BA Santamaria and the Australian YCW

Extracted from BA Santamaria, Patrick Morgan, Running the Show: B.A. Santamaria, Selected Documents 1939-1996, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne.

In two significant ways Santamaria’s ideas differed from standard Catholic Action theory. Movements like the YCS and YCW based their apostolate on the enquiry method of ‘see, judge, act’, a formula devised by the Belgian priest Monsignor Cardijn to change the ‘milieu’ in which Catholics operated. Santamaria thought this method little better than traditional individual piety. The stated aim of changing one’s immediate environment was in his opinion too vague, and unable to encompass larger social realities, such as the structures of modern society: ‘I do not believe that the world will be transformed even by millions of individual acts of charity.

The reform of social institutions is the key to the Christian situation today, and this demands large scale action on legislative, political, economic and cultural lines’, (doc. n) Santamaria took the idea of Catholic Action further than its European promoters—some said too far—by developing a kind of activity that he called ‘the apostolate of institutions’: he understood the structures of modern societies and how to influence power centres, such as legislative bodies, in a way that earlier Chesterbellocians and other Christian social thinkers didn’t His original contribution to Catholic Action theory was to adapt it to modem political structures. In the 1980s he was still referring to ‘the apostolate of public affairs’, (doc. 95)

A second difference was his argument that the church and the working classes were not as far apart in Australia as in Europe. Eureka, Gavan Duffy’s Land Reform League, Cardinal Moran’s support of the maritime strikers in the 1890s and other actions of Catholic unionists ‘ensured that Australian Catholicism would be closely associated with the aspirations of the working class as a movement, when historical forces were driving European Catholicism into a position in opposition to Social Democratic parties’. He developed this idea as the fourth of his ‘Six Pillars of Australian Catholicism’ in his 1953 address ‘Where Do We Stand Today?’ (doc. 44)

Another problem was that of authority—if a dispute arose, who had ultimate authority: the bishops’ committee on CA or ANSCA or a local bishop with complete autonomy in his diocese? This problem was never properly resolved, although much effort was expended in trying to.

– Patrick Morgan

Page 46

11 Personal Statement March 1949 S10/3/4

BAS wrote a long ‘Personal Statement’ which was attached to the agenda of the thirteenth meeting of the bishops’ committee on CA on 5 March 1949, when disputes over the authority of ANSCA and BAS were again coming to a head. Through His Grace Archbishop Mannix, BAS requested more powers for his secretariat over CA movements, and a clearer definition of them, and offered to resign if the bishops wished to set up a different structure. After describing the nature of the structural problems as he saw them, BAS went on to criticise existing CA techniques.

As I understand one opinion, it seems to be based on the belief that the real work of Catholic Action is being carried on in all the Movements if there are little groups of individuals who build around themselves an ever widening circle of contacts whom they influence by their conversation, their conduct and particularly by the consistent performance of acts of charity which cannot but win these contacts to a Christian viewpoint. These little groups acquire a knowledge of the outside world by observation of facts, conversations, etc., on which they report at meetings (“Items of Interest”). They mutually encourage each other by reports on acts of charity which they have performed (“Facts of Action”). When a series of reports indicates that a group or Movement is faced with a problem of general dimensions this problem is studied by means of the “Enquiry Method” which serves as the basis of action.

From the standpoint of principle, this interpretation of Catholic Action seems to me to be equally mistaken. I do not believe that the world will be transformed even by millions of individual acts of charity. The reform of social institutions is the key to the Christian situation to-day, and this demands large scale action on legislative, political, economic and cultural lines. Furthermore, the emphasis which has been placed on the Enquiry method would seem to imply that the great problems of the different human environments are not already known, or that, even if they are known to officials at Headquarters, they have not penetrated the consciousness of ordinary leaders in the Movements. I believe such a presupposition to be untrue.

My own approach is completely different. I believe that the problems to be faced by each Movement are clear – almost transparently so – and that it is a complete waste of time – almost a criminal waste of time in the revolutionary situation with which the Church is faced – to be examining problems from all angles and to be substituting individual acts of charity for the large-scale action which the times demand.

After describing what he saw as the proper role of individual CA movements, BAS continued:

I have run the risk of wearying Your Grace with this description since I am most anxious to show that Catholic Action can face up to concrete tasks, and that if it does so it can really remake the social order and revolutionise the life of the community in which we live. There is, of course, a real place for the technique of contact, influence, teams and so on, since leaders cannot be effective without a mass following, but these things are means only. Neither these things nor the performance of organised acts of personal charity on however widespread a basis are the real end of Catholic Action. It is my honest belief that unless Catholic Action genuinely aims at the creation of a Christian social order by means of large scale action in the social, economic, political and cultural spheres, we are wasting our time.

