“God hates the First Amendment more than He hates abortion!” With these words, Father Jonathan Loop, a priest of the traditional Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), began his sermon one Sunday in the Fall of 2020. If it was Fr. Loop’s intent to grab our attention from the start of his homily, he certainly succeeded in our case. From the pulpit of Immaculate Conception Church in Post Falls, Idaho, USA, Fr. Loop preached to hundreds of faithful that morning, beginning by reminding us how much more hateful violations of the first three Commandments are, compared to the latter seven, since the former are sins against the Honor of God. No Catholic would disagree with the concept, in principle, that murder is indeed less offensive to God than dishonoring His Sovereign Majesty. But Father then defined for his audience that, in the spectrum of grievousness, the sin of abortion comes under the Fifth Commandment since, he contended, abortion is murder. We will have more to say on this point later on; but suffice it to say that since abortion is the murder of an unbaptized child, we are not just dealing with killing, but with what most traditional theologians would agree is the denial of the child to ever enjoy the Beatific Vision.
So, insisting that abortion is killing and nothing more, he contrasted murder with the affront to God for not recognizing the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which he described as a blatant violation of the First Commandment, and therefore much worse than murder. Sins against the First Commandment, Father explained, are sins against God Himself and His Honor, and often result from the refusal of mankind to give Almighty God His due. Religious liberty, he noted, was offensive to God because it allowed false religions an equal footing with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
It was then that Fr. Loop executed a clever sleight-of-hand by describing the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as enshrining religious liberty as a fundamental tenet of our nascent country. He insisted that the First Amendment is anti-Catholic because it contradicts the First Commandment. This, he said, is therefore an affront against the Honor of God, so much more serious a violation of the Divine Law than killing. Presumably, Father expected us all to agree with his syllogism, to wit:
— if “A” (the First Amendment’s wording prevents the Catholic Church from being declared and recognized as the one and only Church of the new nation — which he contends is a direct offense against God and a violation of the First Commandment), and
— if “B” (abortion is murder, much less odious to God than denying God His due),
— then “C” (God surely hates the First Amendment more than he hates abortion).
Of course, for a syllogism to be valid, each of its premises must be factual, which then should lead to a valid conclusion. As we shall see, Father was establishing his own terms, and leading his audience right along with these erroneous definitions. But first, what exactly does the First Amendment, the first of the ten articles of the Bill of Rights, say? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Apparently this is the heinous affront to God that Fr. Loop finds unacceptable.
You are probably asking, dear reader, why we are only now raising the issue of a misleading sermon from many months ago. Well, frankly, there were so many other issues that seemed to take precedence that after an amicable discussion we had with Fr. Loop in January of this year on his First Amendment sermon (you can read about another topic we broached in that same meeting here), we hoped to let the issue die a quiet death. Unfortunately, Fr. Loop persisted in publicly promoting his contempt for the First Amendment through a recent (June 2021) podcast on the SSPX district website. For some time now, the U.S. district of the SSPX has been featuring regular podcasts entitled “The Crisis in the Church Series”. In each of these, a different Society priest gives a talk on some aspect of the current crisis affecting Holy Mother Church. We were dismayed when we became aware of Crisis Series #28, “Is Religious Liberty Worse Than Abortion?”, wherein Father resurrects his arguments from his sermon last Fall. In his podcast, he persisted in his historically and theologically erroneous assertion regarding the First Amendment, dismissing any consideration of the valid Catholic concept of religious toleration as a valid reason for allowing, for the greater good, citizens to worship according to their beliefs in a multi-sectarian society.
Let’s stop right there for a moment. Some of you have asked us why we — largely untrained in moral theology — take it upon ourselves to fight error disseminated by those who should be preaching Truth. The simple answer is that we live by St. Thomas More’s motto: “Qui tacet consentire,”meaning, “he who is silent consents.” We do not have a personal axe to grind with Fr. Loop and this is not an ad hominem attack against him. It is a defense of the truth about the founding of our nation. Now that Father has extended to the SSPX internet audience his faulty historical perspective, we feel compelled to make the truth of the matter known. It is therefore important for us to clear up some of the misconceptions you may receive from watching Fr. Loop’s hour-long-plus podcast or having heard his sermon last Fall.
