James Patterson on the anti-communism and Catholic patriotism of Venerable Fulton Sheen

By | September 3, 2019

So it is my privilege also to
introduce to you my friend, Dr. James Patterson, who holds a
Ph.D. in American politics from the
University of Virginia. He’s held teaching positions at
a Hampden-Sydney College and Gettysburg
College, and done postdoctoral fellowships at Duke University
and at Princeton University. He now holds a position as
Associate Professor of Politics at Ave Maria
University in southern
Florida. You’ll notice that we have him
listed as assistant professor; in between when this was
published and when he’s gotten here today he has
, he has been given tenure by that university. Dr. Patterson, thank you for
joining us. We’re looking forward to what
you have, what you have to say
to us today. Thanks, Troy. We’ll see if it holds together. Good afternoon everyone. I just want to thank you for
coming to this event, and I especially
want to thank, to thank Trey Dimsdale and Andrea Mourey for
helping get me here. I am, like most professors, I would not say I’m the most
accomplished at getting myself places; I am a
bit, a bit disorganized. And so it is no mean feat to
get me from, from South Florida to to
Western Michigan. Also I want to prevent any
confusion. I did not write ‘The President
is Missing’, co-authored with William Jefferson Clinton
. That is a different James Patterson,
believe me. I made every effort to persuade
the University of Pennsylvania Press to make my book look as
much like his as possible, and to send them
to grocery stores across the country on the
assumption that not everybody would return the
book, and sales would, you
know, balloon. Probably the best selling
political scientists ever to
accidentally sell his book. But they kept using the word
fraud. They said maybe that’s not a
good thing, and I was like, you know what, I want to, I
want to move units, you want
to move… Anyway, you see this goes. So, the, ‘Religion in the Public Square’ is the
book. Today, I’ll be talking about the
chapter on Fulton Sheen. Fulton Sheen in many cases is a figure that I find younger people simply do not
know, and older people tend to remember
fondly. But before we talk about Fulton
Sheen, I want to talk about why Fulton Sheen. And this is just can be a brief
a, brief discussion of the
overall argument of the book. So the summary of the book is
that political leaders use foundations to articulate the basis for
public policy decisions. This sounds pretty elementary,
right? And it is. But that is why, you know,
we’re starting with it. And these foundational ideas
often describe who are like on the right side
of history versus the wrong side of
history; foundational ideas about maybe history carry some
sort of weight or some sort of moral
authority. That’s been one example of a
foundational idea, that
history is sort of meting out justice
over time. And the role of these
foundations is to legitimate both the
regime as well as the people specifically acting within the
regime. And leaders that use political
foundational ideas do so in a way that’s
entrepreneurial , right? They don’t just simply
offer these, you know,
pontifications on foundational ideas in the
hope that everybody will see the truth. They aggressively persuade
audiences in order to get as large of a supporting group as
possible, in order to have a mandate to
say, be like, you know, a revolutionary leader or in
the case of the United States, just an elected official. So a great, a definition that, that
is more formal, one that I get from a
professor at the University of Virginia
named James W. Caesar, is that political
foundations are ideas offered in political
discourse as a first cause or ultimate
justification for a general political
position or orientation. It is usually presented as
requiring no further argument, since it is thought
to contain within itself the first premise it supplies
the answer to the question ‘why’, beyond
which any further response is thought
unnecessary. So I used an example of the
sort of the historical
imperative; other could be like, you know,
laws of nature. That’s one that’s used in the
American founding. In my book it’s, its religious
foundations that are the particular kinds
of ideas that are used by political
entrepreneurs. So they’re, the American regime in terms
of faith has religious
foundations that settle obligations of
citizens to themselves, each other, and
the common good; the purpose of the state, and
friends and enemies of the
regime. They do so by grounding it
within certain articulations of faith traditions, rather
than in terms of a sort of, sort of
neutral idea of nature, or the sort of
overwhelming forces of
history. And the way foundations work is
that they don’t just simply produce a sort of static regime in
which everyone across generations always agrees with
each other about what those ideas profess; they
don’t settle on the same political faith, they don’t
settle on the same ideas of
history, they don’t all agree on what
nature is. Rather, they are always
changing, they’re always
developing discourses in what political
scientists Roger Smith calls the “spiral
of politics.” We’re almost to Sheen, I
promise. This is almost almost over. And, and that is it just follows a series of steps in
which we have a context in which foundational ideas are
possible, right? So there are certain
ideas that are possible within a given historical
context. The example being that maybe
the—and it, like, ancient Confucian China,
there’s not like a context for, like, the idea of Shari’a
as a foundation for law , right? Because it just simply
isn’t available. Then we have the formation of
ideas that are available
within that context, which then
achieve audiences that become part of a
coalition who then, if the audience and
coalition becomes strong enough, capture
governing institutions and implement the ideas on the
basis of the foundation on which they already agree. And what’s amazing is that once
that foundation is in place it then becomes the new context. And so there is always this
sort of cyclical process of people articulating
foundational ideas, and then re-articulating them. And we see this for example in
the way that Americans have
talked about the idea of natural rights,
starting with the sort of abstract Lockean
discourse, and then moving
into sort of a more patriotic,
substantial understanding of
what it means to be an American. These are the sort of changes
and transformations that shared ideas have. And that’s what we’re trying to
explain here. So what does this have to do
with the book? The answer is that religious
leaders do this all the time. Now, Fulton Sheen Martin Luther
King, and Jerry Falwell—religious
leaders that had really no
interest and becoming elected officials —but what they did do is they
did advocate for certain religious ideas as foundations for the
American regime. And today we’ll be talking
about the way that Fulton
Sheen did this. So, I’m going to talk about his biography very briefly for
those of you who don’t know a whole lot about Fulton
Sheen. Fulton Sheen was born in 1895 in El Paso, Illinois, to an Irish Catholic
family there. He attended the University
of Leuvin, now called the Catholic University
of Leuvin, after receiving a degree from the
Catholic University of
America. But the Leuvin degree is very important because he
received a very prestigious degree called the Agregae. I’m sure I’m not pronouncing
that correctly. And he’s one of maybe 25, 30
people who’ve ever received it. So Fulton Sheen is one of the
most, sort of, in terms of academic credentials, one
of the most accomplished
American priests in history, and was considered a rising star from the point when he was in
seminary. And he was a professor at Catholic
University from ’27 to ’50, although by night by
the 1930s, he was infrequently at CUA. He had so many obligations on
radio and, and in speaking
engagements as as a speaker, that he wasn’t always, he wasn’t
always there. One of the first things he did
was he was a major contributor
to something called The Catholic
