A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh

By Kenneth J. Heineman | Go to book overview

6
Confirmation Catholic Reformers Confront the Rise of Fascism and the Approach of World War II, 1939-1941

New Dealers in Pittsburgh and Washington learn that the rise of European fascism and Soviet Communism threaten the viability of their electoral coalition. As Bishop Hugh Boyle and fathers James Cox, Carl Hensler, and Charles Owen Rice quickly discover, ethnic-based divisions over political and military developments in Europe threaten the viability of the New Deal coalition. Such divisions also provide anti-Semites like Father Charles Coughlin with yet another opportunity to red-bait SWOC and the CIO. Despite deeply held isolationist beliefs, Pittsburgh's Catholic activists conclude that the United States would have to stop Hitler without, at the same time, helping Stalin. Against this backdrop, Phil Murray, with assistance from Rice and his clerical and lay allies, wrests control of the CIO from a Roosevelt-hating, isolationist- minded John L. Lewis.

Catholic activists recognized that the new Congress would not support so`cial reform. Indeed, conservative Democrats and Republicans hoped to eliminate the WPA and red-bait the CIO to death. On the defensive, Rice and Murray were determined not to yield. At a January 1939 meeting of the Catholic Radical Alliance, Rice minced few words:

Certain legislative and journalistic giants at large today seem to think that the fundamental sickness of the system can somehow be cured

-177-

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