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A Brief  History . . .
     The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly journal of news, commentary, and analysis, has been publishing continually since 1867. Owned and operated by Catholic laymen, The Wanderer is independent of ecclesiastical oversight but maintains a fiercely loyal adherence to Catholic doctrine and discipline. The journal has published during the reigns of ten popes and has consistently looked to these pontiffs for teaching, guidance, and leadership. With its founding in St. Paul, Minnesota, as Der Wanderer, and published in German, the paper was intended to inform and strengthen the faith of German immigrants in Minnesota and the Dakotas who were being attracted to and influenced by Masonic and quasiMasonic Germanlanguage newspapers and organizations.As the years progressed, Der Wanderer‘s circulation and influence spread across the nation. It was a major opponent of the “Americanizing” tendency within the Church led by the archbishop of Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons, and the archbishop of St. Paul, John Ireland. That tendency was addressed by Pope Leo XIII in his 1899 apostolic letter, Testem benevolentiae.Under the editorship of Joseph Matt (the present writer’s grandfather), Der Wanderer was instrumental in promoting the principles of the Church’s social tjoeeaching as set forth in Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical, Rerum Novarum.     The paper was supportive of labor unions which organized with a sense of solidarity among their members, who usually belonged to a specific craft or trade. On the other hand, it was skeptical of the large industrial  unions which often promoted their objectives with appeals to class conflict and ideology–an approach rejected in  the social encyclicals.
  Joseph Matt
     In 1931 Der Wanderer was joined by The Wanderer published in English, and the two journals published con currently until 1957 when the Germanlanguage Der Wanderer ceased publication.During  the 1930s and 1940s, Wanderer editors were much involved in the growing liturgical movement in the United States led by Dom Virgil Michel, O.S.B., of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.As the world watched the rise to power in Germany of Adolf Hitler with fear and fascination, The Wanderer was among the first to denounce Nazism as totalitarian and antithetical to Christian principles. In September of 1933, the newspaper was barred from Germany where it reached some 1,200 readers. During World War II, its editor, Joseph Matt, monitored the course of the war each week, and published a series of brilliant and penetrating analyses of the longrange geopolitical effects of what he saw as an unholy alliance between the Western powers and Communist Russia. He rightly predicted the move by Josef Stalin to expand Soviet hegemony as Nazi power was crushed and the West hesitated to challenge the Soviets. Not surprisingly, as the war drew to a close in 1945, the official Soviet newspaper, Pravda, demanded that the U.S. government suppress The Wanderer “for urging the Allies to make war on the Soviet Union or expel her from the United Nations.”Vatican II and After     The Wanderer‘s long history and “institutional memory” served it well with the opening of the momentous Second Vatican Council and the generation that has since followed. Breaking the Church out of what some observers termed a “siege mentality” into a fresh approach to evangelization and dialogue with the world, the council unleashed both positive and destructive energies.     The Wanderer itself suffered from the divisions and alsrupheavals following the council. In 1967 editor Walter Matt left the newspaper over a dispute about the meaning of Vatican II. He saw it not so much as a reform and a renewal of the Church but as a revolution that threatened to undermine the Church herself. His brother, Alphonse J. Matt, Sr. (the present writer’s father), took over the reins at The Wanderer and reminded its readers that the real intent of the council was a renewed evangelization of the world  for Christ and a personal renewal of every individual  Catholic..
Alphonse Matt Sr.
     For The Wanderer, the council was not a rejection or an abandonment of tradition, but a development of that tradition, safeguarded for 2,000 years by the Holy Spirit, to better enable the Church to continue to bring the gospel to all men.The years since the council were turbulent ones both for the Church and The Wanderer. A spirit of dissent, experimentation, and innovation pervaded many members of the clergy, religious, and theologians. The effects on catechetics, liturgy, and traditional Catholic practices were significant. Even bishops were divided in their views of the council.The single most divisive issue in the postconciliar Church was that of contraception (brought into sharp focus with the development of the “Pill” in the early 1960s), and it created renewed and controversial debates on sexuality. Pope Paul VI met this challenge and hoped to resolve the problem with the encyclical Humanae vitaeThe Wanderer was unyielding in its defense of that encyclical and helped to mobilize support for Humanae vitae by joining some other Catholic leaders in organizing Catholics United for the Faith, now a leading Catholic lay group in the United States.     The Wanderer found itself more and more in opposition to the theologians, clerics, religious, and bishops who used the council as the pretext for advancing new and untraditional programs. The newspaper was a vigorous opponent of the Call to Action Program in 1976 which threatened to loosen the ties of the Church in the United States to the Vatican and to focus on social change with a leftwing bent. Some new catechisms, liturgies, and scriptural theories were frequent targets of The Wanderer‘s writers and editorialists.As the twentieth century draws to a close, the Church in the United States is slowly returning to a calmer, more traditional mode under the leadership of Pope John Paul II. His issuance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and his appointment of increasing numbers of bishops loyal to the Vatican’s views on doctrine and discipline were welcomed by The Wanderer.ALPHONSE J. MATT, JR



 A More in Depth Look at The Wanderer’s history at its’ 140th Birthday

  • Description:

    This interesting eleven-part series by Paul Likoudis takes a look at the history of the first 65 years of The Wanderer, an American Catholic newspaper that is still publishing after nearly 150 years, and has struggled to be faithful to the teachings of the Church through all the changes in American culture.

  • Larger Work:
    The Wanderer
  • Publisher & Date:
    Wanderer Printing Co., St. Paul, MN, 2007

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

Upcoming Birthday Provides Chance to Look Back & Ahead

On November 16, 2007, The Wanderer will mark 140 years of continuous publication, having survived nine major financial meltdowns, including the Panic of 1873 and the Great Depression from 1929-41, two World Wars, to say nothing, for now, of 140 years of internecine warfare between Catholics.

And for the first time in its history — and this is cause enough to celebrate — Der Wanderer has a German Pope.

From its founding to the present day, The Wanderer’s defining characteristic has been loyalty to the Holy See. In fact, in the same month a small group of German businessmen and their local pastor met in the basement of a German bookseller in St. Paul to discuss launching a newspaper that would serve the religious and cultural needs of the region’s growing German-Catholic population, Pope Pius IX issued an encyclical On The Afflictions of the Church, which opened with these baleful words:

“Lift up your eyes, venerable brothers. Look about you and grieve at the evil abominations which now defile unhappy Italy . . . Here triumphant impiety rears her ugly head, and here We grieve to see all kinds of injustice, evil, and destruction. Hence the many phalanxes of rebels, men who walk in impiety and fight under the standard of Satan — a leader branded with deceit. Raising their mouths to the very heavens, they blaspheme God; polluting and scorning all that is sacred, they trample underfoot all laws, divine and human . . . Then they sadden the lowly and the poor, making widows of wives and orphans of happy children. They pardon the impious and condemn the just, for there are bribes to take and goods to steal; with a corrupt heart they satisfy every depraved desire, to the detriment of all civil society.”

On its masthead, which depicted a “wanderer” with staff in hand, looking ahead against a pastoral background was the paper’s slogan: Glaube! Hoffe! Liebe! — Believe! Hope! Love!

From its inception, Der Wanderer, writes Fr. John S. Kulas, OSB, in Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867-1877 (Peter Lang, 1996), volume nine in the German American Studies Series, was characterized by “a strong community base, fervent Catholicity, passionate espousal of things German, and an animated interest in civil affairs,” and it had the support of St. Paul’s second prelate, Bishop Thomas L. Grace, O.P. who endorsed Der Wanderer, as did three other regional bishops, whose names appeared on the paper’s masthead.

The Wanderer was just one year old, in October 1868, when Pope Pius IX published his call for an ecumenical council, which resulted in the Declaration on Papal Infallibility, which Der Wanderer enthusiastically supported.

The Wanderer was just six years old when Germany’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck denounced this newspaper as “an enemy of the state,” because of its criticism of his policy aimed at weakening the influence of the Church on German politics, the kulturkampf. Bismarck’s blacklisting of Der Wanderer, at a time when it was widely circulated in Europe and available in major city libraries, anticipated that of his successor Adolph Hitler, who banned the 1,200 copies mailed to Germany each week.

At the time of its founding as Der Wanderer, it was just one among hundreds of German and specifically German-Catholic newspapers, and it has outlived them all. German-language newspapers numbered nearly 500 in 1886; and within a decade nearly doubled, before going into freefall as anti-German hysteria spread with the U.S. entry into World War I.

The Wanderer’s first ten years are told well by Fr. Kulas, professor emeritus of German at St. John’s University, Collegeville, who notes that, from the beginning, this Catholic newspaper was unique in that it was published by laymen and was distinguished by the quality of its reporting on political, social and theological issues, both at home and abroad.

For example, wrote Fr. Kulas, Der Wanderer “played its own significant role in the [immigration debate] drama, emerging as a conscious promoter of immigrants, an influential advocate of their interests, and an unflagging voice of encouragement.

“Public policy toward immigrant groups and especially Germans was of great interest to readers of Der Wanderer, and the editors campaigned extensively for measures that would regularize and facilitate immigration procedures, ameliorate the worst of the conditions of passage and entry, and promote immigrant welfare in the new country . . .

“The newspaper was able to provide a voice for all German-Americans, particularly those of lesser education. It articulated a satisfying self-image, provided a sense of pride that helped sustain its readers in the often difficult circumstances in which they lived and defended them when their character or patriotism were impugned. But it not only spoke for the immigrants; it also spoke to them, encouraging them to remain true to their cultural inheritance, admonishing them to transmit it to their children, exhorting them to maintain a sense of solidarity with their fellow German immigrants, and beseeching them to provide assistance to those less fortunate.”

Der Wanderer not only advocated on behalf of immigrants, it played an active role in recruiting Germans to come to the United States, going so far as to translate, and publish, the state of Minnesota’s promotional materials for its readers in Germany.

Every issue of the paper contained a poetry page, a theater page, music reviews (Der Wanderer’s editors were major figures in St. Paul’s German music groups) and edifying, instructive stories for young readers, but its main issues involved Church and civic issues.

Kulas observes that while the newspaper’s first editors wanted a truly popular paper, they “clearly did not pander to the lowest common denominator. They endeavored as well to provide a thoughtful and reasoned approach even to issues of complexity, demanding thereby some attention from their readers. With numerous articles of more than superficial quality in the political and religious arena, it sought to broaden horizons and challenge understanding.”

Each week’s issue, Kulas adds, offered a “rich variety of features. Many articles were designed to provide readers with information and instruction on the Catholic faith. There were stories on the Pope, on the observance of Sundays and religious feasts, and on the history of the Church . . . Others were practically sermons . . .

“Der Wanderer was primarily a newspaper, and numerous articles had to do with contemporary Church affairs — internal ecclesiastical matters as well as issues with a wider public concern. The early [Franz] Fassbind years (he was the paper’s third editor, following Eugen Ehrhadt and Theodor Mullenmeister) were filled with reports and discussions of the Vatican Council and the growing tensions in Church-state relations within the new German empire. Detailed coverage of important events with an ecclesiastical dimension both in Europe and the United States was characteristic of the newspaper throughout its existence,” wrote Kulas.

Der Wanderer’s coverage of Vatican I, Kulas adds in a footnote, was considered the best “west of Chicago,” and editor Mullenmeister boasted that he had secured the services of a high prelate at the Council to provide its comprehensive reports, with additional reporting on the Council provided by Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., who was also present at the Council.

Bismarck’s kulturkampf against the Church, his accruing of power and his waging of war, Kulas adds in several footnotes, drew strong denunciations from Der Wanderer, and punitive action from Bismarck, who branded Der Wanderer as a staatsfeindliche (enemy of the state) and blacklisted the newspaper. Such was the influence of Der Wanderer at the time that it was able to foment mass anti-Prussia rallies in Cincinnati, San Antonio, New Orleans, as well as across Minnesota and Wisconsin, because as one Wanderer reader wrote to a German editor, Der Wanderer’s coverage of the Franco-Prussian war was superior to any reporting by German newspapers.

“Like any Catholic newspaper on the frontier, Der Wanderer had a strong apologetical bent,” Kulas continues. “It determined to be not only an instrument of instruction in the faith but also an aggressive means of shielding the Church and its teaching from attacks from any quarter. Anti-Catholic bias was still rampant in American society and evidence for it was not difficult to find within other church bodies, some political groups, various intellectual circles, and the population in general. In Der Wanderer this bias was widely reported and bitterly attacked . . .

“Examples locally and from abroad abounded in issue after issue. It was deemed necessary to defend Catholics’ right to engage in politics; other reports sought to counter the outcry in the Austrian press advocating the dissolution of monasteries; a satirical piece was aimed at demolishing the canard that Catholics were forbidden to read the Bible . . . ”

140 Years Later

As The Wanderer approaches its 140th birthday, its editors intend to take a look back over those 14 decades, insofar as it is possible, since the newspaper was written exclusively in German until the debut of the English edition in 1931, and highlighting the major issues affecting both Church and State over that nearly century-and-a-half.

As we celebrate, the editors invite all Wanderer readers to tell their experiences with this newspaper: how you discovered it, how long you have read it, how it has formed you. We would especially like to hear from older readers, who may recall positions The Wanderer took during World War II and the long Cold War, their experiences growing up Catholic in a culture that was then much more hospitable to Catholic (or family) life. We also want to hear from readers who are veterans of the liturgy wars, the sex education wars, the catechetical wars, the academic wars and the over-reaching culture war that has been so much of The Wanderer’s journey over the past 50 years.

We also would like to enlist our readers in promoting The Wanderer, especially this series, by talking about it on the ever-growing number of Catholic web sites and blogs, and referring your friends to our new website, In this day of rapidly expanding electronic media, The Wanderer is trying to reach as many faithful Catholics as possible, to strengthen the Church by building Catholic solidarity: the original purpose of Der Wanderer’s founding 140 years ago.

Given the Internet revolution, Wanderer readers are the best channel of communication to reach thousands upon thousands of new supporters. It is effective and it is free to distribute to all your friends on your mailing lists The Wanderer articles you believe deserve wider distribution.

Readers can send their stories directly to this reporter at by regular mail to: P.O. Box 236, Hector, NY, 14841 or by email to:

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

Der Wanderer Debuted at a Time of a Sharply Divided U.S. Church

When Der Wanderer debuted on November 16, 1867, the Church in the United States was sharply divided, not only along ethnic lines, but along ideological ones, and the debate that played out in the Church mirrored a larger cultural debate on whether the United States was to be a “melting pot” where all the various ethnic and immigrant groups were “fired” into a new American, or whether peoples would be allowed to maintain their ethnic traditions.

“The division among American Catholics in the last third of the 19th century was not only a struggle between traditionalists and modernists, but a conflict between the ‘accommodationist’ spirit and an ‘assimilationist’ ethic and the tradition of cultural conformity represented by Irish and Irish-American churchmen,” explains C. Joseph Doyle, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Action League, “who inherited that from post-Reformation English Catholicism.

“The mostly German bishops and priests of the American mid-west in the ‘German Triangle’ running from Cincinnati to St. Louis to Milwaukee wanted to maintain their own ethnic nationalism and separatism from the dominant Anglophone culture.

“If one looks at the threads of this Irish-dominated Church,” Doyle added, “represented by such prelates as St. Paul’s ‘Americanist’ Archbishop John Ireland, Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons, Bishop John J. Keane, the first rector of the Catholic University of America (and later Archbishop of Dubuque) and Monsignor Dennis O’Connell (first rector of the North American College in Rome and later Keane’s successor at CUA), one sees the corporate spirit of 18th century English Catholicism, which sought toleration and practiced appeasement toward the Protestant majority and which was careful to affirm its loyalty to the governing elites.”

This was the spirit of America’s first bishop, John Carroll, who had close relations with the founders of the American Republic, and wanted to minimize papal control over the Church and even sought a vernacular liturgy for the United States. Another early “Americanist” was Charleston’s Bishop, Irish-born John England, who famously told a joint session of Congress that the Pope would never tell him, as an American citizen, how to vote.

At the time of Der Wanderer’s founding in 1867 and Vatican I, 1869-1870, the Americanist bishops were largely opposed to the declaration on papal infallibility championed by England’s Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, Paul Cardinal Cullen of Dublin and St. Anthony Mary Claret, Archbishop of Santiago in exile.

This opposition was rooted in either theological reservations regarding its expediency or, as it was called at the time, “inopportunism,” or on political grounds that it would force Catholics to choose between allegiance to the Church or loyalty to the state. Among the two prelates at Vatican I who voted against Pastor Aeternus, defining papal infallibility, was the Bishop of Little Rock, Ark., Edward Fitzgerald.

“This was sadly consistent with the previous practices of the American hierarchy who were reluctant to defend the temporal power of the papacy, especially when it came to raising funds, subscribing to bonds or calling for volunteers to support the papal states from rampaging Garibaldian anti-clerical revolutionaries and Freemasons hiding under the guise of Italian nationalism,” Doyle said.

Issues that divided “Americanists” from integralists or papal loyalists have endured: debates over the exclusive use of a vernacular liturgy and popular or sacred music at Mass; aversion versus affection to ultramontane devotions, such as recitation of the Rosary, wearing the scapular, veneration of relics, invocation of the saints, Eucharistic Adoration and Marian piety. Another major issue dividing U.S. Catholics a century ago was the American notion of “manifest destiny”: the Americanists — bishops, priests and laity — applauded the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the Philippines, which President McKinley said was done to civilize and Christianize the Filipinos — a country that was Catholic long before the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock. Later, Americanists supported American involvement in World War I (which led directly to the demise of the last great Catholic power in Europe, Austria-Hungary, ruled by a saint, the Venerable Karl von Habsburg, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, who never lifted a finger against the United States).

No More Sauerkraut

Americanist Catholic support for the war against Germany — despite the fact that 25 million Americans had relatives in Germany or Austria — also led to a radical propaganda war against German-Americans, and their customs and traditions were demonized. Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage” and nativist bigots Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson declaimed against “hyphenated Americans.”

Opposed to the “Americanists” were such German bishops as Michael Heiss, Bishop of LaCrosse and later Archbishop of Milwaukee (1818-1890), who was called to Rome by Pope Leo XIII to discuss the growing problem of “Americanism,” and which resulted in the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae which condemned the notion that “the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions.”

Another contentious issue when Der Wanderer debuted was German complaints that German priests were not advancing into the hierarchy in proportion to their numbers, and that the Irish dominated hierarchy was practicing secrecy and showing favoritism in advancing the careers of Irish-American clerics, whose personal relations skills helped shape American politics, which the Irish soon came to dominate in the late 19th century.

(As an aside, an assessment of the Irish-dominated American hierarchy is provided by Fr. James Hennessey, SJ, in his book American Catholics. He quotes Bishop George Conroy, an Irish prelate from Ardagh, sent by the Holy See to investigate the American hierarchy:

“Conroy reported to Rome in 1878,” wrote Hennessey, “that hardly ten in 68 American bishops were distinguished for any kind of talent. The rest ‘hardly reach a decent mediocrity, and in theological knowledge they do not even reach mediocrity.'”

(In fairness to the Irish, it must be pointed out there were prominent Irish opponents of Americanism, such as Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York, Rochester’s Bishop Bernard McQuaid, and, of course, Rafael Merry Cardinal Del Val’s close confident, Boston’s William Cardinal O’Connell, all of whom served a large number of German Catholics.)

In the post-Civil War era, when German migration to the United States was at its peak, the Germans were firmly convinced that the most efficacious way of preserving the Catholic faith of German-American immigrants was to preserve their German language and culture, and to resist the tendency towards assimilation into WASP America.

