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The relations between the Catholic Church and the State have been constantly evolving with various forms of government, some of them controversial in retrospect. In its history it has had to deal with various concepts and systems of governance, from the Roman Empire to the mediæval divine right of kings, from nineteenth and twentieth century concepts of democracy and pluralism to the appearance of left- and right-wing dictatorial regimes.

Catholicism and the Roman Emperors

Christianity emerged in the 1st century as one of many new religions in the Roman Empire. Early Christians were persecuted as early as 64 A.D. when Nero ordered large numbers of Christians executed in retaliation for the Great Fire of Rome. Christianity remained a minority religion in the empire for several centuries climaxing in the repression of Galerius in 303. Following Constantine the Great's victory on Milvian Bridge, which he attributed to a Christian omen he saw in the sky, the Edict of Milan declared that the empire would no longer sanction persecution of Christians. Following Constantine's deathbed conversion in 337 all emperors adopted Christianity, except for Julian the Apostate who, during his brief reign, attempted unsuccessfully to re-instate paganism.

In the Christian era the Church came to accept it was the Emperor's duty to use secular power to enforce religious unity, anyone within the Church who did not subscribe to Catholic Christianity was seen as a threat to the dominance and purity of "the one true faith" and they saw it as their right to defend this by all means at their disposal.[1]

In discussing this era, the term "Roman Catholicism" is, perhaps, an anachronism, but this was the era in which Roman Catholicism became an identifiable stream within Christianity and in which Christianity first began to transform from an outlawed religion to one with links to political authorities.

Beginning with Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire some historians have taken the view that Christianity weakened the Roman Empire through its failure to preserve the pluralistic structure of the state. Pagans and Jews lost interest and the Church drew the most able men into its organisation to the detriment of the state.[2]

Some historians have argued that the institution of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire mixed secular and temporal power in a way which would lead to problems for both church and state and which can ultimately only be resolved through the separation of church and state. The question of the proper delineation of church and state remains an open question to this day.

The papacy and the Divine Right of Kings

The doctrine of the divine right of kings came to dominate mediæval concepts of kingship, claiming biblical authority (Epistle to the Romans, chapter 13). Augustine of Hippo in his work The City of God had stated his opinion that while the City of Man and the City of God may stand at cross-purposes, both of them have been instituted by God and served His ultimate will. Even though the City of Man --- the world of secular government --- may seem ungodly and be governed by sinners, it has been placed on earth for the protection of the City of God. Therefore, monarchs have been placed on their thrones for God's purpose, and to question their authority is to question God. Although it is worth mentioning that Augustine also said "a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all" and Thomas Aquinas indicated laws "opposed to the Divine good" must not be observed.[3] However it was discouraged for Roman Catholics to take action to overthrow even tyrannical governments.

This belief in the god-given authority of monarchs was central to the Roman Catholic vision of governance in the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Ancien Régime. Although this was most true of what would later be termed the ultramontaine party and the Catholic Church has recognized, on an exceptional basis, Republics as early as 1291 in the case of San Marino.[4] It believed that only God, and the Roman Catholic Church itself as God's agent, could depose a monarch. In a society based on an alliance of throne and altar, the Church itself became part of the mediæval governing elite. A senior cleric, usually an archbishop or cardinal anointed and crowned a monarch. Emperors were crowned by the Pope, starting with Charlemagne and continuing throughout the Holy Roman Empire.

During early medieval times, a near-monopoly of the Church in matters of education and of literary skills accounts for the presence of churchmen as their advisors. This tradition continued even as education became more widespread. Prominent examples of senior members of the church hierarchy who advised monarchs were Thomas Cardinal Wolsey in England, and Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin in France; prominent, devoutly Catholic laymen like such as Sir Thomas More also served as senior advisors to monarchs.

Besides advising monarchs, the Church held direct power in mediaeval society as a landowner, a power-broker, a policy maker, etc. Some of its bishops and archbishops were feudal lords in their own right, equivalent in rank and precedence to counts and dukes. Some were even sovereigns in their own right, and the Pope himself ruled the Papal States. Bishops played a prominent role in Holy Roman Empire as electors. As late as the 18th century, in the era of the Enlightenment, Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, preacher to Louis XIV, defended the doctrine of the divine right of kings and absolute monarchy in his sermons. The Church was a model of hierarchy in a world of hierarchies, and saw the defence of that system as its own defence, and as a defence of what it believed to be a god-ordained system.

During the French Wars of Religion, the Monarchomachs began to contest the divine right of kings, setting up the bases for the theory of popular sovereignty and theorizing the right of tyrannicides.

The French Revolution

The central principle of the medieval, Renaissance and ancien régime periods, monarchical rule 'by God's will', was fundamentally challenged by the 1789 French Revolution. The revolution began as a conjunction of a need to fix French national finances and a rising middle class who resented the privileges of the clergy (in their role as the First Estate) and nobility (in their role as the Second Estate). The pent-up frustrations caused by lack of political reform over a period of generations led the revolution to spiral in ways unimaginable only a few years earlier, and indeed unplanned and unanticipated by the initial wave of reformers. Almost from the start, the revolution was a direct threat to clerical and noble privilege: the legislation that abolished the feudal privileges of the Church and nobility dates from August 4, 1789, a mere three weeks after the fall of the Bastille (although it would be several years before this legislation came fully into effect).

