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Francis Lally

Monsignor Francis Lally, editor of one of the most influential Catholic newspapers in America, the Boston Pilot, talks to Wallace about a lack of understanding between Catholics and non-Catholics, the separation between church and state, dissent, diversity, and religion.

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Guest: Monsignor Francis J. Lally
June 22, 1958

WALLACE: This is Monsignor Francis Lally, editor of one of the most influential Catholic newspapers in America, The Boston Pilot. If you want to hear about the function of our churches in a free society ... about the issue of church and state ... and the means by which our religions influence our society's morality, our laws, and our culture ... we'll go after those stories with Monsignor Lally in just a moment.


WALLACE: Good evening, I'm Mike Wallace. Religion is a powerful force in our free society. Tonight we'll examine the role played by one religion in particular, the Roman Catholic Church ... and we hope that this will help to clarify the nature and the role of all our religions. Our guest is Monsignor Francis Lally, editor of the Boston Pilot, the oldest Catholic weekly newspaper in the country. He is a member of the executive committee of the United States National Commission on UNESCO. In interviewing Monsignor Lally I will occasionally ask questions reflecting an opposing point of view, in order to explore certain controversial issues. Father Lally, first let me ask you this. I think that perhaps you would agree that there's a certain lack of understanding in the United States between Catholics and some non-Catholics. This has been summed up by the Catholic writer John Cogley who has written that there is quote "a conviction or a hazy feeling that the Roman Catholic Church represents a threat to democracy and the American way of life. A fear that Catholicism and democracy are incompatible." Mr. Cogley of course deplores the fact the such a notion exists. How do you account for it? What are the causes of this attitude?

LALLY: I think I should begin by saying that I agree with John Cogley that there is such a disposition prevalent in America and I think it is perhaps less now than it was formerly and we can hope it might be even less in the future. Its origins would probably be hard to explain. For my own part, I think that they come out of the past and live on the traditions of an earlier generation passing through our time. For example, each of the religious groups in the United States has a short history here during the days of the republic. This history has been, in the case of Catholics, a difficult one actually. The mass immigrations of the last century, for example, brought literally millions of Catholic people, some from — in large measure — northern Europe, some from central Europe and southern Europe, to the United States. They came at a time when the country really couldn't absorb them totally and as a result we had some very serious anti-Catholic reactions. We don't like to recall these because they were unhappy days — churches burned, convents burned, and so on. But this is past now, fortunately past. However, the disposition, the tradition, the social attitude that was born in those days still lives, unfortunately.

WALLACE: Is it a social attitude born of perhaps of fear on the part of certain non-Catholics that because of the authoritarianism of the Catholic church and the fact that now one person in four in the United States, I am told, is a Catholic, that perhaps — the feeling is that the Catholics will take over certain areas?

LALLY: I don't think that's the reason. I think the reason really is that there is a subconscious disposition created from an earlier time. I think what you've refereed to is the conscious explanation people try to give for that disposition here and now — they're trying to find the reason for social attitude that actually has a totally different reason.

WALLACE: Well, let's look a little bit closer, a little more specifically. The main issue would seem to be the separation of church and state, one of the bulwarks of our democracy. Critics of the church say that a Catholic request for federal aid to parochial schools, for instance, would threaten this separation. Now what I would like to hear from you, as a Catholic priest, is this: What does separation of church and state mean to you? Where should the church, any church, say to itself "Hands off?"

LALLY: General Catholic teaching, Catholic theology, that is, tells us there are two separate societies. One is the church, the spiritual society — its concern is spiritual realities. The other is the civil society — the state — and its concern, of course, is the good order of the community. The Church restricts itself to the spiritual life, the state restricts itself to the civil order; but they meet — they must meet — in the individual citizen who is both citizen and believer. He belongs to the church and he is a member of the state. There is where the area of conflict comes in. This is the impossibility of announcing a total separation because they must meet in the person.

