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

Sunday, June 24, AD 2012

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.

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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.”

Bishop John Carroll, Joshua Barney and the Bonapartes

Tuesday, May 11, AD 2010

One of the difficulties that I often experience when preparing a post on a historical topic for the blog, is deciding what to leave out.  Oftentimes I have far more material than I can put in a post, unless I want to transform the post into a treatise.  In the case of my recent post on Joshua Barney, American naval hero of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, I had to leave out quite a bit on his life.  One portion that I think might be of interest to our readers is his involvement with Jerome Bonaparte, brother to Napoleon Bonaparte.

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27 Responses to Bishop John Carroll, Joshua Barney and the Bonapartes

  • What a huge mess is what I say. Archbishop Carroll should have refused to marry them. For the Americans to be in league with the family of the Terror of Europe by virtue of entertaining Napoleon’s brother on this land as though he was real royalty.

    Wouldn’t this be akin to Raul Castro being welcomed into this land and showing him a grand ‘ol time while his brother–Fidel– is terrorizing Catholicism and Christianity in general?

    And lastly, of course he saw the marriage to Betsy as nothing more than a piece of paper. I am not surprised. He himself was married twice.

  • fascinating post, Donald. Thank you. It would make a great movie (for those of you that like that sort of thing, and I think you know who you are!)

  • Napoleon was no Castro. He was a despot, but no more so than most of the Monarchs of the Europe of his day, with the proviso that Napoleon was far more talented at doing the Monarch job than all the rest of them put together. His concordat with the Pope effectively ended the Republican war against the Church. Napoleon of course bullied the Pope and locked him up, but these behaviors were well within the traditions of earlier monarchs of the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”.

  • What exactly makes one a monarch other than force, and then heredity enforced by force?

  • I think there was a BBC Horatio Hornblower episode that used this as a story line.

  • Phillip – I thought I had watched all the Hornblower episodes on A&E. As I recall, they were taken from Foresters “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower” stories (which were written long after “Beat to Quarters” but tell the story of Hornblower’s earliest experiences with [then] Captain Pellew). I also remember they did a two part movie based on Lieutenant Hornblower, where he and Lt. Bush must overcome a psychotic captain.

    I dont recall a similar storyline following “Fifi’s” romantic escapades but would love to see it.

  • The episode in which Hornblower met Jerome and Betsy was released in 2003. It was entitled Duty.

  • And I was preparing a screenplay … oh well …

  • “Lifestyles of the Young and Bonaparte!”

  • tryptic67,

    Go ahead and do your screenplay. As I recall, the Hornblower episode doesn’t approach the detail that Donald relates.

  • Interesting post. I am actually a descendant of William Patterson’s brother Thomas Michael Patterson who settled in South Carolina. In your post you make two historical mistakes: 1) William Patterson wasn’t Catholic, he was Presbyterian from Northern Ireland. He arranged for a Catholic wedding and even he was against her marrying a Bonaparte. 2) He wasn’t a shipbuilder, he was a merchant, like you said the richest after Carroll. He also aided the American Revolution by buying arms from the French and supplying Washington’s army. Other than that you are spot on.

  • Thank you Jason. You are correct on both points. One of the sources I consulted was in error. I have amended the post accordingly.

  • Historians generally call the period from 1800 through 1815 as the Napoleonic Wars. That one man can single-handedly plunge an entire continent to fifteen years of near-constant warfare, causing widespread death and destruction, is appalling. Not very many persons in human history can boast the same achievement.

    In my opinion, Napoleon was pretty evil.

  • “Historians generally call the period from 1800 through 1815 as the Napoleonic Wars. That one man can single-handedly plunge an entire continent to fifteen years of near-constant warfare, causing widespread death and destruction, is appalling.”

    Napoleon has his share of the blame, but I don’t think he can be properly alloted all of the blame. Wars were a frequent feature of life in Europe up to the time of Napoleon, and in that respect the wars of his period were not that unusual. What was extremely unusual was the almost century of peace and brief wars in Europe ushered in after the Congress of Vienna.

  • Admiral Nelson tried to help the Pope as much as he could. Contrast this with Napoleon, who occupied Rome. So Admiral Nelson, an Anglican, turned out to be more pro-Catholic than Napoleon, a nominal Catholic. This was an exceptional moment of Protestant-Catholic cooperation.

  • Catholic refugees in England during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars helped begin the process of lessening the virulent anti-Catholicism that England had been cursed with since the time of Bad Queen Bess.

  • Napolean was actually an agnostic at best.

    He didn’t care for the Church unless it served him such as his wedding to gain legitamacy in the eyes of Frenchman.

    He’s still one of the closest men in history that resembled the anti-Christ.

    Only Mao, Stalin, and Hitler can claim that crown along with the Corsican.

  • I disagree with you as to Napoleon’s religious stance Tito. I agree with the observations of Metternich, his greatest foe:

    “Napoleon was not irreligious in the ordinary sense of the word. He would not admit that there had ever existed a genuine atheist; he condemned Deism as the result of rash speculation. A Christian and a Catholic, he recognized in religion alone the right to govern human societies. He looked on Christianity as the basis of all real civilization; and considered Catholicism as the form of worship most favorable to the maintenance of order and the true tranquility of the moral world; Protestantism as a source of trouble and disagreements. Personally indifferent to religious practices, he respected them too much to permit the slightest ridicule of those who followed them. It is possible that religion was, with him, more the result of an enlightened policy than an affair of sentiment; but whatever might have been the secret of his heart, he took care never to betray it.”

