Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Rerum Novarum was a revolutionary document that challenged capitalism at the core, but only right wing capitalists recognized this. Unfortunately the Encyclical missed so much that was happening, and advocated idealized structures of the middle-ages that were repressive.

The Encyclical focused on the horrible situation of working people in Europe. It’s as if Leo XIII went for a fifteen minute walk in the White Chapel neighborhood on the east end of London, threw up, then wrote Rerum Novarum – “The Condition of Labor,” from the catacombs of Rome.

There was no comment on the policy of Great Britain toward Ireland during the Potato famine of 1845 -1850. ‘Capitalism - economic liberalism’ was a cause of the famine and allowed millions to starve to death. Couldn’t the revolution in Mexico be for-seen? Inequality of wealth and economic power between nations was evident. World War I was not far in the future. What about racism, and women’s rights? Such issues needed to be related to economic policy.

Some more hushed voices from the past:

Women were admitted to Marquette in 1909, and Marquette then became the first co-ed Roman Catholic college in the world. “Nina Polcyn Moore, Jour. M.U. ’35, was a student activist when she visited the Catholic Worker house in New York’s Bowery. She journaled, ‘It was so bleak so agonizing. Red bugs, bread lines, dirt, drunks, narcotic addicts, senile old people, perpetual crises - and a demure young lady from Milwaukee.’” Nina Polcyn Moore started a Catholic Worker House in Milwaukee and was a life long friend of Dorothy Day. “Marquette Magazine,” Fall, 2009. The Duty of Delight, the Diaries of Dorothy Day, Ed. Robert Ellsberg, p.227.

St. Benedict the Moor Parish was founded in 1908 by African American Charles Valle who struggled against discrimination in Roman Catholic churches. Gesu Church on the Marquette ‘campus’ was the main Roman Catholic Church for Blacks, but they were relegated to the balcony for mass. Saint Benedict the Moor – A Legacy Revisited, Dolores A. Foster Williams. pp. 7 - 8.

In 1922 the Pfister-Vogel tannery on South Sixth Street recruited about 100 Mexican men to take the jobs of striking Anglos.” “Oppression of the Catholic Church in Mexico provoked armed intervention by a group that became known as ‘Los Cristeros.” Like thousands of others, in 1926, Miguel Sevilla Chavez fled his country. Latinos in Milwaukee, J.A. Rodriquez, Ph.D., and Walter, Ph.D., ch.1.

The Economist, James Wilson, answered Irish pleas for public assistance with the claim that ‘it is no man’s business to provide for another.’ He asserts that official intervention would shift resources from the more to the less deserving, since ‘if left to the natural law of distribution, those who deserved more would obtain it.’ One of the most evocative images of the Irish Famine is of a people being left to starve while their corn was being shipped off under military protection to pay rents. Poverty in the midst of Plenty crudely put.” The Great Irish Famine, Ed. Cathal Poirteir, p.249

It wasn’t strict neo-Platonism, but Socialists were put off by ‘pie in the sky’ theology, anti-socialist rhetoric, and the inability of Leo XIII and his advisors to recognize and point out that ‘class warfare’ was a fact, at least in a capitalist system.

Some of those that accepted the Encyclical as prophetic missed the point, and they saw Rerum Novarum as advocating a “kinder gentler capitalism.”

Father John Ryan when he wrote, Bishops Program of Social Reconstruction in 1919, made an important criticism of the AFL plan for post WWI economic change. He noted that the union federation plan did not include those who were not members of a union or most likely not to be unionized. He opposed the AFL plan to tax unused land. Ryan anticipated the more clear language of future encyclicals such as ‘preferential option for the poor’ to be implemented by changes in ‘economic and political structures.’

Hold it, wait a minute:

The Calvinist Protestants are supposed to be the advocates of individualism; if you’re poor, it’s your own fault, but the Roman Catholic Papal Encyclicals put the blame on economic and political structures. At the current ground level, however, the Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church is one of the strongest supporters of Milwaukee Voces de la Frontera New Sanctuary Movement. In contrast from the Roman Catholic side, a lay volunteer from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at a youth center in Quito, Ecuador stated, “Membership in the Working Boys Center is contingent on taking personal responsibility for one’s condition …Poverty is a moral problem rather than an economic one.” The Catholic Herald, Milwaukee, Oct. 15, 2009.

