Fortnight For Freedom Day 4: John Carroll, Bishop and Patriot

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Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church.

Pope Leo XIII on John Carroll, first Bishop in the United States

Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops are having a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

We here at The American Catholic are participating in the Fortnight For Freedom with special blog posts on each day.  This is the fourth of these blog posts.

From the beginning of our Republic, American Catholics were at the forefront of the battle to free America from British rule and to enshrine a committment to liberty in our founding documents.  The remarkable Carroll family of Maryland was at the head of this effort by American Catholics.  Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the Declaration of Independence.  His cousin Daniel Carroll signed both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.  Daniel Carroll’s younger brother John Carroll, was the first bishop in the United States of America.

Born on January 8, 1735 in Maryland, he went abroad to study in Flanders and France, joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1769.  With the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, he returned to his native Maryland as a missionary priest.  A patriot, he served on a diplomatic mission to Canada for the Continental Congress in 1776.  During the War he continued his efforts as a missionary priest, along with efforts to persuade the new states to remove disabilities from Catholics in their new state constitutions.  He was ever an advocate for religious freedom:

When men comprehend not, or refuse to admit the luminous principles on which the rights of conscience and liberty of religion depend, they are industrious to find out pretences for intolerance. If they cannot discover them in the actions, they strain to cull them out of the tenets of the religion which they wish to exclude from a free participation of equal rights. Thus this author attributes to his religion the merit of being the most favorable to freedom, and affirms that not only morality but liberty likewise must expire, if his clergy should ever be contemned or neglected: all which conveys a refined insinuation, that liberty cannot consist with, or be cherished by any other religious institution; and which therefore he would give us to understand, it is not safe to countenance in a free government.

I am anxious to guard against the impression intended by such insinuations; not merely for the sake of any one profession, but from an earnest regard to preserve inviolate for ever, in our new empire, the great principle of religious freedom. The constitutions of some of the States continue still to intrench on the sacred rights of conscience; and men who have bled, and opened their purses as freely in the cause of liberty and independence, as any other citizens, are most unjustly excluded from the advantages which they contributed to establish. But if bigotry and narrow prejudice have prevented hitherto the cure of these evils, be it the duty of every lover of peace and justice to extend them no further. Let the author who has opened this field for discussion, be aware of slyly imputing to any set of men, principles or consequences, which they disavow. He perhaps may meet with retaliation. He may be told and referred to Lord Lyttleton, as zealous a Protestant as any man of his days, for information, that the principles of non-reistence seemed the principles of that religion which we are not told is most favorable to freedom; and that its opponents had gone too far in the other extreme!

 

On June 6, 1784 he was appointed by the Pope as superior of the missions in the United States.  On November 6, 1789, he was appointed by the Pope as Bishop, after being elected to the post by American priests, a procedure previously approved by the Pope.

In Baltimore, Bishop Carroll proved popular among both Protestants and Catholics as both an ardent American patriot and an ardent Catholic.  In 1808 he became Archbishop in the United States with suffragan sees in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Bardstown.  He died on December 3, 1815, having accomplished the huge task of transforming the Church in America from a mission into thriving and growing part of the Catholic Church.  A Baltimore paper marked his death with this observation:  In him religion assumed its most attractive and amiable form, and his character conciliated for the body over which he presided, respect and consideration from the liberal, the enlightened of all ranks and denominations; for they saw that his life accorded with the benign doctrines of that religion which he professed. In controversy he was temperate yet compelling, considerate yet uncompromising.

Upon the death of his good friend George Washington, Bishop Carroll preached a eulogy in his memory that became quite famous at the time, and was printed and reprinted, detailing Washington’s role in establishing the independence and liberty of the United States.  In this passage he recalled a statement in Washington’s farewell address that we should all recall:

The last act of his supreme magistracy was to inculcate in most impressive language on his countrymen, or rather on his dearest children, this, his deliberate and solemn advice; to bear incessantly in their minds, that nations and individuals are under the moral government of an infinitely wise and just providence; that the foundations of their happiness are morality and religion; and their union amongst themselves their rock of safety: that to venerate their constitution and its laws is to ensure their liberty.

