Of St. Thomas More – and Us

Where in the United States of America are today’s followers of St. Thomas More? As we know, More was martyred for his faith after resisting Henry VIII’s co-option of the Catholic Church for his personal and political ends. For this resistance unto death, More received an eternal reward. In October of 2000, to Catholics in our contemporary civic struggles (which loom particularly large for Americans in this election year), St. John Paul II proclaimed him as the heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians.

In his proclamation, St. John Paul identified as one motive for his action “the need felt by the world of politics and public administration for credible role models able to indicate the path of truth at a time in history when difficult challenges and crucial responsibilities are increasing.” The pope specifically singled out “the need to defend human life at all its different stages,” given that today’s novel situations “urgently demand clear political decisions in favor of the family, young people, the elderly and the marginalized.”

Not long after that proclamation, I joined forces with Gerard Wegemer, a professor at the University of Dallas and a top expert on More in the United States, to produce a 13-part series on EWTN, Mother Angelica’s global Catholic network. (The series remains available from them in DVD form with the title “St. Thomas More: Faithful Statesman.”)

Professor Wegemer had a hand in prompting that proclamation by the Holy Father, as it happens. In the intervening years, surely if anything, the urgent need for St. Thomas More’s intercession and for his adoption as a role model has increased. As I write, we Catholics (I hope) are following the primary races and closely screening the men who are running for the presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the governorships of many states. If we take the model of St. Thomas More seriously, we will be looking, in the pope’s description, for a candidate who will “[distinguish] himself by his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue.”

Sir Thomas More and Descendants by Rowland Lockey, c. 1594 [Victoria & Albert Museum]
Sir Thomas More and Descendants by Rowland Lockey, c. 1594 [Victoria & Albert Museum] Click image to expand

One example of such a life just recently ended is that of the faithful Catholic and brilliant Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a man greatly devoted to St. Thomas More for his faithfulness to the Catholic Church, clear thinking, courage, and integrity. We have a great need of such men and women in public life: people who, in the words of Thomas More, know that, “The times are never so bad but that a good man can live in them.”

As we know from what happened to More (and what he knew from history had happened to a great many Christian martyrs in a great many difficult situations), a good man may be required at some point to give up his life. That doesn’t contradict what he said. We all live and we all die; it’s the way we do both and the decisions we make along the way that will determine whether we make it into the category of good men and women (and, God willing, maybe even saints!) or instead fall into the tragic category of people who have failed to make the kind of choices God calls us to make.

Such people can still repent and be saved, of course, while they live and breathe. But the wrong they have done and the good they have failed to do still affect the course of history, including the condition of their own country.

Our country and its political institutions need fine, faithful men and women who are loyal to our Constitution and who also realize the importance of the natural law. Thank God we Catholics have received in a special way the teaching that comes down to us from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church related to civic duties and the just state.

But in addition, it is up to us to intervene in the particular issues of our time, especially those concerning the value of human life from conception to natural death, and the primary role of the family in transmitting life, religion, morality, and culture.

Along those lines we should pray every Sunday in the prayers of the faithful that our country will become ever more aware of the dignity of human life, the beauty of God’s plan for marriage, and the significance of an authentic religious liberty. We also should pray for married couples, that God assist them in living their matrimonial vocation. And we should ask that the rights of individuals to act according to their religious convictions be respected by the state and its agents.

In addition, all Catholics should pray that we may have statesmen and politicians who will work for the good of society – and be ready to give their life if necessary, knowing what is ahead for us in our heavenly home. So in these challenging times for those who wish to be truly faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, let us ask the intercession of St. Thomas More, the patron of statesman and politicians.

Fr. C. John McCloskey III

Fr. C. John McCloskey III

Fr. C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.

  • phranthie

    A good, inspiring article, clearly put, and which, let’s hope, will be widely read. With thanks to Father John McCloskey.

  • Stilbelieve

    Fr, then why are so many church-going Catholics, including clergy, endorsing with their names, and supporting with their actions, the pro-abortion, and now, pro-same sex “marriage,” Democratic Party? Catholics are the single largest group in that organization, giving it the electoral power to keep those two anti-God issues legal.