Whoa – Nelly, hold it another minute:

Sister Mary McCauley, B.V.M., whose father was at one time the Milwaukee County D.A., provided sanctuary and protested vehemently the raids on immigrant workers in Postville, IA.

Rerum Novarum trashed both capitalism and communism. Would a successful third way ever be found?

Monday, November 2, 2009


Rerum Novarum challenged the nascent “liberalism” (laissez fair capitalism) of the late 19th century. Most controversial was and is that the encyclical insisted on workers’ right to organize and the need – necessity – of government to intervene in economic affairs. Both propositions were based on the natural law flowing from the fundamental principle of the transcendent dignity of each and every person. “The greatest good for the greatest number” was not good enough. The encyclical challenged the “every man for himself” theory of Adam Smith by claiming the human person was a social being and that the economy was to be directed for the common good.

Here we see a basic difference between the economic theory of the encyclicals and that of the capitalists. Capitalist theory says that the economic system is given by nature and inductive analysis of the system is enough to understand it. The encyclicals see the economic system as created by human beings and is validly criticized by deduction from principles of the natural law such as the transcendent value of each and every person. The reasoning is backed by scripture.

A voice to the New Sanctuary Movement: Was - Is the trip (“Via Dolorosa”) from the Davidic sanctuary of the Mount of Olives to ‘Vera Cruz’ really necessary? (1 Sam. 21:1; 2 Sam15:32; Luke22:39)

Dr. Lux, professor of scripture at the Sacred Heart Seminary of Milwaukee, enlightened us at a Christian-Jewish conference on atonement that St. Augustine invented original sin. Dr. Lux challenged us to get involved in re-thinking Christianity.

A voice from the New Sanctuary Movement: The family, a mom and two boys, a grandmother and grandfather – both sick, and a volunteer driver left Milwaukee for Vera Cruz last week. They had two cars, a trailer, a bag of groceries and a $100 gas card. The dad, recently deported, was in Vera Cruz – homeless – no job and depressed. The fourteen year old was concerned about school in Mexico. “I can speak Spanish, but I can’t read or write it.” The younger boy was excited about getting to see his dad. The Second Station: Little Rock, Arkansas – the trailer broke down.



Section 14: “As regards bodily labor, even had man (I thought it was Eve’s fault) never fallen from the state of innocence, he would not have been wholly unoccupied; but that which would then have been his free choice, his delight, became afterwords compulsory, and the painful expiation of his sin. …To suffer and endure, therefore is the lot of humanity.”


Quotes from a letter Frank Zeidler (Socialist Mayor of Milwaukee1948 – 1960) wrote to me in 2003. “Even Leo XIII was against unregulated capitalism almost as much as he was against 19th century socialism.” “Today we live in an era of attempts at Progressivism which is an effort to regulate capitalism and the self interest of the business enterpriser. It was the concept of democratic socialists that capitalism could not be regulated because the regulating authorities would be captured by the very people they were supposed to regulate. Socialist Mayor of Milwaukee Emil Seidel (1910-1912) strongly held this view. He was correct to a great extent.”

Section 11: “True, if a family finds itself in great difficulty, utterly friendless, and without prospect for help, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid; for each family is part of the common wealth.”

Section 31: “When work-people have recourse to a strike, it is frequently because the hours of labor are too long, or the work too hard, or because they consider their wages insufficient.” “The grave inconvenience of this not uncommon occurrence should be obviated by public remedial measures.”

Radio Priest Charles Coughlin’s interpretation: “(Coughlin) relied on compulsory arbitration to secure peace and justice in the industrial field. He suggested that organized labor – which he strongly favored be placed under the tutelage of the Department of Labor.” Many of Coughlin’s critics considered this a Fascist policy.” Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life, ed. T. McAvoy, C.S.C. p. 83.

Section 35: – “The law, therefore should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many people as possible to become owners. … If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the result will be that the gulf between the vast wealth and deep poverty will be bridged over.” “The right to possess private property is from nature, from nature not from man; and the state has only the right to regulate its use in the interest of the public good, but by no means abolish it altogether. The State is, therefore, unjust and cruel, if, in the name of taxation, it deprives the private owner more than is just.” These are basic quotes for McNabb and the Distributists.


