On April 8, PCP’s staff attended in Buffalo, New York, the funeral of John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News and collaborator with the Fatima apostolate of the late Father Nicholas Gruner. At the luncheon after the funeral we were seated at a table with some members of the staff of the Fatima Center, due to the friendship between Brian Pouliot’s Canadian relatives and the Fatima Center staff. During the luncheon Mrs. Susan Vennari, John Vennari’s wife, spoke to those in attendance, and referred to three “great laborers” whom her husband tried to emulate. One of those mentioned was the late John Cotter, the father-in-law of Brian Pouliot.
John Vennari and other collaborators of the Fatima Center worked zealously in promoting the message of Fatima, but not without controversy. A central aspect of that controversy manifested itself shortly after the funeral, when two of the pallbearers, Christopher Ferrara and Michael Matt, published an open letter addressed to President Donald Trump, opposing his missile strike in Syria on April 6. However, since both Russia and the United States are involved in the Syrian crisis, the position taken by Messrs. Matt and Ferrara leads to unresolved questions about the meaning of Our Lady of Fatima’s specific reference to the errors of Russia.
We ourselves raised these very questions during conversations at the wake and at the luncheon with two influential collaborators of the Fatima Center. Sister Lúcia in her May 12, 1982 letter to Pope John Paul II stated that the Third Secret refers to the Second Secret, and scifically to Our Lady’s warning about the spreading of the errors of Russia. PCP’s booklet, Fatima and the Third Secret, has been revised and enlarged to address these questions more completely for this centennial year of Fatima. This new edition also includes the important interview of Brazilian Fatima scholar Dr. Antonio Augusto Borelli Machado, “Why Was the Third Secret of Fatima Not Released in 1960?” With its two new chapters and the interview of Antonio Borelli, it addresses the problems relating to the controversies regarding Fatima and the Third Secret, and with special reference to the errors of Russia.
During the temporary return to Catholicism in England in the reign of Mary Tudor, a royal decree in 1556 established the Stationers’ Company, made up of leading publishers in London. Its primary purpose was to “check...the spread of the Protestant Reformation by concentrating the whole printing business in the hands of the members of that company.” Although this decree was changed by subsequent laws, the temporary leadership of a Catholic monarch served to illustrate the united effort of Catholic publishers to work together for the preservation of the true Faith. In more recent times, however, with the increasing secularization of modern governments, it was no longer governments but the Church alone which provided for the unity of Catholic publishing, and worked to unite Catholics in all the professions in a common effort to uphold the rights of the Church and of citizens.
Catholic historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr. provides a perspective on how Catholics responded to modern threats to the Faith, this time not in England, which had a Catholic government before the Reformation, but in the United States. Although the United States was never a Catholic nation, its Catholic citizens have a history of organized action to influence temporal society. Writing about the so-called Progressive Era in the United States in the early twentieth century, Thomas Woods analyzes the efforts of progressives to secularize culture, through the government and through public education, by creating a secular civil religion to replace Christianity, which for Catholics would signify the elimination of the Church’s influence in society. Not only did Catholics in the United States respond very decisively by refuting the false principles behind this movement, but they also began to establish numerous Catholic professional associations, through which Catholics exerted their presence in society by extending the influence of the Church beyond the parishes and other institutions of the Church into a variety of other social organizations.
These events were taking place in the United States during the years marked by the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917. Our Lady had prophesied that Russia would spread its errors throughout the world if mankind did not heed Her requests. Western nations were not immune to the influence of these errors, and some of them had even contributed to the antecedents leading to the Russian Revolution. The West had given rise to Protestantism in 1517, and to the birth of Freemasonry in 1717. But insofar as the West was the birthplace of Christian Civilization in the Middle Ages, it had produced social and political institutions within which Catholics could work to defend the rights of the Church. Although the United States was not without the influence of Freemasonry in its founding, the new nation nevertheless received support from the Catholic nations of France and Spain – and from Catholics in Maryland, who defended their country because independence brought them the freedom to practice their religion in the face of persecution by the Protestant Church of England.
Concluding his analysis of the role of American Catholics in a predominantly non-Catholic society as it developed during the Progressive Era, Thomas Woods states: “What at times was an institutional isolation did not indicate a lack of concern with the nation as a whole; on the contrary, Catholics supposed that it was only through a robust Catholic culture that they could truly serve their country.”
What was happening in the United States, however, was simply a manifestation of a universal trend under the guidance of the Popes during the early twentieth century. To understand these events, we must turn to moral principles taught by St. Thomas Aquinas.
With the development of modern technology – a prime example of which was the printing press – the growth of mass production affected the crafts and trades in such a way as to give rise to new social classes. As the Popes responded by promoting harmony and cooperation between labor and capital, there also arose the desire for this mutual cooperation to be applied within the various professions, with political structures at times being promoted to achieve this objective.
Prior to these modern developments, St. Thomas Aquinas had taught the general moral principles, by raising questions regarding the duties of professionals to provide services to other members of society, and also regarding the right to receive a just payment for their services. While refering to services in general provided by a variety of professions, St. Thomas explicitly mentioned two by name, those of lawyers and doctors. The reason for St. Thomas’s choice seems sufficiently clear. Whereas the farmer, a primary contributor to society because he provides food for the body – a subject which St. Thomas treats elsewhere – the medical doctor provides for the human body in another way, by caring for its health. The lawyer, on the other hand, as a specialist in the laws that govern civil society, provides services relating to its moral guidance – if the lawyer himself is truly dedicated to the principles of justice, and if the civil laws conform to the moral law.
