Heresy, the American Experiment, and the Great Commission of Christ

by Mary Anne Kreitzer

It is undeniable that the Church in America is in trouble. Most Catholics no longer attend Mass on Sunday and many who do practice cafeteria style choosing to accept or ignore doctrine according to taste. A 2015 PEW Survey found fewer than half of those identifying as Catholic regularly attend Mass. Most dissent from key teachings on marriage and family. Eighty-five percent of those interviewed believe cohabitation, a mortal sin, is okay with 55% saying it’s just as good as marriage. The statistics improve among those who attend Mass at least once a week, but even many of them (more than half in some cases) favor same-sex marriage, Communion for those in invalid marriages, contraception, and other grave moral evils. [1] While these problems exist in many places in the world, three particular errors have made the Church in the U.S. particularly vulnerable: American Exceptionism, Americanism, and Modernism. This trio of errors infiltrated and tainted Catholic practice from the very beginning and still impact the Church today.

The Constitution of the United States ostensibly defends the absolute right of its citizens to religious freedom. The very first right in the first amendment guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”[2] And, of course, the United States, unlike England, never mandated an official state religion. However, it’s relatively obvious that, from its inception, religious beliefs have closely coincided with the secular virtues of democracy, freedom, progress, individual rights, and the “pursuit of happiness.” To the degree that a religion blessed those secular virtues, it was acceptable; to the degree it diverged, it was considered suspect, the Catholic Church above all. In view of the fact that many of the founders were freemasons this is hardly surprising since the Catholic Church was the premier enemy among enemies.

The ascendance of American religious secularism, or secularist religion, steamrolled down the centuries to the point where Hillary Clinton could say to the sixth annual Women in The World Summit last year that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed…. Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper.” Demanding religions abandon their doctrine to advance “freedom” is the culmination of the errors endemic to our history: American Exceptionalism (AE), Americanism (AM), and Modernism (MO).

In his book, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, Martin Seymour describes the tenets of AE as “liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy and laissez-faire for business.”[3] Additionally, it includes the idea that America is destined to lead the world toward liberty and democracy, an attitude one might consider arrogant to say the least. AE was first implied by Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the country in the mid 19th century and described her as “quite exceptional.” He also noted, however, the opposition between religious belief and practice in the market place:

In America, religion is a distinct sphere, in which the priest is sovereign, but out of which he takes care never to go. Within its limits, he is master of the mind; beyond them, he leaves men to themselves, and surrenders them to the independence and instability which belong to their nature and their age…Although the Christians of America are divided into a multitude of sects, they all look upon their religion in the same light. This applies to Roman Catholicism as well as to the other forms of belief.[4]

In other words, religious leaders avoided meddling with the rights defined and upheld in our secular documents in order to “go along to get along.” One can see the roots here of the idea of separation of church and state. This was especially true of the Catholic Church due to colonial America’s Protestant roots and vicious hostility to “popery.” Religious leaders like Roger Williams and Cotton Mather considered the pope the anti-Christ. All but three of the original thirteen colonies had penal measures against Catholics with documents assuring religious freedom to all except the hated “papists.”How did leading Catholics respond? By trying to prove they were faithful to the colonial governments and not under the authority of Rome.

With AE firmly established in the American psyche from the country’s founding, the heresy of Americanism easily took root a century later. Pope Leo XIII addressed it in his encyclical letter, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae sent to Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore. Americanism was found in the principles espoused by Fr. Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists, an order known today for its dissent.[5] AM put forth the principle that America required Catholic practice different from the rest of the world, basically:

  • That “in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age.”
  • The Church should “relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinion…even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith.”
  • That in order to be acceptable in a mainly Protestant country it was necessary to practice “silence which purposely leads to the omission or neglect of some of the principles of the Christian doctrine.”
  • That “allowance be granted the faithful, each one to follow out more freely the leading of his own mind...[the] foundation of almost every secular state.”
  • That “all external guidance is set aside for those souls who are striving after Christian perfection as being superfluous…[because] the Holy Spirit pours richer and more abundant graces than formerly upon the souls of the faithful, so that without human intervention He teaches and guides them by some hidden instinct of His own.”
  • That fondness for novelty gave “an unwarranted importance to the natural virtues as though they better responded to the customs and necessities of the times…[preferring] natural to supernatural virtues [and attributing to them] greater efficacy and fruitfulness.”
  • That an active life is preferable to a passive leading to “contempt of the religious life” with a belief that “vows are alien to the spirit of our times…more suitable to weak than to strong minds”…and “that the religious life is either entirely useless or of little service to the Church.” [6]