Section 36: “The most important of all are Workingmen’s Associations; … History attests what excellent results were effected by the Artificer’s Guilds of a former day. … For to enter into a ‘society’ of this kind is a natural right of man; and the State must protect natural rights, not destroy them; and if it forbids its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the very principle of its own existence …”

The Encyclical was written from a European perspective and indicated that these “Workingmen’s Associations” should be Roman Catholic. Another problem was the Church’s prohibition of joining secret societies. (e.g. the Mollie Maguires) Former Milwaukee Archbishop and now Archbishop of New York addressed this problem from the past in a 2003 Labor Day article for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald. Dolan noted that even before the Encyclical was written, Archbishop and later Cardinal, James Gibbons, urged Leo XIII in 1887 not to condemn the U.S. Knights of Labor which was open to all workers. The appeal was successful. Dolan wrote, “The (future) Cardinal was firm in his belief that workers in the United States had the right to organize, to defend their rights, and to protect themselves and their families.” Dolan notes that 20 years later Gibbons responded to a Pius X question on why U.S. workers were so loyal to the Church by saying, “The Church has been and is on the side of the worker. And that’s where we must be.”

For those who are interested to the point of doing some research, it would be worth while to study the turbulent years of U.S. labor unrest in the late 19th and early 20th century – e.g. Federal troops in 14 states called out in 1877 to put down a railroad strike. Immigrants were blamed. Look up the Dillingham report on immigration commissioned by President T. Roosevelt.

Leo XIII saw the medieval guild as the ideal. Such guilds included masters – owners journeymen and apprentices. Leo and his advisors did not recognize that in liberal capitalism class conflict of interest was simply a fact. Had they read Marx’ Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844?

Milwaukee’s Victor Berger, later the first socialist to be elected to congress and was imprisoned for opposing U.S. entering WWI, stared a socialist newspaper in 1911 to contest the hostility of the local newspapers toward socialists. The inaugural editorial stated, “We shall preach no class hatred, but we will preach class consciousness and class conscience six days a week.” (John Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee. p. 217.

“Some Catholic leaders, chiefly German-American, were sure that trade unions were becoming ‘hot beds of anarchy and socialism’ suggested that Catholics withdraw and form separate unions of their own. For a time at least, Sebastian Messmer, the Milwaukee Archbishop (1903 – 1930), was of this opinion.” Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life, ed. T. McAvoy, C.S.C. p.74.

Where was the search for a third way between capitalism and socialism going? Is the answer fascism? Did the next encyclical Quadragesimo Ano – 1931 point in this direction?


Section 16: Rerum Novarum quotes St. Thomas Aquinas. “for no one should live unbecomingly.” (Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae, Q. 66, art.2)

Section 20: “Religion teaches the rich man and the employer that their work people are not their slaves; that they must respect in every man his dignity as a man and as a Christian. … to make one’s profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine.”


Section 41: The Laity: “Those Catholics are worthy of all praise – and there are not a few who, understanding what the times require, have by various enterprises and experiments, endeavored to better the conditions of working people without any sacrifice of principle.”

The Clergy:“The Bishops, on their part, bestow their ready good will and support; with approval and guidance many members of the clergy, both secular and regular (religious), labor assiduously on behalf of the spiritual and mental interests of the members of associations.”

In time Catholic worker centers for study and recreation such as the Cardijn center in Milwaukee were developed. Early “labor priests such” as Milwaukee seminary professor and later Bishop, Francis Hass, Father Peter Dietz who served in Milwaukee, and Father Aloysius Muensch who was rector of the seminary in Milwaukee, became known for their social teaching based on Rerum Novarum. Muensch was later named as a Cardinal. Of the many early “labor priests” the most influential and well known was Father John Ryan. His writings are still of interest.

The Young Christian Worker Movement was started; 20th century worker priests and nuns found factory jobs.


