As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, with the sudden eclipse of the agrarian socialist Henry George and the renegade priest Father Edward McGlynn, there was no longer any need for Pope Leo XIII to issue an encyclical exclusively on “the Land Question,” i.e., whether private ownership of land is legitimate according to natural law and Catholic teaching. It was, moreover, obvious that previous attempts by Leo XIII and previous popes to counter the dangers of socialism, modernism, and the New Age had been ineffective.
|Pope Leo XIII: "Yes, I condemned socialism."|
What was needed was something new, and Leo XIII took the opportunity not only to expand the encyclical originally motivated by the antics of George and McGlynn to all forms of private property, but to do a different kind of social encyclical. What Leo XIII did was so new, in fact, that even today many people mistake it for the first social encyclical, even though Rerum Novarum was issued more than half a century after the first social encyclical, Mirari Vos in 1832.
Nevertheless, the issuance of Rerum Novarum came as a godsend to George and McGlynn. Both men had been languishing in semi-obscurity and had made several attempts to recapture the limelight. Without the cachet of being persecuted by the Catholic Church, however, all the attempts had come to nothing. People simply weren’t interested in them.
Rerum Novarum changed everything for the Dynamic Duo. Claiming that he was being attacked by the pope, George sat down and penned an open letter to Leo XIII twice as long as the encyclical itself. In it George carefully explained why he was right about Catholic social teaching and the pope was wrong.
|George: "I'm being oppressed!"|
For his part, McGlynn started calling the mass meetings for which he was famous and by means of which he had made himself a household word half a decade before. At first McGlynn agreed with George and attacked the pope. Later, he declared that the new encyclical said the same things George had always said.
Combined with the efforts of other socialists to put a positive spin on an encyclical condemning socialism in no uncertain terms, George’s and McGlynn’s efforts to get back into the public eye caused a serious problem. First, of course, if the encyclical was interpreted as being an attack on George and McGlynn, it would be worthless.
People would be able to argue forever that what Leo XIII was “really” talking about was a difference of opinion regarding private property in land. Since the pope did not “really” understand the situation in the United States and “really” did not understand George’s proposals (the pope being a foreigner and all), the entire encyclical was based on a misunderstanding and did not “really” apply to the United States . . . or anywhere else, for that matter.
|Gregory XVI: "Yes, I really condemned slavery."|
The fact that exactly the same story had been spread about In Supremo, Pope Gregory XVI’s 1837 encyclical condemning slavery, did not seem to occur to anyone. Back in the 1830s, American bishops in the South had hastened to assure their flocks that the pope didn’t “really” understand the situation in the United States, that he didn’t “really” understand how slavery in America was completely different from everywhere else, etc., etc., etc.
In any event, McGlynn was back in the spotlight, allowing him once again to assume the palm of martyrdom. It also increased pressure on the Vatican to bring the renegade to heel. This is because the new encyclical would be useless if it was not seen as a positive program of reform.
Initial efforts to resolve the issue, however, played right into McGlynn’s hands. The Vatican sent Cardinal Simeoni to resolve the issue and he sent McGlynn a letter stating the conditions for lifting the ban of excommunication. The conditions were that McGlynn:
· Agree to go to Rome to explain his views on land ownership and the single tax,
· Apologize to Archbishop Corrigan, Cardinal Simeoni, Pope Leo XIII, and others whom he had insulted, and
· Accept Rerum Novarum without reservation.
McGlynn, of course, immediately called a public meeting at the Cooper Union in New York City on the evening of Monday, November 27, 1891. Before an audience that “greeted him with the wildest demonstration of enthusiasm” (“Mr. M’Glynn Refuses to Comply,” The Hartford Weekly Times, November 29, 1891, 3) McGlynn asserted that he had never insulted Corrigan or the pope and had never taught false doctrines. In almost the same breath he then lashed out at Corrigan, Simeoni, and the pope, and —
. . . denied the infallibility of the Pope; criticised the policy of the Holy See, and said that the Pope was the arch-conspirator against the liberty and freedom of his country. He called the Propaganda a lot of “ecclesiastical shoemakers,” and said if bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes would mind their own business the cause of Christianity and Catholicity would be the better subserved. (Ibid.)
Later, McGlynn reversed himself. He claimed that the pope had always supported his, McGlynn’s, position. In a speech during yet another mass meeting at the Cooper Union he —
. . . frequently quoted the pope’s Novarum Rerum encyclical in support of his positions, and virtually declared that the acts for which he incurred Archbishop Corrigan’s censure were done in the spirit enjoined by the head of the church. (“Still a Single Tax Man: Dr. McGlynn Reiterates the Views that Unfrocked Him,” The Day, January 2, 1893, 1.)
It was becoming obvious that if McGlynn was permitted to continue on his present course, Rerum Novarum would be transformed into a socialist manifesto.