    Furthermore, according to our Catholic Catechism, it is a sin against the 5th Commandment to simply join organizations like the Nazi Party or the KKK because of their support and promotion of racial and religious discrimination. There are no exonerating conditions, either, exempting one of the mortal sin they commit by endorsing those organizations with their names. So, why is it not a mortal sin for Catholics to join and support the pro-abortion, pro same-sex “marriage” Democratic Party?

    • Vince Whirlwind

      The 21st century Democratic Party in The USA is a terrorist organization by many definitions. A Catholic who votes Democrat is aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.

      You will never hear Catholic hierarchy say this however, because many of them are invincibly ignorant also.

      I want my Constitutional Republic back…along with my doctor. I see storm clouds building.

    • Maryjane Schambach

      I have been saying this for years, and it’s why I no longer go to the Catholic church. When I have pointed it out to my Catholic friends, they reply that they believe in “Separation of Church and State.” According to what the good father has written, they are inseparable, so I’d like to hear his answer to your question!!!!

      • Cheryl Jefferies

        Fr. is correct. The State (as in, any government) is composed of human beings. How can one separate faith from a human being and still expect that human being to function? For me, the answer is: Separation of “religion” and State…yes. Separation of FAITH and State…never. We have tried to separate Faith and State for a long time now. That’s one of the reasons we, and the world, are in the mess we’re in.

      • Sheila

        Not all catholics would have disagreed with you. Those who did were obviously uninformed about the true teachings of the Church. They were weak and caved to sin. I am so sorry this happened to you. It sounds like you knew your faith. Please, please trust Jesus that He left us His Church to minister to all of us sinners. He gave us the Sacraments to help us get to Heaven. No other church denomination has the Sacraments and grace that He left to all of us other than our Catholic Church. Ask God to send you a good priest and He will. He did for me. I came back and fell in love with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and Confession too. God has been so good to me and faithful. He is 100% faithful. People many times are not, but He always is. Life is hard for me sometimes, and then I go before the tabernacle and God pours out His love to me…and then I rise victoriously. And I begin to pray for the little babies who are being aborted and their confused and scared mothers. May God have mercy on all of us. We are all in this together.God bless your journey.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I would recommend, to anyone not familiar with it, St Thomas More’s Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, written during his imprisonment in the Tower in 1534. “Comfort,” of course, is used in the Latin sense of “strengthen together.” [con-fortare]

    It is, as one might expect from a saint facing martyrdom, a work of deep piety, but not without flashes of the saint’s pawky wit – As he explains, “I can only say that he who cannot long endure to hold up his head and hear talking of heaven unless he be now and then between refreshed (as though heaven were heaviness!) with a merry foolish tale, there is none other remedy but you must let him have it. Better would I wish it, but I cannot help it.”

    The text is available on line and, whilst the whole argument is beautifully constructed (More had been a great advocate), it is a book one can dip into at random and be sure of finding some gem.

  • John Willson

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Fr. McClosky; and we must remember that England produced ONE Thomas More, and the US has produced ONE Antonin Scalia. They are rare, indeed.

  • givelifeachance2

    Scalia: “I will strike down Roe v. Wade, but I will also strike down a law that
    is the opposite of Roe v. Wade. You know, both sides in that debate want
    the Supreme Court to decide the matter for them. One (side) wants
    no state to be able to prohibit abortion and the other one wants every
    state to have to prohibit abortion, and they’re both wrong.”

    Not the words of a More, Scalia’s beautiful family life notwithstanding.

    • Martha Rice Martini

      Well actually they ARE the words of a More: “I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

      Justice Scalia’s point was along the following lines: Because the Constitution, properly understood, is SILENT on the matter, that matter, whether pro or con, BY LAW must be left to the states.

      • lwhite

        Exactly Martha. How the simple has become complex but only because people forget the Constitution enumerated very limited powers to the three branches of the government, to prevent the misconception Justice Scalia pointed out, which has become commonplace, which is that the Supreme Court has the power to decide on matters outside of its Constitutional limits.

        The Constitution gives the people the greater power and yet, the people have abrogated their power to the federal government!

        • givelifeachance2

          When an inalienable right is involved, as in slavery and even more so with abortion, SCOTUS has the right to strike down injustice. Created equal means the fetus is equal to you and me. No state can alienate a fetus’right to life.

          • lwhite

            You and I know all this. Yes, SCOTUS has a right to strike down injustice, but they won’t, and don’t always do so, do they? And they don’t because they have differing views on how to interpret the Constitution. Strict constructionist versus the “living” Constitution.

