Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, Catholic Exchange <i>, and <i>Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Do you want an understanding of where so much of society’s problems originated and how things went radically wrong in everything from culture to family life to politics?
You’ll find out from A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, set to air on EWTN television on Saturday evening, Sept. 24, at 6 pm Eastern time (check schedule for other time zones).
The film is no less than riveting. By the brilliant team of Richard and Stephen Payne, the father-son filmmakers who head Arcadia Films, it explores the life and beliefs of one Saul Alinsky, often called the father of community organizing.
Sure, he said he wanted to help the poor, but we see how his tactics were no less than wrong and anti-Christian. He deceived many and used and abused elements in the Catholic Church in the process.
Richard Payne explained that St. Matthew gave the filmmakers the classic three-act structure in 7:15-20.
Act One: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” In this act we get the story of the rise of Alinsky, where he got his ideas, and how as a socialist/Marxist he began applying them to manipulate people and society.
Act Two: “By their fruits you will know them.” Was there good fruit in his work, or did it lead to a basket of rotten goods?
Act Three: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.” Here comes the assessment of the fruits which look ready for the trash heap. People at this point should be asking themselves, How did we get to this precipice and is there hope to back away from it? Here is where the Paynes turn up the spotlights to overcome the heat. It’s not a paradox in this film.
The film immediately grabs our attention with the tale of a wolf dressing as a sheep to mingle unnoticed with the sheep in the pasture. That sets the stage for the early years of Alinsky.
Period photos, headlines, and film bring to life the narration of Alinsky’s beginnings and growth in a fascinating way to get to understand the man. The Paynes blend these techniques in a way that keeps us moving closer to the edge of our seats as details pile up about his rise to unholy power.
Born in 1909 into an Orthodox Jewish family where the father was a successful middle class tailor, Alinsky became an agnostic and wanted to help the poor rise out of their condition. But how?
In college he took a social pathology course that, among other things, devalued marriage and family and ideas were constructed in Marxist terms.
“Treat persons not as persons but symbols,” says Alinsky in one of the vignettes throughout the film, punctuating Alinsky’s ideas in his own words. Actor Jim Morlino of Navis Pictures portrays Alinsky as that disguised wolf yet shows his sinister and dark edge, like a commentator in a 50s film noir.
“Life is a corrupting process…he who fears corruption fears life…” he says another time.
“Truth is relative and is changing,” he asserts. Get the picture? There’s a healthy dose of relativism already here in early to mid-20th century. Make truth what you want it to be at the moment.
In his sheep’s clothing he says again, “The end justifies almost any means.” And “You do what you can and clothe it in moral garments.”
That he did, we learn. It all sounded so good, helping the poor improve their lot. Who could be against that? But with what we learn are Marxist, Socialist, Communist tactics?
Of course, he must have picked up a thing or two from Chicago’s mob bosses. Studying criminality on a fellowship, he got to known the ruthless Al Capone and then Frank Nitti who took over for Capone. By his own admission, Alinsky said of Nitti, “I called him the professor and I became his student.”
In sheep’s clothing, Alinsky linked with the trade unions to help backside workers in Chicago’s meat packing industry. A noble goal to get them out of squalor. He befriended a Catholic who introduced him to members of the Church and subsequently parish leaders who didn’t spot the wolf beneath.
The Paynes reveal some telling examples of the way Alinsky worked among the sheep who maybe didn’t realize the philosophy behind the tactics he was about to use.
One of the good examples we get is the conflict when the University of Chicago attempted to expand its campus into a poor neighborhood. Alinsky got the chance to apply his Marxist conflict theory using division and deceit to conquer, casting the university into the role of the big rich bully enemy against his poor group.
As we get other examples, one of the experts briefly interviewed in the film says the organizing talk used was the language of peace and light, but all this was putting into place something different — a great evil coming in like a fog where people no longer see things distinctly. His idea to help the poor was good, but the means were evil.
These short, insightful commentaries come at critical moments from people including Allice von Hildebrand, Father Andrew Apostoli, Father Mitch Pacwa, and actors playing Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko (we think we’re seeing the priest himself), Leo XIII, Hildegard of Bingen, and St. John Paul II, and clips of Bishop Fulton Sheen.
The Paynes bring us some shattered news in the way we learn a number of Catholics thought Alinsky’s way was the way to go to help empower the poor. One was Msgr. John (Jack) Egan who became a close associate and prompted Alinsky to write what would be his last book, Rules for Radicals (which is linked to Marx).
We learn that Cardinal John Cody of Chicago shut down the priest’s office when he realized what was going on with the organizing. But Msgr. Egan was invited to the Notre Dame University where he stayed for several years, working with five priests — four were Alinsky supporters — to form the Campaign for Human Development, convinced Alinsky’s approach was the best.
Msgr. Egan was appointed co-chair of the first Call to Action conference where radicals took over. One recommendation was training Alinsky organizers. At a news conference Cardinal John Krol said that “rebels have taken over our conference.”
It should be no surprise that Msgr. Egan up to a month before he died called for ordinations of women and married priests.
In this fascinating film, the Paynes are cinematic investigative reporters showing us how after Alinsky died, the organization used its Marxist, socialist progress causes to influence every facet of American political power and culture. Alinsky organizing has vastly impacted our society’s culture, marriage, family life, morality and even spiritualty. Over 800 Alinsky organizations are spread throughout American communities today.
As one of his ardent followers stated, it’s guised under the name of liberalism instead of socialism. Alinsky was a major wolf, and there were others. The Paynes make the connection by detailing for us, with names and places and ideas all visualized, the three “hellfire movements of Marxism” that helped Alinsky and then affected Americans.
We’re shocked to learn about Frankfurt Socialism called Institute for Social Research in the USA, to change and bring down America by criticizing it, developing political correctness, the sexual revolution, and gender conflict and confusion; Gramsci Socialism targeting specifically the Catholic Church and transform America’s Judeo-Christian culture from the inside through law, media, entertainment, and family life, and limit religion only to private worship; Fabian Socialism to slowly break down the morals of the family in a stealthy, nearly imperceptible way.
Sound familiar when you look around?
The film helps us understand how these goals have affected our society, politics (some top politicians were Alinsky followers), media, entertainment, families, morality, culture and even, sadly, some inside our Church. We have to be aware of that. St. John Paul II called this culture of death.
We’re reminded the names of the devil are his tactics — liar, deceiver, divider, accuser, adversary, lawless one, destroyer. Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer. Sadly, and tragically, Alinsky said if there is a heaven or hell, he would choose to the latter where he could organize. We’re told not to hate Alinsky but pray for him.
Despite all this the Paynes don’t leave us stranded because ultimately, they said the film is not a political one but a spiritual one. The last part, beautifully intertwined with the delicacy of lace yet the strength of steel, shows us that despite what has been done to America, by seeing what we have to reclaim there is hope of restoration.
The filmmakers spell out the way with uplifting visual details that multiply the effect of the narrative line which Stephen Payne delivers in a way that brings the viewer to trust the facts as coming from a caring authority who is also a friend.
We see what are the true social principles of the Catholic Church, how to restore our country to a nation recognizing that rights come from God and our God-given heritage, and how important our Blessed Mother is in this reclamation.
The Paynes end as they began, with the story of a wolf — only this one ends differently.
Don’t miss this most timely film about the wolves in sheep’s clothing at this critical time in our country and world.