In 1919 Roman Catholic bishops comprising the Administrative Committee of the National Catholic War Council issued a document basically written by Father John Ryan called “Social Reconstruction.” The document was based on Rerum Novarum and was strongly criticized by the business community and politicians. “The proposals were thought so radical at the time that Stephen C. Mason, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, protested to Cardinal Gibbons that it was partisan, pro-labor union, socialistic propaganda.” “A decade later the pamphlet (“Social Reconstruction”) was described by a committee of the New York State investigating seditious activities, in a report filed on April 24, 1929 as the work of ‘a certain group in the Catholic Church with leanings toward Socialism.’” Documents of American Catholic History, ed. John Tracy Ellis, p. 611

A voice to the New Sanctuary Movement: National Conference of Catholic Bishops 2009, “In the first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor), Pope Leo XIII established that persons have a right to work to survive and to survive and to support his or her family. Pius XII referred Rerum Novarum in Exul Familia (On the Spiritual Care of the Migrant) “Then according to the teachings of Rerum Novarum, the right of the family to a life worthy of human dignity is recognized.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009


It seems strange to spend time writing about the Papal Encyclicals when I remember the debate when I went to Bolivia in 1969. Critics of the Dominican social studies and action institute, IBEAS (The Bolivian Institute for Education and Social Action), said that the agency was mistaken in promoting New Deal economics supported by the theology of the Papal Encyclicals. I agreed. Besides Haiti, Bolivia was the poorest Latin American nation. The situation was desperate and explosive. Che Guevara had been murdered in Bolivia in 1967 under the direction of the C.I.A. The response by some in the religious community was radical. Former Racine Dominicans sisters harbored urban guerillas, Loretto nuns from Columbia stored guerilla armaments. Modified or more compassionate capitalism was obviously not the answer to U.S. control of Latin America and the subsequent poverty. Some predicted a Latin American Viet Nam.

But, “upon further review,” it was an exciting time and hope was in the hearts of many. Irish Dominican Paul Bowe had written a perceptive commentary on Populorum Progressio. Latin American Bishops at Medellin, Columbia had pointed out that economic and political structures were the cause of poverty. Gustavo Gutierrez in Peru was developing a revisited “Lectio Divina” with his “Liberation Theology,” Cesar Chavez claimed prayer and fasting was fundamental in the struggle for social justice. Both Chavez and Martin Luther King insisted on non-violence. Maryknoll priest, Roy Bourgeois, future leader of the campaign to close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning GA, experienced the “concientizacion” effect of the late 60’s early 70’s Bolivian milieu.

Where did all this come from? I think it is worth the trouble to look at one of the sources, the papal encyclicals, even the seemingly outdated Rerum Novarum, and suffer the brutal rhetoric of Roman Catholic and male chauvinism, to get to the worthwhile classic message, which is the inspired message of the ancient prophets for the industrialized consumer society.

“Voices” from the Sanctuary Movement…
We met with a family from Oaxaca, Mexico. Their underage daughter had been picked up near Phoenix traveling from Mexico to Milwaukee with a “coyote.” The dad speaks enough Spanish to be understood, but the mom and son in law (husband of the daughter picked up by Immigration) speak an Indian dialect and very little Spanish. Summer 2009

Vincent McNabb, O.P. 1868 – 1943
…and Rerum Novarum
Has anyone ever heard of Father Vincent McNabb, O.P.? Because of my Dominican background I knew of him, but not much. However the name McNabb calls my attention. My stepfather was Francis McNabb and I have many wonderful McNabb relatives. The McNabb – Lange connection goes way back. My grandfather and Francis’ brother Ed were a team in bar room brawls with a reputation of always winning. Such was recreation for early 20th century workers in the railroad town of Franklin Park, Illinois. The father of Ed and Francis McNabb had his leg severed in a railroad accident and later died from its complications.

I doubt if Vincent McNabb, O.P. was involved in bar room brawls, but he did serve in the slums of London in the late 19th and early 20th century. His “brawls” were at Hyde Park where he would take on anyone in debate including Socialist George Bernard Shaw.

You can imagine the slums of London in Vincent McNabb’s day by reading Dickens’ stories or watching a Jack the Ripper movie. Gilda O’Neill in her book, My East End, cites Henry Mayhew’s description of London’s East End in, London Labour and the London Poor. Mayhew “describes the docks of the 1850’s as being ‘real hell’, where men with ‘sweaty faces dyed blue from the cargoes of indigo, and others ‘coughing and spluttering as they stacked the yellow bins of sulphur and lead-coloured copper-ore’ all battled to earn a living.” The East End was and is the first stop for immigrants. Franklin Park R.R. yards weren’t that bad, but it’s a matter of degree.