        • givelifeachance2

          Scalia’s dissent on Obergefell is similarly misbegotten (pun intended). He wanted the issue returned to the States whereas the SCOTUS should have declared marriage in the USA inalienably one-man-one-woman everywhere. It’s about the kids, not the adults…every child should have the right to know the man and woman whose embrace brought him into existence. Or, for orphans an adoptive man and woman who could STAND IN for the man-woman bond of his progenitors. Read Paul Vitz on the profound psychological identification of the child to the bond between his mother and father.

          Yes, to those who are into IVF and test-tubes, this is the reason you are playing with Frankensteinian fire. Read Brave New World, once you grow kids in test tubes they belong to the state and you are then just the robot guardians, not the parents.

          • Donna_Bethell

            givelifeachance2, Scalia in his Obergefell dissent was simply pointing out that the Constitution does not authorize the federal government to tell the states what they have to do about marriage, one way or the other. Marriage has always been in the purview of the states and so, under the 9th and 10th Amendments, the federal government has no power to tell the states how to define it. This is the same situation as for abortion. But once again the majority of the Supreme Court has abrogated the democratic decisions made by the people. This is simply judicial tyranny.

          • givelifeachance2

            That’s what they once said about slavery, that states should decide. Except when they finally realized liberty was an inalienable right (duh!, too bad it had to await the 600K deaths of the Civil War). So too with abortion – what will it take for people to realize life too is an inalienable right, endowed by the Creator at the time of conception (remember, “created equal”?)

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            “SCOTUS should have declared marriage in the USA inalienably one-man-one-woman everywhere…”

            Where in the Constitution does it say SCOTUS has jurisdiction in matrimonial causes?

          • givelifeachance2

            “…secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Posterity issueth not from a test-tube.

          • lwhite

            If the SCOTUS ruled that marriage in the USA is inalienably one-man-one-worman everywhere, the climate today, where too many reject that as true, would have caused such an uproar, the court would have lost all creditability.
            Besides, with the liberal justices, we know this never would have occurred.

      • givelifeachance2

        That didn’t work, ultimately, against slavery and will not work against abortion.

        More’s context completely different.

  • Sheila

    Thank you Father for this timely encouragement to support a candidate for President that will protect our Constitution. We all know who that man is. It is Mr Ted Cruz. He is not perfect, not catholic, and not a profane man leading our youth down a path of empty and boastful promises. Mr Cruz has done what he said he would do when we sent him to Washington from Texas. As far as I can tell, he is not a liar and arrogant man, but instead stands for God, Truth, our Constitution and our rights as Christians. He is not perfect; however, he is tailor-made for our current time in America to help build us back up into a Christian nation. We have drifted so far off the path to God and deserve His judgment for the evil we all have done. Especially with allowing and participating in abortion. When was the last time anyone actually helped to stop abortion besides prayer? One doesn’t have to stand outside the abortion mill, but can support in other ways. Prayer is powerful. But God is calling us to more if we are physically able. I believe this is the #1 issue, along with religious liberty. If we don’t have this liberty, we can’t stop abortion.We in this country ask God for mercy, yet we have to ask ourselves if are we not still playing a game with God? God help us to do what you want before it is too late. “One nation under God….”

    • Howard Kainz

      “When was the last time anyone actually helped to stop abortion besides
      prayer? One doesn’t have to stand outside the abortion mill, but can
      support in other ways.”
      One important way is to support adoption.

    • Cheryl Jefferies

      I’m voting for Ted Cruz, too, Sheila. A man of strong faith, a defender of freedom in the best sense of that phrase and a solid adherent to the Constitution. I decided to vote for him three years ago…March 6, 2013…whether he ran or not. And, I’m in OH, not in TX, just for the record.

  • Harry

    If we take the model of St. Thomas More seriously, we will be looking, in the pope’s description, for a candidate who will “[distinguish] himself by his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue.”

    To remain in “constant fidelity to legitimate authority” is indeed “above all else an exercise in virtue.” Good government requires of public officials both virtue and an understanding of just what constitutes legitimate authority, otherwise, it becomes almost inevitable that public officials will end up serving raw power instead of the “supreme ideal of justice.”

