A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh

By Kenneth J. Heineman | Go to book overview

5
Christian Democracy Anti-Communism, Social Justice, and the End of New Deal Reform, 1938

In the wake of the disastrous 1937 Little Steel Strike, Pittsburgh's Catholic clergy and labor reformers find themselves defending the CIO against critics within the Church, in Congress, and in corporate America. The House Committee on Un-American Activities smears SWOC while Catholic clergy like Fulton Sheen red-bait the CIO. At the same time, fathers Charles Owen Rice and Carl Hensler combat Communist Party organizers who are intent upon moving the CIO further to the left. Hensler and Rice advocate Christian Democracy, a new kind of religiously informed politics that embraces the social encyclicals and rejects capitalist and Communist materialism. Sensing that they have been abandoned by the Roosevelt administration, Pittsburgh's Catholic labor leaders become firmly attached to their clerical champions. By the end of 1938, Roosevelt and his New Deal allies in Congress and in industrial states like Pennsylvania are in trouble. The 1938 midterm elections signal the end of New Deal reform.

During the Depression, one million Americans, convinced that capitalism was the root cause of discrimination and economic exploitation, passed through the Communist Party and its many front organizations. There they found a political home seemingly free of the racism and anti-Semitism that tainted factions of the Democratic and Republican parties. A movement of the alienated, the Communist Party geared its message to society's outsiders:

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