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Father Coughlin

July 2024
3min read

The following letter comes to us from Dr. Sheldon Marcus, chairman of the Division of Urban Education, School of Education, Fordham University, who is the author of Father Coughlin: The Tumultuous Life of the Priest of the Little Flower , which will soon be published by Little, Brown and Company.

I read with interest Robert S. Gallagher’s interview with Father Charles E. Coughlin in the October, 1972, issue of AMERICAN HERITAGE . Unfortunately, the article contained some misinformation.

First of all, Mr. Gallagher claimed that his interview with Father Coughlin was the first one given in the past three decades in which the priest discussed his career. Since Father Coughlin’s demise as a controversial public figure in 1942, he has periodically given interviews to newsmen. I myself was able to secure interviews with him in 1970 which proved valuable in helping me write his biography.

The explanation Coughlin gave Mr. Gallagher of having church support for his activities is misleading. In 1937 the Vatican, believing that Coughlin was effective in combating the spread of communism in the United States, intervened on his behalf when his new superior, Archbishop. Edward Mooney, attempted to silence him. This intervention enabled Coughlin to embark on the most vitriolic and controversial phase of his public life, which lasted until Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, who had rebuked Coughlin for his activities during the 1936 Presidential elections, became pope in 1939, at which time the Vatican withdrew its support.

From reading the article one would gather that Father Coughlin and Franklin Roosevelt were close friends and that Coughlin’s criticism of F.D.R. was based on a disagreement over monetary policy. According to what he told me, Coughlin’s split with Roosevelt was predicated on his belief that the President had merely used him in the effort to attract the priest’s supporters to the New Deal. Coughlin told me that “he [Roosevelt] owed me things. After all, I helped make him President. We were supposed to be partners. He said he would rely on me … that I would be an important advisor. But he was a liar. He never took my advice. He just used me.” Coughlin never understood that Roosevelt, as a consummate politician, was doing everything possible to perform the prime function of apolitical candidate—winning elections.

When Coughlin realized that he was merely one of many who could talk to the President, his feeling of betrayal surfaced and took the form of vituperative criticism of the President, criticism which increased in intensity after the 1936 Presidential election, in which his Union Party ticket was soundly defeated.

In addition, in the article Father Coughlin said that he had to speak out on the critical issues of the day because of his concern for social justice. Coughlin’s private actions were, however, at considerable variance from his public utterances. He denounced bankers and Wall Street machinations, yet he was a large silver speculator, invested heavily in the stock market, and boasted of his friendship with the most influential bankers in the Detroit area, who, he claims, still constantly seek his advice On fiscal matters. He denounced those who grew rich from speculative and business ventures, but he himself became wealthy and today still lives in one of the most exclusive areas of suburban Detroit.

In Mr. Gallagher’s interview Father Coughlin states that he was neither anti-Semitic nor pro-Hitler. Yet Coughlin admits that he reprinted the anti-Semitic forgeries the Protocols of the Elders of Zion , although he told Gallagher that “I couldn’t prove they’re false, I couldn’t prove they’re genuine. …” Coughlin did not ask “Zionists ” to disavow the Protocols , as the interview stated. Zionists were not an issue in the United States in the 1930’s. Instead he asked “good Jews” to disavow the Protocols .

Apparently Coughlin has also forgotten that he not only lauded Hitler as a foe of communism and as an individual who had solved the economic problems of the depression but that he hoped for a German victory over England and the Soviet Union. Stories of German atrocities against Jews were dismissed as Jewish propaganda in his weekly, Social Justice .

In a time of great frustration, Father Coughlin spawned discord, hate, and violence. What made his pronouncements even more dangerous was that his diatribes were delivered under the guise of religion and piety. He was a man of the cloth, but he stands as an illustration of how bigotry can emanate from religion.

Our author and contributing editor, Mr. Gallagher, replies:
The factual content of all quotations in the “Before the Colors Fade” series is carefully checked; the opinions, recollections, and personal judgments represent the views of the person interviewed, which is, of course, the basic purpose of any.oral-history project. In 1966, when he retired from the pulpit of the Shrine of the Little Flower, Father Coughlin told a network television correspondent that he was still not at liberty to talk about his controversial activities. At the conclusion of my interviews with him in May, 1972, Coughlin said that this was the first time he had ever discussed his career in depth for publication.

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