Santamaria and the bishops in politics


Bruce Duncan is a fine historian — if, at times, somewhat naïve.

In yesterday's Eureka Street, Fr Duncan wrote an important piece on Rosemary Goldie who died on 27 February. Her role at the Vatican over many decades is not well known among Australian Catholics — and it should be.

However, when it comes to the relationship between religion and politics, Fr Duncan demonstrates considerable gullibility. For example, he documents that Miss Goldie met B. A. Santamaria in Melbourne in late 1953 and urged him to keep Catholic Action out of direct political involvements.

Fr Duncan also records that, when the role of Santamaria's Catholic Social Studies Movement was considered by the Vatican in the mid 1950s, 'Goldie did some secretarial work for Cardinal Gilroy' in support of the case he put to Rome opposing Santamaria's Movement.

According to Duncan, Rosemary Goldie supported the Vatican's decision 'that the Movement was to cease its political activities' and 'became dismayed by the Movement's defiance of clear directives from the Holy See'.

It is true that Rosemary Goldie supported the Sydney position (advocated by Cardinal Gilroy and Archbishop James Carroll) and opposed the Melbourne position (advocated by Archbishop Daniel Mannix and B. A. Santamaria) concerning the Movement's role in politics. But it is naïve in the extreme to believe that, during the 1950s, the Sydney hierarchy opposed the involvement of the Catholic Church in politics — while the Melbourne hierarchy supported this.

The fact is that the likes of James Carroll were active players in politics — in support of the Labor Party — both before and after the Labor Split of the mid 1950s. It's just that the Melbourne hierarchy supported the Democratic Labor Party which broke from the ALP at the time of the Split — while the Sydney hierarchy continued to support the Australian Labor Party.

It is naïve in the extreme to maintain that Cardinal Gilroy and Archbishop Carroll did not involve the Catholic Church in politics. Indeed Carroll was something of a politician in clerical gear.

Like Rosemary Goldie, Bruce Duncan much admires the French philosopher Jacques Maritan and supports his distinction between Catholic Action and the action of Catholics. But Duncan overlooks Maritan's own gullibility. Towards the end of his life, Maritan thought it was a you-beaut idea to advocate Catholic/communist dialogue between the Vatican and Stalin's heirs in Moscow led by Leonid Brezhnev.

Bob Santamaria made political mistakes — as I have documented in my published work. Yet on the issue of Soviet totalitarianism he was politically smarter than Maritan. As was John Paul II.

One final point. There is no evidence of Rosemary Goldie — or Pietro Pavan — getting upset when the Vatican used Italian Catholic Action against the Italian Communist Party in 1948. Bruce Duncan should know this — but he neglected to mention that in his Eureka Street piece.

The fact is that the Vatican was quite prepared for Catholic Action to get directly involved in politics when the fate of the Holy See was at stake. When Italian popes and cardinals were threatened by murderous Italian communists, the Catholic Church junked pedantry and did not bother to distinguish between Catholic Action and the action of Catholics. There was one rule for the Church in Italy — and quite another rule for the Church in Australia.

Responses to this article:
'Disagreeing with Gerard Henderson'
— Bruce Duncan's rebuttal of Gerard Henderson's letter 


Gerard HendersonGerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.


Topic tags: gerard henderson, sydney institute, rosemary goldie, communism, santamaria, labor split



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Existing comments

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.

Read Bruce Duncan's full response to Gerard Henderson's letter here

Bruce Duncan | 11 March 2010  

How is it that everyone is gullible except Gerry?

Brian Costar | 11 March 2010  

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