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The difficulties in the way of the organization of the Catholic Church for the United States were not less serious, and were overcome with equal success, but not without a prolonged struggle against opposition from within. It is not easy for us, in view either of the antecedent or of the subsequent history, to realize the extreme feebleness of American Catholicism at the birth of our nation. According to an official "Relation on the State of Religion in the United States," presented by the prefect apostolic in 1785, the total number of Catholics in the entire Union was 18,200, exclusive of an unascertainable number, destitute of priests, in the Mississippi Valley. The entire number of the clergy was twenty-four, most of them former members of the Society of Jesuits, that had been suppressed in 1773 by the famous bull, _Dominus ac Redemptor_, of Clement XIV. Sorely against their will, these missionaries, hitherto subject only to the discipline of their own society, were transformed into secular priests, under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of London. After the establishment of independence, with the intense jealousy felt regarding British influence, and by none more deeply and more reasonably felt than by the Catholics, this jurisdiction was impracticable. The providentially fit man for the emergency was found in the Rev. John Carroll, of an old Maryland family distinguished alike for patriotism and for faithfulness to Catholic principles. In June, 1784, he was made prefect apostolic over the Catholic Church in the United States, and the dependence on British jurisdiction was terminated.

When, however, it was proposed that this provisional arrangement should be superseded by the appointment of a bishop, objections not unexpected were encountered from among the clergy. Already we have had occasion to note the jealousy of episcopal authority that is felt by the clergy of the regular orders. The lately disbanded Jesuits, with characteristic flexibility of self-adaptation to circumstances, had at once reincorporated themselves under another name, thus to hold the not inconsiderable estates of their order in the State of Maryland. But the plans of these energetic men either to control the bishop or to prevent his appointment were unsuccessful. In December, 1790, Bishop Carroll, having been consecrated in England, arrived and entered upon his see of Baltimore.

Difficulties, through which there were not many precedents to guide him, thickened about the path of the new prelate. It was well both for the church and for the republic that he was a man not only versed in the theology and polity of his church, but imbued with American principles and feelings. The first conflict that vexed the church under his administration, and which for fifty years continued to vex his associates and successors, was a collision between the American sentiment for local and individual liberty and self-government, and the absolutist spiritual government of Rome. The Catholics of New York, including those of the Spanish and French legations, had built a church in Barclay Street, then on the northern outskirt of the city; and they had the very natural and just feeling that they had a right to do what they would with their own and with the building erected at their charges. They proceeded accordingly to put in charge of it priests of their own selection. But they had lost sight of the countervailing principle that if they had a right to do as they would with their building, the bishop, as representing the supreme authority in the church, had a like right to do as he would with his clergy. The building was theirs; but it was for the bishop to say what services should be held in it, or whether there should be any services in it at all, in the Roman Catholic communion. It is surprising how often this issue was made, and how repeatedly and obstinately it was fought out in various places, when the final result was so inevitable. The hierarchical power prevailed, of course, but after much irritation between priesthood and people, and "great loss of souls to the church."[216:1] American ideas and methods were destined profoundly and beneficially to affect the Roman Church in the United States, but not by the revolutionary process of establishing "trusteeism," or the lay control of parishes. The damaging results of such disputes to both parties and to their common interest in the church put the two parties under heavy bonds to deal by each other with mutual consideration. The tendency, as in some parallel cases, is toward an absolute government administered on republican principles, the authoritative command being given with cautious consideration of the disposition of the subject. The rights of the laity are sufficiently secured, first, by their holding the purse, and, secondly, in a community in which the Roman is only one of many churches held in like esteem and making like claims to divine authority, by their holding in reserve the right of withdrawal.

Other and unwonted difficulties for the young church lay in the Babel confusion of races and languages among its disciples, and in the lack of public resources, which could be supplied no otherwise than by free gift. Yet another difficulty was the scant supply of clergy; but events which about this time began to spread desolation among the institutions of Catholic Europe proved to be of inestimable benefit to the ill-provided Catholics of America. Rome might almost have been content to see the wasting and destruction in her ancient strongholds, for the opportune reinforcement which it brought, at a critical time, to the renascent church in the New World. More important than the priests of various orders and divers languages, who came all equipped for mission work among immigrants of different nationalities, was the arrival of the Sulpitians of Paris, fleeing from the persecutions of the French Revolution, ready for their special work of training for the parish priesthood. The founding of their seminary in Baltimore in 1791, for the training of a native clergy, was the best security that had yet been given for the permanence of the Catholic revival. The American Catholic Church was a small affair as yet, and for twenty years to come was to continue so; but the framework was preparing of an organization sufficient for the days of great things that were before it.