The Pope & The Planet

Various scientific skeptics that global warming is predominately the product of human activity have been dis-invited from a Vatican conference on the matter. From the Washington Post:

The incident highlights how climate-change doubters tried and failed to alter the landmark papal document unveiled last week — one that saw the leader of 1 billion Catholics fuse faith and reason and come to the conclusion that “denial” is wrong…

Yet the battle lost over climate change also suggests how hard it may be for critics to blunt the power of a man who has become something of a juggernaut in an institution where change tends to unfold over decades, even centuries. More than anything, to those who doubt the human impact of global warming, the position staked out by Francis in his papal document, known as an encyclical, means a major defeat.

If one thinks back, and imagines a time when a papal decree may have actually subsequently changed the minds of millions of Catholics on matter X, then one can begin to understand the anxieties Americans in the mid-1800s had at the flood of largely illiterate and unskilled Irish Catholics immigrating to the U.S.

For starters, there were the corresponding spikes in crime and welfare requirements. As Civil War historian James McPherson writes in Battle Cry of Freedom:

Immigration during the first five years of the 1850s reached a level five times greater than a decade earlier. Most of the new arrivals were poor Catholic peasants or laborers from Ireland and Germany who crowded into the tenements of large cities. Crime and welfare costs soared. Cincinnati’s crime rate, for example, tripled between 1846 and 1853 and its murder rate increased sevenfold. Boston’s expenditures for poor relief rose threefold during the same period.

In addition to this was a common sentiment among many that such newly-arrived Catholics would be “taking orders from the Vatican”.

During this period, such concerns fueled the rise of nativist political parties such as the American Party (aka the Know-Nothings), who in short order swept state-wide 1854 elections in various New England cities (where large numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants settled) and in locales like San Francisco (where large numbers of Chinese immigrants settled.)

Think Bill the Butcher and Gangs of New York.

With non-Protestant immigrant groups arriving in such huge numbers, and concentrating in a handful of major cities, the Tammany Hall era of corrupt, publicly-subsidized patronage being exchanged for immigrant voting blocs was born, the institutionalized machinations of which are still very much dominant in places like NYC. (Ever wonder why all the cops and firemen in NYC and Boston were/are Irish, and then later Italian? These are legacies of the ‘Boss’ Tweed era.)

Among the Protestant supermajority, nativist sentiments were still salient all the way until 1960, when questioning Jack Kennedy about his potential dual allegiances (to the U.S. govt and to the Vatican) were fair game for journalists to ask about.

Why is all of the above sounding so eerily familiar?…

In the U.S., the only missing ingredient is a 21st century nativist political party, of the type that has popped up across all of Europe.

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