At the same time, the revolution also challenged the theological basis of royal authority. The doctrine of popular sovereignty directly challenged the former divine right of kings. The king was to govern on behalf of the people, and not under the orders of God. This philosophical difference over the basis of royal and state power was paralleled by the rise of a short-lived democracy, but also by a change first from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and finally to republicanism.

Under the doctrine of the divine right of kings, only the Church or God could interfere with the right of a monarch to rule. Thus the attack on the French absolute monarchy was seen as an attack on God's anointed king. In addition, the Church's leadership came largely from the classes most threatened by the growing revolution. The upper clergy came from the same families as the upper nobility, and the Church was, in its own right, the largest landowner in France.

The revolution was widely seen, both by its proponents and its opponents, as the fruition of the (profoundly secular) ideas of the Enlightenment. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, voted by the National Constituent Assembly, seemed to some in the church to mark the appearance of the antichrist, in that they excluded Christian morality from the new 'natural order'. The fast-moving nature of the revolution far outpaced Roman Catholicism's ability to adapt or come to any terms with them.

In speaking of "the Church and the Revolution" it is important to keep in mind that neither the Church nor the Revolution were monolithic. There were class interests and differences of opinion inside the Church as well as out, with many of the lower clergy—and a few bishops, such as Talleyrand -- among the key supporters of the early phases of the revolution. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which turned Church lands into state property and the clergy into employees of the state, created a bitter division within the church between those "jurors" who took the required oath of allegiance to the state (the abbé Grégoire or Pierre Daunou) and the "non-jurors" who refused to do so. A majority of parish priests, but only four bishops, took the oath.

As a large-scale landowner tied closely to the doomed ancien regime, led by people from the aristocracy, and philosophically opposed to many of the fundamental principles of the revolution, the Church, like the absolute monarchy and the feudal nobility, was a target of the revolution even in the early phases, when leading revolutionaries such as Lafayette were still well-disposed toward King Louis XVI as an individual. Instead of being able to influence the new political elite and so shape the public agenda, the Church found itself sidelined at best, detested at worst. As the revolution became more radical, the new state and its leaders set up its own rival deities and religion, a Cult of Reason and, later, a deistic cult of the Supreme Being, closing many Catholic churches, transforming cathedrals into "temples of reason", disbanding monasteries and often destroying their buildings (as at Cluny), and seizing their lands. In this process many hundreds of Catholic priests were killed, further polarising revolutionaries and the Church. The revolutionary leadership also devised a revolutionary calendar to displace the Christian months and the seven-day week with its sabbath. Catholic reaction, in anti-revolutionary risings such as the revolt in the Vendée were often bloodily suppressed.

France after the Revolution

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1799, he began the process of coming back to terms with the Catholic Church. The Church was reestablished in power during the Bourbon Restoration, with the ultra-royalists voting laws such as the Anti-Sacrilege Act. The Church was then strongly counter-revolutionary, opposing all changes made by the 1789 Revolution. The July Revolution of 1830 marked the end of any hope of a return to the ancien regime status of an absolute monarchy, by establishing a constitutional monarchy. The most reactionary aristocrats, in favor of an integral restoration of the Ancien Régime and known as Legitimists, began to retire from political life.

However, Napoleon III's regime did support the Pope, helping to restore Pope Pius IX as ruler of the Papal States in 1849 after there had been a revolt there in 1848. Despite this official move, the process of secularism continued throughout the 20th century, culminating with the Jules Ferry laws in the 1880s and then with the 1905 law on separation of the Church and the state, which definitely established state secularism (known as laïcité).

The Church itself remained associated with the Comte de Chambord, the Legitimist pretender to the throne. It was only under Pope Leo XIII (r: 1878-1903) that the Church leadership tried to move away from its anti-Republican associations, when he ordered the deeply unhappy French Church to accept the Third French Republic (1875–1940) (Inter innumeras sollicitudines encyclical of 1892). However, his liberalising initiative was undone by Pope Pius X (r: 1903-1914), a traditionalist who had more sympathy with the French monarchists than with the Third Republic.

Catholicism in the United Kingdom and Ireland

Following William of Orange's victories over King James II, by 1691 the supremacy of Protestantism was entrenched throughout the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. The economic and political power of Catholics, especially in Ireland, was severely curtailed. This was reinforced by the introduction of the Penal Laws. The practice of Catholicism (including the celebration of Mass) was made illegal as Catholic priests celebrated the sacraments at risk of execution by law.

However, towards the end of the eighteenth century a rapprochement began to develop between London and the Vatican. Britain's activities abroad and relations with Catholic countries were hampered by the tension that existed between it and the Church, and it was eager to persuade the Church to end its moral support for Irish separatism. Likewise, the Church was keen to send missionaries to the newly-conquered colonies of the British Empire, especially Africa and India, and to ease the restrictions on its British and Irish adherents. Britain began to phase out the penal laws, and in 1795 it financed the building of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, a seminary for the training of Catholic priests, in County Kildare. In return, the Church agreed to actively oppose Irish separatism, which it duly did in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It has continued this policy right up to the present day, condemning each successive attempt by Irish republicanism to achieve independence from Britain through violence. Catholic missions to Africa began early in the 1800s.

