Friday, March 25, 2011

Origins of Radical Catholicism XII: The German Question, part 2

Well, the Abbelen Memorial had no sooner been dealt with than the German Question was reopened by a devout German merchant, a layman, from Limburg by the name of Peter Paul Cahensly.  Now before we go into the Cahensly affair—which was far more extensive and with far greater consequences than the Abbelen memorial, we need to look at why “the German Question” was so politically sensitive.  It wasn’t simply a matter of providing pastoral care to the immigrant populations as both Father Abbelen and Herr Cahensly might protest.  It undermined both the authority of the bishops and the sovereignty of the American Republic. 
As mentioned in a previous blog, many of the immigrants identified more with their country of origin than with the new republic to which they had emigrated.  As you may remember from some of our blogs on anti-Catholicism, American nativism has always run strong, and the attempts of immigrant communities to preserve their languages, cultures, and even political ties to European homelands put the Church in an awkward position.  Ireland, O’Connell, Gibbons and the other Americanists were anxious to have the immigrants snap their ties to their European homelands as soon as possible precisely so that the Catholic Church in the United States would not be seen as a foreign entity but that its old and deep roots in Colonial and Revolutionary America would be the face that would show to fellow Americans who did not share the Catholic faith.   Abbelen, Cahensly, Archbishops Heiss and Katzer, Cardinal Melchers of Cologne, and others of the German party could not have cared less about those American roots.  As I quoted Father Cyrill Knoll in a previous blog:  A German is a German although he has shaken off the dust of his fatherland, and everywhere a true German longs for a greater Germany.  I am one of those who want to remain a German. 
This ethnocentric sentiment very much suited the foreign policy of the German Foreign Ministry.  World War I was almost twenty years away, but the lines were forming and Germany had allied itself with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy in the Triple Alliance.  ((Italy would shift side before War came.)  Prussian foreign policy wanted to have a strong German community in the United States to prevent America from allying with its traditional friends, England and France.  The Catholic Church could be just the agency for keeping alive the ethnic pride of the German immigrants—and also those of the Austrian Empire and of Italy. 
Cahensly had founded the St. Raphaels-Verein to provide spiritual assistance to German communities in the United States.  Austrian, Belgian, and Italian chapters of this same association soon appeared and in 1883 a branch was founded in the United States.  An 1890 meeting in Lucerne of various national branches (but not including the American) formed a petition that repeated many of the demands of the Abbelen memorial—including provisions already granted Abbelen—including national parishes, guarantees of the rights of immigrant priests serving those parishes, rights to establish parochial schools where the children would be educated in their parents’ language.  It also wisely encouraged the foundation of fraternal and mutual-aid associations to lessen the threat of American secret associations (such as the Freemasons) and it called on the Holy See to establish seminaries to train priests to work among the immigrant populations of the United States.  All this the American Church could probably have worked with.  But it went further.  It called for the establishment of foreign-born hierarchies of bishops to oversee the various ethnic groups in America.  In other words, German (or Italian, or Polish, or whatever) Catholics would be removed from the jurisdiction of the local bishop and placed under a bishop of their own (I wont’ say nationality as these immigrants should have been becoming Americans) ethnic origin.  Needless to say the American bishops would have none of this.  The Gibbons party (the liberals) and the Corrigan party(the conservatives) might agree on very little but neither was willing to have their own Episcopal power in any way diminished. 
Cahensly was not to be dismissed out of hand however.  In putting his petition together, he had consulted with Papal Secretary of State Rampolla as well as Simeoni of Propaganda Fide and Cardinals Mazzella, Melchers, and Ledochowski.  The German and Austrian Foreign Ministers were very much in support of the plan (and why not?).  In the end, it was the Papal Secretary of State who saw how the plan could backfire vis a vis the resentment of the United States towards foreign interference in the appointment of bishops and the plan was rejected.  Rampolla (and most likely Leo XIII) saw how this would play into the hands of the Triple Alliance, an coalition that the papacy did not want to encourage.  Gibbons and the liberals wanted to use Cahensly’s injudicious proposal for their own aims however and were quick to let the Harrison administration in the White House how this attempt on American autonomy by establishing a foreign hierarchy in this country had been turned back.  President Harrison told the Cardinal that “foreign and unauthorized interference in American affairs cannot be looked on with indifference.” So Cahensly ended up strengthening the hand of the very people he saw as being problematic for the survival of the German Catholic heritage in its new setting.  Cahensly could do nothing about it.  But his friend, Cardinal Melchers of Cologne, could and Melchers was only more distrustful of American Catholicism and its Americanist bishops.  the image today is the sepulcher chapel from the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany

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