The following comes from an article by Christopher Manion published June 14 in Crisis magazine.
In the nineteenth century, German Catholics came to America by the millions, with surges following the revolutionary unrest of 1848 and the unification of Germany in 1871 that brought on Bismarck’s persecution of Catholics during the Kulturkampf. With them came heroic religious orders and devout laymen like those who founded Der Wanderer, a Catholic weekly in Saint Paul, Minnesota that was published in German into the 1950s (and was banned by Hitler, who stopped its distribution to thousands of Germans in the 1930s).
For decades, those German-American Catholics refused to give up their language. In his massive study of American identity, Who Are We, the late Harvard historian Samuel P. Huntington writes that for years, “[a]mong the original British settlers antagonism existed towards [the newly-arrived] German-Americans, focused largely on the efforts of the latter to continue to use their language in churches and schools and other public institutions and events.” By the end of the nineteenth century, James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore and Primate of the Catholic Church in America, confronted the issue and insisted that the German-Americans use no German in homilies.
The German-Americans appealed to Rome, claiming discrimination. They also demanded their own German-speaking bishops. Gibbons countered that their position would invite the charge that “the Catholic Church … exists in America as a foreign institution, and that she is, consequently, a menace to the existence of the nation…. The Germans are shining examples of industry, energy, love of home, conservatism, and attachment to their religion,” Gibbons conceded, but he insisted that they assimilate nonetheless. When the Vatican supported him, the patriotic Gibbons proudly informed President Benjamin Harrison of his triumph. Harrison responded warmly, writing that “Of all men, the Bishops of the Church should be in full harmony with the political institutions and sentiments of the country.”
Well, times have changed—changed utterly. Several prominent Catholic prelates at a conference in Napa, California, in 2011, limned their vision of “The Next America,” taking for granted that the old America was… over. Their comments focused on immigration: Cardinal Roger Mahony, the recently retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, reviewed various passages from Scripture and Catholic teaching to advocate amnesty for illegal aliens. Cardinal Mahony has made amnesty his principal political goal for years, to the point that, when he was asked about abortion and health care in 2009, he replied, “This is way beyond my field. My field is immigration.” When Obamacare finally passed in March 2010 (still including abortion) the Cardinal was ecstatic. “Now that a health care bill will help millions of uninsured people receive affordable medical care,” he rejoiced, “it’s time for the government to address the millions of people who are living in the shadows because they lack legal immigration status.”
Cardinal Mahony’s successor at the Napa conference joined him in supporting amnesty, but, curiously, he did so by attacking Huntington’s book. “[Huntington] made a lot of sophisticated-sounding arguments, but his basic argument was that American identity and culture are threatened by Mexican immigration,” the prelate charged. He continued, “[a]uthentic American identity ‘was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the 17th and 18th centuries,’ according to Huntington. By contrast, Mexicans’ values are rooted in a fundamentally incompatible ‘culture of Catholicism’ which, Huntington argued, does not value self-initiative or the work ethic, and instead encourages passivity and an acceptance of poverty. These are old and familiar nativist claims, and they are easy to discredit,” he claimed.
Not easy to discredit, perhaps, but easy to ignore. Unfortunately, the prelate’s caricature of Huntington falls so far from the mark that one hopes his remarks were based, perhaps, on an unfavorable review somewhere. In fact, Huntington’s focus—masterfully presented and exhaustively researched—is not the “Culture of Catholicism” but rather of a single country, Mexico. It is this culture that the overwhelming majority of Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, bring with them across the border into the United States. The character of that culture is so important because of the profound reality that Mahony’s successor—an American citizen born in Monterrey, Mexico—delicately avoids: Mexicans in America will not assimilate, and, this time around, America’s Catholic bishops don’t care.
To read the entire story, click here