Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Working Catholic: Food Processing by Bill Droel

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) is a standard on high school summer reading lists; that is, for those high schools that still expect education to occur beyond the classroom. It was first published in serial form in 1905 for a Kansas City weekly newspaper, Appeal To Reason. The author’s intention was to highlight the exploitation of immigrant workers in Chicago’s stockyards. The book’s positive outcome, however, was directed elsewhere. As Sinclair put it: “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” To the public The Jungle was an alarm about food safety, not so much about the safety of workers. Thus soon after publication, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) advocated for and Congress passed two major food policies and established a department which is now called Food and Drug Administration. So what happened to the workers?

            Chicago’s Union Stockyards closed in 1971 (though two small slaughtering houses still operate in that neighborhood). In our country slaughtering and meat packing now takes place in the South. Chicken and other poultry, for example, is processed in Arkansas and North Carolina. Beef and pork are still packaged in the Midwest, but now in smaller plants in remote towns.

            Ted Genoways in The Chain: Farm Factory and the Fate of Our Food (Harper Collins, 2014) takes us to the Hormel Meat factory in Austin, Minnesota. The entire food industry—from planting corn or raising a calf to lunch at a restaurant or dinner in the kitchen—is remote to us. Austin is tucked away on IS 90, west of Rochester and about a dozen miles north of Iowa. Hormel’s infrastructure is also deliberately remote. The chief executive has a Texas address but, as Genoways discovers, there is no such place. Some of the workers likewise, though for a different reason, have phony IDs. Since the Great Depression the Austin plant has specialized in Spam—the kind that comes in a can. The current recession has put Spam production into overdrive.

The pace of work is what Genoways means by The Chain. In a so-called pilot project the government now allows some automated plants to run the production line as fast as possible. “Upping the speed of slaughter…set off a wide-ranging and sometimes disastrous series of events,” Genoways says. A dirty and perhaps infected carcass more likely makes its way down the line. Workers suffer more injuries, including a nerve-damaging infection that is only detected later. Our relatively inexpensive meat “comes at a high cost to its workers,” Genoways concludes.

What can be done? The workers in Austin and in other nearby plants are nobly represented by United Food and Commercial Workers. In 1985 they staged perhaps the “most notorious and rancorous” job action in our country’s history. That story plus and an insider’s account of meat inspection as well as more from Genoways and other journalists and, late this year, a return visit to Chicago’s stockyards… all of that will appear in a subsequent Working Catholic columns.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Working Catholic: A Race Man by Bill Droel

It was cold in the parking lot after the funeral, but I lingered long enough to chat with an elderly priest. “We were about to get our first assignments out of seminary,” he began. “A teacher gave me some advice: Stay away from Falls; he’s a race man. Well, I was bold in those days and I replied: No, he’s a man of justice.”

The funeral, celebrated at St. John of the Cross in Western Springs, Illinois, was for Arthur Falls (1901-2000), a medical doctor, a pioneer in race relations and a lifelong Chicago Catholic. He was indeed a “race man” or a militant, but not in the sense of episodic, sloganeering skirmishes that result in little more than superficial media coverage. Falls was confrontational, but consistently worked inside hospitals, schools, housing agencies, businesses, parish committees and more to achieve incremental policy changes.

Lincoln Rice in a new biography of Falls, Healing the Racial Divide (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014), supplies some background on my parking lot conversation. From about 1937 to 1942, Falls met regularly with seminarians away from church property to talk about urban issues and race. The group—which totaled about 30 over the years—included Msgr. Jack Egan (1916-2001), Fr. Martin Farrell (1911-1991) and Fr. Howard Matty Hoffman (1916-2004), Rice tells us.

Falls founded and joined scores of organizations in his steady persistence to end racism. A partial list includes serving on the executive board of the Chicago Urban League, facilitating an interracial dialogue group in the Morgan Park/Beverly neighborhood, active member of the Federation of Colored Catholics which became the National Catholic Interracial Federation, committees and ministries in his south side and then Western Springs parishes, founder of Chicago Catholic Interracial Council, founder of Committee to End Discrimination in Medical Institutions, member of Fellowship of Reconciliation and member of Congress of Racial Equality.

There are at least three Catholic Worker Houses in Chicago today. But do its members know who founded the first one here? Arthur Falls in 1936. He is also responsible for integrating the masthead of the New York Catholic Worker newspaper.

All the while, Falls was a husband, father, practicing doctor, a surgeon and for a time chief of staff at Provident Hospital.

Falls “was strongly grounded in Catholic theology,” Rice says. He was particularly animated by the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which holds that each person regardless of status is godly. Falls, of course, was aware that Catholics (including himself) and Catholic institutions did not consistently live out their own beliefs. He was fond of saying that when it comes to the Body of Christ, the doctrine is “mythical not mystical to too many of its members.” And because of this doctrine it is, said Falls, a heresy for Catholics and others to tolerate racial injustice.

