24 OCTOBER 1958, Page 7

The Papacy and Politics

By DENIS MACK SMITH I TVE part played by the Roman Catholic Church iii politics is difficult to establish; in the first Place because of the reticence of its pronounce- tts and the exceptional secrecy of its archives, but chiefly because since the daredevil days of Gregory, Boniface and Julius it has learnt to be Chary of obvious political commitment. Poten- tates once quaked at ecclesiastical anathema, but tOday the Church affects a political agnosticism ih the service of its primary concern, whicli is the saving of souls. Nevertheless, the Pope is still a temporal sovereign who openly or covertly may have a policy. Moreover, though he forbids the civil power to meddle in religious matters, the State is subject to divine authority and so not exempt from the jurisdiction of God's Vicar. history, science, philosophy—none of these is free from ecclesiastical censorship, and neither is Politics. The Church is bound to favour regimes Which encourage propagation of the Faith, and Piu; XII reminded a congress of historians that he had to condemn governments if they con- travened divine law. Such condemnation has ran ed from his formal excommunication of the


nmunists and their allies to his qualified dis- ePProval in Summi pontificatus of the national- isation of private enterprise. And even in such a 6eld, where he would think twice about claiming infallibility, disobedience to his private and fall tale communications might still rank as the mortal sin of pride.

The conflict of Church and State has historic- allY been a great force making for political liberty. But when Church and State are in close Collaboration—as ecclesiastical teaching says they should be, and as they are over much of central and southern Europe today—then the concentra- tion . of power can become a sharp threat to Individual freedom. For the Church has never been predisposed towards Liberalism, and in prac- tice seems to favour authoritarian parties more Often than not. The great apostles of Liberalism, Locke, "e, Bentham and Mill, are buried in the Incl.tx of Prohibited Books, along with Descartes, Spinoza Kant, Voltaire, Gibbon and many other Classics which have formed the mentality of Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Obviously the Church would be inclined in this direction, being an authoritarian institution based on the Chris- tian virtues of obedience and humility. Pius XII Used to trace the present international anarchy straight back to the pernicious individualism Which the Reformation set up against papal authority Liberty for him was, of course, far from an absolute good and was acceptable only Where it helped and not hindered the Church. lelig05 toleration and liberty of conscience Were something quite iniquitous, even though it Would sometimes be expedient to tolerate them. tree speech and free discussion tn,ight be unex- ceptionable, but only so long as they did not clueition those things which the Church thought necessary to salvation—a large and elastic pro- The orthodox position was stated a hundred Years ago in Pius TX's Syllabus of Errors. A quite uncompromising condemnation was pro- nounced there against those who maintained that 'the Roman Pontiff could and should come to terms with progress, Liberalism and present-day civilisation.' This bold statement aroused great condemnation at the time, and the less illiberal churchmen desperately tried to throw doubt on its significance and authority. But most of the hierarchy welcome it as infallibly true. Socialism, too, was repudiated by Pius and Leo XIII as a wicked error, and in denunciation of the demo- crats it was denied that rebellion against legiti- mate authority could possibly be justified. Power derived not from the people but from God. The first group of people to start a Christian Demo- crat party in Italy was, therefore, suppressed and a second group later was severely discoun- tenanced.

Nevertheless, the Church throughout its history has somehow become reconciled with all manner of diverse philosophical and political beliefs, acting to moderate extreme views, and warning against flirtation with the latest fashionable craze. Once the heat of controversy had passed, it was almost bound to come to some sort of terms with democracy and the prevalent trends in present-day civilisation. Especially as the common people were in a great majority, it was impolitic to allow the materialists a monopoly of the claim to speak on their behalf. A modification of this 1864 Syllabus therefore proved to be, if not a positive good, then a lesser evil. Christian Demo- cracy was eventually allowed to come into existence, at least until further considerations of expediency suggested an alliance with Fascism.

The Pope, as Bishop of Rome, is in specially intimate touch with Italian governments, and the unbroken sequence of forty-two Italians in the Chair of Peter has made the relations of Church and State closest and best studied in Italy. Here the triumph of Liberalism in 1861 brought the downfall of the States of the Church, and was met by excommunicating the Liberal leaders. For the next sixty years, so long as these Liberals con- tinued to rule, the Papacy refused to admit so much as the existence of an Italian State. The parliamentary system was therefore boycotted, and the compulsory abstention of good Catholics did much to bring about the collapse of Liberal Italy. It was significant that only with the advent of the tyrant Mussolini did the Church recognise Italy at all, and then a formal alliance made in 19/9 between the Church and Fascism seemed to follow logically from the anti-Liberalism of the Syllabus.

