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.”