WALLACE: If I may quote from the New York Times a dispatch from Rome, in 1954, perhaps this focuses the issue even more. The quote goes as follows. It says: "According to Pope Pius XII the belief that the church's authority is limited to purely religious matters is in error. Social problems, whether merely social or socio-political, were singled out by the Pope as being not outside the authority and care of the church." What does that mean, when the Pope says that social and political problems are within the authority and care of the particular church?

LALLY: This means simply that the church cannot be restricted to the sanctuary. The church isn't just a preaching church, a sacramental church, but it's involved in the total life of the human being, which is another way of saying religion has implications in society. The church can speak on social questions. It speaks on the relationship of management and labor, for example. It speaks on unemployment. It can speak on child labor — all the things which have moral aspects and which touch upon the soul of man as well as upon his physical person.

WALLACE: When the Catholic church speaks in these areas, does it speak only for Catholics or does it not occasionally try to speak for non-Catholics as well?

LALLY: Normally the church teaching is for Catholics, to be accepted by Catholics, but the church considers its mission, its divine mission a world mission — "Go ye therefore and teach all nations" — so the church addresses itself to the total world. But the authority of the church is restricted to the baptized — those who are part of it.

WALLACE: Well, in a democracy like our own we're entitled to hold individual opinions, to debate to change laws. We protect, we even encourage dissent and diversity. Is this compatible with Catholicism, Father Lally?

LALLY: Yes, I think that's one of the problems what we really have to get understood properly in America. I think the general disposition of our non-Catholic neighbors suggests that Catholics are not interested in the open mind, the open discussion, the free forum. That's a grave mistake. Catholics believe in an open mind but not, in Chesterton's phrase, "a mind open at both ends," where everything flows in and flows out. The mind is a kind of discerning thing. It reaches out and grasps facts, new facts, new ideas, brings them to mind to be judged, to be analyzed, to be sifted. This is the process of rationality. This is a distinctly human process. The church encourages this and for centuries, of course, the church has been the upholder of the rational position in the Western world.

WALLACE: Of course, there are certain things on which the church will brook no dissent. For instance, according to Catholic doctrine, birth control is a grave sin not only for Catholics but for Protestants and Jews and everyone else. And this belief is not and never will be subject modification or change or even serious dispute. Is that not correct?

LALLY: It's not quite accurate. But it's generally correct. You wouldn't say it was sinful for non-Catholics because you couldn't read their dispositions, but the fact that the matter itself is a sin — that's true.

WALLACE: Therefore, in order to prevent the violation of God's law, as you see it, organized Catholicism does its best to prevent the dissemination of birth control information to all peoples in all countries whether those people want the information or not. Now the question is — how can this be truly consistent with the democratic principles of protecting and encouraging dissent, diversity?

LALLY: First of all, it isn't quite true to say that the church must prevent the dissemination of birth control information. That's not required in every case. But in our situation in the U.S., where this problem occurs, as in Massachusetts, Catholics are being asked not to prevent it but they are asked to cast a vote in favor of it. They are asked to act against their consciences which, of course, is impossible. I think, on the American scene — to put this in American focus — this notion of the Catholic position on birth control should be set side by side with those states which have written in their law certain Protestant sectarian doctrines. For example, the laws on gambling, laws on liquor, in certain southern states, reflect the Protestant theology. Now Catholics in general would say that civil law is not required to reflect sectarian teaching, that the Ten Commandments don't have to be written into the civil law. Catholics, for example, have a law requiring that they attend Mass on Sunday. This is a church law. But there is no reason why this should ever have to be a civil law. Similarly, Catholics refrain from eating meat on Friday. But this is never written into civil law. The teaching of the church in canon law stand alone. The church law stands by itself. It isn't necessary to have these things written into civil law, especially when the civil law applies to those who are not Catholic as well.

WALLACE: You will agree, though, that certain pressures are brought to bear by Catholic organizations, Catholic publications, and so forth to prevent the spread of, specifically, birth control information or prevent the loosening of divorce laws, let us say, that will work not only for Catholics but for non-Catholics as well?

