What we are seeing today in the fight over birth control is a revival of a very old, and very dangerous kind of Catholicism. It is not one supported or practiced by most Rank and File Catholics. It is a kind of Catholicism which has done irreparable harm. It is a kind of Catholicism unfit for existence in the modern world.
It was the underpinning of the regimes of Mussolini in Italy, The National Catholicism of Francisco Franco, in Spain; The Parti Rexiste in Belgium; The Irish Blueshirts; The Croatian Ustaše, the Nazi puppet government in Croatia, and ultimately, was the kind of Catholicism practiced by the Sainted Josemaría Escrivá, founder of the Catholic order Opus Dei.
That’s where the story begins and ends: Opus Dei.
Spain, The Founding of Opus Dei
Josemaría Escrivá is the best place to start. He was a catholic priest during the Second Spanish Republic, who developed a kind of Catholicism in the late 1920’s which Fascists found very attractive. He rose to prominence and political influence during Franco’s spain. His book describing Opus Dei was first published with an introduction by a Pro-Franco bishop, which contained many statements in support of National Catholicism. Saint Escriva personally preached to Franco during a week-long prayer retreat at Franco’s Palace.
Saint Escriva has been accused by catholic priests who knew him of Holocaust Denial, and many recall statements by Escriva defending Hitler. Saint Escriva has said that hitler couldn’t have killed 6 million Jews, and that “Hitler against the Jews” really meant “Hitler against communism.”
He famously wrote a letter to Franco in the 1950’s saying
Although a stranger to any political activity, I cannot help but rejoice as a priest and Spaniard that the Chief of State’s authoritative voice should proclaim that, “The Spanish nation considers it a badge of honor to accept the law of God according to the one and true doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church, inseparable faith of the national conscience which will inspire its legislation.” It is in fidelity to our people’s Catholic tradition that the best guarantee of success in acts of government, the certainty of a just and lasting peace within the national community, as well as the divine blessing for those holding positions of authority, will always be found. I ask God our Lord to bestow upon your Excellency with every sort felicity and impart abundant grace to carry out the grave mission entrusted to you.
None of this is to say that all Catholics supported Franco. Plenty of Catholic bishops and priests opposed him, including bishop Mateo Múgica, and Cardinal Francisco Vidal Y Barraquer. I would also like to point out that neither Vidal Y Barraquer or Mateo Mugica were sainted. They are relatively forgotten. Múgica doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page in English.
You’ll notice that this will become a recurring theme in our history of Opus Dei and Catholicism in Fascist Europe. Those who stood against the tide end up forgotten, while those that supported the brutal regimes end up sainted.
And so courageous men that fought a military dictatorship and died in exile are forgotten while Escriva is the sainted founder of Opus Dei. Racist. Fascist. Holocaust Denier. Despite the fact that we know about his writings, his views, his pretension to political power, and his support of Franco, all of these facts surrounding the man have been referred to as “Black Myths.” Catholic authorities deny that any of this happened, and call anyone who dares point out indisputable facts “anti-catholic.” Just like those laws about birth control.
Ireland: O’Duffy’s Blue Shirts
But it wasn’t just Spanish Catholics who supported Franco, either. The current Irish Conservative party, Fine Gael, was founded in part by another catholic fanatic, and an admirer of Benito Mussolini. His name was Eoin O’Duffy.
In the Early 1930s, O’Duffy had taken command of a paramilitary organization and reorganized them into what he called the National Guard. They fought running street battles with the IRA for most of the 30s. They were known as the Blueshirts, and were a Fascist organization on par with the UK’s BUF or Mousollini’s Blackshirts. In August of 1933, O’Duffy planned a march on Dublin. The president of the Irish Republic, Eamon De Valera, banned the march, and ordered the military to stop it. He wrote later that at that moment he recalled Mussolini’s march on Rome and expected a coup. Neither he nor his government knew if the military would agree to carry out their commands.
In the end, O’Duffy backed down, eventually uniting his blueshirts with another opposition party to form Fine Gael. The Catholic Church gave quite a lot of support to Francoism and O’Duffy’s political party. Thankfully, the other parties which had joined the Fine Gael coalition wanted little to do with Fascism, and Expelled O’Duffy, who left with a number of his supporters to form an ultra-fascist National Corporatist Party, and his Blueshirts became Greenshirts.
He took his paramilitary forces with him to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It was a dark day in Irish History when a group of bishops blessed O’Duffy’s Greenshirts who departed from Dun Laoghaire on a German ship, flying the Swastika.
O’Duffy returned to find that his National Corporatist Party had collapsed. O’Duffy was part of a group of IRA extremists who met with the German Abwehr to attempt to set up recruiting for the Russian Front. Thankfully nothing came of it.
