The Echoes of Old New York....

In New York in the early nineteenth century, attenders at churches were encouraged to hold their places of worship in trust, under elected boards. New York law required the financial involvement of laity in their joint endeavours. This in turn required those Bishops who wished to maintain some control both of property or priests to do one of two things; appoint incompetent but popular locals, or hire in desperate refugees from the anticlerical or repressed areas of Europe. Scandals and alienation arose from either option, such as that surrounding the 'apostate' Corbery and the lecherous Father French in NYC in 1819. One solution was to bring in the Irish, since, as one bishop put it 'they did not, like the continentals, arrive with wives and children'.

What eventually happened was that very strong Bishops arose, who could dominate the churches, manipulate the press, who held the churches in their own office, and who joined no political faction. My doctorate was a biography of one of them, John Hughes. I thought (every graduate student thinks this, I guess) that Hughes was the precursor of the whole American tradition that crashed in the nineteen nineties with the lawsuits and disillusion surrounding the paedophile scandals and the culture wars. He was, a bit, but there were others.

I was thinking of Hughes today when I read a story from Connecticut. The Nutmeg State was one of the last states to abandon an established church (in 1818), since the first amendment only applied to the federal government in the early years of the republic. It is, as you might think, a fully paid up member of post-Protestant still anti-catholic New England, or at least some part of its DNA is. Two state senators there earlier this year, in an act of spite I think occasioned by their feelings of sexual exclusion, targeted the catholic church. A bill they are sponsoring is attempting to, well, presbyterianise it within the state. They say they are simply responding to constituent pressure because of the dominance of the local Archbishops over an querelous laity. The bill has, as far as I can tell, been tabled since March, which in American English (not over here) means that it is being parked.

People are going so ultra, everywhere. One side excludes people because it emphasises sex acts over the teaching that it is a mortal sin to exclude gay people, or wants to deny communion; the other responds by attempting to dechristianise any ethical system that is not secular at the root, and to tie everything to money. There's an odd parallel with the way Republicans and Democrats have forgotten Gary Cooper/Jimmy Stewart Americanism, and are instead revelling in the demonisation of each other these days.

Honestly. The worst crisis in sixty years and I'm sitting here in a melancholy mood, thinking, well, really--can't you all just grow up? Then again, maybe having things out in the open is much better. I have too much of a tendency to think of hypocrisy as a highly civilised vice of which I approve--too much for my own good, anyway.

Here's Father Barron on Ted Kennedy. He's always worth listening to, at least....


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