Crusader in the Cold War: A Biography of Fr. John F. Cronin, S.S. (1908-1994)

By Gallagher, Charles R. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Crusader in the Cold War: A Biography of Fr. John F. Cronin, S.S. (1908-1994)


Gallagher, Charles R., The Catholic Historical Review


Crusader in the Cold War: A Biography of Fr. John F. Cronin, S.S. (1908-1994). By John T. Donovan. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. 2005. Pp. xiv, 245. $67.95.)

John T. Donovan has written a wide-ranging biography of one of the foremost anti-communist Catholic clerics of the Cold War. From 1945 to 1967, Father John F Cronin, a member of the Society of St. Sulpice, served as Assistant Director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference. During the height of the Cold War, Cronin served as a behind-thescenes labor expert and priest-politico dedicating the resources of his department to the solution of labor problems and the eradication of domestic communism. Through his scholarly writing, "blind" speech and pamphlet writing, and advice to bishops and politicians, Cronin became the intellectual pointman on communism for the U.S. bishops throughout the early Cold War. Cronin's career exemplifies the alliance of the U.S. bishops with secular politicians dedicated to the "rollback" of communism in Europe and the swing within the Cold War U.S. hierarchy to view political anti-communism as a divinely sanctioned imperative. These trends are exhibited most succinctly through Cronin's exclusive and extensive contacts with both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the office of Vice President Richard Nixon.

Cronin's contacts and information-sharing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation reached the highest levels of the bureau, with its director J. Edgar Hoover periodically reviewing and passing judgment on Cronin's activity and usefulness. In late 1945, Hoover permitted the bureau to pass untraceable raw data from their investigative files to Cronin for use in preparation of a U.S. bishops' report entitled "The Problem of American Communism in 1945 ."John T. Donovan ably chronicles the import of this report, showing how Cronin's work assumed the status of a White Paper on how U.S. bishops were to understand domestic communism. Donovan traces Cronin's verbatim integration of FBI field intelligence into his report. One area left unconsidered is how the twelve pages of word-for-word FBI information on "Negro" involvement with the Communist Party USA may have shaped the thinking of the new generation of postwar U.S. bishops. FBI RACON (Racial Conditions) files were often tinged with disparaging racial analysis, and further investigation here would be interesting, since a real contribution of Donovan's work is his account of Cronin's work in the late 1950's and early 1960's as a progressive Catholic voice for civil rights. Did FBI material in Cronin's 1945 report reinforce existing prejudices and make his later push for change more difficult? …

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