Bigotry and Militant Catholicism – Fr. H. A. Reinhold (1945)

Fr. H. A. Reinhold

[Note: It should go without saying that the views expressed in this article are not (at least as a whole) necessarily endorsed by the person who runs this site. For one thing, Reinhold could’ve been harsher on Salazar, Dollfuss, and Schuschnigg. Still, this article is useful in that it critiques a specific kind of Catholic “mentality” that seems to lead many Catholics to flirt–or even collaborate directly–with fascists.]

I know that many many loyal and devout Catholics do not like to see the names of certain statesmen who are presumably staunch defenders of the faith or are carrying out papal encyclicals linked with the names of obvious tyrants like Hitler and Stalin. Only few Catholic writers have been consistent in pointing to these statesmen as open sores on the body Catholic despite whatever merits they may possess. Because Mussolini made and even kept one treaty with the Holy See, Don Luigi Sturzo was treated with cold contempt by many a fervent Catholic bigot (thanks to America, October 20 issue, for giving this word its long overdue place in our vocabulary of self-examination). His invasion of Ethiopia and Albania, his murdering of priests and socialists, his brutal fist against Catholic organizations were all forgotten by a bigot, vociferous crowd in our own fold who followed a “party line” for which nobody had blown the signal call. His marital infidelities were never given the open spanking we always like to give much less harmful personalities in Hollywood.

Or think of Bernanos and Maritain, when the former published his severe indictment of Franco after what he had witnessed in the Balearic Isles in 1936, and the latter deplored that Franco was not only keeping bad company, but resorting to the methods of his ruthless opponents, stifling the liberties our mouths proclaim and constantly sanctifying his questionable means by a very questionable end. Bernanos and Maritain are still excluded from devout “salons.” While the man who proclaims our gentle Blessed Lady a “Captain General in the Hispanic armies,” bestows insignia on her and turns the revenue thus gained over to the church where her image stands, can go right ahead doing things the mere suggestion of which would bring impeachment and subsequent trial to any American president or holder of public office.

Bernanos’ name brings back to mind his scathing and hard book on what he saw in 1936. Whenever he enumerates the dictators he uses the witty little phrase, “ce petit tyrant au Portugal, dont le nom m’échappe” which in a poor English version reads: “that petty tyrant in Portugal whose name escapes my memory.” He means, of course, Salazar. A man much decorated by Catholics and badly maligned by others. A man about whom we were always told that, since he had made a perfect concordat with the Holy See, was on good terms personally with the clergy, was an obviously devout man and an incorruptible person, fleeing the limelight of adulation, we must not let the “liberals” make a dent in our admiration by their claim that he, too, was a tyrant, even if a good one. He is a good financier and has clean hands— a thing the Portuguese never saw under liberal and democratic rule. He spent little on better highways, housing, education and social legislation, but not less than any of his predecessors, who drew up beautiful budgets—and lined their own pockets. He did not throw defenseless German and Czech refugees into hellish concentration camps like Miranda or something del Ebro where Franco (in his strict neutrality) kept them to please Hitler. Above all, he swept and cleaned a filthy place.

The liberals ignored this and called him tyrant and a fascist. They hated him the more because he is a Catholic. He has, like unhappy Dollfuss and unfortunate Schuschnigg, declared that his rule is inspired by, of all things, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. If it were true, it would still be no reason for us to wink at his failures and to forget that Christianity decidedly does not consist of two isolated encyclicals, nor of all the encyclicals —because there is always the Sermon on the Mount, the two great commandments, the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, and all that; the gospels, too, the missal and just common human decency as a sort of medium in which alone these things can thrive. But our bigots went all the way and, when you found Hitler, the “restorer of interior peace and of the honor of Germany” objectionable, when you said Dollfuss shot the workers and Schuschnigg never did anything, when you pointed out Mussolini’s hypocrisy, when you said that Petain was a discredit to France and the Church, when you called attention to Franco’s concentration camps, his infringement on the Church’s rights, his gang of henchmen, his dishonesty, when you had, so to speak driven your opponents into their corner, they would always come up at last with a triumphant smile and a victorious gleam in their eyes: “But there is Salazar; you forgot him.”

Now let us open America, October 20, 1945, page 60, and what do we read? Antonio de Oliveira Salazar has ordered “general elections” for the National Assembly, whatever that is. One man ordering elections. If it were Stalin, we would, of course, remark the farce, as we rightly do when Russian “democracy” is concerned. “He invites the participation of government opponents.” Sounds like a rather half-hearted “invitation.” And he, “le petit dictateur, dont le nom m’échappe,” announces measures which allow “free expression of popular will.” That, of course, is a good thing. Let us in charity interpret it as obedience to our Holy Father’s last Christmas allocution and not as a reading of the handwriting on the Spanish wall next door. I quote:

The measures include: 1 ) Restoration to the press of sufficient freedom to allow electoral propaganda; 2) Suppression of military courts which formerly had jurisdiction over political cases; 3) A general political amnesty to all but those guilty of serious crimes; 4) Reorganization of the secret police so that it functions under the same legal restrictions as ordinary police; 5) Establishment of the right of habeas corpus, never before recognized in Portuguese law.

