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The Roman Catholic Church
and Fascism

(31 May 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 22, 31 May 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

No event of modern times has more clearly demonstrated the political role of the Roman Catholic Church, under direct and absolute rule of the Vatican, than the recent Italian elections.

The American capitalist press hailed the all-out intervention of the Catholic hierarchy, from Pope Pius XII down, on the side of the Christian Democratic Party of ex-fascist capitalists and landlords.

Despite a provision in the Lateran Treaty prohibiting priests and other Church functionaries from partisan political activity, the clergy in Italy was organized into a vast electioneering machine. An estimated hundred thousand priests and nuns were mobilized as ward-heelers to bring out the vote against the Communist-Socialist People’s Front.

Reign of Terror

From the Vatican, the independent state of the Holy See, the Pope initiated and directed a reign of ideological and religious terror against the Italian people, 95 of them Catholic-born.

Cardinal Schuster of Milan, for instance, excommunicated a priest for taking part in Popular Front meetings and decreed that absolution be refused to “Communists or members of other movements contrary to the Catholic religion.” A declaration of 18 archbishops and 55 bishops in southern Italy said: “Nobody can at the same time be a good Catholic and a Socialist.” Whoever voted for the working class parties against the capitalists was threatened openly with damnation both here and hereafter.

After the events in Italy, no honest person will dispute the charge that the Catholic hierarchy heads an active political organization seeking specific political ends.

The Catholic hierarchy, headed by the Vatican, wields exceptional ideological power and political, influence. It is a totalitarian machine holding sway over 338 million people, concentrated largely in western and central Europe and North and South America. It has a single head, the Pope, whose authority is recognized as absolute under the doctrine of papal “infallibility” which was first made a formal part of the Catholic creed in 1870.

Under his central, authoritarian command are hundreds of thousands of trained, disciplined, professional functionaries, for whom the decrees from the Vatican constitute the highest law and the irrefutable word of God on all matters spiritual and temporal.

Colossal Wealth

This mighty organization rests on the material foundations of colossal wealth and privilege. It far surpasses any private capitalist corporation in property, money and invested capital. Only the treasury of the United States government commands greater financial resources.

Recognizing the political character of the Catholic Church and its tremendous material power, it is important to understand its political program. What kinds of government does the Catholic Church seek? What aims does it have with respect to secular laws, education, science, labor and capital ?

An illuminating series of articles has been written on this subject by Paul Blanshard and recently published by The Nation magazine. Blanshard’s facts are thoroughly documented from Catholic sources.

Support to Fascists

These articles cite the record of the Catholic hierarchy; and its connections with the rise and spread of fascism from Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922 to the fascist dictatorships of today in Spain, Portugal and Argentina.

The Catholic hierarchy in America and its apologists have attempted to show that the Roman Catholic Church does not and. never has supported fascism. But while there are, almost limitless quotations from Pius XII and his predecessors against communism and socialism, nowhere can there be found: any attack by the Popes or any leading Catholic Church officials against fascism as such.

As Blanshard points out, from time to time the Vatican criticized certain acts of Hitler or Mussolini when they encroached upon the educational and political preserves of the Catholic Church itself. But the basic doctrines of fascism – the sanctity of the profit system and class society, totalitarian political rule and the corporative state – have been directly and openly supported by the Popes.

Moreover, never have the Popes – so violent in their attacks on working class political, parties – condemned or criticized the destruction of political democracy, the murder of labor Headers, the wholesale atrocities of Mussolini and Hitler or of Franco, Salazar and Peron.

Indeed, in every fascist country, except Hitler’s Germany, the Catholic Church served and still serves as the ally and direct prop of the fascist dictatorship.

Here is the conclusion of the well known Catholic writer, William Teeling, in his Pope Pius XI and World Affairs: “The political policy of Rome seems to become more and more identified with organizations on totalitarian lines.”

That was written in 1937, when, the Roman Catholic Church had joined with Hitler and Mussolini in supporting Franco’s war against the Spanish people and when, as every American knows, the American Catholic hierarchy conducted a violent campaign for the victory of Franco against the Spanish Republican government.

It is inconceivable that Mussolini could have come to power in Italy, an overwhelmingly Catholic country, had Pius XI in 1922 offered any serious opposition. In fact, as Cardinal of Milan, prior to his elevation as Pope, Pius XI gave Mussolini’s Blackshirts a place of honor in the unveiling ceremonies for the Unknown Warrior in Milan Cathedral. In 1940, he still gave his blessings to both Italian and German soldiers, as reported in the Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano. Nor did he object when the Italian bishops wired Mussolini their hope that he would “crown the unfailing victory of our arms by planting the Italian flag over the Holy Sepulchre.”

Pius XI hailed Mussolini on December 20, 1926, as “the man sent by Providence.” The present Pope Pius XII, while still Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, called II Duce “the New Constantine.” And in America, the Bishop of Cleveland, Cardinal O’Connell of Boston and Cardinal Hayes heaped rapturous praise on Mussolini as a “man of destiny” and “a genius in the field of government sent to Italy by God.”

Papal Blessing

On February 11, 1929, the Vatican signed the Concordat and Lateran Treaty with Mussolini. This constituted the formal recognition of the Fascist regime by the Roman Catholic Church.

In return for the papal blessing, Mtissolini handsomely rewarded the Vatican with: 1. Recognition of the sovereignty and extraterritorial rights of the Vatican state, plus $90,000,000 from the Italian Fascist treasury; 2. Agreement by Mussolini not to employ any “apostate or suspended priest” in any post which “brings, them into direct contact with the public”; 3. Separate prisons for priests convicted of crime; 4. Re-establishment of the Roman Catholic Church as the “sole religion of the state”; 5. The teaching of the Catholic religion in the public schools with the. right of. Catholic bishops to remove any teacher of religion for “heresy”; 6. Partial payment of priests’ salaries from the Italian public treasury.

The Vatican tacitly sanctioned Mussolini’s barbaric war on the Ethiopian people and the Church blessed Italian arms, Cardinal Schuster of Milan on October 28, 1935, said that Mussolini’s “Italian standard carries forward in triumph the Cross of Christ, smashes the chains of slavery and opens the way for the missionaries of the gospel.” The Catholic press in America denounced the proposal of sanctions against Italy.

Eminent Catholic writers and scholars have confirmed the sympathetic attitude of the Catholic hierarchy toward Fascism. The noted British Catholic, Christopher Dawson, wrote in his Religion and the Modern State:

“... there seems to be no doubt that the Catholic social ideas set forth in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI have far more affinity with those of fascism than with those of either liberalism or socialism.”

(Further articles in this series will discuss the role of the Catholic Church in Spain and other fascist countries; the relations of Wall Street imperialism and the Vatican; the attitude of the church to capital and labor; the activities of the Catholic Church in America in the fields of education and science.)

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