Wednesday, November 26, 2014


   Vatican II provided hope and was successful in contributing towards the avoidance of a nuclear holocaust, however, war and rampant injustice continued at a rate more intense than any other time in history.  The Roman Catholic Church suffered divisions and the demarcation lines are difficult to trace.

   The NCR story begins in October of 1964.  The anniversary issue notes important stories of the NCR over the past 50 years. The editorial states:

If this booklet tells a history, it isn’t the history of a newspaper; it is the history of the American Catholic Church over the last 50 years.  

In my opinion there were some important omissions, but overall NCR does a good job.  U.S. American Roman Catholics are much better informed because of the NCR and are in a better position to advocate reform for justice and peace beyond Vatican II.  My criterion for comments on the anniversary issue is – the focus on social justice through non violence in reference to the alienated – including labor and the poor.  I will refer to the social encyclicals plus official church documents promulgated by bishop’s conferences which advocate structural change to serve all.

   The first edition of NCR (10-28-64) noted the promulgation of ‘Lumen Gentium,’ ‘the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.’   The document began with a discourse on the ‘people of God’ and that the Spirit dwelt in them, but also reaffirmed Vatican I and the ultimate authority of the Pope and hierarchy in communion with the Pope.  This was a bait and switch document which few recognized including the NCR.  Hierarchical exclusivity is an important cause of the pedophile scandal, but escapes analysis even in the NCR.

    During its fifty years NCR provided valuable information on the civil wars in Central America and the struggle for justice in all of Latin America.  Correspondents Gary MacEoin and Penny Lernoux deserve special credit and should get notice for their in depth reporting.

   It is on record thanks to NCR!  The anniversary issue reports on the 1979 Latin American Bishops’ conference in Puebla, Mexico.  The article emphasizes two crucial points. 

1 – Pope John Paul II endorsed liberation theology and the recent deliberations of the Latin American Episcopal Conference.
2 – During their Jan. 27th –Feb. 13 meeting, the Latin American bishops, caretakers of the only institution with sufficient power to speak out in a continent dominated by repressive military regimes, issued documents on the church’s priority commitment to the poor, religious life, and the economic and political realities of Latin Americas. (p. 20.)

But the first official church statement on ‘preferential option for the poor’ is from the 1968 conference in Medellin, Columbia; the conference is not mentioned in the anniversary issue.
   The NCR anniversary issue noted the church martyrs in Latin America but did not cite Medellin as a cause.  NCR correspondent, Penny Lernoux wrote in her book –Cry of the People:  

Medellin was a red flag waving them into action…Priests formed left-wing organizations in seven countries, some doing so in open support of radical parties or governments. (Penny Lernoux, The Cry of the People, Penguin, 1991, p.43.)

However, those martyred were for the most part not members of any political party or group but involved in pastoral care – ‘preferential option for the poor.’  Such ministry was and is considered political.  The anniversary issue cites the four Church women in El Salvador and others.

   The anniversary issue did not cite the revolutionary ‘preferential option for the poor’ proclaimed by the Medellin document, but also left out the first time it was mentioned in a Papal document – Sollicitudo Socialis Rei.  There was an editorial about Sollictudo Sociali Rei in March of 1988 emphasizing the Encyclical’s fundamental concern for the environment.  The editorial opens:

Sollicitudo Socialis Rei, Pope John Paul II latest encyclical, will be remembered as the church’s first encyclical on ecology.”  Sollicitudo Socialis Rei is mentioned in the anniversary issue with the headline: “Superpowers target of the encyclical’s wrath.”

   Coverage of the radical encyclical Laborem Exercens was not mentioned in the anniversary issue.  Neither did the special issue commemorating John Paul II which underplays his social encyclicals. (NCR, 4-15-2005)  Did ‘liberal’ church concerns super-cede labor issues for NCR?  Laborem Exercens stating that “labor unions are indispensible” and “labor is prior to capital” might be too much for a publication that uses a non union printer.

   On the other hand the NCR covers the important Latin American story better than any other publication concerning the massive migration of unaccompanied children to the United States. Sadly it is not noted that the Honduran papal adviser, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, supported a military ‘golpe del estado’ in 2009, and the ‘golpe’ further militarized Honduras increasing the violence in Honduras which is now seen as an important cause of the children migrating.