From its founding, observed Fr. John Kulas, author of an academic study on Der Wanderer’s first ten years, Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867-1877, this newspaper played an important national role in building the German-American community. This newspaper not only emphasized Church and political news, but also devoted separate pages to art, music, theater and literature reviews. The Germans understood that a strong Catholic faith needs a support system, and could not merely be a private conviction afloat in a hostile sea of Protestantism and secularism.

The Early Years

Der Wanderer was the inspiration of Benedictine Father Clemens Staub and a group of German laymen of his Assumption parish in St. Paul, who offered the initial funding to launch the paper, which debuted on the same day as the Minneapolis Tribune and the Minnesota Newspaper Association, under the editorship of Eugen L. Ehrhardt, who had recently arrived in St. Paul from the Rhineland.

Five months later, Ehrhardt “suddenly disappeared,” Fr. Kulas discovered, and the newspaper named no editor until the following September, when Theodor Mullenmeister, a recent immigrant from Prussia was hired to take the helm. It is likely that in the interim Fr. Staub edited the paper.

Mullenmeister, writes Fr. Kulas, brought “a more intense political orientation and an impassioned editorial style.” He was, moreover, “a complex, restless, driven man with powerful convictions often expressed in vehement, intemperate language, a man who seemed to attract controversy and to delight in it, a man who apparently could not hold any job for long.” He left after a year at the post.

Der Wanderer’s third editor was Franz Fassbind, 45, a Swiss-born doctor who came to the United States in 1864 to assume the editorship of Der Wahrheits-Freund of Cincinnati, the first German Catholic newspaper in the United States. Fr. Kulas described him: “Quite the opposite in temperament and character of his predecessor, with his tenure of fourteen years, he finally brought stability to the newspaper. He was milder, more amicable, less belligerent than the flamboyant and caustic Mullenmeister and possessed a more reflective, more literary style, though he was not lacking in convictions and firmness in expressing them.”

Der Wanderer was incorporated in May 1868 as the Deutsch-Katholische Druckgellschaft, with 50 shareholders, an arrangement which lasted ten years until five of the original members bought the others out. Of these 50, Fr. Kulas informs, about half had arrived from Germany in the 1850s, and were well-established professionals or tradesmen, the other half more recent immigrants. Only two were native born.

“Many of these immigrants were skilled practitioners of various trades, and a number of them were already operating their own small businesses. They included six blacksmiths and wagon makers as well as smaller numbers of shoemakers, printers and one brewer. Others provided merchandise — there were seven engaged in the grocery business — and two were saloon keepers. A few might be described as professional people, and these included six priests, three teachers, a lawyer, a coroner, a druggist and a musician. Two were engaged in agricultural pursuits, and three were listed as laborers . . .

“These men seemed to have had no particular expertise for an undertaking of this kind. Some of them had received a basic education in their homeland, but none, apart from editor Fassbind and the clerics, had any higher education before emigrating. The centennial edition of The Wanderer includes an article on the beginnings of the paper which emphasizes that it was a group of ‘little men’ who met to organize this enterprise, although in a similar story ten years earlier they are referred to as ‘prominent Catholic laymen.’ Both assessments are undoubtedly accurate, for it was these ordinary men, successful in their own way, who emerged as community leaders, willing to labor and commit their resources to the success of a notable endeavor. They were clearly not men of erudition, but if the priests among them were probably the best educated, it was the lay leaders who provided the means and kept the paper in touch with the community . . .

“These were all pioneers, and not surprisingly they were a generally young lot. The age of these men when the stock association was formed is known for less than half of them, but of these none exceed 50 and twelve and not yet reached 40. They were thus able to communicate the vitality of the frontier to this undertaking and exhibited the pioneer’s willingness to accept challenges and to reject defeat . . .

“The Catholic readers of Der Wanderer were undoubtedly not any better educated than these leaders, and they were probably on the whole less well situated. It can be assumed that they were typical of the German-Catholic settlers of the region. Like most of their fellow German immigrants of the period they were most likely members of the lower middle class, poor though not indigent, artisans, laborers, farmers and merchants.”

Der Wanderer, in those early years, always printed the names and residences of its readers when they subscribed or renewed, and from that Fr. Kulas determined that one in seven readers came from St. Paul, 70 percent were from elsewhere in the state, and the remainder came from Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana, “a tribute to the paper’s aspirations of becoming a national journal.”

The inherent conservatism of German Catholics was obvious in the newspaper’s editorials, but the news content was vast. Each issue had news on national and European events, both political and Church-related, and city and state news, and Der Wanderer regularly informed its readers news came via “Cable Dispatches” and “By Telegraph, which “underscored the fact that the telegraph had only lately reached St. Paul,” noted Fr. Kulas.

Der Wanderer had much more, Fr. Kulas revealed: “articles on household and agricultural topics appeared regularly with an abundance of helpful hints ranging from how to can crab apples and how to treat frozen feet to better ways of fertilizing. For their leisure hours readers could turn to the literary page which presented serialized fiction and poetry, and the latter sometimes by local writers. An increasing amount of space was devoted to advertising, and no paper was complete without its column or two of humor . . . ”

The Immigrant Experience

Among the advertisements Der Wanderer carried were City of St. Paul legal notices, and State of Minnesota appeals to its readership in Germany and Austria to immigrate to Minnesota. In its early years, an average of 130,000 Germans annually were crossing the Atlantic to settle in Minnesota, and Der Wanderer played a major role in welcoming these immigrants as well as informing its readers of the often-times desperate plight they were in. One early article, Fr. Kulas reports, told of the hardships of single women who traveled in steerage and had no job prospects upon arriving, and advised single women not to take the risk. In another article, the same writer says that there were two million fewer Catholics practicing their faith in the United States than there should be because “of the unfavorable conditions for the practice of the faith to be found in North America.”

One early initiative Der Wanderer engaged in, with others to support German immigrants, was promoting Der Deutsche Romisch-Katholische Central-Verein von Nord America, or Central Union, founded by German professionals, bankers and insurance agents to greet and assist German immigrants, and one of its leaders, Joseph Kolble in New York, was a regular correspondent for the paper.

The Central-Verein, or Catholic Central Union was founded in Buffalo, N.Y., as a mutual-aid society in 1855, but only had about 62 branches in 1865. By 1875, it had grown to 302, a number which nearly doubled over the next 20 years, no doubt due the efforts of Der Wanderer’s Franz Fassbind.

In fact, writes Fr. Kulas, the “immigrant experience” formed Der Wanderer. “Like its contemporaries, it developed its own personality through the lively interaction of editor, community and community concerns.”

Has much changed at all over the past 140 years, despite appearances?

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

Born for Battle: Der Wanderer Fought Anti-Vatican I Propaganda

Informed contemporary Catholics are aware of how the press shaped popular perceptions of what the Church Fathers were doing at Vatican II, and how disinformation, misrepresentation and outright lies distorted the teachings of the Council, sidetracking millions of Catholics worldwide.

Less well appreciated is the conspiracy on the part of the press, aided by the governments of the major European powers, to disrupt and derail Vatican I by a barrage of anti-Church propaganda aimed at preventing popular acceptance of the doctrine of the papal infallibility which the anti-Catholic rulers of states rightly understood as an assertion of the Church’s independence from secular control.

In the run-up to the Council, during the Council and in the years after, Der Wanderer, observed Fr. John Kulas, OSB, in Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867-1877, played a very important role not only in the United States but also in Europe for its staunch defense of Vatican I, papal infallibility and the independence of the Holy See at a time when much of the Catholic press and most of the secular press was aggressively attacking Vatican I and papal infallibility.

To put this newspaper’s role into perspective, it is important to recall that “the press” — almost all the major European and newspapers and journals of the time — as documented in three books by Westminster’s Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, who played a major role at the Council, opposed the convening of the Council, bitterly assailed the Council’s definition on papal infallibility, and spread the most noxious lies and distortions about the Council and its participants.

In fact, the highly-coordinated criticism of the Council by the press — especially some of the official Catholic press in Germany which fomented the opposition — was much more malignant than the popular press’ coverage of Vatican II, which adopted a different, though more sophisticated, tactic to confuse Catholics.

In The True Story of the Vatican Council, (London: Burns & Oates, 1877), Manning wrote that the major concern of Pius, and many of his cardinals and bishops, notably Bishop Emmanuel von Ketteler of Mainz, was that the modern State was putting limits on the Church’s freedom and, in fact, it was being excluded from civil society. “Modern revolutionary Liberalism,” wrote Manning, “consists in the assertion of the supremacy of the State over the spiritual jurisdiction of the Church, over education, marriage, consecrated property, and the temporal power of the head of the Church. This Liberalism, again, results in the indifferentism which equalizes all religions and gives equal rights to truth and error.”

Among the reports submitted by the cardinals to the Holy Father, Manning revealed, several raised concerns about the “infiltration of rationalistic principles” into Catholic schools, inculcating opposition to the authority of the Church, the breakdown in seminary training for priests, and the widespread disregard of ecclesiastical laws by the laity.

From the Council of Constance (1414-1418) up to the mid-19th century, Manning wrote, one of the thorniest issues for the Holy See was the “constant meddling” in the Church’s affairs by secular powers, especially Catholic rulers, by interfering in the Church’s educational institutions by appointing and protecting “unsound teachers,” especially in canon law and theology courses.

As a consequence, Manning wrote, “the public laws even of the nations in which the people are Catholic are Catholic no longer. The unity of the nations in faith and worship, as the Apostles founded, seems now to be dissolved. The unity of the Church is more compact and solid than ever, but the Christendom of Christian kingdoms is of the past. We have entered into a third period. The Church began not with kings, but with the peoples of the world, and to the peoples of the world, it may be, the Church will once more return. The princes and governments and legislatures of the world were everywhere against it at the outset; they are so again. But the hostility of the 19th century is keener than the hostility of the first. Then the world never believed in Christianity; now it is falling from it . . .

“Pius IX saw in the Council of the Vatican the only adequate remedy for the world-wide evils of the 19th century.”

From March 1865 over the next several years, the Holy Father queried the world’s bishops on the subjects and schema of the Council, particularly on the matters of papal infallibility and the independence of the Holy See. Due to, at least, one prelate well-placed in the Vatican, the enemies of the Church in governments and the academy were kept well-informed of these secret deliberations, leading to political plots by the major European powers to prevent the gathering of bishops in December 1869 — at a time when Rome was occupied by anti-clerical Masonic revolutionaries.

Assault by the Press

In The Vatican Council and Its Definitions, a 250-page pastoral letter Cardinal Manning addressed to his clergy in 1871, Manning detailed the machinations of the secular powers, especially through the press.

The major newspapers in England, France, Italy and Germany published numerous reports spreading the belief, he wrote, “that the Council would explain away the doctrines of Trent, or give them some new or laxer meaning, or throw open some questions supposed to be closed, or come to a compromise or transaction with other religious systems; or at least that it should accommodate the dogmatic stiffness of its traditions to modern thought and modern theology . . .

“But the interest excited by its preliminary skirmishing external to the Council, was nothing compared to the exultation with which the anti-Catholic opinion and anti-Catholic press of Protestant countries, and the anti-Roman opinion and press of even Catholic countries, beheld, as they believed, the formation of an organized ‘international opposition’ of more than one hundred bishops within the Council itself. The day was come at last. What the world could not do against Rome from without, its own bishops would do from within . . .

“A league of newspapers, fed from a common center, diffused hope and confidence in all countries, that the science and enlightenment of the minority would save the Catholic Church from the immoderate pretensions of Rome, and the superstitious ignorance of the universal episcopate. Day after day, the newspapers teemed with the achievements and the orations of the opposition.”

Manning’s depiction of the two sides anticipates that of the major reporters who covered Vatican II:

“[B]y a wonderful disposition of things, for the good, no doubt, of the human race, and, above all, the Church itself, the Council was divided . . . and by an even more beneficent and admirable provisions, it was so ordered that the theology, philosophy, science, culture, intellectual power, logical acumen, eloquence, candor, nobleness of mind, independence of spirit, courage, and elevation of character in the Council, were all to be found in the minority. The majority was naturally a Dead Sea of superstition, narrowness, shallowness, ignorance, prejudice; without theology, philosophy, science, or eloquence . . . bigoted, tyrannical, deaf to reason . . . ”

The Church-State Issue

Behind the press’ party line, however, were collaborators in all the governments of the great European powers, Manning showed in The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, a series of reports he wrote for a New York newspaper, and syndicated across the United States, later published by the Catholic Publication Society in New York in 1875.

Manning reproduced a letter written in April 1867, allegedly by Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Bavaria’s foreign minister and future president and chancellor of Germany to the heads of state and the leading diplomats in Europe, urging them to a concerted effort to prevent the declaration on infallibility. The likely author, or source for Hohenlohe’s information, Manning speculated, was a dissident bishop with high sources in the Vatican intent on causing a schism, which eventually formed as the Old Catholics.

“It is evident that this pretension,” wrote the prince, “elevated into a dogma, would go far beyond the purely spiritual sphere, and would become a question eminently political, as raising the power of the Sovereign Pontiff, even in temporal matters, over all the princes and peoples of Christendom. This doctrine, therefore, is of such a nature as to arouse the attention of all those governments who rule over Catholic subjects . . . It cannot be denied that it is a matter of urgency for Governments to combine . . . against all decisions which the Council may promulgate without the concurrence of the representatives of the secular power in questions which are at the same time of a political and religious matter . . . ”

The Wanderer‘s Coverage

A sample of Der Wanderer’s reports were translated from the German for this series of articles by Fr. John Kulas of St. John’s University, Collegeville, which is one of three repositories holding complete editions of The Wanderer; the other two are the Catholic Central Union in St. Louis and the Minnesota Historical Society.

In an editorial published May 15, 1869, “Vatican Council I and Declaration of Infallibility,” editor Theo Müllenmeister advised readers:

“The Wanderer will be the only newspaper this side of Chicago which will bring complete and timely reports from correspondents covering the great Council in Rome. To this end we have engaged the services of a high-ranking prelate in Rome [Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania] to be a correspondent. His commentaries will interest each and everyone.”

In the February 5, 1870 Wanderer, the paper’s new editor, Franz Fassbind wrote, under the heading “Papal Infallibility”: “A position paper which had already attracted signatures of more than 400 Council Fathers was presented to the assembled Council. It included a petition that infallibility be defined in the following form: [There followed here the Latin text and a German translation]

“To the Vatican Council:

“‘The undersigned Fathers of the holy Ecumenical Vatican Synod humbly and urgently insist that it be affirmed in clear and unambiguous language that the Bishop of Rome exercises the highest authority and thereby is protected from all error when in matters of faith and morals he determines and prescribes what is to be believed and accepted by all Christians or what is to be rejected and condemned.’

“The considerations guiding these conclusions take up six printed pages. The relevant resolutions of the provincial councils of Cologne, Baltimore, and Westminster are attached in the form of notes as well as the text of the allocution delivered in honor of the Holy Father by 500 Bishops on the occasion of the Centennial celebration of 1867.

“We can conclude from press reports from Rome (as is widely reported in the European daily press) that a counter memorandum circulating among the members of the Council had as yet received no signature.”

In the same issue, under the heading “Related Issues,” Fassbind wrote:

“As far as reporting on the Council goes, papers with an anti-Church bias are in a position to offer more interesting and even more scurrilous stories than Catholic journals. Consider the following:

“[Non-Catholic journals] report not only on the facts but also on what is going to happen. They know not only the facts but also know how to speculate about the most secret thoughts of individual bishops. Just seeing the demeanor of the bishops as they leave the council hall and applying other such indices allow them to describe the nature of the council debates. To this end they make things up to their hearts’ content, submit very poetic pieces garnished with personal speculation, more or less graphic according to the greater or lesser talent of the author.

“At the present time it is especially the Commission which the Holy Father has chosen to be his advisory group in respect to questions which some bishops wish to present to the Council that has come in for criticism among some bishops. If it is true that some of the Council Fathers are dissatisfied with one or the other point of organization they would certainly feel free to express their feelings to the Holy Father in the liberty of the Gospel. Then their points of view would certainly be given a thorough hearing. But if one considers the size of the majority with which the members of the Commission were voted into office, there can be no doubt that the vast majority of the Council Fathers are satisfied with the composition of the body of advisors for the Pope. But it is also characteristic of our opponents to make a big deal about any difference of opinion they can discover among the bishops . . . ”

One week later, for the February 12 issue, under the heading, “Catholics, Take Note!,” Fassbind wrote:

“The proposal to define papal authority as infallible has led to contentious debate between factions that are friendly to the Church as well those who are enemies of the Church. Obviously, it is of the highest importance to have a clear understanding of the issues involved. In its previous issue this newspaper printed the proposal as presented to the Council. In the current issue we are able to present to our readers the motivations underlying the proposal . . .

“[T]he bishops too have chosen, as guardians and defenders of Catholic truth, to accept the task in these times of ascribing through synodal decrees and collegial statements the apostolic See’s highest teaching authority.

“However, the clearer Catholic truth is taught, the more vehement it has been attacked in recent times through broadsides and the daily press. The opponents of the Church are seeking to prejudice the Catholic people against sound teaching or even to intimidate the Vatican Council from proclaiming the truth . . .

“In the first instance, however, the Catholic people has the right to demand that the Vatican Council teach and declare precisely what is to be believed with respect to a matter of faith that is so important and one which has in recent times been so vehemently debated. This is to prevent people unversed in theology from falling prey to serious error . . .

“Should it happen that a few people fall away from the Church as a result of the definition of the true teaching by the Vatican Council, these will be people who have for a long time already suffered shipwreck of the faith and are just looking for a pretext to make the break public inasmuch as they have left no doubt as to their interior breach . . . [source Bishop Martin of Paderborn]

“Thus, there are three factions at the Council. Using political terms one could talk of the right (bishops from Spain, South America, Italy, and Belgium, etc), the center (most of the bishops from France and Germany, England, Ireland, Holland, Portugal, Austria, etc) and the left (a few bishops from Germany, France, and North America). One can assume with certainty that the views of the center will emerge victorious.”

On March 12, 1870, under the heading “German Bishops in Rome,” The Wanderer reported:

“Through a variety of communications in earlier issues of this newspaper the reader will have noticed that the position of the German bishops with respect to the resolution of certain central questions at the Council has been interpreted as a public expression of party affiliation in the press. The published declaration of war a few weeks ago by Canon Döllinger in Munich against papal infallibility was the start and it was asserted in more than one newspaper that the majority of German Bishops in Rome agreed with Döllinger. Among them was said to be Bishop von Ketteler of Mainz. This situation induced this prelate to make a public declaration that, given the circumstances, has extreme significance. For that reason we feel obliged to bring this to the attention of our readers. We print the declaration in full . . .

“[The signed document was dated 8 February 1870. In it Bishop Ketteler distanced himself from Döllinger’s current stand on the question of papal infallibility even as he expressed his admiration for the theological training he had received from Döllinger. Döllinger sometimes wrote under the penname ‘Janus’ and was against a declaration of papal infallibility, although he claimed his views were ‘essentially’ the same as that of the bishops.] Ketteler: ‘But I have nothing more to do with the Döllinger whom the enemies of the Church and the Holy See crown with honors.’

The Wanderer also published a declaration from the Archbishop of Cologne (dated 9 February) warning against non-factual and intemperate reporting in the secular press.

The April 30, 1870 Wanderer reported, under the heading, “Latest from Rome”:

“Telegraph reports indicate that the 3rd public session of the Council took place on April 24, 1870. It was an imposing event . . . The four chapters of the schema on faith were read and were approved unanimously. Then the Holy Father promulgated the decrees from his throne . . . The Council fathers now turned their attention to the decree on papal infallibility . . .