 

 

2 Responses to Fortnight For Freedom Day 4: John Carroll, Bishop and Patriot

  • Pope Pius XII speaks of the friendship of Bishop John Carroll and George Washington and its effect on the early years of the republic:

    “When Pope Pius VI gave you your first Bishop in the person of the American John Carroll and set him over the See of Baltimore, small and of slight importance was the Catholic population of your land. At that time, too, the condition of the United States was so perilous that its structure and its very political unity were threatened by grave crisis. Because of the long and exhausting war the public treasury was burdened with debt, industry languished and the citizenry wearied by misfortunes was split into contending parties. This ruinous and critical state of affairs was put aright by the celebrated George Washington, famed for his courage and keen intelligence. He was a close friend of the Bishop of Baltimore. Thus the Father of His Country and the pioneer pastor of the Church in that land so dear to Us, bound together by the ties of friendship and clasping, so to speak, each the other’s hand, form a picture for their descendants, a lesson to all future generations, and a proof that reverence for the Faith of Christ is a holy and established principle of the American people, seeing that it is the foundation of morality and decency, consequently the source of prosperity and progress.” (SERTUM LAETITIAE
    Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII On the Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Hierarchy In the United States November 1, 1939 #3)

  • Very interesting Greg. I had not read this encyclical before. Along with much praise, Pius XII had some prescient and prophetic criticisms of American life:

    “16. We desire, however, that this Our praise be salutary. The consideration of the good which has been done must not lead to slackening which might degenerate into sluggishness; it must not issue in a vainglorious pleasure which flatters the mind; it should stimulate renewed energies so that evils may be avoided and those enterprises which are useful, prudent and worthy of praise may more surely and more solidly mature. The Christian, if he does honor to the name he bears, is always an apostle; it is not permitted to the Soldier of Christ that he quit the battlefield, because only death puts an end to his military service.

    17. You well know where it is necessary that you exercise a more discerning vigilance and what program of action should be marked out for priests and faithful in order that the religion of Christ may overcome the obstacles in its path and be a luminous guide to the minds of men, govern their morals and, for the sole purpose of salvation, permeate the marrow and the arteries of human society. The progress of exterior and material possessions, even though it is to be considered of no little account, because of the manifold and appreciable utility which it gives to life, is nonetheless not enough for man who is born for higher and brighter destinies. Created indeed to the image and likeness of God, he seeks God with a yearning that will not be repressed and always groans and weeps if he places the object of his love where Supreme Truth and the Infinite Good cannot be found.

    18. Not with the conquest of material space does one approach to God, separation from Whom is death, conversion to Whom is life, to be established in Whom is glory; but under the guidance of Christ with the fullness of sincere faith, with unsullied conscience and upright will, with holy works, with the achievement and the employment of that genuine liberty whose sacred rules are found proclaimed in the Gospel. If, instead, the Commandments of God are spurned, not only is it impossible to attain that happiness which has place beyond the brief span of time which is allotted to earthly existence, but the very basis upon which rests true civilization is shaken and naught is to be expected but ruins over which belated tears must be shed. How, in fact, can the public weal and the glory of civilized life have any guarantee of stability when right is subverted and virtue despised and decried? Is not God the Source and the Giver of law? Is He not the inspiration and the reward of virtue with none like unto Him among lawgivers (Cf. Job XXXVI:22)? This, according to the admission of all reasonable men, is everywhere the bitter and prolific root of evils: the refusal to recognize the Divine Majesty, the neglect of the moral law, the origin of which is from Heaven, or that regrettable inconstancy which makes its victims waver between the lawful and the forbidden, between justice and iniquity.

    19. Thence arise immoderate and blind egoists, that thirst for pleasure, the vice of drunkenness, immodest and costly styles in dress, the prevalence of crime even among minors, the lust for power, neglect of the poor, base craving for ill-gotten wealth, the flight from the land, levity in entering into marriage, divorce, the break-up of the family, the cooling of mutual affection between parents and children, birth control, the enfeeblement of the race, the weakening of respect for authority, or obsequiousness, or rebellion, neglect of duty towards one’s country and towards mankind.

    20. We raise Our voice in strong, albeit paternal, complaint that in so many schools of your land Christ often is despised or ignored, the explanation of the universe and mankind is forced within the narrow limits of materialism or of rationalism, and new educational systems are sought after which cannot but produce a sorrowful harvest in the intellectual and moral life of the nation.

    21. Likewise, just as home life, when the law of Christ is observed, flowers in true felicity, so, when the Gospel is cast aside, does it perish miserably and become desolated by vice: “He that seeketh the law, shall be filled with it: and he that dealeth deceitfully, shall meet with a stumbling block therein” (Ecclesiasticus XXXII: 19). What can there be on earth more serene and joyful than the Christian family? Taking its origin at the Altar of the Lord, where love has been proclaimed a holy and indissoluble bond, the Christian family in the same love nourished by supernal grace is consolidated and receives increase.”

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