A Catholic New Deal

Today marks the release in 1919 of a document known as the “Bishops’ Program of Social Reconstruction.” The primary author was Father John A. Ryan, a Catholic University professor whose writings were among the first to endorse a federally mandated minimum wage. The Bishops’ Program was the first statement released by the newly formed National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner of the present day Bishops’ conference. In many ways the program anticipated President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The program urged government insurance for the sick, unemployed and aged; labor’s participation in industrial management; public housing; unions’ right to organize, and a “living wage” for all workers. Writer Upton Sinclair hailed the program as a “Catholic miracle,” but not everyone was as enthusiastic. Conservatives denounced the program as socialistic. Nonetheless the program was significant in that it marked the American Church’s entry into the social arena.
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