Abbott and Santamaria's undemocratic Catholicism


B. A. SantamariaI grew up surrounded by the Democratic Labor Party, the 'Movement', Jesuit Father Harold Lalor and the Labor split. My parents distributed how-to-vote cards for the DLP. My uncle edited the Richmond News for the federal member for Yarra, Stan Keon, one of the Labor MPs who defected to the Anti-Communist Labor Party. That same uncle worked full-time for the Movement and was later Victorian country organiser for the right wing Clerks Union.

My parents eventually abandoned the DLP because of its extremism, and when Bob Santamaria attacked me in 1986 over my book Mixed Blessings my uncle severed all contact with him. So I don't look back with nostalgia to either Santamaria or the Movement. I experienced the toxic divisiveness.

Apparently unlike Tony Abbott who, at the January 2007 launch of Santamaria's Selected Letters said, 'I was lucky to know B. A. Santamaria for the last 22 years of his life, to have attended diligently to his writing and speaking.' Santamaria, he says 'left Australian Catholicism more intellectual and less politically tribal', by which he presumably means there are now Catholics in Coalition as well as Labor ranks.

Santamaria's influence on Abbott's policies has been much discussed lately by The Australian's Paul Kelly, Labor's Maxine McKew, John Warhurst in Eureka Street, Gerard Henderson in the Sydney Morning Herald and Robert Manne in The Monthly. Reference has been made to Abbott's close relationship to Cardinal George Pell, another self-proclaimed disciple of Santamaria.

But more important than the influence of particular policies is the 'type' of Catholicism Santamaria represented and the subtle, even unconscious influence this might have on Abbott.

Essentially Santamaria embraced a form of theological integralism which sees everything in the world as tainted unless it is 'integrated' or brought into the orbit of Catholicism. Integralism assumes that the Church has an unchallengeable, complete and accessible body of doctrine that gives guidance in every possible eventuality — social, political, strategic, economic, familial and personal.

Integralism defines Catholicism in a particularly narrow, aggressive, 'boots and all' way, and argues that Catholic action involves influencing and if possible controlling state policy. Thus Catholics are obliged to do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with church doctrine.

As Santamaria said in 1948: 'the most important objective of Christians ... [is that they] should be capable of formulating or willing to follow a distinctively Christian policy on every social and public issue.'

But what is a 'distinctively Christian' (for 'Christian' read 'Catholic') policy? For Santamaria this was not a problem. He identified Catholicism with his own vision of faith. He refused to recognise that there were other equally sincere Catholics who had other theological ideas about the relationship of the church to the world and the state, people like Archbishop Justin Simonds, Dr Max Charlesworth, the YCW and the Catholic Worker group, who were influenced by the French philosopher Jacques Maritain and the Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn.

Integralism has much in common with Italian Fascism, Franco's Spain or Salazar's Portugal. It is also at odds with the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom: 'Freedom means that all are to be immune from coercion ... in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.'

It is a real threat to democracy and to the freedom that Catholics have to make their own decisions on a whole range of issues, particularly political.

Nowadays Santamaria is praised for being an agrarian socialist and anti-capitalist. While this has made him popular with some aging secular leftists, they forget that these movements are romantic, backward-looking, authoritarian and linked with high immigration rates and the mantra 'populate or perish' with its racist overtones.

So what does this have to do with Abbott? I think it would be worrying if this kind of integralist Catholicism infected contemporary public life. It has no place in a pluralist, democratic state. It is also the manifestation of the kind of Catholicism that was abandoned by serious, mainstream Catholics five decades ago.

Abbott is wrong to suggest that it has made Australian Catholicism 'more intellectual'. It is, in fact, a form of doctrinaire conformism that is the death of thoughtful commitment and is the antithesis of a faith seeking to base itself in reason and understanding.

I am not claiming that Abbott consciously follows Santamaria's integralism. But there is always the danger of osmosis, of absorbing attitudes without realising it. If I were a politician — or an archbishop — I'd want to put considerable distance between myself and the most divisive man in the history of Australian Catholicism.

