Thursday, December 19, 2013


   'Tis the season of wonderful myths.  Our steering committee of Voces’ New Sanctuary Movement was invited to the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Burlington, Wisconsin to do a dramatization of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

   We discussed myths as we traveled to Burlington; it took over an hour.  What were we doing, out on a cold, snowy, and dark evening?  The discussion went as follows: Christmas time puts us in touch with myths from all faiths.  Such myths are comforting, but they also could propel us to create new political structures for the common good.  We decided that you cannot say a myth is false in the sense that it is not historical or scientific.  Scientific or historical truth is not the purpose of a myth.  Its purpose is to give understanding to something that is very difficult or impossible to explain.  There were still questions by the time we got to Burlington.

Cast of the Play in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe

      The reception at the parish was warm and friendly.  Most of the people were Latinos but not all.  We celebrated Mass which included Aztec dancing; we prayed the Rosary and we did our play.  The singing of our committee member, Maria Guadalupe, was a moving religious experience for me.  Her song petitioned the beloved and pregnant, dark skinned Mother of the Savior for the gift of Justice and Peace.  The liturgy was a loving act of resistance in a repressive foreign culture.

   But what about the Gospel Christmas myths of Matthew and Luke; are they still viable?  Let’s look at another example that says yes to myths.

   The gospel of Luke has the birth of Jesus announced to shepherds, working people, by angels, messengers from heaven.  The Savior is a Jewish peasant child born in a stable in occupied Israel. What does this mean?  The angels caroled, “Good news of great joy”… “Peace on earth to those of good will.” (Luke C. 2, vs. 10 - 14)  The revelation goes directly against the Roman good news myth of, Pax Romana, – peace through aristocratic military might.

   Let us remember, fifty years ago the world was on the cusp of nuclear destruction.  John XXIII responded with his encyclical, Pacem in Terris. (Peace on Earth)

   The Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962 had been resolved by negotiation.  John XXIII had pleaded, “We implore all rulers not to remain deaf to the cry of humanity for peace … to resume negotiations … to set in motion, to encourage and accept discussions at all levels and at any time a maximum of wisdom and prudence.” (Douglass, James, JFK and the Unspeakable, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2008 p. 339)  Vatican Council II had opened a few days before the world was aware of the threat of nuclear destruction.  The Council’s opening message from the Church Fathers stressed peace and social justice.   

   By April of 1963 talks on a nuclear testing treaty seemed to have broken down.  John XXIII presented his encyclical, Pacem in Terris, on April 11th.  Khrushchev had seen a copy.  Kennedy, of course, could not refer to any influence by the Pope.  The Encyclical proposed mutual trust as opposed to mutual nuclear escalation for complete annihilation as the road to peace. The path to a disarmament treaty looked dark, but on June 10th Kennedy gave his greatest and most radical speech at the American University commencement program.  James Douglass wrote, “The American University address owed much to Pacem in Terris.” (Ibid. p. 347) Kennedy announced a unilateral suspension of nuclear tests in the atmosphere to promote “our primary long range interest, general and complete disarmament.” (Ibid. p. xxvi).

   Benevolent dictator Pope Francis has indicated that the ‘Peace thru Justice’ theme of Vatican II and Pacem in Terris is not completely dormant in the Roman Catholic Church but surely needs to be revived.  In the Francis papacy, Roman Catholic theologians may be given the freedom to explain faith and myths in terms of peace and justice.  The spark for revival is there; I’ve heard many people say, “because of Pope Francis, I’m proud to be a Catholic.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


   The headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shouts, “Hierarchy asks Catholics for opinions.”  The article states, “[Pope] Francis in October called on bishops around the world to survey the faithful in advance of a special synod on evangelization and the family scheduled for next fall.” (M.J.S. 11-18-12)  Such a survey is in line with the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium that names the faithful the ‘People of God’ who receive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (L.G. C.1,4. C.4,9.0)

   Is this simply a bait and switch con game?  Francis has said that the bishops overemphasize abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, but the survey focuses on these issues.  Lumen Gentium also states that the Church hierarchy in conformity with the pope is the ultimate and final authority. (L.G. C.III,18=21)  Infallible decisions have been made on the issues to be discussed at the Synod.  Rush Limbaugh and Sara Palin have been critical of the Pope.  This is an indication that Francis is on the right path, but did Rush and Palin push the panic button too soon?  Church doctrine will not be changed because of a survey.

    However, the pastoral response of the hierarchy may change as a result of the survey.  Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, emphasized the ‘pastoral slant’ of the Synod:  “It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, but rather … how to effectively proclaim the Gospel of family in the times we are living, characterized by a clear and spiritual crisis.” (National Catholic Reporter, 11, 22, & 12, 5, 2013, p.8)  Does this mean that as ‘Benevolent Dictator’ Francis will bend a bit on the hot issues of politically right wing bishops such as Cardinal Dolan of New York?  Pope Francis could maintain the dogma and cite exceptions depending on circumstances and reference to the right of freedom of conscience.   He may also dust off the opinion of Thomas Aquinas and say that we should follow the natural law and do what is reasonable. (Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIa, q. 19, a. 4; cf. a. 9)  It remains to be seen, but Dolan may have hitched his carriage to the wrong horse. Will the position of the U.S. Bishops on Obamacare change? (See – “Behind the scenes bishops seek exit strategy,” National Catholic Reporter, 12, 6-19, 2013, p. 5)

   Nothing has been said about making the economic survival of families a concern for the Synod.  Church liberals and conservatives ignore the simple survival of families in a world of increasing income inequality and poverty, but the Pope has raised these issues and received press coverage from every vantage point.