The May 7 1870 Wanderer reported, under the heading, “Dashed Hopes”:

“The Council Fathers in Rome are subjected to intense scrutiny by the agents of European states, the gray eminences of the daily press, and especially those men who look forward to the overthrow of all order. No legislative body has ever been the object of such scrutiny . . .

“The utterances of individual Council Fathers are turned into evidence of factional controversy. If the well of news seems to be drying up, a ready pen invents an audience with the Pope and attributes to the Holy Father statements which he never made, never even thought of . . .

“These journalists intend to paint a picture of a Church torn apart by factions and thereby, as far as it depends on them, to give it the coup de grace . . . These expectations were quickly deflated . . .

“A fruit of the freedom [of debate] is seen in the result of the vote. If some prelates had previously held differing views the final vote on the entire text showed that every doubt was removed, and when the Vicar of Christ solemnly promulgated the decree on faith the Catholic Church appeared again in the triumph of unity and indivisibility of doctrine. That is the great significance of the [unanimous decision in favor of the] decision.

The May 14, 1870 Wanderer took note of the disinformation circulating wildly in the European and American press under the heading, “Another Protest”:

” . . . The New York Herald reports that 21 American Bishops led by three Archbishops have lodged a protest with the Pope against papal infallibility. [There was no proof.]

“The Wisconsin Banner launches an investigation into the positions taken by American bishops and reproaches those whose names are not included in the list of names in this protest . . . When the author speaks about the ‘Order of Executioners’ (Dominicans) to which the Archbishop of San Francisco is said to belong he merely convicts himself of charges similar to those made above. No further rebuttal is necessary . . . ”

On June 11, 1870, The Wanderer published its own, unofficial, translation of the Decree on Papal Infallibility, “for which the whole Christian world has been waiting with bated breath,” and editorialized under the heading, “A Significant Pronouncement.”

In its issue of August 13, 1870, Der Wanderer published the full text of the Council’s Second Constitution, Aeternus Pastor, and on August 20, the Pope’s allocution of the day, in which Pius IX said:

“The Supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, venerable Brothers, does not oppose, but supports; it does not destroy, rather it builds up and strengthens others in their grace; it unites in love and strengthens the bishops in their rights . . . Since it is only God who can do great wonders may He illuminate minds and hearts so that all may abide in the bosom of the Father . . . ”

And that’s the message The Wanderer has been broadcasting for 140 years.

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

Rerum Novarum & Der Wanderer‘s Work for Social Justice & Catholic Action

Der Wanderer was struggling towards its 24th birthday when, on May 15, 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the first of the modern papacy’s social encyclicals, Rerum Novarum, which addressed the “spirit of revolutionary change” which is “disturbing the nations,” poisoning politics, upending “practical economics,” creating vast fortunes for the few while throwing the masses into “utter poverty.” He warned: “some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.”

Der Wanderer editor Hugo Klapproth embraced the Holy Father’s call, and over the eight years he remained at the helm of Der Wanderer, when he was succeeded by his son-in-law Joseph Matt in 1899, he popularized a concept of social cooperation which Pope John Paul II would later champion — solidarity.

During the decade when Der Wanderer made Rerum Novarum its central purpose, working closely with Frederick Kenkel, founder of the Catholic Central Union, to promote “corporatism,” circulation rose from 4,000 to nearly 15,000, thus contributing greatly to the prominence of German-American Catholics in the American labor movement and the advancement of workers’ rights and protections through favorable legislation.

In line with most German-Catholic (and German-Lutheran, for that matter), newspapers — there were 727 published in the United States in 1890 — Der Wanderer approached the social question during a time of great social turmoil on several fronts.

It was anti-assimilationist, viewing with distrust, or contempt, American Puritanism, which justified the economic injustices that grew with industrialism, while preaching temperance. German Catholics, for example, could not understand why Irish Catholics would join their Protestant brethren in prohibiting opening the beer gardens after Sunday Mass.

Moreover, it was highly chauvinistic in celebrating the German language, culture and heritage. In his very first editorial for Der Wanderer, June 14, 1899, Joseph Matt (himself an immigrant) argued forcefully for allowing German-Americans to keep their hyphenated designation, for without it, they could be neither German nor American. He added:

“German blood flows in the veins of ten million American citizens and at the same time the religion, values, and customs of the Germans, their way of life and their work ethic, their manner of feeling and thinking has slowly but surely altered and transformed the people of the United States. Is that what ‘becoming absorbed’ means? . . . The impact of German life and labor on native-born Americans is so obvious that only the most obdurate can deny it. German science and art exercise an irresistible power on all [levels] of society . . . Every day the works of our philosophers, scholars, and artists germinate in the thoughts of millions of people and create within them a sense for what is better and more beautiful . . . Humboldt, Schiller, Goethe, etc. are no longer just the property of German-Americans. Their great creative accomplishments have become the heritage of the nation . . . And music! What a revolution has it not achieved on American soil! The great German masters in the field of music — aren’t they encountered in every cultured American community and in any one aspiring to become cultured? Does that mean to become absorbed? Is that annihilation? Yes, it is surely an annihilation, that is, to the extent that German culture has annihilated a philistine and barbaric environment . . .

“This is truly victory, a clear triumph for Germans over native-born Americans . . . Future Americans will bear on their brow the stamp of German culture.”

Der Wanderer viewed with suspicion the Americanist tendencies of the predominantly Irish-Catholic hierarchy, and its reluctance to admit there was a “social problem” in the United States that demanded amelioration along the lines proposed by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, for strong workingmen’s associations, for a “living wage” for factory workers, for a decrease in working hours and increased workers’ insurance, for better protection for women and children in the workplace, for a Sunday day of rest. (In 1894, the Minnesota legislature prohibited any work on Sunday, except for “works of necessity or charity.”)

Nevertheless, as Fr. John Kulas observed of Der Wanderer in his history of the newspaper’s first ten years, “the impulse to Americanization in this newspaper was as real as the desire to preserve things German. In Der Wanderer, the readers found a reliable guide, a familiar and loyal champion, a proponent of valued ideals, a discriminating informant, a provocative facilitator of the political process, a companion in some way on the journey into the new. In the process something was gained, something was lost, but more importantly something new was created.”

Union Organizer

Fr. Kulas’ study, Der Wanderer of St. Paul (Peter Lang, 1996), does not cover the Rerum Novarum period, but the contribution Der Wanderer made in the broad arena of social justice is told by Notre Dame professor of history (emeritus) Philip Gleason in The Conservative Reformers: German-American Catholics and the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

Dr. Gleason’s study focused primarily on Frederick Kenkel and the Catholic Central Union (or Central Verein), and his enormous effort to rally all the German Catholic associations and organizations into a common front to promote a German Catholic social action that was anti-liberal, anti-state, anti-socialist and pro-family, pro-worker and pro-Church.

Due to the very close working relationship between Kenkel and Der Wanderer’s Joseph Matt, German-American Catholics were able “to assume a position of leadership on the social question,” wrote Gleason.

The effort to organize the various German associations, writes Dr. Gleason, “was largely the work of Joseph Matt, the editor of Der Wanderer in St. Paul. Then a young man in his mid-twenties who had emigrated from the Palatinate in 1895, Matt remained one of the giants in the German-American Catholic community until his death in 1966. The essential transformation wrought by the plan he proposed was that the Central-Verein was changed from a loose confederation of autonomous local benevolent societies into a more tightly-knit national federation of state federations . . .

“Virtually all the societies of German-American Catholics — both the older type and the more Americanized variety — were brought under one roof; within two years of the plan’s adoption and the membership of the Central-Verein almost doubled from the 1900 figure of about fifty-thousand . . . ”

The goal of the Central-Verein, as well as Der Wanderer, Dr. Gleason continued, was “Catholic unity” across the entire spectrum of Catholic issues, but front and center was a Catholic solution to the “social question.”

“But while German Catholics were sufficiently Americanized to be profoundly affected by the prevailing social ferment and swept along in the currents of reform,” Gleason writes, “there were also strong emotional links to the fatherland which made the example of German social Catholicism relevant to their awakening interest in the social question. Since the pioneering days of Bishop von Ketteler in the mid-19th century, the Catholics of Germany had become increasingly attentive to the social question; after the Kulturkampf abated they developed an extensive program of reform on both the practical and theoretical levels.

“The proverbial German talent for organization was turned to good account by these Catholics, who mobilized all classes of society into specialized organizations for rural folk, workers, employers, professional people, and intellectuals. The annual Catholic congresses were great mass meetings at which representatives from all these groups gathered for mutual encouragement and to examine the pressing problems of the day . . .

“The example of social Catholicism in the fatherland thus provided a stimulus and warrant for interest in the social question; but the Central-Verein’s more immediate heritage as a German-American Catholic society just emerging from an era of ethnic-religious controversy also played a powerful role. For although social reform interest was in keeping with the Progressive impulse of the times it would be mistaken to assume that the Central-Verein was becoming ‘liberal.’ On the contrary, its tradition was one of opposition to all forms of liberalism, ranging from the doctrinaire anticlerical variety of the German Forty-Eighters [a reference to the atheist, socialist and Freemason revolutionaries who convulsed Europe in 1848] to the social and procedural liberalism of the Catholic Americanizers . . . ”

German-American Catholics, Dr. Gleason continues, “held less sanguine views on the excellence of American society and the easy compatibility of Catholicism and American civilization” that such Americanists as Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons, Bishop John J. Keane [founder of the Catholic University of America and later Archbishop of Dubuque) and St. Paul’s Archbishop John Ireland. “[T]he German Catholics retained the conviction that the liberals were too complacent, too satisfied with the status quo; they glossed over the defects and shortcomings of American life and were insufficiently critical of the blemishes on the American scene. The liberal Catholics, according to this interpretation, were so bedazzled by the supposed excellencies of the American way that they believed ‘We have no Social Question’ . . .

“If anything were needed to persuade the German-American Catholics that we most assuredly did have a social question, nothing could have served the purpose more admirably than the conviction that the Americanizers denied its existence. Thus, the Germans later took great pride in their entry into the field of social reform at a time when other Catholics were indifferent to the need for such activity . . . ”

Rerum Novarum

Less than two weeks after Pope Leo’s encyclical was published in Rome on May 15, Der Wanderer’s editor Hugo Klapproth published an editorial summary of the encyclical, offering these highlight to his readers:

” . . . Divine Law excludes a solution to the social problems of workers that is based on the abolition of private property . . .

“It is erroneous to use the power of the state to intervene violently in family life . . .

“Public authority may not defend the rights of society at the expense of the rights and the liberty of the individual . . .

“It is a major error to think that the wealthy classes and the impoverished worker are destined by nature to interact violently . . .

“Justice and moderation and a reasonable share of the public burden are at the heart of the duties of the state. Proletarians have the same rights as the wealthy, and they must be similarly protected. An absolute external equality can never be achieved . . .

“Extreme exhaustion results in physical breakdown. Accordingly, reduction of working hours is imperative . . .

“Every worker has a right to earn a living wage . . .

“It would be expedient if employers and employees belonged to the same organizations . . .

“Finally, the Pope makes clear that a general labor union imbued with the spirit of the faith and moral law must be organized.”

In the June 4 and 11, 1891 issues, Der Wanderer published the full text of the encyclical, followed a week later, on June 18, 1891, excerpts from a homily Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York delivered on Rerum Novarum:

“The Vatican Council declared that for a statement of the Pope to be considered a dogma the Holy Father must be exercising the universal teaching authority ‘ex cathedra’ on a topic of faith or morals. He is then gifted with that infallibility which Christ has promised to his Church. Three elements are necessary and sufficient: 1st the Pope must speak as the Father of all Christians; 2nd he must talk about faith and morals; 3rd the Pope must intend to bind all Catholics to accept this teaching.

“In the new encyclical the Pope indubitably speaks for the universal magisterium on a matter of faith and morals. On the other hand he is not defining a point of doctrine. For that reason this encyclical can be considered a collection of theological teaching which now has to be recognized as a teaching of the Catholic Church . . . ”

In its August 27, 1891 edition, Der Wanderer published the resolutions of the 36th Generalversammlung des Deutschen Röm. Kath. Centralvereins (36th General Conference of the Central-Verein) and among the resolutions was No. 3:

“In social questions we intend to follow the guidelines and spirit which the Holy Father enunciated so beautifully and clearly in his recent encyclical Rerum Novarum. A solution for the social question can only be attained by applying the fundamental principles of divine laws on which the Church rests.”

Citing Cardinal Manning

In its issue of September 24, 1891, Der Wanderer published a homily delivered by Henry Edward Cardinal Manning on the encyclical under the heading, “Cardinal Manning and the Recent Encyclical.”

“In discussing the encyclical Rerum Novarum the venerable Cardinal Manning declared: ‘The state oversees the national economy including commerce and finance. At the same time it is concerned with the well-being of all classes. Social classes are concerned for their own interests. And in a reaction to this organized egoism a number of individuals have espoused socialism. The encyclical carefully defined socialism and has shown the essential ties between the legislative process and social values. As the encyclical correctly observes, the rich have many resources for protecting their interests and they are less dependent on the help of the state. But those without means are not able to rely on their own powers and thus they must be able to count on the help of the state as their first line of defense.

“Cardinal Manning enumerates the various forms of social legislation existing in England, and then he continues: ‘Nevertheless, up to now no one has been so blind as to suggest that England is a socialist state. One hears complaints about public schools in France, America, and Belgium for being irreligious, immoral, and not compassionate. But no one would think of suggesting that public schools represent the worst kind of socialism (sic!). But let one strive to protect workers from being exploited through unfair contracts and inadequate wages and one is accused of being a socialist. The ability of people to think clearly has been impaired because they don’t reflect, because they are blinded by excessive concern for their own interests and permit themselves to be ruled by prejudices which they unthinkingly fabricate out of class differences.’

“Moving to the issue of wages the cardinal says: ‘I have already indicated what I mean by minimum wage. It must allow the worker to provide a modest standard of living for himself and his family. The normal human situation prescribes that everyone should have a decent home and be surrounded by all necessities and comforts of an ordinary life. There would be no real love of country in a land where the citizens were unwilling to concern themselves about ‘altar and hearth.’ National policy requires that the number of people without a decent home should be kept as low as possible . . .

“‘A just wage is one that as a minimum allows support of the family in a modest and simple way of life . . . Wages which bear a just relationship to a firm’s profit are a source of satisfaction and good will. It is an affront against human nature to express satisfaction with a wage structure which exhibits too great a disparity with the profit margin. Without mentioning names Leo XIII highly recommends the example of those who in France and elsewhere allow their workers to share in the profits of their labors.'”

The October 8, 1891 issue of Der Wanderer featured a front-page editorial, “Leo XIII and the Labor Question,” which contained excerpts from an address by Leo to a group of French pilgrims, in Rome to thank him for the encyclical. At the audience, the Holy Father said:

“We believe it is indisputable that the labor and social question cannot be resolved by civil legislation alone. By the nature of things a resolution must be based on the full demands of justice which should be reflected in wages. This question is above all a conscience question and brings with it a responsibility before God . . . Only religion with its revealed faith and divine precepts has the right to make the demands of justice a matter of duty . . .

“If some issues relating to implementation still remain to be worked out — and how can it be otherwise in dealing with such a complex issue — a clarification can be left to time and experience. [The Pope envisions an active social action by Catholics, collaboration with public institutions and human wisdom as the basis for solving social problems. But he warned against radical socialists.]

Over the next months and years, Der Wanderer reported regularly on the resolutions passed by German workers’ associations across the country, all urging addressing social issues in light of Leo XIII’s encyclical.

A September 5, 1894 editorial observed: “It is no longer conceivable that in the United States Christian workers can be organized into a series of specific trade unions: the socialistic ‘Trades Unions’ are locally too powerful to permit this. This makes it all the more urgent, it seems to us, that general worker societies dealing with the contemporary labor situation in the sense of the encyclical should be made available.”

A September 9, 1896 editorial, “Zur Arbeiterschutz-Gesetzgebung,” “Worker Protection Legislation,” supported legislation in New York, opposed by owners of big factories, limiting child labor:

“The new law prescribed that children under 14 years of age may under no circumstances be employed in the shops. Boys under 16 years and girls under 21 years may not work longer than a ten-hour day or a 60-hour week. At the same time, the work day may not begin before 7:A.M. or extend beyond 10:00 P.M. Exceptions are permitted only during the Christmas season. In addition, washing and toilet facilities must be available and opportunities to sit down must be provided. Girls and children may be allowed to work in basements only if they are properly ventilated and illuminated. A lunch break of at least 45 minutes is mandatory . . .

” . . . Every child must provide a document from the health department that he or she is good health. Additionally, parents must present a notarized document attesting to the fact that their child has finished the compulsory education course . . .

“These kinds of laws are in the best interests of society, for they guard against stunted development in the coming generation.”

At a moment in American history when the labor issue or the “social question” is again front and center, as American workers grapple with job “outsourcing,” and increasing downward pressure on wages, the raveling, rather disintegration, of a the social safety net, unjust taxation, the looting of pension funds by corporate pirates, growing class warfare sparked by workers’ stagnant or declining wages while CEOs the wealth of the top one percent grows exponentially, Leo XIII’s encyclical is as relevant as it ever was, if not more.

And it takes a Catholic newspaper to raise a Catholic culture.

# # #

A Wanderer editorial on the national election of November 1892, “Zu den bevorstehenden Wahlen” (On The Coming Election):

“We are devoting in today’s issue a large amount of space to political matters, more than is customary for us even in election years. The reason for this is our strong conviction that the election this year has extraordinary significance.

“The readers of Der Wanderer will not require at this late stage of the campaign a very extensive review of the question as to whether Cleveland or Harrison is the better candidate for President. Nonetheless, even this question can once more be illuminated by what we have to say here as well as by means of other material found in the current issue of our newspaper.

“There was a time when the differences between the two major parties in this country — the Democrats and the Republicans — seemed to be blurring. From the beginning the main difference consisted in the fact that the Republicans stressed the power of the Federal Government and strove more and more to consolidate it. The Democrats, on the other hand, campaigned for the rights and liberties of the individual states in the union.

However, the more the great bloody ‘conflict’ of the 60s, which essentially dealt with this main ‘issue,’ receded into the past, the more it lost its hold on people.

“In the last decade ‘movements’ and ‘questions’ emerged in the public debate which engaged the people much more actively. First of all, there were issues in the area of economics. Powerful associations of laborers, tradesmen, and farmers arose, and it wasn’t long before they began to gain influence in the political arena as well. To these new developments was added a renewed round of vigorous discussion on the school question. For a while no one was able to tell whether and how the two traditional parties would react to these new initiatives, which in typical American fashion developed astonishingly fast. But when a new party started to emerge first from the ranks of laborers and farmers, the main parties felt constrained to come to terms with it. We are still very much in the early stages of this process. Still it has progressed far enough that the future development can be foreseen with a fair amount of certitude.

“In the realm of economics both parties are now competing for the favor of the farmers and the workers, in order to nip in the bud the threat posed to both parties by the new party, namely the so-called ‘People’s Party.’ But the Republicans have betrayed all too clearly by their deeds in recent years when they controlled the executive and the legislative bodies both on the national and the local level what the promises they are now making are worth. This is true quite apart from the fact that these promises are for the most part couched in ambiguous terms making it impossible to gain a clear perception of the basic principles underlying them. The deeds of the Republicans and other well known circumstances speak more loudly against them in the school question than their words. In this connection most Republicans make no pretense of masking their unjust intentions.

