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Labor Action, 15 August 1949


Mike Stevens

Sees Spellman Trying to Collect
Reward for Vatican Aid in Europe


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 33, 15 August 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


When Cardinal Spellman viciously attacked Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in his letter of July 21, he was calling upon American capitalism to make payment for his church’s services on behalf of American capitalism in Europe. This is the main reason for the letter, its viciousness and its contents.

Mrs. Roosevelt, in her syndicated newspaper column, had upheld the principle in the Barden bill now before Congress. This bill provides for the spending of federal funds on public schools but forbids the use of such funds to private and religious schools.

This is what Spellman attacked her for. But from Spellman’s language one would think that Mrs. Roosevelt had suggested that all Catholic schools should be burned down. Why this vehemence? And why directed against Mrs. Roosevelt? And why at this time?

A Catholic Spoke Up

Many Catholics are against the use of federal funds for religious schools. They, along with the rest of the population in this country, stand for the separation of church and state. They know they have the freedom to send their children to any school they choose; and some send their children to religious schools. In addition to the Roman Catholic schools there are Protestant, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox parochial schools in this country. But only the Catholic hierarchy demands school funds from the government.

It is interesting that Spellman did not attack Congressman Jacobs of Indiana, a Roman Catholic. Congressman Jacobs, a member of the Education Committee of the House Committee on Education and Labor, in an open meeting of the committee declared:

“I am a Roman Catholic and have three children educated in parochial schools. But I do not believe that church schools should get a single cent of tax money. I am even against carrying the pupils in school buses paid for by taxpayers. To my mind it violates the principle of [separation of] church and state.”

Congressman Jacobs then made the proposal:

“If the Catholic hierarchy feel that they can no longer support their school system without tax money, I would favor baying their school plants and put them out of business.”

This is certainly far stronger language than Mrs. Roosevelt used, but the Catholic hierarchy did not denounce Jacobs. There were many reasons, but the main one was that they wanted his speech hushed up. They wanted the country to think that all the Catholics were behind the bishops.

Another prominent Catholic, Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, who died three days before Spellman’s letter, wrote the Supreme Court decision in 1948 against the use of public school facilities for giving religious instruction. Murphy saw this as a first move to break down the wall existing between church and state in this country. The hierarchy was hopping mad at Murphy but said nothing. Then why Mrs. Roosevelt?

Mrs. Roosevelt in the eyes of Cardinal Spellman was an easy person to attack. Hearst and Pegler and many politicians have been trying to cut down her prestige for years. Spellman figured that many persons must be convinced by now.

Gunning for Mrs. Roosevelt

She is a political figure but holds no important office and is not too closely identified even with the official Democratic Party, although she is part of it. To attack her would not be attacking as important figure in public office or a political party. By telling Mrs. Roosevelt that being in favor of the Barden bill was being “anti-Catholic,” the cardinal was telling every congressman and every newspaper that by favoring and voting for the Barden bill they were “anti-Catholic,” and that the Catholic Church was watching them and their position.

These are the main political reasons why Spellman chose to attack Eleanor Roosevelt, but there arc many other reasons why he did so.

The entire history of the Catholic hierarchy has been one of keeping woman “in her place” – the home. Mrs. Roosevelt is taking a prominent spot in many places that are not exactly the home. The idea of a woman making decision, or even criticizing decisions made by bishops – is something that must make a bishop cringe to the very marrow of his bones. Spellman’s formula in his letter, that her writings were unworthy of an “American mother,” meant nothing more than that.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s defense of what she considers correct, no matter who or what is involved, has won for her the admiration of many persons, whether or not they agree with her politics. The bishops object to many things she defends or argues against and they know that thousands upon thousands of Catholics agree with her. So it was important that they destroy some of her prestige and try to arouse the suspicions of her Catholic admirers.

For Services Rendered

The main point about the cardinal’s outburst, however, is that he feels the Roman Catholic Church is bearing the brunt of the battle in Europe right now, and especially behind the Iron Curtain. The Vatican is helping to keep the pot boiling and is in constant touch with the U.S. State Department. If the Vatican is doing this for American capitalism, then why should not the Catholic Church collect something for these services? That is Spellman’s feelings.

It all adds up to a bill that Spellman is presenting to American capitalism for services rendered by his superiors.

The Catholic hierarchy has always fought the bills for federal funds to schools. They knew that federal funds would make the public-school system stronger. There would be more schools, better schools with better teachers. It represented a strong possibility that Catholics would not contribute to and support parochial schools if that was the case.

But the Barden bill seemed to have a chance of passing; Spellman decided that the bill should include parochial schools or else every effort should be made to kill it.

By his attack on Mrs. Roosevelt said just that: Either Catholic schools receive funds, or else don’t dare have that bill passed!

Interestingly enough, very few capitalist newspapers commented editorially on the Spellman letter, and those that did mention the affair as much as said: Please patch things up. Ex-Governor Lehman of New York was the only capitalist politician to come out in support of Mrs. Roosevelt.

Middle Ages Gone for Good

Politicians eventually prevailed on the cardinal to come out with a more “sober” statement. These politicians were worried about votes in coming elections. The cardinal, being a political man, understood and made a statement “clarifying” his position. It was essentially the same thing all over again, but with no personal attack against Mrs. Roosevelt.

It is known that the cardinal has received tens of thousands of letters from Catholics throughout the country objecting to his stand, but we can be sure these did not move him. Perhaps they only convinced him that the Catholics in this country should be tied closer to the priests than they are.

But that is where he would be wrong. Catholics may attend their churches and hold to their faith, but the Middle Ages are gone.

Some suspicion and tenseness may have developed between Catholic, Jewish and Protestant workers over the cardinal’s blast. But it had no depth. The workers will remain friendly. with those they have been friends with up to now; they will vote for the best man without asking his religion – and will let the cardinals and the ministers scream their empty heads off. Fewer are listening all the time.

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