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Leonard Swidler [1]





There is a Latin phrase I learned in my high school days that is pertinent here: Repetitio est mater studiorum, “repetition is the mother of studies,” which is another way of saying here that I am going to repeat some things I said in the previous week or weeks because they are so important for the topic at hand that they need to be restated. But more than that, they need to be driven deep into our consciousness because they are part of the theoretical foundation on which everything else is built. Further, as I noted in my first lecture, we all have a number of deep-seated unconscious pre-suppositions about everything that must be brought up to the conscious level so that they can be analyzed and judgments made about them: yes, no, partly...partly.


I am talking abut lifting up the negative presuppositions that we Catholics have had driven deep into our consciousness, not just in our personal lifetimes, but for centuries! These negative presuppositions are precisely about the very topic  of our whole lecture series: democracy. In brief, that negative presupposition that we Catholics have deep in our psyches is the notion, as it is frequently expressed: “The Catholic Church is not a democracy! And that means that it never was, and can never be a democracy!” That is a deep, deep presupposition that we all have been immersed in from the very beginning of our Catholic lives, and our forbearers’ lives for centuries. The problem with this presupposition is simply this: It is not true!


There is today a growing enthusiasm on the part of some, usually more conservative, Catholics for the reintroduction of Latin. I personally am all for it, so long as we learn to understand it. So, as my contribution to your growing knowledge of Latin, let me add another helpful Latin phrase here: Ab esse, ad posse, “If it happened, it’s possible.” Its pertinence here is that in fact there have been many elements of  democracy in the history of the Catholic Church. So, when someone claims that the Catholic Church cannot be democratic, the first response is: Ab esse, ad posse. In fact it was democratic; therefore it can be democratic! So, for this evening let me lay out for you, be it ever so briefly, some of the data that highlight the fact that there have been many democratic elements in the history of the Catholic Church.


What are the main democratic elements that have been present in the history of Catholicism? They fall in two main categories: 1) election of leaders, and 2) broad participation in decision-making. Some of these data we have already seen last week in different contexts, but remember: repetitio est mater studiorum.





a) The Ancient and Medieval Church


We saw before that besides the New Testament itself wherein, for example, the whole community elected the seven men to serve as deacons, two other 1st-century documents confirmed this approach when the Didache, (15:1-2) stated: “You [the Faithful] must, then, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons” and the First Letter of Clement of Rome wrote that bishops should be chosen “with the consent of the whole Church.” [2]


This practice passed into the post-Apostolic period, as evidenced by one of the oldest known synods, that is, a gathering of the church leaders of a province (already in the 2nd century), that all the faithful participated in early synods: “For this reason believers in Asia often assembled in many Asian localities, examined the new doctrines, and condemned the heresy.” [3] St. Cyprian (3rd century) bore witness to the custom of the people having the right not only to elect, but also to reject and even recall bishops: “The people themselves most especially have the power (potestam) to choose worthy bishops, or to reject unworthy ones.” [4]


Cyprian added more evidence when speaking about Cornelius, the bishop of Rome: “Moreover, Cornelius was made bishop by the judgment of God and of His Christ, by the testimony of almost all people who were then present, and by the assembly of ancient priests and good men.” [5] Indeed, lest there be any doubt about the people having the right to elect their bishop, St. Cyprian in another epistle used the technical term “suffrage”: Cornelius was elected the bishop of Rome “in the Catholic Church by the judgment of God and the suffrage (suffragium) of the clergy and people.” [6] The famous scholar of the early church, Theodor Mommsen noted that when this text described the participation of the people as suffragium, it referred to the voting of citizens in an electoral committee (comitia). [7] Still further, concerning another bishop St. Cyprian wrote: “On the basis of the voting of the entire congregation and of the judgment of the bishops who had personally come.... hands were laid on him and the episcopal office was handed over to him.” [8]


But the documentation for the election of bishops by the people does not stop in the third century, but rolls on: the 4th-century Apostolic Constitutions very clearly directed: “Elect bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord....” (15.1), and in the early fifth century Pope Celestine 1 (reigned 422-432 A.D.) wrote:  “No bishop should be installed against the will of the people.” [9] His successor, Pope Leo I, the Great, as we saw last week, dramatically stated: “Let him who will stand before all be elected by all,” [10] and later added that this was “so no city will disdain or hate a bishop who was not chosen, for who is not free to have whom he wishes will be less religious than is proper.” [11] What a sensible understanding of human nature!


