Fr. Charles Gallagher, S.J. was invited to speak on January 27 about his recently published book, The Nazis of Copley Square, as well as his research on Catholic extremism in the 1940s.
Gallagher began his talk by introducing the leader of the “Christian Front,” Fr. Charles Coughlin, and how he appealed to all Christians with talk of a movement to unite spiritual people against anti-Christian movements.
“Coughlin saw what he considered to be atrocities happening against his co-religions across the world, and he also saw a lack of sympathy on the part of the U.S. government, and also on the part of American media… He energized this Christian Front into what would become much more militaristic,” explained Gallagher.
Gallagher spoke about how theology greatly influenced the political action of that time. The knowledge that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin had Jewish backgrounds was a popular argument for linking Judaism and communism, despite the lack of reasonable grounds. In addition, the Mystical Body of Christ Theology created a transnational Catholicism united in their anti-Semitism.
Lead by Coughlin’s accomplice, Charles Moran, the Christian Front planned a bombing to frame the Communist Party out of fear of a communist takeover. These violent actions resulted in painting the anti-communist Catholic Party as the savior, while fostering negative sentiment towards the Communist Party. Yet despite this illegal action, the Christian Front was still able to remain unpunished.
“All through the trial, the FBI director knew about this stuff, and also the Massachusetts National Guard knew about this stuff, but due to corruption… the charges that they could’ve convicted the Christian Front on were never made public,” Gallagher elaborated.
Although the Christian Front was not an explicitly German or Nazi-aligned organization, it did receive its funding from someone who was affiliated with the Nazi German government. Nazi spy Herbert W. Scholz was sent to Boston and quickly became the sponsor of the Christian organization, providing Moran with the funding and direction needed to carry out a Nazi agenda.
While this was a global issue that had found its way into Boston, Chestnut Hill and Boston College also had a role in promoting the Christian Front and the anti-Semitism of the 1940s. BC Reverend Michael J. Ahern hosted a radio program that discussed how it was morally permissible for Boston Catholics to join the Christian Front.
Gallagher described, “In [Ahern’s] words, while the anti-Semitism was unseemly, the anti-communism could be counted as Catholic action, and therefore Catholics would be morally permissible to join Moran’s group. This gave a huge boost to Moran’s numbers.”
It was decided by British Intelligence that there was a need for a high power Catholic to go up against the Christian Front, so they chose Francis Sweeney to pressure local police and the Massachusetts Attorney General to arrest Moran and put a stop to his actions. Although she was operating illegally on American soil, Sweeney was manipulated into her role in MI6, unaware of the illegality while simply trying to put a stop to the anti-Semitism, fascism, and political corruption that was so prevalent.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt received many letters and suggestions that he should take action in arresting Moran, and Soviet agents of the time also had an interest in the Christian Front. With so many parties interested in the organization, Scholz was finally arrested in 1945 by a US agent in Italy.
“The prosecutor of the sedition trial in Washington came over to Germany to interrogate Scholz in detention, but he suddenly sprung free… [In his FBI file,] the period between 1945 and 1946 is extremely mysterious for Scholz,” Gallagher explained.
So why was all this history of the Christian Front and anti-Semitism in Boston forgotten? While there was knowledge of the events during the time, many witnesses refused to testify against the Christian Front out of fear for their lives. This in addition to the Catholic influence in the FBI and US government which resulted in a lack of publicity surrounding the case, as well as many acquittals.
While there is an idea that nothing really happened because there was no insurrection, it is important to remember this dark period of time in Boston’s history. The Catholic Church and local government thought these memories would die out, but due to Gallagher’s research and recently published book, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of Christian and right-wing history in the 1940s.