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 I think it is worth the trouble to look at one of the sources, the papal encyclicals, even the seemingly outdated Rerum Novarum, and suffer the brutal rhetoric of Roman Catholic and male chauvinism, to get to the worthwhile classic message, which is the inspired message of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.

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