Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Working Catholic: Goodbye Trump by Bill Droel

Don Trump is out. Don Quixote is in. Worldly self-regard is out. Regard for others is in. That’s the analysis of this Working Catholic blog no matter what happens in the polls or in state primaries. It’s percolating; though it is not evident to many of the new tycoons, or to so-called celebrities, or to many people in media. It emerged after the collapse of our individualistic marketplace in 2007-2008. It temporarily resides in both the disillusionment and the dreams of many young adults. Soon it will guide young adult behavior—not all of them, but at least the powerful 2% who will, in turn, change the world.

      Young adults—in ones and twos and eights—are seeing through the gimmickry culture of corporate Amazon, of the phony success of ragged individualists and the selfish privileges of the media darlings of the moment. Instead, these young adults seek something that Don Trump can never have: credibility.

     That’s why young adults are attracted to Pope Francis in whom they sense an alternative worldview. That’s why they get involved with causes like Fight for $15 or Black Lives Matter; why they look for jobs with NGOs or in city schools or among the intellectually disabled and the like. They don’t have all the specifics yet. They are at an ambivalent stage. But many young adults, in whole or in part, increasingly feel that the pursuit of wealth in itself is no longer exciting and worth their total investment.

      Aristotle (384-322 BC) wanted his students to make a lifestyle out of their sporadic positive impulses. It happens, he said, as people acquire virtue. To do so requires progress on parallel rails.

     On one rail are, in Aristotle’s term, intellectual virtues. They come by way of theatrical productions and by reading literature, history and biography. Try Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1802-1885). Its protagonist, Jean Valjean, is continually misunderstood, loses all his possessions, and is accused of terrible deeds. He is someone Trump might scorn, yet he is heroic.

     Try any novels by Charles Dickens (1812-1870). The heroes, though flawed, are the children and workers that the Scrooges of this world rob of dignity.

Go back a long way and read about St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), using one of the handful of newer biographies that leave off a sugar-coating. Francis was born into privilege, then inwardly he was conflicted and then he spent all his remaining years in downward mobility.

     And then there is the other Donald, the total flop who tilts at windmills in the novel by Miguel de Cerantes (1547-1617). If the nearly 1,000-page Don Quixote seems forbidding, try a similar story by Graham Green (1904-1991), Monsignor Quixote. On Don Trump’s TV show, Don Quixote would surely hear, “You’re fired!” But to describe him as a person who doesn’t succeed is, of course, to miss the point. He takes the scenic route to unassailable dignity; he fails big but with a pure heart.

     On Aristotle’s other rail are the moral virtues. These, he said, are acquired only through habit. According to Aristotle, it does little good, for example, to participate on Saturday in an anti-hunger walk. The key is to volunteer at a food pantry the following Saturday and then next month to look for a career with an NGO involved with community improvement.

     There is a tension between how things are now and how idealists want things to be. To put it all together a young adult needs a friend. Not someone on social media, but someone who, over coffee or beer, will reflect on this tension. Those two friends then need the steady companionship of four or five others—people who want to stay in the tension between how things are and how they could be. These are friends who want to realistically act on behalf of others.

     It is not easy because mainstream culture is no longer based on face-to-face solidarity, on neighbor-to-neighbor community. For now the way has to emerge among young adults one adventure to the next, one Sancho Panza and Don Quixote duo at a time, one small group here and another there. No matter. Trump and what he represents are done. You read it here.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Joseph Cardinal Cardijn

Let me follow up on Bill Droel’s very important article on Roman Catholic Labor Schools. (www.faithandlabor.blogspot.com Oct 7, 2015)  I would like to recount Milwaukee’s experience with the Cardijn Center and Labor Schools and propose an expansion to a model, similar to Cardijn, which is already underway.

          Milwaukee’s experience with Catholic Labor Schools is related to the Cardijn Center established in 1949 by John Russell Beix – a Milwaukee diocesan priest.  The Center was more than a labor center; it promoted the Christian Family Movement (C.F.M.) and was a social and education center for young people from Wisconsin farms looking for work in industrial Milwaukee.  An educational emphasis was on the new understanding of Catholic Social Teaching prompted by the encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno.  The Center was named after a priest, Canon Joseph Cardijn of Belgium who founded the Young Christian Workers Movement.  Cardijn insisted that Catholics get involved in every day politics.  His method was – observe, judge and act.  Cardijn was inspired by Popes Pius X, and XI’s emphasis on Catholic action.