“By contrast, the Democrats in their current ‘platform’ envision reforms in social and economic issues for the people. As far as the school question is concerned the Democrats express their support for basic principles which for the most part are not only clearly and precisely formulated but which are also much more in harmony with the practice of the party especially here in the states of the northwest than is the case of Republican ‘theory and practice.’ It is already clear that the Republican Party represents itself as a main proponent of the wealthy classes on the one hand and on the other hand of modern state socialism, whereas the Democratic Party, befitting its name, will more than ever position itself on the side of the better portion of the people, of the ‘little man,’ of the masses of working people. It will marshal its forces against the use of state power to infringe upon the sacred rights and freedoms of individuals, especially the rights and freedom pertaining to education. It is true perhaps that on some issues the differences between the parties are not yet so sharply drawn; the Democrats in spite of being in the sunlight on most issues does not lack for its own shadow side; nonetheless, the clear difference in the enunciation of principle will be accomplished all the faster and the more advantageously, the more decisively citizens who love law and freedom lend a hand and assistance to the Democratic Party.

“This seems in large part to be happening in the present election campaign. One can see that citizens of German nationality are rallying more numerously than ever around the Democratic flag. Legions of German Lutherans who were formerly strict Republicans have joined the Democrats because of Republican school laws. Hosts of other non-Catholic Germans who up to now had been even stricter Republicans have turned their backs on the Republican Party for precisely the same reason and also because of the increasing Puritan elements in the Republican Party. Not a few German Catholics, who previously had been — if not Republican — independent or unaffiliated are now decisively turning to the Democrats. But this trend can be noticed among non-Germans as well. We have never before heard of so many political conversions among notable English-speaking Republicans taking place as this year — a presidential election year at that . . .

“If this process of party realignment continues as sketched here the outcome cannot be in doubt. The Democratic Party will develop more and more into a true and genuine American People’s Party in the spirit of the constitution and the principles of the founding fathers. It will then also do its best to bring the just demands of workers and farmers to fruition. The forlorn Republican Party will be forced either to regenerate itself or be satisfied with playing the role of a minority opposition party.

“No one knows how much closer this election will bring us to the realization of these goals! Financial and political power — a veritable gigantic army of office holders spread over the length and breadth of this land — is in the hands of Republicans. It is disgraceful how even ambassadors and consuls have left their posts in foreign countries, in order to ‘go on the stump’ for their bosses in Washington.

“It is all the more necessary then that every upstanding citizen do all that he can — on election day and on the days preceding the election — to fulfill his civic duty. Victory or defeat — that in the end remains in the hand of God, and true patriots will not fail at this time to commend the well being of our country to His loving care.”

Der Wanderer at 140 . . .

Skepticism of ‘Americanism’ a Tradition at ‘The Wanderer’

In his examination of the many contributions conservative German Catholics made in the “progressive” politics and social justice movements in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, as exemplified by Frederick Kenkel and the Catholic Central Union (Central Verein) — the publisher of Der Wanderer, Joseph Matt, a major player in the Central Verein, selected his friend Kenkel to run the national organization — Notre Dame historian Philip Gleason observed that the German-Catholic “tradition was one of opposition to all forms of liberalism, ranging from the doctrinaire anticlerical variety of the German Forty-Eighters to the social and procedural liberalism of the Catholic Americanizers.”

“The German Catholics interpreted Leo XIII’s Testem Benevolentiae,” wrote Gleason in The Conservative Reformers: German American Catholics and the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), “as vindicating their conservative religious and ideological position. While their new interest in social reform might appear to be virtually a repudiation of the German Catholics’ traditional position, in fact there is a clear continuity between their earlier conservative stance and the more progressive reform interest.”

At a time of roiling social discontent as farmers and factory workers tried to organize to defend themselves from an exploitative and protected class of “robber barons,” German Catholics, led by men such as Kenkel and Matt, worked tirelessly to build Catholic solidarity, and a major component of that work was a critique of American social and political institutions and American optimism.

In doing so, German-American Catholics found themselves in opposition to most of the American hierarchy. Dr. Gleason writes:

” . . . Catholic liberals like [Minneapolis/St. Paul Archbishop John] Ireland and [Richmond Bishop John] Keane held that the Church and American institutions were admirably suited to one another, and they felt the future of Catholicism was more promising here than in the tradition-bound states of Europe.

“Most of the German-American Catholics disagreed; they held less sanguine views on the excellence of American society and the easy compatibility of Catholicism and American civilization . . . German Catholics retained the conviction that the liberals were mistaken in their enthusiasm for American institutions. The liberals were too complacent, too satisfied with the status quo; they glossed over the defects and shortcomings of American life and were insufficiently critical of the blemishes on the American scene. The liberal Catholics, according to this interpretation, were so bedazzled by the supposed excellencies of the American way that they believed ‘we have no Social Question.’

“If anything were needed to persuade the German-American Catholics that we most assuredly did have a social question, nothing could have served the purpose more admirably that the conviction that the Americanizers denied its existence. Thus, the Germans later took great pride in their entry into the field of social reform at a time when other Catholics were indifferent to the need for such activity.”

German-American Catholics, such as Rev. Dr. Anton Heiter, a prominent antisocialist and editor of a Catholic newspaper in Buffalo, argued forcefully, wrote Dr. Gleason, that those “who denied we had a social question [were] simply confounding sickness with health. In listing the symptoms of social sickness in America, Heiter included not only the menace of socialism, the ‘gigantic strikes’ of the recent past, and the existence of trusts and monopolies, but also several other points not usually considered part of the social question by Progressive reformers. The separation of Church and State, the reduction of religion to the sphere of private conscience and its exclusion from the realm of public affairs — these Heiter considered the most telling indications that we did indeed have a social question in the United States. Additional evidence was furnished by the irreligious public school system and the injustice of Catholics’ being forced to support schools they could not in conscience allow their children to attend.”

Taking Aim at Americanism

On January 22, 1899, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae. Addressed to James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, Leo condemned a number of “Americanist” propositions found in the writings of Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), the founder of the Paulists.

The core of the Americanist heresy, wrote Leo, consisted in this: “the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them.”

At least eight years before Leo issued his encyclical, the editor of Der Wanderer, Hugo Klapproth, a convert from Lutheranism and future father-in-law of his successor as editor, the recent immigrant Joseph Matt, was warning his Catholic audience of the danger of “Americanism.”

In one such editorial, headlined, “Amerikanischer Katholicismus,” (American Catholicism), published May 21, 1891 on the front page, Klapproth endorsed and commented upon an article written for the American Catholic Quarterly Review by the vicar general for the Archdiocese of New York, a Monsignor Preston, who warned:

“It has been asserted that a unique form of Catholicism has taken shape in this country, a Catholicism which has outpaced the peoples of the old world and has taken on the trappings of progress, a Catholicism which is more congenial to the spirit of the time and has adopted a more tolerant ecumenical stance . . . ”

The editor of Der Wanderer then summarized the position of the true Catholic: “First, we want to be true Catholics and then, in second place, a necessary corollary of the first, faithful Americans.”

On indifferentism (liberalism), Klapproth wrote:

“No rational person and none of our brothers who hold erroneous beliefs can take umbrage at this teaching [that the Catholic faith is the true path to salvation] if they take into account the clarification that the Church does not question the possibility that anyone who is invincibly ignorant can achieve salvation. God alone can judge these cases. The only teaching which the Syllabus [of Errors, published by Pope Pius IX in 1864] condemns and which every Catholic must reject is the equality of all religions with respect to their intrinsic value and their efficacy in attaining eternal salvation. Thus, a relaxation of the Catholic teaching on the unique character of the Church as the sole sanctifying institution is not possible. God after all has established only one path to salvation and this for all practical purposes is realized in the Catholic Church.

On modernism, Klapproth wrote:

“We can give the second error which Msgr. Preston’s article notes short shrift. This is the error of modernism and is of lesser interest to our readers. It suffices to say: Every educated Catholic knows there can be absolutely no contradiction between revealed truth and scientific progress: truth can not stand in contradiction to truth. And in point of fact, no scholar has as of yet verified that any specific conclusion of so called ‘science’ is contradictory to our faith.”

On the School system, Klapproth wrote:

“1) It must be clear to any thinking Catholic that this question is one which is a life or death issue for the Catholic Church, that the school question is a matter of principle.

“2) It is evident that a true ‘education,’ that is, a harmonious development and up-building of all human potentialities in connection with this world and the other-worldly domain is simply impossible in a system which is completely separate from all fundamental Christian truths . . .


” . . . As true sons of the Church we claim for our mother, which is our dearest possession on earth, that freedom which is guaranteed to every one in America, the freedom to engage in political movements and public action, the right to air, light and sunshine, which no one in the world has the right to infringe upon or to withhold from her. And even if attempts have been made here and there in recent years — even in Minnesota — to curtail our freedoms, we believe the true American spirit will not permit for long such an assault which essentially destroys freedom, the best of its gifts. We Catholics who feel ourselves first in line to be attacked, can certainly not be expected to be content with a curtailment of our freedom and a diminution of our rights. Non sumus filii ancillae, sed liberae. ‘We are not sons of the slave girl but sons of the free born daughter, our holy Roman Catholic Church’.”

On January 4, 1899, Klapproth began a ten-part examination of a critical book on Isaac Hecker by the French priest Fr. Maurice Maignen, under the headline, “Der sog. Americanismus vom theologischen Standpuncte,” (So-called Americanism from the Theological Standpoint) by a contributor known as “W.H.”

Introducing Maignen’s work, “Is Father Hecker A Saint?” and W.H.’s analysis, Klapproth wrote:

“Der Wanderer remarked once that the liberalizing trend among certain circles in America together with its principles — all of which has come to be known as “Americanism” — demands a critique by theologians. The reason for this is the fact that basic principles as they appear in the ‘new Gospel’ proposed in the book ‘Life of Father Hecker’ seem to ‘be vulnerable to attack from the religious standpoint.’

“In noting this Der Wanderer is right on the mark. In the meantime a theologian has indeed emerged who has carefully analyzed Heckerian ‘Americanism.’ Subjecting these ideas to a rigorous examination he has produced conclusions which are as interesting as they are instructive. This is even so for the lay person who is not a professional theologian. We mean Father Maignen, whose study: ‘Is Father Hecker a Saint?’ has rightly created such a sensation. Of course, we can’t be expected to cover all the points against American liberalism which Father Maignen, as ‘defensor fidei,’ illuminates with his penetrating spot light. But we would like to give closer attention to two points. They are: the passive virtues, as they are called, which Heckerian ‘Americanism’ likes to shunt off into a corner, terming them out of date and secondly the passing away or dying of the individual.

“In my opinion Father Maignen could have given more extensive treatment precisely to these two points in his otherwise excellent treatise; for it is precisely here that the ‘Achilles heel’ of American liberalism is to be found. And it is in connection with these two ‘novelties,’ that Rome will and must exercise a veto if it doesn’t want to cut off the life blood of the Church itself.

That is saying a lot but we are going to prove it too.”

On February 8, 1899, Klapproth published an editorial “Erzbischof Ireland in Rom” (Archbishop Ireland in Rome) in which he wrote:

“Archbishop Ireland — according to the American daily press — had an audience with the Pope on the 2nd of this month . . . Several Catholic newspapers are reporting the opinion that the Archbishop undertook this sudden trip to Rome in the dead of winter, in order to prevent, if possible, the condemnation of the so-called ‘Americanism’ or at least the publication of the letter which Leo XIII sent to Cardinal Gibbons on this topic.”

Klapproth also complained that “Leo XIII’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons on the topic of the so-called ‘Americanism’ has still not been made public officially, even though it arrived in Baltimore prior to the beginning of the year . . . [Der Wanderer cites the Berlin Germania.]

“Of course, the Pope’s statements are couched in soothing words. Nonetheless, in the context of this controversy they signify a condemnation of every individualistic principle which Father Hecker, whose life story we have recently described in great detail, brought into the Church . . .

“The essays which have been appearing in Der Wanderer by Wanderer collaborator W. H. should certainly go a long way in meeting the need for enlightenment which the Pope has expressly desired.”

On March 1, 1899, Der Wanderer finally obtained the Latin edition of encyclical, which Cardinal Gibbons finally released on February 25. Klapproth translated it into German, and published it for his readers.

In an editorial in the same issue that carried the complete text, Klapproth wrote under the headline, “Glossen zu dem Breve Leo XIII,” (Comments on the Letter of Pope Leo XIII):

“Der Wanderer has for months been uttering its conviction that the Holy See will condemn theological ‘Americanism.’ The reason for this is that the teachings, principles, and practices which have been spread abroad under this name are novelties which cannot be sustained by Catholic theology. A colleague at the Wanderer, who is a trained theologian, has sought to prove this last point in detail. Now before he has been able to complete his task, the long awaited Apostolic Brief of the Holy Father has arrived from Rome condemning theological ‘Americanism’ . . .

“Whoever has read the article in Der Wanderer on ‘Americanism’ and who now reads the Apostolic Brief of the Holy Father will discover that they are perfectly harmonious with each other . . . In individual details their agreement in expression is downright astounding. Read, for example, what our colleague W. H. has to say about the ‘passive’ virtues and compare that with the statements of Leo XIII . . .

“Whoever has feared — or has hoped — that the Holy Father in his vaunted gentleness would treat ‘Americanism’ with kid gloves and would express himself with words such that no one need feel directly addressed, then that person will today be pleasantly — or unpleasantly — disappointed . . . Therefore, we say: The much maligned conservatives, ultramontane adherents, old-fashioned theologians, Germans and Jesuits, etc. would now have a right to celebrate. For they have triumphed, and not for the first time . . . However, it would be better and more in keeping with spirit of the Holy Father if all well meaning persons would now pray, constantly and full of trust, that the intentions of the Pope in writing this message be fulfilled . . . ”

This report on Der Wanderer & Americanism will continue next week. Again, The Wanderer thanks Fr. John Kulas, OSB, for translating these selections from Der Wanderer archives at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Mn.

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

The Wanderer‘s Defines ‘Americanism’ as “The False God of the Present Age”

The Americanist controversy, which Pope Leo XIII addressed in his 1899 encyclical Testem Benevolentiae was much more than an argument over the extent American Catholics should blend in with the dominant Protestant culture and participate in public life. For German-American Catholics especially, Americanism represented the idolatry of modern nationalism, coupled with a radical assimilationist ethic that would de-Catholicize and de-Europeanize their children and their communities.

In his study, The Conservative Reformers: German American Catholics And the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), historian Philip Gleason writes that German-American Catholics “had reservations about the easy compatibility of Catholicism and the American spirit. They were less impressed by the glorious opportunity open to American Catholics in reconciling the Church and modern culture than they were by the indisputable Protestantism and periodic nativism of Americans; hence they emphasized the need to maintain the traditional integrity of Catholic life and thought as the surest means of maintaining the faith in the United States.

“To men of this persuasion, the flexibility commended by the liberals [i.e. the liberal Catholics led by Archbishop John Ireland of Minneapolis/St. Paul] looked much like laxity, accommodation, suggested compromise, and adjustment to the new environment resembled capitulation before the enemy. Since the program of the liberals seemed to require departures from the traditional stance in a number of areas, the conservatives were fearful of the possible consequences of Americanization; they urged that the preservation of the faith should not be endangered by the reckless adoption of the novelties aimed at harmonizing the Church with American culture.”

The major areas of disagreements between German-American Catholics and the predominantly Americanist hierarchy were over public schools, secret societies (such as membership in Masonic lodges), ethnic parishes, the temperance movement, the right to maintain their German language, and so on. But, as Gleason observes, all these had a theological dimension: “Americanization represented a formulation, on the highest level of abstraction, of the same problem of Americanization of which the language question, the school question, and all the other specific questions were practical aspects. It is hardly surprising that after resisting Americanization in practice, the German Catholics should reject Americanism in theory.

“Testem Benevolentiae ended the period of controversy,” Gleason continues, “but it did not settle the question of Americanism. Rather, the question was left in terrible ambiguity. Something called Americanism had been condemned, but it was not a doctrine expressly formulated by the champions of Americanization. Rather, the condemned doctrines were derived for the most part from the writings of conservatives who claimed that they were simply spelling out what was implicit in the Americanists’ position . . . The Americanizers could argue that all they had in mind was bringing the Church into harmony with Americanism understood in precisely that fashion [i.e. participating fully in American life].

“Further analysis of the theoretical relationship between Americanism and Catholicism was postponed indefinitely after Testem Benevolentiae. Indeed, the American Church has still not confronted the task. The problem of adjusting the Church to American circumstances without sacrificing any of the essentials of Catholicity did not, of course, go away after 1899 simply because people stopped quarreling about it, but mutual exhaustion seemed to overspread both camps . . . ”

When Joseph Matt, the longtime editor of Der Wanderer from 1899 to 1964, wrote the centennial history of the Central-Verein in 1955, Gleason reports, he looked back at the controversies surrounding Americanism, and “confessed that ‘a perusal of the documents of those bygone days always stirs my innermost soul.'”

A Prophetic Stance

The concerns raised about the costs Americanism would place on Catholicity make the editorials of Der Wanderer during the Americanist controversy all the more prophetic, as this sampling indicates.

A front page editorial from March 8, 1899, “Auslegungen” (Commentaries) expressed befuddlement at the Americanist party line that Pope Leo’s encyclical was not intended to criticize any features of the American Church:

“What should we say to that?” asked the editor.

“Let us have the Holy Father answer himself. He writes a Brief on ‘Americanism.’ He addresses it to a Cardinal in America. At the same time he sends it to all bishops in the United States of America. In the introduction to his letter he says he wants to call something to the attention of the Church precisely in these United States of America which is to be avoided and improved in the future. Immediately thereafter he asserts clearly that this is a matter of certain novelties and refers to the biography of Isaac Thomas Hecker, an American priest, as his source. Then he proceeds to discuss these novelties in detail, asserts the danger of each of them and rejects each. Finally, he condemns them all wholesale which ‘taken together’ — as the Latin texts suggests — are called ‘Americanism’ . . . These are the same opinions, which have been steadfastly opposed in America as theological ‘Americanism’ by the ‘conservatives’ (including our newspaper) as well as in the old world, especially by Dr. Maignen. But they are also the same opinions from which propaganda has been made unceasingly and not without success, in America, from America and by Americans in the press and on the speaker’s podium . . .

“Poor optimists, who believed a piece of paper from the Vatican would suffice to end all strife. We have never belonged to that group. Even less do we cast our lot with the pessimists. The voice of the Holy Father — whether it is incapable of stemming the controversy in the near time or whether the strife will even rage more fiercely for a while — has not been raised in vain. Let the confusion become even more widespread as a result, the voice of the pope will ultimately have the power to clarify the issues and call each one to make a decision. Blessed be the person who then will find himself on the right side and sees that he has always been there.”

A March 8 editorial, “Auch Msgr. Keane hat nun” (Now also Bishop Keane) reports on Richmond Bishop John Keane’s response the encyclical:

“Even Bishop Keane — according to an Associated Press dispatch from Rome — has now sent a message to the Pope in which he declares that ‘the liberal wing [sic] of the Church in America has been misrepresented and he insists that the so-called ‘Americanism’ has never subscribed to the errors now condemned by the Holy Father and that he himself has never taught them . . . Both leaders of the Liberals (Archbishop Ireland and Bishop Keane) , according to the same dispatch, have proven by their clarifications that the Vatican has totally misunderstood the meaning of ‘Americanism’ by relying on the version of Father Hecker’s Commentary [?] which has appeared with a papal imprimatur ( this refers to Maignen’s book. (!) . . .

