Marcus Grodi – DIH 2008 Opening Talk

marcus grodi.jpg

Marcus Grodi is giving the opening talk, by waiting of setting the table for the weekend.

The question for the weekend is “How has the Catholic Church faired since it was granted the right to exist in the United States in 1789?”

This can be a lot touchier, particularly since the times and topics are much fresher, and many of the issues still exist in the present day.

Of course the talks are not comprehensive – time simply won’t allow that level of treatment.

Catholics in the Post Revolutionary America
By 1850 Catholics had grown to become the single largest religious group in America.

Prior to his conversion, Grodi’s historical focus was oblivious to Roman Catholicism. He tended to focus on religous history of the American northeast.

Sixteen years after his conversion he was shocked at how most of the history he’d learned had been pretty different than what actually happened.

There were essentially no Catholics in New England from the Mayflower (1620) until the Constitution (1789).

At the time of the Revolution there were less than 30,000 Catholics out of 3,000,000 residents. There were maybe 25 priests without a bishop, all ex-Jesuits (the Jesuits had recently been suppressed).

The majority of Catholics lived in Maryland.

All of this after the first faith brought to the New World was Catholicism.

The sixth article of the Constitution made it legal to be a Catholic (along with a few other parts). Various states did not honor this in various ways. In many cases particular states excluded Catholics by name.

Eight Influences That Most Shaped Catholicism Since 1789

The Victory of the Enlightenment and Deism. Such men as Hobbes, Thomas Bacon, Rosseau, etc.

1. Human Reason is the most trustworthy source of knowledge, not faith. Thus sciences were held over revealed religion.

2. Man is not fallen, there is no such thing as original sin, thus man has no need for a savior. Therefore, men and their rights became more important than duty.

3. The concept of freedom was no longer the freedom for sin, falsehood, and error; rather it was the freedom to live as one wanted.

4. Politics and social life would no longer be governed by the laws of God and the Church.I.e., there’s no absolute truth – we can figure out truth on our own.

These ideas spawned the false religion of Deism, which believed in a detached, watchmaker God, who stepped back and let the world run on its own.

Most of the Founding Fathers were actually Deists, not Christians – they denied the deity of Christ. However, they did believe that religion was necessary to democracy.

The Age of Reason by Thomas Payne was the most influential book of the day … “my own mind is my own church”.

Therefore, we can define our own truth, which doesn’t leave any room for miracles, Church authority, and so forth.

This led to a series of revolutions, including the disastrous French Revolution.

Before 1789 it was not possible to take the required oaths and remain a faithful Catholic. After 1789 the pressure of the Deistic notions over-ran much of moder American Catholicism.

That is happening again today … compare the change in the public voice from the 1950s until today.

The Religious Tolerance Initiated by the Constitution was only Skin-deep. For example, the fear that came from the passage of the Quebec Act spread to the United States was one of the main things that started the American Revolution.

This was rather analogous to the slow walk away from racism in this country.

It helped that Catholic France had helped win the Revolutionary War. However, as the Catholic population began to grow (like “rabbits”!), then the underlying anti-Catholic sentiments rose (sometimes violently) to the surface.

For example, in 1835 the first Ursuline convent was burned to the ground by a crazed mob that had marched from Boston.

Catholic Americans Were Poorly Catechized. (ouch!) Because of the pressure and the illegality of Catholicism, 3 or 4 generations were educated in secret, and never really participated in the sacraments.

By the time of the Constitution, most Catholic Americans couldn’t distinguish their own beliefs from those of their Protestant neighbors.

Then, when the new priests began arriving who’d been educated in Europe then there was a big resistance, particularly in areas of morality.

Catholic Americans Lacked Sacramental Graces. We need the sacramental graces to live faithful and holy lives.

Think of 2 Timothy 3 … people would hold the form of a religion but deny the reality … a sign of the end days.

Many American born Catholics were baptized and married outside the Church. In fact, no American born Catholic from 1620 until after the Revolution had EVER received confirmation in America.

Why? We had no bishop!

The Increased Catholic Immigration Brought Division. The national hatreds of the old countries came over and infested American Catholicism. Witness the many ethnic Catholic communities across America.

One of the first Catholic schisms in America came about when a newly formed German Catholic bishop voted to separate themselves from the new Bishop Carroll … our first Bishop.

Regional American English Accents Exacerbated These Divisions. Look at the names of towns … they reflect the regions of origin in England, which were in the midst of what became an English Civil War … these divisions were replicated in the new American colonies.

Therefore, the accents tended to correspond to the biases of those regions, which was exacerbated by the immigration of other ethnic groups.

This made it difficult for priests from one region to minister to Catholics in other regions.

This still goes on today, if we want to be honest.


Trusteeism. The right to administer church property belongs to the Church, but not the spiritual rights. Due to the lack of priests, lay trustees began to claim the authority to administer to spiritual rights.

The heart of the dispute came over who got to choose and release pastors – the group who’d bought and build the church, or the bishop?

In the early days of our first bishop, Bishop John Caroll, often the leader of the opposition was a “priest”.

(The is almost exactly like St. Stanislaus today.)

Americanism. Americanism is defined as a movement propagated in the US in the late 19th century that claimed that the Catholic Church should adapt it’s doctrines to the mores of the society, which emphasized active practices like social justice over “passive” practices.

First condemned by Pope St. Leo XIII, this has been a problem in American from the beginning. This stems from the early English Catholics who came over and found the same biases, so they decided to lay low and just fit in … hence no converts for a huge amount of time.

I.e., “my faith is a private matter”. Because of the lingering suspicion that American Catholics were going to try to convert everyone, they tried even harder to become “more American” than anyone else.

Masons were heavily influential in the founding fathers, including many early Catholics (including the Carroll family.

All this sent the Catholic Church in America on a trajectory that we still are on … you can see these influences everywhere. Yet, there have been many, many faithful Catholics who fought all of these trends to spread the true faith.

We should ponder this last point very prayerfully, and consider how this can be changed. We must ask God to open our eyes as to how WE’VE bought into all these idea, and therefore hindered our faith.

Marcus Grodi – DIH 2008 Opening Talk

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