It is in the context of the principles of justice, therefore, that St. Thomas asks whether lawyers, doctors and other professionals have a right to be paid for their services. Because of the prominent roles played by these two professionals, the doctors and the lawyers, a specific value is often attached to their services in modern societies. In the case of farming, however, once the predominant occupation in society, compensation for its services in modern times has often been left to the play of market forces, and to government intervention. In the midst of these modern developments, as mentioned above, Mary Tudor in England gave to Catholic publishers – a new profession due to the invention of the printing press – a position of leadership in society, insofar as they were entrusted with the propagation and defense of the Catholic Faith.
Whereas our modern cultures assign a certain value to the legal and medical professions, with both of these latter being at the center of contemporary political debate about health care, Catholic publishers and booksellers lost their leadership status politically, which had been granted to their predecessors for a short time by Mary Tudor. No longer a privileged profession, Catholic publishing remains subject instead to market forces, and ultimately to the discretion of fellow Catholics who choose to support it in order to promote the Faith.
At the same time that modern society became increasingly secularized, the moral authority of the Church was by that very fact rejected, resulting in two consecutive developments analyzed by Juan Donoso Cortés (1809-1853) in Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism. The first was that of liberalism, which emphasized liberty apart from duty and moral responsibility, leading to the breakdown of the traditional order within society. The second was socialism, which, under the guise of correcting the effects of this moral decline, demanded increased power of government to remedy the abuses, giving government control over all of a nation’s wealth, thereby depriving both the Church and the family of their just material resources to fulfill their respective missions within society.
The Church responded to these modern social evils with an elaboration of Catholic social doctrine, through papal encyclicals and other moral and doctrinal pronouncements. And in addition to the teaching of the Popes, other Catholic leaders, both ecclesiastical and lay, developed and applied the Church’s unchanging social principles to the new circumstances, the “rerum novarum” referred to by Leo XIII in his encyclical carrying that name.
In the context of these developments and the application of Catholic social doctrine, various Catholic leaders focused their attention on the multiple professions that constitute the institutions and structures making up the social and economic life of society. Catholics could not always control the leadership of their governments, but they could organize their occupational and professional activities in such a way as to make the Catholic sectors of society a powerful social force, influencing and even guiding society as a whole. This Catholic endeavor manifests the marvelous role that the Church plays within society, not only through her strictly ecclesiastical institutions, but also through lay and professional associations as well – the Church’s vanguard in bringing the Faith to those outside the Church, and introducing the principles of a truly just social order into society.
Pope St. Pius X explained these principles in a most profound way in his 1905 encyclical Il Fermo Proposito, stating the fundamental principles of the lay apostolate through Catholic Action, in union with the hierarchy, so that it represented an extension of the work of the Church as a whole through all of the vocations and states of life within the Church. It was in this Catholic environment that there arose various Catholic professional associations in the United States in the early twentieth century, as mentioned above. And it was these ideals that inspired the work of PCP when we began our apostolate in the distribution of Catholic books more than three decades ago.
Catholic professional associations in modern times find their model in the medieval Catholic guilds, through which the members of each profession worked together for the common good of all their colleagues in the various trades and professions. PCP sought to imitate this ideal by striving to work together with other Catholic publishers and booksellers, in a spirit of collaboration rather than primarily competition. Other Catholics have proposed similar ideals in recent times, and in the English-speaking world a form of this has gone under the name of a social philosophy called distributism, which is associated with three prominent English Catholic writers – Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton and Father Vincent McNabb, O.P. However, the philosophy of distributism has been applied in morally inconsistent ways, a fact that calls for a critical evaluation of its principles.
Reacting to an exaggerated concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority, which is characteristic of modern politics and economics, the distributists advocate for more members of society to become property owners. A recent article in defense of this policy was written by Joseph Pearce under the title “Turning Employees into Business Owners.” Describing primarily the efforts of Washington State Catholic businessman Gellert Dornay, Joseph Pearce offers the practical application of an ideal – that of a business employer who makes his employees joint owners of his business. However, because of the limitations of his brief account, Joseph Pearce’s article leaves open the field of discussion to an examination of other formulations and examples, those where distributism does not appear to have been applied in a way consistent with Catholic social doctrine.
PCP’s efforts to enter into collaboration with three other Catholic publishers – two of which have a history of advocating for distributism – resulted in the exact opposite of a wider distribution of property ownership. For the printing of books that were financed by PCP were shared through a distribution network with these other publishers, but without PCP’s being reimbursed for the total cost of the printing, and with all the profits going to the other publishers, and none to PCP.
This particular application of the ideals of distributism convinced PCP that such a Catholic social philosophy, as currently advocated, was lacking an adequate foundation in Catholic social principles among some of its promoters. The financial harm brought to PCP as a result of this experience almost put us out of operation. However, while losing a large part of our inventory as a result, we still had our customers and benefactors behind us, and their loyalty and support during our financial crisis enabled us to continue. This taught PCP an important lesson – the fact that some of our financial assets could be slowly rebuilt, because we had customers who continued to buy books that still remained in our inventory; and generous donors who made charitable contributions to supplement our income, since revenues from sales were insufficient to sustain us. In addition to this support, there were also the prayers and words of encouragement that cannot be calculated in financial terms, but which added immeasurably to enabling us to continue our work. PCP therefore continues to exist because of the spiritual and financial support that we have received from others, and in such a way that we think it justifiable to apply words of St. Paul to those who have provided us with this encouragement and support: “...the sincere generosity of your contributions . . . because of the excellent grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for this unspeakable gift!” (2 Cor.: 9:14-15).