New York in History and Anecdote
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Category — Popes & Princes

The College of Cardinals

The Code of Canon Law defines the College of Cardinals—a college in that its members are each other’s colleagues—as “the senate of the Roman Pontiff…his chief counselors and collaborators in the government of the Church.” If, as Jerrold Packard wrote, the U.S. Senate is the world’s most exclusive club, the Sacred College is a close second, and its members keep their rank for life. “Cardinal” is derived from the Latin cardo, -inis. First used in a figurative sense, the word is usually rendered in English as “hinge,” a device that, in serving as a juncture for two opposing forces, establishes harmony. Dr. J.C. Noonan Jr., in The Church Visible, his 1996 book on the Church and its protocol, suggests “pivot,” a small nail-like device, on which symbolically hangs the relationship between heaven and earth.

Their major role remains the election of a pope. Over a reign now in its third decade, John Paul II has elevated nearly all the cardinals who will elect his successor. If a mortal man can set the future course of the barque of Peter, he has. On February 21, 2001, the Holy Father elevated forty-four men to the cardinalate. The selections, though based on consultation, were his alone. At the private consistory—the ceremony at which new cardinals are formally named—the Pope asked the consent of the assembled cardinals by asking, Quid vobis videtur? (“How does this seem to you?”) The question is rhetorical: no one disagrees. At last month’s ceremony, the Holy Father handed each man the red hat of office, reminding them that it is “the distinctive sign of the Cardinal’s dignity: that even unto death and the shedding of your blood you will show yourself courageous…”

As expected, among them was Edward Egan, the new archbishop of New York. Since 1875, when John McCloskey, the second archbishop of New York, became the first American cardinal, all but one of his successors have received the red hat.

The incumbents of a few other American sees also almost automatically become princes of the Church: Baltimore, New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. The key word is “almost.” St. Louis has had no cardinal-archbishop in nearly a generation. John May, who was its archbishop during the 1980s, though a disastrous president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, somehow felt he deserved elevation to the Sacred College. The person who mattered did not share this belief. May never received the hat. Neither has his successor.

Cardinal is a rank, not an office. Thanks to Pope Urban VIII, a cardinal is styled “eminence,” a style then shared only with reigning princes. He is conversationally addressed as “Your Eminence,” more formally, as Most Eminent Lord or Most Eminent Cardinal. Describing a cardinal as a prince of the Church is no figure of speech but a statement of fact founded in international law. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 ratified the confirmations of the Congresses of Vienna and Berlin that a cardinal held a status equal to that of a prince of the blood royal.

Cardinals still take official precedence behind only emperors, kings, and heads of state. Their relations with each other are also governed by exquisitely elaborate etiquette: even in the early 20th century, the master of ceremonies of a Roman cardinal receiving foreign cardinals had to determine the proper placement of each eminence in relation both to the host and to the door.

At the beginning, cardinals were workaday priests. Only the twelve apostles were considered possessed of full priestly powers through the commission entrusted them at the Last Supper. Their assistants, entitled deacons, were mere laymen. Cletus, the pope, recognizing a growing Church’s need for more priests (the word derives from prebyteri, “elders”), ordained 25 men to say Mass in the different Roman districts, or parishes. Some deacons and priests, who had been provided with assistants, were called cardinal deacons and cardinal priests. A third category, cardinal bishops, came into being by the ninth century. The word “cardinal” was thus an adjective, connoting a duty or assignment.

Yet each cardinal, then as now, was nominally a priest of the diocese of Rome, assigned a Roman parish. From the beginning, they elected their own bishop. As successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome held primacy among the bishops of the Church. When the Western Roman Empire disappeared at the end of the fifth century, the Roman pontiff became the most important office in Europe and his electors increased in worldly prestige. By the 11th century, the adjective had become a noun, conferred as a title, and the cardinals began functioning collectively as the Sacred College.

Although the Church itself is perfect, those who led it were not. With power came corruption. Cardinals came to hold vast perquisites. The office was sought for material gain rather than the service of the Church. Thus, the sons of nobles were made cardinals while still children, with little boys being dressed in clerical robes as a fulfillment of their office. The rank was even conferred on non-priests. Maurice Andrieux quoted one cardinal thus: “I know neither theology nor church history, but I know how to live in a court.”

Thus the Church came to endure the Borgia popes. Rodrigo Borgia, whose uncle, Pope Calixtus III, made him a cardinal at twenty-four, was elected pope by flagrant bribery. As Alexander VI, he granted the red hat to his bastard son, Cesare Borgia, who was neither a priest nor yet eighteen years of age. Even in the context of the Renaissance, Cesare’s conduct was somewhat unconventional for a cardinal. A poisoner and murderer, he assassinated his own brother and successfully conspired with his Pontifical father to assassinate the Duke of Bisceglie, whose marriage to Cesare’s sister, Lucrezia, was impeding her search for personal happiness.

Yet the gates of hell did not prevail. A later pope, Sixtus V, an honest and ruthless man, decreed requirements for prospective cardinals. They included a novel idea: that a cardinal be a man of blameless reputation. Sixtus also forbade anyone with children or grandchildren, living or dead, legitimate or otherwise, or who had a brother, cousin, nephew, or uncle who was already a cardinal. Our word “nepotism,” after all, comes from the Latin nepos, which means “nephew,” among other things.

Even into recent history, a Roman cardinal was expected to maintain a certain outward show of pomp, often employing at least fifty servants: chamberlains, chaplains, masters of ceremonies, lawyers, physicians, lackeys, cooks, porters, and coachmen. An enormous retinue was expected on formal public occasions: in the 18th century, Cardinal de Bernis never departed his residence without thirty-eight footmen, eight couriers, ten Swiss guards, four gentlemen, two chaplains, and eight valets-de-chambre. This did not include his coachmen, grooms and equerries on horseback. Even the shabbiest cardinal had at least three coaches—black, decorated with gilded bronze mountings—to his name. (As Lord Hervey wrote, the playthings of princes, be they ever so trifling, ought always to be gilt.)

By contrast, however, New York’s cardinals have not subjected their people to the Renaissance extravagances of the old Roman cardinals. Like most American cardinals, they were not aristocrats; they were usually quiet, hard working and incorruptible.

Finally, one other New Yorker received the red hat last month: Father Avery Dulles, a convert, decorated ex-naval officer, Jesuit, theologian, writer, and teacher. At eighty-two, he has published twenty-one books and more than 650 articles. His father, a great-uncle, and a great-grandfather were secretaries of state of the United States; an uncle was the founding administrator of the Central Intelligence Agency; yet another great-grandfather was speaker of the House of Representatives.

Dulles, born a Presbyterian, was agnostic when he entered Harvard in 1936. There his studies of Aristotle gave him confidence in human reason. Plato persuaded him of a transcendent order of right and wrong in which one has an unconditional obligation to do right, implying an absolute being to impose that obligation upon us. The Gospels reaffirmed what he had learned from the Greeks and added the idea of a loving, merciful, and forgiving God—one who had offered rescue “when we had slipped and fallen overboard,” Dulles has said. His love of the early Renaissance required him to understand its context, and thus he studied the writings of the early Church fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and Dante. It was a solitary journey: he had no close friends who were practicing Catholics, and through the exercise of his reason, he came to believe.

