The American Catholic Church and the Christmas Controversy

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," December 19, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In "Back of the Book" segment tonight, while many Protestants are fully engaged in the Christmas controversy, the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church has been largely silent. We called all the cardinals and many archbishops, and only one — one — would agree to speak with us. The Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Michael Sheehan, joins us now from that town.

You've been following this pretty closely. What's your read on it?

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, ARCHBISHOP OF SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO: Well, Bill, I certainly think that there is an effort by the secular humanists to push the religious values in our society out of the way, off of the public square. And I am very glad that there is a strong commitment on the part of many people, myself included, to emphasize the religious values of Christmas, to be able to say, "Merry Christmas," without having to have made some terrible mistake.

I don't think that the religious values of our society should be considered as some sort of secondary smoke that's going to harm people.

O'REILLY: Now, when...

SHEEHAN: I believe that we need to stand up for the values.

O'REILLY: OK. Now, when you were growing up and when I was growing up, this didn't exist. This controversy did not exist. Everybody said "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah" and all that. Everybody got along. There was no strife, no hurt feelings. What has changed in this country?

SHEEHAN: Well, I think that there has become a very strong secular value system, like I said, that wants to push the religious values aside.

When I was in the first grade, growing up in Texarkana, Texas, I was in the first grade of a public school, and that's where I learned "Silent Night" and "O, Come All Ye Faithful." And now I think most public school teachers, or many public school teachers, are afraid to teach "Silent Night" for fear that the ACLU...

O'REILLY: Yes, you'd never have "Silent Night" in the public schools any more. That wouldn't happen. Who's — who's behind the secular humanism, as you describe it?

SHEEHAN: Well, I think people that don't have any religious values, and they think that religious and spiritual values are something that should never be allowed in the public square. And they've been successful.

Look at how outrageous, that in northern California, a federal court decided that it was unconstitutional to say "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. That's outrageous.

And it isn't just limited to the lack of respect for saying, "merry Christmas." But I think throughout the year, there are many ways in which the value system that the vast majority of Americans believe in have been ridiculed and shoved to the side.

And I think we need to stand up and say, yes, we have rights and the people have rights to hear about the religious and spiritual values of Christmas.

What an outrageous thing that you can't have a Christmas crib and the people feel nervous about saying anything that is going to be in the least bit respectful...

O'REILLY: No, it's very disturbing. As I mentioned, I called every American Catholic cardinal and many of the archbishops. You're the only one that would come on. Now you're saying we've got to stand up. Cardinal Egan lives right across the street, and he wouldn't walk over here. And I'm not getting that at all.

SHEEHAN: Well...

O'REILLY: As a Roman Catholic, Irish Catholic guy, I'm not getting that at all. Maybe you can explain that to me.

SHEEHAN: Well, I think that, Bill, there are more ways to defend the — the religious values of Christmas than being on your program.

O'REILLY: Well, you're reaching 20 million people here. I mean, you know you can talk in St. Patrick's all day long. You're reaching about 20 million, radio, TV, international. That's a lot of people to reach. Go ahead.

SHEEHAN: Well, some people may be a little scared to be on with you, but I'm not scared. And we've talked — we've talked at other times, as well.

O'REILLY: Right.

SHEEHAN: And I'm happy to be on.

O'REILLY: All right, Archbishop. And we appreciate you standing up.

SHEEHAN: Another point.

O'REILLY: Go ahead, real quick.

SHEEHAN: Bill, another point that I might make, is that, you know, Christmas is not just about, you know, saying, "Merry Christmas." The spiritual values of love and concern for the poor and respect for others are values that must be respected by all people.

O'REILLY: And anybody — anybody who knows the traditions of Christmas knows those values are paramount...


O'REILLY: ... in both the public and the religious holiday.

We appreciate you taking the time. Merry Christmas to you, Archbishop.

SHEEHAN: Merry Christmas to you, Bill.

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