    My thoughts on Napoleon and his religious beliefs are set out here:

  • It is a little-known historical fact that Admiral Nelson almost became a Liberator of Rome. In 1798, Rome was occupied by Napoleon. Nelson persuaded King Ferdinand IV of Naples to take action. With the help of Nelson’s fleet, King Ferdinand and his army entered Rome on November 29, 1798. If their success had been more permanent, King Ferdinand IV and Admiral Nelson would have gone down in history as Liberators of Rome.

  • Actions speak louder than words, and Napoleon committed many acts that can hardly be described as Christian. He killed hundreds of thousands of people in aggressive warfare. Name almost any country in Western Europe, and more likely than not, Napoleon shows up in her history as invader or conqueror. Let’s not forget, either, the Russians and anyone else who opposed him.

    (Some of Napoleon’s battles may have been in France’s self-defense, but in many situations he was the aggressor rather than the defender.)

    “What was extremely unusual was the almost a century of peace and brief wars in Europe ushered in after the Congress of Vienna.” So Napoleon in power brings fifteen years of death and destruction, but Napoleon in exile three thousand miles away affords Europe a hundred years of peace. (Pardon me for using your argument against you.)

  • Blaming Napoleon solely for the wars of his time are absurd. The wars brought on by the French Revolution were already in full swing by the time Napoleon arrived on the scene. Britain, and the other powers it convinced to join in wars against France over the years, simply was not going to allow a greatly expanded France to dominate the Continent, as it had waged a similar war to prevent Louis XIV and France from dominating Europe a century before the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon was part of a long historical process of wars between Britain and France to decide which would be the dominant player in Europe and the World. To paint Napoleon as the bogey man in this process betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of this clash of two nations that ended in the Pax Britannica.

  • Look at a map of Europe. Austerlitz, Jena, Moscow, etc. are hundreds of miles away from French soil. Napoleon was not fighting in self-defense.

    At this time, France had beheaded its King and Queen. All the royal houses of Europe were in fear for their lives. You might forgive them a little for being eager to oppose France.

    I will admit though, that it was a little hypocritical of the British to oppose Napoleon and keep the Irish oppressed.

  • Austerlitz was fought as a result of Britain convincing Austria to join the Third Coalition against France, France and Britain being at war since 1803 after the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens. Jena was fought as a result of Prussia joining the Fourth Coalition, and being deluded enough to think that it could beat France in a stand up fight. Prussia declared war on France, not the other way around. Moscow was fought as a result of Napoleon’s attempt to keep Russia in the Continental System which involved closing the ports of Europe to trade with Britain. It is impossible to understand the Napoleonic Wars without understanding the ancient rivalry between Britain and France which was the underlying cause of each of these wars.

    As to the royal houses being in fear of their lives, that fear terminated long before Napoleon was crowned as Emperor with the end of the Republican terror. After Napoleon their motivation was chiefly fear of the loss of their jobs, until the nationalism that motivated the masses in France had spread to the masses of the nations fighting France.

  • Way before Austerlitz was fought, Napoleon had made his intentions loud and clear – he wanted to replace most, if not all, of Europe’s monarchies with his own rule. Would-be world conquerors do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. Britain, Prussia, Austria and their allies perceived that Napoleon was a threat. They were on the defensive side, regardless of who technically declared war first.

    The traditional Anglo-French rivalry may have made the fighting more bitter than usual. If the British were a little eager in opposing Napoleon, it is because they knew what was at stake. Even before the Peace of Amiens, Napoloeon intended to cross the English Channel and invade Britain. What Napoleon was planning to do with the British once he had conquered them, you can imagine for yourself.

  • “Napoleon had made his intentions loud and clear – he wanted to replace most, if not all, of Europe’s monarchies with his own rule.”

    Quite untrue. What Napoleon wanted was to have a continent dominated by the Empire of France. If that goal was served by keeping the local rulers in power he kept them in power, as he did with the Hapsburgs in Austria and the Hohenzollerns in Prussia. From 1793 Britain and France were in a struggle to see which country would dominate Europe and the globe. I like the fact that Britain won that struggle, due to the restraint, usually, with which they exercised their hegemony in the Nineteenth Century, and their commitment to Parliament and the rule of Law, but that does not alter the fact that both Britain and France were aiming for the same goal, the top position among the powers of the globe.

  • Oh, and the Brits long before the French drew up invasion plans for England, had made unsuccessful attempts to invade France. Napoleon earned his promotion to Brigadier General by commanding the artillery during the siege of Toulon that drove the British from that French port in 1794.

Pope Benedict XVI congratulates President Barack Obama; Cardinal George proposes "an agenda for dialogue and action"

Tuesday, January 20, AD 2009

Text of Pope Benedict XVI’s telegram to the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama:

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington, D.C.

On the occasion of your inauguration as the Forty-fourth president of the United States of America I offer cordial good wishes, together with the assurance of my prayers that the Almighty God will grant you unfailing wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high responsibilities.

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