    So, it is important for Catholics to understand that the teaching of the Church has always been that the legitimate authority of the state comes from God Himself. This places boundaries on the state’s authority; it doesn’t give the state a blank check signed by God. We have a moral obligation to be obedient to the legitimate authority of the the state, and a moral obligation to practice civil disobedience when the state pretends to have authority that belongs to God alone. Leo XIII puts it this way in his encyclical On the Origin of Civil Power:

    15. The one only reason which men have for not obeying is when anything is demanded of them which is openly repugnant to the natural or the divine law, for it is equally unlawful to command to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, therefore, it should happen to any one to be compelled to prefer one or the other, viz., to disregard either the commands of God or those of rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ, who commands us to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matt. 22:21) and must reply courageously after the example of the Apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) And yet there is no reason why those who so behave themselves should be accused of refusing obedience; for, if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null.

    Contemporary, radically secularized states have claimed for themselves the prerogative to authorize the killing of innocent humanity, and have done so to the extent that literally billions of innocent children have been murdered before they ever saw the light of day. In addition to this assault on innocent humanity, euthanasia is being ever more frequently “legalized” around the world. The authority of such states cannot “then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null.” They practice constant infidelity to legitimate authority.

    This does not bode well for the future of humanity. Such infidelity has consequences. Consider this excerpt from the sermon by Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Münster, delivered on Sunday, August 3, 1941, in Münster Cathedral, in which he openly condemned the Nazi euthanasia program:

    Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation if God’s Holy Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ which God proclaimed on Mount Sinai amidst thunder and lightning, which God our Creator inscribed in the conscience of mankind from the very beginning, is not only broken, but if this transgression is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.

    Woe to mankind indeed. Consider the horrible consequences the whole world endured due to Germany’s irrational usurpation of God’s authority over innocent human life. Today the Nazi deification of the state is happening all over the world.

    Again, woe to mankind.

  • augury

    Maybe somebody here can answer a question about More I’ve been toting around for years. Namely, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall ( the book) paints More as active in torturing and stake burning reputed heretics, thus casting a dubious shadow on his sainthood. I googled it, and seemingly Mantel’s is supported by some major historians. Is this a case of history being twisted by academia to discredit one of our great role models? Or are we really asked to venerate a torturer as a Saint? Or did Mantel make this up ( and my historical ignorance too invincible to figure that out)? If More’s legacy has been vandalized by actual historians it’s an incredibly corrosive case, because Mantel’s piece is
    one of the very few pieces of historical fiction
    I’ve ever read that packs emotional wallop. And the TV show (which I’ve refused to watch) is supposed to be good too.

    • Maryjane Schambach

      I’d like to hear the answer, too….

      • FMAWG

        Me too!

      • phranthie

        A good modern historian of the period, a professor at Oxford, is Eamon Duffy. One of his quite recent books is The Stripping of the Altars. Before that, however, I’d recommend you track down on Google both an article by Gregory Slysz titled ”500 Years of Protestant Spin and the Myth of ‘Bloody Mary’ ”, and another good article from Dominic Selwood’s Telegraph (U.K.) blog headed ‘How a Protestant Spin Machine Hid the Truth of English Reformation’. (The second article, I’ve discovered, is more readily accessible.)

        • rick

          Thanks. I found the Selwood article. Take away quote ( paraphrase): “Catholicism in 1530s England was as Engish as tea and warm beer.” That’s contrary to what I’d understood, and he makes a convincing case. Thanks.

    • Dave Fladlien

      Augury: I don’t know whether those accounts are true or not (frankly I really doubt it), but I do have a couple of thoughts on your comment —

      1) the fact that a number of people say something, doesn’t even increase by much the probability that what they say is true. Witness the number of people who condemn Pius XII for not doing more to stop the Nazis, while apparently ignorant of (or not caring about) the fact that Pius was actively working with MI6, with the British Foreign Office and probably with the OSS as well; that he was hiding thousands of Jews in the Vatican and Castel Gondolfo, who would have been directly exposed to the Herbert Kappler’s Rome Gestapo if Pius had made any more fuss than he did, etc.

      2) even if there is *some* truth to the allegations, much of what is now considered torture was considered ordinary punishment in St. Sir Thomas’ day. Popes did some of those things, Catholic leaders did, Protestant leaders (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and a number of Lutherans) did. American and English sailors were routinely flogged. Today there is a movement where I live (Northern California) to discredit St. Junipero Serra because some of his followers flogged natives who abandoned their faith. I’m not saying it was right or ok because it was accepted, but I am saying the fact that someone followed the norms of their day doesn’t undo the good that they did.