I would like to make it perfectly clear that the work of contact and influence is an absolutely indispensable method in Catholic Action. The mistake seems to me to arise when—whatever may be written in text books of Catholic Action—in terms of practical organisation those methods do become ends in themselves. Australian Catholic Action owes an immense debt to French and Belgian Catholic Action. Yet I would submit that it is an error to adhere too slavishly to French and Belgian models. The historic perspective confronting the Church in this country at the present moment differs almost completely from that which confronts the Church in Europe. On the latter continent we have a civilisation which seems to be coming to the end of its life-span. The social institutions which are dominant in industry, in agriculture, in public life,in my opinion, are almost immobile, fixed in the mould of age-old traditions. All that the Church can do is to accept the European factory system, European proletarianism, as she once accepted slavery, and to work within them hoping to Christianise people despite their institutions, so that in the end the institutions will crumble to dust.

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8 Draft Letter to YCW 1946 S10/7/13

This letter relates to a dispute between the YCW and the Movement, here called the ‘factory movement’. The draft was typed by BAS with additions in his hand; it is not known if it was sent to Fr Frank Lombard, chaplain and key figure in YCW, whom BAS had met on a number of occasions to try in vain to sort out these problems. For the background to this particular dispute, see the section ‘Catholic Action Disputes in Melbourne’ in Fr Bruce Duncan’s Crusade or Conspiracy?, pp. 99-101. Archbishop Simonds and the YCW wanted an overall consultative committee to limit BAS’s dominance. BAS wanted a joint committee in each factory where the Movement would work with other movements like the YCW. In this way YCW groups could be used to recruit members for Movement work. The YCW didn’t want its members to be involved in political matters.

Draft Letter to YCW

We covered so many fields in the course of our conversation that I thought it might be useful to both of us if in a letter I tried to sum up the suggestions I put to you. In this way I at least would be satisfied that whatever may happen to the suggestions, they would at least not suffer from the fact that I have not expressed myself clearly.

As far as the Consultative Committee which has been the subject of correspondence between Dr. Simonds and Frank Maher is concerned, I had thought of it more as a body for the discussion of the problems of Catholic Action in general. There are difficult matters which concern all the Movements of Catholic Action, properly so-called, on which the views of all Movements are useful and necessary. Thus there are problems which are common to Movements like the Y.C.W. and the Rural Movement e.g. rehabilitation. At the same time some of the Movements represented would have no connection with factories, and they would not only have no useful views to impart, but they might even complicate the situation for the Movements directly concerned by taking part in discussions on policy for the factories.

As I see the critical position which we face in industry, the root of the problem is deeper than the union or the vocation. The real problem is found in the factory and the force which can wield the dominant influence in the factory will be the force which will prevail in unions and similar representative bodies of workers.

To get an effective organization we are face to face with a real difficulty. If we were sufficiently numerous in all factories, it might be the best solution for each of the Movements to form its own individual group in the factory, and for these groups to be loosely federated. In that way we would be certain that the field was being covered and the loose federation would be sufficient to ensure unity of policy.

The fact is of course that it is only in the tiniest minority of factories that we have the numbers to form specialized groups. In the rest, the only groups which we could form would be groups mixed as to age and sex. I think that we agree that if we are to have groups at all, this is the only way in which they could be formed.

I think it is clear also that every possible factory should have its group. Only by having a group can we give the people in the factory the spiritual, intellectual and active training which will make them an effective apostolic group in their particular factory. Whether it is the important question of Communism or the other work which they should also perform, a number of unco-ordinated individuals would not be an effective unit in their particular factory. To be effective they would have to meet, plan their activities, and decide who is to be responsible for particular [activities].

The fact is that to change the environment in particular factories will require the negative work against the Communist cell which is organized in most of them and positive services, e.g. credit unions which are adapted to the needs of the workers in the factories and which can only be organized for them on a factory basis.

Our influence in the individual factory will depend entirely on how many of these services we can organise for the workers in the factories so that they will come to look on us as the people who can be relied on to fight for and build up positive reforms for all the workers and not only Catholics.

I am sure that you will agree with me that without properly organised factory groups this work cannot be done by unco-ordinated individuals.

In the factories we are fighting what is, without metaphor, a military campaign. These groups composed of persons of varied age and sex must be disciplined and governed by a central direction. The alternative is whether this factory movement should be a separate organisation from all existing movements, or whether, while it is run as an independent organisation, it would be conducted by a joint committee of existing movements who would seek genuinely to help it and to draw help from it themselves.

I am absolutely in favour of the latter alternative since the factory problem calls for the best that is in all of us and we cannot hope to succeed if we are disunited.

By this joint committee, we would avoid, as I think I pointed out to you, all possibility of a new movement arising, which I believe to be undesirable.

