privilege

The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
Installment 47
PRIVILEGE

We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.

Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.

start of CHAPTER 20, DEPENDENCE OF THE PULPIT

They Tried to Crush Father McGlynn

Even though Privilege control the press and the university, what hope for empire over men's thoughts unless it gain the moral sanction?

For in all the relations of man to himself or to his Maker the question arises: Is it right? In all his relations toward his fellows he inwardly asks: Is it just?

Privilege is not just, for to be just means to be even, equal; to conform to natural, unchanging law. Privilege is an advantage. It means unevenness, inequality. It represents a human act of favor bestowed on one and refused another.

But Privilege desires to have itself called just; or at least it strives to avoid being called unjust. Aiming to control the teaching of morality, it follows the course pursued with the university: it becomes patron. It sits high in the temple. It makes large gifts. It raises shrines of splendor and grandeur in praise and thanksgiving. It sends missionaries to preach the word of faith to the benighted in remote parts.

And since the clergy are only men, who, in common with most other men, find it difficult under present social adjustments to get a living and be independent, they do what other men do - take the line of least resistance -

For reduced to dependence, the clergy must defer to the patron. What this means Adam Smith showed a century and a quarter ago in the case of the Church of England.

There is no Established Church in this country and no body of our clergy is dependent upon the political powers in the way described by Adam Smith. But the receivers of government favors constitute a privileged class. And it is from that class that the clergy "chiefly expect to obtain preferment." It is to them that the clergy "pay court."

"There was a time," said Dr. Falkner, rector-emeritus of Christ Church, Germantown, in a sermon at the opening session of the convention of the diocese of Pennsylvania, "when the poor came to the Episcopal churches seeking and obtaining aid for body and soul, and felt that they were helped through its ministers. Is this so today?" Dr. Falkner had to confess that there are churches in which "the presence of the poor is regarded as bad form. If Christ Himself were to enter them, the pew openers would ask: What is that carpenter doing here?"

That this is true of some of the Episcopal churches "in practice if not in theory," says The Churchman, "and not in Philadephia alone, the observant church-goer will find himself constrained regretfully to admit. The spirit is not dead yet of which Bishop Potter gave the other day a curious illustration in his reminiscence of an old-time sexton of Grace Church, who, when taken to task for ordering a poorly dressed woman from one of the pews, replied, 'Why, if we permit that, they'll soon be praying all over the place!' (Editorial, "What is that Carpenter doing Here?" May 13, 1905.)

The Churchman thinks that if that spirit is not dead, "it is dying." Yet no explanation is made as to why or how it is dying. The Churchman frankly says that "as society is organized to-day, there cannot but be distinctions of class. These arise inevitably from differences in education, opportunity, occupation, race." The word "opportunity" would suffice to explain class distinctions.

Those who possess natural opportunities must have great advantages over those who have them not. The difference is as between abundance and scarcity. But do the churches preach equality of opportunity? Here and there, yes. But they are as voices in a wilderness. The generality of the churches not only do not; they avoid the subject as a lion in the way. The celebrated case of Dr. Edward McGlynn of New York shows how the thorns and brambles must strew the path of him who undertakes in the organized denominations to open the way for others to preach the gospel of equal opportunity to God's bounties.

In October, 1886, Dr. Edward McGlynn, pastor of St. Stephen's Catholic Church in New York [the largest parish in the United States], and acknowledged to be one of the most scholarly and eloquent preachers in the city, was forbidden by the superior of his diocese, Archbishop Corrigan, from participating in a certain political meeting. Whether the archbishop did this of his own volition, or at the behest of certain powerful special interests that took fright at the priest's utterances lest their interests be hurt, has never been made clear. The archbishop assigned as the chief reason for his action that the meeting was intended to promote principles that were "unsound, unsafe and contrary to the teachings of the Church."

The heart of those principles was that God Almighty had made the earth for the equal enjoyment of all his children, and not to become the private and exclusive property of some. Dr. McGlynn replied to his ecclesiastical superior that these principles were not contrary to the teachings of the Church, and that, since he had been announced, he could not refrain from speaking at the meeting consistently with his own respect and without publicly renouncing the rights of an American citizen. And speak he did, with a consequence of being temporarily suspended from his priestly duties.