He converted to Catholicism in 1940, much to his father’s distress; served in the Navy during World War II, and returned after an attack of polio in Naples (its sole evidence the cane with which Dulles walks) to enter the Society of Jesus. Francis Cardinal Spellman ordained him in 1956.

Dulles has been a teacher since 1951. There is some talk that Fordham may give him a larger office. As Cardinal Dulles is more than eighty years old, he cannot vote for the next pope. Though the oldest man elevated in February 2001, as a priest he is the most junior of cardinals.

As may all princes, Dulles has taken a coat of arms. In the language of heraldry, his achievement of arms is ensigned by the red galero, the broad-brimmed cardinal’s hat from which are suspended fifteen red fiocchi, or tassels, on either side. Behind the shield is the jeweled episcopal cross and staff symbolizing his rank. Below is his motto, taken from the second letter of Timothy, scio cui credidi, “I know whom I have believed.” The shield is divided per fess, horizontally. In base, the lower half, appear the lilies of France, an example of punning heraldry, for his family believes their name was derived from the French de lys. In chief, the upper half, appears IHS, the Greek abbreviation of Jesus. There the old sailor also placed a single star. It is an attribute of St. Mary, Mother of Jesus, whom Catholics hail as Our Lady of Refuge, of Pity, of Reparation, and of Reconciliation, the Help of Christians, Queen of Peace, whom some call Star of the Sea.

New York Press, March 20, 2001

February 15, 2015   No Comments

Napoleon’s Older Brother

On August 19, 1815, the Commerce, an American brig of 200 tons, Captain Misservey commanding, raced through the Narrows under full sail after outrunning two British frigates in the lower Bay.  Someone—Misservey never said who—had paid him 18,000 francs in gold to depart immediately from Bordeaux for New York, and some say the ship had sailed without receiving her cargo of cognac.

On July 24, she had made an unscheduled stop off Royan, at the mouth of the Gironde.  That night, several passengers boarded from an open boat.  Misservey did not examine their papers closely, including those of the dignified middle-aged man called the Comte Surviglieri. Under the circumstances, perhaps ignorance was best.

Napoleon Bonaparte, second son of a Corsican notary with noble pretensions, who within twenty years had gone from receiving a lieutenant’s commission to crowning himself Emperor of the French, had made his last play. On March 1, Napoleon had escaped from Elba; nineteen days later he had entered Paris in triumph. Within weeks, he had raised an army against the European powers (they had proclaimed him an outlaw—literally, “one beyond the protection of the law,” a man whose murderer would go unpunished), and taken the field by June 12.

He had not quite the Grand Army that had triumphed from Lisbon to the walls of Moscow, but it had him. He was in Belgium within three days. On June 16, the forces under his personal command smashed the Prussians at Ligny. If he struck swiftly, smashing his enemies one by one before they could unite… After all, he had done it before.

The luck ran out. On June 18, sick and worn out, he fought the British and the Dutch at a Belgian hamlet, little more than some buildings by the road, called Waterloo. At the last he sent the Imperial Guard up the hill, drums rolling, and they broke, and night and the Prussians came, and it was over.

Many had compromised themselves during Napoleon’s two decades in power. Some went to the wall. Others, like the man who called himself the Comte Surviglieri, went into exile. He took rooms in Mrs. Powell’s boarding house just off City Hall Park, on Park Place, west of Broadway, under the name “Monsieur Bouchard.” The New York Evening Post reported rumors of the arrival of a mysterious Frenchman.

One afternoon, the gentleman who now called himself Monsieur Bouchard strolled down Broadway.  Another Frenchman, an ex-grenadier who had served with the imperial armies in Spain, was walking up. The veteran glanced at Bouchard, who gazed back with polite reserve. Then the old soldier fell to his knees, bawled out “Majesty,” and kissed the hands of Bouchard, whom he had recognized as His Most Catholic Majesty Jose I, King of Spain and of the Indies.

That had been merely one of the lives of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother.

Joseph had been born in 1768 at Ajaccio—the capital of Corsica—and, after realizing he did not have a calling to the priesthood (neither celibacy nor chastity ran in that family), earned a law degree at the University of Pisa and returned to Corsica to practice law.

For all its sound and fury, the French Revolution—which began as Joseph completed his studies—had involved merely the violent substitution of one elite for another, accompanied by a massive transfer of wealth to the new class. In the politics of their time, the Bonapartes were extreme leftists, a pose that proved most profitable: Napoleon was a general by the age of 25; Joseph was elected mayor of Ajaccio in 1790 and then a deputy to the National Assembly.

But Joseph understood which Bonaparte was in charge. A wealthy, powerful uncle, on his deathbed, said to him: “You, Joseph, are the eldest, but Napoleon is the real head of the family. Never forget it.”

Neither man did. After 1795, no one did.  As head of the family, Napoleon devoted considerable effort to placing his brothers in good, high-paying jobs.  He placed Joseph with the army in a clerical post paying 6,000 francs a year. At this time, Joseph met the girl of his dreams. Julie Clary was short and horse-faced; she was also kindhearted, intelligent, and heiress to her father’s fortune; and she adored Joseph Bonaparte. In its own way, their marriage was a success: they had two daughters; she would become a queen; and she would be with him at the end.

In 1797 he served as French ambassador to the Papal States, insisting on a salary of 60,000 gold francs. (The paper franc had become wildly inflated; the gold franc was worth 75 paper francs in 1794, 2,000 in 1795 and 80,000 in 1798.) All the while, Joseph was making a fortune through commodities speculation, using insider knowledge from his brother.

In 1799, Napoleon overthrew the Republic, instituting a military dictatorship.  Five years later, in 1804, the Senate proclaimed Napoleon emperor. As Napoleon then had no son, Joseph was nominated as his heir, proclaimed a prince of the empire, appointed Grand Elector (the emperor’s representative in the Senate), and given the Luxembourg Palace as his residence. Joseph being Joseph, he held out for an annual allowance and expense account totaling more than 1.3 million gold francs. Around this time, Napoleon complained of him and of his other brothers, “…my brothers are nothing without me; they are great only because I have made them great.”

On December 2, 1804, Napoleon’s coronation was held at Notre Dame. Before setting out for the cathedral, Napoleon took  Joseph by the arm and whispered, “If our father could see us!” In Jacques-Louis David’s painting of the ceremony, Joseph appears at the extreme left, dressed in a white silk tunic and a flame-colored, ermine-lined mantle, wearing a velvet hat with turned-up brim and ostrich plumes.

In 1806, Napoleon had Joseph proclaimed King of Naples, where he proved quite popular. Two years later, in May 1808, Napoleon invited the Spanish royal family to visit him in France, at Bayonne, just beyond the northeastern-most border of Spain. That they accepted the invitation is proof that brains had been bred out of them. They found a large French army at the Spanish border and a genial emperor who firmly suggested the abdication of King Charles IV and his son, King Ferdinand VII, in favor of Joseph. Proof that courage, too, had been bred out of the Spanish royals is that both men signed the papers. It is as if a corporate executive was being transferred from one division to another.