For those who do not wish to spend over an hour watching the recent podcast, “Is Religious Liberty Worse than Abortion?” — again, by the same priest who used the pulpit last Fall to express his personal angst with the First Amendment — we will summarize it for you with a synopsis of the salient points from Father’s podcast:
1. This is difficult for American Catholics to understand because they have been steeped in error.
2. The First Amendment is a direct attack against the Honor of God, whereas abortion is murder — much less grievous.
3. Catholic states have certain duties of government, including suppressing false worship.
4. The First Amendment is therefore “awful” and an insult to God.
5. Enlightenment philosopher John Locke was a major influence on the Founding Fathers, especially his belief that “religious strife resulted from religion being too involved with the state”.
6. The First Amendment promotes indifferentism and “separation of church and state” and “makes possible” abortion.
The simple fact of the matter is that we Catholics should feel blessed for having the protection of the First Amendment. In 1787, the year the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in that summer’s sweltering heat, Catholics comprised approximately one-half of one percent. One-half of one percent! That’s 0.5% ! If it had not been for the hard work of Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore (regularly derided by “trads” as an “Americanist,” though it is likely that those using the term do not even know what it means), and his close friendship with the Father of Our Country, George Washington, Catholics in the new United States would be relegated to second-class status. There. That is the historical fact. If you do not wish to read any further, you have really all you need to understand that Fr. Loop’s repugnance toward the First Amendment is grossly misplaced.
We will not argue each of Fr. Loop’s points listed above, nor do we need to. Fortunately, another SSPX priest, Father Christopher Hunter, anticipated all of Fr. Loop’s arguments by thirty years. In his 1991 book, The Strange Spirit of Solange Hertz: A Study in Disinformation, Fr. Hunter effectively dismantles the arguments against the founding of America. At ninety-six pages, including appendices and bibliography, it is a relatively small book. But it is thoroughly researched and has sixty-five footnotes referencing such authoritative Catholic scholars as St. Robert Bellarmine, Cardinal Billot, Fr. John C. Rager, and Alfred O’Rahilly, to name just a few. Fr. Christopher Hunter was ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1982 and has been posted at St. Mary’s, Kansas, Post Falls, Idaho, and Veneta, Oregon (where he currently resides). Fr. Hunter provided a copy of the first edition of his book to us during his tenure in Post Falls, many years ago, at which time he explained to us that he had become alarmed as early as 1976 — our Bicentennial Year — by the serious historical errors Catholics were so readily accepting as fact regarding the founding of our country, and the origin and nature of its governing documents. (We spoke by phone with Fr. Hunter recently and he offered to send us a copy of the expanded second edition of his book, which we are anxiously awaiting.) Fr. Hunter wrote his original first edition in response to a series of America-bashing articles by a somewhat mysterious author named Solange Hertz that appeared in The Remnant newspaper during the late 80s. Using the vast amounts of information from all his years of research, Fr. Hunter decided to condense the main points of his research into a readable book. Hence, his treatise mentioned above. He also wrote articles for the SSPX Angelus magazine in the late 80s to counter what he saw as a worrisome trend among Catholics ignorant of history.
Now, it is important to note that those who have disagreed with Fr. Hunter have never been able to defeat his well-researched articles and book, which they tried so hard to do over the years, so they resorted to ad hominem arguments and name-calling. For example, his Angelus article debunking the myth that George Washington was a life-long Freemason, and even showing evidence that the Father of our Country died a Catholic after receiving Last Rites from a Jesuit friend, brought forth calls of “Liberal” and “Americanist”; but the mudslingers could do nothing to disprove the veracity of Fr. Hunter’s well-researched writings. As an aside, George Washington has always been a favorite target of America-bashing “trads”. They relish showing a painting of our First President in a Masonic apron, even though in Washington’s own words, written in a letter to dispel the belief that he had been a life-long Freemason, he said he had only been in a Lodge “once or twice” in the thirty years prior to his disavowal. The real significance of George Washington for Catholics is his close friendship with Bishop John Carroll, the first bishop of the nascent United States. It was this relationship that made the First Amendment (and the concomitant protection of Catholics’ rights) possible and it has been cited by popes like Pius XII, who wrote that those “ties of friendship and clasping, so to speak, each other’s hand, form a picture for their descendants, a lesson to all future generations, and a proof that reverence for the Faith of Christ is a holy and established principle of the American people, seeing that it is the foundation of morality and decency, consequently the source of prosperity and progress.” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical letter, Sertum Laetitiae, 1939)
Unfortunately, most of the younger priests of the SSPX do not know of Fr. Hunter’s work and were indeed indoctrinated in seminary with one-sided arguments by those who had an agenda. (We will leave the Richard Williamson – Charles Coulombe connection, which partially explains the resurgence of “trad” America-bashing, for another time.) It would therefore behoove those less knowledgeable, like Fr. Loop, to understand the real history of our country, and the context in which those original documents, like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers were drawn up. In fact, it could be argued that if you are going to give a Sunday sermon to hundreds of faithful, and if you further intend to give a podcast talk that would likely be seen by hundreds (maybe thousands) more, in Justice you should do your due diligence and provide a balanced appraisal of the subject. This was certainly not done. In fact, toward the end of the podcast in question, Fr. Loop confesses that when he was in college, he was already biased against the Constitution, telling his viewers that he wrote a thesis at that time entitled, “Is the First Amendment compatible with Catholicism?” In the video, he immediately answers his own question: “Nope!”