These principles of the early centuries of Christian practice were repeated in synods at least until the Council of Paris in 829 A.D., and basically the election of bishops by the clergy and people remained intact until the 12th century—more half the present period of Christianity. Further, the first seven Ecumenical Councils, which provided set all the basic Christian doctrines, were all convoked, presided over, and promulgated, not by popes or bishops, but by lay men and—shocking!—a lay woman!


b) The American Catholic Church


For us Americans the question of the election of our leaders was from the beginning a natural assumption, and indeed it started out that way. The first American bishop, John Carroll, insisted to Rome that the selection of the bishop be done by election by all the priests of America—and he was in face thus duly elected. Carroll clearly wanted this tradition to continue, as in indicated in one of his letters to a fellow former Jesuit: “I wish sincerely, that Bishops may be elected, at this distance from Rome, by a select body of clergy, constituting, as it were, a Cathedral chapter.” [12] Further, he naturally assumed that this would continue to be the case, and arranged the election again by all of the priests of the next two American bishops—who were needed because of the expanding American Catholic Church. However, he was given to understand by Rome that they were to be the last of such American elections.


However, it was not only the first American bishops who were elected. So too were the parish pastors. John Carroll obviously thought this a good thing, for he wrote: “Wherever parishes are established no doubt, a proper regard (and such as is suitable to our governments) will be had to rights of the congregation in the mode of election and representation.” [13] To the parishioners of our own Philadelphia Trinity church, Carroll wrote: “Let the election of the pastor of your new church be so settled that every danger of a tumultuous appointment be avoided as much as possible.” [14]


Beyond the documentation from more than the first thousand years of Catholic history of the key democratic element of the election of leaders, we have the further example of every religious order of priests, sisters, or brothers who from their beginnings with St. Benedict in the sixth century governed themselves by Constitutions(!), which included the election of leaders, as well as limited term of office, due process of law....—all democratic structures centuries before the American Constitution. How much more quintessentially Catholic can you get than religious orders? And they contained the heart of democracy!


Thus, from the very beginning, all through twelve centuries of the history of the Catholic Church, and even at the beginning of our own American Catholic Church—and of our own two parishes, Old St. Mary’s and Trinity (!)—we have had the central democratic feature, the election of church leaders, that is, pastors and bishops.





a) The Ancient and Medieval Church


In the ancient Church it was not only in the election of their deacons, priests, and bishops that the laity were involved in Church decision‑making. Eusebius reported, as we saw, that already in the second century the “faithful...examined the new doctrines and condemned the heresy.” [15] St. Cyprian in the third century noted that he himself often convoked councils: “Concilio frequenter acto.” [16] On the burning Church issues of the day he wrote to the laity: “This business should be examined in all its parts in your presence and with your counsel.” [17] St. Cyprian did not content himself with consulting a few of the powerful laity, but insisted that everybody be involved. He made this very clear when he wrote: “It is a subject which must be considered...with the whole body of the laity.” [18] He absolutely insisted on a full democratic procedure: “From the beginning of my episcopate I have been determined to undertake nothing...without gaining the assent of the people.” [19] Furthermore, this custom of participatory decision‑making was prevalent not only in North Africa, but also the very center of the Roman Empire, that is, in the Roman Church of the time, for the Roman clergy wrote: “Thus by the collaborative counsels of bishops, presbyters, deacons, confessors and likewise a substantial number of the laity...for no decree can be established which does not appear to be ratified by the consent of the plurality (plurimorum).” [20]


Even outside the reach of the law‑oriented culture of the Roman Empire the principle of participatory decision‑making flourished in the ancient Christian Church. For example, in the East Syrian Church the Synod of Joseph (554 A.D.) stated that “The patriarch must do all that he does with the advice of the community. Whatever he arranged will have all the more authority the more it is submitted for examination.” [21]


It was not only on the local and regional levels that the laity were actively involved in ecclesiastical decision‑making; from the beginning that was also true on the Church universal level as well. In the fourth century the great worldwide ecumenical councils began, the first of course being held in 325 at Nicea—called and presided over by a layman, the Emperor Constantine. In fact, as noted before, all the ecumenical councils from the beginning until well into the Middle Ages were always, with one exception, called by the emperors. That one exception was Nicaea II in 787 A.D., which was called by the Empress Irene! Moreover, the emperors and empress called the councils on their own authority, not necessarily with prior consultation and approval of the papacy—not even, for that matter, necessarily with the subsequent approval of the papacy. That is, the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils were promulgated and published by the emperor without always waiting for the approbation of the papacy, and those decrees attained validity only if and when the (lay) Emperor, or Empress, formally promulgated them.


