Wednesday, October 8, 2014


    Joanne and I recently made a presentation to a local Protestant Church looking for renewed support for Voces de la Frontera’s Sanctuary Movement.  

    We are working with the possibility of moving someone – or a family into Sanctuary in response to Congress’ and the President’s unwillingness to act.

   It seemed out of context but a question was raised about Voces’ support for immigrant workers in the recent Palermo Pizza strike.  The best response was given by a congregation member, a professor of history at Marquette University, who noted the importance of protests in U.S. American history.  He cited the Civil Rights movement as an example.  A neighboring Protestant church was remembered as being part of the Underground Railroad before the U.S. Civil War. Coincidently the homily for the liturgy which preceded the discussion emphasized the Christian tradition of challenging authority.  
   Of course the Church agreed to support us, but the discussion triggered some thoughts on Faith and about Faith in action.

   Despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church in Milwaukee refused to support the immigrant workers at Palermo, it could be argued that the right to protest – the right to strike is basic to Catholic Social Teaching, but this was not always the case.  What changed? 

  The first American Pope, Francis, in his proclamation The Joy of the Gospel cites the need to properly explain the ‘deposit of faith.’ Changes in the doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching could provide a model.  Francis quotes John XXIII from his opening remarks for the Second Vatican Council, “The deposit of the faith is one thing  … the way it is expressed is another.” (The Joy of the Gospel, IV, para. 41)  Let us remember that explaining Faith is the role of theology. 

   What is the ‘deposit of faith?’  Leo XIII in 1899 wrote an Encyclical – a letter to Cardinal Gibbons – called ‘Americanism.’  Leo feared heresy in the U.S. Church.  Pope Leo quoted Vatican Council I, (Const. de Fid.  Cath., c. iv).  Among Leo’s problems with the U.S. were 1890’s labor protests – e.g. the Pullman strike and the demonstration in Washington of Coxey’s Army. (Documents of American Catholic History, Ed. John Tracy Ellis, Bruce Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 1956, p.524)

          The doctrine of faith which God has revealed is not proposed like a    theory of philosophy which is to be elaborated by the human      understanding, but as a divine deposit delivered to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly declared … That sense of sacred dogmas is to be faithfully kept which Holy Mother Church has once declared, and is not to be departed from under the specious context of more profound understanding. (Leo XIII, Encyclical on Americanism, Jan. 22, 1899)

‘Deposit of faith’ appears to be a particularly Roman Catholic term but could be related to 2 Timothy 1-14 but that is more than a stretch.  The Roman Catholic ‘deposit of faith’ would include the social encyclicals.  Note that Francis’ view and John XXIII’s understanding of the ‘deposit of faith’ is quite different than that of Leo XIII.

   Let’s look at perhaps one of the most important changes in Catholic Social Teaching, the doctrine on the right to strike.  Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno establishes the notion of a state governed by “corporate economics” and proclaims: (1931)

Strikes and lockouts are forbidden. If the contending parties cannot come to an agreement, public authority intervenes.      (Q.A. #94)

 More than 30 years later Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) changes the teaching:  

Even in present day circumstances, however, the strike can still be necessary, though ultimate, means for the defense of workers own rights and fulfillment of their just demands.  (G.S. #68) 

Before Vatican II, U.S. ‘labor priests’ such as John Ryan also stated that strikes were legitimate as a last resort.  (The Church and Labor, J.A. Ryan and J. Husslein, N.Y., The McMillan Co. 1920, p. 287 and p. 298.)
   The Vatican II pronouncement was significant in that it indicated a break with the corporate economics of the past.  Instead of viewing society as a body where parts are significant but need to be controlled by the head, the church recognized labor unions as independent. 

Vatican II Gaudium et Spes went further.

Hence the workers themselves should have a share also in controlling these institutions, (labor unions} either in person or freely elected delegates. (G.S. #68)

This statement indicated that the fascist style ‘corporate economics’ of Portugal, Austria and Spain considered ideal before W.W. II were no longer acceptable.

   The political acumen of John XXIII made the change possible.  He was not locked into dogma but considered the common good of all people as his criterion.  For John XXIII peace depended on justice.  The reasonable course of action was first of all to respect the freedom of people to determine their own mode of existence.  Subsequent Popes have emphasized the rights of workers in the realm of economics but have created a wall of hostility between dogma and politics.  The refusal of the Milwaukee Archdiocese to support the immigrant workers at Palermo indicates that the money of wealthy donors and the convenient cover of dogma have had a blinding effect. 

   This article only considered one dramatic change in the social encyclicals, but there were others as well.  Changes in Catholic Social Teaching were based on a consideration of the common good and a reasonable response to the times.  Dogma was at best secondary.  As Benevolent Dictator, Pope Francis, using the social encyclicals as a model, could quickly change the Church to be inclusive and practical.   

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