It’s easy to see how AM accommodated itself to the Protestant mainstream to try to defuse the prevailing anti-Catholic bigotry, what Arthur Schlesinger called “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” Anti-Catholicism was still an issue in the 1960 presidential campaign when John F. Kennedy delivered his famous Houston speech to Protestant ministers assuring them:

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.[7]

Many leading Catholics throughout our history have made similar statements illustrating that their faith will never impact their pragmatic decisions. The errors of Americanism can be seen in the infamous 1967 Land O’ Lakes Conference where a group of Catholic professors and educators, led by Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, made their “declaration of independence” from the hierarchy.[8] And so is it really surprising that Catholic politicians, judges, doctors, and even prelates are largely responsible for many of our national abominations including contraception and abortion? The errors of AE and AM still impact Catholics today many of whom believe they have the right to make decisions based on personal conscience divorced from Church teaching and guidance. Decision-making is all about personal liberty and individual rights! No wonder the rejection of dogma is so widespread.

And now we come to Modernism, what Pope St. Pius X called the “synthesis of all heresies.” In fact, it’s difficult to define because it encompasses such a broad spectrum of errors. Pope Pius addressed MO in both the Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists (issued July 3, 1907) and the encyclical Pascendi (September 1907). Briefly, MO embraces all the errors of AE and AM, but goes way beyond them. The pope called the modernists the “most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church…[who] proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt.”[9] The modernists’ philosophy, briefly put, includes these serious errors:

  • It is agnostic, i.e. God cannot be seen in the natural world or in historical events. In other words, there is no such thing as natural law, nor can man, by his reason and observations of the world, know anything about God with certainty. It’s easy to see how this error throws out Thomas Aquinas and his proofs for the existence of God based on reason.
  • It Embraces novelty, progress and evolution in all areas of the Church: faith, liturgy, dogma, etc. There is no “rock” on which the faith is grounded.
  • It believes that faith arises from human need within the interior of man (vital immanence) and a “movement of the heart” which is an “interior sense, originating in a need of the divine” (religious imminence).[10] These errors makes faith completely subjective and lead to syncretism (all religions are the same) since how can anyone deny the legitimacy of another’s interior experience? All belief systems, therefore, must be recognized as true for the believer.
  • It believes there is no unchanging truth; everything is relative according to human need. So as needs change, dogma, liturgy, etc. must “develop.”
  • It deifies personal conscience and denies Divine Revelation (except as it arises in the subconscious of the believer), and denies Church authority. Hence, cafeteria Catholicism is a natural fruit of modernism. The individual’s conscience is his “pope.”
  • It believes faith is subject to science and “may never oppose the general conception which science sets forth concerning the universe.”[11] Hence atheistic Darwinian evolution is acceptable along with other scientific errors.
  • It denies that Scripture is inerrant. The writers were not divinely inspired except in the sense of their subconscious human inspirations, and, in fact, the Bible is a “human work, made by men for men.”[12]

Pope Pius X comes to the conclusion that “[the modernists’] system means the destruction not of the Catholic religion alone, but of all religion….Take away the intelligence, and man, already inclined to follow the senses, becomes their slave.” Doesn’t this sentence explain exactly what we’ve seen happen in the U.S. particularly since the 1960s with a progressive collapse of morals and even sanity? Consider that after Pascendi, from 1910 on, the pope required all bishops, clergy, theologians, teachers in Catholic schools, etc. to take an oath against modernism. That action helped to keep the faith from going off the rails. But in 1967, Pope Paul VI through the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) rescinded the oath, making it voluntary. [Note that some orders continue to take it, for example the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP)]. The resurgence of modernism combined with the confusion following Vatican II, the sexual revolution, the development of chemical contraceptives, feminism infiltrating religious orders, widespread dissent to Catholic dogmas, etc. combined to create a perfect storm ripping through Holy Mother Church. The result is two arms of an attack vice going after reason and truth. In a recent article, Feeling Good vs. Doing Good, William Kirkpatrick nails the first. Reason is replaced by feelings:

