Marking a century of progressive Catholicism

Catholic News Service has a feature that notes an interesting centennial, of sorts:

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The year 1910 was quite the watershed year for U.S. Catholicism. Catholic Charities USA was founded a hundred years ago. So were the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, followed by the Maryknoll Sisters in 1912. The Crosiers, founded in Europe 700 years ago, decided to place their first outpost in the United States in 1910.And that's just a sampling of Catholic groups marking their centennial.What was it that prompted these Catholic organizations to take root in 1910 and not only to withstand the vagaries of the following century but to flourish a century later with an enduring influence on the larger society?To hear some historians describe it, the growth of Catholic organizations 100 years ago has much to do with the Progressive Era, a period of social activism and reform that had its heyday from the 1890s to the 1920s. Among its leading exponents were presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover, Wisconsin Gov. Robert La Follette Sr., and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, who went on to become Chief Justice of the United States.

These groups still exist today, and may have even greater reach, it seems to me. And there are plenty of "progressive" Catholic leaders. But the Catholic Church is not seen as "progressive" in the wider social context. Is that a misperception, perhaps created by the focus on battles over abortion and homosexuality? Or is it perhaps an accurate assessment?

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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