If anything emerges as constant in American Catholic history, it is the undercurrent of yearning among Catholics to be part of the broader U.S. society.
Wanting the security and legitimate comfort of financial independence, American Catholics have made an incalculable positive contribution to the nation’s economy and quality of life. Catholics have been hard-working, honorable and creative participants in every area of professional and public life.
Our churches, by calling us to God and to following God’s law, have brought a precious gift to the society. So have our schools, from our great universities to the smallest of kindergartens and day care centers.
Catholics, since the Revolution, have heroically offered their lives, and in so many cases have given their lives, to defend our national democracy and to protect human rights abroad.
To be blunt, we Catholics have earned our place at the national table. It is a record of which we Catholics can be very proud and a record that all our fellow citizens must respect.
The problem has been when Catholics in the United States have yielded to the temptation of entering the cultural and philosophical current in order to be part of, or to feel that they are part of, the mix.
Long ago, this inclination, plus the force of a majority not Catholic, and of a cultural heritage also not Catholic, led to the strategy of “live and let live.”
It was the Catholic reaction to Prohibition. Since so few Americans alive today remember Prohibition, it was the period between 1919 and 1933 when nothing less than a Constitutional amendment forbade the production, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages.
This area has a distinctly anti-Catholic overtone. Many Catholics could take or leave a drink, but their religion taught that alcohol in moderation was not itself wrong. This Catholic accommodation of drink, versus the rigid condemnation of alcohol as intrinsically evil as proposed by most Protestants, made Catholics different. The difference threatened, or many assumed that it threatened, the ability of Catholics to better themselves in this culture.
Catholic politicians at the time responded by saying that, in the American way of personal freedom, Prohibition should be set aside. If anyone frowned on drink, then he or she simply should not drink, but do nothing to deny anyone else access to alcohol.
Descendants of these Catholic politicians, in some cases literally genetic descendants, follow the same philosophy with regard to abortion or whatever.
Our Sunday Visitor often has challenged this view. This column, however, is not so much repeating this challenge as it is a warning.
Very clearly we are entering a stage of social evolution in this country in which Catholic Americans will find themselves categorized as being outside the mainstream. This morning, for example, just by perusing the local daily newspaper, I found two articles in which two very historic “mainline” Protestant denominations had taken steps to accept “same-sex marriage.”
This is my point. In this particular matter, “same-sex marriage,” I am convinced, we Catholics more and more will be separated from other Americans precisely because of our views on the subject.
Catholics, if history is a guide, will react in several ways. Some, maybe many, will live and let live. Some will say that the Church is old-fashioned, heartless and out of step. Others will stand their ground.
Those who hold dear traditional Gospel values, as taught by the Church, will show that they know that, beyond anything uniquely American, human life always has been enormously brighter when guided by the Gospel — literally.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.