O’Duffy’s health failed, and he died in November of 1944. Because of his heroism during the Irish Civil War, when he led an IRA Geurilla group, he was given a state funeral, and a requiem mass was held for him in the Dublin Pro-Cathedral.
Frank Ryan and the 15th International Brigade also traveled to Spain, to fight against Franco and O’Duffy. They were defeated, and Ryan was captured. He escaped to Germany where he operated as double agent under the name Frank Richard, and interfered with German attempts to recruit Irishmen into Hitler’s ranks. He didn’t have to do much interfering, actually, as the German attempts were fairly incompetent. He died in June of 1944, and was buried in Dresden. His remains were returned to Ireland in 1971.
So Frank Ryan, the man who Fought Fascism, lay forgotten in Dresden for thirty years, while the Fascist O’Duffy received a state funeral and requiem mass. Throughout it all, Catholic Priests were expounding on the war with communism, and supporting Franco’s National Catholicism in Spain.
Croatia: Forced Conversions and Genocide under the Ustaše
Not many people know about the Ustaše and its leader, Ante Pavelić. Before 1941, the organization was a radical fascist terrorist group. But when Axis powers invaded, it was given control of Croatia by the Nazis. They shared Hitler’s goal of ethnic cleansing.
Their plan, which they began enacting in 1941, decreed that one third of the Serbs in Croatia would be killed. They specifically targeted the Intelligentsia, all non-catholic religious leaders, all businessmen, all master tradesmen, all figures of cultural importance such as musicians and authors, and anyone else who might have some importance. Another third of the Serbs were to be expelled to aid in ethnic cleansing. The final third would be converted to Catholicism at gunpoint.
The Ustaše were radically catholic, and their leader had personally received a blessing and audience from Pope Pius in Rome just after his ascension to power. Pope Pius wrote of the church’s unique opportunity to reestablish the medieval church/state relationship, and his ministers referred to the ethnic cleansing as Croatia’s “Teething Pains.” The Ustaše’s plan for forced conversions could not have been successful without the participation of Catholic clergy. Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac and other Catholics eventually opposed the regime, but refused to publicly condemn the Ustaše until most of the Serbian Jews were already dead, and supported the forced conversions.
Without the support of the Catholic Church, the Ustaše would never have been able to move from a terrorist organization into an effective government. Indeed, Stepinac had originally welcomed the Ustaše to power, meeting with the leaders even before the surrender and defeat of the lawful Yugoslavian government. The Ustaše’s stated intent to ethnically cleanse Croatia was clear, but the Catholic Church maintained ties with the Ustaše through 1943, when Pope Pius again met with Ante Pavelić. Many catholic clergy directly participated in the extermination and forced conversion. One of the most famous of these was Miroslav Filopovic, a Fransiscan Priest, who ended up as the commandant of a concentration camp. The Croatian Catholic Movement, and Catholic Action, both catholic laity organizations, were mobilized to take part in the Genocide. Stepinac cooperated with all of this.
It was Later in 1943, when the Ustaše had almost completed their plan for the extermination of Serbian Jews, that the Archbishop finally spoke, weakly, against the activities of the Ustaše. The sermons and statements against mass killings did not directly mention the Serbs.
When Tito’s partisans defeated the Ustaše, Stepinac was tried for war crimes. It was portrayed in the west as a show trial, and all of the Catholics who participated in the trial, including the majority of the jury, were excommunicated by the pope. Stepinac was imprisoned for collaborating with the Ustaše, but was released by the Communist government in an attempt to garner the good will of Croatian Catholics.
Despite the fact that Stepinac gave consistent support to the Ustaše, and the totality of his storied resistance was to ask, pretty please, if they could stop killing people, while allowing his own clergy to participate in the genocide and become the commandants of concentration camps, he is remembered as someone who stood up to the Nazis. He was called a martyr by Pope John Paul II.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center had asked that the Beatification be postponed until a full historical review of Stepinac’s actions could take place, but their request was ignored. The truth is, we just don’t know who Stepinac was, where his loyalties were, or the effect he had on the Serbian holocaust. There are some Croatian Jewish groups who say that Stepinac did in fact help the Jewish population, but those claims are treated with suspicion by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Yad Vashem, both of which consider him to be a Nazi Collaborator. We also know that Tito’s partisans included Serbs who were fairly brutal towards many Catholics in revenge for the genocide. Several hundred priests were killed by the partisans, though many of them were serving with the Ustase as chaplains. I don’t know how many, and sources on what really happened are still difficult to find in English. From my research, he appears to have been a collaborator, and appears to be complicit in Genocide. This may not be the case, but I could not find significant evidence to the contrary, other than a few relatively gutless statements.
So despite the fact that he appears to have done little good, is seen by many Jews as a collaborator and participated in a Fascist government, Stepinac is considered a sainted martyr, while those Catholics who testified to his actions in (an admittedly communist) court, were excommunicated.