   Let us remember, the first social encyclical expressed that the core of society, the family, was entitled to life – a living wage, and health care. (Rerum Novarum 34)   The living wage principle continues to the present.  Key to achieving a living wage and health care is the political support of a strong labor movement.  Leo XIII shocked the world by stating in 1891 that workers have the right to organize. (R.N. 36)  Pope John Paul II was ignored when he said in Laborem Exercens that labor unions are indispensible. (L.E. C. 4, 20) 

    In Centesimus Annus, John Paul II states that the social encyclicals are the ‘new evangelization.’ (C.A. Intro. & C. I, 4)  But for the Roman Catholic hierarchy and their liberal critics, doctrine on internal church rules on sex trump food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education as prior.   

Oscar – The Advisor - Rodriguez (The Politics of a Benevolent Dictatorship part 3)

   Pope Francis has appointed eight Cardinals as his most trusted advisors.  One of them is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras.  NCR reports that the Honduran Cardinal serves as coordinator of the group. (National Catholic Reporter, 12, 6-19, 2013. p.12)  The direction of Church ‘reform’ will be greatly influenced by this Central American Cardinal.

    I interviewed Rodriquez for the Spanish Journal in October of 2006.  The Cardinal received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Lutheran affiliated Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rodriguez was clear that he favored ‘Liberation Theology’ and was also clear that he opposed trade agreements that exploited workers.  The Archbishop of Milwaukee, and future New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, attended the event.

   But questions about Rodriguez Maradiaga’s involvement in the 2009 military coup in Honduras are troubling.  Did Rodriguez support the coup?  Did he support the coup because the democratically elected president Zelaya had discussions with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela?  Questions about anti-semitism and a rigid position on church rules concerning sexuality have also surfaced. 

   The politics of Francis’ benevolent dictatorship may allow the Central American Cardinal Rodriguez to position himself on the side of the poor.  Rodriguez is from a poor and violent country, but he has lived a privileged life.  Still the question remains, what takes priority for the papacy and Church of Pope Francis?  The fact that there is a change in Church politics is a hopeful sign.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


 (Part 1 of 2)

Remembering J.F.K. and the beneficence of a former benevolent dictator in the Vatican...

   Is Pope Francis a Benevolent Dictator?  How about John XXIII was he in the same mold?

   The question was, could a Roman Catholic be President of the U.S. and not be subject to the Pope in Rome?  John Kennedy in a 1960 Houston speech convinced enough U.S. voters that the pope did not and would not determine his political decisions.   Pope John XXIII saw fit not to remind Kennedy and U.S. voters that as Pope he was infallible in matters of faith and morals, morality including politics.  Kennedy was elected and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis was resolved without massive nuclear destruction.  We moved forward on arms control and civil rights for African Americans with Kennedy providing cogent reasons for moving ahead on these issues.

   Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput stated in 2010 that Kennedy was wrong.  Chaput was later promoted to Archbishop of Philadelphia.

   Kennedy inspired the American people to, “ask what you can do for your country.”  His murder was an American tragedy that resonates to present.

Where were you and how did you react when you knew the President was assassinated?

   Joanne Lange is my partner my friend – my wife of over 40 years.  Our kids went to Milwaukee’s German immersion school.  

   We had a party at our house for school parents, and I noticed this woman was intently staring at Joanne.  She said to Joanne, “did you teach at St. Catherine’s High School in Racine?  “Yes,” said Joanne.  The woman responded, “You were my math teacher; I’ll never forget you.  When they announced that the President was killed – you cried.  I didn’t know that nuns could cry.”   

   Joanne is a retired professor of mathematics at Milwaukee Area Technical College, a volunteer at Voce de la Frontera’s immigrant workers center, and a member of the Comite Timon, the Steering Committee of Voces New Sanctuary Movement.  She is known as ‘Maestra,’ to her former students.

   Josefina Gomez recalled, “I was in Fort Worth, Texas at the time; when it was announced on TV that the President was murdered, I fell to my knees and prayed that God the Father would immediately receive the President in His loving embrace.” 

   Josefina is a mother of four; her son – a father, grandfather and support of a large family - was deported to Mexico and was killed in an automobile accident.  Josefina is a member of the Family Support Group (CĂ­rculo de Apoyo) of Voce’s New Sanctuary Movement.

   Bill Snowden recounted, “I was in the ninth grade at the segregated all African American School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  When the news of the Presidents assassination reached us, I was in class, and I turned to the kid behind me and said – What are we going to do now?”  

    Bill is a Milwaukee Public School teacher, choir member at his Roman Catholic church, father of four, and a strong supporter of President Obama.

   Jim Zelinski remembered that he was a religion teacher and counselor at Bishop Baraga High School in Marquette, Michigan the day of the assassination.  He shared that he was in his office when it was announced that the President had been shot.  “We immediately went to a classroom and said the rosary.”

   Jim, a Capuchin, is a member of the Steering Committee (Comite Timon) of Voce’s New Sanctuary Movement.

   J.F.K. inspired a generation of political activists.  True enough many have passed and some have lapsed, but those that remain don’t need an explanation of “Si se puede,” the mantra of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chaves of the farm workers union.  (Yes, it can be done)

Friday, November 8, 2013

“INEQUALITY FOR ALL” Starring Robert Reich

 A Movie Review

    The Declaration of Independence states that all are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but income inequality has locked us all into the prison of free market economics.  The life and liberty of the poor is not respected and the rich are obsessed with wealth.  The result: a divided community in separate prisons without a thread of connection.  Happiness is a lost goal.

   Robert Reich confronts the current economic malaise with his book, After Shock, and a movie “Inequality for All.”  The movie follows the book in theme and content.

   Reich effectively establishes the fact of inequality with bar charts; one especially impressive is a chart that has the configuration of the Golden Gate Bridge.  This is fitting since the bridge was built during the great depression as part of an economic stimulus program and Reich teaches at nearby U.C. Berkeley.  The movie is based at U.C. Berkeley showing Professor Reich teaching a class – and us - about income inequality and what he proposes we do about it.

   The Golden Gate Bridge bar chart shows two towering opposite poles representing income inequality just before the great depression and income inequality just before the great recession.  Immediately the impression is – income inequality = an economic crash.

