Allen Sinclair Will.

Life of Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore (Volume 1) online

. (page 36 of 41)
Online LibraryAllen Sinclair WillLife of Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

would inevitably be to preserve a tireless vigilance that
would assure the selection of a number of Bishops ade-
quate to the supposed strength of each element. Thus
the primary question when a Bishop was to be appointed
would be his language and perhaps the vehemence with
which he stood for all the varied and perhaps conflicting
aspirations of his national group, i. e., with which he
stood in the way of the Americanization of foreigners.
This would lead to popular agitation over the selection
of Bishops, a thing which Rome had never countenanced
and could not be induced to countenance.

Gibbons believed that in the episcopate nationalist
Bishops, if appointed, would tend to form groups which
would of necessity be more or less antagonistic to the


American Bishops. This would produce endless discord
and arrest the growth of the Church.

In its wider aspects he regarded the whole movement as
an open conflict with the general plan of American assim-
ilation of foreigners. He had a deep conviction, which
he freely expressed, that America could settle her own
internal problems as they arose, including the problem of
constitutional evolution, if her national destiny were not
diverted from the path on which she had set out. The
danger of the introduction of foreign influences from
the unprecedented flow of immigrants who arrived in
the last two decades of the nineteenth century, and up to
the time of the World War, he regarded as one of most
ominous potentiality as a possible cause of such diversion.
No other nation had ever assimilated such a mass,
and he was well aware that in the past the tendency of
such movements, even on a scale less imposing in num-
bers, had been to submerge the people into which the
new waves swept.

None deplored more than he the introduction, so far
as it had already gone, of foreign nationalism into
American politics, and he was resolved that no influence
of his own should be wanting to resist that tendency.
Class voting of any kind seemed to him to be the nega-
tion of everything American. He considered that the
national safety was directly dependent upon the citizen
casting his ballot swayed by regard for the greatest good
to the greatest number, and ignoring class interests ; even
more, that the citizen must be ready at times to sacrifice
his personal interests for the general benefit and, above
all, for principle.


A broad nationalist at heart, he wished loyalty to
America to be the same in Oregon and in Florida —
wherever the flag floated. He knew that the peoples
crowding in from abroad were bringing different political
ideas, some of them grotesque, others full of harm, born
of class hate or of shallow and impractical theories. The
tenacious possession of these jarring and destructive
views, proceeding from lack of experience or imperfect
experience in democratic government by peoples of con-
tinental Europe, appeared to him to contain possibilities
of evil, of which the American people should be espe-
cially watchful.

He was determined that the Church in this country
should continue homogeneous, like the nation. If the
discord of rival nationalist aims were definitely intro-
duced, his work would go down in wreck. He was firmly
convinced that nationalist groups in the Church would
tend to become political elements. Factions would en-
tangle her in whatever direction she might turn. The
defeated side in a contest over a bishopric for a foreign
constituency would be resentful and might resort to re-
prisals, perhaps by combination with a different group.
The American Bishops would thus be beset with pleas and
harassed by pressure to align themselves with one group
or another, and complications all but insoluble might

One of the stanchest convictions to which he adhered
throughout his life was that homogeneity in America was
a fundamental need in the absence of a repressive gov-
ernment which might maintain unity by force. A demo-
cratic regime could not be permanent when racked by


ceaseless discord proceeding from causes other than dif-
ferences of view upon legitimate subjects of legislation
and general policy. No one welcomed immigrants here
more wamily than he did, and he went on record in a
letter which was presented to Congress against excluding
aliens who were not able to read and write. He wel-
comed, however, only those who were willing to become
Americans. Those who cherished a secret hope or aim of
upsetting the government, or crowding it out of its natu-
ral line of evolution, were out of place here.

A long-time student of the Constitution and of the
debates which had marked its birth in 1 787, Gibbons held
a deep conviction that it was based upon the soundest of
views and upon matured political experience. On one
occasion, he said that if he had the privilege of modify-
ing the Constitution he would not expunge or alter a
single word of it.^ Realizing that there had been periods
when it had undergone severe tests, and even when large
numbers of his fellow-countrymen had been disposed to
doubt the permanency of its value, he felt that it had
been conceived with great insight into the future, and that
the stability of the country was bound up with its contin-
ued existence, unchanged in essentials. That the bless-
ings which it had brought — greater blessings, to his mind,
than had flowed from any other political instrument of
modern times — should be lost or even imperiled by a
sudden wave of immigration was an abhorrent thought to

American liberty was the offset to the confusion of
political ideas which the immigrants were bringing, no

"Sermon at the Catholic University, January, 1897.


less marked than the confusion of their tongues. They
must receive an opportunity to understand America be-
fore they passed sweeping judgment upon the merits or
demerits of its system of government. Many evils which
they had resented abroad did not exist here, but having
been accustomed to them in their former homes, compre-
hension broke upon them slowly that the same evils were
absent in the new country to which they had come.