Laity were also present at the Ecumenical Councils, as well as the large regional councils, such as, the ones at Cyprian’s Carthage in the third century, the Council of Elvira in Spain in the fourth century, and again the (fourth) Council of Toledo in the sixth century, and on down through the centuries, reaching a high point in some ways at the Ecumenical Councils of Constance and Basel in the first half of the fifteenth century. Even at the sixteenth‑century Council of Trent, laity were present and active. Only with the First Vatican Council in 1870 did the participation of the laity in ecumenical councils shrivel to almost nothing.


b) The Early American Church: John Carroll and the Trustee System


A word should be said here also about the participation of the laity in church decision-making in the early decades of the American Catholic Church.  This lay participation took place largely through the Trustee System. The trustees were the laymen of a parish who corporately were responsible for the temporal matters of the congregation. The physical assets of the parish were legally owned by the congregation who had provided the money, and the Trustees were legally responsible for its oversight. The trustee issue raised not only the question of the election of the parish leaders, the pastors, but also that of serious participation in Church matters in general.


Coming from Europe, the Catholic immigrants naturally carried with them the customs of their home countries, and at the same time were influenced by the new democratic environment. Both the old and the new pointed to the practice of the ancient principle: cujus est dare, ejus est disponere, that is, those who contribute should have a say in the disposition of their voluntary contributions. [22] The trustees of our own Holy Trinity Church down the street here made the point about European customs clearly when in one of their petitions to the Pennsylvania state legislature they wrote, “In many towns in Germany, the Catholic priests are elected or chosen by the authorities of such towns. So also in France, the bishops have not the sole and absolute right of appointing pastors, which belongs more to the civil authority.” [23]


Of course those trustees were correct. One articulate trustee from right here in Old St. Mary’s, Matthew Carey, had earlier noted that the historical tradition and canon law itself provided a foundation for some form of domestic nomination of bishops. Matthew Carey said that he was surprised to learn that in canon law there some things “almost unknown—certainly unnoticed,” about the election of bishops, noting that the code of canon law “most expressly declared, that no Bishop shall be appointed for a people unwilling to receive him—and even that those are not to be regarded as Bishops, who are not chosen by the clergy—or desired by the people.” [24]


However, as the most knowledgeable scholar on trusteeism, Patrick W. Carey, has pointed out, “The new institution of the trustee system was a legitimate outgrowth of prior European Catholic customs and not a capitulation to the republican and Protestant values in American society.” Carey went on to state that American Catholics did not simply borrow ideas and procedures from the host society, but re-appropriated flexibly and creatively the European Catholic traditions in an American context, which was the lens through which they were viewed: “Thus, the new circumstances forced them not so much to create a new sense of lay participation as to nourish and democratize traditions of lay involvement which were already rooted in their European Catholic experiences. Democratization, however, was indeed powerful new element.” [25]


The difficulties were known not as the “trustee system,” but as “trusteeism.” It is extremely important to keep this distinction in mind because the vast majority of American Catholic parishes in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries were incorporated under the trustee system, that is, the church buildings and properties were deeded to the trustees—but only a very few experienced any conflicts. It is that grouping of relatively few conflictual situations involving trustees that is known as “trusteeism.” These conflicts almost always arose because of troublesome priests— frequently wandering immigrants—who the congregation, or a portion of it, wished to dismiss. In other words, the congregation through its trustees claimed to have a voice in the selection, and if necessary, dismissal of their pastors.