Hour, which started in 1930 as a response to the anti
Catholic sort of missiles launched at
Al Smith when he ran as a Democratic candidate for
president in 1928. So that was sort of the
beginning of his media career was on the Catholic hour. Not something that a lot of
people remember about him—they
tend to remember the
television. But one of the reasons why he
was so successful on
television is by then he had already had 25 years of
media experience. He became a bishop in 20, 1951. And that same year he became
a, he started “Life is Worth Living”
on DuMont television. No one remembers DuMont; sort of
came in fourth place. They didn’t get a medal; instead
they just went out of
business. And imagine this: imagine a
country in which a Catholic priest in
full, in full vestments wins an
Emmy, right? It just goes on. And who does he beat? Who does
this man beat on Life is
Worth—he beats Frank Sinatra for an Emmy. So, I mean— you know, and Frank
of course, you know, nominally a Catholic, would
have to bow to the authority
of the bishop in the first, so he
probably have to hand the Emmy
to him in the first place. So the show actually ends in
1957, a little before maybe it could have, because of a
disagreement —one of many that Fulton Sheen
had with his superior, Cardinal Francis
Spellman. That’s a story that I’m going
to avoid, because this is
being live streamed and I don’t want to get in
trouble. So, the context, the sort of
emerging context in which Fulton Sheen operated
was one that we tend to forget. But in 1930, the United States
was not a place that was terribly
hospitable to Roman Catholics, especially Roman Catholics
living in major urban centers, where often Catholics were
cheek to jowl with Protestants who did not care for their
sudden intrusion into their
Protestant republic. And at the same time by 1930
those very same Protestants were
experiencing some theological and ecclesial
crises that were afflicting their denominations. This term hegemony, I don’t
mean to make it sound like, you know, oppressive in every
case, but there were some cases in which American
Protestants did indeed did sort of
mistreat Roman Catholics. And so one of the reasons for
this was the idea that Roman Catholics were sort
of pathologically incapable of being free, because they
were tyrannized by a foreign prince of Rome, and uniquely
immoral in a way that required them to
consume vast amounts of
alcohol. There’s all sorts of stuff that we’ll
look at in a minute to make
all the Protestants in the room feel really
uncomfortable. But the demise of the Protestant sort of
hegemony of the 19th century is at the same time the rise of what we call the
Judeo-Christian heritage, Judeo-Christian consensus, the
whole idea of Judeo-Christianity humanity
as a thing. There is a long tradition of
treating these as very linked, right,
Catholics, Protestants, and
Jews. This is a very old idea, in
terms of them being
culturally, theologically,
philosophically, legally
connected. But the idea that you could put
those three groups together and they’d like each other and
they’d agree on everything, that’s new, and what I would
describe as fragile, especially if
you’ve been following things that have gone on this
week in the Catholic and Protestant
intellectual sphere. If you don’t know I won’t tell
you it’s it’s it’s mostly more light than heat. But the, the trouble that that
Protestants had experienced over the fundamentalists versus
modernist controversy, for
example, had led more modernist or mainline
Protestants to reach out to Catholics and
Jews. And there’s a really great book
about this called “Tri-faith
America” that I recommend to all of you
if you want to see what the
story about that, by a guy named Kevin
Schulz. Wait: I should I should be promoting
my book. So the foundation for the Judeo Christian consensus that
Sheen helps launch in his early
efforts in the 1930s is that the foreign prince in Rome
that Protestants fear is not
the prince to fear. Rather, it’s the ones that are
emerging in totalitarian regimes, especially in Italy,
united Germany, and most of all in
the Soviet Union. And so the idea that there is
some sort of Romish plot to unseat the Republican
government in thed United
States was always fabricated. But certainly the deaths of
millions of faithful people in these
countries would, were not fabricated. And so what we’re seeing is
that the need for a unity among Jewish, Protestant, and
Catholic Americans is urgent. And the need to resist any kind
of rise of totalitarianism in Europe. And this becomes the sort of
main position that Fulton Sheen takes as early as 1930
when he starts there on the radio. But what he is combating when
he’s combating this, with his
appeal to a resistance to totalitarianism is an old Protestant Establishment that
argued for things like this: that there is a
Jesuitical plot to unseat the American republic. So this is from Lyman Beecher for help
plead for the west of who’s a very popular book in the
19th century. And of course, you know, this
is in 1871, a very famous or infamous
cartoon by Thomas Nast called American
Ganges. If you can’t tell these are
Roman Catholic bishops whose
minors are also crocodile mouths. A Catholic—the miter was
frequently depicted as a crocodile to the
point where the Roman Catholic Church in America was just
depicted as a crocodile. And it’s the sort of, sort of
you knew. It’s sort of the way kids know
the meanings behind memes now, like the crocodile meme was
like the 19th century
equivalent. There’s one of my favorites
that’s actually not in this
talk, is the one where the tortoise and the
crocodile are client—climbing the capital building. The tortoise if you don’t know
is the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter day Saints. And I have no idea why. But, so, what, Sheen’s Catholic
reinterpretation of of the American founding was
that Catholics benefit from religious liberty that’s
protected as part of the of the American, the
American founding. And it is not Protestant and Catholic divisions that should define America,
but rather free versus
totalitarian divisions that should define
America. And most of all communism,
especially, becomes the critical factor
for Sheen after the end of the Second
World War and the start of the
Cold War. And any time that Sheen would
be called on this, he would always point to evidence
of the millions of deaths of Roman Catholics in Europe
who had fought against
totalitarianism. So it’s like, you know, we paid
for this position. I do not, do not believe that
this is just some sort of, like, posture that we’re using
in order to infiltrate the
American republic. This is something that we have,
we have red and white martyrs to
testify to. So one of the funniest things
about Sheen’s appeal is that
he uses the term ‘Americanism.’ And if, those of you who who
know the history of that term, Americanism both refers to a
quasi condemned heresy for, by the
Pope, Pope Leo the 13th. Sheen intentionally uses this
term. It’s sort of like a fraught term
when he uses it. And the other use of the term
Americanism in the American context really meant, like,
the American party or the know-nothing party;
It was essentially the
nativist term; Romanism versus Americanism. And so Sheen is, and, just
walks right into the room and takes the
single most controversial term
he could use for this new way of
thinking about religious foundations and
picks that one. That’s, this really difficult one. A main reason is that, the idea
of there being some sort of conspiracy
against Liberty is true in the form of
totalitarian governments. And so in this respect, the
sort of old database position of Americanism gets
repurposed as a kind of judeo Christian
opposition to totalitarianism
. And at the same time it seems to
prioritize conscience over authority in a way that
some more conservative elements in
the Catholic Church were
uncomfortable with. So, this is, it’s, it’s a very
clever, it’s a very clever decision. One of my favorite things about
Fulton Sheen is that in 1949, he received a medal from the
American Legion in his defense of Americanism,
right? So it’s like, he did he did it!