I could go on, but this post is already far, far too long. I also planned to discuss the Fanatically Catholic Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, who slaughtered 100,000 Jews while being in power for only three months, sending death squads into nursing homes, hospitals, and ghettos. They received support from some priests for their anti-communist actions, as communism was seen by many Hungarians as a Jewish phenomenon. I already mentioned Belgian Rexism. There are others, too, that I studied in order to write this diary.
The notable exception is Poland, where Catholics were victims, but the Vatican has treated this as the rule, when history seems to say it is the exception. I have intentionally avoided filling this diary with pictures of priests giving the fascist salute, but we’ve all seen those photographs many times, and the information here is already inflammatory enough.
The fact is that most of the fascist parties across continental Europe during included a great many Catholics, who saw Fascism as a way to combat Communism. In many cases the Nazi parties were nothing less than Catholic political parties, supported by the local priesthood, and Pope Pius in Rome. The core ideology that linked Catholicism to Fascism came directly from Franco’s Spain. The same place where the ideas for Opus Dei were developed and refined.
The truth, it seems, is that the Catholic Church was not superior to any other organization in Fascist Europe. It was not just Churches and Priests that became Fascist, but Businesses, Stores, Schools, Newspapers, Professors, Architects, Scientists, and almost every other institution, profession, or organization. Because that’s what fascism did. It took over everything, absolutely everything, and the Catholic church was no different.
This revisionist history that somehow the church was different from everything else and stood strong against the tide is a lie, plain and simple. It’s wishful thinking.
The good news is that almost all of the radical catholic fascist groups and parties either no longer exist, or have been commuted into relatively harmless “christian democrat” parties, such as Fine Gael in Ireland. They’ve let go of being exclusively Catholic, and are now simply the remains of Anticommunism in Europe. Many of them are about as left wing as the Democratic party. Many Christian Democrat parties have no roots in Catholic Fascism, though they shared its anticommunist goals, such as Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Despite all this progress, there is one Catholic Fascist organization which still survives today:
The goal of fascism was to have the state take over every aspect of ordinary life. To live under a fascist state was to be part of the state itself. Family life, social life, and the professional world were all absorbed into state and party identity in fascist societies. The intent, ultimately, was for to make it impossible to have an individual life or identity outside of the context of the state.
This is the case, too, with Saint Escriva’s Opus Dei:
From Wikipedia: Opus Dei emphasises the “universal call to holiness”: the belief that everyone should aspire to be a saint, that sanctity is within the reach of everyone, not just a few special individuals. Opus Dei does not have monks or nuns, and only a minority of its members are part of the priesthood. A related characteristic is Opus Dei’s emphasis on uniting spiritual life with professional, social, and family life. Members of Opus Dei lead ordinary lives, with traditional families and secular careers, and strive to “sanctify ordinary life”.
In the same way that a fascist state sought to unite the state with professional, social, and family life, Opus Dei wishes the church to do the same. The intent is to destroy any sense of individual identity outside of the Catholic Church.
The ideas of this organization are uniquely neofascist, though they seem to have modernized enough to dispense with the ideas of ethnic superiority. It’s no surprise, again, that the Catholic archbishop leading the charge against prophylactics is a leading member of Opus Dei.
Jose Gomez is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, and one of the first Opus Dei leaders to be given a position of significant ecclesiastical authority. In the past few months he has fought for a California Ballot initiative which requires doctors to inform a teenager’s parents if she’s attempting to have an abortion, saying “Who could possibly oppose such a reasonable law?” He has called birth control Tyranny, and described the church as the last line of defense. He has held a requiem mass for aborted zygotes. And was the key player behind our current storm in a teacup over birth control.
The reason, ultimately, why Archbishop Gomez has been silent on Troy Davis and other issues where the Catholic Church is in agreement with the Democratic party, is that Gomez is completely uninterested in Catholic theology or doing the work of God. What Archbishop Gomez is interested in is exactly what the founder of Opus Dei was interested in: Politcal Power. It’s about controlling rank-and-file Catholics. It’s about exercising political power. It is about once again uniting the power of the Church with the power of the State, as it was in Franco’s Spain.
Update: I have been provided with links showing that I have been somewhat unfair to Gomez. Catholic Bishops have in fact spoken out on the death penalty, Gomez included. H/t to irishwitch and Villanova Rhodes for the catch.
None of this, though it may be inflammatory, is meant to condemn all Catholics, or the whole of the Catholic Church. Indeed, most Catholics aren’t members of Opus Dei. Most Catholics are relatively normal people, who use birth control and aren’t particularly theocratic. Most Catholics are catholic because they don’t want a church as controlling or touchy-feely as a number of protestant denominations. The services are shorter, and there’s a clear set of things you’re supposed to do. They see it as easier. A lot of my catholic family members see the church as a way of relating to god without all the drama of Protestantism. I can respect that.