Initially, Joseph seems to have been persuaded by his brother’s propagandists that the Spanish people wanted him. He found they loathed him as a foreigner. Within days, Madrid was torn by riots put down by French troops, which Goya’s brush would make immortal.

Joseph found the streets empty and the windows barred against him. The only persons who welcomed him were soldiers of the French occupying armies and collaborators on the French payroll. The Spanish nationalist propaganda painted Joseph as a monster, a lecher and a drunk-Pepe Botellas (Joey Bottles), the Intrusive King. The Spanish resistance would cost millions of francs and hundreds of thousands of lives. It would bleed the French Empire to death.

If intentions were realities, Joseph would have been a good king. He was kindly and affable, and enough of an old Revolutionary to decree constant social improvements: universal suffrage, representative bodies in local, provincial and national governments, and universal free education for boys and girls (the latter was truly revolutionary in Spain). Today, the Prado, Spain’s greatest museum, quietly admits that King Jose founded it by decree in 1809.

But despite his uniforms and medals, Joseph had never commanded troops in battle. Only in 1812, when Napoleon shifted his first-rate military talent from Spain to the Russian campaign, did Joseph become supreme commander of imperial forces in Spain. The result was a succession of disasters, the loss of Madrid and the final, grotesque defeat on June 21, 1813, at Vitoria.

Joseph commanded some 57,000 men and more than 150 guns. His Anglo-Spanish opponents would have to ford the River Zadorra to advance against him. But the King neither ordered the river bridges burned nor even create a plan of battle, being distracted by one of his mistresses.

The British broke through the French lines. Around 1 p.m., the King ordered a general retreat. Neither he nor his staff had planned for an orderly withdrawal, as any competent commander might have done.  Thus, his soldiers simply turned and ran.  A British cavalryman, Capt. Windham of the 14th Light Dragoons, galloped alongside Joseph’s coach and fired his pistols into its near window. The Intrusive King extruded himself from the other side and, as a guard stopped a bullet that had been meant for him, leapt onto a gray, clapped spurs to its sides, and rode for his life.

In her biography of Wellington, Elizabeth Longford describes how the victorious British were distracted by loot. “It was as nothing the world had seen since the days of Alexander the Great: 151 cannon, just on two million cartridges, immense quantities of ammunition.” The French army’s payroll, some $5 million, had arrived at Vitoria just before the battle. Nearly all of it vanished, probably into British pockets.

Joseph also lost his state papers, his private correspondence (including some interesting love letters that provided general amusement when published), and the crown and regalia of a king of Spain. His large silver chamber pot was taken as a trophy of battle by Captain Windham’s regiment, now the King’s Royal Hussars, which nicknamed it “The Emperor.” For nearly two centuries, the regiment has required distinguished visitors at its mess dinners to use the pot for drinking toasts in champagne, after which it is placed ceremoniously on the visitor’s head.

Joseph and 55,000 men sprinted over the Pyrenees to France, as well as some 12,000 Spanish families—collaborators who followed him into exile. Napoleon ordered him to his estate at Mortefontaine, where he passed his time in playing music, shooting, boating, sulking, and fornication. At last, Joseph was appointed lieutenant general of France, the traditional title of a protector of the realm, with responsibility for the defense of Paris. Naturally, Joseph surrendered Paris to the Allies nearly without a shot. Upon Napoleon’s first abdication, he exiled himself to Switzerland.

When Napoleon returned from Elba, Joseph returned to Paris (after burying five million francs’ worth of uncut diamonds on his estate). Amazingly, he was appointed prime minister. It is unclear whether he did anything during his brief tenure. After Waterloo, as the imperial regime collapsed about him, he rejoined Napoleon at Rochefort, while  Joseph’s agents had chartered the Commerce to transport them to America.

A few days before his arrival at Rochefort, Joseph had been mistaken for Napoleon, arrested, and then released. Now, Joseph offered to remain, impersonating his brother while Napoleon sailed for America. Whether Napoleon thought this beneath an emperor’s dignity or resisted owing Joseph a favor is unclear. He refused and surrendered to the British, believing they would grant him asylum in England. He was wrong. Two months later, they landed him at the island of St. Helena, 1,200 miles off the Angolan coast, where he remained a prisoner until his death in 1821. In 1818, Joseph financed a substantial attempt to rescue Napoleon. As one might expect from anything to which Joseph lent his talents, it failed.

Once Joseph’s presence in New York was exposed, the press lionized him as an heroic figure of the Napoleonic adventure, a version of events with which he happily agreed.  Joseph spent seventeen happy years in America. He purchased Point Breeze, an estate near Bordentown, New Jersey, in the summer of 1816. He frequently entertained his neighbors, who found him polite, unpretentious, and kind. He imported the first company of ballet dancers seen in the United States. He was also denounced by the high-minded ladies of the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance for serving champagne at breakfast.

Queen Julie had remained in Europe and, despite Joseph’s frequent requests, never came to America with their daughters. But he did not lack for companionship. He kept one mistress at his hunting lodge in upstate New York—Annette Savage, a Quaker girl whom he had met in Philadelphia. Their daughter, Caroline, grew up to be a striking beauty and Joseph both gave her a dowry and paid for her wedding (one of the most elaborate ever seen in Watertown). Alas, her improvident husband lost everything and she ended up teaching French in Richfield Springs.  Joseph also maintained a principal mistress, Madame Sari, and fathered yet another child by Madame Lacoste, a Creole lady whom he was rumored to have bought from her husband.

Under Napoleon’s Law of Succession of 1804, Joseph would succeed to the imperial throne if Napoleon’s descent failed. In 1832, after Napoleon’s sole legitimate son died at Vienna, Joseph became the Bonapartist pretender. Later that year, after seventeen happy years in America, Joseph called on President Jackson to thank him for the hospitality of the American people.  He then returned to Europe, where he was reunited with Queen Julie, and yet again assumed a role his brother had created for him.

Joseph died in Florence in 1844 with Julie at his side, and by his express command was buried wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece, Spain’s oldest, most distinguished, and most noble order of chivalry. He had awarded it to himself.

New York Press, December 21, 1999

January 30, 2015   No Comments

Dagger John and the Triumph of the Irish


From New York Press, March 25, 2003

Among the publishing sensations of 1836 was a book by one Maria Monk entitled Awful Disclosures, which purported to be her memoir of life in a Montreal nunnery. Hot stuff by early 19th-century standards, Monk’s book claimed that all nuns were forced to have sex with priests and that the “fruit of priestly lusts” were baptized, murdered, and carried away for secret burial in purple velvet sacks. Nuns who tried to leave the convent were whipped, beaten, gagged, imprisoned, or secretly murdered. Maria claimed to have escaped with her unborn child.

In fact, Maria had never been a nun. She was a runaway from a Catholic home for delinquent girls, and her child’s father was no priest, but merely the boyfriend who had helped her escape. Nevertheless, Awful Disclosures became an overnight bestseller, echoing as it did the most popular anti-Catholic slanders of the day and reflecting the savage hatred of the Irish with which they went hand in hand. It was the cultural climate that partly led to John Joseph Hughes, fourth bishop and first archbishop of New York, becoming what one reporter called “the best known, if not exactly the best loved, Catholic bishop in the country.”

