Defending Abbott and Santamaria

How times change. Early in the 20th Century, it was Protestant Orangemen who warned Australians not to vote for a Catholic. In the early 21 Century, such warnings are now delivered by a former Catholic priest in a publication of the Jesuit Order.

As Eureka Street readers who have followed my work will know, I have been a considered critic of the late B. A. Santamaria over the past three decades. This is evident in my book Mr Santamaria and the Bishops — and elsewhere. However, I am concerned about the extent to which Santamaria's many opponents have exaggerated the case against him and those who associated with him.

Paul Collins is a case in point. In his article titled 'Abbott and Santamaria's undemocratic Catholicism', Collins projects his considerable dislike of B. A. Santamaria onto the Opposition leader Tony Abbott. In his piece, Collins makes a number of assertions — none of which are documented. They deserve correction or clarification.

Collins claims that Cardinal George Pell is 'another self-proclaimed disciple of Santamaria'. I am not aware that George Pell has ever said that he was a 'disciple' of Santamaria. Nor am I aware that Abbott has ever declared himself as one of Santamaria's 'disciples' — although he has described Santamaria as 'my first political mentor'.

Collins asserts that 'essentially Santamaria embraced a form of theological integralism'. I am not aware that Santamaria ever proclaimed such a commitment.

Collins maintains that Santamaria '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'.

In fact, Santamaria did not doubt the sincerity of the people named by Collins. He just happened to disagree with them on politics. That's all. The late Xavier Connor (who was associated with the Catholic Worker group) told me that he enjoyed a warm personal relationship with Santamaria — despite the fact they had disagreed on the relationship between religion and politics for decades.

Collins' claim that 'integralism has much in common with Italian Fascism, Franco's Spain or Salazar's Portugal' is a cheap shot. First, Collins identifies Santamaria with integralism. Then he links integralism with Italian Fascism. Quite a debating trick, when you think about it.

Santamaria, like the rest of us, had many faults. But support for Italian Fascism was not one of them — and Collins has not supplied any evidence to the contrary.

Collins links Santamaria's support for immigration to 'the mantra "populate or perish" with its racist overtones'.

Another cheap shot. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the view that Santamaria was in any sense racist. Indeed Santamaria and his colleagues were ahead of both the Labor and Liberal parties in advocating the abolition of the White Australia Policy.

Collins opines that 'Abbott is wrong to suggest that [integralism] has made Australian Catholicism "more intellectual"'. I am not aware that Abbott has ever commented on integralism — and Collins does not quote any sources in support of his implied assertion. This is mere verballing.

So, what is the point of Paul Collins' Eureka Street piece? It seems that he is saying that Abbott and the Coalition should not be supported at the election on Saturday because, by the process of 'osmosis', Abbott might have absorbed Santamaria's integralism without knowing it. That's about it.

The fact is that Santamaria discouraged Abbott from seeking Liberal Party pre-selection. Moreover, during his years as a minister in the Howard Government, Abbott did not act as an integralist Catholic — whatever that might mean.

Gerard HendersonGerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.

Topic tags: Gerard Henderson, Santamaria, abbott, labor split, democratic labor party, archbishop mannix



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Existing comments

Did Paul Collins write another article about B. A. Santamaria that must have been elsewhere in Eureka Street? I had no idea Collins was urging us not to vote for Tony Abbott because he was a Catholic.

Brian Davies | 17 August 2010  

Once again gerard henderson shows rational thought and commonsense.

margaret bateman | 18 August 2010  

Great to see Eureka Street feature a letter like this. Too many of its articles are from the same side of the street. It is much more interesting reading to have a debate like this. More of it please.

Patrick James | 18 August 2010  

Gerard, Thank you for your lucid, persuasive and hard hitting comment. ES has much to gain when you enter a controversy such as this.

Rosemary | 18 August 2010  

B-b-but... Tony Abbott makes Dave Hughes' wife cry!

To quote The Simpsons, "There, there. Your tears say more than real evidence ever could."

I'm reluctant to criticise GetUp! because, given their batting average in the federal courts, in another two weeks it will probably be unconstitutional to use the word "border control"... but surely saying "Don't vote for anyone who might make Dave Hughes" - Dave Hughes! - "upset" is really stretching a point?

R Blaine | 19 August 2010  

I agree with Gerard Henderson "How times Change". Early in the 20th century, it was Protestant Orangemen who warned Australians not to vote for a Catholic. Now Protestans are the ones supporting Tony Abbott. Rev Fred Nile is a strong supporter of Tony Abbott because we share our Christian values, Pro-God, Pro-Family and Pro-Life. I have the Greatest respect and admiration for Fred Nile, and I have a great disdain of "SOME" Catholic Bishops, Priests, Religious men and women and Lay people who ridicule or attack the Pope,Cardinal Pell and loyal Catholics, loyal to the Pope and loyal to the Magisterium. For those Catholics who are not politically aware, please check the Greens' policies.

Ron Cini | 19 August 2010  

After the Guernica-bombing atrocity came an antifascist protest meeting at Uni of Melbourne. Newman-College-based blackshirt claque headed by B.A. Santamaria tried to break it up, yelling ¡VIVA EL CRISTO RE! - Falangist slogan. Fascist? You betcha! See also James Duhig & Norman Gilroy.

james marchment | 09 January 2014  

On another site the ignorant are blaming the Society of Jesus for the excesses of Inquisition (where these were due largely to Dominicans & puppy-loving OFMs) Time for an article on the many respected, befriended & PROTECTED by Jesuits, as Galileo was by Bellarmine. How about it? SJs rule, OK!

james marchment | 09 January 2014  

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