Later the archbishop issued a pastoral letter to be read in all the Catholic churches of the diocese condemning "certain unsound principles and theories which assailed the right of property." Dr. McGlynn's name was not mentioned, but every one perceived that the principles reprobated were those which the St. Stephen's pastor had publicly avowed. Dr. McGlynn thereupon gave an interview to the New York Tribune, carefully repeating his views. For this he suffered a further suspension at the hands of the archbishop, who at the same time procured a cable message from the Prefect of the Propaganda, Cardinal Simeoni, ordering Dr. McGlynn to repair instantly to Rome; "not to be complimented," said Vicar-General Preston, but "to be disciplined." Dr. McGlynn declined to go, and again he stated his "doctrine about land," saying:

The archbishop thereupon published a cable message which his presentation of the matter had procured from Cardinal Simeoni directing him to "give orders to have Dr. McGlynn again invited to proceed to Rome and also to condemn in writing the doctrines to which he has given utterance in public meetings or which have been attributed to him in the press."

Dr. McGlynn, still refusing to recant or to go to Rome to be "disciplined," was on July 3, 1887, excommunicated. Several other priests in the diocese who failed to give outward sign of disapproval of the McGlynn utterances were punished by transference, among them perhaps the most distinguished Catholic ecclesiastical jurist in the United States, Rev. Dr. Richard L. Burtsell, who had been Dr. McGlynn's legal adviser. He was deprived of his church in New York City and was sent to the little Church of St. Mary's at Rondout, on the Hudson River.

But though forbidden to perform the priestly duties, Dr. McGlynn cherished the old saying, "Once a priest, always a priest." He made Sunday night addresses on the land question in Cooper Union, before the Anti-Poverty Society, of which he was president and of which a large part of his St. Stephen's parishioners were members; and the land doctrine, instead of losing, steadily gained believers.

Five years later, when Pope Leo XIII sent Archbishop (now Cardinal) Satolli to this country as his special representative, the latter, presumably following instructions, re-opened Dr. McGlynn's case. He first accepted from Dr. McGlynn's counsel, Dr. Burtsell, an exposition of the McGlynn doctrine. At suggestion of the apostolic delegate, Dr. McGlynn himself also presented a brief exposition in writing in the precise terms in which he had been preaching it. This paper was submitted by the delegate to a committee of four of the professors of the Catholic University at Washington and was by them unanimously pronounced to contain nothing contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The ban of excommunication was thereupon removed, and next day, Christmas, 1892, Dr. McGlynn, for the first time in more than five years, celebrated mass. In the evening he delivered his usual address on the land question before the Anti-Poverty Society at Cooper Union.

Moreover, Archbishop Corrigan was directed to assign Dr. McGlynn a church. The one selected by the New York prelate was St. Mary's in the little town of Newburgh on the Hudson, like that, and close to that, assigned Dr. Burtsell. Dr. McGlynn quietly and faithfully performed the duties of his priestly office at St. Mary's until his death in 1900, although whenever occasion seemed to require it, and notably at the funeral of his intimate friend, Henry George, he issued forth to preach the doctrine that the land was made for all men equally and not to become the exclusive property of some. And as a further proof that special interests can no longer bring sufficient influence to put the Catholic Church's seal of condemnation on this doctrine, Dr. Burtsell has recently received special honors from the new Pope, Pius X, who has made him a monsignor.

Archbishop Corrigan, who had condemned Dr. McGlynn's "unsound principles" relative to "property," and who had pronounced them to be "contrary to the teachings of the Church," was completely reversed and signally rebuked. Yet it is probable that but for the really worldwide sympathy and encouragement Dr. McGlynn's case excited - covertly from the priesthood, openly from the laity - it might never, despite the indisputably brilliant services of Dr. Burtsell, have appeared important enough, against the presentations of the Archiepiscopal Palace in New York, to reopen.

It was a great victory, primarily because of the magnificent courage of Dr. McGlynn in facing what seemed to be utter and irreparable personal disaster and in holding fast, without compromise or equivocation, to what he believed to be a fundamental truth -the very cornerstone truth of civilization. The superb heroism of that act and the obvious righteousness of the doctrine for which he was called upon to suffer expulsion and public disgrace together produced a tide of sentiment that nothing could withstand. Privilege, in the persons of certain of the hierarchy and laity of New York who had denounced Dr. McGlynn's teachings and had held him up to the world as an "unfrocked priest," was overborne.