John Hughes was an Irishman, an immigrant and a poor farmer’s son. Though intelligent and literate, he had little formal education before he entered the seminary. He was complicated: warm, impulsively charitable, vain (he wore a wig) and combative (he once admitted to “a certain pungency of style” in argument). No man accused him of sainthood; many found him touched with greatness. He built St. Patrick’s Cathedral and founded America’s system of parochial education; he once threatened to burn New York to the ground. Like all archbishops and bishops, Hughes placed a cross in his signature. Some felt it more resembled a knife than the symbol of the redemption of the world, and so the gutter press nicknamed him “Dagger John.” He probably loved it.

Born on June 24, 1797 in Annaloghan, County Tyrone, Hughes later observed that he’d lived the first five days of his life on terms of “social and civil equality with the most favored subjects of the British Empire.” Then he was baptized a Catholic. British law forbade Catholics to own a house worth more than five pounds, hold the King’s commission in the military or receive a Catholic education. It also forbade Roman Catholic priests to preside at Catholic burials, so that—as William J. Stern noted in a 1997 article in City Journal—when Hughes’s younger sister Mary died in 1812, “the best [the priest] could do was scoop up a handful of dirt, bless it, and hand it to Hughes to sprinkle on the grave.”

In 1817, Hughes emigrated to America. He was hired as a gardener and stonemason by the Reverend John Dubois, rector of St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Believing himself called to the priesthood, Hughes asked to be admitted to the seminary. Father Dubois rejected him as lacking a proper education.

Hughes had met Mother Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, a convert to Catholicism who had become a nun after her husband’s death and occasionally visited St. Mary’s. She saw something in the Irishman that Dubois had not and asked the rector to reconsider. So Hughes began his studies in September 1820, graduating and receiving ordination to the priesthood in 1826. He was first assigned to the diocese of Philadelphia.

Anti-Catholic propaganda was everywhere in the City of Brotherly Love. Hughes’s temperament favored the raised fist more than the turned cheek. So when, in 1829, a Protestant newspaper attacked “traitorous popery,” Hughes denounced its editorial board of Protestant ministers as “clerical scum.” And after scores of Protestant ministers fled the 1834 cholera epidemic, which Nativists blamed on the Irish, Hughes ridiculed the ministers—”remarkable for their pastoral solicitude, as long as the flock is healthy….”

In 1835, Hughes won national fame when he debated John Breckenridge, a prominent Protestant clergyman from New York. Breckenridge conjured up the Inquisition, proclaiming that Americans wanted no such popery, no loss of individual liberty. Hughes described the Protestant tyranny over Catholic Ireland and the scene at his sister’s grave. He said he was “an American by choice, not by chance…born under the scourge of Protestant persecution” and that he knew “the value of that civil and religious liberty, which our…government secures for all.” The debate received enormous publicity, making Hughes a hero among many American Catholics. It was noted in Rome.

Dubois, who had left St. Mary’s to become bishop of New York, suffered a series of blows to his health. Hughes was barely forty. Nevertheless, in January 1838, he was appointed co-adjutor bishop—assuring him the succession to Dubois—and was consecrated in the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street. To the older man, it was a terrible humiliation to see a man he had deemed unqualified for the priesthood succeed him. When Dubois died, in 1842, he was buried at his request beneath the doorstep of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral so the Catholics of New York might step on him in death as they had in life.

Hughes’s first order of business to gain control of his own diocese. Under state law, most Catholic churches and colleges were owned and governed by boards of trustees—laymen, elected by a handful of wealthy pew holders (parishioners who couldn’t afford pew rents couldn’t vote), who bought the property and built the church. When, in 1839, the trustees of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral had the police remove from the premises a new Sunday school teacher whom Dubois had appointed, Hughes called a mass meeting of the parish. He likened the trustees to the British oppressors of the Irish, thundering that the “sainted spirits” of their forebears would “disavow and disown them, if…they allowed pygmies among themselves to filch away rights of the Church which their glorious ancestors would not yield but with their lives to the persecuting giant of the British Empire.” He later said that by the time he had finished speaking, many in the audience were weeping like children. He added, “I was not far from it myself.”

The public schools were then operated by the Public School Society, a publicly funded but privately managed committee. They favored “non-denominational” moral instruction, reflecting a serene worldview that Protestantism was a fundamental moral code and the basis of the common culture. In fact, as Hughes biographer Father Richard Shaw pointed out, “the entire slant of the teaching was very much anti-Irish and very much anti-Catholic.” The curriculum referred to deceitful Catholics, murderous inquisitions, vile popery, Church corruption, conniving Jesuits and the pope as the anti-Christ of Revelations.

Bishop Dubois had advised Catholic parents to keep their children out of the public schools to protect their immortal souls. But Hughes understood the need for formal education among the poor. He demanded that the Public School Society allocate funds for Catholic schools: “We hold…the same idea of our rights that you hold of yours. We wish not to diminish yours, but only to secure and enjoy our own.” He concluded by warning that should the rights of Catholics be infringed, “the experiment may be repeated to-morrow on some other.”

On October 29, 1840, a public hearing was held at City Hall, with numerous lawyers and clergymen representing the Protestant establishment and Hughes the Catholics. Hughes opened with a three-and-a-half-hour spellbinder. The Protestants spent the next day and a half insulting Hughes as an ignorant ploughboy and demonizing Catholics “as irreligious idol worshippers, bent on the murder of all Protestants and the subjugation of all democracies,” according to historian Ray Allen Billington. The City Council denied his request.

With elections less than a month away, Hughes created his own party, Carroll Hall, named for the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. He ran a slate of candidates to split the Democratic vote, thereby punishing the Democrats for opposing him. The Democrats lost by 290 votes. Carroll Hall had polled 2,200.

In April 1842 the Legislature replaced the Public School Society with elected school boards and forbade sectarian religious instruction. When the Whigs and Nativists had the King James version declared a non-sectarian book, Hughes set about establishing what has become the nation’s major alternative to public education, a privately funded Catholic school system. He would create more than 100 grammar and high schools and help found Fordham University and Manhattan, Manhattanville and Mount St. Vincent Colleges.

Anti-Catholicism had gained legitimacy by the 1840s. Now the Nativist movement included not only Protestant fundamentalists who saw Catholicism as Satan’s handiwork, but also intellectuals—like Mayor James Harper, of the Harper publishing house—who considered Catholicism incompatible with democracy. All hated the Irish. Harper’s described the “Celtic physiognomy” as “simian-like, with protruding teeth and short upturned noses.” Their cartoonist, Thomas Nast, caricatured the Irish accordingly.

Between May and July of 1844, Nativist mobs in Philadelphia, summoned to “defend themselves against the bloody hand [of the Pope],” ransacked and leveled at least three churches, a seminary and nearly the entire Catholic residential neighborhood of Kensington. When Hughes learned a similar pogrom, beginning with an assault upon Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, was planned in New York, he called upon “the Catholic manhood of New York” to rise to the defense of their churches and he armed them. A mob that stoned the stained glass windows of the cathedral found the building full of riflemen, and the violence went no further. Hughes later wrote that there had not been “a [Catholic] church in the city…not protected with an average force of one to two thousand men-cool, collected, armed to the teeth….”