You know, he was able to
redefine Americanism into something
that both the church, you know, condemned and that
Protestants advocated. And now Catholics like it
. Uh, OK
. So here’s an
example of Americanism. …because there there’s
reality and there’s myth. The people are
real, they want the truth. But they’re submerged by this
myth. So we say to them, listen to
this statement. And we’ll tell you later who
said it. But we we address it to the
Soviets. “If any nation whatsoever is
detained by force within the boundaries
of a certain state, and if that nation, contrary
to its expressed desire, is not
given the right to determine the
form of its state life by free voting, and completely free from the
presence of troops of the annexing or stronger
state, and without any pressure, then
the incorporation of that nation by the stronger
state is annexation; it is seizure
by force; it is violence.” Who said this? Nikolai Lenin! Then Soviets, under God, follow it ! Free these people! That’s the first thing that we have
to solve in the world. And then our other problems
will be solved. No other problem will be solved untill
we liberate them! They’re strong, they’re very
strong. Why? Because they believe in an absolute. They believe in a truth, the truth of the party line. And they believe in it with
such fervor and faith that they are—is that 26:40? Is that time for
me to quit? Is that 26:40? One minute yet? I
get so rattled. And— but they they have a faith in an
absolute, and that gives them great
strength and great zeal. Our weakness, really, is the fact that we are not sure in
America that there is any
truth. We are something like Pontius
Pilate, when our blessed Lord
appeared before him. Our Lord said, “I am come to
give testimony of the truth, and all aware of the truth
hear my voice.” And Pilate turned his back on
truth and sneered , “what is truth?” They have thrown down the
gauntlet! And they have reminded us that
the choice before the world is not some humanitarian
society and communism. It is either brotherhood in
Christ, or comradeship in anti-Christ! They have chosen that
particular comradeship. It is for us as a free nation to chose the truth! To chose the good! To choose and
affirm God and the freedom of the
peoples of the world! I mean, are you ready? Like, I was saying earlier, this
is—I’m not sure if you guys remember this; In 2008,
Barack Obama, before taking the stage to accept the nomination as
president United States , he ran clips from the, the speech that Dr. King gave, and the March on
Washington for Jobs and
Freedom. You have to be incredibly
confident in your public speaking to
follow Dr. King, right? And so now I have
to give the second half of my talk following venerable
Fulton J.
Sheen. So realize now that all of you
, what you actually want to go do is you
want to go fight the
communists. But you have to sit here and
listen to me. And believe me, look, we can do
that later. Just let me do this. And on your way out, buy my book. So Americanism as a political foundation here is defined,
for example, as a brotherhood in Christ or
comradeship and Antichrist. And this, this distinction is meant to clarify in order
to understand that the left is, on here, is Americanism,
and the right, that’s
communism. This is the sort of post-Cold
War. Sheen earlier would refer to
this comradeship in anti-Christ is
also fascism and Naziism. And the arrangement that Sheen
had for Americanism was that at the foundation of
the American regime was the church. Now for Fulton Sheen he primarily
understood this to mean the
Catholic Church, but he also understood
that not everyone was going to be a member of the church, and
so he was obviously much more inclusive than then just to include the
Catholic Church; he included
Jews and Protestants. But, he was incredibly certain that to be a citizen,
a good citizen in a republic required
you to be a religious person. so you could not simply be a
sort of, like, deist. You had to be religiously
informed about the nature of the common good,
and the moral responsibilities you have to
yourself, to your community, and, as well as the moral
limits on state power. In the absence of religious
education you have comradeship and Antichrist, in
which the people become grist for the mill of
the state, used as an instrument by the party. And so the only way that the
state can can operate as a free organization is if
the church has already made you free, spiritually and
morally. Hence why the state in this
triangle is very small. The needs and parameters and
prerogatives of the state are relatively few,
considering individuals have already taken up their
responsibilities to their
communities in the form of participation
in church life. So it is very much a very
strong sense of communal life that comes
from Sheen’s experience in the Irish Catholic churches of El Paso where much of this was
done without ever thinking about
it. So the charge led here by the idea of the
Judeo-Christian heritage for
Fulton Sheen sort of began, and his efforts to speak and organize new york Catholic organizations that frequently
had him up to St. Patrick’s, very early after
Sheen gave a homily is like the one you
just saw in that clip. And so one of the first
examples of Sheen going
multimedia was they had to wire
loudspeakers onto the outside of the cathedral so the people
who would come to mass to hear him and maybe were a few
minutes late, they couldn’t fit inside the
building, and so they had to
hear him from outside. And even as he was making these very strongly
Catholic statements, he was nonetheless
appointed, for example, by Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York, to be the
Catholic representative at the 1940 New York City World’s Fair, in
what was called the Temple of
Religion. This was the sort of effort to sort
of realize this idea of Jews, Catholics, and
Protestants together, defending liberty at home and
abroad. He meets with the first Jewish
governor of New York, Herman Layman, in an effort to kind of show how the Jews and the
Catholics could get along
. This is actually kind of an open
question in the city for those
of you who were like, maybe come from that time and
place in New York. There was a lot of a lot of
disagreements in the local populations. And one thing to note is that
in the process of forming this kind of coalition
—remember, we’re following the
spiral of politics —we’ve now got, we’ve now
started the process of forming
this coalition on the basis of the
ideas coming from the immediate context. There are competitors. There are people who disagree
