As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the agrarian socialist Henry George and the renegade priest Father Edward McGlynn took the opportunity offered by the issuance of Rerum Novarum in 1891 as the perfect chance to get back into the public eye. Simply by claiming that they were again being persecuted by the Catholic Church, the pair was able to tap into the anti-Catholicism always bubbling under the surface of American life.
This created a standoff centering on McGlynn’s recalcitrance. The renegade kept insisting he had been wrongfully excommunicated because of his political opinions, and therefore refused to recant them. This is despite the fact that he was fully aware he had been excommunicated purely for disobedience for refusing to go to Rome to present his views.
At the same time, Archbishop Corrigan — who had several times over the intervening years expressed his willingness to intercede with the pope on McGlynn’s behalf if McGlynn would only meet him halfway — had (with a great deal of justification) recently taken the stand that to lift McGlynn’s excommunication without requiring him to give up his socialist views would be a serious mistake. Cardinal Simeoni, who had also been the target of many of George’s and McGlynn’s attacks and insults, agreed.
To break the stalemate, Leo XIII sent Francesco Cardinal Satolli to the United States with explicit orders to reconcile McGlynn to the Catholic Church if at all possible. Satolli’s instructions did not include a requirement that McGlynn recant georgism, and he personally was not in favor of forcing McGlynn to back down on that point. McGlynn’s excommunication had been for disobedience, not adherence to socialism.
McGlynn evidently felt that the withdrawal of Simeoni and his replacement with Satolli was a great victory and demonstrated that the Catholic Church was weakening. He continued to grandstand, making insulting speeches and declaring he would never surrender his georgist views — which neither the pope nor Satolli was asking him to do.
Finally, when it became obvious to all but the most diehard of George’s and McGlynn’s supporters and anti-Catholics that McGlynn was posturing for effect and nothing else, he decided at long last to agree to the conditions (apologize, accept Rerum Novarum, and go to Rome). Even then, he attached a lengthy explanation of his political views to his submission. Although Satolli and the judges disregarded this as irrelevant to the conditions for McGlynn’s reinstatement, it allowed McGlynn to claim that Satolli had accepted the document and therefore agreed with George’s views.
This, of course, was obviously untrue, as it would have amounted to a change in Catholic doctrine. Nevertheless, to this day there are not wanting so-called “experts” who cite the fact that McGlynn attached an irrelevant document to his submission that was ignored as absolute proof that the Catholic Church can and does change its teachings.
Satolli, in fact, had no authority to judge McGlynn’s political views, and it would have meant absolutely nothing even if he had gone on record as agreeing with them — which he did not. Pope Leo XIII had reserved judgment in McGlynn’s case to himself . . . and McGlynn’s refusal to go to Rome to be judged was the reason for his excommunication in the first place — after he complained that he had not had the opportunity to present his case in Rome!
Naturally, McGlynn continued to hold mass meetings in which he loudly proclaimed that the lifting of the excommunication was a capitulation on the part of the Church. Even as he took ship for Rome to meet the conditions, he continued to make speeches in which (among other things) he declared that he was going of his own free will, not because he had to.
McGlynn sang a somewhat different tune after he had his private audience with the pope. Having gone in ready, willing, and able for a fight, he was taken completely off guard by Leo XIII’s pastoral style. The pope’s manner of dealing with recalcitrant clergy and seminarians, honed to a fine point during his decades as Archbishop-Bishop of Perugia, was to calmly discuss matters and get the person who had fallen into error to realize his mistakes without having to make a direct accusation, and work with the offender to come to a mutually agreeable plan of correction of any faults.
Reading between the lines of McGlynn’s own account of the interview, he at first attempted to bluster his way through, but kept coming up against the pope’s refusal to take the bait and condemn him. Leo XIII asked him if he accepted the principle of private property, and McGlynn answered with an equivocation. Obviously aware that McGlynn was lying to him, the pope changed the subject to the matter of obedience, where McGlynn was on even shakier ground.
|Pope Leo XIII|
Unable to get McGlynn to admit his faults (keep in mind that this is taken directly from McGlynn’s own account of the interview), Leo XIII asked him if he would prefer to be transferred out of New York. McGlynn, knowing full well that no other American bishop would have him, refused on the grounds that all his friends were in New York. Finally, with McGlynn having met the minimal conditions for lifting the excommunication, Leo XIII told him, “Well, you may abound in your own sense” (i.e., “Do as you think best”), and sent him home to New York.
McGlynn was now technically back in the Church, but Archbishop Corrigan did not consider him a priest in good standing and was not about to give him a parish assignment or any other position. No longer newsworthy, the media stopped paying attention to McGlynn, and he went into seclusion for a couple of years. He made a few speeches in support of George’s ideas and against Catholic schools (which he detested), but even his greatest admirers admitted that the fire seemed to have gone out of him.
Finally, after years of declaring that he would never recant, McGlynn made a full public retraction on Wednesday, December 19, 1894:
The Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn has made a complete recantation. He is no longer an apostle of the doctrines for preaching which he brought on himself the ban of excommunication from the Roman Catholic church. . . . Archbishop Corrigan will soon put him in charge of a parish. (“Parish for M’Glynn: He Recants and Will Soon Be Completely Forgiven,” Meriden Daily Republican, December 19, 1894, 3.)
Again, McGlynn was excommunicated for disobedience, not for holding georgist views; a “friend of Dr. McGlynn” who misspoke slightly gave the above statement to a reporter. Still, on Saturday, December 22, 1894, Corrigan assigned McGlynn to Saint Mary’s Parish in Newburg, New York, as rector.
McGlynn continued to ask for a parish assignment in New York City where he had made such a name for himself. Corrigan, however, was not inclined to do so, and was strongly advised not to by Satolli, who had every reason to suspect that McGlynn’s repudiation of his georgist views had not been completely honest. Satolli, in fact, said that if McGlynn mde an issue of the matter, that he, Satolli, would back Corrgian’s position to the hilt with the pope.
Satolli was probably right about McGlynn’s holding back. The day before McGlynn died, he dictated a letter implying he had lied in his recantation in order to get a parish.