THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Redefining Natural Law

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, we saw how socialists and modernists got right to work shifting the interpretation of social charity and social justice away from a natural law understanding, and to a less person-centered focus.  Among the foremost leaders of the reinterpretation movement, none was more effective than Monsignor John A. Ryan (1869-1945) of the Catholic University of America.

Msgr. John A. Ryan
Ryan read Henry George’s Progress and Poverty while a teenager.  (Rt. Rev. Msgr. John A. Ryan, D.D., L.L.D., Litt.D., Social Doctrine in Action: A Personal History.  New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1941, 9.)  He is best known, however, for his efforts in linking Catholic social teaching to the socialist concept of the “living wage” as the primary or even sole legitimate source of income for most people.  He asserted that natural rights are alienable, being vested not in the human person, but in the collective.  As he put it,
Natural rights are necessary means of right and reasonable living.  They are essential to the welfare of a human being, a person.  They exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists — as a fact of the ideal order — and is a sacred and inviolable thing. (John A. Ryan, A Living Wage.  New York: Grosset and Dunlap, Publishers, 1906, 48.)
Ryan’s fundamental error is therefore his claim that “[n]atural rights. . . . exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists.”  There is another serious problem with the fact that Ryan posited private property “as a fact of the ideal order,” the implications of which we will not look into at this time.
Ryan was wrong.  Natural rights exist and are sacred and inviolable because the human person exists, not because the welfare of the human person exists.  Human existence is objective fact.  Human welfare is subjective opinion.  Shifting from fact to opinion as the basis of your ethical system is just a way of justifying moral relativism.
Bishop Thomas Shahan
Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan (1857-1932), rector of the Catholic University of America, may have brought Fulton Sheen in to correct these and similar errors being spread by Ryan.  Shahan had been one of the examiners in the McGlynn case (The others were Rev. Dr. Thomas Bouquillon (1840-1902), Rev. Dr. Thomas O’Gorman (1843-1921), and Rev. Dr. Charles P. Grannan (1846-1924)), and recognized the dangers inherent in Ryan’s thought.
Unfortunately, Shahan retired soon after Sheen joined the faculty.  Using techniques similar to those employed later by Father Charles E. Curran following the Second Vatican Council, Ryan was easily able to neutralize Sheen by the simple expedient of manufacturing incidents, (Minutes of the Meetings of the Faculty of Theology, May 30, 1930, quoted in Kathleen L. Riley, Fulton J. Sheen: An American Catholic Response to the Twentieth Century. New York: Society of St. Paul, 2004, 15.) forcing confrontations, (Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen.  Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979, 45.) and spreading false rumors. (Thomas C. Reeves, America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen. San Francisco, California: Encounter Books, 2001, 71.) Sheen later described this period as “a great trial.” (Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ.  New York: Image Books, 1977, 9.)
Pope Pius XI
Pius XI presented his social doctrine in Quadragesimo Anno (1831) which addressed religious and democratic socialism, and Divini Redemptoris (1937), which dealt with atheistic socialism.  Defined by what Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. (1905-1985) called “the laws and characteristics of social justice,” (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice.  New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 34-55.( Pius XI’s social doctrine laid out the means by which the common good can be directly accessed by members of an organized group acting on behalf of the group.  By taking advantage of the power that naturally and necessarily follows widespread capital ownership, ordinary people could organize for the common good and work to restructure institutions to remove barriers to full participation in the common good.
The problem, however, remained.  Without a financially feasible and ethical means for ordinary people to acquire private property in capital without redistribution, socialists, modernists, and New Agers as well as capitalists, traditionalists, and reactionaries were easily able to twist Pius XI’s social doctrine into another form of socialism or dismiss it as prudential matter.