   NCR covered in depth major Catholic events in its 50 years such as income inequality, the pedophile scandal, women’s ordination, the church and homosexuality, racial equality and environmental concerns. NCR covered the Father Groppi marches in Milwaukee for fair housing, but the controversy on racism continues. Groppi exposed the tip of the iceberg.

   The peace movement, countering the horrible wars in Vietnam, Central America and the Middle East, was covered better by the NCR than any other publication. NCR took a stance against the wars.  Immigration reform was given comprehensive consideration with the exception of the New Sanctuary Movement. The anniversary edition notes some of these stories.  An NCR article authored by former Sandanista government official, Xabier Gorostiaga, S.J. in 1995 was one of the first articles in any paper or magazine on the growing gap in income at the end of the 20th century, a gap that has continued to widen.  There was no mention of this article in the anniversary issue.

   A photo of Dorothy Day stands out in the anniversary issue. (October 27, 1972-October 19, 1973)  The caption reads:

Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, seated on a golf chair, faces law officers as she talks to fellow protesters in the United Farm Workers picket line in July 1973.  Day ultimately was arrested, along with 3,000 striking farm workers and supporters, including 60 priests, nuns and brothers.


The anniversary issue (’95 -,’96) notes that NCR was sued for 30 million dollars by Briggs & Stratton, Milwaukee for an article claiming  that Briggs’ executives were defying Catholic Social principles in their treatment of workers.

‘Editor Tom Fox called the lawsuit an attempt by Briggs & Stratton to muzzle its critics and to intimidate the press.’ 

It was a slap suit and was thrown out of court in 1998.  But did the slap suit, in fact, intimidate the press? 

   If anything, faith demands authenticity.  Both publications, Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter combined 140 years advocating for social justice is compromised with the probability that neither uses union printers. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Two great liberal U.S. American Roman Catholic publications celebrate anniversaries this year Commonweal (90th) and The National Catholic Reporter (50th). 

   I am now approaching the finish line for the eightieth year of my Roman Catholic life so I have lived many of the stories the publications relate. I feel a need to comment –I knew and know many of the news makers.  They influenced my life as well as the Church itself. Let us consider Commonweal from its beginning in 1924 to the National Catholic Reporter’s start in 1964.  Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day would be a link.  She was introduced to her Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin by a Commonweal Editor. (Anniversary Issue, October 24th, 2014, The Commonweal Catholic, p. 16)  In 1932 Dorothy covered a Hunger March in Washington, D.C. for Commonweal.  Dorothy Day’s struggle for justice and peace continued after Vatican II until her death in 1980.

                                                  Dorothy Day, 1916

Commonweal anniversary issue, ‘90 Years of Debate,’ provides a launching pad.  Years of ‘debate’ – why – isn’t the Pope infallible? (see Authoritative & Ignored, p. 20)  The Commonweal editorial explains,

Liberal democracy, very much in retreat between the last century’s two world wars, received little encouragement from the church in its struggle with authoritarian forces.  Yet Commonweal refused to abandon its belief in either democracy or Catholic truth, consistently arguing that in the modern world the health of one was very much related to the health of the other.

This is a unifying statement that anticipates a certain understanding of Faith itself.  The split that debate tries to bring together is expressed by this statement of the editorial:

Two Faiths … The editors (founders in 1924) insisted that a certain religious piety-an outlook rooted in a larger transcendent hope not only with democracy’s celebration of the common man, but crucial to forging consensus about the common good in a pluralistic society. (Anniversary issue – p. 5)

Commonweal was very important in this debate, but why didn’t the anniversary issue or website mention Thomistic philosopher Mortimer Adler of the University of Chicago?  Adler, who was Jewish and not a Catholic, contended that the political theory of Thomas Aquinas supported 20th century democracy.  Adler expressed his opinion during the ‘in between’ period of the two world wars when it was not clear that U.S. Catholics would join the fight against fascism. (Mortimer J. Adler and Walter Farrell, O.P., “The Theory of Democracy,” The Thomist, Sheed and Ward, Baltimore, MD, July, 1941, pp.397 – 449.)  In March of 1939 Adler had an article in Commonweal entitled – ‘Education and Democracy.’  He wrote several other articles for Commonweal. (Also see –Adler, Mortimer J. Philosopher at Large, Macmillan Publishing, N.Y. 1977, p. 390.)