But if this decisive triumph has come out of the remarkable McGlynn struggle, other victories have yet to be won on other questions and in other denominations. Even in respect to so palpable and immediate an evil as political corruption, the clergy of the country too generally "pay their court to the higher ranks of life." The Churchman of NewYork (Episcopal) furnishes an illustration of this:-

A daily newspaper relates the distressing story of Rhode Island's "gagged and bound" clergy. "The taking of bribes," says the correspondent, "is not looked upon as a crime by some leading church workers' and men of substance in the country. For this reason the pastor, unless he wishes to terminate abruptly his career of usefulness, is bound to defer to the sentiment of the community. Take the case of the big mill towns. No country clergyman can afford to offend the mill owner, who is in a large sense his patron and on whom, in some degree, his livelihood depends."

And who that has been through the hard coal regions of Pennsylvania has not found the clergy there, taking them generally, modern examples of the chaplains and confessors of the predatory barons of old? It was formerly the practice in the anthracite fields for the operator to deduct a percentage of the men's wages for "religion." The operator divided the aggregate sum in proportion to the respective faiths of the men, but practically selected the minister in each denomination to receive the money. If, with the passing of the old-style petty autocrats from the anthracite regions and the coming in their place of the great companies, the dispensing of stipends out of the miner's earnings has all but ceased, the bondage of the clergy to the "coal owners" is no less real and deadening.

Nor is the bondage different in its effects in other places. Wherever Privilege rears its head it seeks the moral sanction. It desires and obtains the benefit of clergy. Sydney Smith declared that the theological divisions sought by the Bishop of Peterborough could best be shown by mapping England in colors as the geologist does to indicate differences in the earth's formation. How well this might be adapted to present the dependent condition of the clergy in certain parts of the United States: black for the livery of the coal interests; dark red for the iron ore; blue for steel; brown for timber; checkered for railroad; peach-blossom pink or robin's-egg blue for the tribe of fashionable pastors who, in eloquent periods, prate to the monopoly-made rich of righteousness and justice, but omit any mention of how monopoly robs the poor.

At a meeting not long since in New York State, of a Southern educational society, a Protestant Episcopal bishop spoke up in deprecation of the caution in expenditures some one advised in fear of an early financial crisis in this country. "The country to-day," said he, "is in the hands of a dozen capitalists who control affairs, and who, as a matter of self-protection, will prevent any calamity !" Apparently the bishop spoke figuratively, for there is no such concentration of wealth and power as his words describe. Yet even in this sense had he anything to say in disapprobation of a state of things so opposite to the theory of our Government - a Government of, by and for the people, and not, as his remark implied, by and for "a dozen capitalists"? He said nothing about this.

"Things are not so bad," remarks a newspaper, "as wlien Wesley complained that one man would not listen to him for fear of hearing something against cock-fighting, yet the reluctance of our preachers to touch their most influential parishioners on the raw is proverbial."

Does this explain why, when, not long since, two hundred ministers of various Protestant denominations gathered in Holy Trinity Church, in Philadelphia, to petition the Almighty to redeem the city from political corruption, no part of that prayer, or of the addresses that preceded or followed it, even alluded to the powerful public franchise corporations that bought and paid for that corruption in order to rule and rob the city and its people?

These clergymen knew whence came the corruption funds, the campaign "dough," the bribe money. The very school child knew that. Yet not one minister among them spoke up and said that civic rule was rotten because this railroad company, that traction company, such-and-such lighting system and so-and-so telephone corporation -the names of which all could give - were putting contamination into the civic blood. Two months later, when a gas franchise steal of unprecedented audacity shook the public from its lethargy into a tumult of indignation, these clergymen rushed in and helped kill the project; but they stirred not until the general population was surcharged with excitement thanks to other, truer, leaders.

Next Week: Religion's Reluctance to Challenge Slavery & Other Privilege


What's your reaction to this material? Tell it to The Progress Report:

Your name

Your email address

Check this box if you'd like to receive occasional Economic Justice Updates via email. No more than one every three weeks on average.


Page One Page Two Archive
Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?

Henry Search Engine