How far can the Church and clergy become directly involved in politics? The recent elections in Italy posed the question more sharply than ever for the Vatican. In the northern diocese of Vittorio Veneto, Fr Isidoro Rosolen stood as a candidate for a Socialist party while in Bari Fr Olindo del Donno stood as a neo-Fascist candidate, The Concordat which defines Church-State relations in Italy lays down that no priest or nun may stand as a political candidate, but Fr Rosolen was suspended and Fr del Donno was not. In the first of two articles on the Italian elections, Peter Berresford Ellis looks at the clash between Catholicism and Communism.
THE Italian general election is over. But who will actually constitute Italy's 3 8t h Government since 1945 may well be a problem for some weeks. The Christian Democrats have only just remained the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies, with 263 seats. But, as predicted, the Communist Party (PCI) have made dramatic gains with 228 .seats.
Giacomo Mancini, leader of the third biggest party, the Socialists, who have 57 seats, has ruled out a coalition with • the Christian Democrats unless :the Communists are included. -The Communists rule out a :coalition of Left-wing parties :because they do not want Italy -to be governed by a minority government.
"It is not viable for the -nation,says Sergio Serge, of 'the PCI, "a nation which is on the verge of a grave economic and institutional crisis. A 51 per cent Left majority could split the country in two."
But the Communist solution, a coalition government of national unity between Christian Democrats and Communists, has so far been totally rejected by Amintore Fanfane the Christian Democrat leader.
However, what is certain at this moment is that if Italy is to have the strong government she needs to face her problems, then the Christian Democrats will have to allow the Communists a place in the government.
For the second time within a few years we have seen a Catholic country bringing Communists to power, or near power, by democratic election — Allen-des Chile being the first tragic example. And yet we are taught that Communism is the antithesis of Catholicism. How, then, can Catholics vote Communist?
The British media, in general, appear to have.been very naive at trying to understand the seeming contradiction as to who a man or woman can vehemently protest to be good Catholics in religion and good Communists in politics.
Even award-winning John Pilger (Daily Mirror, June 18) superficially blamed the "contradiction" on the Italian national character and wonderingly asked: "Where eke could ,Communists be Catholics?" Mr Pilger merely demonstrateS his ignorance. One could take Poland as an example: or even Cuba, where Dr Fidel Castro has several times praised the progressive role of the Catholic Church in Latin Amerka; where the Church thrives and Catholic education is given backing and facilities by the State.
In 1969 Dr Castro named a rural education complex after Fr Camilo Torres, who gave his life in Santander for his , religious and social beliefs. In fact, throughout Latin America, Catholic priests and even bishops have found nothing incompatible between their Catholicism as a religion and Marxism as a political, economic and social science.
And while the media wondered at the .sight of Enrico Berlinguer, the Italian Communist leader, going to Mass with his wife Letizia and sending his children to Church schools, they positively gaped at the sight of priests like Fr Fredo Olivero of Turin standing as candidates on Communist Party platforms, Many Europeans, ignorant of the Latin American situation, began to wonder how Catholicism and Communism could co-exist and, indeed, synthesise.
Fr J. C. Zaffroni, a Marxist and Catholic, put it simply: "Marxism is basically a science of social relationships, and a technique which provides the necessary tools to transform society. I accept Marxism as a science and a technique. "Indeed, I also believe that Marxism represents an advance in scientific research and that to reject it means relegation. In other words, I believe Marxism to be a useful instrument and one which we should not overlook so long as it is seen not as a religious philosophy but as a science."
The Italian Marxists claim that they have more in common with, and are perhaps the true heirs of, the original Christian ethic than many devout Catholics who, on leaving Mass, turn their Christian thoughts to ways and means of exploiting the labours of their fellow man.
The idea that Marxism was merely a scientific extension of the original Christian ethic was first propounded by the Westphalian, Fr Wilhelm Hohoff (1848-1923), and concurrently developed by the Irish revolutionary leader and Marxist theoretician, James Connolly (1868-1916). Quotations from the two men have been on many Catholic Communists' lips during the election. "It is not Socialism but Capitalism that is opposed to religion," Connolly wrote nearly 60 years ago. "Capitalism is social cannibalism, the devouring of man by man, and under capitalism those who have the most of the piouS attributes which are required for a truly deeply religious nature are the greatest failures and the heaviest sufferers.
"Religion, I hope, is not bound up with a system founded on buying human labour in the cheapest market and selling its product in the dearest; when the organised socialist working class tramples upon the capitalist class it will not be trampling upon a pillar of God's Church but upon a blasphemous defiler of the Sancturary, it will he rescuing the Faith from the impious vermin who make it noisome to the really religious men and women."
In that we find an echo of the teachings of Christ when he threw the money-lenders and merchants, selling religious paraphernalia, out of the temple. "Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise' (John 11:16).
Not until the pontificate of John XXIII has recognition been given to the fact that Marxists have been more concerned with spiritual welfare in a way that shamed many pious "spiritual leaders". For onb of the important steps made by the Church came in the form of two great encyclicals, Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra.
Pacem in Terris, unlike other papal writings, does not start with a picture of static society divided for eternity by God's will into rich and poor. It is addressed to a dynamic society moving towards an equality which cannot exist without its indispensable corollary — a just redistribution of goods.
It is concerned with the common welfare of all men — food, homes, health, land to cultivate, a better quality of life both physical and spiritual, and above all that, fair distribution of wealth.
In Mater et Magistra Pope John made clear the cause of the present inequalities of society — the capitalist system. Though he did not embark on an exhaustive analysis, the encyclical affirms the workers' natural right to be co-owners and co-managers of the means of production. It is on this particular point that Pope John argued the need for farreaching changes in Western society.
In Italy, the works of Fr Francisco Large Pessoa, who is both a Catholic theologian and a Marxist, are closely studied. He is one of the foremost writers today on the synthesis between the Christian and Marxist ethic, claiming it to be one ethic based on a fundamental moralism.
"Can a Christian be a Socialist?" asks Fr Pessoa. He argues that not merely can he be but he must be, for there is no other hope for progress and welfare of peoples everywhere: that the ideals of early Christianity in no way differ from the ideals of Marxism.
The gulf between the Church and Communists, he says, has been created by the "social encyclicals" which boil down to a simple directive for Catholics not to be Communists because the Pope forbids them to be.
Fr Pessoa, outlining this fact, refers to this as a "taboo" because successive Popes have never taken the trouble to make clear what in Marxist social economic theory they object to
as un-Christian. He says that almost invariably the encyclicals restrict themselves to the emotive language of those who see themselves as being on the "other side".
More importantly, says Fr Pessoa, coming clearly through the encyclicals is the fact that what frightens the Popes is the anti-theism of Marx's own approach to religion.
But Marxists, while uniting in Marxism as a social science, have always been split between the propounder of the social science which claims to have no truck with metaphysics and religious men who, because they are religious, set about producing the application of a humanitarian social science in the name of God.
"The true Christ," reasons Fr Pessoa, "can never be a stumbling-block for those who want to see wealth systematically redistributed, and man, in his totality, given a new value, triumphing over his alienation, and moving towards international and permanent peace and friendship — for all those, in short, who want a socialism that genuinely respects man and his rights."
Continued next week