For many, the therapeutic norm has replaced the factual norm….But facts are secondary for those whose main concern is their own self-image. Instead of asking what is the best and most realistic policy based on the facts, the question they ask themselves is “What position will make me feel good in my own eyes and in the eyes of my peers?” [13]

Fr. James Schall nails the second in his article, The Great Thirst, writing that:

Everything we encounter in existence, including ourselves, has an immediate purpose to be what it is. We are human beings, not turtles. That mountain is a mountain, not a redwood tree, even if redwood trees grow on mountains…. when we do not find what we are thirsting for, “despair and neurosis” can result. Many thinkers suspect that the disordered souls that we see everywhere around us are caused by this “despair and neurosis” that result from not knowing – or not wanting to know – the real object that can transform our search the way water transforms a thirsty man.[14]

We live in a world of unreality, as Kirkpatrick and Schall indicate, where many claim that a man can be a woman, a woman can be a man, and a 52-year-old man can be a six-year-old girl. Since Roe v. Wade it’s been politically correct to pretend a baby in the womb isn’t a baby while acknowledging that a human zygote in a petri dish is. Today some claim that gays are “born that way,” while saying that transgenders need to be surgically altered because they weren’t “born the right way.” Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see we are living in a mad world of unreality and make-believe.

To fix a problem, one first has to know what the problem is. Pope Pius X identified it clearly as modernism, the synthesis of all heresies and a vicious attack on reason and truth. His response was to “establish…a special Institute in which, through the co-operation of those Catholics who are most eminent for their learning, the advance of science and every other department of knowledge…under the guidance and teaching of Catholic truth.”[15] Today we have many organizations, publishing houses, colleges and universities, writers, etc. who are following in the saint’s footsteps. Among them are Ignatius Press, The Wanderer, The Catholic Thing, Catholic Culture, The Lepanto Institute, the colleges and universities listed in the Cardinal Newman Society’s guide, etc. One practical thing faithful Catholics can do is to support these groups. Instead of donating to modernist-corrupted charities like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) or Catholic Relief Services (CRS), divert donations to those upholding truth! But even more than that, each of us in our own families can cultivate truth and fight the dictatorship of feelings. A requirement of love is truth. So-called “love” based on a lie (e.g., that same-sex individuals can “marry” or that the divorced and invalidly remarried can approach for Communion) isn’t love or compassion, but selfishness that seeks to avoid conflict. If we aren’t willing to speak the truth in our own families out of fear of rejection, how will we ever be the salt and yeast in the culture at large?

I challenge everyone reading this to send an article to at least one family member or friend who needs to hear the truth. Pass this newsletter on or go to a website of one of the groups listed above and choose an article you think might touch a loved one’s heart. Or how about giving your pastor a copy of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s interview calling on priests to celebrate Mass facing liturgical East. As the Vatican’s liturgy head, his counsel is invaluable. If we commit ourselves to spreading the truth in our own families, parishes, and neighborhoods we will be acting according to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and will be answering Christ’s great commission to go forth and teach.

To fight heresy and proclaim the truth is to demonstrate real love! What better place to start than in our own families and communities!


1 PEW Survey: US Catholics Open to Non-Traditinal Families, Sept. 2, 2015, online at:

2 The Constitution of the United States of America, Bill of Rights, Amendment 1, ratified December 15, 1791.

3 Seymour, Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1996. Pg. 18.

4 De Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America, New York, N.Y: Signet Classics, Pg. 154.

5 Paulist publishing disseminates the work of heretics like Charles Curran and Richard Rohr among others.

6 Pope Leo XIII, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, encyclical letter on Americanism, January 22, 1899, online at:,

7 John F. Kennedy, speech to Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Sept. 12, 1960, online at:

8 Land O’Lakes Conference and Statement:

9 Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi, paragraph 3.

10 Ibid, paragraph 7.

11 Ibid, paragraph 17.

12 Ibid, paragraph 22.

13 William Kirkpatrick, Feeling Good vs. Doing Good, Crisis Magazine, May 26, 2016, online at:

14 Fr. James Schall, S.J. The Great Thirst, The Catholic Thing, May 24, 2016, online at:

15 Pascendi, paragraph 57.

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