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.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The War Against Fulton Sheen (Continued)

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Msgr. John A. Ryan was the instigator behind the sabotage of the academic career of Fulton J. Sheen at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  Nor (as we shall see) did Msgr. Ryan confine his campaign against Sheen to Academia.  As time went on, he was active in extracurricular activities intended to blacken Sheen’s name.

One of Msgr. Ryan’s claims to fame was that in 1937 he was the first Catholic priest to give the invocation at a U.S. presidential inauguration, a performance he repeated in 1945.  Msgr.  Ryan’s usefulness to FDR, when added to Roosevelt’s anti-Catholicism and Msgr. Ryan’s animus against Fulton Sheen, might explain the bizarre reception the president accorded Sheen in 1936.

Against his better judgment, Sheen met with Roosevelt to ask for a job for someone who had been active in supporting the New Deal while a Congressman.  The man was a good friend and needed Sheen’s help badly, so Sheen overcame his distaste for what people call politics.

George William Cardinal Mundelein

Roosevelt behaved erratically during the encounter.  He ranted, shouted, and made false accusations against Sheen and other orthodox Catholic figures.  These included George William Cardinal Mundelein (1872-1939).  (Sheen, Treasure in Clay, op. cit., 83.) Mundelein’s public support of Roosevelt the previous year during commencement at the University of Notre Dame had been instrumental in quieting Catholic complaints about FDR’s refusal to take action regarding the persecutions in Mexico. (George J. Marlin, The American Catholic Voter: 200 Years of Political Impact.  South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2006, 206.)

The president also contradicted himself repeatedly, but in the end promised Sheen’s friend a job.  As Sheen related,

I said: “Mr. President, I came to see you about a position in Housing.”  He said: “Oh, Eddie voted for everything I wanted in Congress. He wants to be in Housing, does he not?”  “Yes.”  So he wrote on a pad his name and said: “The moment you leave this office I will call Mrs. So-and-So (he mentioned the name of a woman who was in charge of Housing) and you call Eddie and tell him he has the job.”

When I left the White House I called Eddie and said: “Eddie, I saw the President.  I am sorry, you do not get the job.”  He said: “Is that what the President said after all I did for him?”  I said: “No, he said you would have it.”  My friend never received the job. (Sheen, Treasure in Clay, op. cit., 82-84.)

Fr. (Msgr.) Charles Owen Rice

In 1937, three priests of the Pittsburgh diocese, Father Charles Owen Rice (1908-2005), Father Carl Hensler (1898-1984), and Father George Barry O’Toole (1886-1944), formed the “Catholic Radical Alliance” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  All three were heavily influenced by Msgr. Ryan’s social doctrine and employed his tactics to good effect. (George A. Coleman, “Links Alliance With Fascist Forces,” The Pittsburgh Press, July 30, 1937, 19.)

Hensler was described as “the brilliant pupil of Msgr. John A. Ryan, prominent as ‘Father of minimum wage legislation in the United States’.” (“‘Radical Alliance’ Priests Rub Elbows With Strike Pickets Along Labor Front” The Pittsburgh Press, October 22, 1937, 42.) The express purpose of the Alliance was to shock conservatives (ibid.), among whom they numbered Sheen:

The Catholic Radical Alliance today aimed a blow at the Monday night speech of Rt. Rev. Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen, Catholic radio orator, claiming that certain of his statements “could be interpreted as being unfair to organized labor.”

“Msgr. Sheen seemed to imply that labor is responsible in whole or in a considerable part for the violence that has attended labor disputes in this country,” said Rev. Charles Owen Rice, spokesman for the Alliance. (“Rev. Rice Hits Msgr. Sheen’s Labor Views: Catholic Radical Alliance Spokesman Replies to Orator’s Charges” The Pittsburgh Press, March 2, 1938, 5.)

Fulton Sheen, the other "Radio Priest"

Rice’s statements were deliberately misleading.  On Sunday, January 30, 1938, in one of a series of radio talks on Quadragesimo Anno prior to the talk in Pittsburgh that the Alliance attacked, Sheen gave an address in which he advocated the formation of “professional groups or guilds made up of employers and employees, working together for the common good.” (Fulton J. Sheen, reference in “Distribution,” an address delivered February 6, 1938.) Three weeks before he went to Pittsburgh, on Sunday, February 6, 1938, Sheen gave a talk advocating ownership and profit sharing, as well as increased wages for workers. (Ibid.)

Msgr. Ryan and his disciples seem to have been growing desperate by Sheen’s growing popularity despite anything they could do.  In what may have been a reference to Sheen, it was around this time that Rice “branded Catholic ‘friends of the present system,’ as ‘traitors to Christ’.” (Pamphlet, Catholic University of America Archives, CIO central office papers, 1937-1941, quoted in Neil Betten, “Charles Owen Rice,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 94, 524.) As Rice declared, “I am a radical, a Catholic radical. I believe that the present social and economic system is a mess and should be changed from top to bottom.” (Oral history interview with Rice, February 6, 1958, 1, Rice Papers, Pennsylvania State University Archives, quoted in Betten, “Charles Owen Rice,” op. cit., 524.)

Leo XIII . . . traitor to Christ?
There is nothing exceptional in the latter part of the statement; it agrees in substance with Pius XI’s call for the restructuring of the social order.  The problem is that the Catholic Radical Alliance, like Msgr. Ryan, started from the assumption that what must change first are the inviolate principles of the natural law that both Leo XIII and Pius XI insisted must not be changed, however much their applications must be adapted to meet new conditions.  There was also their labeling those who refused to go along with their program — whoever they meant — as “traitors to Christ.”

Fulton Sheen, one of the greatest intellects the Catholic Church in the United States has ever produced, was thereby marginalized in Catholic Academia, where he should have been held in the highest esteem.  It is no coincidence that Sheen was a strong advocate of Aristotelian-Thomism, and thus of the Intellect over the Will as the basis of the natural law.  Abandon reason, the foundation of faith, and anything becomes possible.  As Heinrich Rommen commented,

In this connection one cannot fail to perceive the greatness of the philosophia perennis.  It does not consist in linear thinking which, as fanaticism is accustomed to do, detaches a single notion from the ordered universe of ideas, thinks it completely through, and then becomes an ism of some sort.  It is, as it were, spherical thinking.  All essential ideas, which struggle with one another in their mutual interdependence, are beheld in a due and prudent equilibrium.  Indeed, fidelity to reality distinguishes this system of thought.  This means that such thinking is a kind of second intellectual creation which imitates the original creation of God, the supreme Intellect, who has willed order by creation reality as a cosmos. (Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 186.)

In the next posting on this subject, we can finally get away from Msgr. Ryan and his redefinition of social justice, and conclude our examination of the idea that only income from human labor is legitimate.