Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

AARON I. ABELL*


VII. The Catholic Factor in the Social Justice Movement

Viewed as a minority group relatively poor, unprivileged and insecure, Catholics have immensely benefited from the social justice movement of the last seventy-five years -- from its attempt to eliminate abject poverty and pauperism and attendant evils, from its crusade against monopoly and irresponsible wealth, from its campaign to humanize and to democratize industry, and, in later years, from its insistence that government guarantee economic security to all citizens. But the Catholic Church was no idle bystander; she was not content to be a passive recipient of its material advantages without making her own contribution to the enrichment of the movement. Besides urging changes in the economic and social order, the Church at all times took care to guard faith and morals against error centering in extreme environmentalist theories of social causation, notably the socialist philosophy.

As the transition to urban industrialism got under way, the reforming elements in American society -- Christian, humanitarian and democratic -- were quick to see that while wealth rapidly increased, poverty, even pauperism, increased even more rapidly. The resulting industrial conflict -- continuous and chronic after 1885 -- was the call to action. Believing with Washington Gladden that labor discontent stemmed "from that false political economy which teaches that between employer and employed there are no moral relations,"1 the

____________________
*
Professor Aaron I. Abell is Professor of History in the University of Notre Dame and author of The Urban Impact on American Protestantism, 1865-1900.
1.

"A Plain Talk With Employers," Christian Union, July 3, 1885; for Gladden's elaboration of this thesis, see his Applied Christianity ( Boston, 1886); Tools and the Man: Property and Industry Under the Christian Law ( Boston, 1893), esp. Chapter II, "Economics and Christian Ethics"; and his Recollections ( New York, 1909), pp. 294-315.

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