“If these dispatches are accurate one can only conclude that one cannot say: ‘Roma locuta causa finita.’ — Rome has spoken. Case closed.

A March 15, 1899 editorial, “Wie zu erwarten war” (What we expected) notes the irony of so many Americanist prelates denying they were ever “Americanists.”

“As was to be expected,” wrote editor Hugo Klapproth, “there is a great rush everywhere to disclaim the teachings condemned in the papal letter to Cardinal Gibbons by quickly declaring — the password is readily at hand — that the condemned Americanism never existed here. Thus the Boston Pilot writes: [Der Wanderer cites the English text]: ‘The American Catholicism which the Abbé Maignen and his followers have evolved largely from their inner consciousness is not indigenous to our soil.’ The following points can be raised in this connection. The book by Abbé Maignen: ‘Is Father Hecker a Saint?’ was translated into English from the French original. Citations from the biography of Isaac Hecker in this English translation are not taken from the French translation of Elliot’s book; rather they are taken from Father Elliot’s original English text. And the teachings condemned by the Holy Father are taken from this latter book. It follows, therefore, that the so-called Americanism is in no way a figment of Abbé Maignen’s imagination. Finally we have some questions to direct at the Pilot:

“1) In the introduction to his encyclical the Holy Father indicates that the biography of Father Hecker contains some false opinions. Does the Pilot now wish to maintain that the Holy Father is in error?

“2) The Holy Father addressed his letter to His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore and not to a French, Italian, or other foreign prelate. Is the Pilot ready to assert that the Holy Father had the wrong address?

“3) Right at the beginning of his letter the Holy Father says it is not his intention to praise American Catholics but rather to refer to some errors that had to be taken care of. Does the Pilot dare to suggest that these words of the Holy Father are based on an error? We are looking forward with great expectation to the Pilot‘s answer.”

The controversy surrounding the acceptance of Leo’s encyclical by leading American prelates continued over the months. A March 15, 1899, editorial, “Wir constatiren,” observed:

“We note that many English-language American papers are filled with factual errors in reporting on this Americanism controversy. Indeed errors creep into English Catholic papers as well . . .

“What can one say, for example, when at this late date (13 March) a Catholic paper can report Archbishop Ireland’s letter to the Pope and, using large print headlines, celebrates this letter as ‘an unconditional surrender’ on the part of Ireland?! Doesn’t this paper really know that Archbishop Ireland vigorously, and we might add, legitimately protests such an interpretation of his actions?”

A March 22, 1899, front page editorial, “Das Schreiben Erzbishof Ireland’s an den Hl. Vater,” (Archbishop Ireland’s letter to the Holy Father), observes:

“This letter functions as a response to the Pope’s Brief on theological ‘Americanism.’ The full text is an exact translation into German from our copy of the French original.

[There follow here several excerpts from Archbishop’s letter]:

“Now light has been shed on the situation. The misunderstandings are at an end. We are now in a position of providing a definition of the error to which ‘some’ have delighted to confer the name of Americanism, and the true meaning of Americanism, as only the Americans can comprehend it, is made clear . . .

“With certitude and with all the energy of my soul I reject and condemn all the opinions which the Apostolic Brief rejects and condemns. I condemn as well those erroneous and dangerous opinions which, as the Papal Brief affirms, ‘some persons’ call Americanism . . . I reject and condemn these opinions literally and categorically just as Your Holiness rejects and condemns them. And I condemn and reject them all the more readily and all the more joyfully, in as much as my Catholic faith and my understanding of the teachings and practices of holy Church have kept me from ever, even for a moment, entertaining similar wayward ways.

[letter signed and dated February 22, 1899]

Der Wanderer editor Hugo Klapproth observed:

“How a respected and otherwise sensible Catholic newspaper can look at this letter and speak of ‘unqualified submission’ is incomprehensible. It is just as clear as the day that this letter is essentially nothing but an angry protest against the assertion of ‘some,’ ‘several,’ ‘certain persons’ that the ‘opinions’ condemned by the Holy Father ever existed in America and especially that Archbishop Ireland ever fostered or promoted such ‘opinions’ . . .

“If it were to be supposed that the Holy Father intended to use his own Apostolic Letter to assert that such ‘opinions,’ theological ‘Americanism’ never existed in America, then he was at least mistaken. But according to the letter of Archbishop Ireland above the Holy Father didn’t intend to say that . . . ”

A March 29, 1899 editorial, “Die Amerikanisirer,” observes:

“One after the other, the ‘Amerikanizers’ are beginning to recover from the shock they have experienced as a result of the recent lightning bolt from the Vatican. It is clear from their actions and words that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Instead of bearing witness to the truth and admitting that they had been following a will-o-the-wisp, and that in Heckerism and ‘Americanism’ they have been worshiping the false gods of the present age — instead of doing that they deny flatly that there ever has been anything like ‘Americanism’ and declare that the Papal Brief is the latest and most dangerous product — read it and weep — of the Cahensly-conspiracy. It is seen as part of the effort to paint the Church in America with the offensive brush of ‘foreignism.’ ‘As long as foreign languages, customs, and practices are transplanted into this country and forced upon the Church, so long will her enemies treat her with scorn,’ thus writes the editor of the Catholic Union and Times in their last issue.”

An April 5, 1899 news report, “Erzbischof Corrigan an den Papst,” (Archbishop Corrigan to the Pope), informs that L’Osservatore Romano “published last week a letter of Archbishop Corrigan of New York to the Pope in which he thanks the Holy Father in the name of his suffragans for his latest communication on ‘Americanism.’ The archbishop says he accepts the Brief exactly as it stands in his own name as well as in the name of the clergy, religious orders and parishes. He adds that the question is now settled and the well-known errors under the name of Americanism are now for ever dead. (?)”

An April 5 news item, “Die Paulisten,” reports that the Paulists have withdrawn from circulation “The Life of Father Hecker,” but the Paulists’ newspaper, The Catholic World, declares that Father Hecker “is not only totally orthodox but is the best defender that the Church ever had.”

An April 12, 1899 editorial, “Es gibt keinen ‘religiösen Americanismus,” (There is no American religion) observes:

“‘There is no theological Americanism,’ exclaim our liberals. But they are the only ones who hold to that position. The Pope and the Catholic world think differently. Archbishop Bruchési of Montreal made such remarks in one of his sermons in his cathedral, as quoted in the Fall River Independent of 17 March. ‘To err is human.’ How often has that not been verified in the course of the centuries? But the infallible teaching office of the Church was always there and watched over the sacred treasure committed to her care. And to this day no one has been able to subtract from it . . .

“All these opinions bore a name which characterized them as a system which speaks to the needs of our time, namely ‘Americanism.’ Lively discussions followed. There was recourse to Rome. Leo XIII considered it wise to intervene. After careful review he condemned the theological novelties in a letter written to the head of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States. This letter will remain one of the most important documents of his reign. The pope has thereby called to mind the unchanging foundations of the Gospel and tradition.”

Farewell & Welcome

On June 7, 1899, editor Hugo Klapproth bid farewell to his readers in a front page editorial “Zum Abschied” (A Farewell):

“In the editorial office of Der Wanderer we have always given pre-eminence to the honor of God. In dealing with the various ‘questions’ of recent years which exercised the spirits we have always positioned ourselves on that side of the issue which after careful examination seemed to us to be the right one. It was not rare to find ourselves in the painful situation of fighting against something which leading members of the hierarchy promoted or worked for . . .

“In those situations where we considered it to be our duty to take a particular stand which was in opposition to one taken by an ecclesiastical leader we have always, as far as possible, tried to separate the person from the issue. Each time we faced such a situation we asked ourselves before we made our decision whether and to what extent an opposing view in the question at issue might be possible. To the best of our knowledge we have never intentionally opposed an ecclesiastical superior’s legitimate commands and instructions. For that reason we found ourselves constantly in a cross fire from the side of good friends, some of whom found our ‘tone’ too sharp, while others — indeed, the majority — judged the tone not to be aggressive enough. We listened to everyone’s view and — plotted our own course. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. [pleasant in manner, courageous in substance.] But how difficult it was, how very difficult, for us to foster in the lay man, who was by no means a trained theologian, a conviction in these difficult issues which extend more or less deeply into the realm of theology. It was equally difficult to find the right expression. How often we felt burdened by the feeling of responsibility and the anxiety that we might be harming the very cause we were promoting rather than helping it. Did we always make the right decision? We don’t know but we lay down the editorship with a spirit of interior relief and an untroubled conscience as this mountainous burden is finally taken from us. For the rest, we can add that in all the great ecclesiastical questions that have been disputed in recent years — once Rome has made the final decision — it was clear that Der Wanderer always stood where every Catholic is supposed to stand: there ‘where Peter is.’

In his inaugural editorial the following week, June 14, 1899, 22-year-old Joseph Matt (who would eventually serve as editor for an American record-smashing 66 years), wrote, under “Mit Gott und für Gott!” (With God and for God!):

“When we come before the readers of Der Wanderer today for the first time and when they scrutinize us with a critical eye and ask us about our program it doesn’t take us long to respond: our earnest and zealous goal will be to walk in the footsteps of our mentor and predecessor. Whatever might come about in the future, the measure by which we shall judge ourselves will be: With God and for God! . . . ”

# # # #

New Survey of Catholics Reveals the Tragic Cost of “Assimilation”

by Paul Likoudis

In the late 19th century, and early 20th, Der Wanderer’s editors Hugo Klapproth and Joseph Matt fought, and history shows they lost, a decades-long battle against “Americanism” and the assimilation of German-American Catholics into the “mainstream” of American society, as this week’s installment of “The Wanderer at 140” shows.

But a new survey conducted by a prestigious California firm, the Barna Group, describes in dramatic detail the price of Catholic assimilation: Catholics are the least likely of all self-professed Christians to profess their faith in public, to practice their faith, to share their faith with others and even to believe the basic doctrines of the faith they claim to belong to.

The president of the Barna Group, George Barna, oversaw the survey and expressed alarm at what he learned, which not only has terrible implications for the Catholic Church in the United States, but powerful social and cultural implications.

“The history of American Catholics is that of a pool of immigrants who have successfully blended into the native culture,” Barna said in releasing the survey on July 9. “They have done well at adapting to their surroundings and emerging to become a backbone of the community and the national economy. The questions raised fifty years ago about the political loyalties and social objectives of Catholics are no longer relevant in this society.

“Yet, the cost of that struggle to achieve acceptance and legitimacy is that Catholics have largely lost touch with much of their substantive spiritual heritage,” he added. “They retain an appreciation for tradition and consistency, but have much less of a commitment to knowing and practicing the commands of Christ. For instance, the data show that some of their long-held distinctives, such as being champions of social justice, are no longer a defining facet of their community.

“The trail of Catholicism in America is a clear example of culture influencing faith more often than faith influencing culture,” Barna continued. “The faith of tens of millions of Catholics is affected by the prevailing culture more than by the central principles and teachings of the Bible. Spiritual leaders who are passionate about remaining true to the scriptures and to Catholicism’s historic commitment to Jesus Christ and the Word of God must address this spiritual drift within the body. If they fail to do so, in the next quarter century American Catholicism could well lose its ability to shape people’s minds and hearts in ways that conform to the historic teachings and purposes of Christianity.”

According to a press release announcing the results of the survey, headlined, “Catholics Have Become Mainstream America,” Catholics constitute the larges single religious denomination in the country, at 22 percent, but “they are virtually indistinguishable from people aligned with other faith groups.”

According to the press release:

“The survey explored three dimensions of people’s faith: behaviors, beliefs and attitudes. Catholics were significantly different from other Americans in each of those areas. Two out of three Catholics (68%) said their religious faith is very important in their life — the same as was true among non-Catholic adults — but how their faith is manifested is quite divergent.

“All five of the faith-related attitudes tested showed a gap between Catholics and other Americans. Among the elements tested were people’s highest priority in life (Catholics were only half as likely as others to mention their faith, and a majority identified family as their priority) and their commitment to the Christian faith (44% of Catholics claimed to be ‘absolutely committed’ compared to 54% of the entire adult population).

“Further; Catholics were less likely than average to look forward to discussing their religious views with other people, to attending church services, and to reading the Bible. In fact, Catholics were only half as likely as other Americans to say they look forward ‘a lot’ to reading from the Bible.

“Of the dozen faith-oriented behaviors tested, Catholics strayed from the norm in relation to eight of the 12 items. Specifically, the typical Catholic person donated about 17% less money to churches; was 38% less likely than the average American to read the Bible; 67% less likely to attend a Sunday school class; 20% less likely to share their faith in Christ with someone who had different beliefs; 24% less likely to say their religious faith has greatly transformed their life; and were 36% less likely to have an ‘active faith,’ which Barna defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending a church service during the prior week . . .

“Catholics differed from most people on seven of the 11 belief-focused questions raised. For instance, Catholics were significantly less likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches and only half as likely to maintain that they have a responsibility to share their faith with others. They were more likely than the norm to say that Satan is not real; to believe that eternal salvation is earned; and to contend that Jesus Christ sinned while on earth . . .

“The moral behaviors of Catholics also stood out in several areas. Among the 16 moral behaviors examined, Catholics were notably more likely to not say mean things about people behind their back, and were more likely to engage in recycling. However, they were also twice as likely to view pornographic content on the Internet and were more likely to use profanity, to gamble, and to buy lottery tickets.

“Among the moral behaviors in which Catholics were indistinguishable from other Americans were illegally downloading copyrighted music from the Internet, stealing, engaging in physical abuse, getting drunk, using illegal, non-prescription drugs, lying, committing adultery, and seeking revenge . . .

“Regarding aspects of life outside of faith and morals, Catholics are strikingly similar to the rest of the public. There is less anticipation among Catholics regarding a good night of sleep or reading a good book, and slightly more excitement about spending time working on their garden and yard. But the bulk of the attitudes investigated — regarding media, consumerism, vacations, health and exercise, and even household duties — showed no difference between Catholics and other Americans . . .

“Years ago, politicians counted on Catholics to respond to certain cues based on the unique demographic profile of the group. That distinction has vanished. The survey explored a dozen demographic variables and discovered that Catholics are the same as the rest of the country on ten of those twelve items . . . ”

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

At the Center of the Storm: Der Wanderer & the 1916 Election

As Europe headed into the third year of the Great War in the summer of 1916, Americans faced one of the most bitter and bruising campaign seasons in its history, as Democratic President Woodrow Wilson sought re-election against his Republican challenger, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

For Joseph Matt, the editor of Der Wanderer and a major influence in the most important German-American groups at the time, it didn’t matter which party or candidate won. Neither, he figured, would keep the country out of the European war, neither would correct our disastrous participation in Mexico’s civil war; neither had a “constructive” program for America.

“It makes no difference which political party is in power in this difficult time,” he wrote in an October 5 editorial. “For the basic root of the malaise affecting our American political life lies in the fact that there is no really constructive party, no party whose program is anchored in eternally valid ethical principles. On the contrary, any party in control allows itself to be swayed by considerations of momentary advantage, and it is from this standpoint that judgments about ‘right or wrong’ [German text uses English here] are formed . . . ”

In this election, German-Americans’ loyalty to the United States was questioned, their morality impugned and their votes courted by both parties — the Democrats to whom they were traditionally loyal, and by the Republicans who understood German-Americans loathed Wilson.

Even before the campaign opened, the Germanophobic Wilson, in his December 1915 message to Congress, accused German-Americans of having “poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our government into contempt, to destroy our industries . . . and to debase our policies to the uses of foreign intrigue.”

His address drew a response from Frederick Kenkel of the Central Verein, who wrote: “We regret this utterance and deplore its effects,” charging it was “calculated to foster unfounded suspicion and mistrust of a large element of our American people.”

Kenkel’s appeal for moderation was picked up by the New York Times, which published an editorial, “Germans Attack Wilson,” criticizing “certain fanatics and alien propagandists” who “subordinate their religion to their transmarine idolatry.”

German-Americans, naturally, were opposed to American entry into the European war on England’s side, and German-American groups, including the Central Verein, organized massive rallies — one in Manhattan attracted more than 100,000 demonstrators — protesting entry in a war that would only serve the interests of “international capital.”

“German-American organizational efforts grew even more feverish and complicated in the election year of 1916,” writes Notre Dame historian Philip Gleason in his book The Conservative Reformers: German-American Catholics and the Social Order. “In February, German-American journalists met in Chicago to form the National German Publishers Association. Ex-president [Nicholas] Gonner of the Central-Verein and August F. Brokland of Die Amerika and the Central Bureau were among the Catholics at the meeting . . . ”

As German-Americans rallied in opposition to the war, Der Wanderer’s editor Joseph Matt, writes Dr. Gleason, “was troubled by the number of Catholics flocking to the North American Alliance,” a German-American association led by socialists, Freethinkers and “self-seekers” who did not share the same views “on the duties of citizenship” as did Catholics.

As the summer of 1916 approached, anti-German-American propaganda intensified. On the opening day of the Democratic Convention in St. Louis, June 14, Woodrow Wilson darkly warned at a “Preparedness” rally in Washington: “There is disloyalty active in the United States and it must be crushed.”

Feeding Hysteria

Wilson accused anti-war German-Americans of treason and blackmail, charging their threat to exercise their political might at the polls constituted aiding a foreign government. Wilson pledged he will “teach these gentlemen once and for all that loyalty to this flag is the first test of tolerance in the United States.”

“Speaking in the Midwest on the same day,” writes Dr. Alan Carlson in his book The American Way: Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity, “former President Theodore Roosevelt was less circumspect about the identity of the disloyal:

“‘No good American . . . can have any feeling except scorn and detestation for those professional German-Americans who seek to make the American President in effect a viceroy of the German Emperor.’

“Roosevelt blasted ‘adherence to the politico-racial hyphen which is the badge and sign of moral treason.’

“One day later the Democratic Party, meeting in Convention in the heavily German-American city of St. Louis, adopted a platform plank on ‘Hyphenates’ and ‘Americanism.’ Together, these stood as ‘the supreme issue of the day,’ the document declared. Anyone ‘actuated by the purpose to promote the interests of a foreign power in disregard of our own country’s welfare’ created ‘discord and strife’ among Americans, obstructed ‘the whole sum process of unification,’ was ‘faithless to the trust . . . of [U.S.] citizenship,’ and stood as ‘disloyal to his country.’ Any ‘division’ of Americans into antagonistic racial groups destroyed ‘that complete . . . solidarity of the people and that unity of sentiment and national purpose so essential to the perpetuity of the nation and of its free institutions’ . . .

“Held during the third year of The Great War in Europe,” Carlson continues, “the American election of 1916 became, at least at the rhetorical- and domestic- political levels, a form of civil war. More broadly, the supposed ‘German-American threat’ to national unity betokened a crisis in American self-understanding . . . ”

Carlson continues: “When Hughes won the Republican nomination on June 10, German-Americans congratulated themselves on their success. But they also reaped the ‘Flag Day’ denunciations by Wilson and Roosevelt . . . Wilson made ‘anti-hyphenism’, along with ‘he kept us out of war,’ his major campaign issues. In early September, he warned darkly about ‘the passions and intrigues of certain active groups and combinations of men amongst us who were born under foreign flags [and] injected the poison of disloyalty into our most critical affairs.’ He largely succeeded in casting Hughes as the candidate of ‘the Kaiser’ and of extremists of all kinds. When the St. Louis Chapter of the Alliance endorsed Hughes and boasted of 20,000 members ready to vote as a block, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch accused the group of a ‘vehemently un-American,’ pro German conspiracy.”

