We’ve seen a lot in the press over the past year regarding threats to religious freedom. Individuals and groups have made headlines in their opposition to new federal mandates which interfere with religious beliefs regarding insurance coverage for contraceptives and marriages of same-sex couples. We’ll undoubtedly see further assaults on religious freedoms in the future.
The Catholic church has been an outspoken defender of religious freedoms during this current controversy. The relics of saints Thomas More and John Fisher recently concluded their tour of several U.S. cities as part of the church’s “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. More and Fisher were murdered by Henry VIII in the 16th century because of their refusal to acknowledge the king as the leader of the breakaway church of England. But the Catholic church conveniently forgets to mention that in the same era when More and Fisher were killed, hundreds of thousands of Protestants were put to death as heretics by civil authorities in league with the church in countries where Catholicism dominated. Also, when Donald Trump first made his negative remarks regarding Muslims last December, journalists were quick to remind us that Catholics had once been the target of nativist Protestants in 19th and 20th century America. What the pundits failed to mention was that anti-Catholicism in the United States was at least partially a reaction to the suppression and persecution of non-Catholics in Catholic countries. See my earlier post here.
Several days ago I saw the article below about Croatia overturning the 1946 conviction of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac as a fascist, pro-Nazi collaborator. No one can deny that Stepinac was an early supporter of the murderous Catholic Ustase. Few Americans are familiar with the story of the bloody Ustase and their alliance with Nazi Germany. See here. But Croatians who currently campaign for Stepinac’s canonization view him as a patriot and supporter of Croatian independence rather than as a patron of fascist intolerance. Survivors of the Ustase and their families are understandably outraged at the canonization efforts on behalf of Stepinac.
But Stepinac and the Ustase weren’t alone. There were many other fascist movements in 20th century Europe that had the full support of the Catholic church including:
- Francisco Franco and Nacionalcatolicismo in Spain
- Antonio Salazar and Estado Novo in Portugal
- Benito Mussolini and the Partito Popolare Italiano in Italy
- Engelbert Dollfuss and Austrofacism in Austria
- Jozef Tiso and the Slovak People’s Party in the Slovak Republic
- Leon Degrelle and the Rexists in Belgium
- Philippe Petain and Vichy France
- The Endecja and post-Pilsudski Sanacja in Poland
For the purposes of this post I won’t digress into Catholic falangism that sprouted up throughout Latin America.
The church used its strong connections with fascist, pro-Catholic regimes to restrict and oppress non-Catholic religious groups, but only seventy-years after the peak of clerical fascism in Europe, the Catholic church portrays itself as the defender of religious freedom. Yes, European clerical fascism is water well over the dam at this point but there’s an irony here that should not be missed or forgotten.
Croatia overturns conviction of WW2 ‘collaborator’ Cardinal Stepinac