The Bishops’ statement was a critique—not an embrace—of the
idea of strict separation. It describes Jefferson’s famous paraphrase of
the First Amendment, the “wall of separation,” as a “misleading metaphor.”
It offers an extended—and cogent—criticism of the
Supreme Court’s decisions in Everson v. Board of Education
and Illinois ex rel McCollum v. Board of Education.
It describes those decisions as “victories of secularism,” and concludes with the “hope and
pray[er] that the novel interpretation of the First Amendment
recently adopted by the Supreme Court will in due process be
The Bishops affirmed what they called “our original American
tradition of free cooperation between government and religious bodies—cooperation involving no special privilege to any group and no
restriction on the religious liberty of any citizen.”
Cooperation, not separation, is the term the Bishops used, and their insistence on neutrality (“no special privilege”) and the primacy of free exercise (“no
restriction on religious liberty”) were a far cry from Kennedy’s “absolute separation.”
Many good Catholics are confused about the Church's teaching on separation of Church and State and this entry on the blog from the Notre Dame Law Review is worth reading.