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

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