The claims of the trustees were largely accepted during the first decades of the new nation, but the few prominent “trusteeism” conflicts eventually led to a strong resistance on the part of a growing number of bishops as the early years of the nineteenth century wore on, and the entire trustee system was eventually crushed, particularly under the leadership of the Philadelphia priest John Hughes, who became the bishop of New York. He was “a forceful advocate and practitioner of episcopal absolutism,” who “in the same sentence referred to the ‘venerable Brethren of the clergy and the beloved Children of the laity.’” [26]


This development had a lasting traumatic effect on American Catholicism. It engendered a mentality of opposition to lay and clerical participation in the Church’s administration, producing an American Catholic Church with few if any local checks on episcopal authority. As Professor Carey noted, hostile memories “were passed on from generation to generation of American bishops and clergy, creating fears, even in some contemporary clergy, of recurrences of ‘trusteeism’....they greatly affected...American Catholic structures and consciousness.” However, in winning, the American bishops “merely ignored, submerged, or buried the ideological issues of the conflicts and therefore did not really solve the fundamental problem involved in trusteeism.” This was: to adapt a hierarchical Church “to a democratic political climate in such a way as to preserve the values of both within the Church. Thus, the problem of more widespread participation in the American church kept arising in the subsequent history of American Catholicism.” [27]


What the more reflective and articulate trustees, both clerical and lay, attempted to do—again, to quote Professor Carey—was to establish an ecclesiastical “quasi-democracy in American Catholicism that would acknowledge the lay trustees’...rights to elect pastors and bishops, and at the same time the clergy’s canonical status and prerogatives. The trustees wanted to define constitutionally the relative rights and duties of people, priests, and prelates within the church.” [28] In this they had significant support from the first American bishop, who even before he was bishop wrote to one group of trustees:


Whenever parishes are established no doubt, a proper regard, and such as is suitable to our Governments, will be had to the rights of the congregation in the mode of election and presentation; and even now I shall ever pay to their wishes every deference consistent with the general welfare of Religion.


A few months later he wrote to the pastor in question: “I know and respect the legal rights of the congregation. It’s as repugnant to my duty and wish power to compel them to accept and support a Clergyman, who is disagreeable to them.” [29] Thus, it was clear that Carroll’s legacy included as a top priority, governance by consensus, as befitted both the new American democracy and the ancient Church tradition. He wanted American Catholics to make their own decisions as much as possible. Already in 1785 while he was the American Prefect-Apostolic he wrote to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Antonelli: “We desire...that whatever can with safety to religion be granted, shall be conceded to American Catholics in ecclesiastical affairs.” [30]


America was most fortunate in having at its very beginning a giant of a leader who was fully committed to both the Catholic Church and the American nation, with its principles of democracy, religious liberty, and separation of Church and State. Perhaps it would have been expecting too much to have looked for many more bishops of his stature among his successorsthough one wonders whether their election rather than appointment might not in fact have much better fulfilled that expectation.


In any case, as late as the beginning of the twentieth century less than half of the bishops of the world were directly named by the pope. Thus it is only in our century that the right of choosing our own bishops has been almost completely taken away from the priests and peoplecontrary to almost the whole history of the Catholic tradition and the beginning of the American Catholic Church.


c) John England, “Apostle to Democracy”


There was only one other giant church leader in America following upon John Carroll’s demise in 1815 until the latter part of the nineteenth century when the subsequently “condemned” Americanists arrived on the scene. That giant was John England of Cork, Ireland, who, in 1820, was named by Rome Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina.


John England was called by his first biographer, “Apostle of Democracy.” [31] England was indeed a fervent admirer of democracy, but more importantly, he was also a committed and skilled practitioner of democracy in all aspects of his life, and especially as bishop. In the matter of the selection of bishops he followed in the footsteps of his great predecessor John Carroll in his dissatisfaction with the cabalistic appointment of American bishops by Rome. He was so frustrated in the matter that at the point when both the important sees of Boston and New York were vacant and all sorts of power brokering was in process, he took the extraordinary step of placing a notice in his own weekly diocesan newspaper:


To the Roman Catholic Clergy and Laity of the United States

The Sees of Boston and New York are now vacant, or if Prelates have been appointed for them, I am not aware of who they are. They will both be filled before I shall probably address you upon the necessity of having some permanent and known mode of having our Sees filled, not by faction, intrigue or accident—but in a manner more likely to be useful and satisfactory than that which is now in operation. [32] [His plea is equally pertinent—and unfulfilled—today.]


