Catholic Action

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Catholic Action was the name of many groups of lay Catholics who were attempting to encourage a Catholic influence on society.

They were especially active in the nineteenth century in historically Catholic countries that fell under anti-clerical regimes such as Spain, Italy, Bavaria, France, and Belgium. Adolf Hitler attacked one of the heads of a Catholic Action group in Nazi Germany during the Night of the Long Knives. Catholic Action is not a political party, although in many times and places this distinction became blurred. Since World War II the concept has often been eclipsed by Christian Democrat parties that were organised to combat Communist parties and promote Catholic social justice principles in places such as Italy and West Germany.[1]

Catholic Action generally included various subgroups for youth, women, workers, etc. In the postwar period, the various national Catholic Action organizations for workers formed the World Movement of Christian Workers which remains highly active today as a voice within the Church and in society for working class Catholics.[2]


The Catholic Action movement had its beginnings in the latter part of the 19th century, when people proactively took measures to counteract the anti-clericalism running rampant, especially throughout Europe.[3]

A variety of diverse groups formed under the concept of Catholic Action. These would include: the Young Christian Workers, the Young Christian Students; the Cursillo movement, RENEW International; the Legion of Mary; Sodalities; the Christian Family Movement; various community organizing groups like COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service) in San Antonio, and Friendship House in Harlem, an early influence on Thomas Merton.[3]


Around 1912, as a curate in a parish in Laeken, on the outskirts of Brussels, Joseph Cardijn, who dedicated his ministry to aid the working class, founded for the young seamstresses a branch of the Needleworkers' Trade Union.[4] In 1919 he started the "Young Trade Unionists". In 1924, the name of the organization was changed to "Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne", the Young Christian Workers.[4] JOC grew rapidly throughout the world; its members were often known as "Jocists" (the movement was often called "Jocism"). By 1938, there were 500,000 members throughout Europe;[5] in 1967, this had increased to 2,000,000 members in 69 countries.[6]


The National Civic Council is an Australian Catholic Action group formed in 1957 out of the Australian Catholic social studies movement under the leadership of B.A. Santamaria. Precursors to the NCC were active in the Australian Labor Party, but were expelled from the party by less conservative members during the 1955 Labor Split. The expelled members of the party went on to form the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) and the subsequent Democratic Labor Party.[7]


In Chile, Catholic Action was the name of a nationwide youth movement. Under the aegis of Saint Alberto Hurtado it was responsible for the founding of the Chilean Trade Union Association.[8][9]


Main article: Azione Cattolica
AC membership card, 1953

Azione Cattolica is probably the most active Catholic Action group still around today. Catholic Action was particularly well suited to Italy where Catholic party political action was impractical, firstly under the Anti-Clerical Savoyard regime from 1870 until about 1910[10] and later under the Fascist regime which prohibited independent political parties.

The present association Azione Cattolica was founded in 1867 by Mario Fani and Giovanni Acquaderni with the name of Società della Gioventù Cattolica Italiana (Italian Catholic Youth Society), then reformed during the Mussolini regime when the association was structured into 4 sectors and was called Azione Cattolica.[11][12][13]

Catholic Action in other countries[edit]

Catholic Action was organised in many other countries, including:

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Tom Truman, Catholic Action and Politics (London: The Merlin Press, 1960).
  2. ^ "World Movement of Christian Workers", Zenit, September 10, 2006
  3. ^ a b Nieli, Bruce. "A return to Catholic Action", US Catholic, June 30, 2015
  4. ^ a b "Canon Joseph Cardijn", Catholic Authors
  5. ^ iPad iPhone Android TIME TV Populist The Page (26 September 1938). "Time magazine article from 1938". Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  6. ^ iPad iPhone Android TIME TV Populist The Page (26 September 1938). "Obituary in Time magazine, 1967". Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  7. ^ James Franklin, "Catholic Thought and Catholic Action: Dr Paddy Ryan Msc.," Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society (1996) 17:44-55 online.
  8. ^ Ana Maria Bidegain, "From Catholic Action to Liberation Theology: The Historical Process of the Laity in Latin America in the Twentieth Century" (paper #48 Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, 1985)
  9. ^ Brian H. Smith, The Church and politics in Chile: challenges to modern Catholicism (Princeton University Press, 2014)
  10. ^ For example in the encyclical Custodi di quella fede [Leo XIII] asked Catholics to become more involved in forms of Catholic Action away from the "Masonic" state: "Masonry has confiscated the inheritance of public charity; fill the void, then, with the treasure of private relief." Para 18, Custodi di Quella Fede
  11. ^ David I. Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (2014)
  12. ^ Gianfranco Poggi, Catholic Action in Italy (Stanford University Press, 1967)
  13. ^ Albert C. O'Brien, "Italian Youth in Conflict: Catholic Action and Fascist Italy, 1929-1931." Catholic Historical Review (1982): 625-635. in JSTOR
  14. ^
  15. ^ Scott Mainwaring, The Catholic church and politics in Brazil, 1916-1985 (Stanford University Press, 1986)
  16. ^ Mark Biondich, "Radical Catholicism and Fascism in Croatia, 1918–1945 1." Totalitarian movements and political religions 8.2 (2007): 383-399.
  17. ^