“Voices” from the Sanctuary Movement
We met with a family of five from Honduras. Both parents have deportation orders. They are desperate for food, clothing and shelter. Why come to the U.S.? The dad says he wants to make enough money to get a plot of land in Honduras to support his family. Summer, 2009

It is said that Vincent McNabb had three points of reference for his work: the Bible, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, and Rerum Novarum. His experience with the working poor must be included.

McNabb was part of the distributist movement which included his friends Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, founders of the Catholic Worker Movement in the U.S., are also considered distributists. Could we include Father Charles Coughlin the anti-Jewish radio priest of the 30’s who often referred to Rerum Novarum and the need for a wider distribution of wealth?

Distributists advocate economic justice for all by a just distribution of wealth. McNabb and others promoted a “back to the land movement”, and denounced usury. In Marx’ terms, does this mean surplus value? In contemporary terms does this mean derivatives, hedge funds, high interest mortgage loans with little or suspicious collateral? The Distributists insisted on private property as basic. They based their ideas on the Rerum Novarum doctrine of private property and distributive justice.

Dorothy Day wrote in her diary, May 14, 1955, “My pamphlet published by the Catechetical Guild, ‘Gospel in Action,’ with imprimatur is out. They doctored it, modifying such sentences as that quotation from Vincent McNabb – ‘St. Peter could go back to his nets but St. Mathew could not go back to his tax gathering,’ - putting in possibly before could not.” Here are my questions for discussion: Why would McNabb pen such a line? Why would Dorothy Day quote him? What’s wrong with taxes?

“Voices” from the Sanctuary Movement
We are saying goodbye to a family leaving for Mexico today. There will be prayers and tears. We will provide them some food and a gas card from our New Sanctuary Emergency Fund. Fall, 2009

A visit to St. Dominic Church in London…
When we were in London, Joanne and I attended, and somewhat celebrated, Mass at Vincent McNabb’s home parish, the Priory Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Dominic. The Priory and church were built in Gothic style in the late 19th century. In the back of the church is a pillar excavated at the site of the original Black Friars Priory which was destroyed by Henry VIII. Black Friars is now a stop on the tube, and close by, you will find the Black Friars Pub.

St. Dominic’s Church’s space for liturgy has not been adjusted according to the spirit of Vatican II. The vestments, the Dominican habits, the altar rail, made it clear where the real action was, and who was in charge. Girls functioned as acolytes, and a woman did one of the readings.
There was a large congregation in attendance including many people of color.

The Church bears the name Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Dominic so it is appropriate that each side of the inner space of the Church has seven oratorios dedicated to a mystery of the Rosary. The fifteenth mystery, the Crowning of Mary Queen of Heaven is depicted in stone work over the main entrance. If Carl Jung saw this would he say Mary was a fourth God? The friars wore traditional habits, but none had rosaries on their belts.

The friars we talked to didn’t know much about Vincent McNabb nor did they claim to continue his mission. I was told I could find out more about him at the archives in Edinburgh.

I get the impression that Benedict XVI’s social and economic encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, has already been forgotten, but St. Dominic’s advertised for a discussion group this fall. The bulletin stated, “This is especially topical in the current economic climate.”

“Voices” to the Sanctuary Movement
A speaker from Honduras at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee said that the Cardinal Archbishop of Honduras, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga a progressive candidate for Pope, supported the coup that attempted to overthrow the Zelaya government. The Cardinal denounced Zelaya because of his support for the morning after pill. The Vatican condemned the coup.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009



Let me relate some of the many reasons I am doing this blog. First: the Labor Movement and the Faith Community can have a greater political impact for justice with a combined effort. Second: to show the path to reconciliation of positions if there is conflict between them such as the wedge issues of abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research. Third: A valuable contribution of the Encyclicals is that they establish the ‘why’ of an economic system and the ‘how’ follows. Contemporary economics assumes the ‘why’ as a given with little comment.

On the negative side, women’s issues are for the most part ignored, little attention and credit is given to Jewish, Muslim and secular writings on justice. I hope to point this out where appropriate.

