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  Wikipedia: Roman Catholicism's links with democracy and dictatorships

Wikipedia: Roman Catholicism's links with democracy and dictatorships
Roman Catholicism's links with democracy and dictatorships
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Roman Catholic Church has had controversial relationships with various forms of government. In its two thousand year history it has had to deal with various concepts and systems of governance, from the Roman Empire to the mediĉval divine right of kings, from nineteenth and twentieth century concepts of democracy and pluralist democracy to the appearance of left wing and right wing dictatorial regimes.

Catholicism and the Roman Emperors

The papacy and the Divine Right of Kings

The concept of the Divine Right of Kings, though biblical in origin, came to dominate mediĉval concepts of kingship. St. Augustine in his work The City of God had observed that while the City of Man and the City of God may stand at cross-purposes, both of them have been instituted by God and served His ultimate will. Even though the City of Man --- the world of secular government --- may seem ungodly and be governed by sinners, it has been placed on earth for the protection of the City of God. Therefore, monarchs have been placed on their thrones for God's purpose, and to question their authority is to question God.

This belief was central to the Roman Catholic vision of governance in the mediĉval era. It believed that only God, and itself as "God's church" could depose a monarch. In a society based on an alliance of throne and altar, the Church itself became a player in mediĉval governing elites. A senior cleric, usually and archbishop or cardinal anointed and crowned a monarch. Senior members of the hierarchy, such as Thomas Cardinal Wolsey in England, and Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, or prominent Catholic laymen like Sir Thomas More served as senior advisors to monarchs.

The Church however was more than just an advisor to monarchs. It was directly linked to mediaeval society as a landowner, a power-broker, a policy maker, etc. Some of its bishops and archbishops were feudal lords in their own right, equivalent in rank and precedence to counts and dukes. Some were even sovereigns in their own right. Bishops played a prominent role in Holy Roman Empire as electors. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, preacher to Louis XIV, defended the doctrine of the divine right of kings in his sermons. The Church itself was a model of hierarchy in a world of hierarchies, and saw the defence of that system as a defence of itself, a defence of itself as a defence of what it believed was a god-ordained system.

See also Gallicanism, Guelph, Weiblingen, missi dominici

Catholic missionaries at the Chinese court

Matteo Ricci

Popular democracy

The French Revolutions

The central principle of the mediaeval period, the right of a monarch to rule 'by God's will', was fundamentally challenged by the French Revolution. While initially the revolution was based on a belief that the existing system of French government needed overhall to recognise the limits on the monarch's power and his need to govern on behalf of the state, not in his own interest, the lack of political reform for generations led to a build up of frustrations that led the revolution to spiral in ways unimaginable only a few years earlier, and indeed in ways unplanned by the initial wave of reformers.

For Roman Catholicism, the Divine Right of Kings meant that only it or God could interfere with the right of a monarch to rule. Thus the attack on the French absolute monarchy and demand for citizen's rights was seen as an attack on God's anointed king, and thus on God. In addition, the Church's leadership came exclusively from the classes most threatened by the growing revolution, while the Church was a major landowner in its own right. So the revolution was seen to introduce concepts alien to its belief in the rights of kings and in its own rights, as God's anointed church and as a power-broker in the ancien regime.

Concepts such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen seemed to some in the church to mark the appearance of the antichrist, with the 'natural order', God's anointed king and God's church, being threatened by 'the mob'. The problem was made worse by the traditional slowness with which Roman Catholicism adapts to new ideas and intellectual concepts. So a fast moving revolution, which saw demands for some reform become demands for a constitutional monarchy become regicide and the declaration of the First French Republic far outpaced Roman Catholicism's ability to accept new realities, let alone adapt to them.

The Church's association with the doomed ancien regime, its position as a much hated landowner, led by people from the establishment classes, and its utter inability to accept any of the fundamental principles of the revolution, led the Church to be seen by the revolutionaries as being as much an enemy of the revolution as King Louis XVI and the aristocracy. Instead of being able to influence the new political elite and so shape the public agenda, the Church found itself sidelined at best, detested at worst. As a result, the new state and its leaders set up its own rival deities and religion, a cult of reason. They went so far as to devise a metric calendar to displace the Christian year and week.

