Entering the Modern Age
The reactionary attitudes established by Vatican I could not help the Church deal with the social and political upheavals of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In response, the Church had to form new policies and groups to deal with the issues of the day.The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, said to be one of the movements that catapulted Western civilization into the modern age, created many problems. One was the oppression of the working class, the people whose hard work had made the Industrial Revolution possible.
As the need for industrial labor increased, entire families left farms and small towns to work in mills and factories. Living conditions in large cities became horrendous as large populations were cooped up in slums, and the working conditions were no better. Workers had no rights and no protection. Child labor was common.
The Church worked to alleviate the suffering of the workers by providing social services, bringing religion to their lives, and by publicly supporting the workers' rights. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued
In the twentieth century, the popes tried to steer a neutral course through the political maelstroms of fascism, communism, and the Great Wars. Benedict XV was totally opposed to World War I and found it completely unjustifiable. However, he maintained neutrality and did not publicly come out against the war for fear that Catholics would be hurt by emulating his stance. As a result of his neutrality, all sides were angry with him at the end of the war.
Pius XI saw the rise of Hitler and Mussolini and their dictatorships, which posed a threat to the Catholic Church. In the encyclicals he issued, Pius XI denounced the Nazi regime as well as racism and anti-Semitism, but he passed away in February of 1939, before the events of World War II really began to unfold.
Pius XII, his successor, maintained neutrality during World War II. Although he is criticized today for not speaking out strongly enough against the atrocities committed by the Nazis and other fascist regimes, he did work on relief efforts for the Jews. The Vatican also carried on a massive and expensive war relief effort and launched a huge program to find missing persons.