All Borrowed Armor Chokes Us
by Dr. John C. Rao
An Historical Introduction to the Problems of Catholic Action
One of the greatest mistakes of our arrogant age is to think that the past has little to teach it. We Catholics should know better, and formulate our practical daily judgments with a respect for the lessons of our whole, rich, historical tradition. Problems connected with the defense of Catholicism in the political realm are no exception, and in this particular regard, the experience of the nineteenth-century Catholic revival should be of special interest to faithful observers with eyes to see.
Many nineteenth century believers, their consciousness raised by the troubles of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815), were outraged by the absence of Catholic influence over political and social life. They realized that believers had not been permitted to speak and act as real Catholics already for decades before the revolutionary disruptions in France. This silencing of the Catholic voice had not only prevented them from living as faithful Christians. Worse, still, it had created an atmosphere in which it was difficult for believers to discover what the teachings of the Church that affected them as individuals and social beings actually were in the first place.
Sadly, the most powerful of the contemporary culprits muzzling the Catholic voice were the self-proclaimed friends and protectors of Christendom: legitimist "sacred monarchies". In 1815, these had formed a "Holy Alliance", supposedly to fight the revolutionary demons of the Continent on behalf of Christianity itself. But this familiar "sacred union" controlled rather than protected Catholicism, subordinating spiritual concerns to secular ones. Its chains were strongest where Protestants or Orthodox were the legitimate sacred monarchs, as in Prussia and Russia. Nevertheless, they were often equally observable under Catholic rulers as well, whose goals were frequently inspired by the very Enlightenment that had helped to foment the French Revolution. Moreover, clerical political activity under "friendly" sacred monarchies had led to an unseemly service of two masters, with the secular superior getting better attention than the spiritual, and a consequent secularization of the Church's own personnel.
Realization of these unhappy truths caused nineteenth century Catholics to pay greater attention to a definition of the distinct character and primary responsibilities of political and religious authorities alike. They did not do so for the sake of encouraging "separation" of Church and State. Such a separation, given the joint spiritual-physical nature of the beings ruled over by each, was deemed to be a theoretical and practical impossibility anyway. Rather, they were eager to determine exactly how a necessary Catholic influence could be exercised without either impairing the State's just prerogatives or the Church's own supernatural mission.
Many thinkers, clerics prominent among them, began to argue that the traditional dilemma might be resolved by seeking protection for religion from the political and social action of the mass of the Catholic laity. The laity, by definition, had different self-interested concerns than the clergy. As a mass force, it was neither an integral part of the government, nor directly moved by the more suspicious personal aims of its secular rulers. Action by mobilized lay pressure groups would keep the clergy's hands clean of everything but the dogmatic and spiritual guidance which its charism justly involved. That guidance could then itself be improved through cooperative clerical initiatives stimulating better teaching on the part of priests and bishops. Should clerical and lay associations operate as planned, true Catholic doctrine would have an impact on society in a proper fashion. At the very least, clerical politicians would be repressed, and lay activists who were tempted to engage in dubious battles with the government for tainted self-interested reasons would not compromise the prestige and mission of the Teaching Church as such.
Germany's role in encouraging this call to the formation of Catholic associations dedicated to "Catholic Action" was seminal. It began in various lay/clerical "circles", such as that of Princess Adele Amalie Gallitsyn in Münster already in the 1770's, and others in Bonn, Landshut, Mainz, Munich and Vienna by the next century. France and Belgium played an important part in the birth of the movement as well, starting with the Abbé Félicité de la Mennais' Congregation of St. Peter and the Belgian Catholic Union in the 1820's. Countless other clerical and lay societies were added, ranging from the communities of Dom Prosper Guéranger to Pauline Jaricot's Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and Frédéric Ozanam's Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul.
Catholic Action's potential political clout was soon obvious. France witnessed it in the form of a determined resistance to regulations hindering the establishment of new religious congregations and their use in a school system opened to Catholic guidance. In Germany, it was manifested by activist transformation of instances of governmental repression into major causes célčbres. The most famous of these was stirred by the publication of Joseph Görres' Athanasius (1838), and Karl Ernst Jarcke's numerous articles in the Historisch-politische Blätter. It underlined the significance of the imprisonment of Archbishop Clemens August von Droste zu Vischering (1773-1845) of Cologne for his insistence upon application of canonical marriage regulations in legitimist Prussia. Such unfamiliar political outspokenness evoked Gallican and Febronian outrage, and led to embittered demands for a return to humble acceptance of the religious policies of the sacred monarchies.
