1952 The YCW Problem

B.A. Santamaria, Your Most Obedient Servant, Selected Letters: 1938-1996, Edited by Patrick Morgan, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2007, 575pp.

Page 75-79

30 Archbishop Mannix Successes and the YCW problem

Some of Catholic Action's constituent bodies, in particular the Young Christian Workers (YCW), did not accept the right of BAS, the head of both CA and the Movement, to co-ordinate their policies with those of the Movement.

11th December, 1952.


The Most Rev. D. Mannix, D.D., LLD.,

Archbishop of Melbourne,

St. Patrick's Cathedral,


My Lord Archbishop,

After long consideration, and not without considerable, reluctance, I have come to the conclusion that I should place before Your Grace a situation which concerns the whole future of our work in the industrial and political fields. This situation, in the opinion of my closest collaborators in this work, can easily result in the termination of all of our activities in these fields. While we are perfectly reconciled to the fact that the Bishops might at any moment make such a decision, we do feel that the importance of the work is such that it should be ended only as a result of an Episcopal decision, and not as the result of the process of attrition which is at present going on.

So that Your Grace will be fully informed, I trust that I will be forgiven if I recapitulate all of the necessary facts. The Social Studies Movement was inaugurated by the Bishops in September, 1945, to provide a means by which Catholics could play their part in ridding the trade unions of Communism. Those Catholics who have played their part in this organisation have been privileged to share in a work which Almighty God has crowned with a great degree of success. The A.C.T.U. and all of the Trades and Labor Councils (with one exception) have been won back from Communism. The majority of the great trade unions in key industries (e.g., the Ironworkers, Railways and Northern Miners) have been restored to moderate control. In addition, a large number of small trade unions which do not figure conspicuously in the national picture, are now in safe hands. It is true, of course, that there is another side of the picture. Powerful organisations like the Seamen's and the Watersiders' unions, are still in Communist hands, and the national economy will not be safe until this situation is reversed.

The result of the activities of seven years is roughly that the Communist Party, at the present moment, cannot hope to seize control of Australia by revolutionary means; that the progressive economic deterioration of the country brought about mainly through strikes in basic industries, has been checked; and that the Communist grip on the political Labor movement has been broken. It is acknowledged on many sides, even among non-Catholics, that all of these things are substantially Catholic achievements.

In one sense, therefore, the Social Studies Movement has fulfilled its immediate task. Were it to resign its mandate in the immediate future, there would, of course, be an immediate increase in the Communist pressure throughout the entire Labor Movement. A number of unions, including some of the largest, would fall to the Communist Party. But the Australian industrial situation is such to-day that the country would only have itself to blame were it to allow the Communists to regain the grip which they had in 1945.

For the last three years, however, it has been recognised that the possibilities of the Social Studies Movement are far wider than those offered by the defensive battle against Communism. As a result of the fact that the Australian trade unions are affiliated with the Labor Party, and that the leading figures in each trade union become delegates to Labor Party Conferences, rising then to executive and parliamentary positions, it was inevitable that as our people obtained prominence in the unions, they would rise also in the political field. This has become a factor of very great importance. It has been traditional in the Australian Labor Movement that Catholics should play a prominent part However, in the past, through no fault of their own, very many of these Catholics have not realised the social and moral implications of their faith in the field of public affairs. The new generation now rising to political prominence as a result of their work in the Social Studies Movement have a far clearer realisation of these obligations and accordingly, despite human limitations, can achieve far more in terms of the national welfare.

Since Your Grace is well aware of the personalities whom we have been able to influence and organise within both State and Federal political circles, it is unnecessary to labor this particular point.