Invoking the conflagration that kept Napoleon from using Moscow as his army’s winter quarters, Hughes warned Mayor Harper that if one church were attacked, “should one Catholic come to harm, or should one Catholic business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow.” New York’s buildings were largely wooden, and the city had burned twice in the previous century. There were no riots.

On July 19, 1850, Pope Pius IX created the archdiocese of New York, a development reflecting the growth of both the city’s Catholic population and the influence of Hughes himself. Having received the white woolen band of an archbishop from the hands of the Supreme Pontiff, Hughes embarked on a new project, “…a cathedral…worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth as a religious community.” On August 15, 1858, before a crowd of 100,000, he laid the cornerstone of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 5th Avenue and 51st Street. He would not see it finished. On January 3, 1864, death came for the archbishop.

After Maria Monk gave birth to a second illegitimate child, her Protestant champions quietly abandoned her. She became a prostitute, was arrested for pickpocketing and died in prison. Her book is still in print.


March 5, 2009   No Comments

Of Archbishops, Cardinals and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre

The red hats hang from the ceiling of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, high above the sanctuary. Each galero-a circular, broad-brimmed hat, ornamented with thirty tassels of scarlet thread interwoven with gold, fifteen to a side-denotes that the cardinal who possessed it had once possessed the cathedral and held jurisdiction over the Catholic people of New York. In the old days, he would have received it from the hands of the pope. The new cardinal, vested with a scarlet, watered-silk cappa magna—the great cape warn by cardinals for more than a thousand years—was led to the Sistine Chapel. He reverenced the Divine Presence on the altar and the enthroned pope. At this point, as Peter C. Van Lierde wrote in his 1964 book, What is a Cardinal?:

After kissing the Pontiff’s hands and cheek…the Cardinals-elect prostrated themselves on the floor before the altar while the Pope read prayers over them. Then…the Pope recited in Latin: ‘To the praise of Almighty God and the honor of His Holy See, receive the red hat, the distinctive sign of the Cardinal’s dignity, by which is meant that even unto death and the shedding of blood you will show yourself courageous for the exaltation of our Holy Father, for the peace and outlet of Christian people, and for the augmentation of the Holy Roman Church. In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost.’

The galero was then presented to the new cardinal. He never wore it again. Later, it would be carried before his coffin, placed at the foot of his bier and finally hung from the ceiling of his cathedral.

Six of the eight archbishops of New York have been cardinals: John McCloskey, John Farley, Patrick Hayes, Francis Spellman, Terence Cooke and John O’Connor. If the first archbishop, John Hughes-the charming, eloquent, self-educated, adamantine “Dagger John,” as obnoxious to the Establishment of his day as Al Sharpton to ours-had lived a little longer, one imagines Pius IX would have granted him the red hat. Michael Augustine Corrigan, the third archbishop, also did not receive the hat. He reigned from 1885 until 1902. An honest, hardworking, competent administrator, His Excellency perhaps lacked finesse in personal and political relations. One imagines Leo XIII was unimpressed when Corrigan excommunicated one of his own priests, Father Edward McGlynn, for reasons rooted in politics. McGlynn was a radical firebrand with a hob-lawyer’s genius for remaining just this side of canon law. During the mayoral campaign of 1886, Corrigan forbade him to speak in support of the United Labor candidate, Henry George.

Nonetheless, on at least one occasion McGlynn appeared on George’s platform without speaking, having first ensured that all present knew Corrigan had silenced him. It was merely one of McGlynn’s many provocations. When Corrigan rose to the bait and not only suspended McGlynn’s faculties as a priest but excommunicated him, bell, book and candle, McGlynn appealed to Rome. Then as now, Rome takes its time in these matters. Five years later, in 1891, Rome ordered McGlynn’s reinstatement. Corrigan was utterly humiliated. Nonetheless, he obeyed Rome as he had expected McGlynn to obey him, without delay or reservation. Peace to an honest man.

To describe a cardinal as a prince of the church merely states a fact. We sometimes forget that the popes wielded temporal power until 1870, when Vittorio Emmanuele II completed the unification of Italy by the seizure of Rome. Both the Congress of Vienna and the Congress of Berlin confirmed, and the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 ratified, that membership in the Sacred College of Cardinals carried with it diplomatic status equal to that of princes of the blood royal. As such, cardinals took official precedence behind emperors, kings, and their immediate heirs, or heads of state. No other person ever outranks a cardinal. Since at least the 17th century, all cardinals have enjoyed the title and dignity of “Eminence.” Thus, in conversation, he is addressed as “Your Eminence”; in formal communications, he is addressed as Most Eminent Lord or Most Eminent Cardinal.

Today precedence is generally a question of protocol, the rules governing the political and social relationships of nations and the people who represent them. As with all codes of etiquette, protocol creates a sense of order in both the ceremonial and the mundane. It is considerably more than the question of the rank of the person receiving a cardinal at the airport, the number of troops in the honor guard or the number of salvoes in an artillery salute. Nonetheless, many cardinals, particularly the Americans, find their princely status uncomfortable. One might think that such a thing was in itself a kind of ostentatious false humility—another manifestation of the capital sin of pride by seeking to substitute one’s uninformed emotional response for the measured judgment of the centuries—but perhaps one is mistaken.

These thoughts were prompted while listening to a garrulous Catholic lawyer acquaintance recount his observations of one of the late cardinal-archbishop’s several funeral Masses. The Cardinal died on a Wednesday around 8 p.m. By Friday evening, dressed in full canonicals, he was lying in state at the cathedral. As he had promised, the coffin bore a union label. My friend was also in attendance, wearing a white mantle and black velvet beret, the ceremonial regalia of a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He was only one of several hundred colorfully dressed persons: the congregation included black-robed Knights of Malta; Franciscan monks in roped gray robes and sandals; bishops in violet; monsignors in black cassocks piped in red; Capuchins in brown; Dominicans in white; and nuns of several orders in their habits.

This was a pale echo of the exotic and flamboyant presences at Francis Cardinal Spellman’s funeral more than thirty years ago. Vatican II and the blanding of the church in America had not begun to take effect (Spellman had sworn to stop the reforms at the water’s edge, and unlike Canute had held back the tide during his lifetime). Then, the Knights of Malta wore red tunics with epaulettes and cocked hats with ostrich plumes. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre wore white tailcoats “with collar, cuffs, and breast facings of black velvet with gold embroideries, epaulettes of twisted gold cord, white trousers with gold side stripes, a sword, and a plumed cocked hat,” according to Peter Bander van Duren, in Orders of Knighthood and of Merit.

My friend received this honor some years ago for reasons as mysterious to him as to me. This is the kind of distinction for which one does not apply. One must be invited. An acquaintance surprised him by quietly asking whether he would accept a papal knighthood. “I was restrained in my enthusiasm,” my friend said. “I waited three whole seconds before saying, ‘Yes.'” We celebrated his knighthood with a symposium in a local watering hole. After all, symposium comes from the Greek for “drinking party.”

