Pope Francis and the Uncertain Legacy of Dorothy Day

A disturbing glimpse into the trouble at the "Catholic Worker."

“In these times, when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed were inspired by the gospel, her faith and the example of the saints.”
-- Pope Francis

Dorothy Day, the dedicated pacifist and founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is right now the subject of renewed attention thanks to the Pope’s shout out for Ms. Day in his congressional address, a respectful account of her life in the new book by David Brooks, The Road to Character, and, importantly, the Catholic Church’s beginning of a canonization process – which will focus on gathering claims of miracles attributed to her by the faithful.

What’s actually going on at the Catholic Worker by her followers at the houses of hospitality she founded today is no miracle.

This article represents a winnowing of a year’s worth of interviews at the New York City chapters of the Catholic Worker movement. The Catholic Worker [hereafter referred to as CW] boasts of about 200 “Houses of Hospitality” - what one insider called “an archipelago of safe houses [for radicals] using the vaunted soup kitchen operation as a front” for extremist politics, representing the leaderships’ preference for a vile variant of Liberation Theology.

When Dorothy Day herself founded an ongoing series of weekly talks at the Worker houses, she dedicated these events to “the clarification of thought”.  These talks continue to the present.  Now, however, some Catholic Workers complain, most of the talks are immersed in the hard left and the thinking expressed is actually “The Calcification of Thought”, one wag has quipped mournfully.

Today, attendees of these weekly lectures have encountered the following ideas:

- Anti Israel, Anti-“Zionist”, Anti “Usury”, Anti “NEOCON” and pro-Iranian, pro-Assad, pro-PLO propaganda.

- Support for violent riots in American cities

- The return of antiquated Marxist terminology, like castigating peoples’ opinions as “bourgeois”.

- Against US national security (yet, inside sources tell us: the Catholic Worker makes sure its own doors are secure - “they’re highly security focused when it comes to guarding its own doors” - indeed, when CW Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, recently visited Afghanistan for a fortnight, she availed herself of the protection of a Kalashnikov rifle.) [For more on Ms. Hennessy, see forthcoming article in this series.]

- Editorial repudiation of non-violence as an emblem of “rigid” white privilege, and championing rioting in Ferguson MO.

- Glorification of 1950’s Puerto Rican Nationalist terrorism. 

- Together, the US and Israel are planning to “clamp down” on the US population.

The Catholic Worker was founded in 1933, in many respects it was modeled after the depression era Communist Party newspaper, which the Communist Party published the as Daily Worker. Day founded the _Catholic Worker_ newspaper topped with a masthead with Marxist-like iconography. They called their meeting houses “cells”, fitting with the era’s Red parlance. The first issues of the paper were handed out on May Day in Union Square, aka “Red Square”, in those days. At that time, the paper’s appeal was aimed at the vast population of the working class Catholics. While many Communist organizers mistakenly believed that the new CW movement would be used as a “Trojan horse to bring Communists into Catholicism”, the actual objective was to bring unaffiliated working class Catholics and others into the orbit of the era’s movements of radicalism.

Dorothy Day personally selected as the most prominent of the paper’s graphic illustrators Fritz Eichenberg, 1901-1990; certain art scholars identify Eichenberg as a one time member of the Communist Party USA.

As time went on, the movement manifested itself primarily as a charity to feed and comfort the poor, as well as provide support to conscientious objectors and protesting the draft from the era of WWII, Vietnam and opposition to selective service military manpower procurement.

Times have changed.

New emphases have emerged. Today, visitors to the CW’s marquee property in Manhattan enter a Red brick building where windows hold a portrait gallery of the photos, facing the street, of some the prisoners at Guantanamo (without information about the charges against them). Inside you’re greeted by a big heroized picture of anti-Israel activist, the late Rachael Cory posted at the doors of the auditorium. Within the auditorium you light upon a newly framed, newly hung, anti-police graphic printed by the Revolutionary Communist Party cult group. Nearby a placard bearing advocacy of Muslim Brotherhood lays face up on a table.  

These days, many of the lights of most of the many rooms of the CW main building are extinguished, and vacant. Few volunteers now live in these chambers as of old. And the downstairs main parlor is no longer the shared space where volunteers had once excitedly shared notes with each other about their altruistic volunteerism for the neighborhood poor: it’s once upon a time famous food kitchen dispenses less and less to the needy. So to for showers and the distribution of clothing. This is because new volunteers have left in disgust when they discover that a coterie of hard-left 60’s ideologues are in control today, for whom the so called “works-of-mercy” are decidedly subordinate to the ideological imperatives of the governing cliques of the present moment. Perhaps someday this milieu will be freed from this dark hegemony and the volunteers will return.

