Saturday, February 10, 2018


 William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, headed the movement to end slavery in the British Empire.  He succeeded.   Slave trade was abolished in 1810 and slaves in the empire were emancipated in 1833.
Wilberforce was an excellent orator and a Methodist man of faith. He used the Bible to elicit compassion and justice for those enslaved. The world still suffers the legacy of the evil from slavery; slavery defines the United States.  Rascism is so common that it is hardly recognized, but William Wilberforce is considered an icon in the struggle for human equality.

The movie, The Long Shadow, produced and narrated by Frances Causey, suggests that the Abolition Movement in England was a reason for the American colonies breaking away from the British Empire.  In 1772, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, publicly opposed slavery as well as Adam Smith – father of free trade capitalism.  Faith groups such as the Quakers, Unitarians and the Moravians opposed slavery as well.  Former slaver and friend of William Wilberforce, Capton John Newton, was against slavery from his experience of the horror on his ships and his subsequent conversion.  Newton became an Anglican priest and wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. 

The fear of losing slavery, which was the basis of the colonial economy and source of wealth for the ambitious revolutionaries, was an incentive for military action to separate from the British Empire.
I was surprised when I asked a woman from Kenya who was educated in the United Kingdom what she thought of Wilberforce.  She commented, “Oh, he was just another colonialist.”  She had a pointWilberforce was instrumental in setting up a colony in Sierra Leone, and insisted that missionaries be allowed in India to preach the Christian Gospel.  His efforts in Haiti undermined England’s colonial rival France.    

The Christian Gospel of Wilberforce’s understanding lacked the broad vision of analysis that ferrets out causes.  The move from mercantilism to free trade capitalism was not the answer for poverty stricken workers, black and white, who had no voice in changing the colonial system.

In the 1960’s the Black Panthers considered African Americans as an internal colony of the U.S.  Donald Trump and the Republicans with their policy of re-segregation are re-establishing that internal colony.

The 1886 Haymarket hero Samuel Fielden explained in his autobiography which he wrote from Chicago’s Cook County Jail that as a young worker in England he sympathized with U.S. slaves.  He emigrated to the U.S. and visited the southern U.S. after the civil war and the emancipation. He saw the situation of black workers as being no better than the lives of slaves.  “…the Negro was held in as absolute bondage as he was before the war.”
Our current situation of racism, income inequality, world poverty and violation of the earth’s resources demonstrates that Wilberforce, immersed in Evangelism and the culture of the British Empire, provided only a beginning in seeking justice for the modern industrial world.  The collapse of the industrial world that we now experience and the ‘end of work’ requires Amazing Grace for new creativity to save the planet and achieve justice for all.  


Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery, Eric Metaxas.

The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, ed. Phillip S. Foner.

Black against Empire, Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.

The End of Work, Jeremy Rifkin.

Movie: The Long Shadow, Frances Causey, film maker and investigative reporter

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Working Catholic: Workplace Behavior by Bill Droel

In response to recent disclosures of predatory behavior in several workplaces, human resource departments around the country are redistributing employee handbooks. Likewise, managers are everywhere huddling with employees to review proper deportment.

Rule books and company policies are important. They represent an advance over the arbitrary decisions of a boss, even a benevolent boss. Rule books provide a basis for equal treatment. They are often written after some employee input, either through a personnel committee or a union and thus these personnel policies carry a degree of assumed consent. It is, admittedly, difficult to deal with specific personnel incidents like persistent tardiness, suspicions of addiction, internet surfing, gossiping and harassment. Likewise, written company policies add a layer of procedural wrangling or maybe nitpicking to each incident. Nonetheless, those policies benefit the company, its brand, its managers, its lawyers, its insurance policy and importantly, its employees. To operate any business today on a case-by-case basis is asking for additional trouble. 

Let’s be clear, however. To have a refined and fully-accepted employee handbook is not the same as having an ethical workforce and ethical managers. A rule book cannot dispose workers to see the sacred on the job; it cannot help a worker imagine her job as a vocation. A rule book does not establish decorum in the office. It is incapable of fostering compassion. And please be aware, a rule book cannot give any manager or any employee his or her dignity.

Workers, writes James Drane in Becoming a Good Doctor (Rowman Littlefield, 1988; $16.95), “shape the ethical narrative of their lives by the ways they do ordinary things over and over.” His book is directed to medical schools and hospital administrators, but as Drane says, its argument relates to all occupations and professions. “The whole medical ethics enterprise has been conceived in terms of logic, principles, patient rights and procedures,” he notes. Medical ethics, like other topics in medicine, is taught by using case studies. The result is “an abstract, analytical style.” This approach for doctors, nurses, technicians and many other workers results in licensing requirements, continuing education requirements, renewals, charting, written policies, patient consent forms, information-sharing regulations and lots more. All of this is necessary, perhaps. 