The anti-German hysteria fueled by Wilson and Roosevelt, Carlson reminds us, had consequences:

“Out in the states, countless vigilante acts directed against German-Americans occurred. In Illinois, there were ‘nightrider’ attacks on Mennonite churches with skulls and crossbones painted over the doors. A mob demolished the piano of a German singing society in Eugene, Oregon. Eight men entered a Birmingham, Ohio, pastor’s study, and burned his books. In Bishop, Texas, a mob flogged a German Lutheran pastor. The tar-and-feathering of German-speaking clergy was common. Boy Scouts burned German-language papers in Columbus, Ohio, while the National Guard torched German books in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Pacifist Mennonites and Hutterites were jailed and treated with unusual brutality. German language classes — called a ‘distinct menace to Americanism’ — disappeared from many school districts; among all the others, the number of students fell sharply. In South Dakota, authorities closed a Mennonite flour mill when a customer reported finding glass chips in the flour. The spirit of the age was ably expressed in a pamphlet linking the Alliance to the brewing industry, A Disloyal Combination:

“‘Everything that is pro-German [in this country] must go. The German Press. The teaching of German in the elementary schools . . . German alliances and the whole German propaganda must be abolished . . . The brewers and allied liquor trades that back such an alliance should suffer the same penalty’ . . . ”

At the Crossroads

Against this over-heated political background, on October 5, 1916, Der Wanderer’s editor Joseph Matt wrote a page-one editorial “Am Scheideweg” — At the Crossroads:

“American election campaigns have never enjoyed the reputation of promoting the education of the people in high ideals. For the most part, they were dedicated to self interest, eloquence, demagoguery. Pessimists generally came out ahead when they claimed to find their dour expectations realized in our political life . . . But those who sought comfort in the politician who repeated the phrase: ‘My son, you have no idea how much nonsense is spoken in world governance’ — these were not on the short end either . . .

“It is hard to say what is the dominant characteristic of the current campaign: is it a tragedy of a people undoubtedly called to high tasks which sets about building its future devoid of all planning and setting of goals and lacking any kind of solid principles or is it a comedy in which its political leaders articulate soothing, multivalent phrases behind which an ego-trip stands as a categorical imperative. Thus, the anointed leaders set about extolling each other . . .

“Our people, the ruling party, the leaders of the parties have the splendid opportunity to make their mark on world history and assure for the American republic lasting gratitude from all the peoples now suffering from the catastrophe of a world war . . . It makes no difference which political party is in power in this difficult time. For the basic root of the malaise affecting our American political life lies in the fact that there is no really constructive party, no party whose program is anchored in eternally valid ethical principles. On the contrary, any party in control allows itself to be swayed by considerations of momentary advantage, and it is from this standpoint that judgments about ‘right or wrong’ are formed . . .

“A similar tone is adopted in a document by D. W. Lawler, Democratic candidate for the Senate, in which he attempts to illuminate the political climate. He tries to calm down the German-Americans, to protect the President against charges of xenophobia, and to convert the Republicans to a position for which Mr. Wilson has been criticized. He is not very successful in defending the President. According to his logic it is not Wilson who is guilty of embittering the German-Americans but rather the evil Republican spokesmen who have put Mr. Wilson in a bad light . . .

“The fact is and remains that Mr. Wilson was the one who first raised the infamous charge of disloyalty. He did this not in the name of a private citizen who had no responsibility to discharge but as the highest official of the Republic. All the wooing by Democratic press offices and Democratic politicians cannot change this point one bit . . .

“Mr. Wilson has squandered the trust of the great mass of German-Americans. That he insulted and defamed them — because he didn’t know them — as Mr. Lawler suggests — German-Americans could and would have to forgive for the sake of the country. But their attitude toward him will not be defined by feelings of personal revenge. They just don’t think that he is the man who in this troubled time should be entrusted with the helm of the ship of state. His Mexican policy dictated by fanaticism and a know-it-all attitude has revealed him to be a political dilettante of the most dubious sort. His policies toward the belligerents have the stamp of bias, narrow-mindedness, and one-sided judgments. The things that are known about his methods as he simply insisted on imposing his will on Mexico lead us to expect the worst from him for the time when it will be cleaning-up time in Europe . . .

“From him one can expect that at the last moment he will shove through our country’s participation in the world war when he judges that to be useful for carrying out his dark plans. One can expect that he will support England’s position at a future peace conference. In short, Woodrow Wilson is not the man into whose hands one can easily entrust the fate of our country in view of the uncertainties of the present world situation.

“We have said it often and now we repeat it: we don’t have complete trust in Mr. Hughes either. We completely respect his problematic situation and don’t fail to recognize that his prospects for an electoral victory would be nothing short of brilliant if he were forced to do without the support of people like Roosevelt, Root, Lodge, etc. but it is precisely these people whom he will not be able to get rid of once he has been elected. With a man like Root as Secretary of State and a Roosevelt in the role of minister without portfolio a Republican administration might be formed that is even more disastrous than one under Mr. Wilson whose weaknesses would at least shield the country from the worst consequences of his dismal policies. We don’t feel any great confidence in the expectation of some German-American papers that Republicans would learn a lesson from a Wilson defeat and guard themselves from falling into the same errors as plagued the Democrats and keep the German-Americans at arm’s length . . . After the election one would speedily forget that Wilson was defeated with the help of German-Americans and one could even rely on the conclusion that Mr. Hughes was elected in spite of Roosevelt’s fierce rumblings against the German-Americans.

“The dilemma facing the German-Americans would be easier to solve if it were possible to devise a common electoral program uniting the great mass of German-Americans. Such a platform could lead to a powerful demonstration through which they could make Mr. Wilson aware of their lack of trust in him and could show the Republicans that they won’t let themselves be used as a tool and that they would not be ready to sign up for the Republican Party without adequate guarantees. As the situation looks now the most useful strategy lies in the direction of abstaining from voting in the presidential election. It is possible that in the last weeks before the election Mr. Hughes might declare himself in a clearer fashion on some of the critical issues. In this way, he might be able in part to put to rest the strong misgivings legitimately attaching to the nature of his main supporters. In his latest speeches he has come somewhat closer to supporting these legitimate expectations, but he has a long ways to go to set aside all misgivings.

“Our discussion so far has focused on the forthcoming presidential election. Of equal importance are the Congressional elections . . . It is beyond dispute that the Democrats have proved their ability to govern. There is no point now in seeking to wrest any position of power from the Democrats in Congress. We consider it undesirable that either party have an absolute majority in Congress. But a simple majority of Democrats in Congress seems to us to be necessary to provide a check against a potential Republican administration. One only has to consider the kind of influence a Lodge, for example, might have as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee to be convinced of this argument.

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson went to Congress and asked it to declare war on Germany, which Congress did two days later.

This declaration of war, observed Dr. Gleason, “began a period of ‘inner martyrdom’ for German-Americans and marked a turning point in their history . . . Newspapers and societies were ‘scoured away’ in the storm of anti-German feeling that swept over the country . . . Because their old homeland was the national enemy, portrayed as the embodiment of everything evil, the self-confidence and self-esteem of the German-American was, if not extinguished, at least seriously undermined. German Catholics suffered along with their ethnic brethren, and the psychic damage of the war is discernible in many aspect of their post-war development . . . ”

While anti-Catholic newspapers demanded that German-American Catholics — “papal henchmen” — be deported, writes Gleason, “more distressing to German American Catholics was the lack of sympathetic support from their fellow religionists and attacks on things German by other Catholics . . . ”

Der Wanderer at 140 . . .

Benedict XV’s Peace Proposal Put Wanderer Editor at Risk

When Pope Benedict XV issued his Peace Proposal in August 1917, calling for an end to the war that had turned Europe into a “slaughter house” — a proposal rejected by the Allies (England, France and the United States), as well as by Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons and most of the American hierarchy — Der Wanderer‘s editor Joseph Matt supported it.

But as he explained to his readers in an October 17, 1917 editorial, he did so at the risk of being branded a traitor, for the U.S. Government’s laws regulating German-language publications could have made it a crime to support the Pope’s initiative.

In that editorial, Matt informed his readers that the Trading With The Enemy Act, passed on October 3, 1917 “prohibits the printing, publishing and circulating ‘in any foreign language of any news item, editorial or other printed matter respecting the government of the United States, or any nation engaged with the present war, its politics, international relations, the state or conduct of the war, or any matter relating thereto,’ unless the printer and publisher either secures a permit issued by the President or has filed before mailing his publication on the form of a proposal unless an English translation of the entire article containing such matter’ [has been filed] with the local postmaster.

“The modus operandi of the new law is somewhat in doubt, conflicting reports having been sent out from Washington by the news magnates. We have complied with the law as far as we have been able to ascertain its requirements. This necessitated, not a change of the policy of our paper, but a reduction of the amount of reading matter pertaining to the war. Moreover, we had to be extremely careful not to say anything that might be construed as transgressing the stringent provisions and restrictions of the law. For instance a strict application of the law would forbid even discussing in the German language the Holy Father’s peace proposal, unless an English translation is filed with the postmaster.”

The Pope’s Peace Proposal — the 90th anniversary of which passed unremarked upon on August 1st — urged the substitution of the rule of law for arms — “institutions of arbitration” in lieu of armies — freedom of the seas, no recriminations or reparations but mutual forgiveness, and the resolution of territorial disputes, such as in the Balkans, between France and Germany and Austria and Italy, in a spirit of “equity and justice.”

Pope Benedict, the diminutive Genovan aristocrat who became known as “the Pope of Peace,” was elected to the Throne of Peter in September 1914; he has been described as “an overture to the reigns of Pius XI and Pius XII” because of the course of genuine neutrality amidst conflicts and “service to humanity” he set for future papal diplomacy.

Pope: Take No Sides

As Archbishop of Bologna when the war broke out, he reportedly said: “I should regret if any of my clergy should take sides in this conflict. It is desirable that we pray for the cessation of the war without dictating to Almighty God in what way it should end.”

Five days after his election, he told the cardinals his number one cause was peace in Europe, and he issued his first encyclical two months later, on November 1, 1914, calling for an end to the war. In early December, he appealed for a “Truce of God” for Christmas. In 1915 he made another appeal for a total armistice.

On August 15, 1917, the Holy Father sent a letter to James Cardinal Gibbons, urging him to “exert influence” over President Woodrow Wilson and persuade him to accept the Proposal. Gibbons ignored the request, just as he earlier had rejected the Pontiff’s appeal to urge a boycott of any nation that had universal conscription.

Gibbons, in fact, along with the other U.S. archbishops, had pledged Wilson the “truest patriotic fervor and zeal.” In an August 18 letter to Wilson, Gibbons wrote: “Moved to the very depths of our hearts by the stirring appeal of the President of the United States and by the action of our national Congress, we accept wholeheartedly and unreservedly the decree of that legislative authority proclaiming this country to be in a state of war.”

“We stand ready,” Gibbons assured Wilson, “we and all the flock committed to our keeping, to cooperate in every way possible with our President and our national government, to the end that the great and holy cause of liberty may triumph, and that our beloved country may emerge from this hour of test stronger and nobler than ever. Our people, as ever, will rise as one man to serve the nation.”

Origins of the Bishops’ Conference

Two months later, the U.S. bishops founded the National Catholic War Council to mobilize the Catholic citizenry for “war work.”

Just as World War I changed America, the National Catholic War Council changed the Catholic Church in the United States. As Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan explained in the 2004 Erasmus Lecture to the Institute on Religion and Public Life, titled, “The Conciliar Tradition of the American Hierarchy”, Wilson’s war caused a “dramatic transition in the style of American hierarchical collegiality . . .

“It is accurate to say that the overwhelming concern of the American bishops until 1917 was the internal, pastoral matters of the Church. They did not see themselves as prophetic voices challenging society or culture, and were certainly scrupulous about ever giving the impression of ‘meddling’ in national or political affairs. More or less, up until the First World War, the bishops viewed their national role as the one defined by [Archbishop] John Carroll: to provide structure, organization, cohesion, and discipline to internal Catholic life in America. They saw themselves as pastors dealing with ad intra issues: marriage and family, religious education, training and uprightness of the clergy, the question of new dioceses and the nomination of occupants for those sees, the proper celebration of the sacraments, and warning their flocks of dangers to the faith posed by this unique new American setting, especially rampant immorality, mixed-marriages, alcohol, religious indifference, and avarice . . .

“The American conciliar tradition would be dramatically expanded with World War I, and the main protagonist was the Paulist editor of the Catholic World, John Burke, who had long argued for a national outlook and sense of unity among the country’s Catholics. Douglas Slawson, the historian of the formative years of the bishops’ conference, points out that the hierarchy was eager to show its enthusiastic support for the war effort. With the approval of the unofficial primate, Cardinal Gibbons, the Paulist invited Catholic leaders to Washington in August, 1917, to discuss Catholic support of the war, and the turnout was impressive. The conclusion of this meeting was that a National Catholic War Council (NCWC) was formed, which was approved by and placed under the direction of the nation’s archbishops at their November, 1917 meeting. Its duties: to promote Catholic participation in the war, through chaplains, literature, and care for the morale of the troops” — and to establish Boy Scout troops in every parish, as well as parish fund drives to support the war effort.

(As an aside, the National Catholic War Council became the National Catholic Welfare Conference in 1919, with Fr. Burke as its first general secretary, overseeing five departments: education, social action, laity, press, and missions. As Archbishop Doyle subsequently pointed out in his address, two years later Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell and Brooklyn Bishop Charles McDonald of Brooklyn, “protested to the Holy See that the new NCWC smacked of Gallicanism, and encroached upon the independence of the diocesan bishop. Rome, especially Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, O’Connell’s old friend, gave them a favorable hearing, and the Consistorial Congregation (the predecessor of today’s Congregation for Bishops) suddenly suppressed the NCWC!” — a suppression reversed by Pope Pius XI after intensive lobbying by the U.S. bishops.)

The German-American Catholic’s Point of View

German-American Catholics’ sympathies, writes Notre Dame historian Philip Gleason, were “overwhelmingly” on the side of their families in Central Europe, but once war was declared, they supported the war and tried to prove they were “loyal Americans.”

“But loyalty not withstanding,” he adds, “it was difficult for German-Americans to regard the nation’s course of action as anything but a mistake — a mistake to which it had been led by a pro-Allied administration seduced by British propaganda and pressured by munitions makers and Wall Street bankers who had staked their fortunes on an Allied victory.

“In stressing the role of propaganda, the munitions trade and Wall Street, the German-Americans anticipated the later ‘revisionist’ analysis of America’s entry into the war . . . To many German-Americans, as to the revisionists, the war seemed a great national blunder in which the people were duped and democracy perverted . . . ”

Dr. Gleason’s analysis certainly applies to the editor of Der Wanderer, Joseph Matt.

No “World-Wide Republic”

After Wilson declared War on April 6, Joseph Matt wrote an April 12 editorial, under the heading, “Vom Weltkrieg,” (War News), in which he observed:

” . . . But every argument against the war itself, every critical analysis of the breakdown of the previous policy of neutrality, everything that could be said about the century-old friendship with Germany and the contributions of German-Americans were like so much whistling in the wind. Senators and Representatives had made up their mind before the debate began. Especially noteworthy was the fact that in the Senate virtually every Senator who delivered a long speech in one way or the other referred to the concept of the world-wide republic [P.L.’s emphasis], which Wilson had broached in his own speech, even some of those who had taken a position against going to war. Senator Hitchcock declared: ‘Through this war we will help free, liberal, and democratic peoples to get rid of Germany, the last refuge of autocracy and militarism.’ Senator Lodge: ‘In my opinion this war is a war against barbarism, not against a barbarism flowing from anarchy as we know it from the Dark Ages, but rather against an organized barbarism.’ Senator Tillman spoke about ‘the Kaiser and his slavish underlings’ and about ‘autocracy and all its vile brood.’ [Der Wanderer quotes Tillman in the original English.]

“The vote on the war resolution came on Wednesday in the Senate. Senators Gronna, La Follette, Lane, Norris, Stone and Bardaman voted against the resolution. In the House there were 50 votes against the resolution, among them Miss Rankin, the first woman to be elected to Congress as well as four representatives from Minnesota: Van Dyke, Davis, Knutson and Lundeen.

“It was already Friday morning (Good Friday) when the House began its roll call. Shortly after noon President Wilson signed the resolution, which placed our country among the enemies of Germany in the terrible world war.”

Two weeks later, Matt editorialized under the same “Vom Weltkrieg,” a page one editorial that appeared throughout the war:

“All humanity yearns for peace. Exceptions are those who enrich themselves through price gouging and the manufacture of armaments, Peace! rings out from the discussions in the press and in the parliaments and cabinets. Even in America, which in the eleventh hour has arrayed itself with its unbroken might at the side of exhausted, war-weary peoples, the cries for peace arise from a million hearts. It may be that sooner or later cries for peace will be considered acts of treason so that some voices for peace will then be silenced. For the time being, though, in spite of a zealously cultivated jingoistic mentality, the cries for peace are very much alive. This is evident in the moderate enthusiasm fostered in the military recruitment officers; this is evident in the notably tepid desire for war among the common people; this is evident in the Congress where fiery patriotic speeches end with the hope that the war will be over before we have to send our soldiers to Europe . . . ”

The August 23 issue of Der Wanderer contained the full text of Pope Benedict’s Peace Proposal, along with an editorial:

“A week of excitement and expectancy has gone by since it has become known that the papal peace proposal has been communicated to the belligerents. The heart of everyone who really longs for peace, who still is moved by the suffering and the sacrifice of their fellow human beings, who wants to see an end to this terrible waste of time and blood among the peoples of the earth and a renewal of the sense of brotherhood among all people has beat faster and stronger. These people experienced the warning of the father of Christendom as the warm ray of the spring sun, which warns the outer ring of ice at the arrival of resurrection in nature. They tenaciously cling to the hope that the hour has come where the armor which has the whole world in its clutches will be smashed, where there will be a great sigh of relief for humanity suffering under its intolerable burdens . . .

“Among the allies, however, many hold the view only the complete destruction of the enemy will satisfy us. . If one holds this position then it is hardly to be expected that the papal proposal will be examined ‘in the spirit of good will and serious attention’ . . . ”

“The Whole World Is Tired of War”

An August 30 editorial by Matt bemoaned the poor reception of the Holy Father’s appeal:

“It looks as though there will be no morning to follow the night of terror which weighs down the peoples. A ray of hope lightened up the gloom, when two weeks ago the report about the Peace Proposal of the Pope circulated. Breathing a sigh of relief the war-weary people listened and millions of eyes, which had forgotten how to weep, shone with a hopeful sheen. Everyone who is open to the truth knows, of course, that the world is tired of war and that in more than one of the belligerents the yearning for peace is kept in check only through the severest repressive measures. More than one of the warring nations runs the risk of repeating the turmoil in Russia.

“Initial dispatches from Washington gave reason for hope that President Wilson in spite of the boorish statements of allied diplomats and the war-mongering press was lending strong support to the Pope and in union with him would restore peace to humanity and lay the foundation for reconciliation among the peoples. This was a critical historical moment which was going to decide the fate of hundreds of thousands, of millions, of entire peoples as President Wilson reached his decision how to respond to the papal peace proposal. The peoples waited full of expectancy. And President Wilson pondered and made his decision — and his response to the invitation of the pope was negative.

“On Tuesday his weighty response was made public. He was clear and decisive in his determination to keep Germany from emerging as a victor in the war, unclear and vague in presenting his conditions for peace. He made no comment on any of the specific proposals of the pope.

