The legendary radio preacher Father Charles E. Couglin, is alive and well, his sight growing dimmer, his body slimmer, at 87.
Retired from the Shrine of the Little Flower Roman Catholic parish in Royal Oak, Mich., in 1966, Couglin lives a quiet life in a condominium towering near here.
It has been a long time since the 1930s, when Father Couglin's Sunday afternoon broadcasts reached 30 million listeners. A hundred clerks were needed to open his mail, as Father Couglin rode the wave of discontent from the Depression and the tide of hope that came with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
Roosevelt consulted Couglin, and history books differ on wheather he had a hand in writing FDR's first inaugural speech, as Couglin contends.
Couglin opposed big banking (particularly the Federal Reserve system), favored cheaper money (inflating of the gold standard to pay off national debts), and mixed with discontents and share - the - wealth types such as Huey Long of Louisiana and Dr. Francis Townsend of California.
Couglin eventually split with Roosevelt on a number of personal and policy issues, and was a guiding light behind a third party challenge to Roosevelt in 1936.
In a rare interview in his home recently, Couglin exhibited much of the charisma of the old days, and some of the zeal, as he plunged his hands together occasionally to make a point.
Wearing a white knit shirt with an open sweater he engaged in small talk, then settled into theology, or rather, what he calls "cosmology," the science of creation.
He criticized "doomsday Joanies and Johnnies" who fail to see hope for an earth that has survived when "10 million galaxies" have been reduced over the eons to charcoal.
These days, Couglin is writing meditations on the life of Jesus. He describes Christainity as "a religion of going, of youth, not preaching the ears off somebody."
In his day, as he mounted a crusade against communism, Father Couglin was accused of - and investigated for - alleged pro-Nazi leanings. He was accused by various journalists and officials of a anti-Semitism. "I was never a bigot," he said.
During the interview, Couglin commented on a wide range of more modern concerns:
On human rights - "Today, everybody wants their rights and few want to perform their duties."
On the Bakke decision - "I don't know what this is about. Are we to the point in this nation when color is the point of departure between what is excellence and what is mediocre?"
On U.S. presidents - (Carter) "Why talk about him? He's a passing cloud. He doesn't know enough to go to the toilet by himself." (Nixon) "One of the more astute . . . He condemned Communists . . . As culpable as he was, he forgot more than Mr. Carter ever knew or ever will know. (Roosevelt) "The champion liar . . . a clumsy liar . . ."
On the U.S. system - "We need to get rid of this damned democracy . . . which is strictly Marxist and go to a parliamentary system where the president is a prime minister."
In 1940, Coughlin was ordered by superiors to cease broadcasting. He did not talk about it for 20 years and said little about it after that. He was blamed presure by Roosevelt on Pope Pius XII. The order came through the local prelate, Edward Cardinal Mooney of Detroit.
Now, Coughlin says, "The pope never stopped my broadcast." It was "Mr. Roosevelt's use of blackmail on the archbishop of Chicago [Samuel Cardinal Stritch]. It was secret, and I am not going to say any more about it. I was obedient and I showed the priests of America I do as I was told. There is nothing like obedience."
There are three important things in his life, Father Coughlin says now: "Discipline, goodness, knowledge is a poor third."