"My Break With Roman Catholicism"
(Editor's Note: This is the first portion of a speech delivered by Emmett McLoughlin to a large assembly of people in Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C., last January 21. Mr. McLoughlin is one of the most distinguished citizens of Arizona, and is founder and head of Memorial Hospital in Phoenix.)
"We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness in this world, against spiritual ,wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:110,12)
It is not unusual for people to change their religious affiliations. It is not unusual for ministers of Protestant denominations to give up the ministry and become farmers, or bricklayers, or salesmen. But it is considered very unusual for Roman Catholic priests to leave the priesthood. One-third of the class with which I was ordained have deserted the hierarchy. I know ten priests who have quit from St. Mary's Church in Phoenix where I lived for fourteen years. I personally know approximately one hundred ex-Roman Catholic priests. The number of priests quitting the priesthood is kept as secret as possible.
According to the best estimates I have been able to find, at least 30 percent of all Roman priests leave Rome. There are 45,000 priests in the United States. If my experience holds true, more than 10,000 of them will leave the Catholic priesthood.
Most ex-priests, because of fear of persecution, fear of their own families and fear of starvation, slip into large cities and deliberately become lost and anonymous in an attempt to start their lives anew.
You hear only vague rumors of them or if they appear in a Protestant pulpit they are denounced by local Catholic clergy and laity as being either fake priests or liars.
No one can accuse me of being a fake Roman priest. I was a priest in Phoenix, Arizona, from 1934 to 1948. I heard the confessions of thousands of Phoenix Catholics. I baptized hundreds of them and I buried a great many of them. I cannot be accused of being a liar because the experiences that led to my break with Rome took place openly in Phoenix. The story was in the newspapers and on the radio and the correspondence and documents involved are in a safety deposit box in the Valley National I do not wish to rantingly denounce Roman Catholicism. I wish only very briefly to tell how I was indoctrinated in a Catholic seminary, how I broke with the Catholic Church and its priesthood; what I found when I got out of it; what the Catholic Church did to me in the process and what warning that might give you as a danger to your freedom and that of the America we all love.
Free Americans such as you are have no conception of the indoctrination, the walling in, the mental inbreeding that takes place in the training of a Catholic priest.
The courses last twelve years. I began in St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, California, in, 1922, and finished when I was sent to Phoenix in 1934.
Upon a boy's entrance to a seminary there begins twelve years of the most thorough and effective intellectual indoctrination that the world has ever known.
It begins gently, with a blending of the legitimate pleasures of boyhood, the stimulus of competition in studies and the pageantry of the forms of an ancient religion unseen in an ordinary parish church. It ends twelve years later with a rigidity of mental barriers, of intellectual processes, of medieval superstitions and religious concepts as archaic as those of the Buddhist monks upon the isolated, frozen mountains of Tibet.
Subtly we were indoctrinated in Catholicism to the exclusion of all other thinking. Attendance at mass was daily and compulsory. So were community morning and evening prayers. All textbooks, even in high school courses, were written by Catholic authors. No daily papers were permitted nor were non-Catholic magazines.
Radios for the use of Junior Seminarians were forbidden. The priests, and all the teachers were priests, were permitted a radio in their supervised recreation hall. We were not permitted to enter that hall. We were allowed to hear Notre Dame play USC by means of a speaker placed in the window and beamed to us outside. Of course, on the morning of such games we all prayed at mass that God would vindicate the Faith through the victory of Notre Dame.
During these years of the seclusion from American life the indoctrination in the "spirit" of the Catholic Church becomes so intense that I felt that I alone was a childlike, but even childish. We belonged to what we firmly believed to be the only enduring organization in the world — the Roman Catholic Church, and through it we belonged to God.
It is my firm belief that every young man of the thirteen of us, kneeling before the Archbishop Cantwell on ordination day in June 1933 was so thoroughly indoctrinated in his belief in the Roman Catholic Church that he sincerely believed that his was the greatest privilege given to mortal man, that nothing else mattered, nor friends, nor relatives, nor country — only the culmination of his dreams of many years to hear the Archbishop pronounce the awesome words, "Thou art a priest forever, according to the Order of Melchesidech." To himself and to all the Roman Catholic world he was "Alter Christus" — "another Christ."
normal Christian, privileged to commune with God, that the American way of life was a pagan, sinful thing, a rebirth of the Roman Empire and destined to the same disgraceful doom in the ashes of future history. I came to believe that the American government is to be tolerated though wrong; tolerated because it gives unlimited freedom to the Catholic Church; wrong because it gives freedom to other churches. I came to believe that the ideal form of government is the one in which I was living in my seclusion of spirit, the day when the Papacy made kings and the power to govern came from God to the king through his "representative" the Pope. My boyhood concept of civics, of the rights of man to the processes of law and of government through the consent of the governed faded away under the constant repetition of the teachings of Thomas Aquinas and the moral theologians. The Constitution of America and the laws of its states dimmed into the trivialities in comparison with the all powerful Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. I became in all truth a citizen of the church living, by accident, in the United States.
The most important aspect of this prolonged indoctrination is the identification of the Roman church with God and the identification of all church superiors with the Roman church and therefore with God.
