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The New International, August 1946


Joseph Leonard

The Vatican’s New Line


From New International, Vol. XII No. 6, August 1945, pp. 188–189.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The enormous newspaper coverage accorded the recent elevation of several archbishops to the College of Cardinals poses a political question. Movements of members of the Catholic hierarchy are ordinarily given fairly prominent publicity in the American press, but the recent coverage was unprecedented, and in a non-Catholic country, quite surprising. The explanation that it was a Catholic engineered publicity campaign is ruled out by the scope of the coverage – virtually the entire press and radio were engaged in “putting over” the new cardinals; such unanimity could not have been obtained for a “partisan” campaign. Moreover, all over the country the publicity centered around Cardinal Spellman. If it had been only the New York papers, one might think that perhaps the New York press had suddenly developed an intense “home-town” angle after all these years of cosmopolitan sophistication. The explanation of this publicity splurge must be sought on the level of common purpose of all the big newspapers.

There is a political “line” behind the appointments of the new cardinals. The appointments signify, on the one hand, the greatest success to date of American foreign policy in swinging the world Catholic Church to its side, and on the other hand, it reflects the church’s difficulties occasioned by the acquisition of the eastern half of the former Nazi empire by Russia. That the American news. papers should simultaneously launch a campaign to “educate” Americans to an understanding of the new “friendly” role of the Catholic Church will perplex only those liberals who think that the newspaper industry, unlike every other important industry, has remained “unfettered” and that editors are not business men but latter-day Emersons who are loyal to “public trust” and only occasionally, very occasionally, betray that “trust” because of immense “pressure” brought to bear by “moneyed interests.” (The liberals compensate their failure to perceive the depth of the class struggle by seeing, instead, a whole series of struggles – in this case, the embattled editor against the “private interests”which do not exist.)

The professed ideological differences between the two imperialist camps in World War II were vastly greater than in World War I. One of the consequences has been that the Catholic Church (which sustains nationalistic division much better than did the Second International) is now faced with the task of “explaining away” its support of Italian, German and Spanish fascism to the disillusioned European masses. More than twenty years of peaceful cohabitation of Mussolini and the Pope, Cardinal Innitzer’s support of the Anschluss in Austria, and the enormous role of the Church in the Spanish Civil War are only the highlights. The parochial schools received state financial aid from the anciens regimes of eastern Europe. The bishop of Gyor (Raab), Hungary, defended his church and the SS troops in it with machine guns behind the altar. The Russians waited three days, and (after they got permission from Moscow) stormed the church. The bishop of Veszprem (Hungary) was building fortifications with his clergymen when he was seized and hanged in the window of his castle, not by the Russians, but by his own “flock.” Stories like this all over Europe give meaning to the answer reportedly given by a Russian general when asked if there was freedom of religion in Poland: “Yes, the churches are no longer being used for making guns.”

The Church and Franco

In the New World the disillusionment with fascism has not been so sharp, hence the present relationship of the Catholic Church to Debussy’s movement in Quebec, Peron’s in Argentina and Coughlin’s in America is still tenable, but in Europe the masses who have tasted the joys of fascism present a formidable political problem for the church. The church’s need for absolving itself of fascism is undoubtedly the reason why Generalissimo Franco is slated to fall. The Catholic Church is prepared to sacrifice Franco, and without the support of the church he has no alternative but to negotiate an abdication.

Even more formidable than the doctrinal reversals are the problems presented by the economic reversals. Poland, Rumania and Hungary included a great portion of the church’s wealth, i.e., land, and were thus important props of the Vatican’s world influence. In Hungary the Russians have announced a “fifty-fifty” treaty which means, in brief, that the Russians get 50 per cent of the national “take.” The Russians are muscling in not only at the expense of the wealthy land owners, who are almost all Catholics, but of the Catholic Church itself. In France, there is great agitation to end the state of subsidization of Catholic schools (Russian occupied Europe, of course, featured an immediate “separation of church from state”). The mass Catholic party of France (MRP) upholds the church’s interests on this issue, but seems to have broken away from traditional church political policy in almost everything else.

It is small wonder, then, that Roosevelt’s policy of wooing the church for the “democracies” is bearing rich fruit. Roosevelt, it should be remembered, got the Neutrality Act through Congress during the Spanish Civil War, and it was he who sent a personal representative, Myron C. Taylor, former head of U.S. Steel, to the Vatican. The Catholic Church can no longer maneuver with its old freedom between the major contending imperialist forces; it has cast its lot in with that of American imperialism, and thereby assumes a new palatability to American bourgeois politicians, especially those with an internationalist viewpoint. This is the reason that the recent conversion to Catholicism of the not unimportant political figures of Representative Clare Luce and Senator Wagner, although they were motivated primarily by personal reasons, assumes a significance that it would not have had in other times.

It is not excluded, as the press is broadly hinting, that the next Pope may be Cardinal Spellman. Because America is the leader of the anti-Russian camp, the church may have decided to move its seat of power accordingly, but whether it takes this step or not, the shift is already being made politically.

The jockeying for power between the Big Two preparatory to the outbreak of World War III tends to focus attention on those areas of the world where the two antagonists are more or less equally pitted. This is especially true in the Far East, and it is accordingly clear why a Chinese bishop is among those raised to the rank of cardinal. We notice, too, that Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary (Central Europe is the other great “no man’s land” between American and Russian influence) had trouble getting to Rome for the formalities.

Russia’s Attitude

So far we have considered the question primarily from the Catholic side; America’s interest is obvious, but what of Russia’s attitude? The story is told that Stalin was asked why he opposed inviting a Vatican representative to the Big Three conferences. He replied: “How many divisions has he got?”

Stalin can still try to appear before the masses of Eastern and Central Europe as the slayer of the Nazi dragon. Later, perhaps, Stalin may have need for the Church to pacify the hungry and oppressed people as all previous exploiting classes have. But Stalin has pretty nearly burned his bridges behind him by expropriating church land. Besides, Stalin has already equipped himself with a “trustworthy” church, i.e., the “restored” Orthodox Church, which is proselytizing in the Russian-controlled areas of Europe (New York Times, March 2).

In Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks had little trouble with the Orthodox Church, which had compromised itself fatally by its support of Czarism. But the Central Europeans have not made a revolution, and they do not even have the anti-clerical sentiment that was engendered by the bourgeois revolution in a country like France. Hence, for all the collaboration between the native Catholic officials and the fascists, the petty bourgeoisie and the peasant masses are still loyal to the Pope. The result can be seen in the elections held recently in Bavaria and in Austria. In rural Hungary, which has been feudal all these centuries, the Russians may have even harder sledding, although there the land hunger of the peasants may prove more powerful than traditional church ties.

The fate of world Catholicism is now intimately bound up with the future of American imperialism, but whether either America or Russia emerges triumphant depends upon the world proletariat and its peasant allies. Estimates as to the prospects for the early victory of the Third Camp are altogether academic – unless we win such a victory, the problem of choosing the lesser evil between the two giant powers as they maneuver for position in the coming atomic war will be of interest only to a few “political” survivors of the transition into the new Dark Ages.

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