From Fourth International, Vol.7 No.10, October 1946, pp.296-301.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Significant of the times in which we live – an epoch characterized by the deepening chaos of decayed capitalism and the social-revolutionary movement to which it gives rise – is the growing intervention of the Roman Catholic Church in politics. Never in all its history has this church been more active both in national and international politics than it is today.
When the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie first assumed conscious political form with the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848, Pope Pius IX publicly denounced the doctrine of Marx and Engels. Proclaiming itself the guardian of capitalist private property and the profit system, the Vatican joined forces with all the representatives of reaction to exorcise the spectre of Communism which began to haunt Europe.
However, the nineteenth century was a period of relative social stability. Capitalism was completing the last stage of its growth as a world system. There were, to be sure, the conjunctural or cyclical economic crises which are an integral feature of the system of commodity production. But the general crisis of capitalism, the period of its decay, did not set in until after the turn of the present century, when all its progressive potentialities had gone. In the last half of the nineteenth century capitalism had still some way to travel before completely exhausting its progressive historical role. In these circumstances, papal opposition to Communism could be confined to occasional dogmatic strictures. The Catholic Church had no need to campaign against Communism in season and out. But whenever capitalist society was threatened by revolution – as in the Paris Commune of 1871 – the Vatican thundered its condemnation of those who sought to change the social scheme of things.
In recent years, the Vatican has emerged more actively as a political force taking sides in the class struggle. Its political activity has been placed on a campaign basis. Indeed, this activity transcends by far the activity of the church in the “spiritual” realm. A veritable mountain of facts attests the role of Roman Catholicism as that of a defender of the capitalist status quo and a pillar of world reaction. The explanation for this development is the fact that the material interests of organized religion, like those of the world bourgeoisie, have come into sharp and irreconcilable conflict with the urgent need for social change. These interests are closely interwoven with the capitalist system of private property, of which they form a part. In stepping forth boldly as the defender of rotted capitalism, the church is defending its own property and income which are threatened with liquidation by the socialist revolution. The scope and vigor of its intervention in politics is a measure of the depth of the crisis of capitalist society.
When the Pope denounces “atheistic Communism” and “godless Bolshevism,” it might appear as if he were concerned only to excoriate the unfaithful who spurn the spiritual leadership of the church. This is far from being the case. According to Catholic teaching, the Pope is the Holy Father, the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. As the sole authorized spokesman of the Deity, he is infallible. Anyone, consequently, who rejects the papal church and its dogmas, also rejects God and is eternally damned. This is true not only of atheists and such benighted heathen as Jews, Buddhists, Moslems, etc., but even of Protestant Christians. Yet the Vatican does not engage in stirring crusades against these doctrinal rivals. Hence it is obvious that Communism and Bolshevism are targets of papal denunciation, not merely and not principally because of their atheism, but because of the social content of their doctrines. Indeed, the Vatican makes no attempt to conceal the temporal aspect of its opposition to the modern revolutionary movement, as reference to any of the recent papal encyclicals will show. The Pope inveighs against Communism because it means the disestablishment of the church, the separation of church and state. Because it means the withdrawal of state subsidies to the church. Because it means confiscation of the secular properties of the church. Because it means abrogation of the parasitic privileges of the legions of ecclesiastics. Because it means the banishment of religious obscurantism from the schools. Deprived of its wealth and cut off from state aid, the church would quickly wither and be reduced to the dimensions of an inconsequential sect, finally to be dissolved altogether in a rational socialist society. In order to survive, therefore, the church must defend the social order upon which its very life depends.
The Roman Catholic Church is a mighty world institution. It has a constituency of 385,000,000 devotees, more than the combined populations of the United States and the USSR and equal to about one-sixth of the inhabitants of the entire earth. It embraces about half the population of Europe and half that of the Americas. There is scarcely a country where it is not represented. Tribute flows into its coffers from the most advanced lands and from the most backward. The Vatican publishes no balance sheets, gives no financial accountings. Only the inner circle of the top hierarchy know the extent of its enormous properties and income. In addition to cathedrals and churches, monasteries and convents, seminaries and schools and mission establishments, the Catholic Church is the owner of vast secular properties which make it the greatest real estate owner on earth. Among Catholic properties are to be found commercial structures of various kinds (including even movie palaces), apartment buildings and slum tenements. As owner of slum dwellings in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, the Catholic Church squeezes rents from the poorest of the poor. Owning great tracts of plantation and farm lands in colonial countries (e.g., the Philippines, French Indo-China, North Africa, Latin America), it wrings profits from the labor of the most exploited among rural workers. The huge income from all this property, not to speak of the property itself, is imperiled by the rising revolution. This constitutes the explanation, the whole explanation, for the “moral crusade” of the Vatican against Communism and Bolshevism. It explains the intense hatred of the Vatican for the Soviet Union, the first country successfully to breach the system of capitalist private property.