As a result of what has been achieved to date, and in the tight of reasonable and conservative expectation! for the future, there is no reason why the Social Studies Movement should not be able to do far more for the public welfare in the future than it has been able to achieve in the past. What it can reasonably be expected to achieve can be listed under the following heads:

(1) The Social Studies Movement should within a period of five or six years be able to completely transform the leadership of the Labor Movement, and to introduce into Federal and State spheres large numbers of members who possess a clear realisation of what Australia demands of them, and the will to carry it out Without going into details, they should be able to implement a Christian social programme in both the State and Federal spheres, and above all, to achieve coordination between the different States in so doing. This is the first time that such a work has become possible in Australia and, as far as I can see, in the Anglo-Saxon world since the advent of Protestantism.

(2) It should be possible, within the next six years, as a result of the political forces thus organised, to solve the problem of financial aid to Catholic education. Whether the taxing powers remain with the Commonwealth, or whether they revert to the States, this result is equally feasible, in view of the condition of our organisation at Federal and State levels respectively.

(3) Again, it should be possible to execute large-scale plans of land settlement As a result, not only will Australia benefit by a continuation of the migration programme, but the Church will be able to gain great accessions of strength because of the religious composition of the migrant groups which would be thus absorbed into Australian life.

Large-scale plans of land settlement cannot be achieved without the full cooperation of Stale Governments in providing land at low cost It has been possible to secure this co-operation from the Tasmanian Government already, because of our influence with the Premier and his Party. The same co-operation is likely to be obtained in New South Wales and Queensland, and now possibly also in Victoria.

The experience of the last three or four decades shows that however correct Catholic ideas might be either in the field of education, or of migration and land settlement, it is impossible to secure effective action without a strong and coordinated influence on the political plane. It seems that this influence is within our reach now for the first time. It should also be emphasised that this influence has been obtained and can be maintained without exceeding the limits in which it is legitimate for Catholic organisations to operate. Whatever may be the gains to the nation, the gains to the Church will be substantial and incontestable.

It is, of course, for the Bishops to decide whether they wish this work to be done. Should it be held to be desirable for us to proceed, then if the anticipated results are to be achieved, I would submit that a problem of major proportions can no longer be ignored.

The problem is simply that the life-blood of the Secretariat and the Social Studies Movement is being drained off, and that in a relatively short time—whatever the Bishops may wish—it will be unable to recruit members in sufficient numbers or of sufficient ability to do its work.

For many years now, as a result of the deliberate and avowed policies of those who control the Y.C.W., all of the leaders of this organisation have been taught that there is something reprehensible about the activities of the Social Studies Movement. As a result, outside of the Archdiocese of Perth and the Diocese of Rockhampton, the Social Studies Movement has not recruited twenty former Y.C.W. members into its ranks once they have graduated from the youth organisation. We have not officially protested against this policy in the past because we hoped that it would change, and because the results were then not sufficiently apparent To-day, it is clear that it had involved the Church in an absolute disaster. We are winning union elections in all States. A relatively large number of full-time union positions have had to be filled. We are now facing the situation that we no longer have the men who can fill them. As a result, the Church is now deprived of positions of industrial and political importance. What is worse, in the short run, is that the positions themselves are often being taken by persons with no real qualifications whatsoever who will present a very grim contrast, as union officials, to the well-trained Communists who preceded them in office. It is worrying, to the point of distraction, to find that we are able to win the positions and then to see the fruits of victory dissipated in this fashion. Yet so long as the Y.C.W. persists in its present policy there is very little that the Social Studies Movement can do to change the situation. The new venture of the Jesuit Fathers at Myra House will be involved in the same dilemma.

However, it is not the long-standing policy of the Y.C.W. which has compelled me to lay these maters before your Grace. It is the fact that the same policy is now in active operation in the Universities; and in our own secondary schools, particularly in Melbourne. I have no hesitation in asserting that there is a definite plan of action, in which the chaplains of the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and a number of close supporters, are involved to destroy the influence of the Secretariat, the Social Studies Movement and the Campion Society in these Universities. I will not weary Your Grace by traversing the details of the propaganda campaign which has been carried out against these three bodies in Melbourne University, despite Your Grace's explicit statement that the Campion Society should continue its operations in the University and despite the decisions of the E.C.CA. on the status and functions of the National Secretariat. The latest in a long line of mis-statements is that which has now spread to every part of Australia and, within this Archdiocese, right through the University and into the secondary schools—that Cardinal Gilroy recently disbanded the Social Studies Movement in Sydney University. This action, presumably taken by His Eminence, is being quoted everywhere as evidence that the Social Studies Movement must have done something particularly discreditable, and as a complete vindication of the attitude of those who have always opposed that organisation. This report is current in centres as far apart as Brisbane and Perth.

