from William L. Sullivan (1872-1935), “Letters to His Holiness”(1910)
I have now finished the first and greater part of my task, which is to set forth frankly the reasons for that antipathy to Rome which has been for three centuries so striking a feature in the religious life of the most progressive and enlightened nations of the world. I have tried to show, what I think must be obvious to every man of sound sense, that this antipathy does not rest on blind bigotry or unreasonable malice, but is based upon the notorious past history and the perfectly evident present policy of the Roman See. The Papal and Italian autocracy is considered by the world to be in theoretical and practical hostility to the main principles of modern civilization‑to freedom of conscience, democracy, respect for individual personality, and liberty of intellect. How it is that peoples who were once in union with Rome have arrived at so momentous a change of conviction, the foregoing letters, I think, will help toward explaining.
Holy Father, if you have any desire to emerge out of the darkness of inexcusable sophistication which surrounds you, and look honestly at reality, these letters, or any other similar expression of candid criticism, may help you in no small degree. If you wish to make Catholicism respectable, and avert from it the ruin and death which now appear inevitable, is it possible for you not to see that no other means will avail to this end than the spiritualizing, and let us not shrink from the word, the modernizing of the Church? If the Catholic religion is to continue holding to persecution in principle, to the present doctrine of church and state, to Italian absolutism, to the prevailing attitude toward indulgences and other superstitions, and to its war of extermination upon critical scholars, then may we as well begin to write its epitaph; then may those honest students who, in the teeth of despair have been faintly hoping for some spiritualizing change, as well go forth into exile, and seek peace in a strange land, since peace and even honor are becoming impossible in what they loved as home.
That the changes which spirituality and scholarship demand from Roman Catholicism are profound and even perilous, there can be no denying. The perplexity indeed is awful. To remain as of old means certain death; to obey the summons of Reform may mean distress and scandal to many, and great injury to some. But surely we cannot lessen the gravity of the situation by not thinking of it. Think of it we must in prudence; provide for it we must in conscience. The adaptations called for need not after all, be the work of a day. Only let the Roman Church begin to show even common courtesy to our civilization, and in this, small as it is, we shall recognize the beginning of a better day, a sign of life in the midst of death. Let Catholics be allowed to hold that freedom of conscience is an inalienable right of man. Let some Pope speak out a brave word of execration upon the Inquisition. Let there be liberty for Catholic professors to teach that union of Church and State is not demanded by the Christian religion as an ideal. Let indulgences and all other heathenism be abolished. Let a representative government, autonomous local synods, and home‑rule generally, supersede the present Italian and Papal despotism. Let scholars hold the modernist views as to the nature of dogma and the function of authority. Above all ‑ and this is the one condition which will prevent these concessions from resulting in any great measure of harm - let the whole endeavor of the Church and hierarchy be to promote the Christ-ideal on earth.