You wouldn't know this now, but there was a time when Catholics were known in American culture and politics for defending the rights of workers and the poor. Catholics used to be known for their emphasis on communitarianism--on building just societies in which everyone was included, and, in particular, in which those shoved to the margins were drawn into social participation and allowed to use their talents to the fullest and lead fulfilling lives.
Quit a bit happened in the latter decades of the 20th century to obscure and even to some extent obliterate the strong, consistent emphasis on socioeconomic justice that was once the hallmark of American Catholic moral and political thought. As Frank Cocozzelli notes with his latest posting at Talk to Action, key neo-conservative Catholic political activists including Deal Hudson, Robert P. George, and George Weigel have deliberately targeted Catholic social teaching in recent decades, and have sought to substitute a philosophy of economic libertarianism for the deep, rich tradition of communitarianism and concern for those on the socioeconomic margins that long dominated Catholic thought about the economic and social sphere. These neo-conservative Catholic political activists have been given cover by not a few Catholic bishops in the U.S., who deliberately distort Catholic social teaching about issues like subsidiarity in order to present some Catholic political leaders (e.g., Paul Ryan) as exemplars of Catholic teaching, when their socioeconomic thought blatantly militates against core principles of Catholic social teaching.
One of the most significant theorists of Catholic social teaching in the early part of the 20th century was Monsignor John A. Ryan, whose advocacy on behalf of a "living wage" for workers had a very important influence on the New Deal--the same New Deal that Hudson, George, Weigel, Paul Ryan, and the bishops who give them cover now want to dismantle. As the posting of Frank Cocozzelli to which I link above explains, Frank and Walter J. Collins have formed a production company, Social Impact Films, that will produce socially conscious documentaries and will celebrate the legacy of Msgr. Ryan. The first film produced by the company is going to be a documentary, "Saving Monsignor Ryan," which will focus on Ryan's struggle to secure a living wage for workers and rights to protect workers from exploitation.
Frank is appealing for support for this documentary and for the mission of his Social Impact Films project. He and Walter Collins have set up a Kickstarter website to promote their work, and to explain what they are about with the project. I highly encourage readers to have a look at what Frank and Walter and doing, and to support their mission insofar as you may be able.
This is a much-needed project, in my view. As someone whose primary calling in life has been education, I have to say I'm deeply concerned at the appalling lack of good education about Catholic ideas, values, and history that has been provided to many younger Catholics in recent decades. Under the papacy of John Paul II, it became fashionable in leading Catholic catechetical circles (and hierarchical ones, as well) to decry the "insubstantial" catechesis given to Catholic younger people following Vatican II.
In my opinion, the kind of catechesis provided to Catholic youth under the current papacy and its predecessor, which purports to be a corrective to post-Vatican II catechesis, has itself done an abysmal job of educating Catholic young folks about Catholic history and about many core Catholic values and teachings, including Catholic social teaching. The preponderant emphasis on rote memorization of the catechism, on the purported infallibility of any statement that drops from a hierarchical mouth, and on liturgical rubrics and externals has seriously deformed the thinking of many maleducated younger Catholics of the contemporary church.
Many Catholics whose consciences have been formed in the period of the "reform of the reform" lack sufficient understanding of Catholic history to know why Vatican II reformed the church's liturgy, and why some of the paraliturgical practices these younger Catholics are now mad to restore (e.g., eucharistic processions and adoration) were discarded with the Vatican II reforms. Many younger Catholics lack sound historical perspective based in strong historical knowledge, and their certainty that they and their generation alone possess Catholic truth in some unique way is in direct proportion to their lack of historical perspective.
Among those same younger Catholics for whom liturgical rubrics, hierarchical utterances, and catechetical formulas count above all, there is, at the same time, often a dismal lack of understanding of Catholic social teaching. There's the assumption that being a "true" Catholic means that one is opposed to "big government" and "liberalism."
In the name of restoring orthodoxy, in other words, the last two papal regimes have succeeded in creating, at least in American Catholicism, a strange hybrid of evangelical Protestant and Catholic fundamentalism among the small cadre of young Catholics true believers who continue to involve themselves in church life (most younger Catholics are walking away, and have every reason to do so). And this bodes badly for the future of American Catholicism.
It means that, in the future, American Catholics will increasingly be a small, cultic, countercultural enclave of true believers who imagine that they are distinctive and set apart because Catholic women sport mantillas, because every parish in the country has adoration hours, because Catholics vote for life and against the gays, and that means they vote Republican--while the values of these countercultural believers are, in fact, anything but countercultural. While the core values of these "countercultural" Catholics are totally cozy with the values of economic elites, and are disdainful of those on the social margins.
This is why I'm very happy to see Frank and Walter retrieve the legacy of John Ryan, and why I intend to help support their work in any way possible. It's very much needed. Younger Catholics need to learn about a legacy that has been almost absolutely obliterated in the inadequate catechesis that has been afforded to a generation or more of Catholics under the current papacy and its predecessor.