational fields within every State is identified doctrinally with the authority of God Himself.

Leo XIII said that all public power must proceed from God, but that Leo XIII occupied on earth the place of God; that it is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Roman Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power — that is, its origin in God, but its exercise on earth through the Pope as God’s Vicegerent here. Pope Pius XI says that the creature (man) must be subject to the Creator, and that Pius XI is the Vicegerent of the Creator; that it is a shameful error to deny to Christ as man empire over any temporal things — and that Pius XI is the Vicar of Christ.

Wherever the claim of Divine Right has been asserted by the Church in place of the divine love and submission practised by Christ, and enjoined by Him upon the Christian community, the Church has asserted as inherent therein the power to deprive heretics or those who differed with it of their natural, moral, and even their legal rights. The Church made heresy the most dreadful of sins, defined it as revolt against the Church, and forced the State to make it a crime punishable with death. Not only did the preReformation Church assert the power over heretics, but Luther and Calvin both claimed it, and in virtue of it the Charterhouse monks of sacred memory were drawn and quartered in antiPapal England. But all this was four hundred years ago. Roman Catholicism asserts the right to and practises the power now, and this it is which creates the religious dilemma in the modern State.

The power was confirmed by Pope Leo XIII in his approval of the book2 of the Jesuit de Luca, and again by Pope Pius X in his endorsement (1909) of the book3 of Lepicier. Lepicier taught, among other things, that this power to deprive heretics of their rights extends to the right of life itself;4 that public heretics deserve not merely to be excommunicated but to be killed; that the power to kill for heresy belongs both to the State and to the Roman Church, and that the latter should not shrink from discussing this teaching out of regard for the sentiment of the modern age. In a letter published in Lepicier’s book, Pius X by the hand of his secretary, Galli, afterward Cardinal, declared that Lepicier had extracted and expressed the very kernel of Catholic doctrine. Granting the premises, the Pope’s conclusion is inevitable. If the Church of Rome and the Pope, as Pius XI says, are exercising their powers to-day by ‘direct divine mandate,’what but extermination could be the just penalty of opposition? Is a man justified in contending against God?

The notion that our Roman Catholic friends, who share in a common Christianity, are ready with fire and sword to exterminate those who depart from them seems truly absurd, and so it would have seemed to Pope Pius X and to Lepicier. Neither would have held that, because he asserted doctrinally the power of the Church to exterminate, the Church under existing conditions would proceed to use it. Their words prove only the validity of the power, on which the method of its application has no bearing. In an infallible Church, doctrine cannot change, but the method of enforcement may be changed out of expediency. The Church of Rome has put ‘in abeyance’ (sic) the fagot and the sword. They are at present archaic. Modern life requires modern methods.


Of all this the modern State is cognizant. It perceives the cleavage of its citizenship and the rupture of its popular sovereignty through the formation of a solidarity of Roman Catholic voters within it, claiming an exclusive Divine Right that nullifies the natural rights of their fellow citizens, and professing a religious obedience in matters belonging to morals and education that must nullify at times the sovereignty of the State. That is its dilemma.

The changes accomplished in the organic law of Italy by the ItaloVatican Agreement support these considerations. The present minority have been deprived of rights as valuable as the right to life itself. The equality of moral right in society has been subordinated to the special privileges of Roman Catholics; religious liberty has been further subordinated to Roman Catholicism as the sole religion of the State; the State has made constitutional recognition of the inherent juristic personality of the Church as anterior to and independent of the State, and has accepted the principle that Roman Catholic doctrine is the foundation and capstone of public education. All this has been accomplished, without the fagot and the sword, by the operation of a Roman Catholic majority in the Italian State, under obedience to the Pope.

In four hundred years society and the State have evolved toward conceptions of rights, law, authority, and government which are the very antithesis of the mediæval conceptions in which the Church of Rome stands fixed. Conscience, morals, and education were claimed by mediaeval Popes for the peculiar and exclusive jurisdiction of the Church. The Renaissance and the Reformation made those subjects the peculiar interest of society and the State, which gradually asserted their own moral competence, to which churches might minister, but which they must not usurp. As the only refuge from the Divine Right of civil and ecclesiastical authority, the State came to fix upon the freedom of the individual conscience, balanced by the working formula of the majority, constitutionally determined and limited. The electoral State arrived, based in its constitutional order on the principle of the equality of right and the theory that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. To this the freedom of conscience and its supremacy were essential; for, if the consent of the governed was requisite to government, it must be a free consent. If, in morals and education, a part of the electorate was in subordination and obedience to a religious sovereignty in Divine Right, extraneous and alien to the State, the sovereignty of the State was nullified, its constitutional order disrupted, and that equality of right to secure which, as an approximation at least, the State existed was prevented.

