INTRODUCTION: VATICAN II - PEACE THROUGH JUSTICE
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 – SOCIAL DOGMA PRESENTED TO ROMAN CATHOLICS
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.
POST VATICAN II – TO ALL - A DIALOGUE
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)
PRE VATICAN II: ON THE STATUS OF LABOR
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.)
POST VATICAN II ON THE STATUS OF LABOR
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.’
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
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.