Catholics have done plenty of good. For every priest who supported the Nazis, there was another who sheltered Jews. The problem is that most of the Bishops who supported fascism and used fascist methods to acquire power ended up being sainted, while the priests and nuns who fought fascism and focused on doing good for their people and communities are much less well-known, and many of them ended up forgotten in unmarked graves.
In the same way, rank-and-file priests and nuns fought the American propaganda machine convincing the public that everyone could easily survive a nuclear war. This action on the part of Catholics did more, in my mind, to prevent Nuclear war than any other action, because it prevented the government from telling a lie that would make a nuclear first-strike politically acceptable. Many of these priests have since left or been forced out of the Church, while the priests and bishops who opposed them have been elevated to positions of power. There are elderly catholic clergy in prison in the US right now for protesting nuclear weapons.
The problem with the Catholic church is that powerful conservatives are being elevated, while priests who simply want to be servants of the human race are being ignored – or worse – prevented from teaching peace and social justice.
The only people who can stop this process are rank-and-file Catholics. And for them, it will be a hard road.
The laity has almost no power within the catholic church, except for one thing. They’re the ones that attend the services, and they’re the ones who tithe. I’m no Catholic, and I wouldn’t know how to go about fighting the authority (which clearly needs to be fought) but I would suggest refusing to Tithe until the Church reverses its current policies.
If I were catholic, I would refuse to give the church a single red cent until:
1. Jose Gomez is removed from power, and Opus Dei is banned from the church as a neofascist organization. 2. The church ceases exclusively right-wing political intervention, and begins living up to its views on the sanctity of life, such as intervening on the part of people like Troy Davis. 3. The church ceases its protection of paedophiles. 4. The church allows priests to marry. 5. The church allows the ordination of women. 6. The church ceases its persecution of LGBTs. 7. The church accepts the necessity of birth control in a world wracked by famine, and localized overpopulation.
The list goes on. Catholics, I can’t make the list for you, and you might disagree with some of the items on this list, and that’s okay. I can’t fight this fight for you. But if you step out and fight the authority, I promise I will have your back. I will write about you and draw attention to your fight. I don’t know if that means anything, and I hope it does.
Because I know something that some progressives refuse to accept: the only cure for right-wing religion, is progressive religion. If we can get the churches of the world focused on curing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and visiting and supporting prisoners – you know, “the least of these,” and all that other Jesus Stuff – we’ll be living in a better world. But we have to convince them to stop attacking innocent people first.
So Catholics? Let me know how I can help. Because I see the problem, and can point out the people behind the problem, and I can write about the history of the problem, but only you guys can lead this particular charge.
Historiographical NoteThis is a very difficult topic to write about for a number of reasons. First, the Catholic Church does not want to believe that its members, priests, and bishops were complicit in or integral to the fascist governments and parties of the 1930’s and 40’s. There is also quite a bit of anticatholic pseudohistory written about these issues. The response by catholic scholars is overwhelmingly denialist, and argues that the Catholic church was as much a victim of the times as every other religious organization.
There is a way to sort the fact from fiction, and it’s to examine some very specific sources.
First, reading the writings and letters of priests and others who opposed and were horrified by the Nazis. We find in the writings of nonpolitical or leftwing priests statements of disgust in reference to the actions of right wing Catholics. It is the statements of current, active priests that I find the most trustworthy for the sake of historical argument. The statements you read by Saint Escriva on Hitler are not sourced to a recovering catholic, or someone who left the priesthood, or someone who has an axe to grind, they’re sourced to a Catholic Priest in London who knew him.
Indeed, many of the Catholic critics do not criticize the history, facts, or sources, they criticize the people writing the history. Rather than dispute the history, which is fairly clear, many of the deniers argue that the historians are simply writing a political hatchet work because they hate Catholics and Catholicism.
In my research, I have done my best to avoid sources which might be even slightly biased towards anticatholic pseudohistory, and have instead relied on scholarly works from people who don’t care about catholicism, or on accounts from people who despite their experiences remained Catholic. I think this is the best way to come to a position which can’t be argued away by Catholic Apologists as an anti-catholic assault. One of the best books on the subject is searchable in google books here. Wikipedia links have been provided, but remember to take Wikipedia with a grain of salt, as many of the articles on these subjects are very poorly cited and constructed.
I will reiterate one point about my politics. I am not and never will be Anti-Catholic, though unless there are significant changes in the Church’s theology, I can’t see myself ever agreeing with the Catholic church. I count a great many Catholics among my friends and family. I am and always will be antifascist, and that means opposing Opus Dei and organizations like it with everything I have.