This dominant approach to education for and delivery of health care does not consider the worker’s personal virtue or character, Drane continues. “Attention to a young doctor’s personal traits or character is out of place” in medical education or in hiring. The dominant approach assumes that personal character—the product of doing ordinary things well, over and over—has no place. Putting character outside the bounds of hiring criteria and evaluation, Drane contends, contributes to the disease of agnosia. That is, health care workers might lose the ability to see the face of the person being treated or to respectfully appreciate the people they work with.  A hospital, to continue the medical example, might have a doctor or a nurse who has completely memorized the procedural handbook. That doctor or nurse might be nearly compulsive about observing all the required dos-and-don’ts. None of this, however, guarantees that such a doctor or nurse is any good; that such a doctor or nurse treats patients and families holistically or respects the inherent dignity of each colleague. 

There’s a reason that human resource departments, executives and others don’t traffic in virtue.  Modern business has no binding standard for conduct, except the law. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and others, tried to develop a modern approach to ethics that did not depend on revelation or religion. But, under the weight of too many particulars, the objective rationale behind the modern approach to business and public ethics is easily ignored, even explicitly dismissed. The situation in recent years is worse, as a post-modern approach to public life has gained fashion. It harbors an ironic contempt for objectivity itself.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior Counselor to the President and, by the way, a Catholic, says “There are alternative facts.” This is a stunning example of post-modern relativism. If she is correct, there is no ethics.

U.S. Catholic bishops, to offer a current situation, do not err in restating or re-framing canons pertaining to deviant personnel. They go in the right direction by requiring their employees to judiciously report deviance. But as intelligent bishops should know, even the most comprehensive personnel guidelines will not sufficiently influence an employee who is short on virtue. 

Entertainment executives, to mention a second current example, are not wasting time by requiring all employees to read company personnel guidelines. This pertains even to the biggest stars in the industry, maybe especially the stars. But intelligent executives should know that it takes more than a guidebook to have a culture of respect in the studio or the newsroom. 

How can virtue be acquired? To be continued…

Monday, January 22, 2018


The current attack on truth by the Trump administration seems unprecedented, but upon review it was and is a tactic used by dictators and ‘dictators-in-the-making.’  The gospel story in John, Ch.18:38 relates that the Roman governor Pilate asked, “What is truth?” then attempted to erase it with a calculated execution with plausible deniability.
 Children are most adept at distinguishing the true from the false.  Truth is distilled from fact in the form of make believe or fairy tales.  Kids understand.
It is more difficult for adults to define truth when they are fixed on questions pertaining to truth: 

What are the causes? – these are the realists;
What is the really real? – these are the idealists;               
Why me and not nothing? – the existentialists;
What works? - the pragmatists.

Answers must be certain to protect individual and group identity.  There is no compromise with groups with different questions and different versions of truth.


George Orwell went beyond such questions with his ‘make believe’ tale for adults with imagination– Animal Farm.  In Orwell’s story the animals take over the farm of the oppressive capitalist, Mr. Jones.  In time, after an impressive beginning the animals are more exploited than ever by the animal dictator Napoleon – a pig. 


Napoleon secures his power through a public relations campaign based on lies through his spokesperson – Squealer.  Animal Farm defines truth by pointing out what it is not – Fake News.



The Christmas story defines truth in presenting an image of what it isFriends and ‘compañeros,’ Pastor Joe Ellwanger and his wife Joyce, write in their Christmas letter:
The Truth of Christmas is worth celebrating year-round with lives full of radical love and courageous work for justice.  After all, the Son of God became a human being in the poverty of a cow stall.  It is clear all human life matters.

Truth is here; we just need to recognize it and distinguish it from Squealer’s lies.

Artwork by Monique, 3rd grader.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Working Catholic: Genuine Change by Bill Droel

Will the buds of social improvement flower? There are promising signs. People are speaking out for respectful behavior in workplaces. Others are adamant about equal treatment under the law. Some desire better attention to mental health and addiction; still others are sensitive to food and product safety. To turn these and other initial bursts of interest into meaningful social change means avoiding pseudo-change; those activities that feel like social change but only approximate genuine politics.

Discussion groups, for example, are not change agents. Consciousness-raising is not politics. Oh yes, our society benefits from book clubs. Roundtable discussion groups that meet over drinks and a topic are important. These and other modes of intellectual sharing assist those who advance the common good.

It sometimes happens, however, that participants in a discussion group assume that they are thereby tackling a social problem. A parish group, for example, forms around shared concern over opioid addictions.  They read and discuss Dreamland, a terrific book by Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury, 2016). They subsequently invite the entire congregation to a couple of presentations, including a well-attended one with the local sheriff. The parish group accumulates a referral list for families dealing with addiction. All of this is good, noble and necessary. It is not yet social change. An opening must be found into the pain treatment industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the nursing home industry, the criminal justice system, the social service bureaucracy and the like.