LALLY: I think Catholics believe — for example, on the divorce laws — that a tighter divorce law, making divorce more difficult, only in very rare cases to permit it even civilly — I think this is a Catholic disposition to strengthen the total society. They are not trying to legislate for their neighbors. They simply believe that divorce is morally evil and that to allow it to become a common practice would destroy society itself. And so, acting in accordance with their consciences, they themselves work by persuasion, not by pressure, but by persuasion, to influence people to feel the same way.

WALLACE: Well, we come to the nub of a certain issue. You say that they believe one thing. I think you will agree that certain social scientists feel that divorce is probably a good thing under certain circumstances; certain scientists believe that birth control is a necessary and happy thing under certain conditions. Therefore we come to the interplay between Catholic and non-Catholic forces.

LALLY: The Catholic position there simply, Mike, would be that Catholics should persuade people to adopt their points of view if they can and the scientists or whoever these people might be who hold opposite points of view should present theirs also, so that in a simple public forum people can make the decision.

WALLACE: The point is, let's talk about religion as such. A man's religion helps to govern his political and social life, and in his religion he is influenced by both faith and reason. What's the difference between faith and reason? Is there a conflict inherent between faith and reason?

LALLY: Catholics believe that faith and reason are complementary, that one completes the other. In Catholic teaching a person prepares himself for faith, for the gift of faith — you see, faith is a gift. Catholics prepare themselves for the gift of faith by a study of the claims of the church, for example. Then faith is a divine gift with grace from God. A person accepts this in faith. Then reason reinforces faith and the implications of faith. Say, for example, by faith a man believes in the incarnation — that God became man. He believes in the redemption — that God died for the sins of mankind. He applies faith to reason and from faith draws new implications. This is really the whole science of theology: to apply reason to faith and from faith to draw new implications of religion.

WALLACE: In the context of the series that we are doing, which is a discussion of a free society and how we can help to keep ourselves free, and indeed make ourselves more free, this becomes a basic issue: Whether faith becomes blind and, by being blind, helps to enslave men in a certain sense. Now go with me a little while in what I am about to say. For instance, in 1954 Pope Pius said: "Even though to someone certain declarations of the church may not seem to be proved by the arguments put forward, his obligation to obey still remains." Does this kind of system, this kind of obligation, does it stimulate freedom of thought, intellectual vigor, social progress?

LALLY: I'm not sure that they are related actually. Faith is, in common Christian tradition, in all religions is the belief in things that are not immediately demonstrable. It's not supposed to be. If you can prove it by reason, you don't have to accept it on faith. Faith is a confidence in a revealed truth simply without its understanding, on the revelation of God. Now I'm afraid that some people have the disposition that if you commit yourself to an act of faith, any kind of belief, you cut out then any further discussion. That isn't quite true in the nature of freedom itself. To use freedom in the world you have to make decisions. Let's say you decide to take a bus to go to Park Square. So you board the bus, you're free, you make a free decision. The bus heads out to Park Square. You have committed yourself in that direction. You can't expect the bus to take you to Scollay Square. It's going to take you where it is going. So every single choice is a commitment. We use freedom in order to commit ourselves to accept truth — to find truth — so that there isn't a conflict between faith and reason. There's a joining of the two.

WALLACE: When any religious or social group has a fixed, unchangeable doctrine from God, Father Lally — again on any issue such as birth control or divorce — will it not, if it can, impose its will on those who disagree? Is it in a sense not its duty to impose its will?

LALLY: No. To impose its will suggests some kind of power policy. The church moves by persuasion. People must be made to become interested in a faith and must be led by reason to the faith, and then God by divine grace gives the faith. Impose is just the wrong word. To persuade the world, to convince the world, I think is the apostolic word. To convince the world of the claims of faith is the big thing.

WALLACE: Let me give you an example: New York Times, February 13, 1950. We read that in Tokyo General MacArthur's headquarters banned a scheduled lecture on birth control by Margaret Sanger. The Times quoted a military government source as saying: "In view of pressure from Catholic church groups it was believed impossible for Gen. MacArthur to allow her to lecture to Japanese audiences without appearing to subscribe to her views." Now, the question of faith, the question of persuasion, was really not involved there, was it Father Lally? It was a question of certain pressure, a desire to by one means or another to impose its will.

