Monday, February 11, 2013

America's Own Investiture Controversy

By John J. Pilch, Ph.D
Georgetown University
Guest Blogger

Once independence was achieved, the mode of Church governance until then would no longer do. Clergy in the English colonies of America had previously been subject to the Vicar Apostolic in London. To continue this arrangement, or to put the new country under the Roman Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, would only confirm American suspicions about the loyalty of American Catholics. American Catholics wanted an independent spiritual leader.

On June 9, 1784, Rome appointed John Carroll as Prefect-Apostolic of the Catholic missions in America. Rome made this decision in part because it wanted to please Benjamin Franklin, who had warmly recommended John Carroll for the position. The two were good friends ever since their unsuccessful effort to win Canada to the American cause in 1776.

Pius VI [1717-1799]

"Prefect" rather than "Bishop" seemed to Rome a good compromise response to the American anti-prelacy sentiment. John Carroll was less than pleased. A Prefect had limited powers and depended upon the Roman Congregation of the Propaganda of the Faith which claimed jurisdiction over the Catholic "missions" in America. This ran the risk of confirming American suspicions. But when the clergy persuaded him that this less-than-perfect solution was at least a first step, he accepted the position in a letter dated February 27, 1785.

Three subsequent events convinced the clergy and laity that American Catholics needed and would not suffer any harm from having a Bishop. Serious problems arose with some laity in New York which Carroll's limited powers as Prefect could not handle; religious freedom became more general and more real in State legislation and ultimately in the Federal Constitution; and Episcopalians consecrated a Bishop for their Church in November, 1784, with no untoward results.

In March, 1788, the priests drew up a petition to Pope Pius VI in which they recognized the need for a Bishop with full independent jurisdiction and they asked for permission, at least for the first time, to choose him themselves.

The Pope concurred. "For the first time only, and by special grace," the Pope allowed the priests in America to decide the town in which the diocese should be located and to elect the Bishop from their number.

On May 18, 1788, the priests selected Baltimore as the diocese because most priests and Catholic laity resided in the region, and it was geographically well situated for communication with the other colonies. Twenty-four of the twenty-six priests assembled voted for Carroll as Bishop. The Pope sent his approval in his letter of November 6, 1789, but noted that future Bishops would be chosen by the Pope "in all future vacancies."

Full story here. See also our Mark DeForrest's recent post on Bishop Carroll's prayer for America here.


JMS said...

Tom - thanks for the informative post. Most of the recent best religious histories of the founding era (e.g., Frank Lambert's "The Funding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America")do not even mention the Carrolls.

But kudos to Steven Waldman, who in "Founding Faith," noted the religious diversity in the Continental Congress by stating that, "It's worth appreciating that there was (ital) even a Catholic delegate to the Continental Congress." (p. 90)

Waldman also mentions that Benjamin Franklin's "strong friendship" with the Carrolls "grew out of the tenderness shown by ... John Carroll, a priest, during an illness Franklin fought during that period." (p. 91, also see footnote 14 on p. 241).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, JMS.

The Franklin connection with both Carroll and the Pope was the clincher for posting this. Dang, but din't Ben know everybody!

The other interesting thing is the other investiture controversy in America in the 1760s. Even Presbyterians were alarmed that the [Anglican] Church of England was going to appoint bishops in the colonies. That's what the above Catholic "investiture controversy" echoed, a fear of papism as "allegiance to a foreign prince," a mirror of the earlier fear of the British crown using religion to control the state. [Also vice-versa!]


"The Plot to Land a Bishop

The supposed British plot, to impose Anglican bishops in the colonies, aroused atavistic fears that Americans would be persecuted for their religious convictions and further poisoned relations between Britain and the colonies. In this cartoon an indignant New England mob pushes a bishop's boat back towards England, frightening the prelate into praying, "Lord, now lettest thou thy Servant depart in Peace." The mob flings a volume of Calvin's Works at the bishop, while brandishing copies of John Locke and Algernon Sydney on government. The crowd shouts slogans: "Liberty & Freedom of Conscience"; "No Lords Spiritual or Temporal in New England"; and "shall they be obliged to maintain bishops that cannot maintain themselves."


Tom Van Dyke said...

*Old joke: Every day, Bob would claim that he knew everyone. One day, his boss got fed up and told Bob that if he didn't shut up or prove it, he was going to fire him.

So Bob said he would prove it. He told his boss to name anyone in the whole world and together, they would go see that person. Bob's boss, being a little sarcastic, replied, "Tom Cruise; I bet you don't know him!" Bob said he did.

So that afternoon, they hopped
on a plane to Hollywood. Once they got there, they went straight to Tom's house. They rang the doorbell, and Tom answered it and said, "Hey Bob, come on in, I was just about to have some lunch. You and your friend are welcome to
join me."

After they left Tom's house, Bob's boss looked at him and
said, "Okay, so I just happened to name the one celebrity you know."
Bob replied, "Then name someone else if you don't believe me." His
boss said, "The President; I bet you don't know the President."

So Bob and his boss flew out to the White House. They were taking a tour when the President was going into one of his offices, looked up and saw Bob.

The President said, "Hey Bob, what's going on?" He told the men to come into his office for a cup of coffee. Once they had left the White House, Bob's boss turned to him and said, "It's all just a big

Bob challenged his boss once again. This time his boss tells him that there's no way he knows the Pope. Again, Bob claims he does, and with that they fly to Rome.

The Pope was supposed to
address the public fifteen minutes from then. There were hundreds of
thousands of people there. Bob told his boss that The Pope will never
see him in the midst of all those people. So Bob told his boss that he knows the security guards, and when the Pope comes out to give his
speech, he will join him on stage.

Fifteen minutes later, the Pope came out on stage and there was Bob. Bob made his way to the end of the stage, and went back out into the crowd. Bob noticed that the
paramedics were circled around someone in the crowd. When Bob
realized that it was his boss, he rushed to his side. He asked what
happened, and one of the paramedics said that his boss had a heart
attack. Bob asked his boss if the fact that he knew the Pope was too
much to take, to which his boss replied, "No, that's not what got me.

"What got me was when you walked out with the Pope, the guy next to
me asked, 'Who's that up there with Bob?'"