Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Labor and Catholic Action: The Italian Context of Quadragesimo Anno

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Labor and Catholic Action: The Italian Context of Quadragesimo Anno

Article excerpt

When Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, he anticipated the tradition of commemorating each ten-year anniversary of Rerum Novarum of 1891 with another major papal statement on Catholic social teaching in the light of current developments. He thus reinforced, in a way his immediate predecessors had not, the contested claim of the Church to bring Christian influence to bear on economics and society.1 To understand the intentions of the pontiff and the effects of his social teaching in church and society, it is of course necessary to place Quadragesimo Anno in the context of the travails of political and economic liberalism after World War I.2 It would certainly also illuminate the text to consider the history of the Catholic labor movements in the countries where they were more or less influential, since Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno deal with social justice in the field of industrial relations, the "worker question."

There is also a more particular ecclesiastical context that conditioned the content and impact of the encyclical. I refer to the pope's championing of Catholic Action in Fascist Italy. This aspect may be easily overlooked. After all, the drafting of the encyclical took place mainly in northern Europe3 and presupposed more democratic conditions. In Italy itself the encyclical was overshadowed by the post-concordat crisis of 1931 centering on issues of the education of the younger generation. Even after this crisis was surmounted, as we shall see, the social-justice issues of Quadragesimo Anno were confined to circumscribed church circles, for the most part removed from public view. Unlike other states of an authoritarian and Catholic stamp (particularly Austria's "Quadragesimo-Anno-Staat"), Mussolini's Italy made little pretense of drawing upon Catholic sources for its brand of state corporatism. Thus, while Italian historians are generally quite aware of the connections of Quadragesimo Anno with Pius XI's central program of Catholic Action and its relation to Catholic labor movements, students of the social encyclicals elsewhere may not fully realize its pertinence. The triangular tensions between Catholic Action in Italy, Catholic social activism, and Fascism are of direct significance in understanding the role Pius XI had in mind for Quadragesimo Anno. In what follows, the focus will be on these Italian contexts of church, society, and state.

After World War I, neither Benedict XV nor Pius XI favored any revival of the anti-union machinations of the prewar Catholic integralists. The status of labor unions qua Catholic, however, remained ambiguous. This was the case, for instance, in France until the publication in 1929 of the letter from the Vatican Congregation of the Council to the new bishop of Lille, Achille Liénart.4 And it remained the case in the German situation until the publication of Quadragesima Anno itself in 1931.5 Until then, Catholic trade unionists had to settle for the only grudging toleration of "non-confessional" unions on the part of Pope Pius X, in Singulars quadam of 1912.6

Italian Catholicism and Labor

Since the taking of Rome to be the capital of Italy in 1870, the Holy see had not recognized the Italian state as rightfully constituted. The Catholic Church in Italy was not only faced with an anticlerical ("liberal") regime, as in many other Catholic countries, but one that was in open conflict with the papacy. One of the aims of Achille Ratti, when he became pope in 1922, was to come to a satisfactory solution of this "Roman Question." Meanwhile, the clergy and laity of Italy were not idle. In particular, social Catholicism made considerable progress in some parts of the country, notably in the North (Lombardy, the Veneto). The problems of the South, the Mezzogiorno, were also high on the concerns of Don Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959), whom Pope Benedict XV appointed to be secretary of the Popular Union, the guiding institution at the national level of Italian social Catholicism. …

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