Gibbons regarded conditions in many parts of Europe
at that time as distinctly imstable, or possessing the seeds
of instability. He would resist the transplanting of such
seeds to these shores. His faith was unshaken that
America, for all the looseness of government which Euro-
pean critics saw exemplified here, could withstand a shock
which would rend almost any nation of Europe. The
State system he regarded as providential, although well
aware that it was based upon historical causes which ante-
dated the Revolution, and that it was incorporated into
the Constitution from the impact of political necessity.
He expressed the view that the States were like the com-
partments of a ship, assuring safety in storms; for even
though one or more of them might become impaired, the
ship would not sink.

Knowing well the purposes of Leo XIII, he felt as-
sured from the beginning that Rome would countenance
no assault, open or covert, upon the system of govern-
ment in America. Leo had not only recognized the lib-
erality of the political institutions here, but had wel-
comed the great benefits which the Catholic Church de-
rived from them. True, like other doctors of the Church
holding the ancient faith, he did not teach that the status


of the Church here was the .most desirable for every coun-
try, and in his encyclical 'letter on "Catholicity in the
United States," declared that it would be "very errone-
ous" to draw the conclusion that "it would be universally
lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in
America, dissevered and divorced. . . . She would bring
forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she
enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the
public authority." * This was far from saying that he
had any aim to disturb the system in existence here, for
throughout his Pontificate he gave no sign of such an aim.

It would have crushed Gibbons if, while the Church
was advancing so fast in America, she had been diverted
into side paths from her journey on the main road. Har-
mony was essential to her, and never more so than at that
period; Cahenslyism meant a direct assault on that har-
mony. The constant rivalries which it invited would
beget new ones. Never were.Bishops in this country more
harmonious than during the long period of Gibbons' car-
dinalate. The great majority of them not only upheld
his policies, but followed his lead with an enthusiasm
comparable to that with which the marshals of the first
French empire followed their chief.

The political authorities of the United States were
full of misgivings over the progress of the Cahensly agi-
tation, and Gibbons was distressed to observe that they
saw a disconcerting problem for the State which origi-
nated with the Church. To his mind, the problem was
in its essence substantially the same for both. If some
permanent force were to be set up that would arrest the

* Wynne, The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, pp. 323-324.


assimilation of the immigrants who were then arriving
in such great numbers, every political party would be at
the mercy of such elements, as well as the government of
the Church. If she, as the one influence whose weight was
decisive with the largest group of them, cooperated in
their Americanization, they would be Americanized; if
she did not, the prospect would be dark indeed.

All the patriotic professions of Gibbons, Ireland, Ryan,
Williams and other leaders of the Hierarchy in those
days were being weighed in the balance. They could not
submit to being convicted of impotency in deeds when
their words were put to the test. Their backs were to the
wall. They must fight for Church and country as they
had fought before. They could not contemplate an
America that would be a suzerain of warring clans, in-
flamed by jealousies that would tend to disrupt the
Church government, as well as the civil government. The
peace and unity of one were the peace and unity of the
other. What the Cahenslyites would sow, they would
reap. The Church could not hope to gather figs from

Gibbons greatly deprecated the traces of direct nation-
alist enmities which crept into the controversy. He
wished the debate to proceed along the lines of affirma-
tive argument, rather than negative; he wished it to be
constructive, and deplored that at times it tended to
become destructive. As he never spoke in reproach of
non-Catholics, least of all did he wish to speak in re-
proach of elements within the Church.

It was only natural that some of his lieutenants were
not able to exemplify at all times the exceptional breadth


of their leader's charity. Charges and counter-charges
were made and answered and the recriminations were a
foretaste of what Cahenslyism might bring. A multi-
tude of animosities awoke which Gibbons had wished to
remain in perpetual somnolence.

Leaders on both sides were soon conducting rival cam-
paigns in Rome. As the stronghold of Cahenslyism was
in Europe, that cause naturally had a larger continuous
representation at the seat of the Church's government
than its pronounced foes. Its defenders included men of
ability, skill and diplomatic tact, who left no method
untried in the pursuit of the object for which thev had
resolutely set out.

Their nationalist aims were kept in the background as
far as they could do so. It seems clear that these aims
were not known at first by the Cardinals in Rome whom
they tried to win over to their side ; certainly not by most
of the European priests whom they persuaded to lend
help to them. Only the World War disclosed these influ-
ences fully, but Gibbons' acts and words left no doubt
that he saw them in advance.