          The Cardijn Center was sanctioned by Archbishop Moses Kiley but was under constant scrutiny and criticism by conservative priests in the diocese.  Milwaukee has a history of ultra conservative clergy who considered the focus of the Center not spiritual enough and did not trust the strong input of the laity that the Cardijn Center fostered.  In contrast Milwaukee seminary professors, some who later became bishops in other dioceses as Bishop Haas and Cardinal Muench, were strong advocates for workers.  Under pressure from the Archdiocese the Cardijn Center ceased to be a social and education center in the early 60’s but continued as a book store on the Marquette University campus.  The book store closed in 1995.

          The difficulty in promoting labor rights with the ever prevailing conservative hierarchy in charge is exemplified by the experience of Milwaukee archdiocesan priest Francis Eschweiler. He was a student of then Monsignor Hass and an ally of Father Beix.  Eschweiler is quoted in a book by Paul Wilkes, These Priests Stay and reprinted in Fire in the Heart Reflections on his ministry by Father Fran Eschweiler.

          I conducted what was known in those days as ‘Labor Schools.’              I went to the blue collar workers and taught them what to expect     when they were part of a bargaining committee and how to handle themselves.  I’d work with guys who were organizing and developing Unions and just and just try to give them the Christian ammunition, the basis of good Catholic action as enunciated by the two encyclicals.  (Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno)

          In 1947 as a young priest, Eschweiler supported workers who were striking at Allis Chalmers.  The Labor Priest Eschweiler was summarily exiled to Kewaskum, WI by Archbishop Kiley for his activities during the strike.  A response by Father Eschweiler is found in Paul Wilkes’ book and Fire in the Heart,

          What sunk in and really hurt was that the church obviously was           standing on the side of management and didn’t want one of their boys mingling with labor types.  The big money came from industry; it didn’t come from the working men.

It is the same today; consider the recent Palermo Pizza strike.  I found it impossible to get a public statement from a Roman Catholic priest  stating that the Palermo workers had the right to form a union and that this right is dutifully supported by the Church.  The Nuns on the Bus did show up and Sister Simone Campbell spoke to the workers in Spanish.  She was clear that the workers had the basic right to organize.  Also M.I.C.A.H. leaders, Orthodox priest Tom Miller and Lutheran Pastor Joe Ellwanger, spoke at rallies for the Palermo workers.

          On occasion a Roman Catholic priest or bishop might speak out for workers and their right to form a union, but this is rare.  Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki did note, in commenting on the denial of state workers the right to bargain collectively, that Catholic Social Teaching affirms workers’ rights. The Archbishop-was severely criticized for his comments. The Roman Catholic Bishops of the U.S. are strong advocates of the voucher program which is simply an attack on Union teachers. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) has supported immigrants and immigration reform, but, as far as I know, they have not supported immigrant workers’ rights to form or join labor unions.   

          A better approach to advocate for the faith dimension of justice could be based in immigrant workers’ centers such as Voces de la Frontera.  At present Voces provides classes on safety (O.S.H.A. regulations), advocates for workers at the work place, suggests allied lawyers for recovery of lost wages and other work related issues. On the weekend before the May 1st march Voces’ New Sanctuary Movement offers speakers (Predicatores de Justicia) to the faith community to speak at services about social justice and immigrant rights.

          The New Sanctuary program of ‘Voces’ is ripe for expansion.  It should include a strong participation of all faith groups.  Roman Catholic Social Teaching is a valuable source for education, but other Christian and non-Christian faith communities also have rich social justice traditions to share.  For example, the fundamental source for the social justice theology of faith groups that call Abraham father is the Jewish Bible.  

          The New Sanctuary Movement of Voces is often asked to provide a clergy member to speak at a rally; we gladly accommodate when possible.  But wouldn’t it be better to provide a speaker that is an active member of the New Sanctuary Movement, cleric or non cleric, to present the faith dimension of social justice?  The speaker would be more than a ‘feel good’ organizing tool, but would provide a reminder or expand consciousness on the meaning of faith that includes justice.  A wider context could be presented, such as explaining why there is massive migration across our borders linked to the continuing history of injustice perpetrated by wealthy nations on Latin America. 

          A New Sanctuary Movement speaker would tend to not spiritualize the message which removes faith from reality.  Separation – spiritualization favors the authority of the hierarchy who are purported to know about the spiritual which they claim supersedes the material.  Milwaukee Archbishop Meyer, the future Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago and influential Vatican II delegate, in commenting about the incipient ‘lay movement’ expressed concern about the overemphasis on ‘action,’ neglecting the priority of the spiritual life and the loss of hierarchical authority.  He said in his Milwaukee installation address in 1951:

          No matter how the organizational structure of cooperation (with the          bishop) may vary or adapt itself to local circumstances - in one we         must all and always be on the same footing ‘in sentire cum ecclesia’             (thinking with the Church), in dedicating ourselves to the Church’s               cause, in obeying those whom the Holy Ghost has made the Bishop to           rule the Church of God, in submitting to the Supreme Pastor to whose           care, Christ has entrusted His Church. (Fr. Steve Avella,‘Salesianum”           Spring/Summer 1989)

In contrast to priestly hierarchical structure, ‘Voces Sanctuary’ would recognize the spiritual in the material and the material in the spiritual.
Awareness of the faith dimension of justice could be expanded within the worker center structures but also to the wider community.  It is a time of Kairos – a special time of opportunity.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Working Catholic: World Series by Bill Droel

Here is Rev. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) writing from jail in Summer 1963. The intended audience is fellow ministers. The topic is church leaders’ opposition to King’s direct advocacy for integration.