The parish group itself does not have to be a change agent; in fact, it probably should not be. But the group can perhaps find ways that its members can get inside the problem from within their workplace, their college, their professional association or their union. Plus, the small parish group can perhaps coalesce with other church groups in their denomination or across denominational and religious lines and then join even bigger circles of influence.

A key to social change behavior is the understanding that outsiders must get to the inside. This journey requires sophistication and some tradeoffs, including serious attention to core principles.

Here is one example of outsiders getting to the inside. Globalization has many unfortunate side-effects. But globalization by definition is huge and seemingly amorphous. Sweatshops in Bangladesh are a bi-product of globalization. But there’s nothing one can do about them. But wait. Some students have found a clever way to break into the seemingly impenetrable harshness of the global economy. First students at one school and then students at the next school went to their college bookstore. They asked the store manager to name the factory that produces the school’s sweaters, shirts, jackets and the like. They simultaneously pushed the college administrators to require that bookstore vendors have humane labor codes. The students, who communicate with those at other schools through United Students Against Sweatshops (, got their school to sign-on with an apparel monitoring organization, Worker Rights Consortium ( Guess what? Some major apparel retailers and clothing brands met with student representatives. The companies now expect their overseas sub-contractors to observe humane working conditions.

Is the problem of sweatshops solved? Not yet. Some apparel lines want to do their own monitoring of the overseas suppliers; the student groups want independent monitoring. So, the students have to get further inside some apparel companies. In doing so, the students have to consider their principles: Is half a loaf acceptable or do we push for three-quarters of a loaf? Is the credibility of the students enough or would a celebrity endorser help? Maybe a bigger presence on social media is the answer? What else is involved in social change? To be continued…

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Monday, January 8, 2018


 Fifty years ago the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the legendary “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.  I remember watching the game on T.V. at the Dominican Priory in River Forest, IL.  I was delighted when Bart Star, on a quarterback sneak, followed lineman Jerry Kramer across the goal for the winning score.  A couple of the brothers from New Mexico were rooting for the Cowboys.  I had no idea what was going on in Milwaukee. 

Change the Game

In August Mayor Maier blocked our march

by issuing a proclamation.  Chief Brier

was quick to jail us.  Then our numbers surged.

The aldermen complained, you wreck our rep-

utation as a place that’s fair.  Their fair.   


In fall their strategy turned cold.  They dup-

licated a weak Wisconsin statute

exempting owner- occupied and small

 buildings, exactly what Milwaukee had.

We marched for something stronger, fair for all.

Year’s end.  Cameras turn toward Green Bay,

the Packers minus twenty cold, last play –

a sneak, they win-fans ecstatic!

We huddle, keep our line tight, our eyes on the goal.

A poem by Margaret Rozga which appears in her book of poems about the fair housing marches in Milwaukee fifty years ago.  The book is titled:  200 Nights and one day, Benu Press, P.O. Box 5330 Hopkins, Minnesota 55343

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Working Catholic: Advent, Part II by Bill Droel

Contemporaries Karl Marx (1818-1883), Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870) were concerned about the social question: Why in an industrial economy that promises upward mobility is there so much misery?
By the mid-1800s prosperity was arriving for “factory and mill and transportation interests,” writes Les Standiford in his intriguing biography of Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown, 2008). In addition to business owners, “a growing number of managerial workers were beginning to enjoy the relative ease of a middle class. But most of those who made the factories run were laborers, and they and their families lived in squalor.”  
In his early 20s Engels was in Manchester, working and researching. Appalled by child labor, pollution and slum housing there, he began writing about the evils of capitalism. Standiford says that Manchester in 1843 set the stage for Engels. Had he “come of age in some more pleasant surroundings such as London, The Communist Manifesto might not have been written the way it was.”
Dickens gave a talk in Manchester in fall 1843. He too was appalled. He returned to London and in a fury wrote his anti-capitalist manifesto, A Christmas Carol. Dickens “had no use for revolt or violence as suggested by supporters of Mark and Engels,” Standiford writes. His novels are about the working poor, but they dwell on character not on macro-economics. The stories hinge on the tension between bad people and bad institutions, on one hand, and the possibility of redemption on the other.
The good guys (the poor) in Dickens’ stories are complex. He does not romanticize them. Poverty in itself does not make a person noble or worthy of pity. A poor person might drink, carouse, cheat and make bad decisions at times. Dickens’ premise, however, is that being poor is not a sin; the system is at fault.
The holy season of Advent is designed to convey this lesson: Charity is not romantic; it is a duty. Poor individuals are often not charming. They do, however, deserve help with no heavy moral judgment attached. 
St. Luke wrote an inspired story about the social question (poverty). Like A Christmas Carol, it is popular at this time of year. The creator of the whole universe, the story goes, comes to visit his created planet. His holy family cannot get a room at Trump Tower and so they go to a barn. The creator is greeted there by poor shepherds. He eventually spends his life among the poor, all of whom St. Luke says have defects in their character but are open to redemption.   
These weeks are the best time to read St. Luke (his first two chapters) and also Dickens’ tale. Get a decorative copy of A Christmas Carol from Acta ( Acta’s chief executive Grinch sits all day near the building’s front window, looking forlornly down Clark St., waiting until April 9, 2018 when he can take his seat in Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs (92-70 in 2017). Meanwhile, the joyous elves in Acta’s cramped warehouse can for $14.95 get A Christmas Carol into your mailbox, as quickly as any mega-supplier.
Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Emperor St.Constantine and his mother, St.Helen.
"In This Sign You Will Conquer"