It was during the crisis in Europe which followed the first World War that the Vatican entered the arena of the class struggle after many years of what might be described as political hibernation. Revolutionary upheavals were shaking Europe. Capitalism was tottering. Bolshevism had triumphed in Russia. The revolutionary crisis in Italy, on the Pope’s own doorstep, was of especially grave concern to the Vatican. To save Italian capitalism, Pope Pius XI threw his support to Mussolini. On January 20, 1923, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, the Pope’s secretary of state, had a secret interview with Mussolini, the results of which became known later. The Bank of Rome, which was controlled by Catholics, and to which Italian Catholics, Vatican prelates and the Holy See had entrusted a large part of their funds, faced imminent bankruptcy, together with the rest of the banking system. Mussolini pledged himself to save the bank by state intervention once he had seized power. He kept his word and bankruptcy was avoided at a reported cost of 1,500,000,000 lire, which Mussolini subsequently squeezed out of the poverty-stricken Italian masses.
The Vatican was duly grateful for Mussolini’s services in rescuing Italian capitalism and therewith the fortunes of the Catholic Church in Italy, not to speak of the Vatican itself. On October 31, 1926, Cardinal Merry del Val said:
My thanks also go to him [Mussolini] who holds in his hands the reins of the government of Italy, who with a clear insight into reality has wished and wishes religion to be respected, honored, practised. Visibly protected by God, he has wisely improved the fortunes of the nation, increasing its prestige throughout the world.
In an address in December of the same year, Pope Pius XI himself referred to Mussolini as “the man sent by Providence.” Five years later, although engaged in a quarrel with Mussolini over the interpretation of the Lateran Treaty, the Pope nevertheless gushed forth his appreciation of what Mussolini had done for the Catholic Church:
We preserve and shall preserve memory and perennial gratitude for what has been done in Italy for the benefit of religion, even though not less and perhaps greater was the benefit derived by the [Fascist] party and the [Fascist] regime ... We have always refrained from formal and explicit condemnation [of Fascism]; we have come to such a point as to believe possible and to favor compromises which seemed inadmissible to others.
In 1929, when Fascism was already firmly established in the seat of power, the Pope and Mussolini concluded the Lateran Treaty and a Concordat. Under the treaty, the Vatican State became a temporal power, entitled to exchange diplomatic representatives with other states. Vatican City, an enclave within Rome, was now the capital of a priestly empire. The Pope became the head both of a church and a state organization. The Concordat regulated relations between the Fascist state and the Italian branch of the church. Upon signature of the Lateran Treaty, Mussolini paid the Pope 750,000,000 lire in cash and 1,000,000,000 lire in Fascist state bonds. This sealed the Vatican’s alliance with the Fascist state.
Seeing in Fascist dictatorship and totalitarianism the only alternative to the revolutionary destruction of capitalism by the working class, the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy gave it their unstinted support. When Hitler seized power in Germany in January 1933, the Vatican was the first sovereign power to enter into formal negotiations with the Nazi government. On July 20 of that year, Cardinal Pacelli (the present Pope Pius XII) put his signature as Papal Nuncio in Germany alongside that of Franz von Papen to the Vatican’s Concordat with Hitler’s Third Reich. Continuing along the same political line, the Vatican gave all possible support to Franco in the Spanish civil war in 1936-38, after the Pope, the previous year, had given his pontifical blessing to Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia. On a world scale, the Roman Catholic Church was deploying both its “spiritual” and material forces to aid capitalist reaction.
Formally, the Vatican has pretended to neutrality in international affairs. Article 24 of the Lateran Treaty reads:
The Holy See in relation to the sovereignty which belongs to itself also in the international field, declares that it wishes to remain and will remain extraneous to all temporal conflicts among other States and to all international Congresses held for such objects unless the contending parties make concordant appeal to its mission of peace; [the Holy See] reserving, however, in any case, [its right] to make effective use of its moral and spiritual power. As a consequence of this declaration Vatican City will always and in every case be considered neutral and inviolable territory.