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is among the last of the Crusader orders of knighthood. It is probably at least 1,000 years old: some historians claimed with more enthusiasm than documentation that the Order might have existed in one form or another before the end of the first century of the Christian era. With the loss of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Order gradually came under the protection of the Roman Church.

At one time, its knights enjoyed many privileges, “some of which were of a rather peculiar character,” notes James Vander Velde in The Pontifical Orders of Knighthood. “They had precedence over members of all orders of knighthood, except those of the Golden Fleece. They could create notaries public or change a name given in baptism; they were empowered to pardon prisoners whom they happened to meet while the prisoners were on their way to the scaffold…” They also had the privilege of legitimizing bastards. In New York, this notion may need reviving: there is so much work to do.

Unfortunately, there are no records of the first American knights of the Equestrian Order. One might reasonably speculate they were immigrants who had served in the papal armies. For example, Myles Keogh, a man who went in harm’s way, fought against Garibaldi’s forces at Ancona with the Pontifical Battalion of St. Patrick in 1860; during the War Between the States, he rose to the rank of colonel in the Union army. He then joined the Papal Zouaves and was knighted by Pius IX for valor. He rejoined the U.S. Cavalry and died with Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Popes granted not merely decorations but titles of nobility. Thus, Genevieve Brady, the wife of Nicholas Brady, a turn-of-the-century utility magnate, was ennobled by Pius XI as the Duchess Brady. The descendants of Edward Hearn, a successful contractor turned fundraiser, may still use the title of “Count.”

If one enters Fordham Law School, a large bronze wall plaque lists the benefactors whose generosity enabled the construction of the Lincoln Center campus of the Jesuit University of New York. Among them is George, Marquis MacDonald. If memory serves, he had begun as a contractor, became a spectacularly successful financier, and then a benefactor of the church. He had married a daughter of the infamous police inspector Thomas Byrnes, whose personal fortune came from sources best left unexamined. MacDonald became a Knight of Malta, a Knight Grand Cross of the Holy Sepulchre, a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, the holder of numberless honorary doctorates and, much to his pleasure, a papal marquis. He loved to have his picture taken in the uniform of one or another of these orders.

Titles, decorations, uniforms: these things have a certain romantic charm. But even my old lawyer friend noticed the important thing. During the Order’s ceremonies, the reading that most moved him is from Ecclesiastes:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come And the years approach of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them… Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the broken pulley falls into the well, And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, And the life breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the prophet, All is vanity.

New York Press, May 30, 2000

February 11, 2009   Comments Off on Of Archbishops, Cardinals and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre

The Prince on 36th Street

James Aloysius Harden-Hickey, Baron of the Holy Roman Empire by command of the Supreme Pontiff, editor, novelist, swordsman, and adventurer, who would proclaim himself James I, Prince of Trinidad, and die by his own hand, was born in San Francisco on December 8, 1854. The flavor of San Francisco life in the 1850s was still affected by the Gold Rush of 1849. The enforcement of rough justice through committees of vigilance and lynch mobs was merely one of many indications that the city by the bay was not yet housebroken. Accordingly, Hickey’s French-born mother took her son to Paris.

They arrived amidst the glittering reign of Napoleon III. If one believes Richard Harding Davis, “When Harden-Hickey was a boy, Paris was never so carelessly gay, so brilliant, never so overcharged with life, color, and adventure.” Davis, one of the most glamorous reporters of the early 20th century, was also one of the most wildly overrate; yet there is something to what he says here. Within a generation, France had seen two revolutions, two kings, and a republic. Now she was an empire again, under the rule of a Bonaparte. Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I, had seized power in 1852. He transformed Paris with his massive public works and bewitched the public with theatrical display and gorgeous ceremonies. The Second Empire sparkled with flamboyance, imagination and a kind of passionate worldliness.

Harden-Hickey spent little of his childhood and adolescence in Paris. The Jesuits taught him at Namur, Belgium; he studied law at the University of Leipzig. Yet his politics, tastes, point of view, and appearance were molded by Napoleon III and the Second Empire. At nineteen he passed the examinations to enter Saint-Cyr, the French military academy, from which he graduated with honors in 1875. His father died shortly before his graduation.

Having inherited a small income and mastered French, and enjoying the reputation of a master swordsman (like Scaramouche, he could pick the buttons off one’s waistcoat with a foil), Harden-Hickey foreswore the profession of arms for Parisian literary life. In 1878, he married the Countess de Saint-Pery; they had a son and a daughter.

He published eleven novels between 1876 and 1880. Irving Wallace, in his essay on Harden-Hickey (collected in The Square Pegs), calls the plots naive, the characters stereotypical, and the language flat. One novel is obviously borrowed from Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff, another from Don Quixote; all are bluntly monarchist and antidemocratic. Harden-Hickey’s polemics were more successful: his vehement defense of the church won him ennoblement as a Baron of the Holy Roman Empire.

The political upheaval after the fall of Napoleon III in 1870 subsided into the regime we call the Third Republic. Much as a tempest in shallow waters stirs up sludge, so the transition raised up a new set of corrupt politicos whose embezzlements and bribery led to a seemingly unending succession of scandals. With the concomitant abolition of press censorship, France saw an explosion in the number of newspapers being published. Most were edited in the spirit of Villemessant, founder of Le Figaro, who observed, “If a story doesn’t cause a duel or a lawsuit, it isn’t any good.”

The royalists, who wanted to restore the kings of France, unleashed their own media blitz by financing newspapers. They wanted a Parisian illustrated weekly, something like London’s Punch. Harden-Hickey’s swordsmanship and polemical skills made him its perfect editor.

On November 10, 1878, Harden-Hickey first published Triboulet, named for a jester of King Louis XII. The cover illustration showed the jester beating Marianne, the symbol of the Republic, and various politicians with a war club. The writing was as vigorous as the artwork. Within weeks, Triboulet had a paid circulation of 25,000. Within the year its business manager had been imprisoned, its staff had collectively served some six months in jail, and the paper had been fined 3000 francs. Within two years, it had become a daily. Harden-Hickey was sued forty-two times for libel and fought at least twelve duels, believing that his opponents should meet him either “upon the editorial page, or in the Bois de Boulogne.” The fun lasted until 1887, when the royalists’ money gave out.

He had changed. He divorced his wife, largely renounced Catholicism and flirted with theosophy and Buddhism. He began a journey around the world, spent nearly a year in India learning Sanskrit, studying the Buddha’s teachings, and even—he claimed—traveling to Tibet. Along the way, he made a short stop in the South Atlantic. Some 700 miles from the Brazilian coast, his ship hove to off to the deserted island of Trinidad.

“Trinidad is about five miles long and three miles wide,” Davis wrote, “but a spot upon the ocean. On most maps it is not even a spot.” Its residents were birds, turtles and land crabs. Harden-Hickey went ashore, explored the island and claimed it in his own name.