The age of theology, as Dr. Babbitt says, gave way to the age of sociology. The dynastic State became the sociological State; the sovereignty of kings changed to popular sovereignty. The State evolved from the subservient creature of religious authority which burned Huss by the Divine Right of the Church of Rome, Servetus by that of the Church of Geneva, and the Charterhouse monks by that of the Church of Canterbury and Hampton Court, to the modern State in which religious, moral, and intellectual freedom (not toleration) became the civic ideal, the ultimate point of political development. Moral and educational institutions under the nurture of the State and free of Papal jurisdiction spread throughout society. At the apex of the development came the Republic of the West, with a Constitution which repudiated the existence of Divine Right in all civil and ecclesiastical authority.

All this change was violently resisted by the Church of Rome, and is resisted to-day as fiercely as ever. Pope Pius IX, in the eightieth Proposition of his Syllabus, declared: ‘It is false to say that the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.’ The Roman Pontiff claims by sovereign decree to command the cosmic order of thought and knowledge, to determine history, to create philosophy. The Dogmatic Commission of the Vatican Council (1870) declared that objections taken from history are not valid when contradicted by ecclesiastical decrees, and this Pius XI in effect confirms in his recent letter to Cardinal Gasparri. Pius X ordained that a philosophy which flourished in the thirteenth century should be the philosophy of the twentieth century, as fatuously as Tennessee legislated Genesis into a scientific textbook.

The decree of the Vatican Council makes obedience to the supremacy of the Pope in matters belonging to morals the duty of all Catholics under penalty of damnation. The present Pope, in his Encyclical Mortalium Animos, declares that Roman Catholics must believe in the infallible teaching power of the Pope, as defined by that Council, no less than in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. In his letter to Cardinal Gasparri, he declares that in matters of conscience jurisdiction lies with the Roman Church and with her only, that the full and perfect mission to teach belongs not to the State but to that Church, and that in the Concordat there are face to face, if not two States, most certainly two sovereignties, Italy and the Roman Church, and that the end which each pursues determines, objectively and necessarily, the absolute superiority of the Roman Church. In his Encyclical Ubi Arcano, Pius XI had already said: ‘The very origin and divine nature of this our sovereignty demands and the inviolable rights of conscience of millions of Catholics of the whole world demand that this sacred sovereignty must not be, neither must it ever appear to be, subject to any human authority or law whatsoever. . . .'

This is the full expression of the absolute power in Divine Right of the Pope, irrespective of the will and consent of the governed. It is a clear assertion of the subordination of the consciences of the millions of Roman Catholics throughout the world to the Pope as a sovereignty superior to and independent of all civic authority and law, enthroned outside every State yet operating in every State through the religious obedience of Roman Catholic voters in respect to the moral and educational interest of the State. Again, in his Encyclical Quas Primas, the same Pope declares that the Roman Catholic Church must demand as ‘a right which she cannot renounce — full liberty and independence from the civil power.’

Wernz, among the chief of Roman Catholic commentators, in his great work published in 1905 says: It is false to say that the theory of the indirect power [of the Roman Church] is incapable of being put to practical use at the present day, for if at the present day certain civil laws should be declared invalid by the Church, then these laws would actually be devoid of all binding force.’ Pope Pius X by his decree in 1906 declared null and void the law of the Republic of France separating the Church and the State, and in 1911 he ’annulled’ the law of separation in Portugal, freeing Roman Catholic citizens from all obligation in conscience to obey the law of the land.

And, as though to lay the foundation for all this, Leo XIII, in his Encyclical On the Chief Duties of Christians as Citizens, declared: ‘If the laws of the State are manifestly at variance with the divine law, containing enactments hurtful to the Church, or conveying injunctions adverse to the duties imposed by religion, or if they violate in the person of the supreme Pontiff the authority of Jesus Christ, then truly, to resist becomes a positive duty, to obey, a crime. . . .'

It is, therefore, clear that the modern State is confronted in its Roman Catholic citizens with a solidarity claiming to be qualified for the acceptance of the common obligations and the discharge of the common duties of citizenship in a free State, yet bound to obedience to the Pontifical sovereignty of the Pope in all moral matters, which they, in the nature of things, by their votes and ‘Catholic Action,’ carry into the very citadel of the nation and the State. Roman Catholic authority abundantly confirms this. The Commonweal, April 24, 1929, defining (Roman) Catholic Action, said: ’Its formal object is to produce, change and adjust all religious, moral, social and economic thought and procedure of modern life to Catholic standards of thought and action, in order to spread the kingdom of Christ. . . .’