Read Gerard Henderson's reply to this article.

Paul CollinsAuthor and historian Paul Collins is a former specialist editor — religion for the ABC.

Topic tags: Paul Collins, B. A. Santamaria, Tony Abbott, integralist, democratic labor party, labor split, communist



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Existing comments

The more I learn about Santamaria, [what a name!] the more I think he is a hero who saved Australia from the lunatic left. Why have Labor never come clean about the lies regarding it totalitarian connection with the Soviet regime [very anti-freedom and democracy]Labor were being useful idiots at the time to the most repressive regime on earth, which had been responsible, at a conservative estimate for the deaths of over 50 million people. At the time, Santamaria was a voice in the wilderness. To use Collins' words - I am not claiming every Labor supporter consciously followed Soviet policies but 'there is always a danger of osmosis' and I the osmosis here, concerns the most violently undemocratic political system last century whose effects are still felt. You need to deal with the wilful avoidance of this horrendous truth by the left.

Skye | 17 August 2010  

Paul Collins claims that Santamaria is now achieving some popularity among aging secular leftists. Noting that the Khmer Rouge were decidedly agrarian socialist and anti-intellectual, I can see what Paul means.

Santamaria was by no means unique in that regard; Black Jack McEwen and Joh Bjelke-Petersen could also be so described.

Santamaria formed his views in the early years of the 20th century, when popular understanding of the universe was based on the 'clockwork' mechanics of Kepler and Newton.

Much as the emergence of multi-national empires informed the development of universal, necessarily monotheistic religions in the Axial Age, the emergence of divinely-ordained absolutist monarchies in Europe coincided with the discoveries of Brahe and Kepler, leading to Newton's mechanics.

In turn, this mechanistic worldview informed Marx's proposal, leading to the great wars among the despotic ideologies of the 20th century, during which time Santamaria's views were formed.

David Arthur | 17 August 2010  

Dr Collins does not know what 'integralism' means. It does not see 'everything in the world as tainted unless it is "intergrated" or brought into the orbit of Catholicism'. Integralism refers, not to the Church's external relations with wider society or the state, but to the Church's own faith and doctrine.

Integralism means that all of the elements of the Catholic faith are held together in a comprehensive, coherent, unified hierarchy of truths, truths at the bottom of the hierarchy being no less true than those at the top. Putting it in journalistic terms, Catholicism is 'a package deal'. As such, it is opposed to 'modernism' that states that many of the teachings of the Church should be abandoned as incompitable with modern ways of thinking or re-interpretated so radically that they lose all real content. Nor is it the case that, even in the good old bad old days, Catholics, were obliged to 'do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with church doctrine'.

There are whole swathes of Catholic doctrine and practice that do not come within the realm of civil legislation. Thomas Aquuinas is very clear on this. Santamaria's 1948 statement, as quoted by Dr Collins, is in complete accordance with the Thomist position.

Sylvester | 17 August 2010  

In his depiction of Bob Santamaria and his legacy I'm afraid that Paul Collins comes across as one eyed and partial as that which he critiques.

His piece reads as though written in ignorance of the the historical context in which Santamaria found himself. Like George Orwell (with whom he would have been diametically opposed on many issues) Santamaria was a trenchant and prescient critic of Left thinking that failed to either see or acknowledge the totalitarianism of Communism that was responsible for the deaths of many millions. Like Orwell, Santamaria was intellectually engaged and committed whilst many intellectuals were apologists.
And why Paul Collins believes that agrarian socialism is the preserve of aging secular lefists and by definition also romantic, backward-looking, authoritarian and racist beggars belief - William Morris for one would have been sorely perplexed.
Santamaria and his legacy deserve a more balanced and nuanced critique.

THOMAS RYAN | 17 August 2010  

It is a worry that Tony Abbott, the possible next Prime Minister, regards Bob Santamaria as a role model.

