Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Seven
by Bill Droel

There are scores of books explaining Catholic social doctrine. The outline for many of them is a chronology of papal encyclicals (from Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 On the Condition of Labor to Pope Francis’ 2020 On Social Friendship). Or the author might pick issues like peace, health care delivery, labor relations and the environment; quoting relevant official documents in each chapter.
The Church’s Best-Kept Secret by Mark Shea (New City Press [2020]; 16.95) is different. In 159 pages written for a popular audience, Shea reflects on four social principles, giving two chapters to each: the dignity of each life, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity. The encyclicals are referenced along the way. However, Shea prefers to illustrate the principles with lots of Scripture, some quotations from the early church and citations from C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).
Ethical consistency is Shea’s recurring theme. Some Catholics agree with our doctrine on some issues but not others. Other Catholics, including some bishops, claim to be consistent but mistakenly say one issue has greater moral weight than another. And some Catholics disingenuously claim to support Catholic doctrine, but they only use it to oppose policies or politicians they don’t like. “If your focus is on abortion, fine,” Shea writes. “But do not pretend to focus on it while actually spending your time and energy fighting against the Magisterium…and in favor of policies that harm the environment, fighting against a living wage and in favor of laissez faire capitalism.” The tone of The Church’s Best-Kept Secret is easy-going, not technical. But, as this riff shows, Shea can hammer points as needed.
There’s a difference between the world-as-it-is and “the way it is supposed to be,” Shea writes. Everyone has at least a dim notion of perfectibility, of a better situation, of the world as we hope it could be. He goes on to quote G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936): In the here-and-now people “do not differ much about what things they will call evil; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” For example, some people justify torture during wartime (though doing so became harder in the United States after the publication of photos from Abu Ghraib Prison). Yes, says Shea, soldiers sometimes have to kill combatants in self-defense. But the moment an enemy becomes a prisoner, torture is absolutely forbidden “as gravely and intrinsically immoral.”
In the same way some people excuse abortion because in their calculus the unborn are less equal. “Hairsplitting arguments about when a fetus becomes a person are meaningless,” Shea says. Each person has a right to live “the whole of human life for the whole of life.”
Over and over, Shea insists that a moral person cannot say that one issue must take priority over others. Concern over 20 or more issues does not dilute or fracture the brand. Yes, “there is plenty of room…for specialization and focusing on specific issues and ills.” But, to make one issue morally higher than another is to make some people in some situations more equal than others. A moral person cannot deliberately excuse evil.
There is obviously imperfection in the world-as-it-is. Yet the moral person retains a vision of a world as it is supposed to be and consistently strives to lessen evil and enhance good. At the same time, Shea concludes, one must refrain from becoming a justice warrior in the sense that they presume to create a perfect world. Such a person will likely be ineffective. Always “begin where you are, and not where you are not,” he advises. You are inside a family, inside a voluntary group, in a union, at a protest or rally. Then challenge yourself and others to move a step outside your comfort zone.
Shea is not the last word on social action, its history, its principles and its current applications. Most readers will quarrel with him on some pages; which is a sign of a good book. The Church’s Best Kept Secret is fresh, accessible and challenging.

Droel is the author of What Is Social Justice (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Daily Grind

