REPRESENTATIVES of the papacy in this country have not taken kindly to the report of the United States Insular Commission on Porto Rico. It was not to be expected that they would be pleased with a report drawn up by Protestants, but neither was it anticipated that their sentiments on the point would be expressed in a tone of bitter hostility, as was the case. For example, note the following from the Catholic Standard and Times, Philadelphia:—
“Nothing could well be more offensive toward Catholic sentiment than the tone of the Insular Commissioners’ report; nothing possibly more asinine than its recommendations to the Government on the subject of its relation for the Catholic Church in Porto Rico. The suggestion to absolve priests and nuns from their vows, in order that they might be at liberty to follow the example of Luther and Catharine von Bora, so stupid yet withal so full of wanton malice, transcended all the bounds of rational conception of a process of severance between church and state. It simply destroyed its own pretext of action. It recommended the state to interfere, willfully, impertinently and wickedly, with the lawful concerns of the church. This recommendation, if we are to trust the report now in uncontradicted circulation, has been repudiated by the President, and the gentlemen who made it had been rebuked for their arrogance and ignorance in making it. Should this turn out to be the case, we are sure the fact will be hailed by many as a most gratifying one. It would be quite in keeping with what we already know of the President’s disposition. His disapproval of religious intolerance was markedly shown last year in the Washington sermon affair. We may easily believe that he is a man of liberal mind himself, and we may also conclude that his public experience would cause him to shrink from the indorsement of insult to any religious body in the country as very bad politics indeed.”
What is the trouble? Has the Government been recommended to force Catholics in Porto Rico to do something contrary to the papal religion?—No; not at all. The recommendation made by the commission was, “That priests and others who have taken vows of celibacy be permitted to renounce said vows and enter into marriage relations, the same as other people.” They are left perfectly free to do in the matter as they choose. They are not to be bound in the matter by the law of the land.
Under Spain, they were bound by the civil law, for breaking such vows could be punished as criminals; for under Spain, with its union of church and state, the laws of the church were, in most things, a part of the law of the land. The United States, as represented by the commission, simply does not propose to maintain this arrangement in force. But the Catholic Church regard such things as sins if you will; the Government will not for that reason treat them as crimes.
The papacy complains of being “insulted” by this recommendation, yet in its very complaint it makes a fling at the great Reformer and his wife, which might with much more reason be taken as an insult by Lutherans and other Protestants; for “the example of Luther and Catherine von Bora” was not meant in any complimentary sense.
This papal authority hopes that this recommendation, representing only the American principle of severance between church and state, “has been repudiated by the President,” and that “the gentlemen who made it have been rebuked for their arrogance and ignorance in making it.” This is bold language,—the language of one who sees Protestantism and American principles of government far on the decline in the United States. This is the significant feature of the matter.