No one—white or black—goes to confession—now or back in former times—and admits the sin of racism. Treating racial injustice as a heresy, suggests Healing the Racial Divide, might be more effective than calling it a sin.

Falls believed in the power of moral suasion and appealing to people’s informed conscience. He was a militant, but a militant for interracial justice. Falls believed that black equality benefits blacks and whites alike, explains Karen Joy Johnson in a March 2015 essay for the cyber-publication Religion in American History (www.usreligion.blogspot.com). Even as early as the 1930s this stance put Falls and others against those who wanted black-only organizations. Because of Falls’ insistence on interracial life, Johnson writes, he “refused to attend one of the colored parishes” as so designated by most Catholic clergy in Chicago. Participation in a regular neighborhood parish was thus for Falls a protest.

Falls’ optimism about dialogue was never, Rice continues, uncoupled from “dedication to a long and bitter struggle.” An impulsive, impatient struggle will never bear fruit. Falls plotted campaigns with the precision he brought to his surgery. Only campaigns led by thoughtful people grounded in the virtue of hope will succeed.

We don’t know how Falls would specifically react to current events. However, Rice quotes a 1968 interview. Some protest movements, Falls said, have “a great deal of vocalization and very little cerebration… I realize it’s not as dramatic a cry to shout We want competent teachers instead of We want black teachers… But that’s what’s needed… I’d rather have [those in the classroom] think science than think black… We’ve already heard all the things the white man has done… Now the thing to think about is what we do now.”

Lincoln Rice PhD is a theology professor at Marquette University.  He is a long time member of the Catholic Worker 'Casa Maria' community.

Droel edits a free, print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Monday, May 4, 2015


May Day of 2015 will be remembered as a significant day in U.S. history because of dramatic events in Baltimore. 

   The Milwaukee Voces de la Frontera – workers’ center May Day march is to remember the sacrifices of immigrant workers in Chicago and Milwaukee who in 1886 challenged police, the National Guard and a Justice system designed to serve the interests of capital.  We also marched because workers are still being abused; it’s a moral issue.

   The Milwaukee County Sheriff and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Federal Government collaborate to separate families intent on working to achieve a life as intended by the Creator.  This year’s march highlighted this issue and its injustice.

    May Day in Baltimore saw the U.S. democratic system demonstrate integrity.   Commentators on the recent spasm of police violence have said that justice is impossible, because of the close relationship of the police with States – District - Attorneys.  Police then continue violent action with confidence and impunity.  But, Baltimore States Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, elected on a reform platform, brought criminal charges against six police officers for the murder of Freddie Grey.

   Voces de la Frontera and the New Sanctuary Movement recognize Latino roots in Africa.  Slaves were transported not only to North America but also to South America and the islands of the Caribbean.  Jesuit Peter Claver ministered to slaves as they disembarked in Cartagena, Columbia.  We embrace our North American brothers and sisters of African ancestry and join them in the cry for justice.  ‘Black lives matter.

Saint Peter Claver, S.J.  ministering to slaves arriving at Cartegena, Colombia.  The plaques is on display at Saint Benedict the Moor Parish in Milwaukee

   “It’s so beautiful to see people of so many nationalities here together,” said Maria Hamilton at a rally before the Voces march.  She is the mother of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African-American man shot dead by Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney one year ago.  Manney was fired for not following proper police procedures but was not charged with a crime by Milwaukee D. A. John Chisholm. 

   Milwaukee May Day marchers expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the Hamilton family, and the people of Baltimore.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


In a review of a book concerning the the sexual abuse crisis, canon lawyer Tom Doyle states that canon law is a legal system in service to a monarchy.  He is correct; the Roman Catholic Church is a monarchy. (NCR April24 - May7, 2015)  The Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium describes the Roman Catholic Church authority structure:

For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the       whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely. (L.G. #22)
   But there is change in process.  The monologue of the Vatican monarchy is shifting to a dialogue.  Benevolent dictator Pope Francis considers evangelization as a way of making the Kingdom of God present in the world.  This is quite different than using evangelization as a tool of recruitment and condemnation.   What can we expect from Pope Francis?  Let’s look to a book published before he was elected Pope – On Heaven and Earth,  written with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and also Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium.


   The book On Heaven and Earth is a publication of some of the inter- religious discussions between two Argentineans, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and a noted Rabbi and scholar, Abraham Skorka.  The book was originally published in 1995 eight years before Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope.

  The dialogue in the book indicates that both Skorka and Bergoglio were especially interested in issues of social justice.  Chapter 4 is on poverty.  Rabbi Skorka wrote:

All religions have a complete and absolute obligation with regards to fighting poverty.