The question arises, in view of the unmasking of inter-
national intrigue in the World War, was not the Cahen-
sly movement craftily fomented by the German secret
propaganda service? It was easy to defend in 1890 by
appealing to general sympathy for immigrants. Many
persons of German birth had no idea that it served politi-
cal ends, or even that it could be made to do so. The
American government and people passed decisive judg-
ment in the great war that the persistence of nationalist
groupings disturbed the unity of the United States by


leading to the formation of opinion on American ques-
tions from the background of European predilections or

It was not true that the mass of Germans or of any
other foreign nationality in America was included in the
Cahensly movement. Many of these were distinctly op-
posed to it, wishing to cast their lot unreservedly with
the country of their adoption; it is probably true that
most of them were wholly indifferent to the subject,
though many of their leaders were active, and in not a
few cases aggressive in the cause.

The press in Germany became aroused on the issue,
whether or not from government inspiration is unknown.
A correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung interviewed
Gibbons in Baltimore, and to him the American prelate
spoke firmly and clearly, saying:

"Some people in America and elsewhere seem not to
understand that the Americans are striving for develop-
ing into one great nationality; just as Germany has de-
veloped into one national union by a struggle of many
years' duration, so we are striving in the States for a
certain homegeneity whose outward expression consists
in the possession of one common language, the English.
This explains the propaganda for one language, the Eng-
lish tongue, in the Catholic Church of North America.

"There is no thought of violating the love of the old
fatherland — a sacred feeling. The Germans in America
are handicapped ; without the knowledge of English, they
are socially at a disadvantage; only in agricultural cen-
ters the German is preserved pure. The Germans are
shining examples of industry, energy, love of home, con-
servatism, and attachment to their religion. They are
beginning to comprehend that it is impossible to stem the


course of natural evolution. For some time I have been
in possession of petitions from German clergymen de-
siring the introduction of the English language.

"The transition from German to English will neces-
sarily be gradual, and in accordance with the wishes and
needs of the people concerned. What Germany herself
does in this respect to solidify her union by a common
language, no German will think wrong when applied in
advancing the homogeneity of the people of the United

Gibbons was moved the more profoundly in regard to
Cahenslyism because he knew the real thought in the
minds of many non-Catholic Americans that impeded the
progress of the Church more than any other thought. As
this thought found voice from those who held it, or re-
mained unspoken and dormant, it was that the purposes
of the Church were anti-American or at best inter-
national; and that some of these purposes were political.
He had thrown himself without reserve into a battle of
years to dispel this impression, which he rejected from
the depths of his soul as a cruel error. If he could not
stifle it, if he could not prove it false, he felt that he
would be remiss in his duty to God and country. The
greatest advances which he had made had been against
this powerful salient in the fortress of opposition.

His was never a passive character. Motion, progress,
accomplishment were the breath of life to him. If he
could not stand still, least of all would or could he go
backward. To have color lent to the view that foreign
influences were active in the Church, except in the uni-
versal sense of a world-wide unity of faith, would have


broken his highest hopes, and this appeared to him to be
the real result toward which Cahenslyism was heedlessly
rushing. Masked under the appealing guise of solicitude
for the religious needs of immigrants set down suddenly
among strangers to begin life anew, he saw the frowning
face of foreign nationalism, convulsed with mad designs
against his beloved America.

No opinion that he held was more firmly implanted
than that there could be no divided allegiance in this
country; the Catholic was either an American or a for-
eigner. If an American, he must be an American in
every sense and cast his lot without reserve among the
people who were his fellow-citizens. Apart from the
public policy of this, apart from the broadminded wis-
dom which inspired it, it comported with Gibbons' own
aspirations as a man and as a citizen.

In general perspective, he regarded the institutions of
his country as the best in the world. With sorrow he
saw them sometimes perverted to base uses ; and when the
occasion presented itself, he never failed to raise his voice
against abuses that crept into the body politic, whether
the cause which he espoused happened to be popular or
unpopular. He knew the dangers of democratic govern-
ment ; but he also knew the perils of less liberal systems.
In the atmosphere of political freedom he found the best
final solution for all merely material questions which
affected mankind. He maintained that the duty of the
Catholic, which was nothing more or less than the duty
of any other citizen, was to identify himself without
thought of religious discrimination with all that con-
cerned the best that was in American institutions, setting


his face firmly against corruption, the evils of partisan
politics, economic wrong and social disorder.

Foreigners who came to these shores he welcomed as
Catholics, if they happened to be such ; but, at all events,
as Americans of the future ; men of the same origin either
directly or remotely as others who had helped to populate
the country ; men who would in time share in the respon-
sibilities, the burdens, the rewards of citizenship, and
become as thorough upholders of the American idea as
were those whose ancestors had come earlier from the
Old World to seek better opportunities in the new. In
the spiritual and moral natures of Catholics, as developed
by the ministrations of the Church, he saw fruitful soil
for the flower of unselfish patriotism.