While Louis' brother, Louis XVIII and some of the old establishment regained power following the Napoleonic era by accepting some of the principles of the revolution, the Church remained in its intellectual straightjacket of its ideological convinction in the error of the revolution and its "attack on God". The Church found itself more at home under the monarchy of the Louis's youngest brother Charles X (r: 1824-1830). His overthrow in 1830 marked the end of any hope of a return to the ancien regime certainties of the alliance of throne and altar. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Church found itself increasingly marginalised as it associated with Henry V, the Legitimist pretender, than the bourgeois July Monarchy of King Louis Phillippe, who reigned not as a 'throne and altar' King of France but as a popular monarch, the implicitly citizen-orientated King of the French. It was only under Pope Leo XIII (r: 1878-1903) that the Church leadership tried to move away from its right wing legitimist royalist associations, when he ordered the deeply unhappy French Church to accept the Third French Republic (1875-1940). Though his liberalising initiative was undone by Pope Pius X (r: 1903-1914), a conservative traditionalist with more sympathy with the dwindling band of French royalists than with the bourgeois Third Republic. An already bubbling dispute under Pius's disastrous interventions led to a full and irrevocable break between the French state and the Church, with Church property seized and religious orders banned. Catholicism never regained major power or influence from that point.

Pius IX and the 'errors of the world'

The nineteenth century was dominated by attitudes shaped by the French Revolution and its aftermath. The concept of revolution as a means of achieving dramatic change had grown in popularity, as had the belief that the citizenry had rights. These ideas became of particular importance in the Italian peninsula, which was divided up between a number of states, notably the Kingdom of Piedmont to the north, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the south, and in between the Patrimony of St. Peter, more commonly known as the Papal States, a collection of states controlled by the Pope for many centuries.

Growing Italian nationalistic demands for the creation of an all-Italy state came to a head in the 1940s. In 1846 the liberal-leaning Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti became Pope Pius IX Pius's liberal policies, in contrast with the autocracy of his predecessors, led to growing belief that under him the Papal States would not stand in the way of Italian unification. However the outbreak of revolution in Italy (alongside France, where King Louis Philippe lost his throne, in Austria and even unsuccessfully in tame versions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, shocked Pius, who himself, when unwilling to support Italian nationalism, was forced to flee into exile, producing a shortlived Roman Republic. Pius on his return, abandoned the liberalism that had been his trademark, returned to the more traditional conservativism of his immediate predecessors and spent the rest of his papacy condemning nationalism, populism and democracy, most dramatically his 1864 papal encyclical Quanta Cura and its attached Syllabus of Errors. Under Pius IX, the Church set itself against all the new theories of popular sovereignty and rights of citizens, which, having been fringe ideas on the left at the time of the French Revolution of 1789, had now gained widespread acceptance among moderate opinion. Pius's continuing defence of the Divine Right of Kings and his insistence on condemning policies and perspectives championed by such leaders as Benjamin Disraeli and William E. Gladstone (United Kingdom), Daniel O'Connell and Issac Butt (Ireland), and Abraham Lincoln, earned for him and the Papal States widespread international criticism. Pius's world still looked back on the pre-revolutionary theory of the alliance of throne and altar, as the embodiment of God's design for government, with God's king and God's church together governing as God's will.

Ironically, given that many of the ideas which so appalled Pope Pius IX came from France via the revolutions of 1789 and after, Pius's control of the Papal States rested on France, whose army under Emperor Napoleon III defended the Papal States from attack. But the Franco-Prussian War forced Napoleon III to take back his soldiers in his own ultimately unsuccessful attempt to defend his imperial throne. Without the French Emperor's protection, the Papal States and Rome fell to invading Piedmontese troops. For Pius the final evidence of the sinfulness of the modern world was the seizure by secular troops of the Vicar of Christ's own lands. The First Vatican Council, which had been meeting and which had only just proclaimed the pope infallible in matters of faith and morals, was itself a victim of the invasion and never reassembled. Though infallibility was not a political concept, some of Pius's critics thought its proclamation was meant to bolster his moral authority as the Vicar of Christ, perhaps discouraging Italian nationalists from attacking the Pope's own Rome. In reality it was merely a doctrinal issue, not a political one. Pope Pius, stripped of his temporal power retreated into the Vatican Palace and declared himself the "prisoner in the Vatican", while the King of Piedmont, now proclaimed King of Italy, was installed in the former papal residence, the Quirinal Palace.

Pius, initially a liberal, by the end of his reign saw the world in apocalyptic terms; the attack on the symbols of God (thrones, the papacy, the Church), the triumph of godless ideas (rights of citizens, freedom of those whom he believed were in error to worship and have their "wrong" beliefs accepted), etc. Pius by the end was a believer in the world of throne and altar that had been undermined through the French Revolution. In his view, God's will for government, his anointed kings were being swept away, as power moved to the unanointed masses. In 1878 Pius died, broken by a world he could not understand and which he believed had left god to one side for the world of he 'mob'. It was an analysis increasingly abandoned by most leaders in Europe and the Americas.