The Working Catholic: Routine by Bill Droel

Clocks are everywhere because our modern economy needs to know the time.
     Our “regular measurement of time and the new mechanical conception of time arose in part out of the routine of the monastery,” writes Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) in Technics and Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 1934). It was long ago that Pope Sabinianus (d. 606) ordered bells to be rung seven times per day to alert the faithful to the liturgy of the hours.
     As an urban economy eventually emerged, merchants demanded more precision. A public mechanical clock appeared in Belgium in 1188; more places followed in the 1200s. By 1345 the measurement of 60 minutes to an hour and 24 hours to a day became standard. By 1370 Paris had a well-designed modern clock suitable for urban life. In the 1600s many families in Holland and England acquired a mechanical clock for their homes.
     Yet the monasteries came first, according to Mumford. They “helped to give human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of the machine; for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.” As the years went by, however, some began to think that a “completely timed and scheduled and regulated” machine civilization “does not necessarily guarantee maximum efficiency,” Mumford concludes. Sticking to the clock is not best for human development.
     Meghan O’Gieblyn, drawing upon Mumford, provides a reflection on routine for Harper’s Magazine (1/22). Have people become machines, she asks? Is the routine imposed by our economy dehumanizing? Or “is it possible in our age of advanced technology to recall the spiritual dimension of repetition”? Does a spiritual motivation lurk “in the gears of modern routine”?
     High tech and advanced automation enhance work and life, say its cheerleaders. Computers and robots free us to set aside drudgery and bring forth our agility, flexibility, creativity and spontaneity. However, “the rhetoric of flexibility…despite its existential promise to make us more human frequently undergirds policies that make the lives of workers more precarious,” O’Gieblyn writes. For example, online retail and the apps on our mobile device decrease variety by conditioning our choice of products and services.
     The goal cannot be the elimination of clocks. Covid-19 previews an unstructured existence within a total computer economy, a total gig economy and a total do-it-yourself, round-the-clock life. What is the result of decreased regimentation? Maybe too many naps. Excessive internet surfing. Heightened anxiety about childcare and schooling. Unpredictable and/or lower wages. Spiritual exhaustion.
     Humane work and a fuller life is not liberation from repetition. The old analysis still applies: Despite talk about teamwork and participation, workers are estranged from one another, from the process and outcome of their labor and eventually from themselves. That’s because too few workers—from warehouse workers to floor managers to computer programmers to middle executives—are insufficiently taught the process and the product of their labor. There just isn’t enough time to do so, we’ve assumed.
     As for O’Gieblyn, she believes “there is [still] something transcendent in the pleasures of repetition.” Tranquility is not simply the absence of structure. She cites St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in saying that a full life requires habits aimed toward the common good. A good habit is not slavery; it is a form of grace. And freedom, O’Gieblyn concludes, is not “eliminating necessity from our daily lives.” Freedom is “the ability to consistently choose the good.”
     For more from O’Gieblyn, get God, Human, Animal, Machine (Knopf Doubleday, 2021).

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter on faith and work.

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine, Part Five
by Bill Droel

Catholicism ducked its appointment with modernity for about 400 years. Not until Vatican II (1962-1965) did Catholicism open the door to dialogue with the modern world—not a wholesale acceptance of every modern trend, but an engagement conducted with patience and sophistication.
Catholicism opposed the Protestant Reformation (from 1517) because it was part of modern trends of individual standards, of sundry forms of worship and of authority structures unattached to Catholicism. Catholic officialdom was threatened by these and other emerging liberal values, including government autonomy, by professions that claimed their own independence and by secular culture. The violent anti-clericalism of the French Revolution in 1789 justifiably added to Catholicism’s fears. When the French monarchy was briefly restored, many Catholic leaders embraced it with a right wing, royalist mentality. However, by 1905 France firmly accepted modernity and its concept of autonomous society (laicite).
The Catholic/modern dialogue proceeds in fits and starts. Even today some Catholic leaders inappropriately revert to blanket condemnations, foregoing sincere dialogue with those who disagree. Yet to be fair, on several topics Catholicism’s caution about modern trends has proved prophetic.
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) inaugurated the formal body of Catholic social thought with his encyclical On the Condition of Labor. It condemned Marxism, a modern materialistic philosophy. To do so, Leo XIII reiterated a qualified approval of private property. As it turned out, communist collectivism oppressed rather than liberated many. Leo XIII was likewise prophetic in his condemnation of the modern materialistic philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism—what people today call neo-liberalism. An economy that spins with only the force of finance creates a hierarchical system in which the majority cannot meaningfully participate.
At its best the Catholic tradition fosters a reasonable approach with which to argue intelligently and temperately with the world, explains Fr. William O’Neill in America (12/21). The differences about current issues must respect common rules of the game, he explains. The conversation must be conducted in a common grammar.
For example, meaning must be moored to truth. The rules require that validating important matters solely on one’s opinion or one’s feelings is inadequate. Truth is arrived at through evidence. Truth-seeking is not a performance, not an avenue for vindication or a way to process resentment. An honest dialogue about modern issues has to forego cancelling the speech of others. It has to be void of self-righteousness. There is room for multiple interpretation of facts but there is no such thing as alternative facts. At the same time everyone has to understand that while the rules of truth-seeking are permanent, tomorrow’s discovery or future evidence can change yesterday’s conclusion.
O’Neill also reminds us that rights are not the same as interests. An individual right is normally a claim mixed within other rights. That is, each right comes with duties or considerations. Contrary to neo-liberal philosophy, a conflict of claims is not settled by calculating the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Decisions in the real world have to aim toward the common good; the good outcome that is only obtained if people cooperate. The decision-making process is informed argument, not outrage.
Finally, as O’Neill mentions, Catholicism or any other religion dialogues in the public square with reasoned language, not insider language. Sectarianism only isolates a religious voice. O’Neill uses abortion as an example. Catholicism opposes direct and purposeful abortion not as “one sectarian interest among others.” The opposition is not a Catholic position, per se. To influence the world, positions on abortion or other issues, have to be expressed in universal terms. And so, in a public dialogue O’Neill would put it this way: All people have a basic right to life and a right to the means of sustaining life—a right to basic nutrition, to adequate health care, etc. The “strongest case against abortion,” he says, is an argument based on “upholding the rights of all.”
Catholic leaders and ordinary Catholics can be as strident as anyone else, indiscriminately maligning groups of people. They can also shortsightedly put their faith in authoritarians or phony media personalities or corrupt business leaders. They can hurt the innocent. They can wash away their public sins as mere failures in management. Yet with humble application of our social doctrine Catholics can help improve business conduct, labor relations, social policy, care for the environment, respect for inherent dignity of each person, international affairs, the nurturing of children and more. A Catholic contribution to the world presumes, of course, that Catholics know their social doctrine and are capable of strategically using it. To be continued…