I had to learn to crush the lusts of the flesh by fastings, self denial and even physical torture. Many Americans have read stories of the ascetics and hermits of the early middle ages of Christianity torturing themselves by wearing hair shirts, fastening chains about their wrists and sleeping on boards or in bare coffins. But it might surprise them to know that in the senior serminaries for Franciscan priests in the United States there hangs inside the door of each cell, or bedroom, a scourge. It is made of several strands of heavy cord, each knotted at the ends. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening at 5:45 o'clock we closed the doors of our cells and to the chant of the "Miserere" removed our underwear and "scourged our flesh to bring it into submission."
But we were not unhappy. After years of seclusion and indoctrination, we knew no other world. We were unaware of our indoctrination of fear. We thought it was love. We were constantly told so. We had come to accept celibacy as supernatural — not unnatural. The simple pleasures granted us, permission to talk to each other at times, an occasional picnic, a glass of wine on special feasts, satisfied souls that had become not merely I was a Catholic priest III
in Phoenix for fourteen years. During that time I had a part not only in the strictly churchly duties of saying mass, hearing confessions, performing baptisms, marriages and the other church functions but also I had some part in the civic and social life of Phoenix, I helped in the development of the public housing program, the Arizona State Board of Health, and the building and operation of Memorial Hospital.
My break with Rome was a gradual thing. It began not with the realization that Roman doctrines were false but with the feeling that Roman morals were wrong. It took me ten years to make the decision.
It would take hours to go into details, but briefly I became thoroughly disillusioned with — (1) the lack of charity within the church and its institutions, especially in sisters' hospitals; (2) the lack of consistency between the church's teachings and practice, especially on inter-racialism; (3) the unnaturalness and harmfulness of Catholic teachings on the celibacy of the clergy and birth control among the laity, and (4) the church's greed for money.
The natural question that would occur to an independent American Protestant is: if you had lost faith or confidence in your church why wait ten years to leave it? The answer is — fear. The hold of the Roman Catholic hierarchy upon its clergy- is not the bond of love nor of loyalty nor of religion. It is the almost unbreakable chain of fear. Fear of hell; fear of family; fear of the public, and fear of destitution, deprivation and insecurity. I firmly believe that in place of the thirty percent of the clergy who actually leave the priesthood, seventy-five percent would do so if it were not for the fear that is constantly instilled into them.
Most priests, torn between the intellectual realization that they have been betrayed by the hierarchy and the fear of family reaction, hesitate and live on through barren years in the priesthood.
I, like every priest, was taught through the years that anyone who takes his hand from the plow and looks back will not only be cursed by God but will be rejected by the public. Catholics would despise me as a traitor. Non-Catholics would sneer at me as one who has violated his solemn promises and therefore as one who cannot be trusted with responsibility or even the most menial job. Examples are pointed out of priests who have strayed, who have starved, and who have groveled back to the hierarchy, sick, drunken, broken in spirit, begging to do penance for the sake of clothes on their backs and food in their bellies. The ex-priests who are successful are never mentioned.
If it had not been for our hospital I might still be in the Roman Catholic Church leading a life of misery and frustration.
Memorial Hospital, or St. Monica's, was founded on two principles, both contrary to the Catholic Sisters' Hospitals. The first was that it is possible to train together as nurses, girls of all races. The Catholic Church teaches that there should be no distinction of race. Her doctrine of the "Mystical Body of Christ" welds all people into a physical unity. The Catholic Church does not have the "nerve" to practice this teaching. Most Catholic nursing schools will not accept girls of all races.
The second principle is that it is possible to give emergency care to everybody and still survive. Sisters' hospitals as a rule will not do this.
The Arizona Board of Nurse Examineers with a nun as its president refused to approve our school until we sued them and forced approval. Our students have come from all races and all sections of the country. They live together, study together and work together. There has never been an interracial argument in the nine years of the school's existence. Our nursing graduates, of all races have been accepted in hospitals everywhere. The interracial pattern is not confined to the nursing school. Om oldest employee, in length of service, is a Negro girl — the senior posting machine operator of our business office Negroes function in all capacities — secretaries, laboratory technicians, clerks, cooks, nurses and ward clerks. One of our Negro janitors became an x-ray technician and organized the Arizona section of American Registry of X-ray Technicians. He is now its state president. Three graduates of Howard University are among the three hundred doctors on our medical staff and one of them trained with us as a medical resident.
The interracial aspects of our hospital were so successful that they accented the shameful hypocrisy of the Catholic St. Joseph's hospital in Phoenix that under the Sisters of Mercy would hire a Negro only as a flunky.
Our policy of rendering emergency care to every accident case before asking financial questions became so well known that ambulance drivers and law enforcement officers brought the injured to us from the very doorsteps of the city's other hospitals . . . . and they still do. We have cared for 150,000 emergency cases-75,000 of them free of charge. And our doors are still open.
It was inevitable that the nuns and the hierarchy should squirm under the double thorns of racial equality and free medical care. They began accusing me of many things. They said I did not pray enough, I was not on time for meals, I did not have enough respect for nuns. They contended that running a hospital was a material thing, unbecoming a priest. They demanded that I give it up and be prepared to obey an order to leave Phoenix.
The Franciscan provincial superior demanded particularly that I stop our care of the injured, the maimed and the sick. "Let them die on the streets," he told me, "they are the responsibility of the city of Phoenix, not of the Roman Catholic Church."
The night that conversation took place I finally made up my mind. I would not leave Phoenix or our hospital. Instead I would leave the priesthood and the Catholic Church. I did so December 1, 1948.