St. Paul once described Christians as “fools for Christ”. There is, however, no need to sign on to anti-Semitism, which was famously described as the “socialism of fools”. At one meeting at CW’s flagship Mary House in NY, CW paper’s Managing Editor Joanne Kennedy gleefully distributed sing-along handouts with lyrics including “the Jews killed Christ,” a classic trope of once traditional anti-Semitism which, elsewhere among Catholics, was properly discarded after Vatican II. (When later called out on this lyric, the CW’s top editor responded with sly giggling – offering no attempt at an excuse or mea-culpa.)

An out of state visitor to the CW residing at the Mary House for a short stay, told us the following: A guest speaker spoke of the Jews as “the unbelievers.” My source, a non observant Jew in attendance, said she was” flabbergasted and hurt” to encounter such a primitive sentiment at the CW. At one anti-Israel CW talk, facilitator Terri Rogers’s face lit with excitement and expressed “that’s a great question you raise!” when a member said “Let’s discuss how the Jews brought down the Twin Towers on 911” Ms. Rogers spends time, for example, in Gaza and marches in the streets of New York City against Israel, she avers proudly. Another time, member Mary Hagen spoke about how “the Jewish Leo Strauss caused the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” One is, variously, “Islamophobic” and “fascist” for showing solidarity and empathy with the Charlie Hebdo and French Butcher Shop victims, my sources’ reported.

At the time of the first outcry over Bashir al-Assad’s gassings of his countrymen, David McReynalds was given by the CW editors a front page article to write, in which he and the paper sought to defuse concern about Syria’s deployment of chemical weaponry and to manufacture bogus suspicions about such humanitarian concerns in this connection. McReynalds is unfavorably regarded in circles both Left and Right for being an unsurpassingly hair-splitting factionalist and a political “also-ran” – a sectarian and unashamed peddler of shopworn agitprop, as indicated in his article against humanitarian intervention in Syria.

When a contingent of Catholic Workers were on their way to Cuba to attend a conference, one New York City CWer of conscience, Bill Antalics, reminded them “to ask about political dissenters, jailed librarians and others.” His Catholic Worker colleagues mocked him and the concerns he professed. “It was as if I’d lobbed a stink bomb at them,” he recalled unhappily.

A quick perusal of the June-July issue would reveal, variously, valorization of the Black Liberation Army of 60s infamy; editor Ric Rhetor’s clarion call to FREE OSCAR LOPEZ RIVERA, the incarcerated unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorist who bombed New York city; editor Bill Griffin’s, not one, not two, but three irrational excoriations of American exceptionalism – the same Mr. Griffin who a summer before declared America to be “racist” for not sending medical care to Ebola stricken Africa (“Why Mr. Griffin, you’re a registered nurse, why don’t you volunteer your medical services now?”, at this he sputtered unintelligibly); And notably, radical tourist Cathy Breen’s report from Karbala Iraq said she was doing “humanitarian work”, although she’s not with any recognized NGO. Her previous reports from the region, including Syria, showed her to be irresponsible, giving false hope to refugees that she would foreseeably obtain for them American visas for resettlement in America - given that Ms. Breen, like other voices in “Creative Voices for Nonviolence”, to which she also belongs, are known anti-American operatives, her usefulness a liaison to the U.S. state department is relatively null and void.

Ms. Breen, further, in her own speech at the Catholic Worker, she presented herself as the mouthpiece for the following egregious viewpoint: that the U.S., and Israel are the creators of ISIS. She also said that “to understand what’s going on, reliable news sources are Counterpunch andantiwar.com” [her recommendation was amazing given that these two outlets in particular are noted for bizarre conspiracy theories of the anti-Semitic variety]. In a previous talk, later published in the Catholic Worker, Ms. Breen averred that Syrian dictator Bashir al Assad was “exceptional” and that the then Arab Spring, as it was manifesting itself in Syria, was inspired and fomented by Israel. Though challenged on this, Ms. Breen refused to retract her blood libel. (Ms. Breen was radicalized during her years in Latin America.)

