The Church and the civil rights in the 60s


From another thread:

[quote=cheese_sdc]Where was the magesterium of the Church during the '50’s and 60’s to stand up for the rights of blacks? Why didn’t the Pope’s come out and condemn the prejudice and segregation that was rampant in the South? And where was the church in condemning wage slavery in the northern factories? Instead it condemns such insidious ideas as democracy and unions.


What do you guys think?


Catholics were quite active in pushing for civil rights in the 50’s and 60’s. The Catholic Archbishop of Louisiana integrated the parochial schools at a time when southern politicians of every stripe were fighting integration with every thing they had.

If I recall correctly, he ended up excommunicating a prominent segregationist. He was a lot more effective than the Berrigan Brothers. (Does anyone remember those two priests?)

It is not necessary to use the tactics of the Symbionese Liberation Army in order to be effective.


Now that I’m thinking of it, does no one remember the great social encyclicals beginning with Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno? These were required reading when I was in school. The Church was active in the movement for labor and social rights from the very beginning. Does anyone remember Dorothy Day? Well, she was a communist, but still a devout Catholic. Am I the only one who remembers these things?

One reason that Catholics have historically been Democrats and slow to change is that the Church was always involved with the social gospel, working conditions, a living wage, and the labor movement. It was only when the Democratic party turned anti-life that Catholics began to leave it.


Here they are: the Catholic social justice encyclicals


I think that cheese_sdc is a little uninformed about what he/she is saying. JimG brought up Rerum Novarum before I got the chance to, but it basically said that workers should be allowed to form unions if they want them, along with many other things about the dignity of workers. I haven’t gotten around to actually reading Rerum Novarum yet, but my theology teacher this past year always talked about how important it was and what it had to say about labor. I’ll probably read it tomorrow.

Just as a sidenote, John Paul II also wrote Centesimus Annus which was an encyclical about economics written for the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It has some pretty interesting things in it about economics.


I’m glad you mentioned Centesimus Annus. The Church has a pretty rich history of involvement in social justice and economic issues. Being fairly ancient myself, I practically grew up on the Church’s social gospel. During the Vietnam War era, many of the Catholics who were active in the social justice and civil rights movements of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s became active in the anti-war movement (e.g. the Berrigan Brothers.)

But in doing so, they caused a split in the social justice movement within the Church, since not everyone who was pushing for social and economic justice was also anti-war. (Although many were.) But the popes had a consistent 100 year thread with their social teachings.


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