The Radio Priest

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He wasn’t the greatest President we’ve ever had. I knew it, and so did many of his associates. But I liked the man. People say I hated him, but I never did. I loved the man. When he was away from that darned desk of his and that long cigarette thing and sitting down with some of us or playing cards, there was no more gracious person that ever lived. You know, even then I wouldn’t let anyone else attack Mr. Roosevelt, and I still won’t. Isn’t that funny? He wasn’t a malicious man, either, don’t ever think that. I don’t think there was a bit of malice in the man’s make-up. But I think he was unfortunate in the choice of some of his associates. A lot of them were square pegs, and I told him one time, I’ll bet you wouldn’t invite some of them down here for dinner.

In the middle of your campaign to have silver remonetized—I believe it was in April, 1934—Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau released, ostensibly with the President’s approval, a list of persons and organizations with substantial investments in silver. Prominent on the list, withßve hundred thousand ounces, was your Radio League. Who do you think was really responsible for this action?

I blame Morgenthau.

But surely Roosevelt knew about it?

I wouldn’t say that. Many things happened under the Roosevelt regime that I happen to know he didn’t know, and after they’d happened he’d tell me. Serious things, too. He’s only the President, I used to say, and I make the same statement today about Pope Paul. He’s only the pope. Seriously, heads of organizations are not always to blame for the affairs of their organizations. Now take that silver-list thing. Sure, that hurt me at the time. I didn’t even know about that investment until the list appeared. But when you’re the head of an organization you’ve got to be a man and take responsibility.

Wasn’t that about the time that a prominent congressman threatened to kick you from the Capitol to the White House m your clerical garb “with all the silver in your pockets”?

No, I think that was later—a couple of years later.

When you began your 1934-35 broadcast season in September you asked your listeners to write and tell you if they wanted you to continue criticizing the New Deal. The results of that private poll were never revealed.

Don’t ask me something like that, because I can’t remember. All I remember is that I was getting many millions of letters. I had enough to do keeping up with the approximately two hundred clerks I had handling all this correspondence. Don’t forget, during all of this, my first function was still parish priest. Eventually I had seven assistant priests, as the Shrine grew over the years from the twenty-eight families I started with to the more than 3,500 we had when I retired. Even when the assistants came I was still the pastor, and I knew what my duties were. I kept my parlor hours in the evening, even during the most hectic periods, so that my parishioners could stop by and talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. You know, about 99 per cent of the marital problems that came up could be solved if I could just get one of them to laugh. My parlor hours, that’s the only thing I really miss in retirement.

Well, the listener poll must have been satisfactory, because you went on attacking certain New Deal programs, particularly the contributions of the “Dram Trusters, ” as you called them. Then, on November 11, '934, you announced the formation of the National Union for Social Justice, complete with a sixteen-pomt platform to accomplish the “ever-elusive ideal of social justice” as spelled out m the papal encyclicals. Did you view this organization as a sort of people’s lobby along the lines of the groups now headed by Ralph Nader and John Gardner?

Well, it was sort of an independent lobby. Really, at that time, I think I was a party man; I think that, whether or not I knew it, I was a Democrat, if you want to put it that way, whether or not I’d analyzed the whole meaning of the word democracy and all its implications. At any rate I was persuaded by a lot of gentlemen, important gentlemen around the country, to get up an organization for the purposes of indoctrinating the people with the principles of social justice. That was it. It wasn’t political, although you can’t prove it wasn’t political. If you’re indoctrinating anybody today, you’re in politics.

At various times the National Union claimed as many as five million members. How many paying members did you have?

Nobody actually paid anything. What they did was buy the National Union’s weekly newspaper, Social Justice . At its peak we had over 1,200,000 paid subscribers.