The articles will be relatively short and probably will raise more questions than answers. Comments are appreciated, and gross errors will be corrected. This is a community project. The purpose is to maintain interest and inspire further research. The goal is political action for justice.

Starting with the first papal encyclical ‘Rerum Novarum’ I will discuss several encyclicals including Vatican II documents and the latest ‘Caritas in Veritate.’

In my own limited studies of the encyclicals, several have influenced my opinions such as Dominicans Vincent McNabb, Thomas Gilby, J.D.Malone, Gustavo Gutierrez, Regina Williams, Benedict Ashley, Therese VanThull, Lucy Edelbeck and Paul Bowe and J.M. O’Connor. Others would be Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Father Fran Eshweiler, Dorothy Day and Father John Ryan. By starting to write this in England I am especially aware of Julian of Norwich, Vincent McNabb, O.P. Thomas Gilby, O.P. and my former economics professor Paul Bowe, O.P., an Irish Dominican who studied at Cambridge. David Hume, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, David Riccardo John Malthus and Karl Marx lurk in the background. I am aware that my comments could never do justice to the work of these great scholars, but I feel a duty to mention them and hope to foster interest in their work. In my autumn years I enjoy remembering them.

The first papal encyclical on economics was proclaimed in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. The text is attributed to Cardinal Zigliara a Dominican.


Leo XIII had earlier announced that ‘Thomism,’ the philosophy and theology of 13th century Dominican friar and of the Dominicans order, would be the preferred theology of the Church. Thomism saw no conflict between faith and reason therefore a reasonable treatise on economics would be for all not just Roman Catholics. The devastating poverty in Europe and the U.S. demanded a strong response. The most cogent was that of Karl Marx.

Faith and Reason

Historically not all agreed on the compatibility of faith and reason. Muslims, Jews, and Christians all had internal battles over the validity of philosophy – reason – the secular, especially when there was an apparent contradiction between the doctrines of faith and philosophy. The problem extended to politics. The ‘Spiritual Franciscans,’ disgusted with the politics and the corruption of the Avignon popes and claimed the pope should stay out of secular affairs and limit papal pronouncements to the spiritual. This is part of the background for U.S. revolutionaries’ insistence on separation of church and state. Avignon was not happy with the pointed criticism by the Franciscans, and although the basic philosophical and theological positions of Thomas Aquinas were condemned by the Bishop of Paris in 1277, Thomas was canonized by Avignon Pope John XXII fifty years after his death..

Thomistic Realism

Until Aquinas, Christian writers – the fathers of the Church, even St. Paul, used neo-platonic structures to explain the faith. The Church was saved from full blown Gnosticism by John’s gospel and later St. Irenaeus. The really real was the spiritual and the cause of sin was the material. Muslim writers introduced the complete Aristotle to the West in the 11th and 12th centuries. Aquinas used Aristotle to explain the faith and moved toward healing the spiritual – material rift.

Year ago I remember asking the famous English Aquinas scholar Thomas Gilby, O.P. what was the key to Dominican philosophy and theology. He replied that it was to recognize that the spiritual and material were simply two aspects of the same reality.
The moderate realism of the encyclicals has the ability to relate to real problems of poverty and injustice. Thomistic natural law ethics insists that reason is the rule of morality and social justice. Thomas reasoned that circumstances determined the morality of an act.

The encyclicals focus on the common good and this includes the well being of each and every individual. The Thomistic Aristotelian view that the person is a social being coupled with the insistence that fundamentally all are of equal value, goes against the basic modern economic principles of capitalism proposed by David Hume, Adam Smith John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, David Riccardo and John Malthus.


Christian reformers of the 16th century noted Jesus was not conversant with neo-platonic or Aristotelian categories and insisted that Christian theology should be biblically based. But the reformers faced a similar problem as the Medieval Christian writers. How do you explain first century writings, at least one step removed from Jesus, as dogma to those of advanced learning – the founders of modern science? Augustinian Neo-Platonism won the day again for the reformers and a significant portion of Roman Catholics. For most Christians the spiritual was divorced from the material – religion from politics – reason from faith. People of faith live two lives – Sunday morning and the rest of the week. Muslims and Jews attempted to keep a low profile in a situation of prejudice and persecution.