      My thoughts, for what they may be worth…

      • BroEdward

        Not very good arguments, I’m afraid. In #1 you seem to say that even a large number of eye witnesses may be wrong because of one extreme example. Got any statistics on that one?

        In #2, worse yet, you revitalize the old Cardinal Law defense that “everybody was doing it.” The only thing you missed was that maybe More relied on experts and that the whole thing is a media plot.

        Finally, torture is torture. It is now and it was then. That period is a blot on the church. For shame…..

        • Dave Fladlien

          You never know what is going to happen when you post something on a commentary site —

          BroEdward: did you even read what I wrote? I wrote: “I’m not saying it was right or ok because it was accepted…” But the fact that you or I, sinners (I trust you agree we are sinners), does not undo the good that we do.

          That is what I said, and I’ll stand by it. I have never advocated torture, and I don’t now. This is ironic, since people who know me are aware how adamantly I oppose torture.

          Regarding your #1: statistics determine truth in your mind? If I went by statistics, I’d say that all sorts of evils were good, and vice versa. No, I don’t have statistics, but I do have facts to back up my statements about Pope Pius, for instance. The fact that more people out there who are uninformed or are liars say something doesn’t make it the truth, Bro Edward.

          • BroEdward

            It wasn’t “accepted.” When you ram something down someone’s throat and threaten them with horrors both in this world and the next and thus intimidate them into silence – that’s not “acceptance.” Let’s not do revisionist history and/or try to defend the evils of the past (and present). I think most of us know right from wrong regardless of who tells us what.

          • Dave Fladlien

            Excuse my candor, but I am not a revisionist, and I am not trying to defend evil. Please stop mis-stating my position. I don’t know how to make it any more clear than I have.

        • Mike M

          I expect that a day will come (and, imo, hopefully sooner rather than later) when people will view our contemporary prison system as barbaric, counter-productive, and thoroughly immoral. They shouldn’t probably write off as evil every cop, prosecutor, judge and prison manager who plays a role in people being there, though.

          None of the Saints were perfect. They made mistakes and they undoubtedly failed to see through some of the errors of their day.

          By your standards, which publicly active saints may we continue to honor for the good that they did? Which period wasn’t a blot on the Church?

          • BroEdward

            Good points. That’s why I think we must not rush to canonize saints. Let’s see what comes out of the woodwork in say another 50 years. Also, let’s reinstate the Devil’s Advocate at once. I think we may live to regret rushed decisions of sainthood.

      • rick

        The lack of any refutation on this blog leaves me thinking the accounts are true, to some extent. Howard Kainz’ comment below seems to confirm. So then one needs to ask was More “just doing is job?” Might he even have clandestinely tried to save people where he could, like you point out re Pius XII? The Mantel book makes him out to be zealous in his heretic hunting, like he actually enjoyed it. I’ll assume her depiction of More’s character to be anti Catholic propoganda. I so wish somebody had popped up saying that the Mantel characterization was false, not just because she couldn’t have known his mind, but factually. I’ve always thought More one of the most relevant saints to our “situation.” I wish God made things easier sometimes.

        • Dave Fladlien

          “I wish God made things easier sometimes.” I hear you, Rick. I know God knows what He’s doing and that He expects us to use the talent and inspiration and guidance He gives us, and life wouldn’t be too much fun if He did it differently, but I certainly will admit that I too find it very frustrating sometimes.

        • drgibbons

          Not to worry, rick. Any serious and impartial scholar of early modern England will tell you that Mantel’s fantasies are extreme and ideologically-driven distortions of the historical record in many ways. Those books get More completely wrong, probably on purpose because of Mantel’s animus toward Catholicism. I think that Mantel is clever enough (like More’s enemies and the enemies of the Church in the century after More’s lifetime) to see how much damage could be done to the Church if the reputation of Thomas More could be dragged into the mud. Calumny is a profoundly dangerous sin.