By now, many activists had begun to believe that legitimist "friends" could do the cause of Catholic liberty no discernible good. Perhaps friendship with groups promising the creation of free, responsive institutions might succeed in breaking the chains on a salutary Catholic Action? An opportunity to form just such an alliance with liberals was offered through the 1830 Revolution in Belgium. This was followed by the contemplation of possible ententes cordiales with a variety of liberal, democratic, and nationalist forces in Italy, France, and Germany, culminating in the heady hopes engendered by the Revolutions of 1848.
Certainly the movement to promote the formation of properly motivated Catholic associations, lay and clerical, did gain further steam in those nations adopting liberal or democratic political institutions in the latter nineteenth century. A glance at the situation in Germany during and after the Revolution of March, 1848 is instructive in this regard. March brought with it the establishment in Mainz of the Pius Association for Religious Freedom, named after the new Roman Pontiff, Pius IX. Five months later, there were several hundred branches of this Piusverein. Their first general meeting took place in Mainz on October 1st, at which time a universal German Catholic Association was created. This then held seventeen Catholic Conferences in the years between 1850 and 1870, giving birth to many more subsidiary organizations, including charitable ones modeled on Ozanam's Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, Adolf Kolping's workingmens' aid association, an aesthetic institute promoting the mystical-artistic ideas of the Nazarenes, the Görres Society, dedicated to scholarly and educational activity, and committees for the Defense of the Papal States and the founding of a Catholic University. The clergy also took advantage of revolutionary chain-rattling to liberate their teaching mission from rigid state control. Ground-breaking episcopal conferences were held at Würzburg from October 22-November 16, 1848 and in Vienna by the spring of 1849. Both the Austrian Concordat of 1855 and the 1867 regularization of meetings of the German bishops at Fulda and Freising testify to an ever growing recognition of the need for an episcopal independence and cooperation guaranteeing effective Catholic teaching regarding political as well as other matters.
Unfortunately, however, the proponents of liberal constitutional government also proved to be false friends. The "freedom" that they were willing to grant to Catholics to defend their "rights" turned out to have an Enlightenment-shaped definition involving certain conditions which were impossible for the faithful both to accept and to fulfill. Activists began to realize that liberal constitutionalism was designed to ensure the victory of an anti-Catholic faction using the word "freedom" to whitewash and justify its continuation of an even more effective state repression in new, hypocritical ways. Crises were already visible in the liberal governments functioning in France and Belgium in the 1830's and 1840's. These multiplied and intensified throughout Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, affecting Italy, the German countries, the Netherlands, and then Belgium and France anew. Sometimes they focused on a single issue, especially that of education. Very frequently, however, the crisis was a universal one, striking not only at education but at the existence of the religious orders engaged in it, the ability of Church authorities to control their dioceses and parishes, the general freedom of association, and the very right of individual Catholics to speak out on any political matter whatsoever: in short, to use the German term, due to a full-scale Kulturkampf or "culture war".
Catholic reaction to such measures was often very impressive. Lay Catholics were particularly incensed over school issues, which directly touched the average family. "They are not going to have it, the beautiful souls of children", Flemish peasants sang (Kalyvas, p. 62). "The generosity and ardor of the Catholics surpassed everything imaginable", one observer of the Belgian scene reported. "Almost every Catholic meeting which I attended at that time", a witness of Austrian passion noted, "was a fiery furnace for the souls, from which a torrent of sparks and flames of holy enthusiasm was generated; a powerful forge, in which the armaments were hardened for a battle for the Cross which now threatened from all sides" (Ibid., pp. 97-98). The liberal-fomented "School Wars" were seen by Catholics as the first step towards the complete destruction of the Church. If secularists succeeded in destroying Catholic education, one activist noted, "the church will then be a building with four walls, whose interior, as the liberals count on, will become emptier with every decade". (Ibid., p. 62).