   What is the moral point of view?  Let’s refer to the papal Encyclical most revered by conservatives, Centesimus Annus.  and to Dutch theologian – Henri Nouwen.

The ‘Liberal’ Answer:  Focus on Middle Class Security

    Reich and others look to Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 30’s for the answer:  money in the hands of those who will spend it on goods and services will stimulate the economy to benefit all.  The ‘multiplier’ effect results in a constant turnover of funds for spending that stimulates production and jobs and the ‘accelerator’ effect of increased investment maintains the recovery.  The movie provides a circular graph for an explanation.

      The ‘accelerator’ effect depends on investments in the production of goods and services and not on various types of Ponzi schemes; hence government regulation and spending on infrastructure is crucial.

   The ‘multiplier’ effect depends on providing purchasing power on a massive scale.  The keys are labor unions and taxes.  Reich goes along with the New Deal economic theory that workers must have the right to organize and taxes must be fair requiring the rich to pay their fair share.

    For the system to work, government is needed for direction.  Reich is clear that the economic system is not of nature, but was and is created politically.  He also is clear that the system is to benefit most not just the few.  This is where we find the basic disagreement.  Republicans and right wing Democrats look to the economy to benefit the few.

   But what direction are we going?  Since the 70’s Republicans and right wing Democrats have moved the political spectrum to the right.  Today Eisenhower would be to the left of Obama. Eisenhower wrote to his brother Edgar,

   Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things.  Among them are H.L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man  from other areas.  There number is negligible and they are stupid. (The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, L.Galambos and D. van Ee, eds. doc.1147. cited by J.S. Hacker & P. Pierson, Winner-Take All Politics, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2010, p. 189.)

   Today compromise in the middle is really right wing politics controlled by the very wealthy which makes Reich’s movie quite clear.

Centesimus Annus as a Guide to the Moral Dimension
   Some sample quotes: Income disparity  

   As a help in reviewing Robert Reich’s movie, “Inequality for All,” let us consider John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus widely touted by conservative analysts as most important and supporting for their point of view.    
   Centesimus Annus was written in 1991 for the 100th anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum.  Pope John Paul II reviewed and reaffirmed the social teaching tradition of the church and named it part of the ‘New Evangelization.’ (C.A. Intro. 3; c.1,5; c.6, 53 ) The 1891 setting for Rerum Novarum was tragic income disparity.  

Pope John Paul wrote in Centesimus Annus,

   Here we find the first reflection for our times as suggested by the encyclical (Rerum Novarum).  In the face of a conflict which set man against man, almost as if they were “wolves,” a conflict between the extremes of mere physical survival on the one side and opulence on the other … However, the pope was very much aware that peace is built on a foundation of Justice. (C.A.c.1,5.)

Intervention by the government
Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of the society and by the state, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied. (C.A. c. 4, 35)

Labor Unions
Furthermore, society and the state must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings.  This requires a continuous effort to improve workers training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and those on the margins of society.  The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive in this area. (C.A. c.2, 15)

Preferential option for the poor
   The focus of Robert Reich’s analysis is the middle class, but for Roman Catholic social teaching the focus is the poor.  John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus,

Rereading the encyclical (Rerum Novarum) in the light of contemporary realities enables us to appreciate the church’s constant concern for and dedication to categories of people who are especially beloved to the Lord Jesus.  The contents of the text are an excellent testimony to the continuity within the church of the so called “preferential option for the poor,” an option which I defined as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,42 cited in C.A. c.1, 11)

“Preferential option for the poor” is unique to the Roman Catholic Social Teaching.  By the “poor” is meant world-wide poverty – of little concern to Robert Reich in his attempt to save the U.S. middle class.

Ecology and Consumerism
    Centesimus Annus was written in 1991 and John Paul II had concern about the environment as part of his moral economic message.
   Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it. (C.A. c.4, 37)

   It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward “having” rather than “being,” and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 35, Populorum Progressio, 19, cited in C.A. c.4, 36)

Neither point, ecology nor consumerism, is emphasized by Robert Reich. 

Reich and His Movie – Inequality for All – Not Radical Enough for Catholic Social Teaching

   ‘Preferential option for the poor’ is not important for Reich with his focus on the U.S. middle class.  Catholic social teaching expresses concern for the poor worldwide.  Reich was a member of the Clinton administration when N.A.F.T.A. (North American Free Trade Agreement) was passed.  On January 4th 1994, the Zapatistas took control of several towns in Chiapas Mexico in protest.  N.A.F.T.A. was nothing more than a new way for U.S. corporations to exploit Mexican labor.  

   It’s not just Reich; the politics of the day skip concern about the poor, not just in other parts of the world, but in our own inner cities.  This relates to ecological concerns; after all the wealthy can always escape the floods.  Roman Catholic Dutch theologian Henry Nouwen noted that compassion, a defining note for being human, is limited in our capitalistic society.

  Nouwen wrote that compassion, like that of Jesus, looks like an enemy of competition, the basis of the free market.  Would too much compassion destroy the contemporary version of the free market economic system?  Remember, it’s the source of opulence for those in power.  (McNeil, Morrison, Nouwen, Compassion, Doubleday, New York, 1982)


   The income gap threatens the existence of U.S. democracy, but ‘New Deal’ economics is not the solution.  Consumerism threatens the earth itself.  Jobs, work, fair income with the goal of happiness for all, needs to be re-thought and apparently Reich doesn’t even see the fundamental problem which is somewhat different from that of the 30’s.

     “Inequality for All” is informative and important, but it falls short of even defining the economic disaster we face; the very ecological environment we live in is threatened by our economic system based on ‘having’ rather than ‘being.’

