Catholics in America: A Tale of Two Flags | Catholic World Report – Global Church news and views

by Russell Shaw June 23, 2016


In a certain parish church that I know well, as also, I suppose, in many other Catholic churches in the United States, two flags are prominently displayed. One is the Stars and Stripes. The other, unfamiliar to most Americans, including many Catholics, is the gold and white flag of  Vatican City, with the papal coat of arms—the keys of Peter and the papal tiara—imposed upon its vertical white band. In many churches the two flags flank the sanctuary as if to salute the sacred ritual celebrated there. In the one I’m thinking of, they hang from the choir loft in benevolent surveillance of the congregation.

In all my years of visiting Catholic churches I’ve never heard anyone, priest or lay person, say a word about the symbolism of the two flags. Perhaps it’s so obvious that it doesn’t need explaining. The message is plainly twofold: first, that Catholics have a dual loyalty—to the Church and to the United States; second, that there is no conflict here. On the contrary, the flags’ answer to the ancient question, “Can you be a good Catholic and a good American?” is a silent “Who says you can’t?”…

…But despite the reservations of a few,  a letter dispatched to the Vatican a few years later by the princely Cardinal George Mundelein of Chicago offered a candid explanation of why  assimilation wasn’t merely desirable but necessary for the Church in America. Responding to an impassioned protest to Rome by Polish priests infuriated by his efforts to prevent Polish members of his Windy City flock from retaining their Catholic-centered old country culture, Mundelein declared it of “the utmost importance” that nationality groups in America “fuse into one homogeneous people…imbued with the one harmonious national thought, sentiment and spirit.” This was “the idea of Americanization,” he told Rome, and anything else instead of it would be “a disaster for the Catholic Church in the United States.” …

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