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Knights' leader to U.S. Catholics: Keep faith in public square
Mark Zimmermann
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, April 29, 2009
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WASHINGTON (CNS)—Just as the nation's first Catholic bishop did in the early days of the United States, today's American Catholics need to maintain their religious identity in a culture that is sometimes hostile to faith, said Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, at the April 18 annual dinner of the John Carroll Society.
The society of lay men and women in the Archdiocese of Washington is named for Bishop John Carroll, who in 1789 became the first Catholic bishop of the United State, leading the new Diocese of Baltimore which at that time included all 13 original states. The John Carroll Society, founded in 1951, serves the archbishop of Washington in his charitable and community projects.
"In defending the practice of faith in the public square, all of us have something in common with John Carroll," Anderson told the nearly 400 guests at the dinner.
Anderson, who as supreme knight serves as the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the world's largest Catholic family fraternal benefit society, said he and other Catholics in the state of Connecticut recently had to face an issue that John Carroll was familiar with. Lawmakers in the Constitution State were considering a bill that "would have stripped bishops and pastors of their authority over many parish and diocesan decisions and put boards of 'lay trustees' in charge," Anderson said.
He said Bishop Carroll and other early Catholic bishops had to deal with such efforts to take away their rights, but such legislation hadn't been promoted since the Know Nothing Party in New York passed a similar bill 150 years ago.
"But non-Catholics and Catholics—bishops, priests and laymen—all stood up and stood together. After the outcry, the legislators tabled the bill" in Connecticut, he said.
Anderson said Bishop Carroll also had to deal with John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, who before becoming chief justice had "argued vociferously for a law in New York that would have excluded Catholics from public office ... (and) in 1777, Jay was chief author of New York's Constitution, which banned Catholic immigrants unless they renounced the pope."
"Confronted with such hostility, as patriot and priest, John Carroll was the public face of a distrusted religious minority, and he left us a shining example of living the faith and defending religious liberty," Anderson said.
In greeting the guests and offering the opening prayer, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl praised the legacy of Bishop Carroll, and noted that then-Washington Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle founded the society almost six decades ago so lay men and women would reflect their Catholic faith in the world.
"Today, that same dynamic continues," he said. "These are challenging moments, but they are not unique. What's important is that we stand together, and your voice, the voice of the faithful lay men and women, is heard."
Guests at the dinner included John G. Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States, and Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
In his talk, Anderson said that today "there are fewer direct assaults on religious liberty ... (but) the subtle pressure to marginalize religious values and voices from the public square has increased."
He noted how earlier generations of Catholic immigrants to the United States, as members of a minority "ghetto" in a culture sometimes hostile to them, forged "a strong sense of cultural identity and a shared public morality."
Anderson said groups like the Knights of Columbus, "dedicated to being both faithful Catholics and patriotic Americans," helped counteract the anti-Catholicism faced by Al Smith, a Catholic, as he sought the presidency in the 1920s.
John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 as the first Catholic president of the United States "signaled the end of this ghetto experience," Anderson said. But he noted that today Catholics and other people of faith face a new challenge: "How do we maintain our distinct religious identity in the midst of a secular culture doing its best to decrease the influence of faith?"

Catholics can no longer retreat into any kind of a ghetto, Anderson said, noting how the influence of the secular world is everywhere, "inside our homes, on our television sets, on the Internet, everywhere we turn."

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