          Read Gerard Wegemer’s work on More. Or John Guy in The Public Career of Sir Thomas More (Yale, 1980):
          “Serious analysis precludes the repetition of protestant stories that
          Sir Thomas flogged heretics against a tree in his garden at Chelsea. It
          must exclude, too, the accusations of illegal imprisonment made against
          More by John Field and Thomas Phillips. Much vaunted by J.A. Froude,
          such charges are unsupported by independent proof. More indeed answered
          them in his Apology with emphatic denial. None has ever been
          substantiated, and we may hope that they were all untrue” (165-66). See
          also G.R. Elton, Studies in Tudor and Stuart Politics and Government, Papers and Reviews 1946-1972, Volume 1, 158.

          Another important point: I believe that More was not canonized because his behavior in public service was judged to be without error (though I defy anyone to show a Catholic in such a high public office facing such challenges who has done better!). More was canonized primarily as a martyr, which he most certainly was.

          Again, even if we do want to consider More guilty of something like cooperation with evil (though, again, we have to consider what was possible at the time and how well More did everything reasonably within his power to advance the good and defeat evil), how many saints do you know of who never sinned in their lives? St. Paul admitted to doing things every bit as bad as what Thomas More was accused of by his enemies (though, again, there is almost nothing to support these accusations). Do we get worried about the sainthood of Paul because he once persecuted Christians?

          Study more real scholarship. Read the writings of More. Read less Wikipedia and skewed ‘historical’ fiction like Mantel’s.

          • rick

            Obliged. I suspected calumny and was hoping for a solider basis for my suspicion, exactly you lay out. Unfortunately fiction such as Mantel’s is more influential than actual scholarship. And when a layman like me senses calumny it’s very hard to figure out the real truth. BTW Wolf Hall is “required viewing” for European history at a prestigious university of my acquaintance. So the reach of its calumny isn’t limited to fiction loving historical neophytes like myself. It’s infecting the outlook of the next generation of historians. In terms of the reasons for More’s canonization, I find the late 19th / early 20th century timing interesting. That was when the Vatican’s political status vis a vis “Italy” was being worked out. This is pure speculation by me, but More’s beatification came approximately when the Church’s political prerogatives were seized by the new Italian state. His cannonization came around the time the Church’s political rights were restored to a limited extent under the Lateran. I imagine the political aspect of More’s martyrdom seemed especially compelling at that time.

          • drgibbons


            I know what you mean about the power of Wolf Hall, in spite of how obviously false it is to scholars. I hope that the professor who requires the book for class is using it as a bad example to help students see just how careful they have to be in thinking about historiography. I could see using the book that way in my class. Sometimes *older* students have to study bad things in order to sharpen their ability to spot tendentiousness and logical fallacies.

            A similar thing happened a generation ago with Rolf Hochhuth’s _The Deputy_, by the way. Before that time Pius XII was generally considered something of a hero and widely respected by (at least Italian) Jewish leaders. Then Hochhuth wrote his dramatic character assassination of Pius XII based on little more than anti-Catholic animus. By the end of the 20th century, otherwise thoughtful and well-informed people had accepted the idea that the Church was either cooperating with, or at least silently complicit with, Hitler’s Reich and the Shoah.

            A few works of (extremely tendentious) historical scholarship attempted to give firmer factual support to Hochhuth’s hack job, or to carry the same fight onto different ground when the flimsiness of Hochhuth’s falsehoods was too evident to deny. Perhaps the most famous of these, Cornwell’s _Hitler’s Pope_ is a perfect example of what a hostile writer can do with false and partial presentation of evidence in even an apparently non-fictional ‘history’ book. A good lesson for college students to read and critique it, I would say. The effort to clear the air has required a huge amount of effort on the part of more careful historical scholars for decades, and is still far from complete. I have no idea whether Pius XII is worthy of canonization, but it is clear that the commonly-believed story about him, which all started with a piece of bad literature, is not at all true to the facts.

            Literature is powerful, and so good reading and teaching of it are extremely important for the formation of young people. Too few English teachers in Catholic schools have a clear sense of what is really at stake in the quiet battle for hearts being waged always by stories and poems.

            That’s a very interesting context for More’s canonization which I hadn’t considered. Something worth pondering.

    • Howard Kainz

      The execution of heretics was generally approved in that era. There was no separation of Church and state. According to James Hitchcock’s “History of the Catholic Church,” Lutherans and Anglicans executed Anabaptists, Calvin burned a Spanish physician who denied the Trinity, and St. Thomas More, himself a martyr, participated in prosecuting heretics.