He was not the first to land there. An Englishman named Halley had made his way there in 1698. Two years later some Brazilian Portuguese settlers built stone huts, the ruins of which survived into Harden-Hickey’s time. A 1775 book claimed that one Alexander Dalrymple had taken possession of the island in the name of the King of England in 1700. Nonetheless, mariners landing in 1803 and 1822 found no inhabitants save “cormorants, petrels, gannets, man-of-war birds, and turtles weighing from five hundred to seven hundred pounds.” This gave Harden-Hickey’s claim color under international law: the English never settled the island; the Portuguese abandoned it. Trinidad was there for the taking.

Harden-Hickey returned to Paris in 1890, where he met Anne Flagler, daughter of John H. Flagler, an American financier. On St. Patrick’s Day 1891, he married her at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. For the next two years, he lived quietly with the Flaglers in New York. At some point during this period, he traveled to Mexico, where he purchased at least one ranch with money from his father-in-law. Apparently, Flagler would support his son-in-law quite generously without permitting him the control of any sizable sum of money. This restraint galled Harden-Hickey, who seems never to have considered earning his own living.

On Sunday, Nov. 5, 1893, the New York Tribune gave him front-page publicity with an exclusive story on his scheme to transform Trinidad into an independent country. Harden-Hickey argued that “…the inland plateaus are rich with luxuriant vegetation… The surrounding seas swarm with fish… Dolphins, rock-cod, pigfish, and blackfish may be caught as quickly as they can be hauled out…the exportation of guano alone should make my little country prosperous…”

Harden-Hickey’s announcement did not precipitate a world crisis. In January 1894, when he proclaimed himself James I, Prince of Trinidad, some nations even recognized him. One reporter interviewed his father-in-law, who seemed surprisingly tolerant of the adventure. He said, “My son-in-law is a very determined man… Had he consulted me about this, I would have been glad to have aided him with money or advice… But my son-in-law means to carry on this Trinidad scheme, and he will.”

The Prince announced that Trinidad would be a military dictatorship. Its flag would be a yellow triangle on a red ground. He began selling bonds for 1000 francs or $200, announcing that anyone purchasing ten of them was entitled to a free passage to the island. In San Francisco, he purchased a schooner to transport colonists and ferry supplies and mail between Trinidad and Brazil. He hired an agent to negotiate the construction of docks, wharves and houses. He also contracted for Chinese coolies to constitute an instant proletariat. On December 8, 1893, he instituted the Order of Trinidad, an order of chivalry in four classes to reward distinction in literature, the arts, and the sciences. He then commissioned a firm of jewelers to make a golden crown and issued a set of multicolored postage stamps.

An old friend from Paris, the Count de la Boissiere, became his secretary of state for foreign affairs. After working out of the Flagler residence at 18 W. 52nd Street, he opened a chancellery at 217 W. 36th Street. It was a room in a brownstone just west of 7th Avenue. Davis would visit it in the summer of 1894. Children were playing on the stoop with dolls. A vendor was peddling vegetables in the street. On the front door was a piece of paper bearing a handwritten note: “Chancellerie de la Principaute de Trinidad.”

In July 1895, the British government, then constructing a submarine cable to Brazil, landed troops and took possession of Trinidad as a cable station, based on Halley’s discovery in 1698. The Brazilians asserted a claim based upon the Portuguese occupation of 1700. Diplomatic representations were made; a mob at Bahia stoned the British consulate. No one remembered Harden-Hickey.

The Count de la Boissiere opened fire. His protest to Secretary of State Richard Olney pointed out that Harden-Hickey had notified the powers that he had taken possession of the uninhabited island of Trinidad in 1893. None of the powers had objected or opposed him. He asked the United States government to recognize the Principality of Trinidad and guarantee its neutrality.

August is the silly season, when no real news happens. In that long-ago summer of 1895—decades before electric fans or air conditioning—Olney may have been feeling the heat. He gave copies of the protest to the press corps for their amusement. The New York papers, much to the Count’s horror, ran stories poking fun at Prince James and at himself, his chancellery, his broken English, the formal manners so at odds with his squalid surroundings, and even his clothes.

It was around this time that Davis, then writing for The Evening Sun, called at the chancellery. On the wall he saw a notice of “Sailings to Trinidad.” It listed two: March 1 and October 1. The Count’s desk was piled with copies of proclamations, postage stamps, bonds and, in pasteboard boxes, gold and red enameled crosses of the Order of Trinidad. Davis found the Count “courteous, gentle, and…distinguished,” and gave Harden-Hickey a straight treatment. The other newspaper that treated Harden-Hickey with compassion was, odd though it may seem to us today, The New York Times. Reporter Henri Pene du Bois (grandfather of children’s author William Pene du Bois) and managing editor Henry Cary felt that Harden-Hickey and the Count were both in earnest and that their only fault was having a dream and the imagination to strive for it. One day, a pasteboard box appeared on the desk of each man: the Prince had awarded them the Order of Trinidad.

During the next two years, Harden-Hickey spiraled into depression. Without his island, he had nothing; furthermore, much of the world laughed at him for having tried to make his dream come true. No one, not even those who loved him, ever suggested that he had much of a sense of humor. And clearly, no one ever persuaded him to just go and get a job.

In 1897, Harden-Hickey completed plans for an invasion of England from Ireland. He asked Flagler to finance it. His father-in-law, perhaps not unreasonably, declined. Harden-Hickey never spoke with him again. He had drifted from his wife, too. While he had been in San Francisco hiring coolies and buying schooners, she had been in Paris; when she went to San Francisco, Harden-Hickey vanished to his Mexican ranch. Moreover, as Davis primly observes, Harden-Hickey “was greatly admired by pretty women.”

In early 1898, Harden-Hickey’s attempts to raise money by selling his Mexican land fell through. On February 2, 1898 he registered at the Pierson Hotel in El Paso, Texas, where he remained a week. According to Wallace, he was overheard to say that he was waiting for money from friends. He went up to his room at 7:30 p.m. on February 9. The following noon, the maids found him on the bed, a half-emptied morphine bottle on the nightstand. A letter to his wife was pinned to a chair. In his trunk was the crown of Trinidad.

New York Press, December 11, 2003

February 7, 2009   No Comments

More Catholic than the Pope

The titles of the Pope sound like a fanfare: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God. He is elected in secret conclave, met in the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. Upon his election, the ballots are burned: their white smoke, rising from a Vatican chimney, signals a new pope to the world.

Until the 1960s he was crowned amidst unbearable splendor, culminating when, placing the tiara on the Pope’s head, the Cardinal-Archdeacon intoned, “Receive this tiara adorned with three crowns, and know Thyself to be the Ruler of the World, the earthly Vicar of Jesus Christ our Savior, to Whom be glory and honor without end.” Many elements of the baroque grandeur of the church before the Second Vatican Council were merely the accretions of nearly 2000 years’ worldly power and as such, though often thrilling, poetic, or touching, secondary to its divine mission: saving souls. Most were swept away in the post-conciliar upheaval.