While Santamaria had a perfect right to espouse and promote his model of an ideal Australia and its relationship with Catholicism it is deplorable that he adopted the principle that the end justifies the means. Abbott must know this.

Any serious look at the history of the 1940s and 50s shows that Santamaria, for tactical reasons, blatantly lied about his political activities and ambitions. And he was involved in the serious and unfounded denigration, even defamation, of his Catholic critics.

However good Santamaria’s social, political and religious aims may – or may not – have been, such unprincipled tactics are not those we need in an Australian Prime Minister.

Bob Corcoran | 17 August 2010  

Sylvester's attempt to quarantine Catholic integralism from Paul Collins' criticism by defining it only in terms of some internal self-referencing hermenutic ("held together in a ...unified hierarchy of truths") is destined to fall apart: it is impossible to operate in some kind of religious cocoon for very long before the existential realities of being part of the globe, the environment and society crash through consciousness.

There has been a longstanding tension in many religious traditions between a separatist purity model and an engaged social-transformative model. This has certainly been the case in Christianity. There are also many strategies to compromise or combine the two, many religious institutes being examples.

What Paul Collins says is quite correct: Santamaria was quite immersed in an anti-Enlightenment Catholicism / ideology that was sympathetic to or saw people as diverse as Pius IX to Franco as crusaders for Christ's church, an attitude informed as much by dewy-eyed romanticism about the middle ages as by hard-headed political tacticalism owing much to the Communist movement they opposed.

I think Paul Collins' is correct to suggest that there is a fundamental chasm between the idea that all people have equal and inalienable rights to believe and practice their beliefs and the idea that society should conform to a Catholic Catechism.

Stephen Kellett | 17 August 2010  

I would argue it is distinctively Christian policy to be pro life ( oppose abortion and oppose voluntary euthanasia). The Bible is pretty clear about Thou Shalt Not Kill. People can sincerely disagree about theological ideas about the relationship of the church to the world and the state, but sincerity is no test of the TRUTH.
Catholics can vote for whoever they like.

However it is entirely appropriate for Church leaders to point out the Catholic Church says abortion is wrong, euthanasia is wrong, etc and for people to consider this when voting for political candidates.

The greens and labor have pro "choice"" platforms(but some Labor candidates are pro life, some LIberals and some national party members are pro life, DLP candidates are pro life, Family First are pro life and so are the CHRistian Democrats.

Catherine | 17 August 2010  

Skye makes a common error in conflating Stalinism with communism, non-Christian or otherwise. Santamaria himself arguably did not make this mistake, for it might be said that Soviet oppression provided him with the field evidence he needed to combat the real enemy, non-capitalist economics and all the social reconfigurations that the Marxian theoretical model threatened.

The principal social reconfiguration Santamaria and his followers thought threatened was that which would occur to the long-established operations of the Catholic Church, qua political and social class influencer. This not only explains the drive and consistent determination of Santamaria but the root principle of his rural movement. He did not, to my understanding, support any form of agrarian "socialism" at all: his image appears to have been that of an Australian transplant of European village-community peasantry supporting his vision of the Catholic kingdom in modern (but still) clericalist dress.

I suspect his latter attachment to the traditionalist Catholic movement not only accorded with his innate sensibilities, but because he found his Christ-the-King crusading out of sync. with those Church leaders capable of writing and the many Catholics gratefully accepting Dignitatis Humanae.

Stephen Kellett | 17 August 2010  

Paul, I agree with your argument against Abbott's claim that Santa made Catholicism "More intellectual". It is one of the great tragedies of the intellectual life of this Country that the work of Santa and the industrial groups rent asunder any chance for a fruitful dialogue between the intellectual left and Social Catholics aware of the Social Encyclicals. Such a dialogue may have gone some way of transforming the ideological desert that passes for big "P" politics in Australia at present.

Mark Perica | 17 August 2010  

It was heartening to read the first line of submitted comments by Skye talking of Santamaria being a hero who saved australia from the lunatic left.