For another taste of recent offerings in the Catholic Worker newspaper, associate editor Tom Cornell defended the late pacifist leader AJ Mustie [see upcoming Mustie Foundation expose] for his WWII era declaration: If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love anyone.” Cornell even censured Mustie’s biographer for holding Mustie’s statement to be “notorious.” Tom Cornell is today a Catholic Worker careerist, but once upon a time was a wunderkind in radical circles, and now called by one disillusioned Catholic Worker “a kind of faux-avuncular Grand Poohba around here” issuing pronouncementos on, for example, Palestine, permafrost, Dorothy Day, soft cheeses even, top soil ect ect; no topic too large or small for this unscholarly generalist on which to opine with ersatz gravitas.

Recently, the CW paper even denigrated the Black Church in contemporary American life; this is rather cringe-worthy given the white supremacist attack on the black church community in South Carolina.

These days, and in light of the above, donors are sending less money and some are canceling benefactions because of the CW paper’s publishing of extremist articles: they’d believed their money would feed and bath and cloth the poor, not to further propaganda trips to slander American foreign policy. “In my day,” said CW longtimer Roger O’Neil, “we took seriously our CW ‘vows of poverty’ and didn’t fly about the world on these anti-American junkets.”

In tandem with the shortfall in financial support is the vast decline in the CW paper’s circulation figures: three-fourths of its previous subscribers have disappeared from the mailing list, alarmingly. This puts the CW’s entire operation at potential risk. Thereof, great anxiety pervades the CW Headquarters.

The CW observes “Nakba Day,” the anti-Israel answer to the Jewish State’s founding anniversary. This year brought forth Joseph Catrone, a proud functionary of Hamas’s movements in Gaza. He exhibited a propaganda film against Israel produced by Iran’s Press TV, and promoted the agendas of, variously, the International Solidarity Movement, Hamas, sundry anti-Israel zealots and issued rebarbative and foul mouthed imprecations against Jewish people in Israel.

Catrone, according to Israel’s Arutz Sheva, ”discusses movements by Hamas forces against the IDF and other military matters that show he is rubbing elbows with the Hamas leadership for whom he is acting as a human shield.  He is falsely described as a ‘journalist’ and activist … but he writes for no reputable journals. He does appear on Iranian propaganda TV occasionally to promote the Iranian smear program against Israel, the US and Jews in general. He could, in fact, be functioning as an Iranian agent.”

At CW, he was welcomed as a flack for Hamas’s agenda. Catrone used the New York Catholic Worker properties as his base in the city from which to recruit and do public speaking vis-a-vis his propagandizing on behalf of Hamas. Later, the CW paper’s top editor, Joanne Kennedy, averred that she “understood” Catrone’s foul-mouthed invective against the Jews of Israel.

In this connection, at a Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) anti-police rally in Union Sq., Catholic Workers, again including Dorothy Day’s granddaughter Martha Hennessy, stood amidst posters proclaiming: From Gaza To Ferguson.” (This same slogan was, in fact, previously publicized in the pages of the Catholic Worker paper.) Indeed, they are currently promoting other ongoing RCP front activities.

4 months following upon the selection of Pope Francis, this world-epic development remained conspicuously unmentioned at the CW. Then, one evening a visitor rose to ask about this apparently taboo topic. The CW‘s Ric Rhetor explained: “yes, he’s persona non grata among many of us here because he’s no friend of Liberation Theology and he’s implicated in the torture of our Latin American comrades.”

Perhaps the CW ought heed Pope Francis who councils “service to others” without ideology denaturing CW “works of mercy.”

Back to the present, and at the New York CW Headquarters and seat of its newspaper operation, Mary House, on the evening of Friday, September 25th, a gathering of the CW newspaper’s editors, and others, were watching the televised mass at Madison Square Garden conducted by Pope Francis. Here, now, in this room, were the errant acolytes of Dorothy Day who, as this Pope spoke subjected his remarks to their running commentary of a negative and tasteless character, replete with derogatory barbs, as they laughed at their own supposed cleverness; heedless of the fact that it is this very man who may, someday, decide on the matter of their founder’s becoming a canonized saint.

Though Dorothy Day spoke and wrote voluminously throughout her career on so many things and in so many registers of voice in her writing, her current false idolaters have seized on one phrase she once uttered in passing: about this being “A dirty rotten system.” The CW band is named “Dirty Rotten System” and an outdoor mural abutting the CW property on E. 1st street depicts Dorothy Day proclaiming this slogan. “It’s unfortunate that a passing thought in a passing moment of ill considered temper should come to denominate her outlook and assume outsized meaning,” a long time member said. “Surely ours is not ‘a system,’ and indeed surely not dirty.”