“Wilson characterized the Pope’s position as one of defending the status quo, the restoration of the pre-war political situation. But this war is being fought, he said, to free peoples of the world from the danger of German militarism. This is the work of an unscrupulous regime which is bent on world domination. This power is not the German people. It is the reckless ruler of the German people. Wilson says it is the task of the allies to see to it that the fate of the rest of the world is not left to the caprices of its will.

“President Wilson seems to hold tenaciously to the position outlined in his war message to Congress of almost five months ago: No peace as long as there remains a Hohenzoller at the helm of the German people . . . ”

Joseph Matt, clearly, saw through Wilson’s cant.

Next week: Joseph Matt describes for his readers, in detail, the difficulties of publishing Der Wanderer under the strict press censorship rules of the Wilson regime.

Another “thank you” is in order to Fr. John Kulas, OSB of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Mn., for translating Joseph Matt’s editorials from the original German.

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

Editor Struggled under Burden of Trading with the Enemy Act

On the eve of Der Wanderer‘s 50th anniversary, the United States Congress passed, on October 6, 1917, the Trading With The Enemy Act, which not only required editor Joseph Matt to seek a special license to publish his German-language newspaper, but required him to present an English translation of each issue that contained “original” news and views pertaining to the Great War to the Post Office prior to publication.

Matt complained that the wording of the act was so bureaucratically impenetrable that he could never know with certainty if he were in violation. Contemporary Wanderer readers might wonder the same, and with good reason: the law as originally enacted is still in effect, though it has been revised from time to time as presidents see fit: Franklin Roosevelt, for example, used the Trading With The Enemy Act to outlaw the ownership of gold — which was not excised from the Act until 1975!

For example, with more than a thousand subscribers to Der Wanderer in Germany, Matt had to navigate his way through one provision of the Act which prohibited “doing business” inside any territory with which the United States was at war. Also, the president had the power and authority to designate any individual or citizen living inside a territory with which the United States was at war as an “enemy,” and if a United States’ citizen “did business” with him, could be prosecuted under the terms of the Act.

Under Section 3 of the act, parts c. and d. declare that any person (except those “exempted by Government officials) may not:

” . . . send, or take out of, bring into, or attempt to send, or take out of, or bring into the United States, any letter or other writing or tangible form of communication, except in the regular course of the mail; and it shall be unlawful for any person to send, take, or transmit, or attempt to send, take, or transmit out of the United States, any letter or other writing, book, map, plan, or other paper, picture, or any telegram, cablegram, or wireless message, or other form of communication intended for or to be delivered, directly or indirectly, to an enemy or ally of enemy: Provided, however, That any person may send, take or transmit out of the United States anything herein forbidden if he shall first submit the same to the President, or to such officer as the President may direct, and shall obtain the license or consent of the President, under such rules and regulations, and with such exemptions as shall be prescribed by the President . . .

“Any person who willfully evades or attempts to evade the submission of any such communication to such censorship or willfully uses or attempts to use any code or other device for the purpose of concealing from such censorship the intended meaning of such communication shall be punished as provided in section sixteen of this Act.”

War News

The following brief survey of some of the news, commentaries and editorials of Joseph Matt published during this period illustrates the difficulties imposed on him; but they also reveal him as an editor with access to the latest news developments from Europe, and a man of remarkable, even unique, perspicacity.

Under the heading of “Vom Weltkrieg,” (War News) published September 6, 1917, Matt wrote on page 1:

“Perhaps the cause of peace could have taken a significant step forward if President Wilson had not broached the guilt question in his response to the Pope’s Peace Proposal. It is clear our generation will never come to an understanding on the question of guilt. And the President had been better served if he had adopted a hands-off policy on the question of democratization in Germany. Those who know the political situation in Germany have to say categorically that no consensus can be reached in this direction: that the German people, like any other nation opposes any intervention in its internal affairs . . .

“But the allies can afford to couch their war goals in generalities. It actually is the case that the message of the president is framed in generic expressions in contrast to the proposals of the Holy Father, which contain a concrete program for our scrutiny. Thus, for example, he speaks quite generally about his opposition to a ‘dismemberment of empires.’ But what does that mean? Does he support a return to the status quo as one of the first pre-requisites for peace? Hardly; for where he refers to the return to the status quo he expresses himself very cautiously and conditionally . . .

“To all appearances the Reichstag, the German parliament, is pushing to a speedy introduction of reforms, so that the political situation in Germany may be clarified when the Holy Father in a few weeks cites the responses of all belligerents as justification for releasing his peace proposals once again.

In a September 13, 1917 editorial, Matt continued to press for the United States to push for a “peace conference,” before U.S. troops were committed abroad, and it urged President Wilson to take a “more moderate” approach.

In a September 20 editorial, “Eine Pressezensur,” (Press Censorship,” Joseph Matt described the censorship imposed on German-language newspapers that is about to take place whereby these papers have to submit prior to publication a good and complete English translation of the articles dealing with war items.

“So that is the format of the envisioned censorship,” he lamented. “But we have to accept this unfair status. We know that happier days will come again. That must be our comfort in this time.”

In a September 20, 1917 editorial, Matt lamented that the Allies were putting their faith in a successful war effort, with a million American men heading toward the front, rather than a peace conference to end the slaughter. He wrote:

“Our readers must know that from the beginning we have emphasized the not insignificant impact of the entry of the USA in the war. In contrast to countless other newspapers we spoke right after the U.S. declaration of war of the likelihood that even before fall American troops will be in France. The facts have proved us right. American troops to be sure have no immediate role in a tactical sense. But they make up the advance guard of hundreds of thousands, even of millions, if need be. If the allies succeed in making it through the winter in spite of submarines, in spite of economic ills, in spite of the Russian collapse of the moment, then the spring will see the real beginning of the decisive struggle.

“That would mean scarcely imaginable sacrifices for the American people. For if the allies are serious about their curt rejection of any peace initiative, if they are confident in the ultimate success of their war strategy, then any great offensives are not to be expected in the fall, maybe not even in the spring: Then the plan would be to wait till the US is ready to move in at full strength . . .

“Today, only the following is known for sure: there are powerful forces abroad who want to fight the war to the bitter end without any consideration of the number of casualties, without any concern for how long it will take. And there are powerful influences at work seeking to end this grisly tragedy for all peoples by a negotiated peace.

“Which force will turn out to be the stronger? Will it be the one that leads to war or the one leading to peace? No mortal can say.”

Burden on Burden

On October 18, 1917, editor Matt made a special English-language announcement to Der Wanderer‘s English readers.

“To Our Readers:

“On October 15th the Trading with the Enemy Act [was promulgated.] Section 19 of that law prohibits the printing, publishing and circulating ‘in any foreign language of any news item, editorial or other printed matter respecting the government of the United States, or any nation engaged with the present war, its politics, international relations, the state or conduct of the war, or any matter relating thereto’ unless the printer and publisher either secures a permit issued by the President or has filed before mailing his publication on the form of a proposal ‘unless an English translation of the entire article containing such matter’ [has been filed] with the local postmaster.

“The modus operandi of the new law is somewhat in doubt, conflicting reports having been sent out from Washington by the news magnates. We have complied with the law as far as we have been able to ascertain its requirements. This necessitated, not a change of the policy of our paper, but a reduction of the amount of reading matter pertaining to the war. Moreover, we had to be extremely careful not to say anything that might be construed as transgressing the stringent provisions and restrictions of the law. For instance a strict application of the law would forbid even the discussing in the German language of the Holy Father’s peace proposal, unless an English translation is filed with the postmaster.

“We request our readers to keep these difficulties in mind and by kind forbearance enable us to continue the publication of Der Wanderer. We feel encouraged by the many tokens of good will and appreciation on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee and are confident that with the help of God the Wanderer will pass through this crisis unsullied.

“Beginning with today’s issue we will publish for those of our readers who can read and understand English an English section . . . And we should be glad to hear from them whether this new feature meets with their approval.”

(Der Wanderer would publish a predominantly German-language edition until 1931, when it switched to English; but Joseph Matt would continue to publish a German-language insert for the newspaper until 1957.)

More Bad News from the Front

In a March 28, 1918 “War News” column, Matt deplored the increasing fighting on the military front, and the quiet on the diplomatic.

“The conversation of the diplomats across the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean has stopped. The governments are once again talking together by sword and screaming artillery. It seems as though this grievous conflict, which is shaking the whole fabric of society, is supposed to be settled, not in the chambers of parliament or cabinet rooms, but rather in the bloody fortification lines. On the western front the Central Powers are seeking to secure what they have won in the East on the battlefield. Here the Western Powers are hoping to wrest from their opponent the fruits of their efforts in the first part of the World War . . . ”

One Year of Censorship

In an October 3, 1918 editorial, Matt gave his readers an update on press censorship:

“The law which requires ‘foreign-language’ newspapers to provide an English translation of all articles and commentary that have anything to do with the war is now one year old. Not many readers have any idea of the extra work falling upon the editorial staff of a newspaper covered by this law. Indeed, the work is proportionally greater for a weekly paper like the Wanderer than for a daily paper.

“In the case of the daily newspaper not much more than the editorials need to be translated. News stories, on the other hand, are drawn in most instances from dispatches of the Associated Press or United Press and these are rendered into German from the original English text. In these circumstances the requirements of the law are met by filing the original text with the censorship official. A weekly newspaper, i.e. one which doesn’t exclusively ‘work’ with cutting and pasting, reworks the material published in the daily press which it must abbreviate by culling out only the most important items. Thus a new article is produced, for example, like our war chronicle on page 2, which has to be translated from start to finish. Added to this is our weekly news in review on page 1. As an original text, apart from some quotations, this has to be translated from A to Z. Also to be added in almost every issue are an editorial or two . . . ”

On October 10, 1918, under the heading “War News,” Matt described the “ferocious battles” raging on the front, which would be “decisive”: “It is the decisive battle of the war, the battle to determine whether ‘to be or not to be.’ There has been a turning point in the last few weeks. The German army, which had already stretched its hand toward the ports on the Channel and the capital of France, has seen one previous success after the other slip away. The German army has long ago learned to give up the idea of mounting an offensive on its own initiative, but it has been continually retreating for the past three months. The territory in question is mostly land which had been acquired in the fiery spring offensive . . . ”

In an October 17 editorial, Matt commented on Wilson’s “14 Principles,” and worried that Wilson had succumbed to “medieval Universalism”:

” . . . He has proclaimed a series of principles — fourteen in an address to Congress on 8 January 1918, others in later speeches, in the spring as the Germans were streaking toward the coast of Flanders he promised to fight fire with fire to the bitter end, on 4 July at Washington’s grave as he more resolutely than ever threw down the gauntlet, on 17 September when he proclaimed a policy of justice for all peoples.

“Through these and a variety of other pronouncements President Wilson strove to appear as the spokesman for a new world conscience and sought to find a new formula for ‘peace on earth.’ As an historian he probably was thinking of the medieval Universalism, and his view of life based on humanism allowed him to think that it would be possible to blot out the old boundaries which were developed in the spirit of nationalism. He was especially eager to heed the national aspirations of all peoples, especially the small peoples . . . ”

One month before the Armistice of November 1918, on October 17 Matt wrote that Germany had been defeated by the million-man American army:

” . . . [T]he American army, a million strong, emerged as a factor of unimagined significance; then came the defeat at the Marne, the retreat into Picardie, the collapse of the Hindenburg line, the collapse of the Balkan front. All of this meant that the probability of a decisive German defeat became ever clearer. In these circumstances the German diplomats lost the last opportunity to propose a compromise which would in some way address the status quo. Instead of a ‘German Peace’ Germany must reckon today with a German defeat.”

On October 31, in his page 1 “War News,” Matt wrote:

” . . . Meanwhile the representatives of the countries who are at war with Germany had arrived in the city where almost 48 years ago the King of Prussia had been proclaimed Emperor of Germany. It is not impossible that around the anniversary of the imperial proclamation the final conditions for peace will become known. Actually, this is not exactly probable, for the peace conference will have so many problems to deal with that the conference is likely to last months even after the armistice has begun. This is true even if the groundwork for the negotiations will have been specified in advance. The work and the duration of the peace conference will depend in part on decisions taken in the next few days in Versailles. The conditions for the armistice will be such that a renewal of hostilities will for all practical purposes be excluded once the actual peace negotiations have been initiated . . .

“We assume that the commission of the American delegation will be to set firm guaranties for a general program of objectives, so that as a result the end of the war and at the same time the security of the future peace will be brought nearer to reality than would be possible by implementing the goals of the extremists in the Entente as well as in our own country.

For the November 14 issue of Der Wanderer, under the “War News” heading, Matt wrote:


“The word has a strange ring to it, and a peculiar shiver courses through humankind, since one has to get used again to the reality the word connotes. Peace has not yet been ratified. But the clatter of gunfire at the front lines has ceased. The armistice with Germany, the only country still at war with the Allies and the United States, has been signed. The German army is marching back to the Rhine, back to a homeland where there is no peace. Diplomats are arming themselves for the future peace conference which is supposed to bring a conclusion to one of the gloomiest chapters of human history . . .

“Germany has never been so humiliated in over a hundred years and its future has never looked so dark and gloomy as it does today. In just a few days foreign armies will be stationed on German soil from the borders of Switzerland to those of the Netherlands. The Rhine — ‘Germany’s river, not Germany’s boundary’ — wrote Ernst Moritz Arndt a hundred years ago, is now guarded by American, French, British and Belgian soldiers. Germany will no longer be a maritime power. The fleet is partially in the hands of mutineers, and it depends on the good will of the Allies to what extent Germany can compete on the seas in the coming decades . . .

“What Germany can expect in the final peace treaty is adequately reflected in the conditions for the armistice. Germany will lose Alsace-Lorraine, though there is a possibility that the German settlers will have the option to resettle on German territory. The occupation of German territory is likely to last until the signing of a peace treaty and perhaps until there is a settlement regarding the imposed war damages. It is not out of the question that at least the area on the left bank of the Rhine will ultimately be declared a neutral state with no possibility for direct annexation by the new German regime . . .

“Much depends on the long-term behavior of the Allies. The German State Secretary, Solf, has contacted our government and petitioned for an amelioration of the “frightful conditions,” saying that the promise of a lasting just peace could only be realized to the extent that the German people felt they were being treated fairly . . .

“World history is a World Court. It is premature to attempt to make an analysis of the war in general. If one wished to enumerate the sins of the people and draw conclusions from the situation as it stands, one wouldn’t know where to begin. Indeed, contradictions would emerge between guilt and reconciliation. This is true precisely because human beings don’t understand the plans of providence and our knowledge and our judgments over events, when all is said and done, are one-sided and narrow . . . ”

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

Joseph Matt: Editor Is Deserving of Study

In the inaugural edition of the English-language The Wanderer, January 8, 1931, Joseph Matt, then mid-way through his 65 year tenure as publisher and editor of this newspaper, wrote: “One would needs have to write the history of the past sixty years of the Catholic Church in the Northwest to do full justice to the important part The Wanderer has played.”

As one of his successors, I would say that Joseph Matt is a worthy subject for any doctoral student studying the history of the Church in the United States in the first two thirds of the 20th century, for he was at the hub of every worthy development and a fearless journalist in the service of the Church.

Indeed, as Fr. John Kulas observed in his history, Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867-1877 (Peter Lang, 1996), one of Der Wanderer‘s greatest achievements through its promotion of the German cultural heritage, especially art, music, literature, poetry, its celebration of family life, its promotion of solidarity, Catholic social action and social charity, was that German Catholics never developed a “ghetto mentality.”

Joseph Matt (1877-1966), who stepped into the editorship of the German-language Der Wanderer in June 1899, was a man of prodigious energy and talent. Having emigrated from Kirrweiler, Germany at the age of 17, and settling in Buffalo, N.Y., then a booming city with a thriving German-Catholic population, he attended the Jesuits’ Canisius College on a scholarship, and set out on his journalistic career, working at German-Catholic dailies in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, where he was noticed by Der Wanderer‘s editor Hugo Klapproth.

In a tribute to his grandfather, Michael Matt, editor of The Remnant wrote:

“His hard-hitting style drew the attention of Hugo Klapproth, the editor of Der Wanderer in St. Paul, Minnesota. When invited by Mr. Klapproth in 1897 to join his staff, he gladly accepted, journeyed to St. Paul and began his long career as a Catholic journalist and editor. After 65 years in harness as editor of the weekly magazine (one of the longest in U.S. history), he was honored by the Catholic Press Association as the Catholic Editor Emeritus in America.

“During these 65 years Joseph Matt dealt with many issues of import, not only in the Church but also in politics and the world at large. Because he spoke six languages fluently, his coverage of world news was an exceptionally well-informed and sought after feature of Der Wanderer. During the Great Depression and then on through the years of World War II and on into the Vietnam era, no Catholic journalists provided readers and historians alike with a more complete historical record than Joseph Matt and his team of writers . . .

“He continued Der Wanderer‘s strong stand against the Americanism heresy, and, very early on, saw the dangers of Hitler and National Socialism in Germany. So outspoken was he against Nazism and what he called ‘its reckless “Fuehrer”,’ that by the late 1930s Der Wanderer became one of the first publications outside Germany to be forbidden in the Hitler Reich and in countries occupied later on — an action which, due to the large number of subscribers in Germany at that time, almost brought about the demise of the paper . . .

“Joseph Matt’s denunciation of both Nazism and Communism from the perspective of a Catholic historian and American editor was so powerful, in fact, that Der Wanderer brought down the wrath of both the Nazis and the Soviets at the same time. In the January 16, 1964 issue of The Wanderer, Joseph Matt explained how it had been during the war. He wrote:

“‘Then, too, the rise of Hitlerism in Germany and the responsibility of keeping our readers in Germany and Austria as well as in America informed of the dangers inherent in this radical movement and its reckless ‘Fuehrer’ was a further reason to keep our German publications intact for the time being. Hitler and his cohorts were only too well aware of the unyielding opposition of The Wanderer, and, in point of fact, ours was one of the first publications outside Germany to be forbidden in the Hitler Reich and in countries occupied later on. We had at that time about three thousand readers of our annual Wanderer-Kalender [almanac which Joseph Matt had founded in 1902].

“‘This loss was, of course, a severe blow to a small business. Nevertheless, even to this day the lie is occasionally circulated that The Wanderer is a ‘Nazi paper.’ Several years ago a big radio advertiser [the actor, Orson Welles] had to pay damages for circulating the same lie when we took our case to court. Shortly afterwards, the official Communist Russian organ, Pravda, tried to prevail on our Government to suppress The Wanderer because of its intransigent anti-Communist position, and this, in fact, seems to indicate the chief source of the continuing propaganda against our paper.'”

In 1926, Pope Pius XI recognized Matt’s service to the Church by naming him a Knight of St. Gregory. In 1956, the German government honored him with its Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Federal Meritorious Cross, for his opposition to the Third Reich. He was active in numerous organizations, apostolates and movements.

He was a leader of the Central Verein and the Catholic Aide Society. He was not only a leading actor and fund-raiser for building St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, but was a very close collaborator with Fr. Virgil Michel, OSB, at St. John’s Abbey, in promoting the Liturgical Movement and Catholic social action. His stature in the Catholic community was such that he was asked by North Dakota’s Bishop Aloisius J. Muench to serve on the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and the commission that produced the Manifesto on Rural Life, published August 15, 1939.