I don’t know what else they include, these one-man promulgated measures in the “encyclical-inspired” state. But if they abolish the contrary of what they introduced, I can’t see any difference between other dictatorships and this, except that Mr. Salazar is in character the opposite of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini and, of course, the greatest virtuoso of them all, Josef Stalin. No. 4 gives me a very uneasy feeling, very uneasy, almost as uneasy as the vision of “military courts which formerly had jurisdiction over political cases,” which is decidedly a page out of Hitler’s and Stalin’s notebooks. If anyone counters by saying that Portugal is not yet fit for freedom and self-government of its citizens,! I reply: What has Salazar done to make it fit, aside from abolishing, as we hear, budgetary deficits and inefficiency — or did he perhaps really not want freedom and equality?

Why dwell on this here, in a Timely Tract? To satisfy our vanity that we were always right? The objections against the liturgical movement usually spring from the same source which America calls bigotry, camouflaged as “militant Catholicism.” There are people who fear the complexity of the whole truth and the bewildering pattern of facts almost as they would mortal sin. The very fact that the rediscovery of the liturgical continent makes our little island of devotional individualism look small and insignificant drives them frantic. They would rather call their stuffy little shack the “stable of Bethlehem” and be happy feeling miserable than enter the royal palace of the fully participated sacramental life of our Church. The fact that the laity has requests to make, expects better training and more knowledge from us, more of our time spent on the Holy Things, annoys us. Therefore the liturgical movement — that unhappy term persists in spite of everything — must be wrong, the “liturgicals” must be heretics, esthetes, rebels, dreamers and “rerum novarum cupidi” as good old Caesar calls the Gauls.

This attitude is sectarianism “within,” as our constant miscarriage of instinct in worldly things is sectarianism “without.” As in the press this leads to suppression of the wholeness of truth, so internal sectarianism actually leads to denunciation built on hearsay and falsehoods. Some weird rite which never took place is reported, enlarged upon and rumored about; paternal warnings are voiced and honest, hardworking men are discredited, while those who take the way of least resistance are encouraged. Thus a Catholic false loyalty to debatable issues is created which is repugnant to the spirit of the Church and smacks of totalitarian intolerance. We seem to think that we are stronger in our spiritual conquest of the world if we confuse narrowness with concentration and, like Stalin, call the few who face all facts names.

In defence of a recent Timely Tract which was as polemic as this one, I want to conclude today by taking up this same issue applied to another field. Driven from house and home by the Gestapo in 1935, I think my word carries some small modicum of weight. But it does not carry as much as the word of those who somehow managed to survive right in the midst of the Nazi terror. How do they feel about their responsibility for concentration camps? Was it something that has to do with conscience, or was it something which it was more opportune to ignore? Father Philip Kueble, S.J., himself a victim of Nazism, judges as follows (again I quote from America):

There were two chief moral failures of the Germans: 1) When the people were still free, they delivered absolute power to men who even at that time were unworthy of such a trust; 2) After the people had lost their freedom, they too willingly gave their approval to those in power and therefore eased for them their road to evil deeds. “The first,” he said, “was not a political error, it was a moral crime.” At its base was a false belief in the meaning of majority rule. The second failure was based on the implicit acceptance of the idea that whatever helps the German people is good. This principle, noted the preacher, eliminates the difference between good and evil, and substitutes the welfare of the people for the Will of God.

Some people will dislike this, because they have their own theory and dislike anything that contradicts it: “The Germans are the first victims of the Nazis, et cetera sequuntur.” No use going into that here. It is a case of national feeling, not reasoning. Others will apply the same principle to Salazar and the others: “All right, the rest may have been wrong, but not the Catholics — and if they were, don’t admit it, you are harming the Church.” Sectarianism pure and simple, the triumph of precisely the kind of mentality which keeps honest outsiders wondering about us. It belongs to the inferiority-complex attitude behind such headlines as “Catholic bus-driver wins spelling contest,” or “Grandmother of nun deemed oldest woman in state.” What a faith! Of course the seven Nazis who brutally killed their fellow prisoner in a U.S. prison camp in Colorado and were executed were all Catholics. So were Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Ley, Rust—renegades, to be sure. But let us face that fact, too, or we’ll look silly.

H. A. R.

[Reinhold, H. A. (Hans A. (1945). Timely tracts: bigotry and militant Catholicism. Orate Fratres20(1), 28–32.]