In 1891, with the release of Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII’s encyclical “On Capital and Labor,” the careers of the agrarian socialist Henry George and his associate, Father Edward McGlynn were given the opportunity of a lifetime. If handled right, it could give George’s career a much-needed shot in the arm by handing him something he could twist into a personal attack.
George was incensed at the perfidy of the Catholic hierarchy, especially the papacy, as demonstrated by Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII’s new encyclical . . . or at least he pretended to be. In reality, the encyclical — which once again condemned all forms of socialism — came at just the right time for George.
Ever since his loss in the 1886 New York mayoral campaign George had been attempting to expose what he considered the treachery of the Catholic Church in his speeches and writings, especially in the pages of his newspaper, The Standard. Despite the fact that neither Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan (1839-1902) nor anyone else in the Archdiocese had influenced the election in any way, George held Corrigan personally responsible for his defeat at the polls.
The letter issued by Father Thomas Scott Preston (1824-1891) at the request of Tammany Hall explaining why George’s form of socialism is not consistent with Catholic teaching had no effect on the outcome of the election, although George and McGlynn later alleged that the letter and (non-existent) voter fraud were responsible for George’s loss to Hewitt. (See Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Random House, 2010, 350-351.)
|Fr. Edward McGlynn|
Afterwards, both George and McGlynn had fallen out of the limelight, and the movement to abolish private property in land had not been doing at all well. George had antagonized the Irish Nationalist movement by insulting William O’Brien (1852-1928), editor of The United Irishman, the journal of the National Land League, after O’Brien refused to endorse George’s program during a visit to New York. (“Mr. O’Brien Commended: All But the George People Say He Did Well,” The New York Times, June 7, 1887.) McGlynn as an excommunicated priest was no longer newsworthy, just one more disgruntled anti-Catholic angling to get his name into the newspapers. (Stephen Bell, Rebel, Priest and Prophet: A Biography of Dr. Edward McGlynn. New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1937, 254.)
Now, however, George had his chance. Never one to let grass grow under his feet, he composed a 30,000-word “open letter” to Leo XIII to protest Rerum Novarum, more than twice the length of the encyclical itself. In the missive, George explained in great detail precisely why the pope was wrong, and he was right about there being no natural right to own land. (Henry George, The Condition of Labor: An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII. New York: Doubleday & McClure Co., 1891.) Virtually no one other than George’s own followers took any notice.
|Pope Leo XIII|
For his part, McGlynn at first claimed the encyclical was an attempt to refute his and George’s views on land ownership and took it as a personal attack. This was more serious than George’s complaint, as his statements and declarations to the effect that the Catholic Church was continuing to persecute him put him back on the front pages. The encyclical would be virtually worthless if it was perceived as carrying out a vendetta instead of a general refutation of socialism and the presentation of guidelines for reform.
This made it essential that McGlynn be brought back into the Church. Due to McGlynn’s grandstanding the effort did not go well at first. Knowing full well he had been excommunicated for refusing to go to Rome to present his case to the pope, McGlynn insisted he had been excommunicated for his georgist views. As he told anyone who would listen, the hierarchy, including Leo XIII, was persecuting him for exercising his rights as an American. (“Mr. M’Glynn Refuses to Comply,” The Hartford Weekly Times, November 29, 1891, 3.)
|Apb. Michael Corrigan|
Later, McGlynn declared that Rerum Novarum actually supported George’s views, but that he would only go to Rome if he felt like it. (“Still a Single Tax Man: Dr. McGlynn Reiterates the Views that Unfrocked Him,” The Day, January 2, 1893, 1.) Finally, after Leo XIII sent Francesco Cardinal Satolli (1839-1910) to break the stalemate, McGlynn was reinstated after meeting conditions: 1) Agree to go to Rome and explain his case to the pope, 2) apologize to those whom he had insulted, and 3) accept Rerum Novarum without reservation. (“M’Glynn Makes His Peace: The Noted Recalcitrant Priest Has His Authority Restored,” Aurora Daily Express, December 24, 1892.)
McGlynn took ship for Italy, still declaring that he went of his own free will and would never recant. Of course, no one except Archbishop Corrigan (who had nothing to say in the matter) had demanded that McGlynn surrender his views on land ownership as a condition of lifting the excommunication.
After giving evasive replies to the pope during his audience (Bell, Rebel, Priest and Prophet, op. cit., 249-251), McGlynn returned to New York. Although he was now a priest in good standing, Corrigan refused to assign him a parish as long as he remained a socialist. McGlynn, again no longer news, went into seclusion and faded from sight. (“Archdiocese to be Divided,” Argus Daily News, July 3, 1893, 1.)
Yielding at last to his need to be in the public eye, however, McGlynn publicly repudiated his georgist views and was immediately given a parish. (“Parish for M’Glynn: He Recants and Will Soon Be Completely Forgiven,” Meriden Daily Republican, December 19, 1894, 3.) Even so, in his last letter, dictated the day before his death, McGlynn hinted he had never truly recanted. (Sylvester L. Malone, Dr. Edward McGlynn. New York: Dr. McGlynn Monument Association, 1918, 53.)