Month: October 2018

Mr. Smith Runs for President, 1928

al smithWhen Al Smith ran for President of the United States in 1928, and lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover, it was said he was defeated by “The Three Ps: Prohibition (which he was against), Prejudice (he was Catholic), and Prosperity (less of an issue when the Great Depression began in October 1929).

Smith, grandson of poor Irish and Italian immigrants, faced fierce opposition from the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, Ku Klux Klan (St. Francis de Sales third Pastor, Reverend Gatens, also resisted the Klan at his previous assignment in Pottsville, PA in 1927 – defiantly constructing a Catholic school with cross-shaped windows on their favorite cross-burning hill). In addition, Smith faced the “Anti-Saloon League” – reportedly often the same individuals – who wanted the government to continue restricting all access to alcoholic beverages.

The November 1929 St. Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin published an excerpt from Smith’s book, in which he described some of the tactics used against him:

It is amazing in this day and age that such countless thousands of people are so stupid as to believe the absolutely false and senseless propaganda that was whispered around during the last campaign. It has its humorous side…A  prominent citizen of Georgia… told me that in certain churches in that state they had pictures of me attending the ceremonies incident to the opening of the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, and…opponents of mine were able to convince large numbers of people that the tunnel was actually to be constructed not to New Jersey but into the basement of the Vatican in Rome in the event of my election.

The Holland Tunnel is approximately two miles long and cost forty-eight million dollars, or nearly twenty-five million dollars a mile…and here we have voting citizens of a sovereign state actually believing that…it would be possible for people to travel (3500 miles) under the Atlantic Ocean between Rome and New York. One man made the deliberate statement over the radio that a convent in New Jersey was purchased by the Catholic Church as the American residence of the Pope in the event of my election.”

Do times change?

Since 1945, the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in New York has celebrated Al Smith’s memory with an annual October white-tie benefit for Catholic Charities. The fancy dinner is attended by both Democrat and Republican politicians, who traditionally offer humorous speeches, gently making fun of themselves, right before elections. In presidential election years, this is generally the last time opposing candidates appear in public together before voting day. This year’s 2018 keynote speaker was Nikki Haley, the soon-to-be-former U.N. Ambassador.

The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 954 hate groups active in the United States in 2017.

 

Legion of Decency

legion of decencyLegion of Decency” may conjure an image of a small band of pickle-faced people fussily objecting to the modern world, but that would be a mistake. As a subset of the Holy Name Society, the Legion was an army of Catholic men from parishes across the country, working earnestly to “promote, by word and deed, what is morally and artistically good in entertainment,” while protecting their families from harmful examples.

Concern about negative influence was justified, when the organization was founded in 1933. Government Prohibition of alcohol had paradoxically promoted and glamourized crime. With poverty in the Great Depression, came suspicion and persecution of immigrants, nonwhites, and non-protestants, particularly Catholics (who were largely immigrants). At the same time, the growing entertainment industry realized that “sex sells” and sold a lot of it. Issues of sex, violence, and intolerance in films became serious enough that Cardinal Dougherty forbade Philadelphia Catholics from attending any movies for several years starting in 1934 — a successful protest which drew attention to the surprising size of the Catholic population. Magazines and books had similar issues.

The Legion of Decency developed age-appropriateness ratings for movies, condemned movies that refused to meet standards, and pressured producers to clean up plot points in films that are now considered classics (Marilyn Monroe’s famous fly-up skirt was accepted in The Seven-Year Itch, which “deals humorously with a man’s temptations,” but an adulterous affair was removed)

Locally, the Legion picketed condemned movies and discouraged obscene literature. A 1942 SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin reported that “…an intensive campaign has been carried on in this parish to remove from stores and newsstands, all magazines that are offensive to the Code of the National Organization for Decent Literature. Our Committee, composed of men from various sections of the Parish, have done splendid work and their efforts have met with great success…

Why was this a men’s project? Part of the pledge, published in the 1942 parish bulletin, was: “I promise to guide those under my care and influence them in their choice of pictures that are morally and culturally inspiring.” Consider that in those early days, men generally chose the movies for dates and family viewing. At the same time, objectionable magazines and books were largely targeted for a male audience – which often controlled the family finances.

The Legion of Decency merged into the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1965, but may have paved the way for today’s many consumer-organized boycotts of goods and services based on political or philosophical ideas.

 

Heavenly Keys

DSCN3325 (3)I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)

Two sets of keys in our church decorations encapsulate history.

The first is the emblem of Saint Peter the Apostle, on the 47th Street side of the church. This pair of crossed keys features handles with three lobes, symbolizing the Trinity. Saint Peter’s keys – representing his leadership role in the church — are commonly called the “keys of heaven” and Peter is often imagined as the guardian at the “pearly gates,” as well as the first Catholic Pope.

The other keys are up in the dome, exactly opposite the window showing the papal tiara. These match the keys of the Papal insignia, official “since the XIV Century,” as described by the Vatican Press Office: “The symbolism is drawn from the Gospel and is represented by the keys given to the Apostle Peter by Christ.” The correct insignia shows “two keys crossed as the Cross of St. Andrew…” (a symbol of humility). The gold one, on the right, alludes to the power in the kingdom of the heavens, the silver one, on the left, indicates the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth… The cord with the bows that unites the grips alludes to the bond between the two powers…”

Wait a minute! In our window, the keys are reversed —  gold on the left; silver on the right. They’re also upside-down: traditional Vatican key “mechanisms are turned up towards the heaven and the grips (handles) turned down, in other words into the hands of the Vicar of Christ” — that is, symbolically, toward the Pope. But in our church, the handles point up to heaven and the unlocking parts of our keys point down at the congregation. And although our keys are very similar to the emblem of Pope Pius X, who was Pope at the time the church was built, one of the crosses in our handles is mysteriously blackened.

So what does it all mean? Our emblem of papal allegiance could have been crafted wrong-way-up by mistake or by design. The black and white crosses could emphasize eternal versus worldly concerns or add layered meanings of power and knowledge; order and chaos; or beginnings and endings.  Whatever the intent, their heaven-turned handles today remind us of the limits of all earthly power, since God alone unlocks the secrets of souls.