Thursday, October 17, 2013


   Upon further review after quoting Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying that it is disappointing to realize President Obama is no better than the others because of his willingness to bomb Syria, an out has presented itself with the Russian initiative.  Also the new connection with the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has perhaps changed disaster into a possibility of a movement toward peace in the Middle East.  See - The Nation, “For Democracy against War,”p. 3, 9.23.13 
   Also Pope Francis in two interviews with Jesuit magazines has strongly indicated a change in official Roman Catholic Pastoral Theology.  The establishment of a "Benevolent Dictator" is perhaps progress but still not a revolution.


   We traveled to London to visit the London Langes and took a side trip to Vienna and Budapest.  I asked people about the proposal to bomb Syria, and requested opinions about the new Pope Francis.  In England I talked to: 3 native Londoners, 1 person from Ireland, 2 from Sri Lanka, l from Algeria, 1 from India.  Also, I conversed with:  1 from Catalonia, 1 from Poland, l from Italy and, of course, I interviewed the London Langes which include related families with Irish, English and American backgrounds.

   On the flight to Vienna and in Vienna I also looked for opinions on Syria and the new Pope.  Among the people I talked to were, a young man from Kosovo, a young woman from Indonesia, a student from Hungary and a Chinese business man from Hong Kong.  I’ll relate a few of the encounters; I didn’t agree will all, but all were interesting.

   I talked to a man after Mass who was the head of a youth group in London.  In his talk to the congregation he asked for support from the parish of his city-wide group.  He referred to the Young Catholic Workers mantra “See – Judge – and Act” which I was surprised to hear from the pulpit.  I asked him what he thought of Pope Francis.  He was enthusiastically supportive and noted that his own parish, following the suggestion of Pope Francis, had a prayer service for peace. He said that politics are a part of a Christian’s duty along with prayer.  The prayers worked he claimed, “After the Prayer Vigil – we had the Russian initiative - a result of Prayer.”  I came away with the notion that at best non-violent politics and prayer are twisted together as an existential act of freedom to shape history; at worst, a gothic attempt to apply magic to a difficult situation.

   A man who was collecting funds for the homeless told me that he supported the British Parliament in its decision not to go along with the U.S. in an attack on Syria.  I asked why, and he referred me to retired Member of Parliament, Tony Benn.  In his autobiography Benn wrote,

   My hatred for war and passion for peace and justice I first learned at home. But they became stronger as a result of my own experience, living through a world war and witnessing many others since 1945.
   The arguments for just wars, and the supposed merits of globalized Capitalism,  from the basis of a political consensus must be challenged if the human race is to survive.  (Tony Benn, Dare to be Daniel, Hutchinson, London, p. 198.)

   We visited Arundel Castle first established by William the Conqueror just after his successful invasion of England in 1066.  In a discussion with a tour guide I was reminded of Guy Fawkes, a famous Roman Catholic terrorist of the 17th century.  Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605.

Remember the 5th of November gunpowder treason plot. I see no reason why it should ever be forgot.


   The man next to me on the flight to Vienna was a Chinese business man from Hong Kong.  He was very friendly but with his long face, glasses and scraggly beard, he reminded me of a character on one of my grandson Liam’s video games.  The man from Hong Kong supported Obama, but thought that he should act through the United Nations.

   A Muslim student from Kosovo, who was selling tickets to a concert of Viennese music, talked to us in front of the St. Stephan Cathedral in Vienna.  In his opinion the U.S. should act to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons immediately.  I asked him if he favored the bombing in Kosovo.  He said that if it weren’t for American intervention he would not be here.  He said, “When I hear criticism of America it is to cry.”  There was a demonstration of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ from Egypt nearby.  The young man said he did not support their demonstration.

   We had lunch with a young Indonesian woman in Budapest.  She had just finished her M.B.A. at Birmingham, England and was traveling through Europe before going home.  She opposed bombing Syria and was very disappointed that President Obama proposed such action.  She thought the cause of the conflict was not oil but religion. “It’s about religion and power.”  I understood her to mean that it was a contest over world dominance between two differing cultures, – Muslim and Christian.  Could that be true?  President Bush II called the Gulf war a Crusade.  Is it that those that promote war to gain financial advantage have to sell it to those of faith?


   Several statues adorn the outside of St. Stephen Cathedral in Vienna.  One of them is of Johannes Capistrano a Franciscan Friar.  The Baroque piece depicts the Saint as triumphant over the Muslim Turks in 1456. The Franciscan is holding a Crusader flag standing on top of a slain Muslim Turk.   Above him is a gold medallion with the initials I.H.S. and a cross.  The   I.H.S. (In this sign you will conquer) symbol is from the vision of Constantine who saw the cross in the sky before his military victory at the Milvian Bridge which was key to his becoming Holy Roman Emperor.   Capistrano looks like a portrait of a triumphant Jesus rising from the dead.  
   There are no records of swallows returning to the statue – that’s only at the mission in California.    
   A second and final Turkish Muslim attack was repelled in Vienna in 1683.  The hero for defending the city was Capuchin Friar Marco D’Aviano who preached a Crusade against the Turkish Muslims and is considered to have ‘saved’ Europe from Muslim control.  Friar Marco celebrated the Christian victory by saying Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral.  There is a story that the Crusaders captured Turkish coffee and found it to be a bit bitter, but with milk they thought it to be a wonderful drink.  They named it Cappuccino in honor of Friar Marco D’Aviano.


   Guy Fawkes, Johannes Capistrano, Marco D’Aviano fought with arms for Roman Catholic political power, but Pope Francis as  benevolent dictator advocated for peace.  Let us consider one reason for this change.
   At the top of the South Tower of St. Stephan Cathedral in Vienna is a double beam cross which symbolizes Church political and religious authority.  The ‘double cross’ was placed in 1433.  Could this be a difference?  Pope Francis was not under pressure for territorial gain or a maintenance or gain of power.  Vatican II was an attempt to be ecumenical – cross cultural.  (Read Vatican II document Nostra Aetate.)  Pope Francis was in a position to advocate for peace and a multicultural world.

