I'm reading through the first issues of Henry George's newspaper, "The Standard," a weekly which was published in NYC beginning in January, 1887. It was started shortly after the mayoral race of 1886 (chronicled in Post & Leubuscher's December, 1886 book), and in the 4th issue there is a very explicit article about the role that Rome was attempting to play in NYC politics by removing from the priesthood an activist priest, the much-loved Dr. Edward McGlynn, of St. Stephen's Church, on 28th Street in Manhattan, the largest parish in the city. (This was before the creation of New York City by combining the five boroughs.)
For over 20 years, McGlynn had been living among New York's poor, hearing the confessions of the poor, and knew how hard their lives were. He knew the situation in Ireland which had brought many of them to the U. S., and when he read Henry George's 1879 book, "Progress and Poverty," he found the cause of their suffering, and saw how to correct the underlying cause of poverty.
The article to which I refer is entitled, "From a Brooklyn Priest"
The Body of the Catholic Clergy Sympathize With Dr. McGlynn
The Brooklyn Times prints an interesting interview with “a well known parish priest” of that city. His name is not given "for obvious reasons,” but those acquainted with the Catholic clerics of Brooklyn have little difficulty in attributing it to the most popular and influential of the Catholic clergy of that city. We make the following extracts:
“The sympathy of the body of the Catholic clergy in New York and Brooklyn is undoubtedly with Dr. McGlynn. I have talked with a great many of my brother priests of both cities on the matter, and almost without exception, they have taken Dr. McGlynn's side in the controversy, though they would be loth to do so publicly for manifest reasons. The sentiment of the body of the Catholic clergy of the two cities is that whatever has been done in Dr. McGlynn's case has been done by inspiration from this side. Of course the question at issue does not at all touch matters of faith. It is purely a question of discipline. The authorities at Rome know little or nothing of the real state of affairs at this side of the Atlantic except as they are inspired by the archbishop of the different provinces. Archbishop Corrigan is in daily communication with Rome by cable, and the views of the controversy between Dr. McGlynn and his superior that are entertained at Rome pending the personal appearance of Dr. McGlynn in the Eternal City, are the views of the archbishop of New York that are telegraphed and written there.
“I do not mean to imply that Archbishop Corrigan would willfully misrepresent the situation here, but I do say that Dr. McGlynn, with all his experience as a priest in the American metropolis, with all his practical knowledge of the condition of the poor and of the working classes in that city, is a better judge of the political needs of the masses in New York than Archbishop Corrigan is, who has spent the greater part of his career as an ecclesiastic in the state of New Jersey; and I hold that Dr. McGlynn and every other Catholic priest has the right to take an active part in the politics of the country. To say that a man of the acknowledged piety and the blameless life of Dr. McGlynn sympathizes with anything that smacks of communism or anarchy is the veriest nonsense to anyone who knows him — and who does not know everything about him today? Dr. McGlynn, as a priest, knows the awful burdens which the laboring classes of New York city have to bear through political misrule and the corrupt combination of capital to oppress them. He knows how anomalous that condition of things is which allows one man to accumulate a hundred millions of dollars within 25 years and compels another to work for a dollar a day, nay, while thousands, anxious for work, are starving for the lack of it. Hence his support of the candidate of the labor party for mayor. Dr. McGlynn did not believe that anarchy or communism would follow in the wake of the election of Henry George to the mayoralty of New York any more than he believed that Mr. George, as the chief executive of the municipal government across the East river could put his land theories into practical operation in the metropolis. Any possible change in the government of New York city must be a change for the better, so far as the poor are concerned.
“If the bishops of the dioceses in the United States were taken by Rome from among the clergy of these dioceses who thoroughly understand the social and political conditions of their people, there would be none of these disciplinary troubles. What sense is there in sending an Italian priest to Canada or an Irish priest to Guatemala as bishop? Or why should a bishop be transferred from a city in the state of New Jersey to preside over the archdiocese of New York when there are many able and holy priests in the metropolis worthy of election to the prelacy who have spent their lives among the masses of the people? In countries where the canonical law of the church is in practical application the parish priests of a diocese in which the bishopric becomes vacant send three names to Rome by majority vote. One is set down as dignus, or worthy, another as dignior, or more worthy, and a third as dignissimus, or most worthy. Any one of the three may be selected, and it sometimes happens that it is the lowest on the list who is chosen. The pope has the absolute power to go outside the list sent to him from the diocese in which a vacancy occurs, but it is a power rarely exercised and only for the most exigent reasons. If the canon law applied in America, which is only yet a missionary country and subject to the propaganda at Rome, Dr. McGlynn could not have been turned out of St. Stephen's church as he has been and his salary would have run on despite his suspension until his case was finally decided at Rome.
“It is most unfortunate that the canon law does not apply in the United States, and that the political, social and educational situation in this country is not better understood at Rome. Wealthy Catholic politicians have too much to say on church policy in this country; and unfortunately that is today the trouble in New York city. The masses of the Catholic clergy say, 'Hands off.' As long as bishops, with whom wealthy politicians are most powerful, practically say who shall be elected to the prelacy in the United States there will be a chance for trouble among the laity.
“I am satisfied that if a majority of the Catholic clergy of the dioceses of New York and Long Island could do it Dr. McGlynn would have been elected archbishop and Archbishop Corrigan would have been allowed to remain in New Jersey. I unhesitatingly say that if the votes of the Catholic clergy in these two dioceses could do it Dr. McGlynn would be restored to St. Stephen's parish tomorrow. No old priest of New York city wanted to succeed Dr. McGlynn in that parish, for they all knew how his congregation idolized him. I am also free to say that if Archbishop Corrigan had not been brought from the state of New Jersey to New York city this trouble would never have occurred.
“Mgr. Preston is the bitterest foe that Dr. McGlynn has in the diocese of New York. I do not mean to imply that the monsignor entertains personal animosity toward the ex-rector of St. Stephen's church, but he is utterly opposed to what Dr. McGlynn stands for as an American citizen. Mgr. Preston is an aristocrat and the associate of aristocrats. Even converts to the Catholic church who know Father Preston well have admitted that the monsignor dearly loves the privileges which attach to church dignitaries in Catholic countries, and is inclined to ape the civil ceremonial of such communities in his intercourse with his flock. Dr. McGlynn is poor, is of the poor and loves to associate with the poor. He is in this respect the antithesis of Mgr. Preston, and the latter is a confidential adviser of Archbishop Corrigan.”
This article, more than anything else I've read, brings home to me the extent to which the rich manage even the Church for the benefit of the rich, to the detriment of the poor. When a priest who seeks to correct the unjust structures is deprived of his priesthood because he might upset the privileges of the rich, the country and the church are both in trouble.
When churches benefit from contributions from wealthy contributors, they will tend to act to enforce the structures which enrich those wealthy contributors, rather than rocking the boat in any way. When economic structures funnel the community's wealth into a relative few pockets, the Church will tend to embrace those pockets, not challenge the structures. Money in elections is not the only corrupting force.