This was Originally published on the old Athanasius Contra Mundum in June 2009. I have come to believe that the majority of “elections” are actually quite worthless, nevertheless this period still has many lessons to teach us, such as when a group will not listen to the establishment. -Rubens, formerly Athanasius
It is often said today that we must choose an established candidate, even when we don’t like them, or that we are obligated to vote for one candidate to prevent a worse one from getting elected, such as in the last election when it was proposed that Catholics had to vote Republican even though John McCain’s pastor despises Catholics, McCain himself is not pro-life and many of his policies were no more Catholic than Obama.
However, Catholics living their faith in America in the 19th century had an entirely different view. Unlike us spineless Catholics today, they took their faith seriously as a block when they went to vote, there were not divisions between liberal and conservative, devout and not so much, you were either Catholic or not, and being Catholic meant that you fought for the glory of the Church in spite of what the established parties told you.
One great example of this is the education crisis in New York City under Archbishop John Hughes. He was one of the greatest bishops in American history (and he would be a complete embarrassment to the ecumenical establishment of today), who took the great issues of his time wherever he had to in order to bring resolution. He didn’t meet other Bishops in fancy hotels and establish committees for action plans. He took ownership and made his plan happen. At his death the number of parishes and schools in New York City alone were more than double that present in the state of New York when he assumed the episcopal throne.
At that time public education was basically Protestant education, since Protestants ran the schools, forced the King James Bible on all and degraded Catholic doctrines while teaching revisionist history to put down the Church. Bishop Hughes, in proposing that Catholic schools should receive state funds, argued that the state of affairs would be acceptable if Protestantism was the state religion, but since there was no official state religion the situation was intolerable and an offense to proper religion. A history of the Church in the US at that time explains the issue this way:
Simple as the petition of the Catholics was-that their schools conforming to the law should enjoy a share in the public moneys monopolized by the Public School Society-a Protestant institution which ignored the law-the question was misstated in the hall of the Common Council, and has been misrepresented a thousand times. The fact that the Catholics proposed to subject their schools to State supervision, and conform the teaching to the State requirements, is perpetually overlooked, and the charge that Catholics asked the exclusion of the Bible repeated in a thousand shapes. The question was no longer before the tribunal of justice; it had been evoked before that of prejudice- what wonder that the petition of the Catholics was rejected?
The Catholics had anticipated the result; but the step taken was necessary before submitting the case to the Legislature of the State. IN due time petitions were forwarded, signed by a large number of citizens, Catholics and Protestants, natives as well as foreigners. The prayer of this petition was received favorably, because it seemed to be but reasonable and just. A bill was drawn up which passed the Assembly, but at the close of the session was lost in the other house! All now looked forward to the next Legislature; and no calumny that ingenuity could devise was left untried to prejudice the popular mind against the Catholics, and to lead to a resistance to any change in the law. As the election drew nigh, the opponents of free education called on voters to require the candidates of both political parties to pledge themselves to refuse the prayer of the petitioners. The candidates of the Whig party did so; the candidates of the Democratic party, to which the great mass of Catholics belonged, did so; and the Catholics saw an election approach, at which every candidate, without waiting for a discussion in the legislative halls, had decided to deny them justice. No alternative was left. Those who asked the schools free from sectarian bias-where teachers should not be allowed to attack any creed, where no school-books should slur on any Church, where neither Protestant nor Catholic Bible should be forced on those who disowned it-resolved to adopt a new and independent ticket. As Bishop Hughes well remarked, “They would deserve the injustice and degradation of which they complained, if they voted for judges publicly pledged beforehand to pass sentence against them.”
The step, totally unexpected by the Democratic party, which counted the Catholics as its willing slaves [160 years, has anything changed?], left them in a minority and they were totally defeated. The election showed the numerical force of the Catholics, and the Whigs now sought to gain, the Democrats to recall them. All the politicians who had scorned the petitions of the Catholics became suddenly sensible that the old school law was very defective, and before long a new act was passed, erecting ward-schools on a far more equitable basis.
-The Catholic Church in the United States,
by Henry de Courcy and John Gilmary Shea; 1879
There are many things to draw from that, but the most important of all is the end. Catholics refused to vote for the main candidates. They did not vote for the lesser of two evils. They voted for the candidate which resolved to correct an injustice, and they did so as Catholics, at the behest of their Bishop. If the boring and tired old crowd which props themselves up at every election and informs us that we must vote republican (implicitly or explicitly) were around in these days, school reform would never have been accomplished, and the rights of Catholic families scarcely vindicated.
Politicians are already aware of the “Catholic vote” in our time, and they are aware that it is a fickle and fluid thing, not to be alienated as such, but also not unified either. Even Obama being the most admittedly pro-abortion president of our time was insufficient to unite Catholics behind John McCain, let alone a third party candidate who might have represented a Catholic position.
What is most important about the Catholic school crisis in New York, is that the Bishop and all the clergy were unanimous and on unified. They taught clearly, they lead by example, going before the boards and arguing for the rights of the Church, they got out of their chanceries and made the sacrifices to create schools for Catholic parents to send their children. They didn’t sit around at USCCB meetings in expensive hotels at the people’s expense whining about how the average person doesn’t understand ineffable. The lesson we ought to gleam from this is that reform is possible, even of government, but not without the clarity of Tradition, clear catechises and clear leadership by the hierarchy. Without these things Catholics have no common bond, and for that matter no common religion. The bishops are the link of unity, the apostolic faith, handed down for 2000 years, is the matter of Catholicity that makes us one. Without one, let alone both as in our day, there is no unity, only a sham unity of feelings and emotions.