Page 3, 9th May 1941

9th May 1941
Page 3
Page 3, 9th May 1941 — HOW RERUM NOVARUM

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Locations: Rome, Lille, Baltimore


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Manning 's words were true. Ever since, as Archbishop of Petugia, in 1877, he had condemned in an outspoken pastoral letter the attitude which " considers labour as the supreme end of man," and thinks of man as " a machine of more Or less value, according as he aids more Or less in production " the mind of Leo XIII had been advancing towards a public and official declaration of the teaching of the Church on the social question and the rights of the working classes.

Catholic teaching on a number of points Was far from unanimous. If there was growing agreement that trade unions and workers' • associations were a legitimate means of defence against exploitation, there was still the fear, especially on the Continent, that these unions, somewhat in the nature of secret societies. were in danger of falling under Socialist or Masonic influence. The atheistic secret societies were, to Catholics of conservative views, one of the gravest menaces of the nineteenth century. To give official ecclesiastical approval to associations suspected of alliance with these powers of darkness was felt to be a very rash and dangerous step.

Pope Leo Waited

Another point hotly disputed among Catholics was the approval to be given, and the limits to, be set to State intervention in social questions, The conservatives, sometimes known as the Angers School, viewing the question as a matter primarily of conscience and of moral reform, were opposed to state action, fearing the thin end of the wedge of State socialism and the menace

of legal expropriations The Catholic reformers—the Liege school, as they are often called—demanded not only State protection for the workers in their strict rights, but even the enforcement of obligations in charity, and legislation for the protection of the weak.

Pope Leo was content for the time to wait patiently and to gather information. In, 1882 he formed a special committee in Rome to study the sercial question. In 1884 came the first of the French employers' pilgrimages to Rome, to he followed in 1887 by a workers' pilgrimage led by Count Albert de Mon and Cardinal Langenieux, nearly 2,000 strong. In 1889 the number of pilgrims had doubled, and with de Mun came his great co-worker for social reform in France, the model of factory owners, the Catholic counterpart of Robert Owen, Leon Harmel.

Leo XIII welcomed this pilgrimage with moving words. lie roundly condemned the Socialist doctrine of the abolition of property. declaring that the Socialists would " stain the roads on which they pass with blood, accumulating ruin and sowing discord and disorder."

True Remedy

The true remedy for all these social ills, went on the Pope, " is not in thc perverse and subversive designs and actions of some, nor in the seductive but mistaken theories of others; it lies in the faithful fulfilment of the duties falling on the various classes in society, in the respect and preservation of the functions belonging to each. It is the mission of the Church to proclaim aloud and to inculcate these truths and these , duties."

Meanwhile in Switzerland under Mgr. Mermillod a great clearing-house of Catholic social thought had been founded in the Union Catholique of Fribourg. From all over Europe Catholic sociologists attended the meetings of this body, and Mgr. Mermillod forwarded their conclusions and suggestions to Rome. In 1887 he was able to tell his associates that the Pope had decided to publish an encyclical letter on the social question. He was created Cardinal in 1890 and summoned to Rome to help in the planning of the Workers' Charter.

It was in 1887 that the problem of Masonic' influence and secret societies came to a head with the proposed condemnation of the American workers' organization known as the Knights of Labour. Tffis was an association for the protection of workers, embracing all trades, and open to all reitgions. Its president was a Catholic, Terence Powderly, and in America it won ecclesiastical approval. chiefly through the support of the Archbishop of Baltimore, the future Cardinal Gibbons.

In Canada, however, the Archbishop of Quebec considered that the Knights came under the condemnation of secret societies, and forbade Catholics to belong to the association under pain of refusal of the sacraments. He also asked for a more solemn and public condemnation of the Knights from Rome.

Friend of the Workers

Gibbon took up the defence of the Knights, ably supported by our own Cardinal Manning, and by his forceful and apostolic pleading before the Cardinals and the Pope, won, his case. Leo XIII asked him to prepare a Memorandum on the subject, and the remarkable document he drew up had a permanent effect on the Pope and on Roman policy with regard to workers' unions.

He made a ntoving appeal that the Church, known to history as the " Friend of the Workers " should not at this crisis desert her charge. He quoted vigorous words already written by Manning. " T'he moral state and domestic condition of the working classes must !se the Church's first consideration," he said. " A new task is before us. The Church has no longer to deal with Parliament and princes, but ,with the masses and with the people. Whether we will or no, this is our work; we need a new spirit and a new law of life." And he finished on what was almost a note of warning to Rome. " To lose the heart of the people would be a) misfortune for which the friendship of the few rich and powerful would he no compensation."

As one of his helpers put it, the American bishop's aim was " not to leave democracy to be ruled by the devil, but to hold it in the ways of God."

Encyclical is Planned In the follotving year a Catholic congress at Lille begged the Holy Father " to take a hand in securing justice and protection for the Working-cla,sses everywhere." At the same time in Switzerland another great social apostle, Gaspard Decurtins, submitted to the National Council a proposal to initiate international labour legislation on such questions as Sundry rest, hours of labour and night work. The project was supported by the German Emperor to whom in 1890 the Pope wrote a long letter of congratulation and encouragement.

In the same year the plan of the new encyclical was already fairly clear in tbe Pope's mind. It was to build round a condemnation of Socialifm, but was to be both practical and constructive in its conclusions Greatest Social Document of Nineteenth Century

The drawing-up of the encyclical was entrusted to Cardinal Zigliara, the great Roman philosopher and authority on social questions. The choice was not altogether happy, and the Pope found the first draft too abstract and too technical, too much the academic work of a professor. The Zigliara draft was therefore handed over to the Papal secretaries, Mgr. Boccali and Mgr. Volpini, and was largely re-fashioned, taking into account the Pope's plan not only to defend the right of private property, but equally to vindicate for the workers the right to a living wage, and the right to associate in unions For their • own defence. The new draft was sent to Cardinal Zigliara be eurnment and criticism. With characteristic modesty the Cardinal approved the new text, suggesting only a few minor alterations.

Leo then gave the encyclical his imprimatur, and on May 15, 1891, it was published to the world, to take its place as the greatest social document of the nineteenth century. • In England Manning was delighted, for indeed much of his own teaching. and some of his expressions bad gone into the pages of the encyclical.

.Ben Tillett, then secretary of the Dockers' Union and a great admirer of Manning, wrote to the Cardinal, praising the Pope's " courageous " letter, and remarked, very significantly, that it was " one that will test good Catholics much more effectively than any exhortation to religious worship." After fifty years his words are worth remembering.

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