‘ A learned theologian,’ writing on December 29, 1928, in the London Tablet, — Cardinal Bourne’s mouthpiece, — said: ‘The Pope rarely exercises the prerogative of Infallibility. But on the contrary Infallibility is always in exercise: in teaching . . . in defending and enforcing the doctrines already defined.’

On May 11, 1929, the Roman Catholic journal America presented to its readers the following communication: ‘In view of the approach of a General Election, the Archbishops and Bishops of England and Wales deem it well to remind all Catholic voters of the principles which underlie the Catholic attitude on education, so that in giving their votes such electors may act in conformity with Catholic teaching and tradition in this matter of vital importance.’ Several principles are then set forth, among them that ‘it is no part of the normal function of the State to teach’; that the State is entitled to see that children receive due education for citizenship, but that the State must not interfere with parental responsibility in the choice of schools for children.5 The Bishops then state that ‘it is their wish that all candidates seeking the vote of Catholics should be approached, not only by letter but in an interview, in order that the dispositions of such candidates may be explored in the light of the above stated principles.’

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool in his recent Pastoral Letter declared that a Roman Catholic cannot divest himself of Roman Catholic principles in his attitude toward civic or national problems. He commands Roman Catholics in the approaching elections ‘to register the vote that shakes the turrets of the land.’

And yet the Church says it is not in politics.


It would seem indeed true that the modern State, which by an electoral majority has once established a constitution repudiating Divine Right and decreeing religious freedom, can assure the maintenance of such a constitution only by thereafter limiting the electoral franchise to those who can act in the fullness of a free mind and conscience, and are wholly released from religious and moral obedience to ecclesiastical authority in Divine Right. Can the civic State in reason be asked through universal suffrage to incorporate into its life and being a sovereignty superior to its own, with power to annul its laws for any part of its citizens? Shall the American State remain inactive while Catholic Action reduces present non-Catholic majorities, and seeks to mould a new constitution on the lines of the Italian Concordat? Can it in reason be asked to wait upon the multiplication of citizens inspired by Catholic Action and taught by an alien religious sovereignty that when, in its opinion, the laws of their country are hurtful to that sovereignty, to resist, the laws of their country is a positive duty and to obey them a crime?

Roman Catholics would meet argument with the assertion, wholly fallacious, that the only alternative to the supremacy of ecclesiastical authority is the supremacy of the absolutist State. The modern State is not absolutist. It has no constitutional right to invade the conscience of the individual or to encroach upon the autonomy of associations; on the contrary it is based on the retention of his conscience by the citizen, and upon the retention by its associations of their autonomy, limited only, like every right, by the judicial police power of the free State. The surrender of conscience is a crime against the moral nature of man, whether to the State, to the majority, or to ecclesiastical authority. Its surrender to the latter destroys all competence to share in popular sovereignty. It is just at this point that the difference of the modern State with the Roman Catholic Church is most acute, for that Church demands the custody of the conscience. The power that controls the conscience of the majority, or even of a resolute and well-organized minority, will control the State.

Man’s relation to God and conscience, as Dr. Pollard says, makes his relation to the State conditional and not absolute. The modern State recognizes this conditional quality in the relation to it of its citizens. Having done so, it cannot, without its own stultification, concede the absolute relation of its citizens to the Pope in matters belonging to morals. It is not the modern State, but the Roman Church and its supreme Pontiff, that claim the absolute relation of the citizen in matters of conscience.

The seat of moral authority in modern society must be found in the ‘free conscience’ or it must be found in the moral sovereignty of the Pope.

Justice in the argument requires frank recognition of free conscience, not as the selfish and thoughtless license of the individual, but as his serious reaction to the sense of duty toward God and toward society, at the sacrifice of self. Justice no less requires the recognition of Roman Catholicism, not as a sinister conspiracy against society, but as a sincere and conscientious effort to elevate mankind through the moral government of the Bishop of Rome in a ‘right’ believed to have been bestowed upon him by Almighty God.

With these conceptions in mind we can readily see two theories sincerely at work in the State: that of ultimate moral determination by the free mind and conscience, balanced by the consensus of opinion working out through majorities and minorities, and that of ultimate moral determination by a foreign ecclesiastical authority operating through its religious subjects, who constitute in part the electorate of the State. There are difficulties both ways. Majorities may be corrupt, fanatical, oppressive; they may bring disaster and confusion. The same is true of the Popes and the Church. The crucial point is that in the modern State the majority, if ‘free,’ is native and constitutional; if in subordination to ecclesiastical authority in Divine Right, it is alien and contra-constitutional. The State cannot by any process of law deal with a solidarity of citizens subject to an alien authority ‘absolutely superior’ to itself in Divine Right. It is quite capable in the long run of dealing with a free majority.