England took extraordinary steps in making his diocese a model of American, and Catholic, democracy, but to appreciate them fully they must be seen against the background of the chaos and near-schism that he walked into in the Charleston of 1820.


As noted above, American Catholic Church historiography has been marred much more by the specter than the reality of “Trusteeism,” which ever since has been used by bishops as a club to keep laity in submission. Recall: The laws of the new nation required that church property be placed in the possession of a lay corporation; in the early American Catholic churches this corpor- ation was known as the trustees, and it operated much as was already the case in French Canada at that time. As noted, for the great majority of cases this system worked very well, but in a small minority of cases, partly because of a few manipulative, malcontent Irish priests and partly because of poor administrative tactics by several bishops, cases of serious open conflict between the bishop and the trustees of certain churches developed—in one case a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln defended the trustees. Because of their notoriety these few cases attained more importance than they intrinsically merited, and the fumbling of the bishops only tended to exacerbate the problems.


Charleston, North Carolina of 1820 was the scene of one of the longest, bitterest of these trustee conflicts. One might have expected that this situation would have forced a vigorous young bishop from outside of America to make authoritarian kinds of moves. Nothing, however, could have been farther from the truth with Bishop John England. His initial, and subsequent, actions were the very epitome of toleration, democracy, and voluntaryism. “For England, the evils of trusteeism were the result of the failure of proper constitutional provisions in the original trustee charters.... England responded to the sources of these evils by creating his constitutional form of government.”


There were even precedents in American Catholic history preparing the way for Bishop England’s idea of a constitution for the Catholic Church. Already in 1783, just ten years after the Jesuit Society was suppressed by the Pope, Father John Carroll, a former Jesuit, prompted initially by concern for the properties of the former Jesuit Society, formed a “Constitution for the Clergy,” providing a number of checks and balances concerning the use of properties, reflecting republican ideals. [33]


In addition, among some of the more reflective, knowledgeable trustees, there grew the notion that “clearly defined and published rights and duties within the church would avoid capriciousness in the exercise of ecclesiastical authority. Bishops and clergy...should govern by written law and by reason, not by will power.” [34] Nevertheless few trustees actually put forward any concrete proposals for such written regulations or constitutions. The trustees of Norfolk Virginia were among those few. In 1817 they sent a delegate to Rome with a plan for a “Supreme Ecclesiastical Synodus” which should manage the affairs of the new diocese of Virginia. “The plan outlined in detail the rights and duties of people priests, and bishop in the new diocese, giving lay trustees significant powers on the diocesan as well as congregational levels of ecclesiastical government.” [35]


1. The Constitution


As the first bishop of Charleston, however, John England was in a position not simply to propose, but to act, and he did just that. To begin with, he wrote a Constitution by which his vast mission diocese (comprised of the states of North and South Carolina and Georgia with perhaps only 1000 Catholics) was to be governed—a most extraordinary procedure, to say the least, especially in the time of the flood-tide of Reaction after the ebbing of the French Revolution and the defeat of Napoleon. He wrote that he had carefully studied the American Constitution, as well as other writings on the subject, and the laws and tradition of the Catholic Church, and was persuaded that his Constitution was in the best spirit of both Americanism and Catholicism. Just two years after he arrived in America he wrote to Cardinal Fontana in Rome when sending him a copy of his Constitution:


Having paid great attention to the state of several Churches in America, and studied as deeply as I could the character of the government and the people, and the circumstances of my own flock, as well as the Canons and usages of the Roman Catholic Church, and having advised with religious men and Clergymen, and lawyers, I this day...published the Constitution by which the Roman Catholic Church under my charge is to be regulated, and I trust with the blessing of Heaven much disputation and Infidelity restrained. It was subscribed by the Clergy and by many well-disposed Laymen. [36]


Only a few weeks after his arrival in Charleston and a strenuous pastoral journey through much of his mammoth diocese (twice the size of all Ireland), he wrote in his first Pastoral Letter: “And we ourselves have for a long time admired the excellence of your [American] Constitution.” [37] Three years later, in 1824, writing to Rome, he stressed the importance of written laws in America and hence their importance for the healthy governance of American Catholicism:


