Thursday, June 9, 2011



We’re in the midst of the battle. It’s difficult to focus on anything else than the war to prevent a fascist takeover in Wisconsin. But let’s move on from the first two Social Encyclicals to the writings of Pius XII. (Pope 1938-1958)

There is a gnawing question that surfaces. Why plunge into the history of the Roman Catholic Church to find a rationale for Justice? Could a search into the gargoyle-infested Gothic yield anything positive? These are the questions to be asked as we move to consider Pius XII. Maybe it’s OK to just skip over some horrible mistakes of the past and move ahead; let’s relegate the Borgias to a TV “novela”. But with Pius XII the pervasiveness of deliberate evil can’t be ignored. The enormity of the holocaust, its proximity in time; who are we as human beings as the creators of evil? How can anything good come out of this? Another problem: people that profess the Roman Catholic tradition include a large number of sign-of-the-cross, genuflecting, rich and white faithful who want to reverse the “Robin Hood” story, and then there are those who are mostly concerned about who are to be priests and who are to be canonized. They couldn’t care less about Catholic Social Teaching that advocates for workers and insists on a “preferential option for the poor.” But anyway –

Evidence shows that Pius XI (Pope 1922-1939) was sympathetic to the cause of fascism – a third way, the preferred option over capitalism and communism. He signed concordats with Mussolini (1929) and Hitler, (1933) but later denounced the dictators and their policies. (Vs. Hitler, “Mitt brennender Sorge” – 1937. Vs. Mussolini, “Non Abbiamo Bisogno” – 1931) Also, the Vatican led by Pius XII strongly supported the fascist dictator, Franco, in Spain. A major street in Madrid is named Pius XII. He witnessed the Jews of Rome taken to the camps in 1943 and said nothing publically to save Jews from the furnaces. For Pius XII, a few words of explanation are not adequate, but let’s try.

Let’s say Pius XII wasn’t an evil man. He was responsible for witnessing evil without protest, more than a direct cause of evil. We can ask ourselves in our present situation, is such non-action morally acceptable? Could you say that the political situation was a force that mitigates his responsibility - did he see his choices as lesser evils? Also, some of his mistakes were out of ignorance. Not just ignorance of the political situation and the proper course of action, but a policy rooted in a deeply flawed theology that is generated by the theology of the Christian scriptures themselves. Pilate (the Roman Empire) said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves. And the whole people said in reply, ‘His blood be on us and our children.’” (Matt. 27 vs. 24-25) The first Christian theologians developed a story that exonerated Rome and blamed the Jews for the execution of Jesus. The story was presented as historical fact. At the very beginning this was a failed strategy; when Christians were separated from the Jews, the Roman Empire fed the Christians to the lions. Later, under Constantine, Rome, the political empire, became identified with the Christian church, and the Jews faced more vigorous persecution. Were Pius XI and Pius XII looking to a revitalized Holy Roman Empire based in a penitent Europe ruled by an administrative dictator supervised by an infallible moral savant?

Pius XII was more than willing to defend Roman Catholic Jews and he spoke out for U.S. African Americans. He wasn’t a classic fascist in the Nazi sense. He once said of National Socialism in reference to the Nazis, “the arrogant apostasy from Jesus Christ…the cult of violence, idolatry of race and blood, the overthrow of human liberty and dignity.” (Cronin, Catholic Social Principles, Bruce Publishing, Milwaukee, 1950, p. 162) But the slaughter of millions of Jews, the slaughter of gypsies and others that didn’t meet Hitler’s ethnic and social requirements is a rancid tragedy soaked in blood, and Pius XII was complicit in it all; he said nothing and didn’t do anything significant to challenge Hitler. Is it that many of Hitler’s victims did not meet Pius XII social requirements, was he fearful for the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church and its treasures, where does Faith itself need to be considered? But wait a minute, I suspect that in some way we are all involved, past - present and future; the matter needs continued review. Is forgiveness possible?

Despite it all, the historical review of Catholic Social Teaching is worth it. Catholic Social Teaching provides an epistemological rationale to say there is a right and wrong and people can know the difference; that morality is more than custom, and its criteria to judge go beyond simply “what works.” Granted, no one person or group is free from error, but truth can be known. After all, the tradition relates to the sacred writings of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Maimonides, Averroes, and Thomas Aquinas are all contributors.

And it’s not all forgotten. Read former AFL- CIO President John Sweeney’s speech to “Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.” The speech was in honor of the 120th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum,

The struggle continues. If anyone asks me why I participated in civil disobedience Thursday June 2nd in Madison, WI, I will respond in terms of Catholic Social Teaching and use Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” King quoted St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas on the nature of law and morality.


The tragic collapse of the reasonable brings on the theatre of the absurd. Resistance is swallowed up by the bizarre, yet courage to be, demands a response. Silence is death.

It started when Joanne & I couldn’t find 14 Mifflin Street where we were to meet the Voces de la Frontera group that was to do civil disobedience. Voces is an immigrant workers’ center based in Milwaukee. Joanne and I are volunteers for the New Sanctuary Movement housed and sponsored by Voces. We eventually found the meeting place about a block from the Capitol. I could explain, but it’s really inexplicable. The last time I recounted one of our getting lost stories, the kids threatened not to let us out of the house by ourselves.