The Vatican violated its proclaimed neutrality both in the Ethiopian war and in the Spanish civil war. With that sharp political discernment which comes of a refined class instinct, the Pope quickly grasped the real, underlying significance of the Spanish civil war. While the clamor of liberal muddleheads, and the people’s front policies of the leaders of the Spanish workers’ parties, made it appear that the issue was one of bourgeois democracy vs. fascism, the Holy See appraised it as a class fight, the socialist revolution vs. capitalism. Spain is one of the important Catholic strongholds in Europe. The Pope saw in the Spanish civil war the dread spectre of Bolshevism casting its shadow over the Mediterranean. The church and its property were in danger. It was of vital importance to the Vatican to insure Franco’s triumph. Hitler and Mussolini were doing all they could to help the Spanish Falange. But it was imperative to isolate the Spanish Loyalists, to cut off the Republican government from all outside aid. The big danger was the United States, where there had arisen a great popular demand for aid; to the fighters against Franco. Neither Hitler nor Mussolini could bring any pressure to bear in Washington. The Vatican assumed this task. Using to the full the influence of the Catholic Church in America, it unleashed a tremendous propaganda in its press, in the pulpit and in the schools to pressure Washington into placing an embargo on arms shipments to Spain.
The Spanish civil war was, however, only the largest facet of a world situation which was moving rapidly in the direction of a second world war. By the fall of 1936 a succession of events had made it clear that the era of imperialist “peace” after the first World War was drawing to a close. The assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Hitler’s march into the Rhineland, and, finally, the Spanish civil war, were all evidences of the approaching storm. In a world of growing turmoil and uncertainty it seemed to the Vatican to be indispensable that an official understanding be reached with the United States as the pre-eminent world power and the strongest bastion of capitalism. For a long time the Vatican had desired official relations with the United States. It seemed anomalous that a country with such a large Catholic constituency, where the Catholic Church is so powerful and wealthy, should maintain no diplomatic relations with the central government of the Catholic Church. The United States had officially ignored the Vatican since 1867. The principle of separation between church and state and the strong anti-papal sentiments of the Protestant majority of the population were obstacles to any official understanding. The obstacles were formidable, but not insurmountable, for the reason that both the Vatican and American imperialism had need of such an understanding. Each desired the aid and support of the other in the defense of common interests.
In the fall of 1936 Cardinal Pacelli (now Pope Pius XII), secretary of state to Pope Pius XI, landed in the United States. After touring the country to kill time until the Presidential election was over, he was received by President Roosevelt at Hyde Park on November 6. The papal secretary of state does not usually visit a foreign country except for important reasons. Nor, it can be presumed, would he have come without Roosevelt’s prior consent or invitation. What he and Roosevelt talked about has been kept a closely-guarded secret, like the rest of Roosevelt’s secret diplomacy. But in the light of what occurred subsequently it can be deduced that they discussed (1) United States policy in the Spanish civil war and (2) a plan for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican. Shortly after Pacelli’s visit the United States clamped down the arms embargo on Spain. But almost three years were to elapse before the Vatican gained its second point. Roosevelt understood the value of having an ally in the Holy See, but in order not to excite religious animosities and spoil the whole plan, he had to prepare the way carefully and await the propitious moment.
On July 29, 1939, Cardinal Enrico Gasparri (nephew of Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, who had been secretary of state to Pope Pius XI) arrived in the United States. Continuing the work of his forerunner, Cardinal Pacelli, it was his mission, according to a report in the New York Times, to
... prepare the juridical status for the possible opening of diplomatic relations between the State Department and the Holy See ... He is not authorized to negotiate for the establishment of relations; he is to work out a legal framework within which such a relationship could be placed, if established.
The obstacle to arranging for a Papal Nuncio in Washington and an American ambassador at the Vatican was the need to submit such a plan to Congress, which alone has the power to appropriate funds for the maintenance of diplomatic establishments. Moreover, all U.S. ambassadorial appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. A predominantly Protestant House and Senate would almost certainly reject such a plan. Consequently, if it was to be done at all, it could only be done over the head of Congress.