But the people desire to have the Constitution printed, so that they may have a standard by which they may be guided. I have learned by experience that the genius of this nation is to have written laws at hand, and to direct all their affairs according to them. If this be done, they are easily governed. If this be refused, a long and irremediable contention will ensue. By fixed laws and by reason much can be obtained, but they cannot be compelled to submit to authority which is not made manifest by law. [38]


The Constitution laid out the rights and responsibilities of the several parties involved in the diocese: the laity, the clergy, the bishop. Moreover, the Constitution was not simply unilaterally declared in force by England. Rather, it was submitted for acceptance to every priest and all the leading laymen of the parishes for voluntary adoption; each new congregation, as it was formed, adopted it voluntarily. In fact, St. Mary’s Church, the oldest church in the diocese and the one that had previously been involved in the bitter trustee dispute with Archbishop Maréchal of Baltimore, did not accept the Constitution until 1829, at which time their representatives at the annual Convention were warmly received. Until then, England was careful to let them make up their own minds. Furthermore, the Constitution itself included a procedure for amendments.


Although, with the single exception of St. Mary’s, England’s Constitution quickly gained warm acceptance by his laity and clergy, it met with a very cold response by the other American bishops. At the First American Provincial Council of Baltimore, in 1829, which all the American bishops attended, it was rejected as unacceptable in the other dioceses, stating merely that, “by this decree we do not desire to interfere with the method which the Bishop of Charleston now follows in his diocese.” [39] Indeed, England’s Constitution stood in the way of his being recommended for the much more populous and important sees of Boston or New York.


Bishop Patrick Kenrick of Philadelphia magnanimously wrote to Cardinal Cullen in Rome, in 1834, after the Second Provincial Council of Baltimore, that England was,


Perfectly disgusted at the treatment he received at the last Council....Besides, Charleston diocese is not a fit theatre for a man of his splendid talents...and I would at any moment resign my mitre to make place for him. This I authorize you to com- municate to the Sacred Congr....I had proposed him for the administration of New York which most sadly needs an efficient Prelate, and in consequence of the entire unwillingness of Bp. Dubois I had offered my place in case I should be forced to put on the thorny crown of that diocese. The Archbishop had signified assent, provided the Constitution would be left behind; but now that hope vanishes. [40]


Somewhat earlier England and his Constitution had suffered the venom of the poison pen of Kenrick’s predecessor, Bishop Conwell of Philadelphia, who, Andrew Greeley in his brilliant book The Catholic Experience says was, “In the process of making a complete fool of himself... nevertheless had time to warn the Holy See that “if this constitution or democratic method of ruling the Church be approved by the Holy See, it might become necessary to extend it to all the dioceses here; it would mean the quick collapse of the American Church.” Greeley added:


It never occurred to Conwell that such a democratic method might have saved his diocese from utter chaos. Later he wrote to Rome warning them once again that England was violating the most sacred of ecclesiastical traditions and was threatening the American Church with ruin. [41]


England was convinced that despite the trustees’ difficulties, it was far better that the Church and its clergy depend primarily on the Catholic people at large rather than the government—as it still is in many European countries, e.g., Germany. In to his Constitution each congregation elected representatives who were to constitute a Vestry. Then, also despite the trustee controversies, the Constitution provided that, “The churches, cemeteries, lands, houses, funds, or other property belonging to any particular district [here meaning parish], shall be made the property of the Vestry of that district, in trust for the same.” All money belonging to the congregation could be “expended only by authority of an act of the Vestry of that district.” At the same time the approval of the bishop was also required for the sale of any property. Thus, the key notions of the American constitution of “election of representatives,” “separation of powers,” and “checks and balances” were here incorporated into England’s Constitution. In addition, the salary of the parish priest was also to be raised by the Vestry, but kept separate from the general funds so that no improper pressure could be levied on the pastor. The wisdom and practicality of this structure was demonstrated by the fact that it operated flawlessly for the twenty years of England’s episcopacy. [42]


2. Annual Convention


A second critical element of the Constitution was the provision for annual diocesan Conventions for all the clergy,  and a proportional representation of the laity from each congregation, elected by all the people. The Convention possessed certain decision-making powers parallel to those of each Vestry, such as control of the General Diocesan Fund (used for the seminary, schools, hospitals —all of which England started—widows and orphans and similar concerns). The bishop was required to make a full report on the expending of all funds to the Convention; England in fact did an exemplary job of this at every Convention. In addition, he took the opportunity to present an overview of the Church in all America as well as in his diocese at each Convention. Consequently his twenty-six Convention Addresses give a history of the Catholic Church in America for those years. Most importantly, it was through the Convention that the scattered Catholic churches began to grow together with a sense of unity and belonging to a larger church, a “catholic” Church, which was their Church where they had both rights and responsibilities.