    • Shaune Scott

      I started “Wolf Hall” but did not finish it, one of the few novels dealing with the Tudor period that I did not like. This was before I learned that Mantel is anti-Catholic, and in fact has stated that Catholicism is not a religion for decent people.

  • Charles Adams

    We seem to forget that an innocent man Thomas More was caught between politics, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Henry VIII, Cement VII was ruled by the Emperor. We see a man of all seasons, true to his beliefs die. Jesus states that many will suffer because of my name. The last paragraph, how true how true. Wonderful article

  • Charles Adams

    We see a religious man die because of his true beliefs. A man who was caught between Charles V king of Spain, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Henry VIII. We see history repeating but we have fundamental rights instead of kings rights and still we have self greed and earthly wants take precedents. Let us pray as we vote

  • Bobo Fett

    Reading this reminded me of something I learned about sleeping through sermons in school. You know Father is getting to the end of it when you hear three “shoulds” in a row, “We as Catholics should pray.” “We as Catholics should do…” The prequel or sometimes the sequel to the “shoulds” is often the obligatory “It is up to us as Catholics….”

    With just a little luck you wake up for that third “should” and get the bottom line very neatly in case anyone asks you what the sermon was about. In this case, “we should pray for statesmen and politicians who work for the good of society…”

    Boom. Got it! Thanks Father. Now for the Credo… 🙂

    • Rosemary58


  • Cheryl Jefferies

    I had to smile a bit when I read this. Back in the early 60s-late 70s, I used to be very involved in politics as a teen-ager and young adult. I married and also had a professional career, but, was truly a historian at heart and did absolutely love politics…on-the-ground, hard-fought political battles were something I was used to and actually enjoyed. Especially, when my candidate won, of course. But, around age 30, I soured on the entire thing and swore I’d never participate in “politics” in any way again, except to vote. I held to that decision until I retired in November 2011. About a month after retiring, we received a letter from our archdiocese telling us about the “poison abortion pill” within ObamaCare…abortion-on-demand and paid for by me, against my will. As a life-long believer in the Constitution…and, also being Christian and ProLife…when I read that letter, I had what can only be described as a “lightning-bolt flash-in-the-brain” moment. St. Thomas More had always been one of my heroes. As my horrified eyes read the words from our archbishop, suddenly, I could see Thomas More as clearly as if he were standing beside me and I could hear a voice saying: “It is not because I have committed treason. It is because I will not bend to the marriage!” And, from that moment onward, I have done everything I can do to publicly and privately fight the evil I see taking over this nation. Not just in the matter of Life, but, Family, Marriage, true Freedom of Religion in all its manifestations, all the “isms” that are destructive to Judeo-Christian principles and attacks against the moral framework so necessary to develop and maintain what I call a “free-born mind”…anything that I feel is against God and against the Constitution, I have stood against, in my own small way. St. Thomas More is still one of my major heroes and role models. Thank you for writing of him and reminding us that standing up for one’s faith is necessary when faced with evil. No matter the costs.

  • James Stagg

    Thank you, Father McCloskey.

    As we continue to pray, the patriotic and faithful heart yearns and burns for the appearance of a noble person of St. Thomas More’s stature, who will lead this republic according to the original Declaration and amended Constitution, to become a “shining light” to the rest of the world.

    Unfortunately, such a personage does not seem to become available more than once a century or so, it seems. The last such died in 1865, and we approach the second century mark of that passing with no such leader in sight.

    Perhaps we must go TWO centuries without such leadership, since the potentially statesmen-like leaders may have been already killed due to a new “law” proclaimed in 1973.

    Or, perhaps, is this God’s application of “purgatory” to us here on earth in this country, indeed, in the world, for allowing this marvelous idea of a “shining” democratic republic to deteriorate into a meaningless shambles of political correctness and sinful life?

  • Rosemary58

    So true, Fr. McCloskey. Our parish does pray frequently for public officials, and I keep them in my prayers often, too. I also have been recently praying for citizens who tempt politicians with bribery and deals. It goes both ways: corrupt citizens often get a pass until they are caught, of course.

  • Dave

    We need another political party that is truly based in the perennial philosophy and in a proper understanding of the role of subsidiarity. The GOP elite has been playing social conservatives for decades. The popular uprisings in both parties — Sanders for the Dems, Trump for the Republicans — show how disconnected the elites have become from the people they profess to serve. Cruz may have some interesting ideas and if one is a constitutional fundamentalist, then he’s your guy; but it’s hard to see how his policies will do other than unfetter the very powerful from making a lot more money and wreaking a lot more havoc on the country.