Just ask the Presentation Nuns of Windsor Convent who in 1948 had to dress in day garb on the expectation of the uprising, or the Army from Vic Barracks who called on close Colleges with Armouries to remove bolts from their rifles for fear of the guns being taken , then countermanding that order believing Vic Barracks were to be attacked and the guns would be helpful to the Army.

Collins is not the person qualified to attack Santamaria and Pell on
Catholicism as he is not held in high esteem by thinking Catholics.

John B | 17 August 2010  

Thanks Paul for a well thought out article. Our "friends" Abbott and Pell still think we cannot decide for ourselves especially those of us who are NOT male!!

Rosemary Keenan Gwelup WA | 17 August 2010  

Undemocratic catholicism?

Did I miss the chance to vote for the Pope or something, because as far as I know the church has never been democratic.

Having mistakenly purchased your Burn book after Black Saturday, I suspect you understand as much about religion as you do about bushfires and fuel loads -- ie., how to say just the right things to please a specific audience. In this case it is liberation catholics who wish to imagine the Church as "democratic". In the bushfire book it was the greens and bureaucrats who let Black Saturday be as bad as it was (it was always going to be bad, but need not have been catastrophic).

Do you still believe Aborigines didn't burn the bush regularly? | 17 August 2010  

As Howard became a willing puppet for GW Bush and the right wing of American
politics I can see tony abbot becoming a willing puppet of George Pell and john Howard.

It is no accident that the non Howard supporting leaders of the liberals were undermined and destabilized until they fell until finally a Howard lackey got the job.

That is the way Howard always worked to make sure he had people about him that obeyed because of fear.

I am guessing he could not believe his defeat at the polls and believes that he is appointed by god to rule by whatever means.

It will be interesting to see what happens if Abbott does win and has the
unmitigated audacity to try and run the country himself rather than taking
orders from the puppet masters.

My guess is they would be just as ruthless in removing him as they have been in getting him to this position.

doug | 17 August 2010  

Only last year I started getting fascinated with Bob Santamaria and his work in defending Australia from the left. I came across his publication News Weekly that is still in print today.

Christopher Gerald | 17 August 2010  

I was lucky enough once to hear a homily preached by (then Father) Paul Collins in St Pius X church, West Heidelberg - a working class suburb if ever there was one - in Melbourne. It was short, clear and urged us to be kind to everyone we met in our daily life. Christ's message was simple. Love one another as I have loved you.
I have had the greatest admiration for Paul Collins to this day.

And even after reading this article I still do.

But, and it is a big but, I think he has created a straw man in his depiction of Mar Santamaria.

Anyone who has read Mr Santamaria's letters would realise that he was a deep thinker and prepared to change his mind on issues. The last thing he was was a theological interrationalist.
I think Mr Abbott is wrong.

But I also think Paul Collins is wrong.
I'm sorry to say that as long as we have a confrontational form of democracy rather than concentrating on the things that unite us politicians and their supporters will stress the things that divide us, whether they be real or myths.

Uncle Pat | 17 August 2010  

Paul - I am an admirer of yours, but you obviously have an axe to grind in this case. I deplore your criticism of Bob Santamaria. I believe he was a man of his time - influenced by Archbishop Daniel Mannix. He was brainwashed by Catholic theology as we all were in those days! However, he showed decisive leadership, a rare quality missing in today's politicians.

Peter M Budgewoi NSW | 17 August 2010  

Diverse groups bring their principled commitments to the political process and through it must compromise to pass legislation. Reading Collins’ its as if every group except committed Catholics like Santamaria should be politically organised and motivated by the good. Collins thinks it ‘coercion’ to work to see Christian principles and particularly Catholic Christian principles reflected in our laws. In other words when religious leftists political involvement is at worst benign especially because it receives applause from secularists. But Catholics who stand against aggressive cultural warfare instigated by the left, these are considered divisive. If the left stopped their attack on unborn life, on marriage, on every aspect of society informed by the principle of intrinsic human dignity there would be no divisiveness. Serious thinking Catholics feel pity for the deeply confused like Collins and Crossan above – often frantic because they have secularised themselves into quite obvious historical oblivion. I’m a young man who is going right out and buying Santamaria’s autobiography and reading what it is to be a real Catholic, willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem!