Almost every strong and independent civil government in Rome has tended to fall foul of the Vatican, and it is therefore the more in- teresting to find so little conflict after 1922. Mussolini's persecution of Catholic Action led in 1931 to a momentary tension, and hence in Non abbiamo bisogno his excessive etatisnte was criticised, though a rider explicitly emphasised that this was not to condemn the Fascist Party or the regime. An agreement on this point, how- ever, was secured almost at once, and thereafter the Church shied away from any specific criticism which was not by implication. There was at no stage anything like the excommunication and in- terdict which had been used against the Liberals and was to be employed against Communism. The racial laws were, of course, abhorrent to the Pope, and on religious grounds as well as moral, but no fulmination was hurled at their author, not even when he talked of 'making tabula rasa of all civilised life.' On the contrary, Catholics such as Jemolo have shown that re- lations with Fascism remained remarkably cor- dial, and this gave to Mussolini an important popular approval and a sense of legitimacy that no previous government had known in modern Italian history. Tithe payments were now enforced regularly by the courts; Protestant propaganda rigorously suppressed by the prefects; ecclesiasti- cal bodies heavily endowed by the State and exempted from taxation; and Mussolini himself was publicly and not very prudently extolled by Pius XI as the man 'sent to us by Providence,' a man 'who lacks the preconception of the Liberal school.'

It was not Mussolini's illiberalism but his much-trumpeted belief in war as beautiful and as a 'moral purifier' which finally led to the ruin of Italy and to the Communist victories from which Catholicism was to suffer so tragically. At the outbreak of war in 1939, however, the Osservatore Romano, far from commenting on this underlying heresy, announced that the Vati- can would keep strictly impartial. The Vatican is not obliged to be impartial in European wars. It sided with Finland against Russia, and en- thusiastically patronised General Franco's re- bellion in Spain. Similarly, the Catholic world and the Italian hierarchy had applauded when Mussolini, the self-styled 'Protector of Islam,' conquered the Christian Abyssinians—though there must have been some doubts about his supererogatory use of poison gas. Aggressive wars were explicitly stated to be always wrong, yet there was joy over Abyssinia, and even the invasion of Albania on Good Friday, 1939, seems to have provoked only general remarks from the Vatican on the beauties of peace and justice. Later on, as Hitler's persecutions and impieties became less restrained, messages of sincere sym- pathy were sent to Catholic Poland and Belgium, overrun by Nazi Germany, but none to France and Greece, overrun by Fascist Italy—Vichy was at once recognised and the chance welcomed to start negotiations at long last for a concordat.

Many people assume that, despite pronounce- ments about impartiality in 1939-45, the Vatican would have preferred an Allied victory. If so, no lead at all was given to Catholics in Italy, and presumably the interests of the Church were too vulnerable for it to invite persecution so near to Rome. In June, 1940, the bishops were re- minded from the Vatican that Catholics all owed allegiance to their several countries, and pastoral letters thus welcomed this just war in pursuit of Italy's undoubted right to expand. No one can deny the Church's right and perhaps duty to take all and every one of these decisions. By her standards it may well be that Liberalism was more damnable than Nazism, and Communism the greatest enemy of all. But it is equally undeniable that the Church was thus induced to propagate lesser evils which many Catholics and non- Catholics abominate; and, ironically, by mis- guidedly backing Fascism as a defence against Communism, the doors were opened by which Communism flooded over Europe and Italy.

At the present day the Christian Democrats in Italy are becoming more and more a party of the Right, despite the fact that the President and Prime Minister come from their less illiberal wing; and there are many who see in this trend an irresistible logic. More and more there is talk of papal centralisation, papal nepotism and of a growing anti-clericalism, itself always the inevit- able rejoinder to clericalism. One result of this tight clericalism is the absence of lay Catholic writers and thinkers who could • mitigate the hierarchical and cloistered traditionalism of the Church. There has been much criticism among the laity of increasing ecclesiastical intervention in politics and in such things as appointments to university chairs. There is criticism of bishops attempting to override the law and claim exemp- tion from the courts; of frequent public pro- nouncements on every aspect of secular life; of a censorship which even touches Machiavelli and Shakespeare; and there are instances of prefec- torial action which seem to make nonsense of the Liberal guarantees in the Constitution. Cer- tainly, if Catholics in England were treated like Protestants in Italy today, the heavens would be deafened with righteous indignation.

As the Church becomes more centralised, its bias may well continue and perhaps increase towards authoritarianism in both religion and politics. Instead of the usual political agnosticism, an obligation has been imposed on the faithful to vote, and to vote furthermore for candidates' who take the Church line on questions of the day. This theocratic inclination has powerfully aided the triumph of Christian Democracy, and Catholic Action is being transformed for this purpose from a 'lay apostolate' into a strongly political organisation which threatens to alter the whole relation between Church and State. Once in power, a Catholic Party is far more totali- tarian and unaccommodating to others than when demanding its own rights in opposition. It is cer- tainly less prone to the invertebrate and 'Liberal' suspicion that it might ever conceivably be wrong, audit is therefore brave enough to think In terms of moulding the whole mind and imposing prin- ciples of life and conduct like a new Calvinism.

Many Italian Catholics admit in private that.. Christian Democracy has inherited too much of the mentality and habits of Fascism. The victory of de Gaulle is now putting still grander ideas into their heads. Perhaps it is true, as many people from Sismondi toCroce and Salvemini have deplored, that the denial of liberty of conscience attenuates the sense of personal responsibility in other fields. If so, it would explain why pre- dominantly Catholic- countries fail to make A success of democracy and reject it most readi/Y —especially when they exemplify civil and re- ligious power coming into much the same hands: then, native qui peat. It will be a sad day when the only hope for parliamentary government on the Continent of Europe lies with the heretics and the anti-clericals. And many heretics as well as Catholics are therefore looking to the present conclave with some apprehension.