Consequently, we suggest, as a starting point, that Fr. Loop avail himself of Fr. Hunter’s book. A full chapter is devoted to his fellow “traditional” Catholics who disparage the First Amendment of the Constitution. In that chapter, entitled, “Welcome to the ACLU!,” Fr. Hunter makes excellent points regarding the founding of our country, and asks questions we should always pose to those whose historical ignorance leads them to erroneous assumptions and conclusions. Fr. Hunter provides his readers an excellent analysis of the “trad” argument, and how “a few appeals to the Church’s social teaching mixed with personal opinion can sound convincing, . . . prevents a thoughtful analysis of the issue, and obviates the need to investigate the matter.” He asks this simple question “. . . for those who take a cavalier attitude on the question of the First Amendment: If you, as a Catholic, were present at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, what would you have done (p. 67)?” There is so much more in Fr. Hunter’s little gem of a book that we strongly recommend it to all with an interest in learning the truth about the founding of our country.
Another well-researched source, our copy of which we would gladly lend to Fr. Loop, is a 2020 book entitled America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, by Robert R. Reilly. Mr. Reilly is a devout Catholic, and his books, published by Ignatius Press, are always edifying to read. An earlier work dealing with constitutional issues is Mr. Reilly’s 2014 book, Making Gay Okay, detailing the rise of the homosexual movement and its inordinate influence in our culture. It is essential reading for those who wish to understand how the so-called LGBT agenda was foisted on the unsuspecting American public and cemented by a foolishly sympathetic judiciary that defined an “autonomy of self”. With respect to his most recent book, America on Trial, Mr. Reilly rejects the notion that those like Fr. Loop can legitimately lay the blame for “same-sex marriage” (or abortion) on the founding of America: “Although I agree with their withering and eloquent appraisal of modernity, they are entirely mistaken in finding the Founding complicit in it. Their misdiagnosis diverts attention from the real causes of decline and therefore frustrates, in fact nearly eliminates, any hope of recovery.” Mr. Reilly shows a clear, unbroken line running from the ancient philosophers like Aristotle, to St. Thomas Aquinas, and thence through the English philosophers and political theorists to our Founding Fathers. Despite Fr. Loop’s insistence to the contrary in his podcast, Mr. Reilly convincingly shows that John Locke was not opposed to government protection of morality, but that due to Locke’s first-hand witnessing of the incessant sectarian strife of his time, was opposed to any one religion using governmental authority to impose its credo on all others.
To reiterate, it is fortunate that the Framers of the Constitution had read and understood the ideas of Locke — ideas that did not originate with John Locke and the Enlightenment but were in fact a continuation and development of those of philosophers and political theorists through the ages. This unique and exceptional idea (yes, it was indeed exceptional) was what prevented Catholics, who were being imprisoned and even sent to the gallows in Great Britain by the government of King George III, prevented Catholics from being relegated to an inferior status in the new country. It is hard to understand how ostensibly educated and supposedly well-read Catholics cannot or will not see that our Founding Fathers, who declared independence from a tyrannical and Catholic-hating monarch (a German, by the way, who couldn’t even speak proper English) and were likely influenced by a plethora of philosophers, most certainly valued the great Catholic apologists Bellarmine and Suarez. In fact, according to both Fr. Hunter and Mr. Reilly, the ideas of Bellarmine and Suarez (each of whom successfully argued against the Protestant James I’s theory of “Divine Right of Kings”) clearly resonate in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
We would be remiss if we did not point out that Fr. Loop gives us a strange view of the heinous crime of abortion in his podcast. He repeatedly refers to it as a violation of the Fifth Commandment; yet, the fact that these human beings are being murdered without the benefit of receiving Baptism, elevates the sin of abortion to a much more grievous offense. Being denied the Beatific Vision, these souls, who according to the Baltimore Catechism were created by Almighty God to be “happy with Him in heaven,” will, according to traditional theologians, never enjoy that great privilege. It is arguably akin to dishonoring God when you directly interfere with the Divine Intent. It is different than murder of an adult, who has had a chance to gain salvation through the life-giving waters of Baptism. Consequently, it is presumptuous to say that abortion is the same as killing or murder. It is so much worse!
