Do American Flags Belong in Catholic Churches? (Glad You Asked Q&A on Church Teaching)

By Schorn, Joel | U.S. Catholic, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Do American Flags Belong in Catholic Churches? (Glad You Asked Q&A on Church Teaching)


Schorn, Joel, U.S. Catholic


Since last September's terrorist attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism, the American flag has become more visible than at perhaps any other time in United States history. From car antennas to window decals to lapel buttons to commercials, it seems the flag is everywhere. But what about in Catholic churches?

In times of war and national tragedy, people seek to connect their deep feelings of loss, fear, hope, courage, support for victims and combatants, and national loyalty and gratitude with their religious aspirations. Both sets of emotions run deep in human souls, and it seems appropriate to somehow put them together in a positive way.

In some Catholic parishes, of course, the flag has always been around, placed in a corner of the sanctuary or flying in front of the church building. For some Catholics, seeing the flag in church joins God and country--the way they should be--while for others, flags in church represent an abhorrent marriage of nationalism and faith.

Most Catholics, however, probably fall somewhere between these extremes, wishing to establish some link between love for God and nation but wanting to do so appropriately.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops points out, nothing in the church's liturgical books or canon law provides any regulations about displaying flags in Catholic churches. For this reason, it's up to diocesan bishops to decide whether and how to display the flag in church, and the bishop usually lets the pastor make the decision.

One diocese that does have a policy is Green Bay, Wisconsin. There the flag cannot be carried in liturgical processions--at the beginning of Mass, for example--nor can it be placed permanently in the sanctuary. …

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