Why the Nazis Hated The Wanderer

With 3,000 readers in Nazi Germany, Joseph Matt was constantly kept informed of the Nazi Party’s attacks on the Catholic Church, and his newspaper could reliably inform its American readers of Hitler’s campaign against the Church, which intensified in early 1937 after Hitler closed all the Catholic schools in Bavaria (Pope Benedict XVI would have been 10 at the time), and Pope Pius XI responded to the militant paganism of the Third Reich with the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Heart, March 21, 1937).

As Hitler’s anti-Jewish decrees increasingly barred Jews from public life, his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, ratchet-upped his campaign vilifying the Catholic Church, portraying it as a menace to society, a propaganda pitch used with some frequency, it now appears.

The Nazis war on the Catholic Church in Germany reached white hot intensity in April 1937, after Chicago’s George William Cardinal Mundelein delivered a well-covered speech denouncing Hitler and his Third Reich for its ongoing “monk trials,” designed to portray Catholic priests and brothers as homosexual pederasts to justify the closing of all Catholic schools and forcing Catholic school children into “non-confessional” schools.

Before 500 Catholic prelates and priests assembled for the quarterly diocesan conference at Quigley Preparatory Seminary on May 18, 1937, Cardinal Mundelein excoriated the Nazi Government:

“The fight is to take the [2,000,000 German] children away from us . . . Perhaps you will ask how it is that a nation of 60,000,000 people, intelligent people, will submit in fear and servitude to an alien, an Austrian paperhanger, and a poor one at that, I am told. . . . During and after the World War the German Government complained bitterly of the propaganda aimed at it by the Allies concerning atrocities perpetrated by German troops. Now the present German Government is making use of this same kind of propaganda against the Catholic Church and is giving out through its crooked Minister of Propaganda stories of wholesale immorality in religious institutions in comparison to which the War time propaganda is almost like bedtime stories for children.”

That speech threw Goebbels into a fit of anger, and he responded with a public address to 20,000 National Socialists at a public rally at Berlin’s Deutschland Hall. The New York Times reported, under the headline, “Goebbels Lashes Catholic Church on Morals Issues,” May 29, 1937:

“Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, replied tonight before 20,000 shouting National Socialists in Deutschland Hall to the recent anti-Nazi speech by Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, in the most scathing public attack on the Christian confessions delivered to date by any member of the government.

“Most of the attack was directed against the Catholic Church. Dealing with its responsibility for the immorality trials of monks and lay brothers, Dr. Goebbels issued a challenge to Catholicism and Protestantism that neither can overlook or misunderstand . . .

“He trembled with rage as he spoke of reports of religious persecution in Germany appearing in the foreign press, while the crowd drowned his voice in shouts of ‘Traitors!’ ‘Out with them!’ and ‘Hang them!’ . . . ”

Goebbels spoke for two hours, ranting that clerical immorality was causing “hair-raising moral chaos” in the country.

At one point he said, “When, therefore, it is declared in Church circles that the publication of what goes on at these trials endangers the morals of youth, I must point out that it is not the newspapers but the criminal sexual trespasses of the Catholic clergy which is threatening the physical and moral well-being of German youth.

“And I can declare,” he continued, “in the fullest measure to the German people now listening to me that this sex plague must and will be ruthlessly extirpated. And if the Church has proved itself to be too weak for this task, then the State will carry it out! . . .

“I speak here as a German National Socialist, as the father of a family whose most valuable personal earthly possessions are his four children, whose education he must entrust to public instruction when they reach the proper age.

“As such, I can understand the feelings of those parents who have seen their children — their most precious possession — delivered to bestial and unscrupulous defilers of youth. I believe, too, that I speak in the name of thousands of German parents who think with fear and disgust that their own innocent children might some time be morally and physically corrupted in this way by consciousless seducers.

“For years,” he continued, “the Catholic Church has attacked the Nationalist Socialist State and the National Socialist movement with pastoral letters in which it complains emotionally of the alleged morals of our times.

“Although the attack on the National Socialist regime by Cardinal Mundelein comes from abroad, its instigators, as we well know, are in Germany, and they belong to those circles that are directly involved in the prosecutions.

“What are the plain facts in the case? Germany, like every other civilized State, has inscribed on its penal code laws against sex immorality and juvenile defilement. These laws apply to everyone, including the clergy . . .

“The situation in Germany is not a case of individual acts,” he continued, “but of a general decadence of morals more shocking than anything in the entire history of humanity . . . ”

On the same page as this report appeared, the New York Times also carried an Associated Press report datelined St. Paul, Minn., headlined, “Seven more U.S. Catholic Prelates Condemn Nazi Regime.”

The report began: “Statements by Catholic Bishops of seven states condemning the Nazi regime in Germany were published here today in The Wanderer, German Catholic newspaper . . . ”

An Enduring Achievement

It is not possible for this reporter to determine precisely what the contribution was that Joseph Matt made to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s 1939 Manifesto on Rural Life, but one can speculate he gave his full energy to the tasks assigned him to gather information and to work on the editorial committee that produced the final document, under the direction of Bishop Muench.

Every aspect of this document, its 16 chapters in 66 pages, on such topics as, “The Rural Catholic Family,” “Farm Ownership and Land Tenancy,” “Catholic Rural Education,” “Rural Catholic Youth,” “Rural Church Expansion,” “Rural Health,” “Rural Social Charity,” “Rural Credit,” “Rural Taxation,” etc., would have been issues he was intimately familiar with as editor of a national Catholic weekly with a predominantly rural readership.

The 1939 Manifesto remains as timely today as it was when it was published, even if it is not much more needed today, since most of the problems it addressed and solutions it proposed for improving rural life were shunted aside as the nation prepared for and then fought World War II, and never subsequently addressed: such as the flight from the countryside to the cities, rural poverty, industrial-scale farming, land tenancy, the inadequacy of rural health services, etc.

Though nothing in this Manifesto can be directly attributed to Joseph Matt, one can certainly believe he would stand with his close friend Fr. Virgil Michel, OSB, who endorsed the Manifesto’s call for rural cooperatives:

” . . . [This] movement aims at common cooperative work for all for the sake of a decent livelihood for all; it aims at the maximum distribution of goods among all men. Its attitude towards material goods is the true Christian attitude based on the principles that the goods of this earth are there to serve as instruments for the decent living of men as moral and intellectual personalities, and for the decent living of all men without exception . . .

“Christian life is the life of a supernatural fellowship in which all the members pray and live in mutual spiritual cooperation. For a right living of the supernatural life, all the members of the fellowship need a sufficiency of material goods as instrumental means; and they need to obtain these with relative ease in order to give time and effort to their moral and spiritual development. For the acquiring of the necessary material goods by all with relative mutual ease, the mutual cooperation of the members of the fellowship is necessary. Hence the members of the Christian fellowship must give one another mutual or cooperative aid also in the economic field,” wrote Fr. Michel in The Cooperative Movement and the Liturgical Movement, 1936.

The Wanderer at 140 . . .

In Early 1930s, The Wanderer Focused on Politics & Economics

“Those who would seem to hold in little esteem this Papal Encyclical (Rerum Novarum) and its commemoration either blaspheme what they know not, or understand nothing of what they are only superficially acquainted with, or if they do understand convict themselves formally of injustice and ingratitude.” — Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno.

+ + +

The key event in the life of the Church in 1931, the year The Wanderer debuted its English edition, was Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, commemorating Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, which boldly pushed the Church into the new realm of organized social action.

The importance of this document in the life of the Church and the world, Pope Pius explained in No. 25:

“With regard to civil authority, Leo XIII, boldly breaking through the confines imposed by Liberalism, fearlessly taught that government must not be thought a mere guardian of law and of good order, but rather must put forth every effort so that ‘through the entire scheme of laws and institutions . . . both public and individual well-being may develop spontaneously out of the very structure and administration of the State’ . . .

“The function of the rulers of the State, moreover, is to watch over the community and its parts; but in protecting private individuals in their rights, chief consideration ought to be given to the weak and the poor. ‘For the nation, [wrote Leo] as it were, of the rich is guarded by its own defenses and is in less need of governmental protection, whereas the suffering multitude, without the means to protect itself relies especially on the protection of the State. Wherefore, since wage workers are numbered among the great mass of the needy, the State must include them under its special care and foresight.'”

Struggling through the first years of the Great Depression, Wanderer editor Joseph Matt, who had for 40 years been promoting the principles of Rerum Novarum — especially that last sentence quoted above — regularly devoted his front page editorials and “review of the news” to economic and political affairs, both nationally and internationally, and a review of the first three years of the English language Wanderer shows two dominant concerns: the lack of enthusiasm among American Catholics for papal social teaching, and the growing economic and political crises in both the United States and Germany — crises which have a striking resemblance to current circumstances!

The moniker that appeared on the front page of the first edition of the English edition of The Wanderer declared: “A progressive Catholic newspaper with a Program,” and Joseph Matt observed under “Current Events”:

“In the present depression with its high unemployment it is more important to foster a return to the principles of justice and charity which tend to prevent a recurrence of the intolerable conditions of the last 14 to 16 months.”

On page 4 of that same first edition, The Wanderer published an article by Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, preeminent leader of the Catholic Center Party, in which he warned that a rising Adolph Hitler was a demagogue, and informing his followers that the Center Party would not join in a coalition with the growing National Socialist Party.

In a January 22, 1931 editorial, “Immoral Profiteering,” Matt asserted that “profiteering [is] one of the causes of the depression. This no longer troubles the consciences of those who direct State and high finance. Communism may be the result . . .

“Unemployment is a great evil,” he continued. “It is time to adopt the ways of wisdom and social justice.”

A Social Policy Favorable to Justice

On May 21, 1931, The Wanderer published a summary of Pius XI’s new encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, and Matt wrote: “Economics should be centered on fundamental principles leading to a new social policy more favorable to justice.

“b. right of property. There must be a just distribution of the commodities of labor between capital and labor. Pope insists on a just wage.

“c. Pope appeals for structural changes in economic system leading to establishment of a reign of justice. Nonetheless, there is still room for the exercise of charity.”

On page 6 of that same issue, Matt asked, “Can Capitalism Make a Switch-over [to a Structure of Justice]?”

Over the next several weeks, Matt serialized Quadragesimo Anno, while offering a running commentary on the sections appearing in those issues. On May 28, he wrote: “The Encyclical upholds the right of private property but insists on the obligations of ownership. Wages should be at a level to enable worker’s family to live decently with a certain moderate ownership. Unemployment is a dreadful scourge. There needs to be a certain distribution of wealth for the common good of all.”

In an editorial the following week, June 4, 1931, under the heading, “Reconstruction of the Whole Economic System Demanded by Pius XI in his Latest Encyclical,” Matt wrote:

“A living wage is demanded by the principle of distributive justice . . . Yet, this principle is not understood in this society . . . We don’t even recognize the fact that a proletariat exists in this country.”

In The Wanderer of June 11, 1931, in an editorial headlined, “New Burdens for the German People,” Matt wrote:

“Throughout these months the German State has had to impose ever higher taxes to raise the revenue to allow it to meet its treaty obligations on reparations payments. Germany and its supporters tried to secure release from these ‘unbearable reparations burdens.'”

In the June 25, 1931 edition, Matt published the full text of a speech delivered to the Social Workers Conference at the Catholic University of America by Monsignor John A. Ryan, calling for a radical revision of the reparations Germany was forced to pay by the victorious allies at Versailles, and Matt darkly warned:

“Germany has reached a point beyond which lie destruction and chaos.”

Under another editorial, “Germany’s Distress,” Matt wrote:

“The National Socialists of Adolf Hitler promise revision, vengeance and several other things including ‘rollende Köpfe’ [rolling heads] . . . A few more months of need, another winter of distress — and things may happen which will be even more fateful to the nations than the World War.”

In a page 4 editorial on “Pope Pius XI and the Heresy of State Absolutism,” Matt wrote of the struggle between the Vatican and the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini:

“‘It is never lawful to go against our conscience,'” Matt declared, “is the unequivocal teaching of Catholic morality . . . It is to be deplored when a state brings its citizens into conflict with their consciences . . . The principle that the State is the rule of morality cannot be accepted. Nor can the State be substituted for the individual conscience . . . If, however, the state abuses and violates the dictates of morality and demands of its citizens conduct at variance with right and the law of God, conscience must refuse obedience.”

On July 2, 1931, Matt editorialized on “Germany’s Call for Help,” observing:

“One actually forgets that Germany, being in this tragic situation for the past ten years, is threatened by the Hitler revolution on the one hand and by the Bolshevistic revolution on the other. ‘What difference does it make to us,’ one of my readers writes in blind rage. ‘May they all perish’ . . . The only remedy is the revision of the treaty of Versailles.”

In The Wanderer for July 9, 1931, Matt explained to his readers that Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno as a “reformation in fuller detail of the doctrine of Leo.” Pius is skeptical about the possibility of collaboration between Christianity and Socialism, and Matt observes: “Christian Socialism, Religious Socialism are expressions implying a contradiction in terms. Socialism must give up its last vestige of Marxian materialism.”

The Right to Catholic Action

One month after Pope Pius issued his commemoration of Leo’s encyclical, he followed up with another encyclical “Concerning Catholic Action,” or Non abbiamo bisogno, which focused on the struggle between the Church and Fascist Italy.

On July 23, 1931, Matt wrote under the heading “Catholic Action”:

“[Catholic Action] wishes to build up an external social environment which is in accord with the demands of justice and decent living . . . Politics has to do with persons, Catholic Action with principles. It matters very little to Catholic Action whether these principles are brought to practical realization by one party or another . . .

“We deem it advisable to submit to our readers the main sections of the encyclical so that they may have a clear understanding of the questions at issue,” wrote Matt. “This document is a defense of the precious liberties of religion and conscience.

In a July 30 editorial, Matt asked: “What is Going to Happen in Germany?”

Commenting on an editorial and news reports on the situation in Germany, published by the Economist in London, Matt asks what the Germans fear most.

“They fear revolution. Which do Germans fear the most: National Socialists or Communists? It makes little difference. The correspondent sees a growing religious movement in Germany. The editor confirms this by pointing to such magazines as Die schönere Zukunft, Das neue Reich, and Orate Fratres . . .

“Revolution may break out at any time — so threatening are the conditions as we write. That a revolution is coming to Europe is certain — it may not be a bloody upheaval, but it will nevertheless consist in an overthrow of the last remnants of an individualism, represented by religious indifference in the individual, by neo-paganism in society. More than likely, however, human blood will be shed, and for the time being such revolutionary forms as communism, fascism, or what not, will prevail; but what is clearer than all this is that a new and permanent order of society is arising out of the decaying remnants of the so-called Reformation — an order that, let us hope, will be Christian and Catholic.”

On August 6, Matt lamented: “Rerum Novarum has not seeped into Catholic consciousness as ought to have been the case . . . No doubt this deplorable fact was one of he reasons that prompted the Holy Father to restate its original doctrine with such fullness . . . In their new form the social doctrines of Leo must become part and parcel of Catholic thought . . . Piety is good, but it must not render us indifferent to social abuses and crying wrongs . . .

“With regard to the position of the Holy Father there can be no doubt. Unmistakably he has spoken and it is evident that he will have no truck with those who violate the dictates of justice and exploit society for selfish ends. There is a whole-heartedness in his espousal of the cause of labor that must sweep aside every vestige of suspicion as to the sincerity of his love for the working man. He has severe condemnation for those who profess the Christian faith but do not practice it in their relation with their fellow man.

On November 5, 1931, Matt published an editorial, “A Snap-shot of Adolf Hitler,” in which he wrote:

“Thousands and tens of thousands in Germany think that Hitler is destined to be the savior of the country from its innumerable present evils. Will they be disillusioned? Hitler is a born leader of men, but the incongruous mixture of Fascism and Socialism which he advocates does not appeal to the majority of the German nation, and it is not likely that he and his party will come into power unless indeed the coalition now in control of the government fails utterly and egregiously, and the people become desperate under the pressure of adversity.”

Looking to the Democrats

Heading into the 1932 presidential election, Joseph Matt was clearly tired of the “ineffectual Republicans,” and was ready to place his hopes for an economic recovery in the Democrats and their candidate Franklin Roosevelt, who promised to help “the forgotten man.”

“All in all the Chicago convention was one of the most notable in the recent history of the Democratic Party,” wrote Matt in the July 11, 1932 edition of The Wanderer. “It would be tragic if the Party would again spoil its chances through internal factions or a poorly conducted campaign of replacing the ineffectual Republicans by a Government of real leadership designed to rescue the country from an economic catastrophe and to lead the people to new spiritual and material heights!”

In The Wanderer of October 27, 1932, in a page one editorial “The Forgotten Man,” Matt wrote:

“In all our economic arrangements and calculations we have left out man. Hence, the phrase ‘forgotten man.’ Accordingly, a gigantic mechanism has arisen but it works without a prevision of any definite end. The needs of man are the regulatory factor of economic activity. Industry is not a sovereign department but rather a department that is directly subordinated to a higher order, the service of man . . . Forgotten Man! . . . ”

Over the next several months, Matt continued his reporting on the deteriorating economic conditions in the United States and Germany, as well as the fluctuating fortunes of Hitler and his Nazi Party in Germany.

In a January 5 report, “The Keynote of the Pope’s Christmas Message,” Matt observed:

“[Economic reform] must not be approached from the technical side, but from, the moral and spiritual side . . . To the entire world the Holy Father offers this one and only remedy: a remedy at once for external capitalism and for its more insidious counterpoint, crypto-capitalism . . .

“Fundamentally Socialism and Capitalism are inspired by identically the same sentiments. Enjoyment and possession of the material things and goals of this world is the root from which both Socialism and Capitalism grow. Therefore, eventually Socialism will result in the same social phenomena which we are now deploring and ascribing to the unrestrained greed of Capitalism . . .

“[Christianity] wishes to render accessible to all the things necessary for decent human living.”

Der Wanderer continued to provide a few more details of the situation in Germany than does the English version. For example, there is in this issue an article entitled “Hitler als Retter” (Hitler as Savior) in which Hitler speaks to his party. In both versions a cool and apprehensive attitude toward Hitler is evident.]

In a February 2, 1933 editorial, Matt asked, “After Capitalism, What?”:

“Thus also is foreshadowed in general outline the economic system that takes the place of present day capitalism. It must be a system that destroys and jeopardizes no social and human values and that effaces the distinction between capital and labor, that is, propertyless labor. In the papal encyclical an essential demand is that wages should be high enough to make possible the accumulation of property by the worker. This is a vital point, for taken by itself it would quickly transform an industrial system and eventually do away with the pure proletariat. We can go further; this new system in which human brotherhood and the love of the neighbor can be realized and put into practice must bring man together in closer union and go over the guilt which now divide the members of society one from the other: it must knit industry on a corporate basis . . . ”

On page 5 of that same issue, under the headline, “Chancellor Hitler,” Matt wrote:

“Hitler, after having at last attained his long coveted goal, must now show whether the hopes of thirteen million Germans in his statesmanship are justified. It is not altogether clear whether he has captured the government or the government has captured hm. As the head of a cabinet composed largely of his former opponents and continuously in office through the tolerance of the political enemies in the Reichstag, the Nazi chieftain is hardly in a position to put into effect his swashbuckling policies. On the surface, his elevation to power seems more likely to contribute to stability than it is to result in disorder. Hitler will have a taste of the power. Such an experience has tempered the radicalism of men far more fixed in their principles and opinions than the Nazi leader. He is, further, so surrounded with checks within the Cabinet and in the Reichstag that any extreme move would certainly upset his Cabinet and terminate his chancellorship.”

Of course, what Matt could not imagine was that, within a few weeks, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag would burn, and Hitler, claiming that the Homeland security was threatened, suspended most civil liberties.


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Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

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