“What the hell is an encyclical?” Who the heck asked such a question? Hint: the person who did the asking was a Catholic, a Democrat, and a candidate for president. That narrows things down more than a bit. Hmmm. . .might it have been John Kennedy or Joe Biden? No and no. The answer is Al Smith, the first Catholic to be nominated to run for president by one of the two major political parties in all of American history.

The year was 1928. Then serving his fourth term as Governor of New York, Smith was a decided underdog in his race against Republican candidate Herbert Hoover. More—or less—than that, he was also a frustrated underdog; hence his exasperation and his question.

That question was no doubt evidence of a measure of ignorance on the part of this Catholic layman. But it was also indirect evidence of his operating assumption: independence of mind; namely, that one could be a loyal American, a faithful Catholic, and a good Democrat all in one—and all without reading the latest words of the Pope.

Praise the Lord

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