Exaggeration clouded the real extent of the support
which Cahenslyism received in America; but even allow-
ing for this, it was undoubtedly large. The most active
spokesman of the American Cahenslyites in Rome in the
early stages of the struggle was the Rev. P. M. Abbelen,
Vicar-General of the diocese of Milwaukee, who sub-
mitted to the Propaganda, as early as 1886, a pamphlet
in which he presented their case. Abbelen went to Rome
fortified with a letter of general commendation from
Cardinal Gibbons, who did not know that a part of his
mission was to appeal in behalf of retaining the nation-
alities of immigrant Catholics in America.

Gibbons was soon awake to the truth. His mind
grasped not only the full force of what was being at-
tempted at the time, but the immensely greater bearings
which it might have upon the future of the Church in
this country and upon the country itself.

The Germans would have been elated to obtain his

assistance in behalf of Cahenslyism. Throughout their

agitation most of them spoke of him with respect and

even filial affection, because his conduct in the diocese

of Baltimore had been such as to remove any ground for

charges of discrimination on account of nationality. The



largest congregation in the city ^ was German, presided
over by Redemptorist Fathers who conducted their minis-
trations in that language. There were admirable church
facilities for all German immigrants who arrived in the
diocese to be instructed in their own tongue at first.
Poles, Bohemians and other nationalities were similarly
provided for. The Cardinal frequently visited these
churches and cooperated with the pastors in the care of
their flocks. The religious and material welfare of the
immigrants had been a subject close to his heart, but he
felt that this welfare was dependent in large part upon
their being Americanized as soon as was reasonably ex-

When Abbelen presented his plea in Rome, Archbishop
Ireland and Bishop Keane were there, having gone to
discuss with the Congregation of the Propaganda plans
for the establishment of the Catholic University of
America; and they availed themselves of the opportunity
to make a vigorous reply. They repudiated the view
that there was any question between German and Irish
Catholics, insisting that the only question that could be
considered was that "between the English language,
which is the language of the United States, and the Ger-
man language, which immigrants have brought to the
United States." There was not even a sign, they stoutly
maintained, of a conflict of peoples in America. No Irish
parishes existed, and no efforts had been made to estab-
lish them, notwithstanding the fact that the Irish con-
stituted such a large element in the Church; for they
readily assimilated with the rest of the population. Pro-

*St. Michael's.


ceeding with their argument, these two prelates showed
that there were many diverse nationalities in America in
addition to the Germans, and that it was particularly es-
sential for that reason to preserve the unity of Church
government. They pronounced as reprehensible a com-
plaint which had been made at a meeting of Bohemian
societies a short time before that up to that time there
had been no Bohemian in the American episcopate.

Regarding the Germans, they showed that the people
of that nationality were not by any means a unit in sup-
port of the Cahensly point of view. There existed, how-
ever, ''what we may call the active party, whose objects
seem to be to preserve intact the German spirit among
immigrants and their descendants, and to prevent them
from changing their language for the English language
and to give a preponderating position to German influ-
ence in the Church in America." This was the party for
which Abbelen spoke, and they denied that he possessed
in any way a general representative character. The proj-
ect of establishing a permanent Germany in America, in
their view, was approved only by a comparatively small
proportion of the immigrants, the great majority of whom
desired complete and early identification with the insti-
tutions and language of their adopted country.

Ireland and Keane freely conceded that the immigrants
should have facilities for themselves and for their chil-
dren to practise their religion at first in the languages
most familiar to them. To this end, they showed that
the American Bishops had been multiplying churches for
the benefit of different nationalities, yet it was the ten-
dency of the immigrants to get away from such churches


as soon as possible and identify themselves with the
overwhelming mass of the people. German children who
were instructed in their native language in the school
spoke English by preference when they entered the recre-
ation yard. The churches established for foreigners, and
in which foreign languages were spoken from the pulpit
and in the confessional, were constantly losing by de-
partures to English speaking parishes, though gaining
naturally from the new arrivals from Europe.

In mixed parishes where there were large numbers of
Germans, presided over by German priests, hundreds of
children forsook the parochial school because the Eng-
lish language was not used. Other children were in dan-
ger of being alienated from the Church because of their
inability to obtain instruction in the catechism in English,
which would prepare them in this manner for the transi-
tion from one language to the other. Ireland and Keane
also remarked significantly:

"With a German Church in America there is no oppor-
tunity for the conversion of American Protestants. This
is a vital question for religion."

They summed up their argument in words which be-
spoke the mind of Gibbons, saying :

"The Church will never be strong in America; she will
never be sure of keeping within her fold the descendants
of immigrants, Irish as well as others, until she has gained

Online LibraryAllen Sinclair WillLife of Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 41)