It was, remember, the late summer of 1939. Threatening clouds of war were gathering on the European horizon. The propitious moment for establishing a tie between the United States and the Vatican was at hand. Who could object to Roosevelt the “peace-lover” joining hands with the Pope to save the peace? But there was need for haste. Roosevelt resorted to a characteristic subterfuge. By-passing Congress, he wrote to the Pope on December 23, 1939, asking the latter’s assent to the appointment of a “personal representative” to the Vatican. For this new and unprecedented post he chose the multi-millionaire Myron Taylor, former president of the finance committee of the United States Steel Corporation. Since Taylor was not to be an ambassador proper, there was no need to get Senate approval of his appointment. And since the envoy could easily pay his own expenses, there was no need to ask Congress for an appropriation.
Myron Taylor went to Rome in February 1940 to take up his diplomatic post. He was persona grata not only with the Vatican, but also with Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Taylor had always been an admirer of Italian Fascism and thought that a similar system should be established in America. Some three years earlier he had blabbed out his praise of Mussolini at a banquet in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York as a representative of the Italy-America Society and the American Society of Royal Italian Orders. The occasion was the feting of the Fascist ambassador, Fulvio Suvich. Waxing ecstatic over the murderous rule of Italian Fascism, Taylor declared that “the whole world has been forced to admire the successes of Premier Mussolini in disciplining the nation.” He also endorsed the barbaric conquest of Ethiopia, declaring: “Today a new Italian Empire faces the future arid assumes its responsibilities as guardian and administrator of a backward people of ten million souls.” (New York Times, November 6, 1936.) This, then, was the representative whom the “democratic” Roosevelt sent to the Vatican.
For the Vatican, the understanding with Roosevelt paid handsome dividends after Italy became engulfed in the war. While Allied air forces devastated Naples, Genoa, Turin, Milan and other cities, the capital city of Rome with its Vatican enclave was spared. Important as this was to the Vatican, it is still only a minor aspect of the tie-up between the Vatican and American imperialism. Roosevelt and the Pope had set their sights on broad political goals. In his December 23, 1939 letter to the Pope, Roosevelt expressed the view that a “new order” was at hand and said “it is well that we encourage a closer association between those in every part of the world – those in religion and those in government – who have a common purpose.” He desired, he said, to have his representative at the Vatican because, in the post-war period, “it is of the utmost importance that common ideals shall have a united expression.”
In the light of actual post-war developments it is not difficult to distinguish the type of “new order” which Roosevelt had in mind. It proved to be nothing more than the old, decrepit capitalist order, resuscitated by Allied Military Governments and propped up with Allied bayonets. The “common purpose” and the “common ideals” were none other than the damming up of the revolutionary socialist currents that arose in Europe, the frustration of the popular will for social change, the rescue of an effete social system which was ready for the garbage heap of history. It was for this, above all, that American imperialism and the Vatican joined hands.
The Vatican rendered its first important service in the rescue of decayed European capitalism when, upon the collapse of Italian Fascism in 1943, the Pope used all his influence to keep the Italian masses from revolutionary action. Rumblings of the approaching storm were audible some time before Fascism actually collapsed. First the Pope tried to save Mussolini’s tottering regime. In June 1943 the Pope delivered an address declaring that the church,
while asserting and defending courageously the rights of the working class ... has had to issue warning against letting oneself be deluded by the mirage of specious and fatuous theories and visions of future well-being and against the deceptive enticements and seductions of false prophets of social prosperity ... Such false prophets would have us believe that salvation must come from a revolution ... Salvation and justice are not to be found in revolution but in evolution through concord ... We need a spirit of true concord and brotherhood animating all, superiors and subjects, employers and workers ...
At the end of 1943, after the fall of Fascism, the Pope, in his annual Christmas message, devoted himself to a forthright attack on Socialism and an equally forthright defense of the system of capitalist private property. “The Church,” he said, “condemns the various forms of Marxian Socialism because it is her permanent right and duty to safeguard men from currents of thought and influence that jeopardize their eternal salvation.” With the collapse of the Mussolini regime, the Vatican used all its powers of exhortation, and its well-known threat of eternal damnation, to prevent the Italian workers and peasants from overthrowing capitalism.