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Lockouts

The Working Catholic: Lockout
by Bill Droel

Kellogg has used the lockout tactic before. In October 2013 the cereal company locked out its 220 Memphis employees. Issues included mandatory overtime and benefits. The situation remained until August 2014 when a federal judge ruled that in this case the tactic was illegal. The judge ordered that employees be brought back on the job with no penalty.
Now Kellogg has locked out 1,400 employees at four plants. The main issue is a two-tier pay scale—newcomers get less; as old timers retire the total wage and benefit expense decreases.
Employers who use the lockout tactic claim that it gives them leverage in negotiations. To stay on the legal side during a lockout employers must publically say that the door to negotiations is always open. A lockout is becoming a popular maneuver.
In 2011 the NFL locked out its players for 18 weeks. The NBA had a five month lockout the same year. In 2012 the New York City Opera locked out its performers. The Minnesota Orchestra did the same the following year. Also in 2013 Crystal Sugar in Minnesota locked out 1,300 employees. In 2015 Allegheny Technologies, a steel firm, locked out 2,200. And in 2018 National Grid, a Massachusetts gas company, had a lockout of 1,200.
To all of us in the Hot Stove League the most pressing labor-management disagreement these days involves the lockout of baseball players.
The lockout tactic is foolish without the threat of permanent replacement workers. On its own a lockout doesn’t make sense because a company would go out of business if it didn’t allow workers to come to the job site. Sometimes the threat of replacements is implied. In the current Kellogg dispute ownership makes the threat explicit.
Catholic doctrine has something to say about both lockouts and permanent replacements. First, however, here’s what our doctrine does not say. Catholicism gives general, abstract guidance on what constitutes a just wage and acceptable benefits. Catholicism does not endorse the specifics of any employer’s contract proposal in any given situation. Catholicism does not endorse the specifics of a union’s counter-proposal. (This applies, by the way, even if the employer is a bishop and the employees are gravediggers or janitors or teachers.)
Catholicism says that negotiation (which depending on circumstances can be smooth or hardball) is crucial. Totalitarianism (total corporate, total state or total both) is not conducive to a healthy society and holy people. There must be some form of negotiation, some form of democracy. Collective negotiation is the countervailing force that holds off totalitarian impulses. Catholicism strongly asserts that employees have a natural right and duty to meaningfully participate in the design and the benefits of work in some measure.
A lockout and its threats break faith with an acceptable negotiation process. Cardinal John O’Connor (1920-2000) of New York testified in 1990 to our U.S. Senate Committee on Labor. He introduced himself as speaking as a citizen and an employer. He also said that as a bishop he is a mandated moral teacher. The context was a dispute at the Daily News in New York City. Ownership threatened permanent replacements.
“It is useless to speak glowingly” about rights if either “management or labor bargains in bad faith,” O’Connor said. “In the case of management [it is] a charade of collective bargaining and a mockery [for management] with foreknowledge… to permanently replace workers who strike.” In 1999 O’Connor repeated Catholic principle, writing to nurses: “I remain strongly committed to a policy of no permanent replacements.”
O’Connor’s use of the phrase moral foreknowledge is important. A company that threatens the use of so-called permanent replacements knows the tactic is not an end in itself. Whatever the outcome of the lockout/permanent replacement gambit might be, its real purpose is to end possible negotiations and soon enough to bust the union.
To conclude on a positive note it is worth keeping in mind that the vast majority of contract negotiations are completed without any job action whatsoever. Yes, some posturing occurs; some swearing perhaps. But day-in-and-out negotiations are not newsworthy because nothing dramatic occurs outside the bargaining room and apart from the employee’s vote.
Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Labor Day