Our Roman Catholic friends in this country are denouncing the tyranny of the majority, and yet it is through a majority that Roman Catholicism operates in its own interest, wherever opportunity permits. The free civil majority, it is true, docs not function perfectly. Popular agencies, the Methodist Board of Morals and the Grand Imperial Wizard, may be intolerant and prejudiced, but they exist only by the consent of the members of the societies they represent, and those societies make no claim to Divine Right and acknowledge no authority, sovereign in Divine Right, extraneous to the State and contra-constitutional. They are voluntary groups of citizens exercising rights conferred on them and revocable by the State, on a par with the Rotarians and Tammany Hall. They are wholly subject, constitutionally, to the correcting influence of opposing organizations under whose attrition all that is harmful in them must eventually give way.

A popular majority, as in the United States, exasperated with a gross national evil, imposes, in the exercise of a free conscience, State beverages by law; but a majority, as in Italy, subordinated in conscience to the Divine Right of the Church of Rome and the Pope, imposes by law what is far more intolerable, a State religion and Roman Catholic education in the public schools. Nay, more: it exacts the destruction by the State of the civil rights of citizens, on the demand of the Church, without a civil trial. Such is the effect of Article 23 in the Concordat of the Italo-Vatican Agreement. The Inquisition of infamous memory is revived in one of its most odious features. If a citizen who has taken vows to the Church is censured or sentenced by the Church, he is in vital respects, i pso facto, an outlaw in the State.

Article 5 of the Concordat provides that an ecclesiastic cannot get a job in the civil service without the consent of the Church, and that in any case expriests, or those who have incurred censure, ‘cannot be employed or retained [by the State] in a teaching post, or in an office or an employment in which they are brought into immediate contact with the public.’ Let a priest, as the result of life’s experience and study, renounce the Papal claims, or let another incur censure by offending the authorities of the Church, and the State — his natural protector — must deprive him of his civic right to earn his daily bread by teaching school or serving as village postmaster; and in his letter to Cardinal Gasparri the putative Vicar of Christ argues that this abominable provision must be given a retroactive effect.

The Roman Catholic majority in Italy, led by the reigning Pope, has given to the world convincing proof of the inherent claim of its religion to the power in Divine Right to deprive opposing minorities of their social, political, and moral rights. Such a claim cannot be reconciled with American constitutional government, nor can the wax-and-parchment legalism of the Pope’s agreement with Mussolini reconcile it with the cosmic moral order of God, for in ultimate righteousness it is not what the law tells one he may do that counts, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell one he ought to do.6

The free majority in the modern free State may freely change in constitutional reaction, but the Roman Catholic majority is bound de fide by obedience to the Pope in all moral and educational issues, and disobedience, it is decreed, involves the loss of salvation.

The free conscience in the modern State is not an ideal. It is a necessity. It is the only weapon in the latest struggle of society with Divine Right in its last stronghold — the Roman Catholic Church. It is all that stands, in the United States, between equality of religious liberty and the subordination to the Roman Catholic Church of the present rights of American citizenship.

  1. The Pope’s religious or Pontifical sovereignty is his sovereignty over the moral affairs of mankind, in theory conferred on him by God as His Vicegerent on earth. The Pope’s temporal sovereignty is his sovereignty over the temporal affairs of the little Vatican State, just conferred on him by Italy. It is with the religious or Pontifical sovereignty that this article is directly concerned. — AUTHOR
  2. Praelectioncs Juris Canonici, 1898. De Luca was professor of Canon Law at the Gregorian University, Rome.
  3. Stabiliti et Progressu Dogmatis, published at Rome, 1910 (Typograph of the Holy Apostolic See and of the Congregation of Sacred Rites). Lepicier was professor of Sacred Theology in the Pontifical College of Pope Urban, Rome.
  4. The reference is to those heretics who, having professed the Roman Catholic faith, depart from it. Lepicier disclaims the death penalty for those who, born in other faiths, have not had the opportunity to learn the Roman faith. — AUTHOR
  5. The reader will bear in mind that, while the Roman Church thus seems to champion the freedom of parents, it is a false and hypocritical seeming, relating only to freedom from the State. It allows no freedom from the Church, but threatens parents with severe penalties if they send their children to the public schools or to other ‘non-Catholic’ schools without ecclesiastical consent. (See Canons 1372-74.)— AUTHOR
  6. See Burke’s Speech on American Taxation. — AUTHOR