with what Fulton Sheen is
doing implicitly or explicitly. And one of the implicit
competitors for Fulton Sheen was another radio
priest named Charles Coughlin. Coughlin was essentially an anti-Semitic leader by the
end of his career, and the
Catholic Church in America sort of had to figure out a way to pull him off the
air. And there was another person
who is often forgotten, and that is Methodist Bishop
A. Bromley Oxnam who was a leader
of, I guess, sort of the social
gospel of the 1940s, and was deeply opposed personally to
Fulton Sheen. As a kind of postscript to
Oxnam, the same year that—I believe
it’s the same year, within a year, that Sheen wins
his Emmy for life is worth living
, Oxnam is grilled by the House Un-American
Activities Committee for his
unwitting efforts to to pursue the
efforts of Soviet propaganda by publishing
things that they had sent to
him. Oops ! So, you know, it is important
to remember that, like, Sheen has competitors within
the church too. And they were, you know,
Coughlin was was pretty
notorious in that regard. So there are these like sort of
formations of this coalition
that occur over the course of the
1940s, and all of this is
happening before the period when we tend
to remember Sheen, which is
in, when he was on television for
Life is Worth Living. You know he’s holding these
huge masses that include Protestant, and Catholic, and
Jewish leaders of the American regime, including
the vice president here who is an Episcopalian. And the hope was that there
could be this sort of
legitimation of Roman Catholics as part of
the American, as part of the American
regime, who could make
positive contributions to the defense
of liberty here. It was what he ultimately
thought was possible. And he now, having formed his
coalition, there was buy-in from the other leaders. They were coming to him and
affirming his position. The real the real climax for Fulton Sheen comes with
Eisenhower, when he is a regular guest in the White House. I believe he could—regular for
a White House guest , right? So I think he goes
five or six times, to the point where Sheen actually kind of name checks
him in a really great clip
here. Would you like to see a letter
I got from a soldier the other day that indicates
humility? He passed me by on
the street, failed to see me. And he wrote this letter. The soldier says, “Dear Bishop
Sheen: last evening at the Alfred Smith
dinner, I was told that while I was passing
through the streets of New
York yesterday you stopped at a street corner to
greet me. I regret I failed to see you. But I do assure you that I am
more than complimented by your friendly
thoughtfulness. I would have valued the
opportunity to have stopped my
car, however briefly, to chat for a
moment. With personal
regards.” Would you like to know the name of the
soldier? Dwight D. Eisenhower. I wrote to the president, and I
said, in America when the president
passes a friend on the street, and through no
fault of his own fails to
recognize him, he sends a letter of
greeting. That is democracy. In Russia, when the dictator
passes a friend on the street without recognizing him, that
means he’s marked for
liquidation. That is communism. So this is really the moment;
one of the reasons why Fulton Sheen and Life Is Worth Living
is one of these moments for, for American Catholics,
is because —did we see what happened,
right? Like, the name checking Eisenhower; Catholics are now
no longer the targets of, like, anti
Catholic vitriol that loses a presidency. Now the president is sending a
letter to a bishop, and, of greeting, in a way that recognizes both the the right to citizenship, full equality in that terms,
but also kind of respect for the political power that
Catholics have in making decisions about the
direction of the country. And so this is a very important
moment for Fulton Sheen to illustrate in a way
that, you know, it’s very
dramatically revealed. Fulton Sheen loves drama. And, and the, the outcome of this is just
tremendous applause. he’s always—this is a
tremendous success for him. And at this moment when there’s
this kind of arrival for American Catholics, sort
of, you know, I think at the same time Fulton
Sheen’s on television the
Notre Dame football team. Right? Like there are all
these, you know, all these big
moments happening for American
Catholics. He’s actually pulled off the
air by Cardinal Spellman as the two
of them have an increasingly fractious relationship. And even though he’s pulled off the
air, there is this sort of leftover sense of a Judeo
Christian tradition, a sort of shared set of values
among American Jews, Protestants, and Catholics,
who can now use those shared positions to make
moral arguments for other kinds of political
action. In the case of Fulton Sheen,
Americanism is the basis for combating the Cold War. And in the case of a future
leader, in the case of Martin
Luther King, he fits into the book by
taking that same kind of
audience and using that Judeo Christian
consensus as a basis for ending racial
segregation. And so that’s what actually
holds all the figures
together. Jerry Falwell uses the same
kind of idea of a Judeo-Christian consensus to
fight what he sees as the excesses of the 60s and
70s. And so even though these are
very different figures and
very different leaders, they are
nonetheless using the same
kind of political foundation in religion in
order to argue that that case. Just as a note, Fulton Sheen in 1966 was promoted. And that’s in quotation marks,
because Fulton Sheen did not
regard his position at Rochester as a
promotion. He went from auxiliary bishop
to Bishop, but really what he
was, he was sent into exile by, by
Spellman. Sheen’s, Sheen’s position as
bishop there was so… not accomplished
? I don’t know how it was—it
was very bad, it was bad, he was not a good
administrator—that he retired before three years were up,
and returned to New York where he
actually was still relatively active as a
speaker, and nonetheless somewhat
marginalized after the post Vatican two
years. He was sort of can see, seen as a
‘has been’, right? He’s been
on radio since the 1930s, and
people kind of moved on in the past 40 years. But there is an important
moment in Sheen’s life that’s
two years before, two months before his
death in 1979. And that is the visitation of Pope John Paul the second
to New York when John Paul the second is
leaving St. Patrick’s, he recognizes Fulton
Sheen, and has to —this is, you know
this is back when JP 2 was actually in good health. Sheen was the one that was in
bad health.