The Working Catholic: Labor Day
By Bill Droel

International Workers Day (May Day), the counterpart to our September Labor Day, was inspired by an 1886 event here in Chicago. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor obtained a city permit for a May rally/demonstration in the Haymarket area (now a trendy restaurant spot). Late in the evening someone at the rally threw dynamite. Police began to fire wildly into the dwindling crowd. Soon seven officers and four workers were dead.
Eight workers were quickly rounded up, including a lay minister, a printer and others. Seven were found guilty by August. Two got life sentences (one of whom was killed in jail); one was given 15 years. The remaining four were hanged in November.
A couple years after the Chicago event European countries designated May 1st as Labor Day to honor the Haymarket Workers. For that reason, May 1st became the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
And what was the issue that brought the workers to the Haymarket rally? Shorter work hours.
This was hardly the first effort in our country to reduce the working day. The 1830s saw an Eight-Hour Day Movement, details Mike Konczal in Freedom from the Market (The New Press, 2021). As part of that movement, Boston Trade Unions issued the “Ten-Hour Circular.” (Presumably they thought eight was unachievable.) This statement prompted six months of rotating strikes and protests across Boston. It was used in Philadelphia to start a general strike. There was a big parade after which the city passed a ten-hour workday law. In Baltimore the city mechanics, drawing on the same statement, won a ten-hour day. “Demands for time could unify workers facing different working circumstances,” writes Konczal.
By 1868 Pennsylvania had suggested “an eight-hour workday as the default.” When it came to enforcing this suggestion or any other work-related law, the obstacle was overcoming the prevailing attitude that contracts are “a foundational form of freedom and government should never interfere with markets,” says Konczal. The contract need not be a written document. The worker knew the score when she or he took the job. The freedom of contract assumption, then and now, is a fallacy because “government and courts intervened in important ways,” but not in the interest of workers. Laws and court decisions were for the most part intended “to boost the power of bosses and owners while limiting and stymieing the actions of workers.”
The notion of an eight-hour day gained traction during the Great Depression. In 1930 W. K. Kellogg (1860-1951) changed the work schedule at his cereal company. Production went to three shifts per day, six hours each. An employee normally clocked 30 hours per week. Wages were increased by 12.5%. “This will give work and paychecks to the heads of 300 more families in Battle Creek,” Kellogg said.
The union at Kellogg proudly issued progress reports, documenting improved efficiency, decreased unit cost and dramatic reduction in injuries. Other well-known companies (Remember Hudson Motor Car?) joined the experiment. However, after World War II workers and their unions wanted to participate in the consumer boom. They pushed for more hours in order to get more pay, including overtime. Kellogg gradually phased out the 30-hour week and completely eliminated it by 1985, writes Benjamin Hunnicutt in Kellogg’s Six Hour Day (Temple University Press, 1996).
Covid-19 presents an opportunity to experiment with remote work, flex time and other work arrangements. The topic of shorter hours is also in the mix because our Covid-19 economy has meant a shortage of competent workers in some key sectors. Thus, some business executives see reduced hours as a tool for recruitment and retention.
To be continued…
Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Social Doctrine Part II