In the beginning years of his episcopate the Convention was legally incorporated in each of the three states and met accordingly. It was only in 1839 that the mission diocese had developed sufficiently to legally incorporate the Convention for all three states together so that there could be a single annual diocesan-wide Convention (twenty-six state Conventions were held between 1823 and 1839). The first General Convention of the diocese lasted for 7 days, with 16 priests and 30 laymen present as delegates; in 1840 there were almost double that number. The third Convention was scheduled for late in 1841, but was delayed because of England’s extended mission in Europe. Then, early in 1842, he died, and with him his Convention, Constitution, and mostly everything else, it seemed, that made him great, for the small leaders who came after him could not match the stride of his footsteps.


d) Excursus: Canonization of St. John Carroll and St. John England


Fortunately, at the beginning of the American Catholic Church there were two giants: Bishop John Carroll and Bishop John England. Unfortunately the subsequent U.S. bishops were insensitive regarding democratic election inside the Church.  It would seem that, ordinarily, nothing can be done about this past. However, John Carroll and John England were not “ordinary” men, they were “extraordinary”! What do we Catholics do about our religious leaders who were truly extraordinary? We canonize them! We declare them to be outstanding models to be admired and emulated.


Hence, I would like this evening to launch a double movement for the canonization of St. John Carroll and St. John England—not through the now highly politicized Roman process, but through the traditional process of proclamation by the faithful, the sensus fidelium! I urge each of us to think creatively about how make these canonizations become real—through word of mouth, the internet, the news media, developing liturgies relating to them, insert them in study clubs....

[1] Leonard Swidler has an STL in Catholic Theology, University of Tübingen and a Ph.D. in history and philosophy, University of Wisconsin.  Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University since 1966, he is author or editor of over 65 books & 180 articles, Co-founder (1964) with his wife Arlene Anderson Swidler,and Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. His books include: Dialogue for Reunion (1962), The Ecumenical Vanguard (1965), Jewish-Christian Dialogues (1966), Buddhism Made Plain (co-author, 1984), Toward a Universal Theology of Religion (1987), A Jewish-Christian Dialogue on Jesus and Paul (1990), After the Absolute: The Dialogical Future of Religious Reflection (1990), A Bridge to Buddhist-Christian Dialogue (1991) and Muslims In Dialogue. The Evolution of a Dialogue (1992), Die Zukunft der Theologie (1992), Theoria± Praxis. How Jews, Christians, Muslims Can Together Move From Theory to Practice (1998), For All Life. Toward a Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic: An Interreligious Dialogue (1999), The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue (co-author, 2000) Dialogue in Malaysia and the Globe (2004), Confucianism in Dialogue Today. West, Christianity, and Judaism (2005).

[2] Suneudoksass ts ekklsias pass1 Clement, 44: 3,5

[3] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (PG 20, 468.

[4] Epistle 67, 3: “propter quod plebs obsequens praeceptis dominicis...quando ipsa maxime habeat potestatem uel eligendi dignos sacerdotes uel indignos rescusandi” (CSEL 3.2.737).

[5] Epistle 55, 8 (CSEL 3.2.629 ff.). [The numbering in Migne is Epistle X, 8 (Patrologia Latina III, cols. 796‑797). This translation is from The Anti‑Nicene Fathers, V (Buffalo, 1886), p. 329.]

[6] Cyprian, Epistle 68, 2; cf. Epistles 65, 8; 67, 5; 69, 5, etc.

[7] Th. Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht III, 1 (Leipzig, 1887), p. 402.

[8] Epistle 67, 5 (CSEL 3.2.739).

[9] Epistle 4, 5; PL 50.434

[10] Epistle 10, 6, PL 54.634.