Catholic lay associations were often called upon by self-conscious teaching hierarchies to fight the good fight in these battles. Thus, Belgian prelates summoned the laity to three seminal organizing congresses in Mâlines in 1863, 1864, and 1867, culminating in the formation of a Fédération des cercles catholiques in 1868. After collective appeals for repeal of nefarious educational laws were ignored, the organized hierarchy and laity moved on to stronger action--teachers by resigning their positions in public schools, parents by refusing to send their children to them, and priests by denying the sacraments to anyone who failed to toe the designated line. A private Catholic school system was planned, and a campaign launched to pay for it. By 1880, this network was in place and had managed to garner the majority of Belgian students. Its creation provoked still more anticlerical legislation. Committees of resistance of all kinds were then formed, with the Catholic press publicizing a petition signed by 317,000 against the repressive educational legislation.
After similar episcopal action, Dutch Catholics also focused on the building up of a primary school network. One ought to note that their organizational vigor was matched, if not surpassed, by pious Calvinists. Abraham Kuyper's league against school reform, and his newspaper, De Standaard, joined with Catholics in a massive petition movement demanding repeal of the Netherland's detested 1878 decrees on secular education. At a time when the entire Dutch electorate was limited to around 100,000 voters, Kuyper's petition collected 305,000 signatures; its Catholic counterpart an additional 164,000 names.
Popular reaction to the cultural wars in Austria came with demonstrations in favor of the Venerable Bishop Franz Rudigier of Linz, imprisoned in 1869 for his vociferous opposition to the changes of the newly liberal government of the Empire. Various lay organizations came into being at this moment, with Karl von Vogelsang's newspaper, Das Vaterland, drawing up a complex battle strategy for the future, economically, socially, and politically.
Perhaps most impressive was the organizational fever initially excited by the Kulturkampf in the German Empire, leading to the formation of the Katholische Frauenbund, Katholische Mütterverein, Katholische Kaufmännische Vereinigung, and a large number of youth, student, and teacher groups. Growth in the Catholic Press was enormous, the Kölnische Volkszeitung and the Berlin Germania being the giants of the media. Most famous of all the associations formed after 1870 was the Volksverein für das Katholische Deutschland (1890), whose stronghold was the Rhineland, and whose secretaries, Franz Hitze and August Pieper, presided over a vast membership undertaking all manner of tasks on behalf of the Catholic population.
Catholic associations seeking not just to overturn anticlerical legislation but also to replace it with Church-friendly laws often first approached existing "conservative parties" to serve as their agents. Such parties would be offered what were in essence contracts. The network of active Catholic associations would do much of the propaganda and legwork for the election of conservative deputies to parliament, with the proviso that these, when winning office, would follow Catholic bidding on state matters touching upon religion.
Results rarely matched expectations. Conservatives were too inclined to negotiate with immovable enemies of the Catholic cause. Gradually, Catholic activists came to loathe conservatives as "doubtful friends", people who were happy to have the support of a religious electorate, but only to twist that backing to serve their own narrow purposes. It thus became clear, as the Italian activist, Ruggiero Bonghi, said in 1879, that this "exchange between Catholics and Conservatives is a great error and is very suspect" (Ibid., p. 225); that "Catholic feeling is not necessarily conservative, and conservative feeling is not necessarily Catholic" (Ibid.). Catholics were not alone in this bitterness, either. The Dutch Calvinist leader and fellow-traveler Kuyper insisted that the battle being fought by all religious people was also "against conservatism; not conservatism of a specific brand but against conservatism of every description" (Ibid.). Although in many places they called themselves Rightists, conservatives were soon understood to be merely "liberals who had been mugged". Conservatives were men who shared with liberals the same basic Enlightenment principles, especially with regard to the concept of economic freedom, but who had simply become more cautious about their implementation in most other realms. Hence the activist temptation to move from contractual agreements to the establishment of consciously Catholic parties of their own. (See, also, Ibid. , pp. 258-259).
Perhaps the first clear instance of such a venture was the "Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom", promoted by Charles de Montalembert and Louis Veuillot's Parisian daily newspaper, l'Univers. This elected 144 representatives to the French Parliament in the 1840's. Another example of early political development was the "Catholic Club", composed of various prelates, clerics and laymen, which was formed at the German revolutionary Frankfurt Assembly of 1848. A third initiative was the Prussian "Catholic Faction", founded in 1851 by August Reichensperger, his brother Peter, and Hermann von Malinckrodt for the purpose of defending the freedoms enshrined in the religious clauses of their Kingdom's Constitution and protected until the cultural war twenty years later.