   So many of the people who talked to us were willing to state their opinions but felt their views didn’t matter.  Higher powers would do what they wanted to do to serve their own interests.  Joanne and I still feel we have a voice.   It was a wonderful trip for us; we met some wonderful people, we were with family - the grandkids and we learned a lot.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Thanks to Frank Shanskey, Joan Bleidorn, Dominique Noth and Jim Lange for their responses to Labor Day questions for the Faith and Labor blog.

    The Milwaukee Labor Day celebration was encouraging. The rhetoric was inspiring, but there was more than rhetoric. It was a new Labor Day Parade. Workers from the Martin Luther King statue on the north side of the city and workers from the south side – Voces de la Frontera office - marched to a central location at Ziedler Union Park for the celebration. This was a visible demonstration of unity between black, brown and white workers. Bob Peterson President of the Milwaukee Teachers Union said,

      “As president of the largest union local in the state, I promise that the          M.T.E.A. is 100% committed to the rebuilding of a dynamic labor movement  that advocates for working people and all sectors of our community.”

   It was clear that the new vision of labor doesn’t mean just labor union members, but all of the laboring community including the unemployed, low wage workers and the un-documented. Solidarity took on a broader meaning. At the conclusion of the Labor Day March at Zeidler Park a campaign was announced to promote a living wage for Milwaukee County workers. A living wage has been an important theme for the Social Encyclicals since the 1891 Encyclical, Rerum Novarum:

   Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in      particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a  dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between  man and man, namely that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a  frugal and well behaved wage earner.” (Rerum Novarum, 34)

   But the focus has changed. In order to continue the flow of oil to support ‘the American way of life,’ and the European for that matter, those that brought us income inequality want us to go it alone and bomb Syria in order to maintain control of the Middle East and its oil. The media blitz sounds like they are chanting – “all we are saying is give war a chance.” Of course the labor community is directly affected. Who will be counted as ‘collateral damage?’ It will be Syrian workers and families. We – our kids - are the ‘boots on the ground.’ There is no guarantee that missiles and bombers will preclude a ground war.

   Pope Francis called for special prayer and fasting on Saturday, September 7th. Retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Listecki, who is Archbishop of Milwaukee, had no comment. At St. Benedict the Moor Church we prayed and discussed the issue. Several spoke. A relatively well known theologian brought up the Just War Theory. He noted that theoretically a just war should have reasonable chance of success, but in whatever manner we attack Syria, what would be the outcome? A theologian from Marquette University’s Peace Center said that the Just War Theory was a secular response. Wasn’t it first introduced to Christian theology by North African Father of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo? A long time Catholic Worker representative said there is no such thing as a just war – war is simply wrong. Two speakers wept as they recounted the horrible absurdity of war. All agreed – war was not a legitimate option. But it was especially difficult to go against a President we worked so hard to elect. Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel wrote, “…it’s never a good feeling when the guy you hoped would bring hope and change ends up sounding like all the other guys.” (M.J.S. 9-8-13)

   Even after the Russian initiative, the question in Washington was – What is our National interest? Since Vatican II, the blue print for world peace, the ethical criterion for peace has been emphasized in the Social Encyclicals as the ‘universal common good.’ True enough, the language, the philosophy of the Encyclicals is secular, but since the very beginning of reflection on Faith, philosophical reasoning has been used to explain Faith. The dogma of individualism (e.g. go it alone – what’s best for us - American exceptionalism) is not a failure of Faith but of erroneous philosophy sometimes attempting to explain Faith. The violence – the threat of violence - of Pax Americana- cannot measure up to Faith filled people asking questions about justice and standing firm with Faith and faith in the future.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Labor Day 2013 - Part Three of Three

August 28th 

Comments concerning: 


Frank Shansky

This is the major issue that labor has a vital role in addressing, because it has the principles and structure to address it.

Jim Lange

Reversing income inequality is the key to any success in improving the economy. There must be massive changes to improve the lives of working people.

Dominique Noth

As to income inequality and immigration reform:
Let me answer together since both represent how unions must form coalitions regardless of union or non-union, too long it only worked for its own members while now it must address income inequality for fast food workers and others as a matter of the sort of economic justice that marked the union movement in the 1930s. Let’s stop getting hung up on acronyms and join hands.

Comments Concerning:

EFCA- Employee Free Choice Act – workers simply vote to form a legal – representative union

Frank Shansky

President Obama has been a major disappointment on this issue. He promised to push for it and then never lifted a finger.

Dominque Noth

The question defines the problem – most people don’t know what EFCA is, a simple act by Congress or Constitutional Amendment to protect the choice to join a union against legislative attacks. It’s seldom correctly explained or intelligently defended. Even union members are confused by the arguments. Labor’s operations are remarkably clean and transparent as opposed to how people are given power in corporations or government but it’s been abused and demeaned by big money on the other side and its own internal weakness. The first step it to prove its democracy and self-policing to a doubting public as part of growing support for its core values of fairness for all who work.

Comments Concerning:


Frank Shansky
A critical issue in addressing income equality both in terms of the issues faced by the immigrant community but workers in general. The unification of working people (i.e. immigrants and non-immigrants) will be a key factor in whether we are successful in addressing the key issues of our day.

Jim Lange

Immigration reform is a necessity today let’s get it passed.

Dominique Noth 

Immigration is a similar case. For every “criminal” the right points out there are actually thousands of cases of families we should want in the US. Right now in the push to get reform, even immigration supporters are willing to accept draconian concerns over border security, setting aside more money to protect the Mexican-US border than spent on the entire CIA and FBI combined, which doesn’t address the problem but is excused as a foot in the door. It is worth the price? Would intelligent modification follow or would jackboots attitudes grow? Where does the coalition draw the line? Compromise requires clarity on underlying principles of common sense. The attraction of the right is the attitude of no compromise whether it makes sense or not. Labor as well as Faith has got to not only look smarter but be smarter.