The Reformation did provide support for the emerging capitalist system in that it emphasized individualism; its ethics required honesty and it fostered the belief that the wealthy, but austere, were blessed and called by God to be leaders and do his work. Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and the Pope lost prominence. (Max Weber)

The search for the historical Jesus has discovered that Jesus, in the best of Jewish tradition, led a non-violent challenge to the Roman Empire and was executed as a political criminal. The Gospels were recognized as works of theology to explain faith, and not historical accounts of the life of Jesus.

With the Encyclical ‘Caritas in Veritate’ we have come full circle. ‘Rerum Novarum’ denounced ‘liberalism’ as a cause of poverty in the late 19th century. The world economy now faces the policies of neo-liberalism - ‘free’ trade, Structural Ajustment Programs by the World Bank, devolution of the union movement, and anti-government politics resulting in de-regulation. What does ‘Caritas in Veritate’ have to say about this?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


With the new Obama administration in office will Catholic social principles have more of a chance to be discussed and implemented? A national faith based program called Labor in the Pulpits/Minbar/Bimah will add the voice of workers of faith to the discussion on the weekend before Labor Day September 7th. All faith traditions are invited to participate and most do. Labor in the Pulpits preachers will express many concerns including immigration reform, health care and labor law reform.

Labor in the Pulpits is a program of "concientizacion" (awareness with social action) initiated by Kim Bobo and Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) in 1996. The weekend before Labor Day workers speak from the pulpit to remind the faithful about social justice. Thousands will participate around the country. The program could be said to be political, because some might see it as counter cultural, but it is not political in the sense of advocating for particular political candidates or parties. Labor in the Pulpits is concerned with policy concerning justice for workers and its relation to faith.

Historically a unified labor alliance is not easy, and the same is true today. For example some U.S. workers feel that migrants are stealing their jobs. Such tension makes it problematic to choose immigration reform as a theme for Labor in the Pulpits. In 2006 some labor locals in Milwaukee protested strongly that the Milwaukee Area Labor Council invited migrant worker center Voces de la Frontera to the annual Labor Day march. However, it should be noted that the Wisconsin State and National AFL - CIO support immigration reform and that "Voces" continues to participate in the parade.

Labor alliances with the faith community and labor are also difficult because of different perspectives and perhaps culturual differences. Despite such differences, courage to work for the common good has produced positive results such as the recent U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document, "Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Health Care and Unions." One of the leaders who helped create the document with the bishops was Candice Owley who proclaimed worker justice in the Labor in the Pulpits program for many years. Owley is a registered nurse and president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Since the 1891 Encyclical of Leo XIII "Rerum Novarum", Roman Catholic teaching on economics has provided the rationale for discussion of worker rights, especially the right to organize. Strong statements from other Encyclicals and also the documents of Vatican II provide material for 'worker preachers' to advocate for justice. In recent times, John Paul II's Encyclical "Laborem Exercens" 1981 states that "....labor unions are an indispensible element in social life," is often cited. Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate", reaffirms the previous teachings and emphasizes global justice.

Frank Shansky, Director of Labor Relations of Local 212 American Federation of Teachers agrees that international fairness for workers is paramount. He commented "global injustice is a cause for the migration of workers." Shansky and Local 212 are strong supporters of immigration reform and fair trade.

In the Labor in the Pulpits programs, Worker preachers are prepared before the event. Suggestions for preparation are available from IWJ in Chicago. Teachings from the various faith traditions are also provided. IWJ helps include sample homilies related to the readings of the day and notes for the Congregation's bulletin.

Workers, who are not officially ordained as preachers, yet preach, come from a long tradition. The patron of preachers, Mary Magdalene, proclaimed the resurrection to the Apostles. Samuel Fielden, an experienced Methodist Lay Preacher, was one of the "Haymarket Martyrs".

This year in Milwaukee, because of the virtual collapse of the Labor Council sponsored Faith Community for Worker Justice, worker preachers for Labor in the Pulpits will be prepared and sent by Voces de la Frontera and its New Sanctuary Movement branch. Voces de la Frontera is an immigrant workers center and is home to a chapter of the national New Sanctuary Movement. "Voces" is an affiliate of IWJ in Chicago. Christine Neumann Ortiz, Director of Voces de la Frontera and Labor in the Pulpits speaker, said "The Labor in the Pulpits program is crucial as an aid to recognize the faith dimension in worker justice issues."