After 1870, these rather loosely organized factions began to tighten up. Catholics from Prussia formed the Center Party, which also functioned in the new, democratically elected, imperial Reichstag. The increasing severity of the Kulturkampf legislation from 1872 onwards made the party's fortune, since the devastation of the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood during these very difficult years necessitated what amounted to a temporary assumption of church guidance by the active laity.
Belgium, in 1884, saw the formation of the Union nationale pour le redressement des griefs as a temporary "war machine against liberalism" and its secularist educational laws. Although this still desired to work with conservatives, it nevertheless aimed to "absolutely prevent the return to power of an autonomous Right, which would not take into account, as it did [not] in the past, the demands of the Catholic world". The electoral campaign "was animated, enthusiastic, marked by religious mysticism", and helped enormously by the various Catholic associations. Results were spectacular. June, 1884 , saw a triumph over the Liberals which was "more a massacre than a defeat", and the hated laws were repealed (See Ibid., p. 191).
In the Netherlands, Kuyper formed the Antirevolutionary Party, its Declaration of Principles proclaiming consistent resistance to the world of 1789. Catholics, under the guidance of Fr. Hermann Shaepman, were by that time also building a "war machine" of their own out of a federation of local groupings. Despite enormous disagreements and even hatreds, an Unio Mystica of Catholics and Protestants was proclaimed by Kuyper in 1888 (Ibid., p. 194). Both denominations coordinated their support for candidates. The Conservative Party broke up under the pressure, and, just as in Belgium, the Liberals were soundly trounced. Calvinists and Catholics then continued to share power, ensuring their separate, autonomous free development, though the "party" formed by the latter remained an amorphous entity until some years into the next century.
As early as 1868 the Austrian newspaper Das Vaterland had called for an "anti-liberal confederation" of all those who 'suffered from the financial and material consequences of the recently adopted system'" (Ibid., p. 200). A coalition was indeed formed in 1887, holding a convention the following year whose importance was grasped by Karl Lueger the head of the Vienna democrats. Das Vaterland promoted Lueger's leadership of the coalition, and suggested the name Christian Social Party to designate it. In 1890, the parliamentary leader of the traditional conservatives, Alois Liechtenstein, "grew weary of his lack of tactical success" and joined the Christian Socials. By 1897 a permanent central party bureaucracy was firmly established. (Ibid., p. 202).
Troubles, however, did not cease. Parties often had troubled relations with the complex network of active Catholic lay and clerical associations, which they viewed as competitors for ultimate direction of the Catholic movement. Much more significantly, however, Catholic associations expressed the concerns of an ever greater assortment of social groups with divergent interests and agendas, especially economic ones. This complicated the life of a Catholic Party enormously, forcing it to take stands regarding given positions which might satisfy one element of its clientele but horrify another. As Joseph Edmund Jörg noted, "any attempt to construct a detailed political program would be injurious and perhaps fatal to the Party" (Ibid., p. 236). Bismarck claimed that "there are not two souls in the Center but seven ideological tendencies which portray all the colours of the political rainbow from the most extreme right to the radical left" (Ibid., p. 237). Hence, raising the banner of the Church in Danger was the only means of assuring internal unity. It became ever more difficult to hoist that flag when the Kulturkampf in Germany eventually eased, and the more each internal group demanded doctrinal confirmation of its principles from Rome.
Parties also showed a propensity to easy acceptance of new "false friends". Once they had found some way through their initial difficulties and begun to function more smoothly in a given nation, they all too frequently valued their institutional survival more than the purposes for which they were created. When working in a liberal constitutional system, they tended to treat the rules of that system, hostile though they might be, as givens, accepting limitations upon and modification of Catholic expectations. If laboring in a more democratic environment, they began to praise the will of "The People", no matter how rabidly nationalistic, racist, Marxist, libertine, or fraudulently manipulated this could be. Criticism might be met by insisting that everything the "religious party" accepted and promoted was ipso facto, Catholic; as though its claim to be the "Catholic Party" protected it from error in its political defense of Christianity; as though an idea or policy which was notoriously secular and bad could become sacred and good through its magic wand. Victories by opposing parties might then bring down upon Catholics a persecution for supporting positions that really had nothing to do with their Faith at all, but only partisan self-interest.
