In Defense of the Religious Way
CATHOLICISM AND AMERICAN FREEDOM, by James M. O'Neill, Harper and Brothers, 268 pages, $3.50.
James M. O'Neill, chairman of the Department of Speech at Brooklyn College, has attempted to refute Paul Blanshard's "American Freedom and Catholic Power."
He has not succeeded. A good writer, O'Neill fails mainly because he picks on some of Blanshard's facts and tries to rip them asunder; but he has not refuted the thesis of Blanshard's book: that certain Catholic principals endanger democracy.
"Catholicism and American Freedom" also attempts to answer Blanshard by charging repeatedly that he does not document certain particular sentences. For example, O'Neill states: "Discussing the Catholic school system, Mr. Blanshard reports, with no evidence of documentation, 'very few non-Catholics know anything about it and Catholic laymen get their over-all picture from the self-serving declarations of their hierarchy.'" But O'Neill seems to overlook the fact that the idea behind the sentence is quite carefully documented at a more logical place elsewhere in the volume.
Tracing Catholic participation in founding democracy and drawing up the Constitution. O'Neill contends this shows that the Catholic Church has agreed with the precepts behind the Constitution.
From this time on, at least until the Supreme Court's decision in the McCollum case, he declares, there as been a "consistent record of American Catholic endorsement of our total constitutional situation."
Replying to Blanshard's charge that the Church itself has never endorsed democracy, O'Neill says: "True but irrelevant; you cannot find a similar statement about any other form of government." All is well until a few paragraphs later when his argument crumbles. He states: "Political and economic questions, the topics of the day, are not discussed in the Catholic pulpit." Archbishop Cushing's recent attack on President Conant comes too easily to mind for a contention such as this. And many Catholics can narrate numerous other instances when priests, particularly in Boston, have pronounced their views on contemporary politics.
Catholic attitude toward church-state separation has continually been misrepresented, O'Neill states. But then he gets tangled up in a chapter-long opinion of the First Amendment and the McCollum decision. He takes the Catholic position that Federal aid is not a violation of church and, state separation. No constitutional lawyer, O'Neill stands against the Supreme Court decision of 8 to 1 in this issue.
He ably defends religious freedom and the fine qualities of individual Catholics, but offers no substantial arguments against charges of Catholic censorship. In most cases, he claims that although the church might condemn a movie, the individual Catholic is still free to see the picture or read any book he wants.
In the case of "The Nation" magazine which the New York Board of Education-dropped after it carried Blanshard's articles on the Catholic Church, Mr. O'Neill argues that the Church did not pressure the Board to drop the magazine (he offers no documentation) and, besides, any group has the right to subscribe to any publication it wants to. But he overlooks the fact that "The Nation," for a public school library, is as much a representative magazine as "Time," and that the magazine was discontinued only following the Blanshard article.
Defending the Catholic fight against birth control and artificial insemination, O'Neill contends the Church opposes them on grounds of "morality."
According to O'Neill, the Pope is infallible only in questions of faith or morals. Here is one of the great paradoxes of the book. O'Neill infers continually that Blanshard is in favor of an omnipotent, freedom-smothering state, although Blanshard's position is quite the contrary. Yet O'Neill evidently sees no harm in having one man pronounce, without contention, on all questions of morality.
It is unfortunate that "Catholicism and American Freedom" has been publicized as a reply to Blanshard's theories. This is particularly so since O'Neill does not even consider Blanshard's most recent work, "Communism, Democracy, and Catholiv Power," thereby blinding himself to many arguments refuting his own case. Furthermore, many of Blanshard's reckless and emotional charges could have been refuted in a book discussing basic Catholic policies.
Since the book does not bear imprimatur (official endorsement), the Church Censor obviously perceived its inadequacies. This means that its statements of Church policy are non-official--so that this book hardly serves to, refute Blanshard even for a Catholic.