The American arrangement on church-and-state relations was a novelty for the Catholic Church. When it was deemed appropriate to appoint a bishop for the new republic after its founding, the Holy See sent a representative to learn the U.S. government’s wishes through the American minister in Paris, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin replied that this was none of the government’s business, and that the Church could appoint whomever it liked — a response that caused astonishment along the Tiber, where the pope, in those days, had a free right of appointing bishops in, at best, 20 percent of the world’s dioceses.Was Franklin respectful of the Catholic Church or only tolerant, i.e. respectful of their rights? In a footnote of James Campbell’s book, “Recovering Benjamin Franklin” he writes:
Franklin displayed elements of anti-Catholicism throughout his life. He writes, for example, on 13 April 1785 of the conversion of a Boston Protestant clergyman to Catholicism: “Our ancestors from Catholic became first Church-of-England men, and then refined into Presbyterians. To change now from Presbytarianism to Popery seems to me refining backwards, from white sugar to brown.”Nevertheless, Franklin maintained good relations with Rome and supported Charles Carroll (cousin of John Carroll) for Bishop of the first Catholic diocese in the states (see Raymond J. Kupke’s book). Franklin’s respect for the Catholic Church as an institution (and perhaps his respect for hypocrisy as a practice) made him a logical diplomatic choice for ambassador to the French Court--at least compared to John Jay and John Adams. Or perhaps it was just Franklin’s shrewd manner of making friends for fun and profit. As John Adams said of his friend, Ben:
The Catholics thought him almost a Catholic. The Church of England claimed him as one of them. The Presbyterians thought him half a Presbyterian, and the Friends believed him a wet Quaker.I think that Ben wanted it that way.