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On Monday Brother Dominic Verner wrote of his happy discovery of the statue of Father Francis Duffy in Times Square (that part of the square is actually officially titled “Duffy Square”). Readers will want to know more about this priest and t he wikipedia entry is a good place to start.

The entry mentions his helping the great Al Smith respond to an attack on his Catholicism and therefore his suitability to be president, written with the kind of unctuous concern most of us have suffered from critics veiling their antagonism, and written with all sorts of claims that “It is obvious” and “Nothing could be clearer” after which follow very dubious claims, the claims of a prosecuting attorney not entirely concerned with being fair to the prosecuted, and closing with an oleaginous declaration of his wish that Smith would prove himself innocent. The writer was a lawyer and Episcopalian, and his open letter — making arguments Smith refers to as being taken from “this limbo of defunct controversies” — was published in The Atlantic and thereby carried the weight of the authority of the WASP establishment.

Smith’s response is worth reading, as an early exercise in that question of religious faith and national loyalty that continues to be asked of Catholics, if today usually in indirect but more aggressive ways, like “How could you refuse our version of equality and justice and not provide contraceptives to your employees?” One might question details and argue that the matter is a little more complicated than he, writing in that age, saw, but he provides a spirited and helpful defense of Catholic, and by extension Christian, participation in the public square.

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