Amidst the political ferment which set in throughout Europe with the military defeat of the Axis, the Vatican has worked with might and main to dam up the channels of revolutionary action and divert the masses from the socialist road. In this work it has collaborated closely with the Allied conquerors. Everywhere its hand is to be seen – in Italy, in France, in Poland, in Belgium, in Holland, in Spain and in other countries. Catholic intervention in politics, in the class struggle, has been most marked in Italy and France, centers of revolutionary development. An outstanding example was the public stand against the parties of the Left taken by the Catholic Church and the Vatican in the elections in those countries on June 2 of this year.
In an election-eve address broadcast from Vatican City on June 1, the Pope urged the voters to reject the Stalinist and Socialist candidates as “the wreckers of Christian civilization” and to vote for the reactionary candidates of the Right. The influence of the Vatican was exerted mainly through the Christian Democrats in Italy and the MRP (Popular Republican Movement) in France. These two parties were created after the war and are the organized expression of clerical-capitalist reaction. In the Italian elections, the voters were also called upon to vote for or against the retention of the Italian monarchy. The manner in which the church tried to persuade the masses not to vote down the detested House of Savoy was described in a Rome dispatch to the London Economist:
There were priests ... in many parts of the country who endeavored to persuade their hungry flocks that if the Republic were voted UNRRA would deliver nothing more, and even that the Allies would forcibly intervene. The clergy, further, missed few opportunities of declaring that to vote for the Republic was to vote against Christianity and to face the torments of hell, while the Bishops of Umbria and Abruzzi published a manifesto which was more or less an interdict upon voting Communist, Socialist or even Liberal. (Economist, June 22, 1946.)
Priestly intervention did not avail to save the Italian monarchy, but it did serve greatly to augment the vote of the Christian Democrats, the leading party of reaction, which became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly. In France, likewise, the leading party of reaction, the MRP, emerged from the elections as the largest political party. Both in France and Italy, the British Economist reported, “the Catholics fought the elections primarily as anti-Communists and now have behind them the inchoate and in part reactionary following that the cry of anti-Communism usually rallies.” While the Pope occasionally excoriates totalitarianism for the benefit of his democratic clientele (though he only really commenced doing this after Fascism and Nazism had fallen), the Vatican maintains the closest and most cordial relations with Spanish fascism through the Franco regime in Spain. Its overriding purpose is to head off revolution and save capitalism. After the June elections in Italy and France, the Economist noted “the emergence of a loose Catholic Western bloc with a liberal pole – the Popular Republicans – and an authoritarian pole – the Franco regime in Spain.” The character of this bloc, and its purpose, are manifest: to rally and unify all the forces of capitalist reaction to combat the revolutionary tide and to act as the ideological spearhead of the campaign for war against the Soviet Union. J. Alvarez del Vayo, in an article from Paris which appeared in the June 29 issue of The Nation, delineated its political role and its modus operandi:
Thus the Catholic Church has returned to the political struggle with the same aggressiveness it displayed in the last century – in 1830, 1848, and 1871, when the cause of the Pope-King fused with the cause of the other sovereigns of Europe who saw their thrones endangered. At the first sign of real estrangement between the West and East [the reference is to the imperialist powers and the USSR – LFJ] the Vatican has resuscitated the idea of a Western Catholic bloc ... Now, at least for the time being, the plan has been limited to Europe. But this in no way limits the ambitious ultimate goal ... As time passes, the Western Catholic bloc will reveal Its true character. For the moment, however, it will continue to speak of democracy and the Four Freedoms ... In Eastern Europe, where it is a question of fighting the Russians on their own ground, direct action is justified. But not in the West. The Christian Democrats in Italy must continue to display the emblem of the Cross and the slogan Libertas ... The M.R.P. in France must continue under the leadership of a Maurice Schumann and a Georges Bidault ... The Catholic Party in Holland must keep its left wing ... The Christian Socialists in Belgium must continue to give the appearance of supporting higher standards for the workers. It is this deceptive double policy underlying its entire present strategy which makes the Western Catholic bloc so dangerous.
Construction of the Western Catholic bloc fits in with a sweeping reorientation of Vatican policy, directed toward the Western Hemisphere, which began back in 1939 with the establishment of official relations between the Vatican and American imperialism. This orientation is directed especially toward the 30,000,000 Catholics in the United States and Canada and the additional millions in Latin America. The disintegration of European capitalism, the revolutionary anti-capitalist mood of the European workers, combined with the occupation of all eastern Europe by the Red Army, led the Vatican to conclude that Europe had lost its preeminent position in the world. Roman Catholicism set out to create a new world base for itself. The culminating point of the reorientation was the consistory in Vatican City in February of this year at which the Pope created 32 new cardinals. Of this number, 11 were named for the Americas, four of the eleven for the United States. What was the significance of this step?
