Thursday, September 16, 2010

Right Reverend New Dealer

But the press let the story leak
And when the radical priest
Come to get me released
We was all on the cover of Newsweek
--Paul Simon (album released Jan. '72)

Now, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard is not a narrative song, it is a lyrical song of pastiche. Some of the lyrics are nebulous, even to Paul Simon. It just came to him. Some of it has referents. Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, which printed the first excerpts in June 1971. He was soon in detention. The Fathers Berrigan, and Ellsberg made the covers of magazines and newspapers over Viet Nam and war. Yes, once America had "radical priests".
Monsignor John Augustine Ryan , *25 May 1869, 16 September 1945.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president four times beginning in 1932. America truly became America for a greater percentage of its residents than in any other period of its history. Mr. Roosevelt chose the first woman cabinet secretary, Frances Perkins. She was Secretary of Labor in the period that labor was finally respected by most of the US government (the Supreme Court was notoriously regressive until 1937, constantly disallowing labor rights).

Ms. Perkins did us all well. She was not the only one, of course Mrs. Roosevelt did much. Mr. Roosevelt also had Msgr. John Augustine Ryan, or as the 'radio priest' whom turned away from and then against Roosevelt, Fr. Charles Coughlin, called him--the "Right Reverend New Dealer".

Monsignor Ryan was perhaps the rarest of individuals, his avocations were practically an oxymoron, he was a moral theologian and an economist. He was born on the farm in Minnesota, the eldest of eleven children of irish parents keenly aware of the social injustice english protestantism wreaked on the old country.

His doctoral dissertation was published in 1906 under the title, A Living Wage. This was the academic argument that established a minimum wage in american political life, something that is still not accepted by one of the two major parties in the US. Where did he come by it? Leo XIII's encyclical, Rerum Novarum 1891 and the natural law philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. People by light of reason could determine what was right and proper for living, and what rights they had been given by God. All God's children were meant to have a right and reasonable life.

Ryan argued for the Child Labor Amendment, trade unions, social security, women's and children labor rights and protection, an eight hour day, protection for union picketing and boycotting, unemployment insurance and decent working conditions; beyond labor rights he also advocated public ownership of utilities, mines and forests, regulation of monopolies and capitalism, and an income tax in 1909's, A Programme of Social Reform By Legislation. Msgr. Ryan became a professor, brilliant and boring, at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC from 1915 on. These causes in the first three decades of the twentieth century were mixed in success, during the european war and before there was some advances in progressivism, then three terms of 'business Republicans' brought excess and then the Great Depression hit. In 1931 Ryan wanted a public works programme. Then Roosevelt swept the country. Msgr. Ryan became a member of the National Recovery Administration. Much of the programme became law. Since 1981 much of it has been under constant attack, often successful.

Roosevelt was called a 'communist' every day. The Republican invectives in 1936 were strong. They are still repeated, lies do not die. When his landslide in 1936 was greater than in 1932, he instituted prayers at his Inaugural. The Senate chaplain, a protestant priest ZeBarney Phillips, gave the invocation. Monsignor John Ryan gave the benediction. Fr. Ryan was a New Dealer, but Roosevelt showed that Catholic clergy were equivalent in public respect to protestant clergy, even in a land of yankee and klan prejudice.

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