John Ryan, "Attitude of the Church Towards Radical Reform," ca. 1917


Fr. John A. Ryan (1869 - 1945)
Ca. 1917, Courtesy of ACUA

Fr. John A. Ryan found himself fighting an uphill battle as he tried to put into action his ideas regarding the Catholic Church and social reform. Many Catholics at that time were suspicious of government intervention. This was due, in part, to Rerum Novarum, the same encyclical that had inspired Fr. Ryan to take action. Contrary to Ryan's hopes, most American bishops interpreted the encyclical simply as an anti-Socialism document that warned of too much government power.

Consequently, many Catholics voted against and criticized the social reform legislation that Ryan supported. Fr. Ryan delivered this speech in Boston, MA, likely to a group of Catholics. At this time, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston, like their Archbishop William Cardinal O'Connell, tended to be extremely conservative. In his talk, Ryan appears to have been trying to temper their distrust of government-sponsored social reform.


"Attitude of the Roman Catholic Church toward Radial Reform" from Community Forum, c. 1917


As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:

  • Why does Fr. Ryan believe that the Catholic Church is a "conservative" institution? What evidence does he provide to support his statements?
  • What are the principle reasons for the Catholic Church's opposition to socialism? Under what circumstances could the Church tolerate political revolution?
  • What is the primary business of the Catholic Church? What are the principles for social reform promulgated by Pope Leo XIII? How do these principles play a role in the promotion of the Church's primary mission?