Joan Picard Bleidorn

Regarding immigration reform, those who claim to have any real faith at all should certainly realize that the beatitudes on which our salvation depends, demands that we welcome the stranger in our land, as we ourselves were once strangers, and it will not be well for us if we fail to do this. How far should we go in cooperating with the far right of the Republican Part, in order to get some kind of immigration bill through? I am not sure to what extent here should be cooperation with the drastic compromises they see to demand in order to pass a bill.

Monday, August 26, 2013

LABOR DAY – 2013

I posed some questions and issues to social justice leaders for comment on the Labor Day postings for this year.  There will be three postings: Monday August 26th, Tuesday August 27th and Wednesday August 28th.  The responses are interesting and inspiring.


August 26th
What is the political-economic – moral strength of the labor movement at the present time? 

August 27th

Does Faith have an important role in the Labor Movement?

August 28th

Issues: Income inequality, EFCA. Immigration Reform

The respondents are:

Frank Shansky, Business Manager Local 212 Milwaukee Area Technical College

Jim Lange, retired Steel Worker and labor activist 

Dominique Paul Noth, served as senior editor for all feature coverage at the Milwaukee Journal after decades as its film and drama critic, then was appointed special assistant to the publisher and the company’s first online producer.  For the past decade he was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.

Joan Picard Bleidorn, retired Milwaukee Area Technical College Professor, Co-founder Local 212 part time professors unit, member of St. Benedict the Moor Roman Catholic Parish

August 26th Question:

What is the political-economic-moral strength of the Labor Movement at the present time?

Frank Shansky

   I’ll let someone else answer the political and economic strength. But the moral strength of the labor movement is its ability to stand up to power, when very few others will. Labor encompasses the vast majority of society, if not in membership, then in principle.

Jim Lange:

   The Labor movement is too weak these days to deal with the onslaught of the companies. That’s why I applaud the AFL-CIO for reaching out and trying to find new ways of doing things.

Dominique Noth:

   Ought to be stronger but is quite weak in public perception despite clear evidence of moral and economic importance.  Some of the wound is inflicted by political excess particularly in Wisconsin and other ideologically right-driven states but some is self-inflicted from naval gazing over protecting its own members.

   Now labor has got to go back to what caused it to grow and vitalize starting a century ago, bringing in workers of like concern whether they hold union cards or not, opening the doors, forming coalitions of like-minded whom, once the issues are explained, may well be a majority. But there also must be an awareness that too many families –

struggling economically and focused on their own children as traditional family units disintegrate geographically, as cultural, educational  and social mores change – require new modes of communication and new tools of information to make them realize the importance of getting off their duffs.
Joan Bleidorn:

   Regarding the political strength of the labor movement at the present time, there is a need for a massive awaking to the importance increased political efforts to deal with the unmitigated attack on the rights of workers in this country.  To begin with, the fact that more than 20 or more U.S. states are almost totally controlled by Republican governors, as well as control of the House and Senate, give the extreme right-wing of the Republican party cart blanch opportunities to crush all rights for workers.  The right- wing strongly supports a ‘Righty to Work’ policy, which translates into, “if you don’t like what the job offers, too bad-leave…you are lucky to have a job at all even at slave wages, so don’t complain because we can have you replaced in a minute.”  We must lay the foundations of justice for workers at the political level first, and make sure that we learn from the effective tactics of the far right.  Those of us who believe in a strong unionized work-force , must make every effort to get our candidates in at first of all, the local level, and build a strong foundation from the ground up.  From control and power at the local level, there must be a move upward to higher levels of government, until recapture of the House and Senate can happen as a matter of course.  We also must make every effort to assure that MOVE TO AMEND the constitution to reverse the damage done by Citizens United gets on the ballot of local government all across the country.  Our work is cut out for us, and it will take real determination to undo the damage created by the far right in this country.  We must not fail to mention our rather ineffectual Democratic president who talks a good fight but seldom delivers.

   Regarding the economic strengths of the labor movement at this time, we must put our money where our mouth is.  Money is power, and consumers have great power, even if their resources are somewhat limited.  We have to shop somewhere.

If we choose to buy Palermo’s pizza then we become part and party to injustice, as we do if we take advantage of buying cheap goods from the local mall.  It is so easy to be sucked into the idea that it is better to have ten sweaters on the cheap, rather than one or two which cost you a fair price to cover the cost of just wages for the workers.  There must be a concerted effort to maintain the unions, which represent the only course of action for justice in the work-place.  Union dues are needed to provide union strength.  The police made a mistake in thinking that Governor Walker cared about their interests when he spared their unions.  After using this gullible group of middle-class cops, he is now in the process of attempting to curtail their union, if not wipe it out completely.  Too soon we get old, and too late we get smart! 

   Regarding the moral strength of the labor movement at this time, individual members must take heart and realize that it is time to dig in our heels and work even harder for justice, in whatever way we can. Refusing to shop at Walmart is a start.  Boycotting the many corporations that produce and sell G.M.O. (Genetically Modified Organism) products is a tactic available to everyone.  One thing that is important is to realize that the labor movement must not be divided, and the far right loves to use a ‘divide and conquer’ policy to defeat its enemies.  Workers must be organized and there is strength in numbers.  There is a moral component to the labor movement, as each individual has the obligation to play a part.  I recently watched a DVD entitled ‘I AM’, the story of wealthy and humorous film producer, Steven Shadyec, who was   hospitalized with mental and physical injuries after a motorcycle accident.  When he was released from the hospital, he took a look at his 17,000 square foot estate, with its two 7,000 foot mansions, and decided he was not happy.  He took a trip around the world to interview wise people like the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, Noam Chomsky and others and asked them the questions: What is wrong with the world, and what can we do about it?  He came home with the conclusions that what is wrong with the world is ‘I AM’ and what can we do about it.?  ‘I CAN’ (and I must.)  He came to the conclusion that we are not wired for continuous consumerism, but rather, we are hard wired for COMPASSION AND COMMUNITY.  He changed his lifestyle and came to the belief that whatever little we can do to make this a better world, we must do.  We must avoid the pathetic question: ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’  We are the somebody.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Remember Me

    We were at Milwaukee’s Bastille Days celebration Saturday night sitting with African American strangers who asked us to join them, when the news was relayed by cell phone; George Zimmerman was acquitted.  The mood was that of unbelief.  The young man sitting with us predicted violence all over the country.