J.P. tried to hoist him up. There’s a really great
description of this in a book
called ‘America’s Bishop’, where he has to hoist
Fulton Sheen up, and affirms that Sheen had
been a good bishop, had been a good
priest. And you can see the look on on
Sheen’s face is extremely emotional as it was during
this, and within two months he dies. And for those of you who are
religious Catholics, when he dies, he dies face down before the Blessed
Sacrament that he kept in his
one room apartment. So he died in good company. So thank you all.
Goodbye. And God love you. We have 30 minutes for Q and A. If you raise your hand, Andrew
and I will bring the mic to
you. So I think you mentioned in
passing that article in First Things by—OK. Do you want to kind of, maybe
give your thoughts on that and
detail that? OK, so is this the andti, against Frenchism? Yeah. So, I will work Shean into this
It’s going to happen. No, I actually will. I’ll try to. For those of you who aren’t aware,
there is a, I would say an emerging sort
of fracture in what is left of the Judeo-Christian
consensus. It actually begins, and in
terms of the book, the
fracture actually begins, which, the
discussion of Jerry
Falwell. At the very end of King’s
life, before he’s
assassinated. He starts to go in this
direction too, where the idea of there being a sort of
shared set of values and a
political foundation across America is
no longer a sort of cultural, or
religious, or a shared social experience, and increasingly a
partisan one. And the movement to
partisanship for religious issues means that the, the
idea of there being a religious
party becomes, becomes what the Republican
Party wants to embrace. Which means that there is an
irreligious party in the
Democratic Party. And so if if religious people
in United States wanted to
have a party, they had to stick with
Republicans. And this is really manifested
over the last two decades, and the effort to politicize
religion as much as Falwell eventually was able to do is
part to blame. So once you have religious Catholics, Protestants, and
Jews—although Jews, you know, are sort of a tenuously
included in here by the 1980s —stuck in one party, they often
have to fight over each other over what, how
to proceed. And this has heightened the
differences between Catholics and Protestants in
the last few years, as there’s a sense that they
are losing influence in the Republican Party, which means that they have to have
an increasingly transactional
relationship to party leaders. Remember,
like George W. Bush is like this like, you
know, absolute 100 percent evangelical
Protestant on whom evangelical Protestants and to
some degree Roman Catholics and conservative religious
Jews can trust. He’s one of us, right? And you
know, Mitt Romney, he’s Mormon, but we’re
okay with that now. We can trust him, right? And, and now it’s like Donald
Trump. It’s like, I mean, I guess we
could pretend, but at least he’s keeping us
safe, or he’s getting the
justices up there that we need. there’s much more transactional
relationship. And what’s, that First Things
has essentially said, we’re signing on to this
in an essay that they published
at Sohrab Amari actually co-authored
with, with Catholic leaders. And Amari recently published a
follow up called “Against Frenchism,” right?
Is that what it’s called? Which is targeting a
evangelical Protestant who writes for National Review
named David French. And the difference of opinion
is the following: David French
wants to compromise with with progressives to say, this far and no farther on
revolutionary or liberate, liberatory public policies
like same sex marriage legalization, or
you know, federal funding of, I
don’t know, trans, transgendered
operations, right? And so what French is is essentially trying to do
is, he’s trying to draw a
line, and he’s trying to use litigation on issues of
religious liberty to
accomplish that end. And he’s doing this with an
assumption that many evangelical Protestants have,
which is that America is fundamentally still ours. It’s still capable of returning
to that old time religion. And this is actually the
message of Jerry Falwell, right? Which is like, we get
it- we did the 60s, we did the 70s, and now it’s time
to come back to that old time
religion. And so this sort of legacy of
that way of thinking actually comes
from America being a Protestant nation for
hundreds of years. It is not an irrational
position for French to take. And Amari, who was originally a
Shia Muslim, sort of tenuously a Muslim, came to
the United States with his his family, became an
atheist, and had a conversion experience
that brought him into the
Catholic Church, argues very much opposed to a
position that French is
taking. That is, the only way to fight
the culture war is to win. It is not to achieve a truce
with with political liberationists, or you know, people that are
on the left. And so, Frenchism is seen as
compromising in a way that Amari sees as
very, as defeatist, as essentially
going to lose by attrition. And what Omari wants to do
instead is he wants to affirm an idea
of the public good that actually requires running
contrary to many sort of typical Republican
positions, which means many more interventions into
the economy, or like sort of moral laws
that would impose constraints on on
markets. And French is opposed to this
idea, with the understanding that French has that there
could be some kind of private policing by churches and communities of
the behavior, say, of like children, or of
local community members. And Amari’s position is that
those don’t exist for too many people and so the law
must take them up. And so really what we’re
looking at is this Catholic
and Protestant theological division that’s
been implicit but sort of left to the side, that is
now resurfaced as people that are Catholic,
Protestants, and Jews have to assess their circumstances,
as the culture seems to be moving past them. And it is an incredibly
important conversation to have, considering the
stakes are very high. But it’s also a kind of unusual
conversation to have in First Things, which was founded to prevent,
you know, there being this kind this kind of
rancor. But it’s been a long time since Father Newhouse was with us
. So things have really changed. So what’s my position. I’m sorry for this very long
explanation of the debate. And this is where I said I
would bring in Fulton Sheen , is that Fulton Sheen’s approach to
this was not to argue for these theological and
political sort of solutions that sort
of, are sort of fights over
ideology and the degree to which governments should
intervene in markets or people
should take personal responsibility
versus laws sort of presiding over the
moral formation of people. And the answer is that you just
you go win hearts and minds in the form of a
proselytization, which is why
Fulton Sheen was on television and
radio in the first place. That’s why he gave like outdoor
masses, to bring people into the
church. This is sort of, there’s this
sort of missing sense of evangelization that is
always part of these debates, and
then part of this has to do
with who’s debating. So Amari an intellectual, he’s
a public intellectual. David French is a lawyer and
public intellectual. And so they want to talk about
laws and public intellectual stuff, and they don’t have the