That parties, Catholic and non-Catholic, were indeed succumbing to such temptations was clear. The Center Party defined religious truth ever more broadly in order to win elections. "Confessional party leaders such as Julius Bachem were repeatedly attacked for setting aside the Catholic basis of the most important organization of German Catholicism in order to substitute a so-called non-denominational Christian basis as the party's guiding philosophy." (Ibid., p. 248). "Catholics must appeal to the ideas on which modern society is based in order to vindicate their belief", Etienne Lamy, one of the French Catholic democratic leaders, argued in 1896 (Ibid., p. 232). An Austrian Christian Social spokesman put it most succinctly a bit later: "in politics the only thing that counted was success" (Ibid.).
Many laymen were dangerously insistent upon their role as religious leaders. Archbishop Victor Dechamps complained to the pope of two prominent and politically active lay Belgian Catholics, both "fervent and good soldiers", but problematic since they "want to command within the church" (Ibid., p. 40). Italian lay activists often ended up "giving directives to bishops, provoking frequent complaint" (Ibid.). Le Temps in 1881 labeled the French activist, Albert de Mun, "a lay bishop who undertakes…a political campaign, and who finds nothing better than to address the authentic bishop like a master" (Ibid., p. 45). One priest bitterly criticized the special pretensions of journalists, noting their claim to a right to resolve doctrinal disputes. "Is not that a stunning victory for laicism?" (Ibid., p. 46), he wondered. Worse still, organizations sometimes moved from liberal constitutionalism and democratic politics to calls for internal Church reform on their bases. Austrian prelates, for example, were told that they "must cease to act autocratically" (Ibid., p. 40) or face the consequences of the wrath of a more conscious democratic populace.
Another problem for Catholic parties came from the hierarchy's dislike of participation of the lower clergy in their affairs. Special circumstances were one thing, bishops reiterated; a general permission for clerical involvement, however, was quite another matter. The bishops' chief grievance--that political activity took priests away from their primary spiritual responsibilities, and also gave them a power base enabling them to speak to their clerical superiors as equals or even inferiors--was more than understandable. The Bishop of Trier was not alone in lamenting, in 1873, that his subordinate clergy was simultaneously guilty of absenteeism and monitoring his own behavior for political correctness. (Ibid.).
Complaints on the part of the hierarchy regarding lay and clerical activism were rejected by many in the Catholic Movement as a sign of the high clergy's tradition of timidity, outright cowardice, or hypocritical protection of its own unacceptable political position. There are, indeed, a number of cases where all these accusations appear to be valid, perhaps most clearly in Austria-Hungary (Ibid., pp. 91, 98, 179). Still, practical examples of episcopal failure should not blind us to the fact that the general critique of the Catholic Movement by the late nineteenth century was the same as that which its founders itself had made of the earlier Catholic political position! Sacred monarchies of the past had bent religious concerns to parochial secular considerations. Clergy had played too great a role within them, sullying their spiritual mission along the way. Now, out of an initial desire to fight precisely such corruption, the sacred political party had emerged, twisting Catholic goals to the divinized requirements of anticlerical liberal constitutions, willful Peoples, and the charismatic party leaders and journalists interpreting the "true meaning" of their desires, sometimes claiming to be the voice of the Holy Spirit in doing so. The Divine Right of the past had not just reappeared; it had resurfaced compounded, with laymen and secularized clerics claiming to protect a twisted understanding of human freedom and progress along with their own political advantage and a corrupted Catholic Faith.
What was Rome's reaction to this ferment? Discussion of Roman relations with Austria, Germany, Belgium, and France would offer nuanced answers to that question. All should be looked at to understand Vatican policy accurately. For my purposes at the moment, however, it is sufficient to bring up the Holy See's attitude towards the above developments in the context of a more detailed examination of the Italian Catholic Action experience.