   Heraclitus said that you can’t step into the same river twice – change is constant.

  Why the concern about the changes in the identity of the Roman Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is constantly and dramatically changing. This has happened throughout its history and the changes have been controversial.  The current controversy is how the church’s members identify and function as Catholics.

    Here are some examples of this constant and dramatic change.  Christianity began as a Jewish sect in resistance to Roman Imperialism - then became an anti-Jewish religion that supported imperialism.  Roman Christianity appeared with the takeover by the Emperor Constantine and changed from monotheism to monotheism that tries to explain why three gods are really one God.  (One of the gods was human as well as divine.) Violence under imperialism is and was considered a legitimate path to peace. The Reformation of the 16th century challenged the theology of belief. The interpretation of basic teaching of Christianity – the kerygma -  has always been in flux, in constant change.

    N.C.R. writer Sean Winter looks at the 1967 Land o’Lakes convention of Catholic Universities as a cause of the current Roman Catholic identity crisis. (“Catholic Identity lost?” N.C.R. Nov. 17 -30, 2017)  The convention attempted to separate Roman Catholic Universities from Vatican control thus freeing theologians to discuss the topic of evolution, and with time, the morality of birth control, abortion, women’s rights including the right to ordination, and LGBTQ rights.    

   Sean Winter quotes the Vatican II document Guadium et Spes:

If by the authority of earthly affairs is meant the gradual discovery, exploitation and ordering of laws and values of matter and society; then the demand for autonomy is perfectly in order:  it is at once the claim of modern man and the desire of the creator.

   In other words it is reasonable not to condemn what you don’t understand.  The Vatican responded in 1990 with an apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, to regain control of the universities.  Because of pressure from Milwaukee’s Archbishop, Jerome Listecki, Marquette University was not allowed to hire a gay woman as Dean of the school of Liberal Arts.  

   But the core of the present identity controversy is Vatican II, 1962 – 65.

   The cold war threatened world annihilation.  Pope John XXIII responded by calling for an ecumenical council - a world council.  Peace through justice was the theme.  The opening message of the Council was released on October 20th 1962, two days before the Cuban missile crisis.  The statement was addressed to all humanity.  It emphasized the urgency of peace through social justice. John XXIII issued two relevant encyclicals - one on Social Justice, Mater et Magistra 1961, and one on Peace – Pacem in Terris 1963.

    Vatican II recognized the Laity as a crucial force in the church. Dialogue was prioritized among various Christian denominations, non – Christians, and atheists (read communists) to present a unified front to promote peace.  But almost immediately in 1968 the windows were shut, mold formed, and the unreasonable was once again declared as reasonable.  For example, birth control validated as moral by a papal commission of the Laity was pronounced as immoral by Paul VI with his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Here is where we find the core of the changes that is causing the identity crisis for Catholics.  The Laity is in disagreement with the official church yet the Laity is said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit in the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
   Within the Laity and the hierarchy there are disagreements each with a preferential dogma supported as they interpret scripture and tradition.  

   Because of the current U.S. administration, the threat of nuclear war is again on the horizon, and the anxiety of the 50’s has returned.  Pope Francis has demanded the elimination of nuclear weapons.  Teaching the early Christian Gospel of Peace through justice and non–violence, as opposed to the Roman Imperial Gospel of Peace through military victory, (NIKA) is crucial.  The Gospel of Peace is a worthwhile identity mark for the faith community and the Catholic Church. A strain of Catholic theology has emphasized realism and reason. Such theology as a Catholic identity could help refine and explain the ancient kerygma of resistance and non-violence as a path to peace.  

Prince of Peace, born in a stable

   The Christmas story and the angel’s revelation to the shepherds, “fear not … peace to those of good will,” is not historical, simply a cherished myth, but it is relevant today and points to truth.