"Comite" Chairperson, Rev. Alvaro Ochoa Nova, an immigrant from Columbia and a priest of the Old Catholic Church of America, will direct the program and prepare the speakers. Father Alvaro will be assisted by Jill Vonnahme a Caps Corps volunteer. Kim Bobo, director of the IWJ Chicago commented on the "Voces" Labor Day theme, "At this moment in our nation's history, the issues of labor law reform and immigration reform are integrally connected."

David Newby, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, agrees. He said, "The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) makes it possible for workers to form unions without threatt of harassment, intimidation or being illegally fired. Immigration reform insures that all workers in the U.S., no matter what their legal status, would be free to speak up without fear to join a union and oppose workplace abuses. If not, wages and working conditions for all workers, documented and undocumented, can easily be undermined by exploitative employers. Greater protections to form a union are weakened if immigrants without legal status can still be intimidated into silence or into opposing a union. That's why strengthening the right to organize and immigration go hand in hand."

The Milwaukee Area Labor Council will mail material and perhaps telephone faith congregations about health care. A speaker will be sent if requested.

A sampling of other IWJ affiliates indicates a continued passion for the labor in the Pulpits program. In Pittsburgh Father Jack O'Malley and associate Mr. Joe Delale follow the strong tradition of leadership for worker justice established by labor priests, Mons. Charles Owen Rice and Rev. Donald McIlvane. Father O'Malley says, "that for the past two years worker issues have been sidelined very often in the Catholic Churches by one or two wedge issues." This year O'Malley hopes to get something said on Labor Day about immigration reform, Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), and health care. Father O'Malley is Labor Chaplain for the State of Pennsylvania.

Rev. CJ Hawking, director of IWJ affiliate "Arise Chicago", reported that Labor in The Pulpits will be at over one-hundred services in the Chicago area. Arise Chicago collaborates with The Chicago Federation of Labor in organizing the program.

The Massachusetts Interfaith Committee, Director Anthony Zuba says they will be doing Labor in the Pulpits in several Massachusetts cities.

Rabbi Laurie Coskey reports that the San Diego IWJ affiliate will be doing presentations at over one-hundred services.

Rabbi Renee Bauer of Madison, Wisconsin says they will be doing the regular Labor Day outreach, but Madison Interfaith concentrates more on a continuous program of giving talks and sponsoring forums on worker rights and immigration reform through the year.

The Miami IWJ affiliate, fresh off a wage theft victory for domestic workers, will do Labor in the Pulpit programs for the whole month of September. Director Jeanette Smith, a Quaker, said that immigration reform, EFCA and health care are concerns that would be stressed.

George Wesolek, Public Policy and Social Concerns Director of the Archdiocese of San Francisco said that he knew nothing of Labor in the Pulpits, but did know about Kim Bobo and IWJ in Chicago. The Archdiocese is not an affiliate of IWJ. Wesolek confirmed that the Archdiocese spent a large amount of money, but less than $10,000, supporting Proposition 8. The Mormons were also strong advocates in the promotion of the anti same sex-marriage bill. No campaign, such as the Proposition 8 campaign is planned to promote worker rights.

Wesolek said the Archdiocese is neutral on EFCA, because the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not taken a position on the bill. It should be noted that the "Catholic Scholar For Worker Justice" supports EFCA.

The consensus among faith and labor leaders is that the challenge for this year's speakers will be to relate a cogent faith based argument for labor rights to the various faith communities. The message must also resonate with U.S. American tradition. As a nation, we struggle with racism and nativism. Also a philosophy of self interest seems to be prevalent. But the basic U.S. document, The Declaration of Independence, says all are created equal, and are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The document does not restrict these rights to wealthy U.S. citizens.

In this recession year, "preferential option for the poor", the mandate so prevalent in recent Roman Catholic teachings on economics, may not be considered counter cultural in Labor in the Pulpit congregations. Worker speakers have a job to do, but this year's U.S. Labor Day will be celebrated with renewed hope.

Comments on this article can be posted below by clicking on the Comments tab. All Comments will be appreciated.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Welcome to the Faith & Labor Movement Blog by Bill Lange

This blog will explore Labor and Faith connections, historically and presently.