We were late. George Martin, veteran peace activist, had just finished explaining the fundamental principles of non-violent civil disobedience. He looked at us and said, “Look at all these wonderful young people, we’re the only freeze dried hippies here.”

Voces had a press conference on the Capitol steps. The purpose of our visit was to protest the proposed elimination of instate University and Technical College tuition for undocumented children. State Representative Jocasta Zamarripa explained that the program would not increase the University budget and the students have to be residents and graduates of a Wisconsin high school and qualify according to University academic requirements. She said it was a very important program benefitting the state and the students. Voces brought 91 year old Father Bill Brennan, S.J. to the press conference. Father Bill, a former missionary to Honduras, supports immigrant families when and wherever possible. He knows and preaches Catholic Social Teaching. But he was dressed in a long cassock and a stove pipe hat. You could barely see his Roman collar.

We filed to fourth floor conference room in the State Capitol. The room held over 100 people. A tall young man with a blue shirt scooted around between aisles with a blue Segway. Joanne named him the “Blue Giant.” Another tall very thin young man with long red hair shaved on one side was operating his video camera. Places were set in the front for the legislators. They were to sit behind a long desk with microphones for each. Behind on the wall was a sign: “Joint Finance Committee.” OK, I know it’s Madison, but I didn’t know they did that. Attending were a busload of Voces high school students dressed in blue caps and gowns with signs hanging from their necks – “WHAT NOW?” This group did not plan to do civil disobedience. The Voces kids sat quietly, but the others- University students perhaps, I don’t know, - roamed around, went to the front of the room and mocked the legislators. Busy, professionally dressed legislative aides moved around one to the other talking with knowing smiles and head nods. It was a circus atmosphere, and we were ready for action.

The meeting was to start at 1:00 p.m. We waited and waited. Most of the people we did not know. I cautioned Joanne to speak only in Spanish because I didn’t want to give away our civil disobedience plans. We overheard that the meeting would be at 3:00 p.m. We waited, the Voces kids waited – with patience, and the clowning kids continued to entertain us. A little after 3:00 p.m. one of the legislative aides announced that the meeting would be at 5:00 p.m.

Joanne and I went for a bite to eat at a restaurant across from the Capitol building. Joanne ordered apple strudel with cheddar cheese and butter pecan ice cream. I ordered a bratwurst with sauerkraut smothered in salsa picante. We noticed that the Voces students had filed onto their bus. I went out and asked the Voces President, Primitivo Torres, what was going on? He responded that the students had permission from their parents only for the afternoon. He said, “Some are weeping –the legislators don’t want to hear their story.”

We were back at 5:00 p.m.; the civil disobedience cohort was ready to go. The clowns continued clowning. Suddenly a young man in a lacy mantilla was accosted by the police and arrested. He screamed - why? Friends shouted objections. The police took a handbag. People shouted that it didn’t belong to the arrestee. Off they went, people shouting and screaming behind them including the Blue Giant. The Blue Giant returned on his Segway. He denounced the people in the committee room for not protesting. It was a teaching moment. Larry Miller, member of the Milwaukee School Board, tried to explain. “You don’t denounce your allies.” The Blue Giant didn’t seem to understand.

The arrested man returned none the worse for wear. The police mistook him for someone else.

At about 6:45 p.m. the legislative budget committee appeared. Action began in the center ring; the role call triggered our civil disobedience response. Jesus Salas, former University Regent and associate of Cesar Chavez; Larry Miller, Milwaukee School Board Member; Al Levi, high school teacher, advisor to Voces youth group and member of the Voces Board of Directors; and Christine Neuman Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera, answered the call. They removed jackets or sweaters to reveal “T” shirts advocating instate tuition. They shouted their message stating that education is a universal right. The Madison police were on them in an instant. Democrats Jauk, Shilling and Taylor demanded that they sit down. The protestors went limp, and the police carried them out one by one. As Jesus Salas was carried out someone screamed, “Be careful, be careful, don’t hurt him.” Al Levi read the “Declaration of Independence” as he was carried out. His professor’s chair, “cathedra” was formed by the embrace of the Madison police.

After the protestors were removed, the meeting began again in earnest. Another protestor stood up, removed her jacket and read a statement advocating instate tuition. She was removed. Then one by one about 30 of us followed the same tactic. As I was carried out our son David called on the cell phone. Joanne answered and said in a whisper, “I can’t talk, Dad is being arrested,” then hung up. On the way home we called Dave and explained.

The police told those that had been carried out that we would have to leave the building and that we could not return that day, but we could return the next day. Outside the building we were met by a large group from Madison Interfaith Worker Justice. They kept up a constant singing of worker justice songs. Joanne and I talked to Rabbi Rene Bauer, the director of the group. Joanne enlisted Rabbi Rene’s support for a committee that is insisting that insurance companies pay workers’ compensate on to the injured undocumented. Rabbi Rene agreed that she would be part of the committee.

We arrived home in time to watch the late TV news on NBC’s WTMJ. There was nothing on the demonstration, but there was an interview with Governor, Scott Walker. He said he was worried about the recall of Republican state legislators, because money was coming from out of state to finance the effort. With that we hit the hay. It was like incredibly totally awesome.

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