[11] Epistle 14, 5, PL 54.673

[12] Carroll to Charles Plowden, December 22, 1791, Thomas O'Brien Hanley, ed., The John Carroll Papers (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976), 3 vols., vol 1, p. 548.

[13] Peter Guilday, The Life and Times of John England, 2 vols. (New York, 1927), vol. I, p. 265.

[14] Ibid., p. 293.

[15] Eusebius, History of the Church, Patrologia Graeca, 20, 468.

[16] Cyprian, Epistle, 27.

[17] Cyprian, PL, 4, 256-257. “Cyprianus fratribus in plebe consistentibus salutem...examinabuntur singula praesentibus et judicantibus vobis.”

[18] Cyprian, Epistle, liv, Quoted in Johann Baptist Hirscher, Sympathies of the Continent, trans. of Die kirchlichen Zustände der Gegenwart, 1849, by Arthur C. Coxe (Oxford, 1852), p. 123. “Singulorum tractanda ratio, non tantum cum collegis meis, sed cum plebe ipsa universa.”

[19] Cyprian, PL, 4, 234. “Quando a primordio episcopatus mei statuerim, nihil sine consilio vestro, et sine consensu plebis, mea privatim, sententia gerere.”

[20] Cyprian, PL, 4, 312. “Sic collatione consiliorum cum episcopis, presbyteris, diaconis, confessoribus pariter ac stantibus laicis facta, lapsorum tractare rationem....quoniam nec firmum decretum potest esse quod non plurimorum videbitur habuisse consensum.”

[21] Canon 7, in: J.B. Chabot, Synodicon Orientale (Paris, 1902), pp. 358f.

[22] This was stated in a letter from a trustee, Benedict Fenwick, in Charleston, South Carolina to the then bishop of the area,  Archbishop Ambrose Maréchal of Baltimore, on August 11, 1819. Archdiocesan Archives of Baltimore, 1-O-15.

[23] Quoted in Patrick W. Carey, People, Priests, and Prelates. Ecclesiastical Democracy and the Tensions of Trusteeism (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), p. 171.

[24] Mathew Carey, Address to the Right Reverend the Bishop of Pennsylvania, the Catholic Clergy of Philadelphia, and the Congregation of St. Mary's in the City (Philadelphia: H.C. Carey & I. Lea, 1822), p. 30.

[25] Peter Carey, People, p. 5.

[26] Ibid., p. 224.

[27] Ibid., p. 224.

[28]       Ibid., p. 3.

[29]       John Carroll to Dominick Lynch and Thomas Stoughton, January 24, 1786, Hanley, John Carroll Papers, vol. I, p. 203; and John Carroll to Andrew Nugent, July 18, 1786, ibid., p. 214.  Concerning Father Andrew Nugent, matters became to turbulent that the trustees went to civil court in order to remove Nugentwith Carroll's obvious approval.  "Thus, Nugent was removed as pastor by use of the secular arm when recourse to the voluntary measures of ecclesiastical discipline had failed."  Carey, Priests, p. 15.

[30]       Letter of John Carroll to Cardinal Antonelli, February 17, 1785, quoted in: Annabelle M. Melville, John Carroll of Baltimore (New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1955), p. 230.

[31]       Joseph L. O'Brien, John England, Bishop of Charleston: Apostle to Democracy (New York: Edward O'Toole Co., 1934).

[32]       Quoted in Andrew M. Greeley, The Catholic Experience (New York: Image Books, 1969), p. 81

[33] Carey, People, p. 222.

[34] Ibid.,  p. 166.

[35] Ibid., p. 168.

[36] Quoted in Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Experience, p. 82

[37]       Sebastian Messmer, The Works of the Right Reverend John England, 7 vols. (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co. 1908), vol. VI, p. 238.

[38]       The Records of the American Church History Society of Philadelphia, vol. VIII (1897), pp. 458f.

[39] Concilia Provincialia Baltimore habita (Baltimore, 1851).74.

[40] Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. VII (1896), pp. 290, 293.

[41] Greeley, Catholic Experience, p. 85.

[42] The bulk of the Constitution is published in Patrick W. Carey, ed., American Catholic Religious Thought (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), pp. 73-93.

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