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Joseph Keller

The Case of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam

(7 March 1947)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 10, 7 March 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Roman Catholic hierarchy’s drive to censor and silence liberal criticism of its reactionary political activities and its moves, particularly in the field of education, to breach the wall separating church and state, reached their latest climax in connection with the award dinner given by The Churchman, Protestant Episcopal magazine in honor of Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam.

Announcement that Bishop Oxnam was to receive the annual Churchman award “for the promotion of good will and better understanding among all people,” was the signal for a campaign of pressure and intimidation to get sponsors of the award dinner, held in New York City on Feb. 23, to withdraw from the affair with public statements.

Oxnam’s “Crime”

Although the standard charge of “communism” was hurled at The Churchman and its editor, Rev. Dr. Guy Emery Shipler, it is well known that Bishop Oxnam, former president of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and present co-president of the World Council of Churches, had aroused the ire of the Catholic hierarchy by his outspoken opposition to attempts of the American Catholic hierarchy to gain state support for parochial Schools.

Only a few weeks before the scheduled Churchman dinner, Bishop Oxnam wrote a powerful documented exposure of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s increasingly successful drive to gain influence over public education in this country and to secure public funds for Catholic schools. His article, entitled Church, State, and Schools, appeared in the Jan. 15 Nation, liberal magazine which Catholic pressure had succeeded last year in banning from public school libraries in New York City and Newark.

The drive to sabotage the Churchman award dinner for Bishop Oxnam first came to light when Benjamin Fairless, president of the United States Steel Corporation and a co-sponsor of the dinner, announced that he was withdrawing his sponsorship, stating, “Innocently I accepted, thinking it was a church movement, and therefore having no connection with non-Americanism.” The alleged “non-Americanism” is The Churchman’s sometimes critical attitude toward the Truman administration’s foreign policy. Fairless’s action may not be unrelated to the fact that Myron C. Taylor, former head of U.S. Steel, has been Truman’s “personal envoy” to the Vatican.

Subsequently, a number of other sponsors of the dinner publicly announced their withdrawals on one pretext or another. Among these was Democratic Senator Hubert. H. Humphrey, darling of the Democratic liberals and national chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action, who pleaded unexpected pressure of senatorial work.

The real source of the attack on The Churchman and Bishop Oxnam was revealed the day before the dinner by Judge Jerome N. Frank of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and former SEC chairman. In a last-minute withdrawal statement, Judge Frank gave as his reason that The Churchman is “systematically and sweepingly critical of all the attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Answering the attacks on Bishop Oxnam and The Churchman, forty leading Protestant clergymen and laymen issued a statement on Feb. 22, saying:

“We denounce the current propaganda which asserts that a person who opposes the political Vatican State is a Communist or a Communist sympathizer. The attacks on The Churchman represent a fully organized, well-financed threat to one of the freest sections of American journalism, the Protestant press. We stand for the right of Protestant individuals and organizations to promote peace without having such free journals as The Churchman prohibited by self-appointed censors.”

From Requests to Threat

In his award acceptance speech at the Churchman dinner, Bishop Oxnam revealed that “representations were made to me that ran the gamut from request to demand to threat, the object being to secure the withdrawal of my acceptance and the destruction of The Churchman, a liberal church journal with more than a hundred years of history behind it.”

Attacking the U.S. State Department’s flirtation with Spanish dictator Franco, Bishop Oxnam said,

“We cannot expect the common man to believe our democratic pronouncements if we make deals with, dictators or ally ourselves with political, economic or ecclesiastical reaction.”

He challenged the Catholic hierarchy to join with all other churches in enunciating a doctrine of universal religious liberty, stating:

“A church that denies religious liberty to others, when it has power to do so, is in an embarrassing position when it creates the hysteria antecedent to war when others deny religious liberty to it ... Religious liberty means freedom for Roman Catholics in Hungary, and also freedom for Protestants in Spam, in Colombia and the Argentine.”

Liberal Protestant forces are becoming extremely concerned over this and other examples of intimidation and censorship by the Catholic hierarchy. A group of ten Protestant ministers in Danbury and Newtown, Conn., has issued a declaration disapproving the action of the Danbury Lions Club in withdrawing its invitation to Henry Wallace to speak at a meeting after six local Catholic priests had demanded the Progressive Party leader be barred.

The Protestant clergymen called the club’s action a “humiliating defeat” and said that “a decision of the club, democratically arrived at, has been invalidated by intimidation. It is sincerely hoped that in the future the people of Danbury will maintain an allegiance that goes beyond our city and includes the hallowed traditions of freedom that have distinguished our country since its foundation.”

The current Catholic clerical offensive against free speech, political freedom and the separation of church and state has been given impetus by the lynch-hysteria campaign against “communism” whipped up around the Mindszenty case in Hungary, by the Truman administration, the Big Business press, the Catholic hierarchy and sections of the Protestant and Jewish clergy.

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