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A Catholic priest’s list of legislation – from 1909

This priest saw the needs of today with clarity, over a century ago.

1 min read

Berry Craig recently did a story about reviving the Social Gospel in Frankfort, specifically in our legislature. In that story was a list of reforms laid out by a Catholic priest over a century ago. As we fight, once again, against the robber barons of our time, the list still seems timely and needed.

Monsignor John Augustine Ryan wrote his Ph.D. on the living wage, and followed that up with the article “A Programme of Social Reform by Legislation,” which appeared in The Catholic World in 1909. It led to larger work in 1919, the Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, a blueprint for the future overhauling of America's politics, society and economy, which was published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The list of reforms

Here is the list of reforms that Msgr. Ryan put forward in 1909:

  • A legal minimum wage
  • An eight-hour limit on the work day
  • Protective legislation for women and children
  • Protection for union picketing and boycotting
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Provision against accident, illness and old age
  • Municipal housing
  • Public ownership of utilities
  • Public ownership of mines and forests
  • Control of monopolies
  • And an income tax.

As you scan the list, you can see some that have been implemented, but are under attack. Some others have either never been tried, or have not been widespread.

All in all, this is a fascinating list – especially when you consider how long ago it was made, and its relevance even now. And of course, as noted above, it is a list of policies that are anathema to the wealthy and powerful.

As Craig noted in his article, today’s Republicans are primarily Social Darwinists. They would be well served to listen to this Catholic priest from 1909.


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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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