To understand Catholic charities in the United States today, we need to remember two simple facts. First, the Catholic experience in America has been different from the Church’s history in Europe. Second, while the founders’ belief in religious liberty remains deeply ingrained in the American spirit, a new and belligerent kind of secularism, alien to the American character, now threatens the mission of Catholic charitable ministries.
It also attacks America’s historic commitment to religious freedom. Since the nation’s earliest years, the Catholic Church has worked with American civil authorities in many mutually supportive ways to advance what Thomas Jefferson called the “wholesome purposes of society.” As the country has grown, so have its challenges. And so has its relation with the Church. In the United States, we have never had a marriage of Church and state at the national level. Therefore, unlike Europe, we have also never had a bloody divorce between religious faith and public life.