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part II
BY BILL DROEL

Modern Catholic social doctrine dates from May 1891 with the publication of On the Condition of Labor by Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903). Customarily, social encyclicals are subsequently released on significant anniversaries of On the Condition of Labor.
In May 1981 Mehmet Ali Agca, a criminal from Turkey, shot Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) in St. Peter’s Square. Thus John Paul II’s anniversary encyclical was delayed until September 1981. It is titled On Human Work.
Every worker is equal in dignity, says John Paul II. That’s because the dignity of work originates with the person doing the work; the person who raises children, instructs students, assists homebuyers, manages portfolios, takes orders at the drive-through window, crafts legislation, develops affordable housing or supervises a manufacturing plant. A boss cannot confer dignity. An executive secretary is no more dignified than the night janitor. Every worker is equal—not necessarily in pay or expertise, but equal in dignity prior to, during and after the job or task.
The word work, according to John Paul II, is any activity that comports with God’s on-going creation and redemption. A homemaker is a worker. Unemployed workers, volunteer tutors and chief executives are all workers. A gun trafficker is not a worker because she or he detracts from the plan of God. A predatory lender is not a worker. An adult who abuses children is not a worker.
The design of an economy, the policies of a specific business, or the management style of a boss or the level of cooperation among fellow workers make it easier or harder to experience holiness through work. On Human Work says that the first purpose of any economy or business is the fulfillment of its workers. Fulfilling work is some combination of putting bread on the family table, benefitting society with a needed service or product, participating in a team effort and growing in self-knowledge. If a company first has regard for its workers, it will likely also respect its suppliers and customers or clients. (Remember, its workers include the shop hands, janitors, executives, nurses, top partners, drivers, public relations personnel, sales force and more.) That company with competent management and a needed product or service will likely be profitable.
The best test of whether a company respects its workers is its wage structure. “In every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system” and each business within it, writes John Paul II. “It is not the only means of checking but it is…the key means.” Get wage structure right, the company and society will be right. Wage structure, by the way, includes the top (not paid too much) and the bottom (not paid too little).
On Human Work names other considerations for a whole, holy economy or business. John Paul II warns against an authoritarian business or a collectivist economy. No surprise coming from a champion of anti-communism. He likewise warns against neo-liberal individualism. No surprise coming from a Catholic. Instead, he favors businesses that value subsidiarity (bottom-up decision making), participation and solidarity (solidarność).
John Paul II devotes a section to the “importance of unions,” and he affirms “the right to strike.” He reminds employers and employees that the disabled have “ideas and resources” and can be offered a job “according to their capabilities.”
On Human Work concludes with an intriguing section titled Elements for a Spirituality of Work. John Paul II, in a totally neglected injunction, says that the whole church has “a particular duty to form a spirituality of work…which will help all people come closer, through work, to God.” Such spirituality is “a heritage shared by all.”

Next up: Pope Francis’ contributions to social doctrine. For now, obtain John Paul II’s Gospel of Work edited by Bill Droel (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7 discount price).

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine
By Bill Droel

Modern Catholic social doctrine is officially 130-years old. It dates from Pope Leo XIII’s May 1891 encyclical, On the Condition of Labor. Subsequent popes (as will be mentioned) advance social doctrine, often on anniversaries of On the Condition of Labor.
Doctrines are derived from reflection on the accumulated experience of Christians in many societies and from an application of reason or science, particularly the social sciences. Doctrines are in harmony with God’s revealed Scripture. Dogma, by contrast, comes to us directly from revelation; it cannot be figured out only through study of nature. The dogma of the Trinity, for example, fits an understanding of nature but God had to reveal the Trinity to us. Dogma is not irrational; it is not opposed to science. It is true but not empirical, like a spouse’s love.
Western Europe in the time of Leo XIII (1810-1903) was experiencing industrialization which in turn attracted thousands of families to urban centers. This industrial era held forth many promises including a higher standard of living and conveniences. However, Leo XIII among others saw that industry and urban life came with a paradox: degrading working conditions and great poverty amid concentrated wealth. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 addressed the paradox and named a resolution: proletariat revolution. Leo XIII countered Marxism with Christian principles.
The bedrock principle of Catholic social doctrine is the intrinsic dignity of each person. Humanists all agree that modern individuals are free and can exercise appropriate agency. Jews, Christians and Muslims know that this truth is additionally supported in Scripture; that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:27 & Qur’an 17:70)
The modifier intrinsic is important because the term dignity is sometimes used carelessly. Intrinsic means built-in. For example, a husband does not give his wife dignity. She has it long before they meet. An employer does not give employees dignity. It comes with them in the morning and stays with them after they punch the clock. God put dignity into each person.
A negligent husband or an exploitative boss can, of course, degrade a person’s dignity. Thus an obligation to improve degrading situations follows from the principle of basic dignity. To that end On the Condition of Labor advocates for safe and humane working conditions, for a family wage and for the right of workers to collectively bargain. To achieve these and other improvements, Leo XIII says government’s role includes restraint on laissez-faire capitalism.
A subsequent column will discuss other social encyclicals—specifically St. John Paul II’s On Human Work on its 40th anniversary and the recent encyclicals of Pope Francis, one on inequality/environment and one on public friendship.
Officialdom uses the term Catholic social teaching for these encyclicals and a few other Church documents. I prefer the term Catholic social thought and action. This includes the official teaching but it also includes reflection on the teaching and its implementation in worldly settings. Doctrine is principles that tell us what to do. But, they have to be applied with prudence. As the principles hit the streets or corridors, right-minded people can disagree on the how to implement the doctrine in fluid situations. Here’s one small example: Catholic social doctrine says employees have a right to bargain collectively without the maternal or paternal meddling of their boss. The application, however, is more complex. Do we necessarily want a union at this workplace? If so, do we want this union or a different union or an independent union of our own making? If we do not want a union, what is our alternative mechanism for improving conditions at our workplace? Sincere employees can respectfully disagree with one another. This example becomes more complex if unfortunately the employer violates the starting principle or skirts the law. To be continued…

Obtain Droel’s booklet Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $1.50).