To make his point Rabbi Skorka cited the Torah as commanding help for the needy.  Cardinal Bergoglio said Christianity inherited the Jewish tradition and referred to Chapter 26 of Mathew as the Christian mandate. Both see working for the poor as a matter of justice - tzedek in Hebrew.  Bergoglio referred to the social doctrine of the Church and noted that it opposed economic liberalism (unrestrained capitalism).  He stated,

We have to seek opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest and freedom of unions.

   Rabbi Skorka noted that in Argentina working for the poor was a shared work between Christians and Jews.  Skorka continued:

We do not proselytize; it is a real commitment to help our fellow man.

 Both agreed that political action for the poor must be free of personal or congregational political ambitions.   

   The religious leaders did not agree on everything, but emphasized the importance of respectful dialogue for the purpose of the Faith community working together for justice.


   Bergoglio as Pope Francis wrote an Encyclical on Evangelization entitled The Joy of the Gospel.  The Encyclical emphasizes social justice and dialogue, and met with strong opposition from conservative Roman Catholics and business interests.  A hierarchy of truths emerges with God’s love for all and the responsibilities of loving God and your neighbor as primary.

   With this emphasis, a new but historical Kerygma (basic teaching) emerges.  The twentieth century Kerygma of European scripture scholars, such as Rudolph Bultman’s Jesus is Lord, is brought back to the basic law – love God and your neighbor.  (Dt. 6:4, Lev. 19:18, Lk. 10:25-28.)

   This change is subtle and nuanced so it doesn’t rate a headline, but it is clear.  For example, in a chapter of Evangelii Gaudium – entitled “Social Dialogue as a Contribution to Peace,” Pope Francis confronts the problem of evangelization of the Jews.  Francis minimizes the 20th century European concept of Kerygma proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and emphasizes that the Catholic Church and Judaism have - “a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.” (#249) What then is evangelization?  For the ‘Vicar of Christ …’ “Evangelization also involves the path of dialogue.” (#235)


   In their book of dialogue, On Heaven and Earth, with Rabbi Skorka, Cardinal Bergoglio clearly upholds the Roman Catholic Church’s position on woman priests, gay marriage, and abortion.  However this does not stop him from working for social justice with dissenters of such church doctrines.  In Evangelii Guadium Pope Francis insists on dialogue with the scientific community, with other Christians, the Jewish community, Muslims and non-believers in order to promote peace and the common good. (Chapter 4)

   A question arises:  will Pope Francis allow dialogue within the Roman Catholic Church?  Could there be a conference of theologians on women priests, et cetera?   Only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


   The 2016 presidential race – a marathon - some candidates starting slowly, saving themselves for a public relations sprint to the finish line.  Key to victory is getting massive amounts of money to pay for glib TV ads insisting that the self interest of the voter is best served by a particular candidate.   Is it democracy – is democracy even valued?  One of the candidates, Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, refused to support the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, when he was removed by a military coup in 2009.

   For labor it is a choice of the lesser evil.  Both the Democrat and Republican candidates will probably support the Trans Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.) – a trade agreement that ignores the basic rights of workers. Of course Wall Street is all for it.  The challenge for labor is to minimize the evil of the lesser evil.

   U.S. Democracy is fundamentally flawed.  Most people want immigration reform, but with our present system directed by wealthy oligarchs, such reform is unlikely.  If given the chance, Latino worker citizens would vote the Wall Street puppets out of office.  Income inequality is talked about but nothing of substance is presented as a solution.  Labor as the voice in the work place on wages, safety or national politics is not presented as important.  President Obama offered hope for E.F.C.A. (Employee Fair Trade Act) but nothing came of it.   Of course it goes without saying – the workers in the Pacific nations of the pact certainly have no voice. Globalization of the economy means we work for a global common good.

   Benevolent dictator, Pope Francis, has a different view. He cites ‘preferential option for the poor’ as a criterion for economic justice. The T.P.P. would not pass muster.  The Pope insists on dialogue, but did his man, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, dialogue or preach to Manuel Zelaya before supporting the coup that ousted the president elected by the people? The resulting violence has sent a flood of children to the U.S. border.

  Once again labors’ task is monumental.  Questions on T.P.P., income inequality, immigration reform and E.F.C.A. must be constantly presented. Specific answers are needed not a smoothing over by expensive public relations experts.

Thursday, April 16, 2015



   I sometimes joke about it, but there is some truth in the absurdity of it.   I say I change religions in the spring; come spring I am a golf worshiper.  It is a difficult religion because there are many gods – the wind god, the sand god, gods that lurk in the woods, the water god.  To get over a water hazard, I’ll throw a ball in as a sacrifice. 

Alan Toft and Jim Lange in Mesquite, Nevada

   T.V. advertisements for this year’s Masters in Augusta, Georgia finally made me aware of a challenge to my golf faith.  Am I supposed to be excited about a bourgeois event that is an icon of racism and classism?