   But the debate was not just over democracy it was also about going to war.  In December of 1940 Paul Kalinauskas and Ed Marciniak wrote a piece in the Chicago Catholic Worker pleading the case for conscientious objection.  During the Korean War, December 20, 1950, Dorothy Day wrote in her diary:

Wrote an answer to Commonweal editorial, ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears.’  The footnote explains:  Dorothy was critical of a Commonweal editorial supporting national defense. (Dorothy Day, Duty of Delight, Marquette Press, 2008, p.149 )

Since Catholic Social Teaching has been swept under the rug, it is not surprising that another regrettable omission in the anniversary edition and website was the father of U.S. American Catholic Social Teaching, Rev. John Ryan.  Ryan advocated for independent democratic labor unions with participants of all faith denominations as well as atheists and agnostics.  He said that strikes, when the last resort, were legitimate.  The Vatican was not supportive of labor on these issues until Vatican II.  Ryan was an advisor to the National Catholic War Council – predecessor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The founding editor of Commonweal, Michael Williams, also worked for the National Catholic War Council. (Commonweal, October 24, 2014, p.5)   The 1934, April 13th, edition of Commonweal featured an article by John Ryan entitled ‘The New Deal and Social Justice.’ Father Ryan would be disappointed that no union logo was found in the anniversary issue indicating that Commonweal does not use a union printer.
   Commonweal was not blinded by ‘liberalism.’ The change of attitude brought about by Vatican II is indicated by articles written by Jordan Bishop, O.P. for Commonweal warning of a crisis in Latin America because of U.S. imperialism.  Through the years Bishop wrote many articles for Commonweal.  For example, Bishop wrote in 1967 about the French journalist Regis Debray who was captured in Bolivia with Che Guevara:

(Debray has two premises) “ … the first, is that a real revolution leading to some sort of socialism as yet undefined and liberation from the North American colonial empire is an evident necessity shared by such diverse elements as Fidel Castro, the Young Christian Democrats … And some would contend by Paul VI of Populorum Progressio.”  (Commonweal, Nov. 1967)

 Why publish these articles? The founders of Commonweal had faith in democracy and opposed communism, but were open to ‘debate.’
        Let’s move to consideration of the National Catholic Reporter with the onset of the watershed point of Vatican II.  But first, NCR published a special edition on the 50th anniversary of the Council with many important articles.  None of the articles pinpointed the ‘why’ of Vatican II as well as Cathleen Kaveny, Boston College theologian, in the 90th anniversary issue of Commonweal (p. 13):

Catholics were appalled by the carnage of the Second World War and the unimaginable evil of the Holocaust, and they were horrified by the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Questions about moral presumptions of the modern state including the United States had to be asked.  Catechism-trained Catholics had participated in the Nazi horrors, often with blind obedience to authority.  The goal of post-Vatican II Catholic catechesis was not to foster obedience but to cultivate responsible men and women who were shaped by the Catholic Christian vision, sensitive to the debt to the Jewish people, and independent enough to stand up to injustice, even if sanctioned by church or state.

Next posting – a commentary on the 50th anniversary issue of the National Catholic Reporter

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Working Catholic: Thanksgiving Images by Bill Droel

Our image of Thanksgiving Day is influenced by famous paintings, including from 1915 The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Ferris (1893-1930) and from 1943 the still popular Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). These images serve a purpose even though they compress history and though celebrations in most homes are not as serene as the paintings.

The Statue of Liberty is second only to “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of our beautiful country. It is also a fitting image for Thanksgiving even though again historical facts about the statue have been compressed.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the son of Italian immigrants to France, was involved with a circle of people who considered the French movement for liberty to be their gift to the United States and they raised money to donate a statue symbolizing that gift. A preview of the gift appeared at the Philadelphia Expo in 1876, but it took until 1880 before a complete statue was delivered to the U.S. embassy in Paris. The French circle wanted the gift to keep moving in the sense that the U.S. should support and sustain liberty among freedom-seeking movements around the world.