Furthermore, if Canon Law envisions, under canonical penalties, latae sententiae excommunication for those involved in obtaining, providing, or counseling someone to have an abortion, what about transgressions against what Fr. Loop would say is the much more grievous sin of dishonoring God through the First Amendment? This raises the very real question of whether Catholics who enter the military, upon swearing the requisite solemn oath before God to “uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” are not themselves excommunicated for offending God’s Honor. This may sound, at first blush, a bit far-fetched; but it is the logical extension of Fr. Loop’s argument that the First Amendment is “hateful to God”. It could even be argued that in swearing this very public solemn oath before God to devote oneself to the defense of the Constitution that is, according to Fr. Loop, “displeasing or hateful to Him” — something that violates the first and most important of the Ten Commandments — one would have to publicly abjure this action to have the excommunication lifted.
Perhaps Fr. Loop does not fully understand the implications and ramifications of his assertions regarding the grievous nature of the very Constitution that every military member is sworn to defend. This is not a strawman argument; Fr. Loop’s accusation against the First Amendment can only be taken one way. Because this is not a light matter, let us re-emphasize the point: by condemning the First Amendment of the Constitution, Fr. Loop is effectively condemning, as well, those who swear a solemn oath before Almighty God to “uphold, protect, and defend” that Constitution. Yet the ramifications are even more far-reaching than Fr. Loop chose to explore in his podcast. We are thinking here of those who hold high office or public positions in the Church (as well as the SSPX) who would have to publicly repudiate past actions, lest scandal be given and others follow in their footsteps. We have never heard SSPX District Superior Fr. John Fullerton publicly abjure the oath he took when he was commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force. There have been untold thousands of bishops and priests who served in the United States military, including chaplain Fr. Emil Kapaun, whose heroism resulted in his being awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor. Not one single bishop or priest has apparently ever felt compelled to publicly repudiate what Fr. Loop in effect tells us is fundamentally inimical to God’s Honor. We know of no fellow Catholic laity who, like us, chose to serve their country but then repudiated their military service due to concerns over the First Amendment. Highly decorated American Catholic heroes like former POW Commander Jeremiah Denton, Colonel Hal Moore (of Ia Drang fame) and Bronze Star recipient General John Ripley, all now deceased, would never think of abjuring their solemn oaths to serve honorably and courageously our beloved nation. Yet, Fr. Loop’s anti-First Amendment stance logically translates into the inescapable conclusion that since it is an affront to the honor of God, those who take a solemn oath to defend the Constitution are guilty of a grave sin.
Perhaps that is the aim of Fr. Loop’s “education” of the faithful of Immaculate Conception Church and of his podcast audience. Moreover, since Fr. Loop is the Principal of Immaculate Conception Academy, one might be forgiven if one suspects that the boys in his charge are being imbued with ideals that are inconsistent with the genuinely traditional understanding of a Catholic citizen’s civic duties. We may never know why Father has been on his anti-First Amendment soapbox in a time when surely there are more significant issues affecting Holy Mother Church. After all, we have known since March of 2020 that Francis was targeting the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), thanks to Bishop Peter Christensen of Boise informing his flock at that time that the Vatican was soliciting input on a nine-point questionnaire regarding the TLM in every diocese of the world. Everyone knew something was going to happen (though Traditionis Custodes is even worse than we anticipated). Moreover, for months prior to July 16, the internet had been full of credible reports regarding a Vatican plan to suppress the TLM. Yet rather than give us some assistance in spiritually preparing for that eventuality, and despite the podcast series theme, “Crisis in the Church,” we have a re-hash of the discredited anti-American sentiments that we have heard ad nauseam for more than three decades. It is time to stop propagating the blatantly erroneous contention that our nation’s decline is due to the errors of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. On the contrary, says Robert Reilly, “America’s decline is not to be discovered in the Founding principles, but in their disavowal.” Let us pray, as we do whenever we sing that beautiful patriotic song, America the Beautiful: “America, America, God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.” It’s what the Founding Fathers tried to give us; it’s what we must reclaim as our rightful inheritance.