Disagreeing with Gerard Henderson

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Dr Gerard Henderson has done me the courtesy of responding to my article on Rosemary Goldie in relation to Bob Santamaria's Movement. But I am afraid I must disagree with him.

First, he is mixing up different ways in which the Church can relate to political parties. The type of politics the Movement espoused was that of a secret organisation, ostensibly under the control of the bishops, infiltrating the Labor Party with a view to implementing Santamaria's interpretation of Catholic social teaching.

The intervention of the Sydney hierarchy (and other bishops) against Santamaria, quite on the contrary, was to extract the Church from this dangerous political entanglement. At no time did the Sydney hierarchy attempt to take control of the Labor Party or use it in the way Santamaria envisaged. Even before Evatt's denunciation of the Movement, the Sydney bishops had tried to curtail its political activities. How could they have stood aside and let Santamaria pursue his political strategy during the Split — on the supposition that the bishops demanded Catholics support him as a religious duty?

It is true, as I have acknowledged elsewhere, that Archbishop Carroll was close to Labor figures in NSW and elsewhere, particularly trying to resolve the question of State Aid for Church schools. But I have not seen the slightest evidence that Cardinal Gilroy had any involvement in Labor politics, beyond maintaining the courtesies required of the head of the Church in Sydney and the governments of the day. On the contrary, I have been told that he tried to keep a good distance from anything political.

Second, as for Maritain's 'gullibility', I fear Dr Henderson does him a grave injustice in so cavalierly dismissing him as favouring the 'you-beaut idea to advocate Catholic/communist dialogue'. Maritain was strongly opposed to communist ideology, and wrote books critiquing it stringently. But he also recognised it contained positive elements, some of which he said were drawn with the Gospels.

Maritain lectured on social issues in Spain in 1934, lectures which were published in his famous book, True Humanism. He was not an arm-chair philosopher, but was very involved in the debates over the Spanish Civil War. As a member of the French Peace Committee, he campaigned for a negotiated end to the carnage.

He particularly objected to the 'crusade mentality' on both sides of the conflict, which depicted the struggle in quasi-Manichaean terms, as a straight-out conflict between God and the devil, Good and evil. This demonising of opponents meant that one's enemy was not seen as a human being, but a n embodiment of evil that had to be eliminated. The result was a widespread failure to observe human rights and the rules of war.

Having been a socialist himself before his conversion, Maritain had friends who were socialists, and he understood the force of socialist or communist social critiques. Despite differences of view, he insisted that people still had to be treated civilly, and so he favoured dialogue with ideological opponents.

Maritain was of course aware of the atrocities committed by Stalin and others in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Yet where he thought it might help, he favoured dialogue with communists in an effort to reduce political tensions and the threat of nuclear war, and to try to protect Catholics and other believers who had suffered astonishing hardship under the communists. There was no compromise of principle involved with these efforts.

These were not just Maritain's ideas. They were also those of the Vatican with its Ostpolitik under Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, with the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Casaroli, a key figure. These policies were also supported by Pope John Paul II, who endorsed Casaroli in his endeavours.

Thirdly, as for Dr Henderson's assertion that there is no evidence of Goldie or Pavan 'getting upset when the Vatican used Italian Catholic Action against the Italian Communist Party in 1948', for goodness sake: Goldie was not even in Italy at that time and Pavan did not then have such influence. The Permanent Secretariat for International Congresses of Catholic Action in Rome formed only in 1952, which Goldie joined in October, leaving her position with Pax Romana in Fribourg, Switzerland.

Certainly there were debates in Italy about the extent to which the Church should be directly involved in Italian politics, and Santamaria thought that Professor Gedda's role in Catholic Action indicated that the papacy approved a direct political role for Catholic Action in politics. In this he was mistaken about Gedda, because at the 1948 election, the Church and Catholic Action insisted all Catholics had to vote, but they did not tell them for whom to vote, though most would have voted for the Christian Democrats.

Nevertheless, the Christian Democrat leaders were strongly of the view that their party should be independent and not under the control of Catholic Action or the Church. They firmly opposed Gedda's political manoevering. Many of the Christian Democrat leaders had been strongly influenced by their university chaplain, J. B. Montini (later Pope Paul VI), who regarded Maritain as his political philosopher.

Finally, the Permanent Secretariat for International Congresses of Catholic Action was concerned that in various countries, Catholic Action movements, which were formal Church organisations under the control of the bishops, could become involved in partisan political entanglements, even against the wishes of the bishops, as happened in Australia. The Secretariat firmly endorsed the view that Catholics in political parties act on their own responsibility, but with the inspiration of Church social teaching. These ideas were widely endorsed in Europe and elsewhere, especially after the experience of Fascism, the Nazis and World War II. They were also authoritatively endorsed by the Second Vatican Council.

In Australia, Maritain's views helped form the intellectual opposition to Santamaria's adventures among his erstwhile colleagues and members in the Campion Society, the Catholic Worker groups, and the YCW, from the early years of the Movement. The puzzle is why Santamaria so comprehensively ignored Maritain's views.

Bruce DuncanBruce Duncan CSsR lectures at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne and is Director of the Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy.

Topic tags: bruce duncan, rosemary goldie, gerard henderson, communism, labor split, santamaria



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Existing comments

Thanks for the interesting background to Rosemary Goldie, the Vatican and Santamaria's movement. I especially appreciate your explanation of the subtleties of Maritain's philosophy and the way he applied it in practice, and the tragedy of Spain. With regard to the latter, am I wrong in thinking that Santamaria was a supporter of Franco's fascist regime?

Carlo Canteri | 20 October 2012  

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