They don’t. I mean, they have like some
answers, but this is
ultimately not the answer. And the answer is actually more
sort of bringing people the truth of the
Gospel. So I’m not really interested in
debate as much as perhaps I should be because in
a way they’re kind of missing
the point. But this does point to one
other problem, and I’m sorry then I’ll be done which is
where is the Fulton Sheen, right? We have, the
closest I would say is Bishop
Robert Barron. Snd this is one of the reasons
why Amari and French are
arguing, is that, where’s the clergy,
Right? Well it’s like, well, you
know, in the Catholic Church’s
case, the answer is,”in an undisclosed
location” right? In the case of laicized former
Cardinal McCarrick, right? You know, they have Elizabeth
Bruenig prowling about
Washington D.C., trying to find the man. And and then “scaring” him. And if any of you’ve met
Elizabeth Bruenig, you know
that she’s like, you know, she’s short , and she doesn’t scare anyone,
unless she’s got, you know,
hunting for the truth. And, and when you ask yourself like, where
are the Protestant clergy, the
answer is, all over the place. And so this sort of does point
to the, to the, what, at the end of the book I
describe as the kind of the, the end of the Judeo-Christian
tradition or consensus. It doesn’t have to be the final
end, but it really is the
dissolution of it. And that’s because
increasingly, these sort of
mobilized people’s, religious peoples in
America were just treated as kind of like
grunts in the culture wars that the Republicans were
seeking to mobilize, rather
than its participants or
leaders. So that’s, that’s my position
and, on this. I highly recommend for those of
you who like, got a little
lost in my description of the
debate, I highly recommend you read this stuff, because
if you’re concerned about the sort of future of these
issues, Sohrab Amari’s article is great for sort of
seeing how, like, the page is turning
on this. Because this presumption that
there is a large number of Americans who are
Catholic, Protestant, and
Jewish, that are just waiting to get
back into politics and bring things back to where they used
to be has become increasingly obvious in that it’s not
right. It’s not true anymore. If Fulton Sheen were born in
1950 and he grew up to be the same
man that he turned out to be earlier, I wonder what some of his thoughts would be on a lot of
the political issues of the
day. Years ago in the 40s, as a kid, I remember, well at least in
the suburbs of Detroit, you had to
be a Democrat. And as I grew older, it seems
like everybody in the laiety at
least is turning toward the Republican
side. And I just wonder how, what you
think he would be if he were sprung up starting in 1950
instead of 1890. So this is one of the more
contentious aspects to Fulton Sheen that I put in, that I put in the book,
but it’s not in the
presentation, which is that Fulton Sheen was a, he was not a—you know, have you guys ever heard
of the, what is the, is it Irving Kristol who wrote
the essay “Two Cheers for Capitalism”, or was
it—Fulton Sheen is kind of a one cheer
for capitalism guy. And this comes out the fact
that he was a very close student of Leo XIII’s Catholic social teaching. And so one of the things that
would, would you would
probably get from Fulton Sheen is much
more criticism of capitalism, or is, what’s
sort of broadly understood as
liberalism: the idea that individuals are
fundamentally their own authorities about
what to believe. He would say no; he said the
church is, the institutional
church is, whether- you know, he would
say it’s the Catholic Church,
but whether it’s some sort of faith tradition,
because there’s more to your
life than you. You are bounded to your
families, to your parents, to
your ancestors, to your to your
children, as they will come
out of there. And the sort of idea of
isolating the person down to one person is going to make up
their own sort of ideas, he would be
very strongly opposed to. And the other thing that he
would—he had a big problem with, even when he was doing his work in the 50s,
even more in the 1940s and 30s, when the economy was
much worse in the United
States, was he was very harsh on laissez faire capitalism. And I’m at Acton! And so
please, just let me finish. Mainly because of issues that
actually Acton takes very seriously, which is that there
is a tendencies for a person who you could say is
maybe not educated in one’s religious obligations
when engaging in capitalism to essentially
reduce the role of the person to the worker, or even
just to like an exchangeable cog in a
machine. And there is a kind of tendency
to dehumanization that needs to be constantly
combated through personal
discipline and religious
faith. And that is true for people in
the boardroom to the shop
floor. And he has these, these- I mean
you read them, they’re
positively quaint. These were ideas of like, there
needs to be as part of the labor regulation not
just a 30 minute lunch hour, but like a 30
minute pre- you know it would have to be
previous, because he wanted
there to be a 30 minute dispensation in which people
would worship together. And so they would all go to
religious services. They wouldn’t necessarily,
because there’d be Catholics,
Protestants, Jews, and people
that, maybe they want to go to
worship, and that would be
what they would, they’re supposed to do to constantly
remind them of the ultimate purposes of what
they’re supposed to be
doing, and and to ground them and that
education about religious principles. And the complete absence of
this in American work today would give
him just absolute fits of rage, because, you know, like just
imagine going—like go, go into the like- “hello, CEO
of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg,
could you please establish a very large Chapel? could we
please dedicate to St. Basil?” No! Like, one of the craziest things that you
actually see in these large Silicon Valley buildings
is that, Apple built this like billion dollar
complex, and the one thing
they didn’t have was a place to put children. They didn’t have a center where
it, maybe workers could bring
their children in, right? It’s a discouraging
, it’s essentially a way of forcing people into
this individualist capacity to the point where they don’t
even think about having
children, because where would
they put them right? And so that’s the kind of stuff that Fulton Sheen would rail
against. And one of the things, towards the
end of his life, you know, this is the kind of
stuff that he would bring up. But it was by the time that
Sheen had been kind of pushed out of public life and was
treated as a relic, he
actually starts to speak about issues like
abortion, and birth control, along the lines
of Humane Vitae after the Second Vatican
Council. So we start to see that before he
really, his health really starts to decline. So, it seems to me of course
that Sheen was this great bridge builder
between people of all faiths, and what could he have
done if he had not been taken off
the air. But with, of course, you’re a
master cliffhanger. So now I’ve got to go figure
out what this fight was about, truly, between Spelman and
Fulton Sheen. But it’s in the book of course. So, thank you for that. But, I’m losing my question
I’m sorry. That’s OK.