The allegation is completely untrue. Should Your Grace desire confirmation of this statement, it can be had from Bishop Lyons who is most indignant at the currency which it has gained, and which it could not have gained had it not been quite deliberately spread What the enemies of our work have been unable to secure in Sydney, they have, however, for the time being, secured in Melbourne. Pending reference of this matter to Your Grace, I have, on my own responsibility, suspended the operations of the Campion group m the University, and suspended also the annual arrangements to recruit new members from the schools. My reasons are as follows;—

(i) The Headmasters of the Christian Brothers' Schools in particular, who have done much to assist us in the past, are seriously perturbed at the clash of policy and have irnous doubts as to whether the policy of the Secretariat and the Social Studies Movement represents the will of Your Grace and of the Bishops.

Some of their own teachers have been propagandised by the opposition and there is uncertainty and division among the Brothers themselves. These facts emerge from discussions which I have had with Brother Duffy (Assistant to the General) and Brother Carey. Headmaster of Victoria Parade.

(ii) Not only are many Catholics at the University scandalised by the conflict, but boys about to leave secondary school have already been made aware of the conflict as a result of formal and informal approaches by speakers sent by the opposition. The result is that some are seriously perturbed in conscience, while others are already cynical and quite determined to stay out of any kind of Catholic activity.

(iii) Quite a number of parents (I may mention Mr. W. Ryan, Secretary of the Process Engravers' Union, who visited Your Grace, as one) are seriously disturbed at the difficulties of conscience which their sons and daughters will face when they go to the University.

As the situation was becoming worse instead of better, and as the attack was being extended into the schools, I felt that I could not bear the responsibility of perpetuating this division, and accordingly suspended all our activities in this field.

If the secondary schools and the Universities are finally closed to us, and to this is added the long-standing boycott by the Y.CW., I would submit to Your Grace that we have no future. Quite apart from the numbers involved, the loss of intellectual quality will be irreplaceable. Sound political leadership can only come from educated men. Without the schools and the Universities where can these be obtained? Typical of our dilemma were several results in the recent preselections for Federal Labor candidates in Victoria. Three of the victors were Messrs. Dedman, Sowerbutts and McSween. Two of these are almost certainly members of the Communist Party. The third is hardly more favourable to our ideals. The men we were compelled to run against them were, by occupation, a process worker, a clerk and a starting-price bookmaker respectively. It was no wonder that they were all beaten by the three men named above, each of whom has some intellectual distinction. In fact, we did not have much heart for the campaign ourselves, such was the disparity of qualifications. If our secondary school boys and University students are to be cut off permanently from us, we will never be in any better position.

Your Grace may wonder why this matter is referred to you, why, in short, we do not fight our own battles. For this there are two reasons. We were not organised to fight Catholics, and I doubt if we would ever do it even if it involved our own survival In the second place, al our officials are on the job from 9.30 a.m. until about 11.00 p.m. a an average of six days a week. Nothing less is sufficient to fight Communism and to build up our influence in public bodies. If they were called upon to take time off to fight Catholics, they might as well give up the struggle in any case since the Communist enemy never rests. Those Catholics who oppose us, on the other hand, have not the same responsibilities. They can devote to the propagation of their ideas hours of effort which we cannot spare.

I may sum up by saying that my colleagues have never been afraid of the Communist Party. But they are more than afraid of this organised internal dissension which can destroy all of our work and which can newer be tracked down and answered.