Italy's introduction to lay-clerical associations began with Brunone Lanteri's early nineteenth century revival of pre-revolutionary amicizie cattoliche. Many Catholic newspapers aided this work from the 1820's onwards, the most influential of which was La Civiltŕ Cattolica, which began publication in 1850. The creation of an extensive network of Catholic associations was seen by most of these journals to be the only means of making the wishes of the "real country" known in the unnatural situation established by the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. This was due to the fact that that Kingdom's liberal constitution limited the number of people who could vote to a miniscule percentage of the population, based upon property ownership and wealth, and insisted that its representatives act only in an "enlightened" manner. Where Catholic deputies had been validly elected, as in 1857, in what was then the Kingdom of Sardinia, they had been excluded as unacceptable because they were Catholic and therefore unenlightened. "When we took part in elections and in many places won a victory", an exasperated Catholic witness noted, "we called down upon ourselves all manner of vexations, and our work went up in smoke". (Invernizzi, p. 22). The real, long-lasting backdrop for the famous non expedit, the papal prohibition of Catholic participation in the political life of the Kingdom on the national, as opposed to local level, was not aggression against the Temporal Power. It was the recognition that participation under current conditions would be a sham. Hence, it was better to stand apart, and, as the Osservatore Romano noted in 1880, prepare for real participation in the future by temporary abstention from the existing fraudulent system.
This temporary abstention presupposed serious work outside of legal, constitutional national politics. It was to the end of laboring effectively as a kind of parallel government that the vast bulk of Catholic organizations and local parish committees came to be coordinated by the Opera dei congressi e dei comitati cattolici, founded in 1874 and given its definitive name in 1881. The Opera met in regular congresses and aided the work of local groups through five permanent sections established in 1884: Organization and Catholic Action, Christian Social Economy, Instruction and Education, Press, and Christian Art. The second section, headed at the end of the reign of Leo XIII by Giuseppe Toniolo, founder of the Unione cattolica per gli studi sociali, was especially active.
By the late 1890's, however, Opera leaders were seriously divided over future initiatives. One group insisted upon continuing business as usual, neither compromising with the existing liberal authorities nor opposing them in politics directly, lest the socialists pick up the pieces in a bitter national political campaign. Another faction, which came to be known as the clerico-moderates, wished to take advantage of certain liberal invitations to form a broad "conservative party" which could then confront the common danger of socialist extremism. Catholic abstention from national politics would thus end, and leaders who had been prepared during that abstention could move forward to exercise direct influence over Italian political life. Yet a third force, many-headed in character, considered business-as-usual as no longer opportune, but viewed the clerico-moderate position as a sell-out to the anti-Catholic conservatism of the "liberals who had been mugged". One of this third force's constituent elements wished boldly to declare liberal economic policies to be materialist and immoral. Some proponents longed for the creation of a distinctly popular Catholic political party. They presumed that such a party would also have a broad appeal beyond the immediate camp of the believers, to open-minded socialists in particular, and would therefore have to operate with significant freedom from the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Priests, Don Romolo Murri prominent among them, played a role within its ranks. Friction among these contesting components of the Opera was stirred by brutal government repression of both socialist and Catholic organizations in the midst of the riotous years of the 1890's, as well as by the failure of the dominant proponents of the business-as-usual approach to make more of an issue of injustices that they, too, abhorred.
At this point, the Papacy became deeply involved. Papal intervention was a two step affair. It began on January 18th, 1901, with Leo XIII's publication of the encyclical letter Graves de communi, which rejected the creation of a distinctly Catholic Italian democratic party. If the words "Christian Democracy" were employed at all, he insisted, they could only legitimately be used to indicate "a beneficent Christian action in favor of the people", not a commitment of the Church to democratic politics. Moreover, as the first of its two words emphasized, "Christian Democracy" could only exist with reference to a grounding in the Christian Faith; cooperation with those of democratic spirit who were materialist socialists was thereby excluded. Even what today would be called a "preferential option for the poor" was dismissed as objectionable by the pope, since a true concept of "the People" had to include all social classes, coordinated into one harmonious whole.
A second intervention came in the aftermath of the XIX Congress of the Opera in Bologna, November 10-13, 1903. Romolo Murri, with a certain support from Giovanni Grosoli, President of the organization, had gained the edge over the older faction eager to continue abstention from national politics in Bologna. An imprudent circular from Grosoli then argued that "old questions", presumably including the issue of the Temporal Power, no longer mattered that much to contemporary Catholics, who were thus freed to confront more serious matters. Although personally content to let the Temporal Power issue die, the new pontiff, Pius X, was disturbed by what he considered to be the Opera's lay-clerical insubordination, and dissolved it on July 28, 1904. Only Section II, dealing with Social Economy, was maintained, in order to emphasize the fact that "beneficent action in favor of the people" was still approved.