Martin Snigg | 17 August 2010  

Hey Catherine
'The Catholic Church says abortion is wrong.' Wrong! It's just the handful of blokes at the top who would deny women's right to abortion. As they have tried to deny women's rights to a range of other things eg leaving a violent marriage, loving other women etc. Most Catholics, along with most other Australians, support women's right to choose. Every survey for decades has shown that lay Catholics aren't more repressive towards women than are other people.

Anna McCormack | 17 August 2010  

This is a really cheap attack on Abbott. Make Santa a vexed figure, and voila! Abbott is tainted by association. Collins proves too much and therefore, nothing!

Paul | 18 August 2010  

If what Zorba the Greek called "your damn books" lead you to the point where you can say: "we'll turn back the boats", then surely you should stop and ask yourself where you went wrong. Otherwise, as Zorba said: "What good are your damn books?"

If you won't re-examine your thought processes when you reach such an outrageous position, what sort of a catholic are you?

Jim Jones | 18 August 2010  

Santamaria was a man of his time. Prior to the fall of the Berlin wall, his apprehension about the threat of communism was not unreasonable. The old DLP was a responsible and often beneficial third force in politics. But the world has irrevocably changed, and Catholics rely far more on their own consciences in making moral judgements. One only has to look at the far smaller numbers of children in Catholic families to know that decisions about contraception are being informed by conscience rather than dogma. An alliance between the highest clerical authority and the man who would turn back desperate refugees on the high seas hardly does credit to our Church. The consciences of many Catholics might also be aroused by Mr Abbott's masquerade as a person of high moral principles when he is really there for the rich and powerful. The days of coercion have passed; our influence on society has to be through love and service.

Llew | 18 August 2010  

'Toxic divisiveness' how true! If the Santamaria/Mannix axis which produced the Democratic Labor Party (neither democratic nor labor incidentally) left, as Tony Abbot claims, Australian catholics more intellectual and less politically tribal its pernicious influence in the union movement brought about schisms which lasted years and by use of its preferences kept the Liberal government in office until the the Whitlam government emerged in 1972. The vilification of union officials and members who elected to remain ALP supporters by the breakaway Santamaria-backed groupers remains a scandal no 'integralism' could expunge.

Joan Thomas | 19 August 2010  

A thought provoking article, I would hope Tony Abbott would recognise clearly the time he lives into today is not the Australia of the 1950's. What is the issue of Catholic's today is we are Christians as opposed to Muslims or one of the other faiths of our multi faith society, I believe Tony Abbot recognises the different Australia of today.

Robert D. Allen | 20 August 2010  

Santamaria, I think, was someone of conscience when there were so many 'mindless' political bunnies hopping around. I am proud that any Australian stood up like He did in very difficult times. His being a catholic is to my mind, very much a part of who he was.

H.G. | 20 August 2010  

As an impressionable adolescent I attended a Holy Name convention in the place of my ill father at which Santamaria was the guest speaker. To this day I can recall the vehement anti Chinese views expressed, which on reflection were no doubt racist. I had hoped that such views had departed along with B A but it appears that this is not so.

Paul Flint | 22 August 2010  

A lively debate. I was quite young but remember that my father, a man of simple yet deep faith and committed to the ALP; he was devastated aftyer being vilified by the DLP zealotsafter mass for not defecting to that party.

As far as I recall Santamaria had little influence in NSW as a result of the efforts of Cardinal Gilroy and Joe Cahill who did not share his philosophy or the views of Archbishop Mannix.These fine men certainly were not of the left and minimised the damage caused by Santamaria.

JAV | 25 August 2010  

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