    This party — or better, its supporters — has a massive educational project ahead of it, because for three generations now the mantra is the libertinism=liberty, and no libertinism, no liberty. A party that is truly for the family, for the local community, for the network of communities that make up a county, a state, a region, and a nation would have much to say. A party that says that life cannot be reduced to merely economic terms would likewise have a lot to say. And from this party could emerge another St. Thomas More. It’s hard to see how another More could emerge from within the mess we currently have.

    St. Thomas More, pray for us.

    • Richard A

      It’s hard to imagine that we NEED a political party, when St. Paul denounces a spirit of faction. Our founding fathers decried political partisanship, although we submitted to the temptation pretty quickly after the constitution was approved.

      Put not your trust in princes, in man, in whom there is no hope.

      • Dave

        Richard, thanks for your comment. I would note that the United States is not the Church, so I don’t think St. Paul’s denunciation obtains here; and that we have a massive work of evangelization ahead of us, which includes, in the natural order, (re)developing a country along the lines of natural law, which must also then include educating people in the goodness of the natural law for human flourishing — which is what good governance is all about. So a party that was actually founded on the perennial philosophy, on correct notions of subsidiarity, and the natural law could do a lot of good.

        Put not your trust in princes: yes. But on the other hand, let everyone be subject to the higher powers, because they are ordained of God. Here we have the enormous privilege of participating in our own governance, and the Lord does expect that we do so according to correct principles of equity and justice. Do you see hope of either Party ordering themselves accordingly? I don’t, and so hence my call.

  • Human Being

    Great article, Father. Dr. Wegemer was one of my favorite professors when I attended the University of Dallas.

  • Michael DeLorme

    As a visiting priest told our parish in his homily the weekend after the Obergefell decision, allowing same sex marriage, came down: the time for being complacent Catholics is over. From now on we will need need to be deliberate Catholics.

    That suggests sacrifices we’ve so far been spared. When Christians, though, are being martyred all over the world can we really imagine it can’t happen here?

    For myself, I’ve been praying and will continue to pray a daily Divine Mercy Chaplet until he is named, that we will have appointed to the Supreme Court a worthy successor to Antonin Scalia. I trust others are following their own spirit-inspired impulses.

    It is extremely important that we have a man of his caliber, his Constitutional temperament and and his moral vision sitting in Scalia’s seat when the dust settles.

    It just may shore up the dike against “the Collapse.”

    St. Thomas More, pray for us.

  • accelerator

    Abortion has been legal for how many decades and despite so many Republican promises. Why believe a Republican candidate now? Sometimes there ARE no evidently “fine, faithful men and women” running? Then what? I suppose the point of this wordy piece is “Anyone but Trump,” but it leaves me unconvinced. As for receiving “in a special way the teaching that comes down to us from the Magisterium …related to civic duties and the just state,” the Magisterium today cannot even issue easily comprehensible statements one birth control or male priests or homosexuality, much less politics. Whatever is “special” about the way is pretty muddled. The good Fr. is seeing through rose-colored glasses.

    • Steven Barrett

      If you’re truly pro-life and want to improve the odds that the most pro-life candidate among the Republicans is still in the running … you have only one logical choice: not the ones who shout their “pro-life” creds and supposed beliefs the loudest and most often on the campaign trail … but the one who’s demonstrated it by both word and deed: John Kasich.
      He’s the guy two Republican governors criticized him to his face at a Koch Bros pow-wow about “hiding behind his Bible” to defend using Obamacare to expand Ohio’s medicaid program. And you’ve got to love a guy who defends that decision with explanations like this:

      “….’The most-important thing for this legislature to think about: Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of a mother and a father of an adult child that is struggling. Walk in somebody else’s moccasins. Understand that poverty is real.”

      Kasich continued: “I had a conversation with one of the members of the legislature the other day. I said, ‘I respect the fact that you believe in small government. I do, too. I also know that you’re a person of faith.

      ‘Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.’  ”

  • Faithful Catholic

    Thank you for a very inspiring and timely article, Father. St. Thomas More is my favorite saint. I will pray for his intercession in our presidential election.