Harder Than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America

By Patricia McNeal | Go to book overview

1
Origins of the Catholic Peace Movement

ON 5 APRIL 1917, the day before the U.S. Congress declared war, James Cardinal Gibbons, speaking on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy and the American Catholic church, proclaimed that, "In the present emergency it behooves every, American citizen to do his duty and uphold the hands of the President . . . in the solemn obligations that confront us. The primary duty of a citizen is loyalty to country. This loyalty is exhibited by an absolute and unreserved obedience to his country."1 In pledging the loyalty of American Catholics to the nation Gibbons was reaffirming a tradition of Catholic "patriotism in wartime." This tradition, wrote one historian, "has been a hallmark of the American Catholic community," evident since the earliest days of the nation.2 It was reinforced by a reaction to the anti-Catholicism prevalent in Protestant America and supported on a theological level by the just war doctrine.

As members of an immigrant church, Catholics in the United States continually sought to dispel the label of foreigners put on them by American nativists.3 Their enthusiastic support of the nation's wars "has remained one of the most frequently used, if not logical retorts to answer any aspersions on Catholic loyalty to American principles."4 The general antipathy of the American people for Catholicism was rooted in the virulent anti-Catholicism of the Protestant Reformation and strengthened periodically, by waves of immigration, during which between 1790 and 1920 approximately 9,395,000 Catholic immigrants arrived in the United States. In response to the needs of this immigrant population, the church hierarchy was largely concerned with domestic rather than international issues. Church leaders had to turn their attention to building up the institution--churches, schools, and other organizations for

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