“In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed…
I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother… In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with… There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society… Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound… Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's often vocal sanction of things as they are.” 

Here is another civil rights champion speaking to about 600 white ministers six years before King’s famous letter. Branch Rickey (1881-1965) was a conservative evangelical Christian. He got the same treatment from church leaders that King later experienced.

I am contemptuous of the church’s role to date in integration. Ministers on the whole are like other people. They want to go slow on integration. They’re moderates… To advise moderation is like going to a stickup man and saying to him, Don’t use a gun. That’s violent. Why not be a pickpocket instead? A moderate is a moral pickpocket.

Rickey, of course, is the baseball executive most responsible for integrating the sport. He signed Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) to a contract with the Montreal Royals and subsequently brought him to the parent club, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rickey was a premier innovator as an owner and general manager of several teams, notably the Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first to develop a farm system to recruit and train ballplayers; he made spring training a true school for the regular season; he introduced batting helmets; and he experimented with statistics, including the recently voguish on base percentage

No one should consider Rickey the sole force behind sports’ integration, just as King should not be given all the acclaim for civil rights progress in the 1950s and 1960s. Robinson rightly deserves high place. In fact, Rickey did not realize the depths of racism until he observed the daily courage of Robinson in the International League and then in the Major Leagues. Other pioneers in sports integration must include Larry Doby (1923-2003) and Bill Veeck (1914-1986).

Nor should singular motives be attributed to Rickey. He was a businessman interested in money. That motive was in play when, before even scouting black players, he needed approval of the Dodgers’ board. Its president was George McLaughlin (1887-1967). On many topics the evangelical Rickey and the Catholic McLaughlin disagreed (notably on drinking). However, they shared a common business interest. Rickey approached McLaughlin with the idea of scouting black players. “If you want to do this to get a beat on other teams and make some money, then let’s do it,” McLaughlin said. But “don’t try to bring principle into this. If this doesn’t work for money, you’re sunk.”

Finally, Rickey was not perfect. In business dealings he sometimes carried a superior posture. He made mistakes in judging ability (though rarely). He asserted himself into politics with only partial understanding.

 It is well to repeat that Rickey was a conservative Christian. One does not need to be liberal to be progressive. And although blacks are losing interest in baseball, the World Series remains a great event in part because it displays competence without regard to race. Rickey, by the way, was also instrumental in signing Roberto Clemente (1934-1972) of Puerto Rico. Today some of the best ballplayers hail from Puerto Rico and other Latin countries. And could it be that the International League might soon return to Cuba, where Rickey held spring training at times?

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Working Catholic: New Labor Schools by Bill Droel

    Bishop Blasé Cupich received several invitations to speak with union groups after he arrived in Chicago in November 2014. He declined for a time. But after nearly one year Cupich went to Local 130 Plumbers Hall this past September at the request of the Chicago Federation of Labor. There he delivered a 50-minute, pro-union address. The next-day’s newspapers highlighted Cupich’s challenge to what he accurately called “so-called right-to-work laws,” as favored by our Illinois governor and others. “The Church is duty bound to challenge such efforts by raising questions based on longstanding principles,” the bishop said. “Lawmakers and others may see it differently, but history has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way and the voices and rights of workers are diminished.”

Near his talk’s conclusion Cupich made the point that the word church means all baptized Christians: “The presence of the church in the labor movement is not primarily through the participation of clergy, but through the leadership of Catholic lay men and women in their unions and in the larger labor movement. The Catholics in this room and those who follow you are the church in the labor movement. You put your faith into action. You are Catholic social teaching at work.”
Then, with a lay-centered church in mind Cupich made a suggestion: “Many years ago we had labor schools here in the Archdiocese. Today, let’s explore how Catholic labor leaders, Catholic business leaders and others can find new ways to share the message and educate the next generation of Catholics and workers. The church is deeply concerned about how consumerism, materialism, excessive individualism and extreme libertarianism and economics shape people’s lives today… The Catholic vision and its moral framework offer a different way of thinking and a different way of acting in economic life. We need to share this vision more broadly and deeply, ever committed to a consistent ethic of solidarity.”