I’ll wait. So, I’m always of the mindset
of when you have someone who is
doing so much good, and then they’re gone, that
there’s some spiritual warfare going on. But what I’m really leaning toward
is, how much of Spellman’s
objection was from a religious nature
versus a political nature? So this is this is good. The first thing to note about
Fulton Sheen is, you know, you don’t get
the Aggregae at the University of Leuvin
… there’s a story he likes, that he would
always like to tell people- he
gets this… So the way that you get the
Aggregae and, and you get, you know, various ranks of
passage when you recieve it. And if you, if you, like,
schlepped across the finish line they toast you
with water. You know, if you, if you did not
embarrass yourself, then they toasty with beer. If you did a fine job, they
toast you with wine. And if you did the finest job
in a generation they toast
, toast you with champagne. And when Sheen concludes the
story, he always says,
“and the champagne was particularly sweet that night
.” So let me say- let me put this. I mean the man is in the
process of canonization, so
let me say this… he’s over there. He
was a proud man. He knew how smart he was. In fact, like after, I skipped
it in the timeline of his biography but actually
after he receives the
Aggregae, he’s like sent to some like
random parish in England where he like labors in
obscurity to kind of humiliate him a little bit. And then he’s sent to CUA,
where he is… a difficult colleague. If there are any faculty in the
room, everyone knows what that means. “Oh, he was a little bit of a
difficult colleague
sometimes,” right? This guy was impossible, right
? He keeps getting shoved around
into different departments
because it’s like, why are you trying
to tell me how to run my class? Did you get the
Aggregae? It’s like, we get the
Aggregae with champagne
bottle. Got it. No, we, we heard the story like
a thousand times. Just difficult man, a difficult
man. But he was not—the trouble with
Sheen was that he was rarely
wrong. Right? So in a way it’s like,
you know, if you have a
problem with me, you know, where was I
wrong? So this is, so this becomes an issue. And he—and Spelman was a very different kind of prelate
. Spellman was an operator. He was very effective at
working his way into Vatican higher ups. Oh man, I’m forgetting—there’s
this amazing book that I just read. I’m forgetting the name of it,
on the history of New York bishops. And I got it originally to read
about John Hughes, “dagger” John Hughes, an
incredible American figure. But I decided to read the one
on Spellman, and it was all
about how like, he very carefully knew when
the tennis times were for major American donors that
lived in the Vatican, and just
would show up at the Vatican tennis courts. And if he ever read a
theological book after
seminary, it was a miracle; it was probably
an accident, right? So, he was very good at working the system, right?
And so he was your kind of classic Pope—sort of, Bishop that every Protestant
wishes to hammer a nail in. And so the two of them were
destined not to like each
other, Sheen and Spellman. And what Sheen did is, Sheen
just put on a happy face and Spellman saw how
incredibly powerful Sheen was. And so Spellman was always
happy to be the dumb one, as long as he was
the one in charge. And what happened is that
someone that good does not stay under you
forever. And so eventually Sheen, who
is- the whole time he was
working under Spellman is director for
—and I always got, I had to change
the title of this thing about
nine times in the book, but I’m sure it’s wrong now. So I just never could figure
out what it was, because it
had a couple of different names in
some of the other sources I
looked at, was the Director of the Congregation for- of
the faith. And they received donations that were not in Spellman’s
hands. And so Spellman often wanted
to, like, have his hands on that money. And so there was a fight
over it. It was actually for powdered
milk. So they go to the Pope over
milk money. And, and the worst, the worst
possible thing happens, which is the
pope rules for Sheen. And now Spellman is like oh,
well you got your milk money, but there
goes your show, right? There goes Director of
Congregation of the Faith. Go to Rochester, all right? See
how they love you up there. And then he died, right. And then Spellman died, and, and,
and so that’s that. That was the kind that was the
kind of lay of the land. It was, folks often like- that was the kind of like, but it’s
so pedestrian and stupid. Like that, you would expect
there to be some great sort of
fight but it’s over powdered milk
money, and it’s just it’s
really sad. Again I want to- I don’t, I
talk about it in my book, but the person who really goes
to much better length about this is, it’s, I forget the man who wrote it
but “America’s Bishop.” There’s also a really great
book. I remember her name: Kathleen
Riley, who wrote about this in
her biography of Fulton Sheen. But that’s now, unfortunately I
no longer can use that cliffhanger to
market the book, but so it
goes. You know, you talked about
Sheen, and one of things he
did was kind of bridge the gap of their
views, Protestants, Christians, Catholics, and
getting over the Catholic, anti-Catholic bias. I think President Kennedy had a
lot to do with that too. And we’ve seen we’ve kind of
gone beyond that, but now recently, within the
last couple years, we’ve seen
in Washington D.C., Senate Judiciary Committee,
where Catholics, distinguished scholars were
being interviewed. One of them by a presidential
candidate. And the Catholic Church and the
Knights of Columbus were both report reported to
be cultish- cult organizations
. And it kind of astounded me that this
happened, but what astounded me more is there
didn’t seem to be very much
reaction to it. So I’m wondering, in certain
portions of the country, is the anti Catholic bias
coming back? This is a great question, and like I said I should be
selling my book more than I’m
selling other people’s books. But there’s a really amazing
book on this that came out last year, maybe early this year, called
“Liberal Suppression.” And it’s by a legal scholar named Philip Hamburger. And he also wrote a book that I don’t recommend you buy
because it is a tome called Church- “A Separation
of Church and State.” Liberal Suppression is better
for this question. Separation of Church and State,
it’s good if you’re into law
but man, I skimmed parts of it. But Liberal Suppression talks
about how in the United States—and
leaving out Protestants, just leaving
out Protestants, although
there, they sort of inform this—there has
always been a kind of, sort of sense of broad-minded
people who of, you know, who wish to, who
wish to liberate people from all sources of
authority that come from outside the
individual conscience. Right? And there was actually,
like, there were there was the
Liberal League where he talks about in
there, and they actually
wanted to create sort of American secular
versions of baptisms, and burials, and weddings. And the idea would be that
there would be these sort of
secular, Republican alternatives that
would supersede foreign authorities. And originally Protestants were
in favor of this as, and this is all after the
American Civil War, just so
you know when this is happening, this
liberal league as it gets some