   I didn’t look forward to attending Mass the next day even though it was going to be held at a county park. 

   First of all, it was the morning after the Trayvon Martin decision.  The seventeen year old was declared guilty by a Florida Jury of his own murder.   I was sure that the pastor would ignore the event. 

   Secondly, the Gospel for the day was the Good Samaritan story.  The Milwaukee Catholic Herald (July 11, 2013, p. 18) had a recent article by a former Seminary Professor distorting the Gospel and Jewish understanding of the commandment to ‘love God and your neighbor.’  He stated, “Jesus, in featuring the compassionate Samaritan, dared to challenge the Lawyer’s and Israel’s erroneous understanding of one’s duties toward a neighbor.”
This is a common misinterpretation and therefore what I expected to hear on Sunday.

   WRONG -  

   The pastor did mention the Trayvon Martin decision, and at the time of the Prayers of the Faithful, the congregation’s lamentations were moving.  The Pastor’s treatment of the Good Samaritan story skipped the usual; “Jesus  pronounced a ‘new law’ that even the ‘stranger’ is our neighbor.”

   Ironically the National Conference of Catholic Bishops advocates for immigration reform by reference to the Jewish Bible mandate to love God and your neighbor – the stranger.   (Strangers No Longer Together On a Journey Of Hope, U.S.C.C.B. 1-22-2003)  The use of the Good Samaritan story as a story of Christian exceptionalism is a step in the wrong direction.

   Let’s look at the Good Samaritan story in reference to Trayvon Martin.  What about civil rights?  They are now wounded and dying on the street.  Who will notice and advocate for a cure and pay the cost of civil health?  It won’t be easy; for inspiration just remember Treyvon Martin.
Credits for the picture belong to Methodist Pastor Bill Mefford, Washington, D.C.

Friday, July 5, 2013



   Vatican II brought dramatic change to the Roman Catholic Church.  An analysis of the Council shows that the purpose of the Council was to promote peace at a time when the world was threatened with annihilation.  As a reminder, we have a fifties style bomb shelter in our Wauwatosa, WI home.  World War II provided a tragic lesson.  The holocaust, the murder and torture of 6 million Jews, could be laid at the feet of the Roman Catholic Church and all Christians.  The anti-Jewish Gospel s set the historical ground work, and the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to challenge the Nazis during WWII continues to be covered up.   Pope John XXIII saw a possible road to peace.  Faith communities and all those of Faith and good will, including those not of particular religious or faith communities, could come together to “work for justice to achieve peace.”

   Fifty years later we cannot pass final judgment on the Council, but we can comment on where we are today. Vatican II opened a window but the spirit of Gnosticism blew in, took over, and slammed the window shut.  We have to take account of the Neo - Gnostics in post Vatican II considerations. 

   Let’s look at just two issues in Catholic Social Teaching that dramatically changed with Vatican II.  Let’s ask ourselves: 

To whom are the official Vatican messages directed? 
What is the moral status of organized labor in society?

   Pre Vatican II encyclicals and official documents were addressed to Roman Catholic clergy and laity; for example Rerum Novarum

“To Our Venerable Brethren, All Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and    Bishops of the Catholic World, In Grace and Communion with the Apostolic See.”

Still other faith groups commented.   In 1918 in Great Britain a group called the International Conference of Social Service Unions which included Catholics and other denominations issued a strong social justice statement. Twenty English Quaker employers in Great Britain issued a statement similar to nascent Catholic Social Teaching in 1919. (Documents of American Catholic History, ed. J.T. Ellis, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1955, pp. 614-615)  

Opponents of this social dogma as seen by the Catholic Church were named in Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931).  The first of the Social Encyclicals strongly criticized Capitalism (liberalism) and Socialism.  Commentators differed in their interpretation.  Father John Ryan in the U.S. endorsed Capitalism with limits.  Catholic Distributists in England and in the U.S. condemned Capitalism.  Roman Catholic Social Teaching was against socialism but without a precise definition.  Russian Communism was clearly the target of Roman Catholic wrath.  U.S. Bishops in 1919 issued a statement on Catholic Social Teaching written by Father John Ryan.  Steven C. Mason, president of the National Association of Manufacturers complained that it was, “partisan, pro-labor union, socialistic propaganda.”  Ten years later, just before the collapse of the U.S. stock market, a New York State Senate Investigating committee described the work as that of a group of Catholics with leanings toward Socialism. (ibid. p. 611) Fascist countries Spain, Austria, and Portugal found the “corporate economics” of the first two encyclicals to be acceptable. Concordats were made but tensions existed between the Vatican and the fascist countries of Germany and Italy.


   The vision of John XXIII was a move towards peace through justice and dialogue.  On October 20th , 1962, just at the beginning of the Council and two days before the public was aware of the Cuban missile crisis, the Council issued a document:

MESSAGE TO HUMANITY – Issued at the beginning of the Second Vatican   Council by its Fathers, with the endorsement of the Supreme Pontiff.           THE FATHERS OF THE COUNCIL TO ALL MEN

The next year – 1963 Pope John XXIII addressed his encyclical Pacem in Terris to:

The Venerable Brothers the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops…to    the clergy and faithful of the whole world and to ALL MEN OF GOOD WILL. (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J. General Editor, The America Press 1966, p.3)

   From this time forward encyclicals on Catholic Social teaching are addressed to “all men of good will.”  John XXIII wrote Pacem in Terris, a preview of Vatican II, and emphasized the basis of Catholic Social Teaching as the natural law, not sectarian theology.  Natural law was defined as human reason and according to Thomas Aquinas, “reason is the norm of the human will, according to which its goodness is measured.” ‘All’ then can relate to the encyclicals no matter of their religious orientation or lack of it. (Pacem in Terris, ed. W.J. Gibbons S.J. Paulist Press, para. 38)

   The social encyclicals refer to biblical revelation for support; are those without belief in the Christian Bible – Old Testament and New without connection to God’s revelation?  The Council’s document on Revelation refers to nature.