Pope Leo XIII, seeing that popular democracy seemed to be on the ascendant, tried a new and somewhat more sophisticated approach to political questions than his predecessor Pius IX.

On May 15, 1891, Leo XIII issued an encyclical on political issues known as Rerum Novarum (Latin: "About New Things"). This addressed politics as it had been transformed by the Industrial Revolution and other changes in society that had occurred during the nineteenth century. The document criticised capitalism, complaining of the exploitation of the masses in industry. However, it also sharply criticized the socialist's concept of class struggle, and their proposed solution to eliminate private property. It called for strong governments to undertake a mission to protect their people from exploitation, and asked Roman Catholics to apply principles of social justice in their own lives.

This document was rightly seen as a profound change in the thinking of the Holy See about political matters. It drew on the economic thought of St Thomas Aquinas, whose "just price" theory taught that prices in a marketplace ought not to be allowed to fluctuate on account of temporary shortages or gluts.

Seeking to find some principle to replace the threatening Marxist doctrine of class struggle, Rerum Novarum urged social solidarity between the upper and lower classes, and endorsed nationalism as a way of preserving traditional morality, customs, and folkways. In doing so, Rerum Novarum proposed a kind of corporatism, the organisation of political societies along industrial lines that resembled mediaeval guilds. Under corporatism, your place in society would be determined by the ethnic, work, and social groups you were born into or joined. A one-person, one-vote democracy was rejected in favour of representation by interest groups. A strong government was required to serve as the arbiter among competing factions. Forty years later, the corporatist tendencies of Rerum Novarum were underscored by Pope Pius XI's May 25, 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno ("In the Fortieth Year"), which restated the hostility of Rerum Novarum to both unbridled competition and class struggle.

Pius X - back to 'Throne and Altar'

- clash with French IIIrd Republic. Abolition of religious orders. Complete separation of church and state

The Church and the Twentieth Century

Pius XI and the Roman Question

Pius XI - autocratic. Determination to solve the Roman Question. Lateran Treaty



Association with monarchists, Carlism, Basque nationalism. Opus Dei.



Fear of communism, and a certain disdain for liberal democracy, made explicit in such Papal documents as Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors, may have contributed to this perception. By the Lateran Treaties, Mussolini granted Pope Pius XI the crown of Vatican City as a nation to rule, made Roman Catholicism the state church of Italy, and paid the Pope compensation for the loss of the Papal States. This gave rise to the impression that Mussolini had paid off the Pope not to oppose his coup.


Pius XI's posthumous encyclical on nazism

Pius XII - silence, diplomacy. Jewish escape networks. Allegations. Scholars' review of archives.

Elsewhere in Europe

The association of Roman Catholicism, sometimes in the form of the hierarchial church, sometimes in the form of lay catholic organisations acting independently of the hierarchy produced links to dictatorial governments in various states.

The Second Vatican Council

endorsement of democracy, freedom of assembly, religion, concept of 'people of God'

Liberation Theology

Association between marxism and catholicism. Allegations of Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Lorschider. FSLN

The Church and Central and South America

Jean Bertrand Aristide

The church establishment and regimes

allegations of official church support for Augusto Pinochet - Church role in coup against Allende.

Argentina. Nuncios' role.

The radical church and regimes

Local church opposition to Marcos, Pinochet, Smith, Mugabe, Apartheid South Africa, the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.


The Eastern Bloc

The Catholic churches of Communist China

Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Text being edited For strategic reasons, it was desirable for the (essentially agnostic) fascist movements of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany to avoid en masse alienation of Catholics. Some critics have alleged that Pope Pius XII was complicit with the rise of fascism. While such claims are questionable (particularly with regards to Nazism?), the Catholic leadership certainly chose quiet, "neutral" resistance over an explicit ideological struggle with fascism.

Fear of communism, and a certain disdain for liberal democracy, made explicit in such Papal documents as Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors, may have contributed to this perception. By the Lateran Treaties, Mussolini granted Pope Pius XI the crown of Vatican City as a nation to rule, made Roman Catholicism the state church of Italy, and paid the Pope compensation for the loss of the Papal States. This gave rise to the impression that Mussolini had paid off the Pope not to oppose his coup.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona