By CHRISTOPHER HOLLIS Recently President Roosevelt was presented with an honorary degree by the university of Notre Dame. The presentation was criticised by one quite irresponsible Catholic paper in the United States with the argument that it was improper to pay such an honour to the president in view of the fact that he had not publicly protested against the Catholic persecution by the Mexican government.
I see from an English newspaper that a version of that criticism has found its way over to England, and I read in that newspaper the headline "Roosevelt Says Men Must Be Free To Worship," followed by "But He Is Silent About Mexican Tyranny." That being so, and if the story is to be told at all, it is well that the whole situation should be frankly explained.
In the first place, the protest against the conferring of the degree was made by a particular Catholic writer of no official standing some days before the ceremony took place.
In spite of that protest both Cardinal Mundelein and a large number of bishops attended the ceremony, and in the course of his speech Cardinal Mundelein took occasion to say: American Attitude Towards Mexico "No individual cardinal, bishop or priest, no organisation of laymen or Catholic newspaper has the right to speak for the twenty million Catholics in this country in matters of politics; only the bishops of the country together, in conference or in council, and they have not done so."
So much for that particular incident. Now as to the general question of American policy towards Mexico. There are certainly in the United States Catholics who would press upon the administration a policy of aggressive protest against Mexico, and who are ready to denounce the president if he does not respond to their pressure. The recent behaviour of the Knights of Columbus proves that.
On the other hand, there is no person of wisdom or knowledge who imagines that the question is a simple one of black and white, and many of' the wisest and best-informed both of priests and laymen are of the opinion that a policy of aggrcs sive hostility would be a very radical mistake.
There are two factors in the situation which those whose enthusiasm outruns their wisdom very easily neglect. In the first place the Mexicans are a very touchy people.
The one thing that they are determined to he is a really independent nation. The one thing that they are determined not to be is a merely puppet nation, enjoying nominal independence but in reality dictated to by Washington.
The United States has in the past on occasions interfered in Mexican internal politics. Wise Americans are the first to admit that those interferences have not been happy, and that the story of them is to-day very largely responsible for Mexican suspicion of American motives.
A very wise man and a devout Catholic, an American, said to me only a few weeks ago that a public protest from President Roosevelt would unite every man, woman and child in Mexico from the archbishops downwards in their support of the Mexican government. Perhaps that was a slight exaggeration, born of the exuberance of conversation, but it was the expression of a general and genuine truth.
The Mexican Point of View In the second place, the Mexican government is to-day engaged in a campaign against what it calls, with no very clear definition of its terms, capitalism, and also against Europeanism. The Church is denounced as a European institution, and Americans the Mexicans look on almost exclusively as " wicked and exploiting capitalists." Any cause that comes to Mexico sponsored by Washington comes in their eyes from a tainted capitalist source.
I am not discussing how the Mexicans have got this prejudice nor whether it is justified. I am merely stating one of the facts of the situation. A public protest by President Roosevelt would therefore certainly stamp the Catholic Church in the Mexican mind as a capitalist puppet.
Again, let us look at the matter from the American side. There is no question about it that President Roosevelt is both a sincere and a highly intellectual Christian, filled with a deep understanding of, and a real sympathy for, the Catholic faith.
I have heard hint told to his face that his policy is based uporathat of the papal encyclicals. and he did not feel called upon to challenge the statement. Catholics have certainly received very much better treatment at his hands than they have ever done before in the history of the United States.
But it is sheer folly to imagine that his attitude towards the Catholic Church is the attitude of all the 120 million of his fellowcitizens. •
We have got to face the fact that the average American thinks that the Catholic Church in Mexico was a highly corrupt organisation. and that, whatever other faults the Mexican people may be guilty of, yet they are doing no more than they ought to do in breaking its power.
Again. I am not saying that that is what Americans ought to think : I am saying that it is what in point of fact they do think.
Not a Simple Question We are not yet very far removed from the years of the Ku Klux Klan, and, as Catholics have grown in influence, as they have grown during the last few years, there have been many who have viewed that growth with alarm. There could be no more fatal mistake than to allow it to appear, however absurdly, that the policy of the administration was in any way subject to dictation by Catholics.
A policy of public protest. it is then highly probable, would not stop the persecutions in Mexico and very well might restart persecutions in the United States.
On the other hand, it would make impossible the only possible road that is at all likely to be fruitful—that of private representations. The Mexicans simply will not stand being lectured in public as if they were naughty and barbaric schoolboys.
h'ut their very anxiety to be thought " a proper nation" makes them peculiarly ready to take a private hint that " these things simply are not done."
Exactly to what extent these hints are being given I do riot profess to know, but certainly the reckless denunciation of zealots does not make the giving of them any easier.
1 do not pretend that the administration's Mexican policy has been without fault. I have found none, for instance, to defend the appointment of Mr. Daniels to the Mexican embassy, but I merely argue that the question is not one of plain black and white.
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