Social Sin

The Working Catholic: Social Sin
by Bill Droel

Although social sin is Catholic doctrine, it is rarely part of sacrament preparation nor is it normally mentioned during the sacrament of reconciliation.
Slavery, for example, is a social sin even if every Christian plantation owner had been kind, even if the pharaoh of olden times had not been cruel and harsh. “Institutions, laws and modes of thinking and feeling are handed down from previous generations,” explains Vatican II (1962-1965). A bad system (like a good institution) has a certain momentum or independent character. Bad institutions make holiness difficult. Good institutions serve as reminders for upright behavior.
Poverty is a social sin. Although a poor person, like anyone else, might steal or lie, it is not their poverty that is a sin. The sin is an economic structure that perpetuates significant and needless poverty. We don’t think about social sin, says Vatican II, because we are plagued with an individualistic mentality. But we cannot “content [ourselves] with merely individualistic morality.” Christians must promote and assist “institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.”
It is true that social sin is somewhat metaphorical, says the Vatican’s 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine. Social sin does not weaken or cancel “the personal component by admitting only social guilt and responsibility. At the bottom of every situation of sin is always the individual who sins.” At the same time this metaphorical sense cannot overtake the objectively sinful nature of some systems. The Compendium mentions wages, the fairness of which “is the most important means for achieving justice in work relationships.” It “is not sufficient [for] an agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay… to qualify as a just wage.” In a given circumstance it so happens that an employer or an employee may have a reason for substandard wages. The morality of a wage is, however, determined objectively, apart from the motives of employer or employee.
How then can social sin be brought into the sacrament of reconciliation? It would seem that a creative liturgy planner in the parish could devise a service each Lent about our society’s social sins—things for which we collectively bear responsibility. Suggestions are welcome.
Another way to get at this notion of social sin is to consider its antibodies. To counter individual sin, we summon a specific virtue. If, for example, my individual sin is neglect of family members, I make a habit of generosity around the home during Lent. If the habit persists after Easter, it becomes my individual virtue.
A good institution is a social virtue. Specific virtues (social habits) are designed to counter social sin. The Compendium mentions solidarity as a social virtue about relationships that tend toward ethical-social improvement. Virtues are not feelings. Solidarity, the Compendium continues, is not a distant touch of compassion for the afflicted. It is a commitment to act with others for the sake of the common good.
Social Justice is a social virtue. The term is often used generically to cover outreach efforts, government distribution programs and protesting. The term is also used to describe crusading individuals, some lobbyists and those with sincere intentions. However, in Catholicism social justice is a specific type of the general virtue of justice. It is a collective virtue; an individual cannot practice social justice. Its intent is the improvement of institutions or policies. Its unique act is organization; that is, people finding like-minded others and then applying tactics and strategies for the good of the commons. In mainstream Catholicism social justice usually happens during the weekday within normal settings. It is not normally an on-and-off weekend activity by outsiders to an institution, though those efforts can be needed. Social justice is participation. It requires many hands, feet and minds. As it evolves, a sound social justice effort likewise increases participation. Employees have a surge of morale because of their reform efforts. Professionals increase their dedication because through their association they instituted a reform.
Social justice (a collective habit) is a primary vaccine against social sin. It is the means for bettering the conditions of human life. Because each exercise of social justice is less than 100% effective, it requires booster shots. All institutions need a little social justice during Lent and a little more during Eastertide and then another dose in all the weeks after Pentecost.

