This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," December 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor Follow-Up" segment tonight, a few days ago we reported on Wellington, Florida, a small village that had denied a resident permission to put up a manger scene. Well, last night, the village council voted to allow that scene. Another Christmas victory, good.

But we continue to get attacked for sticking up for Christmas. The latest, a vicious article today in The Philadelphia Daily News.

Our allies in this entire campaign to respect the federal holiday of Christmas had been you, the America people and some Protestant groups. But largely absent from the debate has been the American Catholic hierarchy. In fact, only one high-ranking cleric (ph), Archbishop Michael Sheehan of New Mexico, has agreed to even talk to us about the subject. He'll be on Monday.

Joining us now in our New York studio, FOX News contributor Father Jonathan Morris, who's visiting from Rome, his home base. And from South Bend, Indiana, Father Richard McBrien, who teaches theology at Notre Dame.

Father, we had almost the exact same discussion, Father McBrien, about the priest pedophilia scandal, when I just said, "Look, we can't get one cardinal, one archbishop to come on the program and say anything." And now here we are again. The same thing except for Sheehan. What's going on?

FATHER RICHARD MCBRIEN, THEOLOGY PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: Well, first of all, Bill, this is a very different sort of issue. I mean, the pedophilia crisis and scandal that was associated with it was enormously significant. In fact I think most important crisis the Catholic Church in America has ever faced.

This controversy over Christmas celebration, whether to say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or to allow nativity scenes, creches and so forth or to call Christmas trees Christmas trees rather than holiday trees, is a very minor issue in comparison.

But I agree with you, I mean, the American bishops as a group have not taken effective leadership positions on any of the issues, big and small. I have a personal theory about it, which they probably would not appreciate.

But I do think most of the bishops that have been appointed over the past 25 years or so are men who are generally conditioned to look to Rome for guidance and direction. And unless they have some encouragement from the Vatican to actually — to take an active stand on one issue or another, they tend to delay back and not involve themselves in controversy. They have — they figure they have enough on their plate in their own diocese without getting involved in national issues.

O'REILLY: You're probably right. But Father Morris is based in Rome. Do you see it the same way, father? Why? Look, I put it this way, if you can't stick up for baby Jesus, who can you stick up for? You know what I'm talking about?


O'REILLY: This is pretty fundamental. You need a Catholic Church. If you can't come out and say, gee, we should all respect Christmas, if you can't do that, then why do we have you?

MORRIS: I agree. Just a little comment on what Father McBrien mentioned. They are looking, in my opinion, looking to Rome for guidance and direction on the big issues is a good thing. It's what makes us specifically Catholic, that we have a pope.

Should we stand up for baby Jesus? You better believe it. That's why I'm here. Maybe it's because I'm too foolish, or the only foolish one enough, together with Father McBrien, to enter into the no-spin zone, but we'll find out whether that's true at the end of the segment. But I'm happy to be here.

O'REILLY: Look, here's the deal. We've got 65 million American Catholics. OK? And they don't hear a word from any Catholic leadership on the subject at all.

The Protestants have at least a half dozen, Falwell, Wildman, they're going to be on next week. We've got campaigns that the Protestants have organized to say to retailers, "Hey, listen, if you don't — if you disrespect the holiday of Christmas, we're going to let our people know." All of this is in play on the Protestant side. Zippo on the Catholic side.


O'REILLY: Go ahead.

MCBRIEN: But, Bill, it's a certain segment of the Protestant side, and I'm not — I don't intend to diminish them or to put them down. But mainstream Protestants generally are in the same boat, as it were, as mainstream Catholics and their bishops.

Look, for decades, Catholics and mainstream Protestants have bemoaned the commercialization of Christmas, the using the religious aspects of the feast to sell products.

And what's happened, two things have happened, one is that this nation has changed. In 1955, Will Herbert, a very famous social scientist, wrote a book called "Protestant, Catholic, Jew." In 1955 that was the religious landscape of this country. The only real non-Christians in this country were Jews, and they were a small minority. Today there were many, many millions of non-Christians beyond the Jewish community.

And so, you know, business is business. It's out to make a profit, and it doesn't want to alienate potential customers.

O'REILLY: Yes, but that — you that's dopey, Father.

MCBRIEN: No, no, no.

O'REILLY: Because look, 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, 85 percent identify themselves with — as Christians in some way. And they're teed off. I mean, this movement is enormous.

But look, here's — here's the crux of the matter. Here's the crux of the matter. I want you both to comment on it.


O'REILLY: There's an increasing secularization of America. Everybody knows it, in every area. One of the strategies to getting religious people out of the public arena is to diminish all references to God, all spirituality in public. You know what's going on, it's been very successful. That's the big picture here.

So Father, Father Morris, why don't you comment first and let Father McBrien wrap it up?

MORRIS: Well, I think even the bigger picture, Bill, is what's at the root and what's at the base of what you just said. And I think it's a very, very bad, misrepresented understanding of what the separation of church and state really is.

What we're dealing with in the United States right now is not freedom of religion. We're dealing with freedom from religion. And that is why this issue — and I'm grateful to you, Bill, for bringing it up and doing what I think we need to do, not just as clergy but as lay people, as people in the professional world, making these points. Very, very important.

O'REILLY: OK, that's what we are all about here.

MORRIS: What that culture's all about.

O'REILLY: We want to let everybody know what's going on, but there is a secular war against traditionalism, and religion's in the middle of it. Father McBrien, you wrap it up for us. You've got 40 seconds.

MCBRIEN: Yes, sure. But I think we Christians are sometimes our own worst enemies. There has been a concern about the fact that certain types of Christians, especially among Protestants, but some Catholics as well, but mostly evangelical, fundamentalists, Pentecostal Protestants, and not by any means all or most, have really been — become the face of Christianity in America. And there are many mainline Protestants and many mainline Catholics who are a little bit taken aback, that this is the — this is the representation of Christianity.

O'REILLY: And that's the way it's going to stay unless you get those cardinals and those archbishops and the other people out.

MCBRIEN: On that — on that point, Bill, I would absolutely agree with you and I commend you, too, for having us on, because someone has to represent that other position.

O'REILLY: Don't be too nice to me. Don't be too nice to me. Just — I just don't want to get excommunicated. Just make sure that that doesn't happen, gentlemen. Thanks very much.

MORRIS: Thank you for having us on.

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