I believe that the interests of every movement would be preserved under this plan. We would pool our information as to the resources we would have in each factory. We would organise our mixed groups as soon as possible. We would prepare a handbook which would describe in detail the activities of groups, and assist in the work of formation. We would pool our energies for the provision of chaplains.

On the vocational side we would have what would be in reality senior and junior vocational groups which would work in the closest coordination with the factory movement.

I hope that this makes my proposals clear. 1 hope too that agreement can be reached on these lines.

The third last sentence (‘We would pool…’) has been crossed out by hand in the draft. BAS’s idea in the penultimate paragraph was that YCW be confined to adolescents or juniors who when they became adults would join the NCWM or the Movement. The bishops’ committee decided in April 1946 that the Movement did not have priority over other movements, as BAS suggested, but that other movements should not organise in factories or unions. Bishops’ committee meetings generally reaffirmed ANCSA’s (and BAS’s) role as coordinator of movements in the time between meetings. But the infighting continued, and consultative committees, which BAS opposed, were brought into existence by the bishops’ committee in March 1949.

Page 44

10 A Demarcation Dispute January 1949 S11/3/1

A particular example of the dispute with the YCW discussed above in doc. 8. Frank McCann was YCW national secretary , and Bishop O’Collins chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the (Social Studies) Movement.

Most Rev. D. Mannix, D.D., St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

My Lord Archbishop,

I desire to place before Your Grace a problem concerning the Y.C.W. and the Social Studies Movement which unless solved at this stage, may seriously affect both Movements in the future.

An Apprentice named John Reddan of Coburg Parish, was recruited into our Apprentices’ Group of the Social Studies Movement, last year. He was very inexperienced and in need of training. He received that training as a member of the Group. He improved beyond all means, so much so, that Father Brasier picked him out to be Leader of the Y.C.W. Group which he was starting in the Coburg Parish.

The lad then informed Father Brasier that he was a member of our Apprentices’ Group. Father Brasier went to Y.C.W. Headquarters and asked for a ruling on the matter. He then reported to the lad’s stepfather that the Y.C.W. ruling was to the effect that the lad could not belong to both Groups, and would have to resign from one or the other, and as the Y.C.W. was a positive Movement, and ours was a negative one, he should withdraw from ours.

When I mentioned this matter to Father Brasier, he did not deny that this ruling had been given him at Y.C.W. Headquarters, but he did say that Mr. Frank McCann was to obtain the ruling officially from Coadjutor Archbishop Simonds. I then informed Father Brasier that I would write to Your Grace for an official ruling.

When the Episcopal Committee considered the matter of membership of both Organisations, the following decision was given:

“Under the heading of Catholic Social Studies, two questions were raised by Bishop O’Collins:

1) Is it the will of the Bishops that because an individual Catholic is a member of a Catholic Action body, he should NOT at the same time, as an individual be a member of the Catholic Social Studies Movement?

The answer was ‘No’.

2) Do the Bishops desire that members of Youth Movements of Catholic Action, whether leaders or not, should be allowed to take their part as individuals, in the Catholic Social Studies Movement?

The answer was ‘Yes’.”

In reply to a further point raised by Bishop O’Collins it was agreed that if a Catholic Action body found that one of its leaders was a member of Catholic Social Studies and it was desired that that leader should give his or her undivided care to Catholic Action, the person could be asked to talk the matter over with the leaders of both Organisations, after which he should make his own decision as to what he should do.

It seems to me that the point raised by Bishop O’Collins—which was intended no doubt as a means by which friendly arrangements might be made between the two Movements—is being used by the Y.C.W. to force members out of our Organisation.

I wish to make it quite clear to Your Grace that we do not want to go into competition in the youth field at all.

If the Y.C.W. would train lads for this work and give us their full cooperation—as we are prepared to give to them—then there would be no need for an Apprentices’ Group within our Organisation.

But as they will not co-operate with us, we find it essential to organise in this field. However, we have kept away from Y.C.W. lads and have concentrated on training our own.

Now the Y.C.W. is reaping the benefit of that training imparted to our boys, by making them leaders of their groups, and advising them to withdraw from our organisation, claiming that we work on a negative basis only.

I respectfully submit, Your Grace, that their actions are contrary to the ruling set down by the Bishops to cover this phase of our work.

Here we have the case of a lad whom the Y.C.W. consider should give his undivided attention to Catholic Action, but without consulting us in the matter, they have given him advice contrary to that laid down by the Bishops.

We have in the past [and] will continue in the future to work within the Bishops’ ruling.

I also respectfully ask Your Grace, that some action be taken to ensure that the Y.C.W also works within and abides by the Bishops’ decision.

I remain,

Your Grace’s most obedient servant,