Cupich is correct about Chicago church history. In fact, most industrial cities had one or more Catholic labor schools in the post-World War II years. The best-known is probably New York’s Xavier Labor School that inspired the award-winning movie On the Waterfront. The school’s priests, Fr. Phillip Carey, SJ (1907-1989) and Fr. John Pete Corridan, SJ (1911-1984), became the character portrayed by Karl Malden (1912-2009) in the movie.
Today only the Boston Labor Guild in Braintree, Massachusetts remains. It offers regular classes in parliamentary procedure, labor history, public speaking and the like. Teachers include attorneys, union officials and Catholic thinkers. There are workshops on current issues, including social ethics. The Guild also provides a neutral space for negotiations and at times is asked to mediate contract votes or elections. The Guild’s annual banquet honors all those lay women and men involved in labor-management relations--business leaders, administrators, attorneys, government officials, union leaders and some church activists. In this regard the Guild is different from most of the old labor schools that concentrated only on union members. 

The Chicago effort of years-gone-by also had inclusive membership. Called the Catholic Labor Alliance, it was founded in 1943 by Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand (1904-1979) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004). Msgr. Daniel Cantwell (1915-1996) was its chaplain. The Alliance was not an Archdiocesan office; it raised its own funds. Its activities were similar to the Boston Guild. The Alliance published a hard-hitting newspaper titled Work that within a few years grew its circulation to 10,000. Eventually the Alliance changed its name to Catholic Council on Labor Life in order to better reflect its concern for business, government, church and unions.

Like the other labor schools, the Chicago effort disappeared by the late 1960s. In 1977 Cantwell and Marciniak with others launched the National Center for the Laity. It counters the concerns articulated by Cupich at the Plumbers Hall (“consumerism, materialism, excessive individualism and extreme libertarianism and economics”) with what Cupich called “the Catholic vision and its moral framework.” NCL publishes an acclaimed newsletter, INITIATIVES, and convenes roundtable discussions on faith and work topics.

Would the revival of Catholic labor schools, as Cupich suggests, be a good idea? How would they mesh with ecumenical groups like Interfaith Worker Justice, with the new worker centers and with support groups and centers focused on business? Reaction from readers is welcome.

Droel is the author of Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $1)

Monday, October 5, 2015


   Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. was the Papal Monarchy at its best, and Francis was received by the U.S. government with all the respect due to a reigning monarch. The benevolent Pope was welcomed by his adoring public – some, including me, moved to tears by his obvious compassion for the least among us.  His joyful interchange with children was heartwarming.  But are we as Roman Catholics comfortable with the Pope as a monarch?

   Francis’ message was political; he again sounded alarm about the crisis of climate change and the responsibility of all people and all nations to save the planet. Surprisingly there was little complaint about a political message from the Roman Pontiff.  Could this have happened in the first half of the 20th century or earlier?

   But what about workers?  He did not ignore them.  He brought up income inequality as an issue.  Francis strongly advocated for immigrants before Congress itself.  He noted that his parents were American immigrants from Italy.  Catholic Social Teaching was a cornerstone for the Pope’s visit.   

   Francis named Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, as a great American. She was an advocate for Worker Justice.  In 1949, Dorothy Day joined New York cemetery workers in their strike against the Diocese of New York and Cardinal Spellman.  Spellman brought seminarians in as strike-breakers to dig the graves.  With the audacity of a feudal lord, the Cardinal Archbishop said he was “proud to be a strike-breaker.” Day said that Spellman was “ill advised” exercising an “overwhelming show of force against a handful of poor working men.”[1]  Dorothy joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in a demonstration in 1973.  She was arrested and spent time in jail. 

Image result for Public domain images Dorothy Day

 Non-violence is a basic principle of the Day’s Catholic Worker movement.  Pope Francis denounced war before the United Nations; he also cited the immorality of the death penalty in front of the U.S. Congress. The F.B.I. kept track of Dorothy Day.  J. Edgar Hoover thought she was dangerous.[2]

    Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (Relationship to Non Christian Religions) was re-affirmed by the Pope’s participation in a prayer service at Ground Zero with representatives of non–Christian faith communities.  A visit with Kim Davis of Kentucky, a clerk who refused a marriage license for a gay couple, underlined the Vatican II document on freedom of conscience. (Dignitatis Humanae)

   A major failure was Francis’ failure to call to task the U.S. Bishops for the attempted cover–up of the pedophile scandal. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was treated as a colleague.   The Pope met with victims but “the People of God” did not prevail.  The hierarchical structure of the Church remains solid despite a decided change in tone by the ‘Benevolent Monarch’, Pope Francis.

[1] The Duty of Delight – The Diaries of Dorothy Day, Ed. Robert Ellsberg, Marquette University Press, 2008, p. 116.

[2]  Ibid. p. 630