The Italian Catholic Movement was then entirely restructured on June 11, 1905, with the publication of an encyclical letter, II fermo proposito. Section II of the Opera became the Unione Economico-Sociale dei Cattolici Italiani. An Unione Popolare tra i Cattolici d'Italia was established on the model of the Volksverein, along with an Unione Elettorale Cattolica Italiana, designed to prepare Catholics for gradual active participation in national political life. In practice, with the hopes for a Catholic Party squelched and the "business as usual" position abandoned, Rome had opted for the clerico-moderate line. The Unione Elettorale gradually pursued the kind of contractual agreement with conservatives utilized in other countries. Its great chance to put this plan into effective operation came with the introduction of universal male suffrage in the next decade, increasing the impact of the pro-Catholic vote and resulting in the famous "Pact" of 1911 of the President of the Unione, Vincenzo Ottorino Gentiloni with the conservative elements of the liberal party guided by Giovanni Giolitti.
Romolo Murri, disturbed by this development, moved on to build a Lega Democratica Italiana, open to direct cooperation with socialists in a way that seemed to indicate democracy's superiority to the Faith as a guide to political life. Such an impression was confirmed by Murri's calls for an internal democratization of the Church. He was formally expelled from the Catholic Movement and eventually excommunicated. Nevertheless, Christian Democrats still quietly remained within the official camp, hoping one day to be able to build a mass party that could address itself outside as well as inside Catholic circles, and continue to allow a joint lay-clerical political activity. Don Luigi Sturzo emerged as the leader of what became the Italian Popular Party, and, after its demise under Mussolini, the Christian Democratic Party of Alcide de Gasperi. This latter formation, sometimes criticized by the Papacy and sometimes prodded by it, would then go on to preside over the most successful secularization of Italian life in the peninsula's history.
Surely, by this point, the problems facing Catholic Action must be clear. But what can we possibly conclude from all their complexity? Three things, as far as I can determine, the first of which is that it has proven to be very hard to deal with the revolutionary policies emerging from the Enlightenment and the monarchies, liberal constitutional governments, and democracies that implement them. These have changed daily life more radically than anything since the beginning of history. It took the Catholic world seven hundred years to come to terms with the barbarian invasions and begin successfully to jell the German tribes together with Graeco-Roman civilization. It should come as no surprise that it has taken more than two hundred fifty years to deal with political and social predicaments posed by a still more powerful invader.
A second lesson is that it will never be possible for the Church and for Catholics to discover an infallible system for dealing with the political and social realm. It has been part of the modern error to presume that some foolproof mechanism can be discovered through which the difficulty of discovering and doing the right thing in each and every new situation might be avoided; to dispense men, in effect, from the labor of living. It cannot. No constitution and no political system is free from manipulation by the noonday devils; no individual from the work required to avoid their seductive appeal. Prudent experimentation, guided by the unchangeable moral teaching of the Church, seems as though it must always be the order of the day in times of crisis and change. It was a good thing for the nineteenth century to have undertaken that experimentation; it would be equally judicious for twenty-first century Catholics to learn from its dilemmas in their own activities.
Thirdly, this flexibility regarding systems dictates that when Catholics participate directly in politics, they do so as free men who understand that the systems within which they work are not their Savior, that they will tempt them to abandon a Social Teaching which inevitably disturbs venal self-interest, and that, unfortunately, they have regularly found Catholics easy targets for worshipping at their shrines and twisting their own Faith in order to do so. Flexibility also dictates that when Catholics judge participation in an existing political system to be a sham, they conscientiously organize their abstention from it in a positive way, so as to prepare themselves to handle national and international affairs responsibly in the future.
Allow me to end with a special warning to Catholics in America. The United States is a vulnerable nation, subject to the vagaries of human action and human history, just as any other polity in the long record of the human race. It is no more divine than any other nation or any other system. It has had an historical beginning and it will also have an historical end. Everything written above applies to the present situation of Catholics in the United States even more than elsewhere in contemporary life, precisely because the forces tempting Catholics to believe in its divinity and benign character are immensely powerful and growing ever stronger. No nation and no system can be our Mother. Only the Church is our mother, and, as Louis Veuillot said, Catholic Truth alone can guide us to safe political action in the flux of changing historical conditions:
The right tactic for us is to be visibly and always what we are, nothing more, nothing less. We defend a citadel which cannot be taken except when the garrison itself brings in the enemy. Combatting with our own arms, we only receive minor wounds. All borrowed armor troubles us and often chokes us.