    I have Master’s history?  In 1949 our caddy master at Oak Park Country Club in suburban Chicago gave the caddies  permission to watch an exhibition match featuring a foursome of Johnny Palmer, Jimmy Thompson, Horton Smith and ‘Errie Ball. ‘  Errie was the current Oak Park pro and Horton Smith preceded him by a few years.  Both had played in early Masters Tournaments with Smith as one of the first winners.

   Errie Ball (His given name was Harry, but we’ll let that go.) was encouraged to emigrate from England by Bobby Jones, one of the founders of the Masters.  Errie was an outstanding ‘tee to green’ player but had trouble on the greens with his putting.  I remember he used to whack the heel of his shoe with his putter when he’d miss a short putt and mutter “gadamit.”  As his caddy I braced myself for the possibility that he might miss and hit his ankle.

   The final round of the Masters this year was Sunday, April 12.  It would be dramatic and a great story.  Twenty-one year old Jordan Spieth was poised to win.  But we had been invited to a Seder Meal at Congregation Sinai.  The Seder Meal commemorates the migration of the Israelites from slavery to the Promised Land.  Among those sponsoring the event was the New Sanctuary Movement of Voces de la Frontera and Miklat, a Jewish support group.  

   Joanne could have gone by herself and then I could have watched the Masters on TV.  I decided to go to the Seder.  It was an emotional experience.  Our Latino families were there – we told our own immigration stories and became more aware that the Exodus narrative of the migration from slavery in Egypt is the basic story of Faith recounting God’s intervention in history for justice and liberation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Working Catholic: Vocation Culture by Bill Droel

 There’s a vocation crisis among physicians. First, a crisis of numbers. Not enough young adults, particularly those from the United States, are applying to medical school and not enough of those who do apply want a general practice. Second, a crisis of meaning. Many doctors, to greater or lesser degree are disillusioned.

Meagan O’Rourke, writing in The Atlantic (11/14), reviews seven recent books by or about physicians. “The very meaning and structure of care” is in crisis, she concludes. It relates to our fee-for-service medical economy, concerns about litigation, the pace of patient encounters, ambivalence about medical technology, doctors’ relationship to hospital administration, complexities of private and public insurance and more. According to one survey, 80% of practicing physicians are “somewhat pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession.” Only 6% describe their morale as positive.

This serious situation is not what those in church circles have in mind when they use the phrase “the vocation crisis.” Editors of religious newspapers often run a special section on vocations. They feature priests, deacons, seminarians and vowed religious. Yet they neglect the vocations of manufacturers, financiers, administrators, appliance repair workers and doctors. Occasionally, a headline in one of these special sections makes their bias worse. It reads something like: “Leaving a Career to Do God’s Will.”
Those who write the Prayers of Intercession for the liturgy sometimes mistake the part for the whole. One prayer is “for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.” But there is no subsequent prayer “for an increase in the vocation of responsible parenting.”

Every diocese has a vocation office—either with paid staff or volunteers. Every religious order has a vocation division. Yet all their posters, mailings and programs are pointed at vocations to the religious life while they seemingly ignore the vocation crisis in the wider church; the crisis in some of the trades, in some professions and in homemaking.

Oh yes, clergy have a high calling but it is in virtue of their baptism. Oh yes, clergy have a vocation, but so do fathers who care about their babies. Oh yes, there is a vocation crisis, but it can be found in social work, some fields of education and more. A nurse who agrees to stay beyond his or her shift to cover for someone absent is responding to a calling. That’s the case even if the nurse does so grudgingly; even though the nurse will get extra pay; even though the nurse will not have a sense of holiness while completing that evening’s rounds.

To highlight baptism is not to suggest an elimination of ordination. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a champion of the lay vocation, but his priesthood was valuable to him and ordination remains vital in Lutheran Christianity.

To highlight baptism is not to reach back for a two-tiered church where clergy and laity stay apart. Lay people have a duty to build up the internal or ministerial church by, for example, serving (paid or volunteer) as catechists, ministers of care, extraordinary ministers during liturgy and more. This duty, be reminded, is not because there is a relative shortage of ordained and vowed religious. Priests and religious have a duty to support and at time critique external church matters, including areas of business or medical ethics, policies for the poor, all matters of human dignity. This function though is more effective when conveyed in general tones. Ordination does not confer any extra talent or intelligence regarding specific details of business management, public policy analysis or journalism. A priest or vowed religious who wades deeper into those areas does so as a citizen and a baptized person. In other words, every Christian is a member of the church, the people of God.
 Obviously in practice the exercise of a clerical vocation overlaps with the exercise of a lay vocation. That overlap is a clue. The only way to address the relative shortage of clergy is for the whole church—its workaday members and its institutions--to foster a vocation culture among all baptized. With that effort the relative shortage of ordained clergy and religious will take care of itself.

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter about faith and work.