It wasn’t until 1886, however, that the statue was dedicated in New York’s Upper Bay. In the meantime a private fundraising campaign in our country was needed to secure the statue’s site, particularly to finance its pedestal. Part of the fundraising was the auction of a 14-line sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). Her ancestors were Jewish-Russians who emigrated here before the Revolutionary War. At the time her poem was commissioned, Lazarus, sufficiently known in literary society, was volunteering at Emigrant Aid Society on the Lower East Side. The poem was mostly neglected but in 1903 it was written on a bronze tablet and only in 1945 was it mounted on the statue’s pedestal. The poem and the statue came to represent the thankful generosity of our country’s residents. So thankful, in fact, that we could open our hearts to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The statue’s symbolism of thanksgiving is, of course, reinforced by its proximity to Ellis Island. (I’m biased toward my home state of New York. But for the record, Ellis Island is mostly in New Jersey and Liberty Island itself is in New York.)

From 1892 to 1954 thousands of immigrants (including my grandmother), having just passed by the Statue of Liberty, gave thanks on Ellis Island for their arrival to our land of opportunity. Each generation of arrivals enriched our country with creativity, social capital, culture and faith—gifts to subsequent generations. Thus the table prayer on November 27, 2014 is not only one of thanks for God’s bounty, thanks for the privilege of residing in this country, thanks for the family and friends gathered, but also thanks for our ancestors and for those new arrivals who keep the gift moving.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Working Catholic: Gifts That Keep Moving by Bill Droel

This is the season for gratitude. First up is our national day of Thanksgiving on which we express gratitude to God for our beautiful country and for our relatives, even those who are a tad rowdy at the day’s get together. Thereafter begins three and a half weeks of giving gifts at Christmas parties and at a family reunion or two.

Unfortunately, some essential features of gratitude have been lost over the years. First, a true gift must be given with a generous spirit. Not allowed are feelings like: “If I get him one, then I suppose I have to give her one even though she doesn’t…” Or, “I wish they’d have Christmas only once every ten years so I wouldn’t have to bother with shopping for and wrapping all this junk…” In other words, a true gift must not be the result of any coercion, including subjective feelings of guilt or resentment.

Second and yet at the same time, a gift is different from a monetary trade in that it imposes a non-quantifiable obligation on the recipient. A true gift is implicitly reciprocal and its essence is lost if the gift is not re-gifted. 

Take the phrase Indian Giver. It is offensive, like the name of the NFL team in our nation’s capital. But specific to our lesson here about gratitude, our understanding of the phrase is also historically inaccurate.

Those who know something about the beginning of our country know that Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a wealthy merchant in Massachusetts, loyal to the British occupation. He was perhaps the first to put the phrase Indian Giver in writing. Given his cultural assumptions, Hutchinson and many others thought that Indians take back a gift as soon it is given. Indians, Hutchinson wrote, put gifts in the category of monetary trade in “which an equivalent return is expected.” The next thing you know, Indians will expect the settlers from Europe to give back the country to them.

Anthropologist Lewis Hyde of Kenyon College in Ohio explains that Native Americans had a profound notion of gratitude and that a phrase for someone who abuses a gift might better be Settler Giver.

Hyde sets a scene in his book The Gift (Vintage, 1979). A Puritan visits an Indian lodge. In hospitality the Indians invite the visitor to smoke a peace pipe. Upon leaving the lodge, the Indians give the red stone pipe to the Puritan. He displays it at home for awhile and then, so impressed with its decorative carving and feathers, he sends it to a museum in England. Later, other Indians visit the Puritan settlement and are astonished to learn that not only do the Puritans have no intention of giving them the pipe, but that it is now stagnating in a museum. The custom, not understood by the Puritans, is that every gift contains a spirit of generosity and that gifts circulate from tribe to tribe or house to house in order to symbolize mutuality. From the Indians’ point of view, the Puritans were the stingy, uncivilized ones.

“A cardinal property of the gift,” Hyde says, is that “whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away, not kept.” Given away not given back. “It is better if the gift is not returned [to its original donor] but is given instead to some new, third party,” writes Hyde. In a sense, giving is about passing around some useless thing. The power is in the circle of beneficiaries/givers. The action of the circle is “the container in which the gift moves.” Once a gift is treated like a market commodity, Hyde concludes, it only strengthens the negative spirits of selfish individualism and clannishness. To be continued….

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.