Fr. Martindale Discusses A Much Controverted Book By A Catholic Author
[A book entitled, The Pope in Politics: ' The Life and Work of Pius XI, which appeared last week is reviewed below by Fr. C. C. Martindale, S.J. The author is Mr. William Burke reeling. a member of an old and distingaished Irish Catholic' family. the Teelings of Syddon and Mullagha. Of this book our contemporary, the Universe, wrote last week : " We deeply regret this hasty and ill-conceived publication on the part of a younger Catholic publicist who has done much useful work and may still do much more."
The Catholic Hetalt1 understands front Rome that British circles there are much distressed by the welcome accorded to this book in the British Press.] By FR. MARTINDALE.
The Sovereign Pontiff holds a unique and universal position, and has to deal with all sorts of matters everywhere. All sorts of men wilt therefore have their eye on him, and he neither expects nor even wishes them, Catholic or not to have all of them the same opinion about his actions. He does not wish the Catholic mind to be numbed, nor the Catholic mouth muzzled.
Indeed, there is hardly a problem raised in Mr. Teeling's book, which we have not heard freely discussed among thoroughly loyal Catholics, ecclesiastical or lay.
A responsible critic, however, will remember that any supreme authority is likely to know an infinity of facts that the critic cannot possibly know, so that the ruler's action will seldom satisfy the subordinate: a student of papal policy recalls that the Holy See is very far-sighted, and thinks in units of a century at a time; and again, will recollect that the Pope prefaces and follows up his decisions with much prayer, and does not expect to wield properly the " keys of incalculable weight." as Leo XIII called them, save through the continuous assistance of the Holy Spirit.
An Impossibility Mr. Teeling says somewhere that it is " perfectly easy " for the English-born Catholic to contemplate the Vatican's political action apart from its religious influence. I should have thought that it was perfectly impossible for anyone. especially Englishmen, to do so. But Mr. Teeling attempts to do so. He says (page 6) "11 do not feel that it is for me even to discuss such matters." But then, since every papal action is inspired and motivated by some religious consideration or other, a writer is forced, if he disregards these, either to leave those actions hanging in the air, inexplicable, motiveless; or, to promote a secondary motive to the first place and to make papal policy look as shoddy as politics everywhere else; or even. to invent. We fear ' that Mr. Teeling sometimes even invents, Thus he says (page 3) that the Pope hoped to bring about " re-union " with the East "so that the growth. of democratic Catholicism in the New World would be counterbalanced." Surely fantastic! Mar Ivartios and the reunited Jacobites somehow counterbalancing •Cardinal Mundelein and the American bishops "in council"!
The Pope's " Obsession"
But we touch here on one of the book's
leit-motifs. The Pope, obsessed by the menace of atheist communism is alleged to see no defence save in dictatorships-none, certainly, in democracies-not even the U.S.A. He is, then, upset by the spectacle of the vast increase of Catholics (and thefefore of biehops), in the American or Americanised world: if he is lenient towards American Catholicism. it is because American missionaries make more converts than the French did, and because America sends him such a lot of money. (If we are guessing like that, i for my part might surmise that the Pope thinks American Catholicism is not too democratic. but too plutocratic, and does not care for a disproportionate influx of dollars into the Vatican. or rather. its entourage). We are. too, to admit that the Pope is personally a strong " Italian ": yields so much to the Duce not only of necessity but by pre
ference: and refrained from denouncing the Abyssinian " atrocities " not only because he was afraid to, but because he did not want to.
Now suppose the Pope does not believe in democracy? I don't myself. I don't believe there is any, or ever has been, or could be save possibly for a year or two in some microscopical State. So Mr. Teeling either wishes the Pope to back up democracy because Mr. Teeling believes in it himself; this would merely illustrate our national habit of wanting the Pope to ap
prove of what we like, or else, because the Pope, by not doing so, is disregarding the special chances of Catholic development within the libertiespeculiar to the British Empire.
But that, taken by itself, would be as opportunist a motive .as the Pope's alleged pro-Fascism. We should have thought that the Abyssinian myth had been well debunked by e.g., Mr. E. Waugh; and cer taittly the Spanish and Russian myths are dying. We should be sorry if Catholics
occupied themselves with "sighing and sigh
ing in vain " for Ambrosian denunciations from the Papal Throne. We fear that they would be in tune with what Mr. Waugh calls, I think, the peevish whinny " of the Nonconformist Conscience.
It would be fun-but cruel fun?-to confront Mr. Teeling with Mr. J. S. Barnes,
author of Half a Life Left. He, at any rate, did follow the Abyssinian campaign from start to finish; can put up a good case for Mussolini; and would be more capable than most of explaining our muddle-headedness, sentimentalism, and gullibility to the logical, realistic and caustic Italian-as for our good qualities, the Pope knows them, and often enumerates them.
Disappointing We have tried to indicate the matter of the book's real argument, and have not trotted up, nor vituperated, its personalities -Mr. Teeling does not like the Holy Father's mannerisms. Italianism : Authoritarianism: distrust of America: inattention to the British brand of liberty-these seem to me to be the book's real topics.
We can now say that it doubly disappoints us.
A book on .the subject needed to be written; but perhaps not yet: and certainly not this one. And again, when the author was studying distressed areas, his articles in The Times showed at what pains he had been to collect first hand evidence, to amass details, and to draw none but tentative and modest conclusions. But there, his area of investigation • was narrow.
Here it is vastly too large for him to have done much save scurry across it. He learns many facts; but is unsure of his perspective : he listens.to too much gossip.
He accepts the vulgar valuation of words -" reactionary ": " propaganda." " Reaction " is often desirable : " propaganda " need, and should never mean " shoving " religion down people's throats. At times, he makes substantial errors, as when talking of Catholic Action " and all that it implies," and practically advising our hierarchy not to introduce it into England, where it would be a " tragedy " (page 263) : leave it to " less developed and less independent races"-in fact, only in the mission-field can it be " well practised," where there are " races who are, most of them, still inferior to the Italians." Yes: " the organisation chosen by the Pope for all Catholics is no doubt very useful for these native races who are just accepting Christianity." We could hardly imagine a more offensive statement of a sillier sentiment.
If he happens to know that there are Englishmen (and I think there are) who imagine Catholic Action to mean what he suggests, his sole duty was to correct them. What surprises me is that he did not allege the only real obstacle to "Catholic Action," which is, the fear of some of the clergy lest the laity obtain " too much power."
Skipping the Facts
We note the sketchiness of the chapters on Japan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand; and we think the pages on Spain to be positively misleading. The author's vision of the Church as manned almost entirely by the aged, and the consequent revolt of the young against what does not suit them, is false to fact, and reminds me of what a girl said to a (undoubtedly middle-aged) friend of mine : "Oh well : you're over 25: you have no right to an opinion . . ."
We are sorry to have had to write thus about this book. It will be much misused by those who are only too glad to accept as valid the impressions of its author. He is talented, travelled, and ambitions. But we fear that it will be by no means only the comfortable and complacent Catholic -who certainly needs some shocks-who will for a long time mistrust his judgment and doubt his intuition. We regret this the more, because, we repeat, his talents arc real, and the services that he could render to peace and goodwill arc still remarkable.