Droel is the author of What Is Social Justice (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

From Mobilizing to Governance

The Working Catholic: Mobilizing and Governing
by Bill Droel

The young adult activists who inspired the world this past summer now have the challenge of translating their fervor into practical reform. It is the transition from mobilizing to governance.
The founders of our country were more prepared for the transition to governance than other revolutionaries, argues Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). She compares France to the United States in her classic On Revolution (Penguin, 1963). By the time of their 1787 meeting in Philadelphia, our founders were able to craft a democratic system that endures to this day. Our system, as detailed in our glorious Constitution and in its Bill of Rights and 17 subsequent amendments, is obviously imperfect. It has suffered through rebellions, a Civil War, a tyrannical-like presidency and more. Yet ploddingly and with setbacks, our experiment in democracy inches toward its goal of full liberty and justice for all.
Back in France however, the 1789 revolution was followed by turmoil for a decade and by instability thereafter. Bastille Day was a triumph, but onto the next step the French revolutionaries “had no experience [of governance] to fall back upon, only ideals and principles untested by reality,” says Arendt. The French Revolution was “an intoxication whose chief element was the crowd.” The difference, Arendt concludes, is that the U.S. revolutionaries, in contrast to the French, had the experience of political assembly, long before 1776. Or as John Adams (1735-1826) said: The U.S. Revolution was well underway months and years before Lexington and Concord.
Again, assembly in our 13 North American colonies was imperfect; a right for only some. Black slaves could not initially enjoy that right and women could not vote for or serve in governing bodies. Yet our revolution was not the product of chaos. It was not an accomplishment of solitary heroics urging a rabble forward. For example, Paul Revere (1734-1818) and William Dawes (1745-1799) did not ride as strangers through towns at midnight, randomly knocking on doors. They had advance planning that allowed them to alert small mediating institutions. They knew the leaders of churches and other voluntary associations. Revere himself belonged to five clubs or lodges in the Boston area. Samuel Adams (1722-1803) belonged to the North Caucus, the Long Room Club and others. The same is true for the other founders. In their church committees, lodges, town halls and taverns our founders practiced the arts of governance—deliberation, compromise, balancing interests, public speaking, correspondence and the like.
Outsiders don’t always make for good insiders. Andrew Nagorski in The Birth of Freedom (Simon & Schuster, 1993) examines the monumental movements against communism in Eastern Europe, particularly the 1989 revolt in Poland. He describes the difficulty of transitioning from “dissidents into established politicians.” Lech Walesa’s problems as president were in part related to “the general difficulty of making the psychological switch from the politics of resistance to normal democratic politics,” Nagorski concludes.
The Arab Spring of 2011 was like the revolution in our country in that groups, not solitary individuals, led the way. Yes, Wael Ghonim launched a Facebook page to promote opposition to the Egyptian government. Yes, his and other internet sites helped plan actions. But the leaders came from small groups: lawyers’ circles, engineers’ clubs, the Arab Doctors Union, groups within the Muslim Brotherhood, Coptic churches, trade unions, alumni groups and soccer teams.
The Arab Spring was on the other hand unlike our U.S. revolution. Its leaders did not have prior training in the arts of governance. The young adults involved did use their friendships to temporarily smooth over their religious and ideological differences under the stress of the moment, reports Robin Wright in Rock the Casbah (Simon & Schuster, 2011). However before 2011, they had “limited—and largely unsuccessful—political experience,” she continues. In fact, their prior experience with the government was mostly limited to detention and jail. The Arab Spring was largely over by summer of 2012. External factors, including governments’ use of internet blocking and propaganda plus government counter-force, doomed the promise of the revolt. But internal factors played a major part in the demise, specifically the rebels’ lack of experience in governing.
Choices await the young adult activists in our country. They must decide: Is it better to go it alone; to start fresh? Or is it better to draw upon decades of experience from like-minded reform groups, including some labor locals, some churches, some professional associations, some civic organizations and more? Can our idealistic young adults employ sufficient arts of governing to really implement better policies and institutions?


Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter on faith and work.

