The 2019 Acton Lecture Series continued this week with a presentation by James Patterson of Ave Maria University, who reviewed the career and thought of one of the most accomplished American Catholic intellectuals of the 20th century—Venerable Fulton Sheen. We’ve posted the video for you below, and be sure to check out our events page for information on what’s coming up on the Acton calendar.
Update: The full transcript of Patterson’s address is available after the jump.
[00:00:00.150] – Trey Dimsdale
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.
[00:00:49.640] – James Patterson
Thanks, Trey. 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.
[00:32:30.240] – Patrick Oetting
We have 30 minutes for Q and A. If you raise your hand, Andrew and I will bring the mic to you.
[00:32:44.030] – Audience Member
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?
00:32:51.620] – James Patterson
OK, so is this the anti, against Frenchism?
[00:32:55.430] – Audience Member
[00:32:57.020] – James Patterson
So, I will work Shean into this response. 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 answers. 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.
[00:41:41.600] – Audience Member
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.
[00:42:20.820] – James Patterson
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.
[00:46:16.350] – Audience Member
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 here.
[00:46:45.820] – James Patterson
[00:46:46.420] – Audience Member
[00:46:48.070] – James Patterson
[00:46:48.850] – Audience Member
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?
[00:47:12.380] – James Patterson
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.
[00:52:13.260] – Audience Member
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?
[00:53:01.430] – James Patterson
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.
[00:57:13.830] – Patrick Oetting
Time for one more question.
[00:57:21.180] – Audience Member
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.
[00:58:12.660] – James Patterson
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 St. 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. Buy my book!