LALLY: I don't know the circumstances of the incident, of course and wouldn't want to give a judgment on it. This wouldn't be normal. It wouldn't be in keeping with Catholic teaching to deprive people of an opportunity of presenting a point of view simply because you disagreed with it. It might be thought proper to prevent the dissemination of such information if it represented a partisan point of view — one person's feelings or disposition in this regard. I wouldn't be able to judge the incident itself and I don't know whether General MacArthur did a wise or an unwise thing. And I'm not certain even that Catholic pressures were involved. Sometimes the newspapers have strange notions on these things.

WALLACE: Well, then let me put this to you. Father Francis Connell of the Catholic University of America has written: "In a distinctively Catholic country the civil rulers are justified" — this is a quote — "in repressing written or spoken attack on Catholicism — the use of the press or the mails to weaken the allegiance of Catholics towards their church and similar anti-Catholic efforts." Would you say that this honors the principle of freedom of expression in a democracy?

LALLY: Yes, I think it would be proper Catholic teaching that the civil authority should protect religious interests, that it should not permit open attacks on the church in the manner that you have described. This doesn't mean that these things are to be repressed. It doesn't mean that no one has a right to say them. The church doesn't — can't force faith upon people; you have to lead people to faith. So you allow an expression of a point of view even if you don't allow it from the housetops. You don't allow people to go around insulting religion or attacking it. That doesn't mean that you suppress. You see, the right to conscience is a very serious situation involved in the rights of conscience. Catholics believe that a man should follow his conscience. Now a persuaded person who is not a Catholic is acting according to his conscience and it is impossible to persecute him for doing that. He's acting as he should. You might try to change his conscience. You might try to lead him to a fuller understanding of what you think is the truth. But you can't force him into it.

WALLACE: But you certainly would not, within your own newspaper, have a column by a guest columnist, let us say, with an anti-Catholic point of view?

LALLY: No. We publish anti-Catholic point of view sometimes in the Pilot from time to time, as an expression of the kind of attitudes our people might meet here and there, and then we promptly persuade them of the error of these attacks.

WALLACE: Let's move to another angle, if we may, Father Lally,. For the past sixteen years Purdue University has conducted certain studies among American teenagers. Last year they released their findings and one finding was this: "Students with the greatest factual knowledge, presumably the brightest students, are the most secular — that is, they incline away from religion — while those with the lease factual knowledge are the most orthodox, the most religious.: What do you make of this?

LALLY: The findings suggest, I suppose, that the bright students are secularists and the backward ones are the believers. This, I think, if it means anything and I'm not sure that it does — having some experience in social science, I'd be anxious to see the statistics — but I would say that it's a reflection on America and not a reflection on religion. If our best students are actually deserting religion — and I don't believe this to be true across the country — then I think there is something wrong with education. I think that people who are presenting religion are not presenting it well. My disposition would be that at the present time the trend is in the opposite direction. The brightest student I know are coming interested in religion.

WALLACE: Are becoming interested in religion? Along this line, the former President of Notre Dame University, Father Cavanaugh, asked some pointed questions last year. He asked this: "Where are the Catholic Salks, Oppenheimers, and Einsteins? Why are we, the Catholics, not more prominent in television, publishing, motion pictures, painting, sculpture, music and architecture?" And Father Cavanaugh added: "Could it be that our teaching methods, Catholic teaching methods, are too didactic, catechetical — that we do not stimulate in students the spirit of critical study?" It was an interesting question from a Catholic priest.

LALLY: I think it suggest two reactions. The first one is that Catholics are conscious of the fact that it is possible to put into the education process a disposition of mind, certain feelings, which might not encourage new ideas and creative imagination. I think that the more important thing is that it suggests that Catholics have come to a point of maturity in the life of America where they are indulging in self-analysis and they are asking themselves serious questions. Actually we have produced in this last generation, I would say, some very extraordinary Americans who are Catholic. It isn't necessary to point out who they are — in the national picture there are quite a number of them. But I think the fact that we are examining ourselves and asking why we aren't doing better is a sign of maturity. I look upon Father Cavanaugh's statement, taken in its total context, as a very hopeful one.