Organized hierarchically, the Catholic Church represents a pyramid whose broad base is the mass of the laity and the lower order of prelates. From here it rises in gradations through the higher orders to the Sacred College of Cardinals. At the apex is the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff himself. The Sacred College of Cardinals – consisting of the Princes of the Church, as they are sometimes called – is at once the cabinet of the Vatican State and the international executive committee of Catholicism as a world movement. Membership in the Sacred College had declined to 37. The elevation of 32 new cardinals brought it up to 69, only one short of the constitutional limit.
By elevating 32 cardinals in one sweep the Pope took a step unprecedented in Catholic history. Its purpose was two-fold: to strengthen the executive arm of the church so that it may function more widely and more efficiently as an instrument of reaction, and to further the American orientation of the Vatican. Describing the ceremony at which the new cardinals were elevated as a “mobilization of world Catholicism against Communism,” Herbert L. Matthews, Rome correspondent of the New York Times, wrote:
So you have there two great forces lined up against each other and this week’s Consistory was the most striking visible symbol of opposition that has been seen since the Communist Manifesto led Pius IX to issue his first condemnation of Marxism.
Remember that there is only one great totalitarian force left in the world today. [The reference is to the Soviet Union – LFJ] It is war and open war, and this Consistory is a formal mobilization for the struggle. (New York Times, February 23, 1946.)
This was not just a correspondent’s interpretation of the meaning of the medieval ceremony enacted at the Vatican. Its political purpose was implicit in the whole previous course of Vatican policy. The Pope himself made it quite explicit in his address during the ceremony at which he presented the scarlet birettas to the new Princes of the Church. Again and again he referred to the “supra-national character of the church and its world-wide unity,” coupling this with an attack on “modern imperialism.” By specifically exempting the British Empire from his strictures, the Pope made it amply clear that the “imperialism” he was attacking was the expansionism of the Kremlin. He also made explicit the reactionary role of the Catholic Church as a mainstay of capitalism in the concluding words of his address, when he said:
Venerable brethren, the church provides the greatest support of human society. Every day, from where the sun rises to where it sets, without distinction of race or nation, a pure conception rises ... We ourselves are the stable foundation of society.
It was not by any chance that after the ceremony the new cardinals, among them Cardinal Francis J. Spellman of New York, were entertained at a lavish banquet by none other than General Franco’s ambassadorial envoy to the Vatican.
In the midst of pushing its new Western orientation, the Vatican observed that things were beginning to pick up in Europe from the point of view of the forces of reaction. The treacherous, week-kneed people’s frontist policies of the Stalinists and the Social Democrats, had diverted the masses from the revolutionary road and enabled capitalist reaction to redress its ranks and consolidate its forces. The electoral triumph of the British Labor Party seemed ominous, but the labor lieutenants of British capitalism soon made it clear that they had no intention of changing the social order. Moreover, they continued the Tory policy of backing the European monarchies and showed that they had no intention of doing anything to hasten the downfall of Franco in Spain. Europe could still be saved for “Christian civilization” by intense and consistent support of the post-war capitalist regimes and by building a wall against Stalinist expansionism. Hence the vigorous intervention of the Vatican in the European elections and the policy of the Western Catholic bloc.
Liberal critics of the Vatican have accused the Pope of violating Christian teachings and ethics in supporting the fascist regimes. They have pointed, also, to the endless superficial inconsistencies of the Vatican in politics. Much was made, for example, of the fact that when the war was in progress the Pope would receive Italian soldiers, give them his blessing, and enjoin them to fight bravely, and if need be give up their lives, for the Fascist fatherland. When the war was over and American occupation troops were received by the same Pope, they were praised for “liberating” Italy from that very fascist regime for which Italian soldiers had been urged to give up their lives. What the Liberal muddleheads fail to comprehend is that in temporal affairs, i.e., in politics, the Vatican follows no abstract moral principles. The Pope will support a monarchy in one country, a republic in another; fascism today, “democracy” tomorrow. Today the Vatican can proclaim its opposition to totalitarianism – now that Mussolini and Hitler are no more and it is necessary to do business with the “democratic” conquerors of Europe. But that does not prevent the Vatican from maintaining close and friendly relations with Fascist Spain and praising Franco as a worthy defender of Christianity. For the Catholic Church there is but one criterion in determining policy and selecting allies: the preservation of capitalism and the attitude of the given state toward the church, its interests and its properties.