Protestant support. And, and then Protestants start
to figure out, oh wait, that’s gonna put us
out of business too. And so, they sort of sort of
lose support. And so what you end up with is this, this rather popular
group. And their ideas stick around;
there’s like some internal
fighting so they kind of fall apart. But those ideas actually make
their way into the Ku Klux
Klan. They sort of take it up, right,
and the Klan has the same kind of antipathy for Roman
Catholicism, as well as Jews and obviously
for African-Americans. And so this has been, this is
an old problem. And one of the reasons—I was
not surprised that no one batted an eye, because this is
this has been around a long time and it’s never going
to go away. And you know, as long as, as long as this kind of
element has been the United States, it’s been
actually longer than
Catholics have been in the United States, right? And
I’ve been reading Bradley
Berger’s biography of Charles Carroll
in which Caroll, you know, in the 1750s is
having to deal with something
very similar to this, although it’s more,
it’s much more Protestant in
flavor. So I’ve kind of referred you to
a lot of books to answer this in a way, to sort of give you
them, because they have a better answer. But my my response to when this
happened, just you know, my own, you know, from
my own sort of personal
experience, was to think about how one of
the largest groups in the United States in
terms of religious data is former Catholics, right? So, people who have
left the church, or no longer practice but have
not made some sort of formal profession, Dogmatically, you
actually cannot leave the Roman Catholic Church; I
should make that clear. But people who think they have. Right? You’ve got that baptism,
right ? They got a certificate
somewhere. So, church bureaucracy. So the, so that kind of defiance of what, you
know, “the dogma lives loudly within
you” is, in a way, it’s a good play, right? It’s a
good play to people who, you know, many people
who’ve left the church often
go to live in places where other
people have left similar
religions. This is a sort of a typical
experience, especially younger
Americans that moved to urban centers
they almost overwhelmingly stopped
practicing any sort of faith
tradition they had at home. And so in a way it’s a smart
play politically to reach out to these younger
voters because they’re gonna
be around for longer. And the Catholic Church is such
a convenient enemy, especially given the state the
church is and now with all of the scandals that have
resurfaced regarding priest behavior. So I wasn’t surprised that we saw
it. And I would not expect it to go
away. Time for one more question. Possibly I should hand this
over because this isn’t really
a question; I just wanted to say that my
mom, who is still living, is ninety
-nine years old; won a scholarship to Catholic
University, and her, her hero was Dorothy Day. And she rubbed elbows with Fulton Sheen quite often. And she told a story of being
invited to the Bishop’s mansion, and
was just overwhelmed with the opulence that she saw
there. But then she was taken into
Fulton Sheen’s room, bedroom. It was just a cot and a crucifix in the nightstand. I mean it wasn’t even a bed. It was a cot. So I mean this was really,
truly a holy man. And he had a very, he was very austere in his own
living. So this is my comment. I enjoyed your talk. There’s so many great stories
about this. There’s the one like, if you
were to open that nightstand,
you would find a drawer stuffed with
cash, because people would just put money in
envelopes, and send them to
Fulton Sheen and say, “you can do more with
this than I can.” And he was like, Oh; he’s busy,
right? So he’s like, what do I do with this, right
? So like, when he was in his, you know he was in those
residences whenever he’s moving around, there was
just people moving furniture
filled with money that he didn’t, that he didn’t
really care about. His canonization is hung up
right now, and it’s very
frustrating and there’s like, you know,
cardinal- Oh my gosh.
Dolan. Cardinal Dolan wants Sheen in
New York. New York did not want to be in
the—Sheen did not want to be buried in
Patrick’s. I think it’s too close to
Spellman . He wanted to be buried, so he
actually bought a plot in his
will, and no one cares about the will.
Right? And the person who started the
cause for canonization, Bishop Jenky, is in Peoria. And Fulton she did not want to
go to Peoria , right? He was not a fan. But that is—the right person to
start the cause would be, would be Bishop
Jenky. And so the two of them have been
fighting. And it is one of the most Catholic stories that I read
in, I think it was 2017, which is that they shelved the
cause for canonization —it’s been, I think it’s
referred to as “referred to
the Vatican library,” and I think what
they’re both waiting for the other to die. And so Fulton Sheen’s, like,
status is in limbo. And the issue that led to this
to happen was that Bishop Jenky
requested—just, the American press did not
know what to do with this —requested the first class
relics be sent. So this means cutting off the
finger bones, taking out the heart, and people just get
freaked out when they’re like,
wait; this is what the Catholic Church
does? It’s like, Oh yeah ! And apparently bishops are
willing to get in close to fistfights over this. And if you think—if there are
Protestants here—if you think
that’s weird, read, Oh, what’s—the Baylor historian. I’ve suddenly- what’s that? The other one! George
Whitfield. Who did though, he did, no—George
Whitfield, the guy who did the
biography George Whitfield. Yeah! Tommy Kidd! Tommy Kidd’s
account of the death of George Whitfield, and how
all, all the Protestants who had been evangelized
rushed to get his relics. He’s like, no! Like the
reanimation of George Whitfield; he would’ve
been like, stop! Right? This
is what bishops do, and that is
of course what bishops do, as
we’ve seen. And, but Fulton, but Fulton
Sheen’s cause for canonization, once all
this is is gone and done with, is all but
assured. The miracles are there. I met one of the people who’s,
you know, testified to them. So this is a very important
thing. And I hope all of you learned a
little bit. The part of the chapter that
you did not get at all was the vast number of conversion
stories that Fulton Sheen had over the course of
his life, some of which are extremely important
actually for the politics of
the time. And and I’m glad I’m glad that we
ended on this kind of note of remarking that he
was indeed a deeply holy man, and was
deeply humiliated by the experiences
that he had after, after Spelman pulled the
number on him. So I actually,
I’m not sure if you noticed,
I was getting a little choked
up at the end when I was talking
about is his, the way he died. So you know, dig up the EWTN episodes. There’s like a ton of Life Is
Worth Living episodes on
YouTube. They hold up, man. They really hold up. And, you know, bring Fulton
Sheen a little bit into your
life. You won’t regret it.
Thank you all.
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One thought on “James Patterson on the anti-communism and Catholic patriotism of Venerable Fulton Sheen

  1. Eric Zachmann Post author

    Tough crowd for Dr. Patterson. I thought his side comments were quite funny. Anyways, great lecture.


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