For the people in the pews, the most important change involved the Mass, the center of Catholic worship. The Mass is not a communion service, a reenactment, a commemoration, or a symbolic performance. To believers, it is literally the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World: perhaps the most important thing in this life. In the 16th century, Pius V and later the Council of Trent confirmed the traditional Roman rite, popularly called the Tridentine Rite, and commanded that it endure for all time. It lasted four centuries, followed without variation throughout Catholicism: celebrated in Latin, with the priest facing God at the head of the people, its focus the sacrifice itself. One might attend Mass anywhere in the world and be at home.

In April 1969, Paul VI authorized the Novus Ordo to replace the Tridentine Mass as the universal liturgy of the church. The old rite was never abolished, although the elite favored doing so. Often those who spoke most of opening the church to the people forced the new rites on those who preferred the old one. The American media vulgarized the changes as no more than celebration of the Mass in the vernacular. This was incorrect. Important things were changed. The emphasis shifted from the sacrifice to the congregation. The rhetoric was different, and the new language often ambiguous, bureaucratic and unsatisfying. The priest now faced the congregation rather than God.

Many Catholics still resent the modernized vernacular liturgy. By contrast with the rampant supernaturalism of the old rite, as Michael W. Cuneo observed, contemporary Catholic worship in America is sanitized and culturally respectable. But it is bourgeois: bloodless, unimpassioned and decorous. In the suburban parish where I grew up, the Mass became a matter of enveloping us in hazy good will, forced handshakes, and a middle-class coziness. It calls to mind Hugh Cecil’s characterization of the Church of England as “a spiritual pharmacy to which one may send for a bottle of grace whenever one happens to want it,” with “no sense of belonging to an unseen Kingdom with a loyalty to an unseen King.”

Some traditionalist Catholics have gone their own ways. Desiring the unified, triumphalist church of half a century ago, they seek it through schism. Some flirt with the unauthorized Tridentine Masses of Father Gommer de Pauw’s Catholic Traditionalist Movement or of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X.

Beyond Lefebvre lie the fever swamps. Sedevacantists (literally, “the chair is vacant”) hold that as Catholic doctrine is eternally valid and unchanging and the papacy exists to preserve it as such, any so-called pope who would alter these teachings is illegitimate. For example, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatus Humanae, affirms the spiritual value of other religions and calls for interreligious cooperation. At first glance, this apparently contradicts encyclicals of Popes Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII, published from 1832 to 1943. Each affirmed that the Catholic Church alone possessed fullness of truth and the certain means of salvation. A pope speaks with infallibility on matters of faith and morals. To traditionalists, the principle of noncontradiction means either these popes were right or the Council was right. Both cannot be right at the same time.

Sedevacantists hold that by calling the Council and enunciating its teachings, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and now John Paul II are heretics and not popes. (Some also hold John XXIII was a Freemason and the tool of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy and as such ineligible to be the Vicar of Christ.) Some sedevacantists go from proclaiming the seat vacant to filling it themselves.

At one time, being an antipope meant something. Once during the Great Schism of the West (1378-1417), Pope Gregory XII and two antipopes, Benedict XIII and John XXIII (not to be confused with the modern John XXIII) disputed pontificality. The last was particularly controversial: Edward Gibbon wrote that when John XXIII was indicted by the Council of Constance in 1417, “The most scandalous charges were suppressed; the Vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy and incest.”

Today’s antipopes command neither armies, nor territories, nor much of a following. One doubts the Vatican is much concerned with Gregory XVII of Troyar la Palma, Spain; Gregory XVII of St. Jovite, Quebec; Michael I of Kansas; Peter II of Pennsylvania; Peter II of France; or Peter II of Germany. Happily, some maintain Web pages, like that of the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church. Its bishop, James H. Hess, part-time cleric and full-time CPA, also sells “a board game which I created and copyrighted.” A persistent salesman, Hess writes, “…you of the clergy, accept the truth of apostolic Roman Catholicism, work to establish a true papacy.”

…and then, if in your ministry, you find you need good vestments and altarware at good prices, write to Pax House, Apdo. Postal 39-181, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44171, Mexico.

Clemente Dominguez Gomez of Troyar la Palma claimed the Virgin had revealed to him Paul VI’s secret imprisonment and replacement by “an exact impostor.” As if Marian apparition were insufficient, Dominguez said Paul VI had confirmed this through “bilocation.” On these credentials, the Spaniard persuaded Pierre Martin Ngo-Dinh-Thuc, an exiled Vietnamese bishop, to ordain him a priest on January 1, 1976. Eleven days later, Thuc consecrated Dominguez a bishop. When Paul VI died in 1978, Dominguez proclaimed himself Pope Gregory XVII.

In 1968, Father John Gregory of the Trinity, founder of the Apostles of Infinite Love at St. Jovite, Quebec, announced he had been mystically crowned Pope, also under the name of Gregory XVII. Thirty-one years later, he was arrested for child molesting, on charges going back as far as 1965.

Now John Paul II has another rival. According to the True Catholic website (, Earl Pulvermacher was elected Pope Pius XIII on October 24, 1998. Pulvermacher states that he was born in Wisconsin in 1918 and ordained in 1946. Thirty years later, he rejected the Novus Ordo and became a freelance priest. Pulvermacher’s “conclave movement” holds that the entire hierarchy of the church—pope, cardinals, bishops and priests—having fallen into heresy, have ipso facto vacated their offices. Thus, under natural law, the true Catholics have the right to fill the vacancy by electing a pope.

He claims the organizers of the 1998 conclave took three years to plan and organize the election. They approached “all known true Catholics,” requiring would-be electors to sign documents relating to their baptism, age, beliefs with respect to the Second Vatican Council, and nonassociation with any individuals connected with the “Novus Ordo Church.” On October 23, 1998, three scrutinizers at a telephone began taking votes from electors. They worked until the next day, recording each vote on a separate paper ballot. Then they communicated the result to Pulvermacher by speakerphone. Presumably, they asked something resembling the old question, “Reverend Lord, the Sacred College has elected thee to be the successor of St. Peter. Wilt thou accept pontificality?” Pulvermacher accepted, and, according to the website, “at that very moment, the papacy was restored.” The site shows a picture of the “White Smoke” rising from the eaves of a prefabricated log cabin.

Again according to the site, “Catholics world-wide rejoice and offer their thanks to Almighty God for restoring the papacy to the Catholic Church,” while “the youth of the world…are getting the answers they seek, answers from traditional Catholic teaching…giving their ‘Profession of Faith’ and joining the true Catholic Church, outside of which there is no salvation.” The documents accessible through the website offer no comment from the secular or religious press, no words of affirmation from distinguished laymen—or anything that might not have come from a fertile imagination and decent catechetical library. The photographs show only Pulvermacher, his henchman Gordon Cardinal Bateman, two other persons in ecclesiastical robes and, of course, a couple of altar boys.

There are no Swiss Guards, no Chamberlains, no papal knights, no throngs pressing against the rail. Only once, indeed, does Pulvermacher’s site note the actual number of participants in any of his ceremonies: twenty-eight, who attended his consecration as a bishop in a rented hotel ballroom in Kalispell, Montanna. Each shared a slice of a frosted cake decorated with the words, “Long Live Pope Pius XIII.”

New York Press, April 4, 2000

April 4, 2000   Comments Off on More Catholic than the Pope