The “spiritual” activities of the Catholic Church are the cover under which it fights the battles of the bourgeoisie, with which its own fate and fortunes are closely bound up. It has become an active participant in the class struggle, employing its authority among the Catholic faithful to divide the ranks of the workers. It sets the Catholic worker against the Protestant and Jewish worker. It subjects the Catholic faithful among the workers to an ideological terror, confronting them with a conflict between devotion to the church and the vital urge of class needs. An example of this was the resurrection during the recent Italian and French elections of the 1931 papal encyclical, Quadragesima Anno, which contains the warning: “One cannot at the same time be a good Catholic and a true Socialist.” An even more striking example was the speech broadcast to the world by the Pope in the first week of September 1944, at a time when it seemed that Italian capitalism was about to be engulfed by the socialist revolution. Voicing the terror of the criminal rulers of Europe and their “democratic” imperialist allies, the Pope made a frantic appeal to the workers to respect the system of capitalist private property, urging them not to resort to “subversion and violence” in order to put an end to the outworn social system which was the cause of all their miseries. He declared that
... any legitimate economic and social order should rest on the indisputable foundation of the right to private property. The Church has always acknowledged the natural right to property ... Christian conscience cannot admit as right a social order that denies the principle or renders impossible and useless in practice the natural right to ownership of commodities and means of production.
The authority of the most powerful church on earth is thus invoked to rescue dying capitalism. This rotted social system with its unspeakable wars and chronic social misery is represented as the Divine Will and given the authority of Divine sanction. Woe unto those who flout the will of the Almighty! They are condemning themselves to everlasting perdition!
The Catholic Church even feeds the poison wells of race chauvinism in its efforts to divide the peoples and divert the Catholic faithful among them from the path of revolutionary action. Workers in America are familiar with the anti-Semitic propaganda of Father Coughlin. His obscene outbursts are by no means the aberration of a single priest. The fountain-head of Catholic anti-Semitism is the Vatican itself. In 1936, the Civilta Cattolica, published in Rome by Jesuits under an editor appointed by the Pope himself, printed a series of articles on the Jewish question. In one of them we find the following:
Two facts which appear contradictory are to be found together among the Jews scattered in the modern world: their control of moneys and their preponderance in Socialism and Communism. (Civilta Cattolica, October 3, 1936.)
The conclusion which the Jesuit scribes drew from this observation is exactly identical with the anti-Semitic ravings of a Hitler or a Goebbels. It is that the Jews – not all of them, but many of them – “constitute a serious and permanent danger to society.” In its frenzied fear of revolution, the Vatican has lately felt constrained to attack certain mild reform measures instituted by the ruling class. Trying to find palliatives for social unrest, and at the same time rescue the bankrupt capitalist economy, the bourgeoisie in Europe has had to resort to a partial nationalization of industry (England, France, Belgium, Austria, etc.). The Vatican sees danger in these moves, for they tend to destroy the notion of the sacredness of private property. In July of this year the Pope publicly attacked nationalization and came out in favor of the type of economic organization worked out by Mussolini – the “corporations.” There is no doubt, he declared, that “under present circumstances a corporative form of social life and especially of economic life in practice favors Christian doctrine concerning the individual community, labor and private property.”
As the reader will have noticed, references to private property run like a consistent thread through all the recent political pronouncements of the Vatican. Papal concern for private property amounts, one might almost say, to a fixation. We could adduce much more evidence on this score. As it is, we have used but a small fraction of the available material. But even this establishes beyond doubt our thesis that the Roman Catholic Church has become the ideological fountain-head and one of the main organizational centers of world reaction. The black flag of counter-revolution flies over the Vatican, which has become the symbol and center of all the dark forces striving to prevent the new socialist society from coming to birth. When Trotsky described the Vatican as the “world headquarters of obscurantism and reaction,” he wrote a simple truth which has become more than ever manifest in this new stage of the battle for human progress.
Last updated on 11.2.2009