Farm Workers

The Working Catholic: LeRoy Chatfield.
by Bill Droel

Time is catching up with the founders of the United Farm Workers Union (www.ufw.org). Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) has been dead for 27 years. Rev. Jim Drake (1938-2001) died young. Larry Itliong (1913-1977), who started the famous Delano Grape Strike and National Boycott of September 1965, is gone. Dolores Huerta is now 90 and Rev. Chris Hartmire is in his late 80s. So too is LeRoy Chatfield.
Chatfield was the administrative assistant to Chavez during the ten crucial years of the UFW. He has recently given us two gifts: A memoir, To Serve the People: My Life Organizing with Cesar Chavez and the Poor (University of New Mexico [2019]; $27.95) and the definitive Farm Worker Documentation Project (www.libraries.ucsd.edu/farmworkermovement/archives).
Chatfield did everything. He walked the first picket line, tended to Chavez during his 25-day fast, was part of the march to Sacramento, managed the operation when Chavez was on the road a month at a time, raised money and spoke at colleges, organized a major legislative labor campaign in California, represented the UFW at the funeral of Robert Kennedy (1925-1968)–all of this after Chavez took on the 31-year old Chatfield to develop farm worker cooperatives, which he also did. Chatfield was on the scene prior to the Delano Grape Strike and played a key role in it. His chapter about it is the best in To Serve the People.
Prior to these defining ten years, Chatfield was for 16 years a member of Christian Brothers of De La Salle (www.delasalle.org). Peter Maurin (1877-1949), a founder of Catholic Worker Movement (www.catholicworker.org), once belonged to the same order, Chatfield reminds us. All through the book he refers to his connections with the Catholic Worker. He served as a teacher and administrator at Christian Brothers’ schools in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Bakersfield. His social formation occurred as a Christian Brother—sometimes by way of the community, sometimes in spite of it. For example, a Christian Brother recruited Chatfield, then aspiring to the order as high school student, for a cell of a specialized Catholic Action group. He was intrigued by social doctrine, though he didn’t understand much of it. However, he memorized and experimented with the Catholic Action method. “I tell you that nothing in my life since age 14 has served me better or landed me in more hot water than those damn principles of observe, judge, act,” he writes.
Just as often, Chatfield’s social formation came through his own involvements with student groups and Catholic organizations, including a Catholic Worker house in Oakland and a relationship with Ammon Hennacy (1893-1970). The tale of how he found Chavez indirectly includes the Catholic Worker. At age 29 Chatfield (then known as Bro. Gilbert, FSC) went to Boston to participate at the annual convention of National Catholic Social Action Conference. NCSAC was founded by former Catholic Workers John Cort (1913-2006) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004). At the Boston conference Chatfield heard “that a man by the name of Cesar Chavez was organizing farm workers in Delano, California.” That was enough for Chatfield.
In this memoir Chatfield expresses affection for all the people and groups he met. There is no bitterness. He left the Christian Brothers only because he wanted full-time involvement with farm workers and presumably the order was unprepared to assign him to that mission. He likewise left the UFW with abiding affection.
“For nearly ten years, Cesar was my best friend,” says Chatfield. They talked over family matters, their faith, sports, politics and lots more. This autobiography is not in any way a tell-all. But in details here-and-there it gives a glimpse into the tragic flaw of the heroic Chavez. A full picture comes through in the sympathetic biography, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez by Mirian Pawel (Bloomsbury, 2014).
Chatfield came to Chavez out of general desire to help farm workers. Chavez left his job with Community Service Organization out of the same general desire. Chatfield calls this “Cesar’s vision.” There was unresolved tension about the exact purpose of Chavez’ movement. It was parts union focused on gaining collective bargaining status, part social service agency, part public relations lobby on behalf of farm workers, and at times a retreat-style spiritual community. Chavez was the only one who knew and controlled the game plan. Thus there was arbitrariness about his leadership. It was a vision; something that Chavez did not or could not share in a bullet point memo.
As the months went by Chatfield got the message that he would be a fall guy for defeat during a legislative campaign. There was no showdown; Chatfield simply knew it was time to go. Plus he and his wife Bonnie, whom he met in the movement, had four daughters; a fifth was born subsequently.
The second part of the book is equally interesting. Again, the Catholic Worker is part of the story. By 1974 Chatfield was a manager in Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign and went on to serve in the administration, including as director of California Conservation Corps. He then spent five years in real estate development and two more years back in school. Meanwhile, Catholic Workers Dan Delany (1935-2015) and Chris Delany were busy founding a comprehensive house for the unemployed and homeless, Loaves and Fishes (www.sacloaves.org). They hired Chatfield to be its first director. His chapters on these 13 years contain interesting reflections on addiction and on possessions plus a list of tips for managers of non-profits.
Upon retirement Chatfield, wouldn’t you know, returned as a Loaves and Fishes volunteer, developing cottages for the homeless. During retirement Chatfield also returned to producing a journal for high school authors, (www.syndicjournal.us). On Chatfield’s own website, (www.leroychatfield.us), many of his Easy Essays are posted.
Jorge Mariscal put this autobiography together. Its references are up to the minute, but sections of the book are reconstructed from interviews in 1976, from notes in 2002, from several segments written in 2004 and from Chatfield’s diary entries in 1961, 1968-1969 and 1993. There’s a little repetition, but it is not distracting.
Social change movements and their leaders are diminished when they become part of our celebrity culture. True social change requires many energetic and reflective people, most of whom never appear in the news. Chatfield’s account and others like it are an important contribution to understanding how change occurs. Today’s activists are wise to learn from the past; from its positives and negatives.

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).