This sacred Synod affirms, ‘God the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason.’    cf. Rom. 1:20 (op. cit. Documents of Vatican II, p. 114)


   A shocker from Rerum Novarum (1891) was that the Roman Catholic Church dogmatically stated that workers had the right to organize.  But questions remained:  

Could Catholics participate with non Catholics in a labor organization?  Does the corporate economics of the encyclicals allow labor unions to strike?                                                                                                              Does corporate economics allow workers to choose their own leaders?

   In the U.S. it was crucial for Catholics to belong to ‘neutral’ labor unions or labor unions that consisted of workers from different denominations or no religious affiliation.  The importance of Catholic membership in ‘neutral’ labor unions was recognized by Archbishop Gibbons of Baltimore.  While in Rome to receive his Cardinal’s hat in 1887, Gibbons expressed in writing that there would be no harm to the faith of U.S. Catholics if they were members of the national ‘neutral’ labor union, the Knights of Labor.  Leo XIII agreed not to condemn the Knights in the U.S. although he had condemned the Knights in Canada and it was the year after the Knights’ eight-hour day struggle and the Haymarket Riot. (Ryan, The Church and Labor, pp. 145 – 158) However Leo XIII appointee Archbishop Messmer (1847-1930) of Milwaukee thought that Catholics should form separate labor unions. (Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life, U.N.D., Notre Dame, Indiana, pp. 74-75)

Is it morally acceptable for labor unions to strike?

   Pope Pius XI says NO!  He wrote in Quadragesimo Anno (1931):

Strikes and lock-outs are forbidden; if the parties cannot settle their dispute, public authority intervenes. (Q.A. 93)

Detroit priest Father Charles Coughlin followed the Pope’s dictum and advocated for compulsory arbitration.  Coughlin thought that unions should be put under the direction of the Department of Labor.  Some called this the fascist approach. (op. cite. Roman Catholicism and The American Way of Life, p. 83.)

   On the other side of the coin, labor advocate, Father John Cronin, wrote in 1959:

That workers in general have the right to strike is generally conceded…  Moralists are more likely to emphasize the justice of workers’ claims as an excusing circumstance.  (Cronin, John F.,  Social Principles and Economic Life, Bruce, Milwaukee,  p. 185.)


Catholic workers participating in mixed labor unions…

   Vatican II was about cooperation for justice to achieve peace so the documents issued emphasized collaboration among Christians, non Christians and Atheists.  Ecumenism came to be known as interfaith dialogue and cooperation, but it was more than that.  Let us consider the positive statement about atheists:

While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful   betterment of this world in which all alike live. Such an ideal cannot be   realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue.             (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,  Part I, 21)

  The challenge to communism was softened and opened the way for Liberation Theology to use Marxist categories.

The morality of a strike…

   Vatican II contradicted Pius XI’s mandate of ‘no strikes.’  The Pastoral Constitution on the Church states:

Even in present day circumstances, however, the strike can still be a   necessary, though ultimate means for the defense of workers’ own rights   and the fulfillment of their just demands. (ibid. Section 2 – 68)

Does the corporate economics of the Roman Catholic Church concede the right of workers to elect union leaders?...

    The Pastoral Constitution on the Church states:

Hence the workers themselves should have a share also in controlling   these institutions, either in person or through freely elected delegates.     (ibid. Section 2 – 68)

A footnote – commentary in The Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter Abbott states:

Its (The Constitution on the Church) comments on the necessity of   permitting the workers to be represented by ‘freely elected delegates’ have meaning not only for countries where there are no workers associations, but also for countries which have them but, like Spain, do not allow for adequately free choice of representatives by workers themselves. (p. 277)

At the time of the Council, Spain was under the control of the Fascist dictator Franco.

   The principle of subsidiarity now extends to workers choosing their own leaders and having the clear right to strike.  The ‘corporate economics’ of the Roman Catholic Church has dramatically changed.  Perhaps it can no longer be called ‘corporate’ or ‘organic.’


   Catholic Social Teaching is now moribund for both Church liberals and conservatives.  For example, there was no support for the striking Palermo Pizza workers from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  Only the ‘Nuns on the Bus’ lent encouragement.

   There are many causes for the separation of the hierarchy from the ‘People of God.’  Cutting back to the essentials and working for collaboration with other faith groups as advocated by Vatican II has caused a Roman Catholic identity crisis.  Also the relative economic well being of influential Catholics has pushed the politics of the Church to the extreme right.  The pedophile scandal has put the Church on the defensive, and instead of rethinking the priesthood, the hierarchy attempts to spiritualize the authority position of the clergy-hierarchy more than ever.  Musician and former Capuchin Jerry Danks wrote:

Clericalism IS the root cause and the gift that keeps on giving - the notion that Catholic priests/religious are set apart, super-human, assumed to be well-adjusted, presumed to be innocent, and deserving of special treatment for what they have "given up…"

    Women’s ordination, abortion, contraceptives, gay rights, can’t be discussed, and these issues trump any kind of workers’ rights issues.  The separation of the spiritual from everyday reality is a form of contemporary Gnosticism that has infected the hierarchy and some liberals.  It is fortunate there are other faith groups that provide an example of what Church is about.  We will hear about them in a later blog.  Post Vatican II Roman Catholic Social Teaching is still there with great potential as a guide for all to achieve workers’ rights.