WALLACE: But still you haven't responded to his questions. Are Catholic teaching methods too didactic, too catechetical? Is it possible that Catholics do not stimulate in students the spirit of critical study? Perhaps we can put it not just on a Catholic basis but on a totally religious basis. Could it be that religion — possibly all religion — inhibits intellect and reason, which are tools to better this world, and rather emphasize faith as a key to a better world? Is there too much dogma, in other words?

LALLY: I think not. I think the way you have expressed it is the expression of a very common fallacy. I don't think that's true. I think, however, from the point of view of the didactic, and the conformity in general — the lack of a creative and new look — Catholics reflect the general climate of America. We are living at a time when people are just not as creative as they should be. I think the whole student population of America is a good deal less exciting, less enthusiastic than it was ten or twenty years ago. This, I am afraid, is a moment in our culture when we are all passing through this, and, Catholics are passing through it with their neighbors. I don't think it's a particularly Catholic problem.

WALLACE: But we do know there are certain restrictions on what Catholics can see and hear and read. There is the NODL and the Legion of Decency. The Pope recently said the church should supervise radio and television. There is the Roman Catholic Index which is a list of books Catholics may not read unless they have special permission and at various times...

LALLY: I think all these things you have mentioned give the impression that a Catholic's life is full of stop lights. He moves forward and there is a stop light — "Don't go any farther" — "Go off in another direction." That isn't quite true. The NODL, of course, is a list of books for youngsters, for parents who are interested in what their youngsters are reading in the paperback field alone.

WALLACE: Let's come to the Index, because at various times the Index has included writings by John Milton, Victor Hugo, Descartes, Rousseau, André Gide. What's accomplished when the church restricts the reading of these?

LALLY: The Index, of course, you must remember, isn't a book that suggests that all the titles listed in it be destroyed. First of all, they probably all exist in the Vatican Library among other places. If the world was bombed, they'd find them there in the Vatican. The church doesn't believe in book burning, but it believes in restricting the use of dangerous books to those whose minds are prepared for them. People who live in our generation can appreciate the danger even of a single book — think of Mein Kampf, for example, and its widespread distribution and its misunderstanding, and what it did towards the destruction of a whole people. This is a very sinister thing. The church has, through the centuries, understood that ideas are really more dangerous than other weapons. Their use should be restricted. The dangerous ideas should be studied by those competent to study them but not scattered to the winds so that they reap a whirlwind in another generation.

WALLACE: Father Lally, a final question and we only have about half a minute for the answer, I am afraid. I think it is fair to say that in the United States there is little debate about religion; religious tensions are covered up; our newspapers and radio and television networks rarely present any kind of real criticism or questioning on religious issues. Do you think that is a healthy, sensible situation?

LALLY: No. I think it is an unfortunate situation. But I don't think the answer is to run a TV show on it or radio panel on it or treat it as if it were something marketable in the general market. Actually, the theological problems, in so far as they exist, between the churches are things that should be discussed by experts; people who are professionals in the field should get together to exchange points of view. But there should be ...

WALLACE: But there should be more of it?

LALLY: There should be a good deal more of that.

WALLACE: Thank you so much, Monsignor Lally, for coming and spending this half hour with us. Tonight we have posed certain questions designed to clarify certain religious issues, issues which to some degree confront all religions. For just as we profit from discussions in the areas of politics, science, and education, so, too, we can't help but profit from frank and open examination of our religious convictions.

WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of racial conflict in the South as seen by a Southerner. Our guest will be the editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock. You see him behind me. He's Harry Ashmore who this year won two Pulitzer Prizes — one for himself and one for his newspaper with his forceful editorials on the integration problem. Harry Ashmore now says that despite the example of Little Rock, our country is still sharply divided on the race issue, at a time when national unitycould be the price of national survival. We'll find out why he says that next week. Till then, Mike Wallace, good night.