Pius IX and the 'errors of the world'

The nineteenth century was dominated by attitudes shaped by the French Revolution and its aftermath. The concept of revolution as a means of achieving dramatic change had grown in popularity, as had the belief that the citizenry had rights. These ideas became of particular importance in the Italian peninsula, which was divided up between a number of states, notably the Kingdom of Piedmont to the north, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the south, and in between the Patrimony of St. Peter, more commonly known as the Papal States, a collection of states controlled by the Pope for many centuries.

Growing Italian nationalistic demands for the creation of an all-Italy state came to a head in the 1840s. In 1846 the liberal-leaning Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti became Pope Pius IX. Pius's liberal policies, in contrast with the autocracy of his predecessors, led to growing belief that under him the Papal States would not stand in the way of Italian unification. However the 1848 outbreak of revolution in Italy (alongside France, where King Louis Philippe lost his throne, in Austria and even unsuccessfully in tame versions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, shocked Pius, who himself, when unwilling to support Italian nationalism, was forced to flee into exile, producing a short-lived Roman Republic. Pius on his return, abandoned the liberalism that had been his trademark, returned to the more traditional conservatism of his immediate predecessors and spent the rest of his papacy condemning nationalism, populism and democracy, most dramatically his 1864 papal encyclical Quanta Cura and its attached Syllabus of Errors. Under Pius IX, the Church set itself against all the new theories of popular sovereignty and rights of citizens, which, having been fringe ideas on the left at the time of the French Revolution of 1789, had now gained widespread acceptance among moderate opinion. Pius's continuing defence of the Divine Right of Kings and his insistence on condemning policies and perspectives championed by such leaders as Benjamin Disraeli and William E. Gladstone (United Kingdom), Daniel O'Connell and Issac Butt (Ireland), and Abraham Lincoln, earned for him and the Papal States widespread international criticism. Pius's world still looked back on the pre-revolutionary theory of the alliance of throne and altar, as the embodiment of God's design for government, with God's king and God's church together governing as God's will.

Ironically, given that many of the ideas which so appalled Pope Pius IX came from France via the revolutions of 1789 and after, Pius's control of the Papal States rested on France, whose army under Emperor Napoleon III defended the Papal States from attack. But the Franco-Prussian War forced Napoleon III to take back his soldiers in his own ultimately unsuccessful attempt to defend his imperial throne. Without the French Emperor's protection, the Papal States and Rome fell to invading Piedmontese troops. For Pius the final evidence of the sinfulness of the modern world was the seizure by secular troops of the Vicar of Christ's own lands. The First Vatican Council, which had been meeting and which had only just proclaimed the pope infallible in matters of faith and morals, was itself a victim of the invasion and never reassembled. Though infallibility was not a political concept, some of Pius's critics thought its proclamation was meant to bolster his moral authority as the Vicar of Christ, perhaps discouraging Italian nationalists from attacking the Pope's own Rome. In reality it was merely a doctrinal issue, not a political one. Pope Pius, stripped of his temporal power retreated into the Vatican Palace and declared himself the "prisoner in the Vatican", while the King of Piedmont, now proclaimed King of Italy, was installed in the former papal residence, the Quirinal Palace.

Pius, initially a liberal, by the end of his reign saw the world in apocalyptic terms; the attack on the symbols of God (thrones, the papacy, the Church), the triumph of godless ideas (rights of citizens, freedom of those whom he believed were in error to worship and have their "wrong" beliefs accepted), etc. Pius by the end was a believer in the world of throne and altar that had been undermined through the French Revolution. In his view, God's will for government, his anointed kings were being swept away, as power moved to the unanointed masses. In 1878 Pius died, broken by a world he could not understand and which he believed had left God to one side for the world of the "mob". It was an analysis increasingly abandoned by most leaders in Europe and the Americas.


Pope Leo XIII, seeing that popular democracy seemed to be on the ascendant, tried a new and somewhat more sophisticated approach to political questions than his predecessor Pius IX.

On May 15, 1891, Leo XIII issued an encyclical on political issues known as Rerum Novarum (Latin: "About New Things"). This addressed politics as it had been transformed by the Industrial Revolution and other changes in society that had occurred during the nineteenth century. The document criticised capitalism, complaining of the exploitation of the masses in industry. However, it also sharply criticized the socialist's concept of class struggle, and their proposed solution to eliminate private property. It called for strong governments to undertake a mission to protect their people from exploitation, and asked Roman Catholics to apply principles of social justice in their own lives.

This document was rightly seen as a profound change in the thinking of the Holy See about political matters. It drew on the economic thought of St Thomas Aquinas, whose "just price" theory taught that prices in a marketplace ought not to be allowed to fluctuate on account of temporary shortages or gluts.

Seeking to find some principle to replace the threatening Marxist doctrine of class struggle, Rerum Novarum urged social solidarity between the upper and lower classes, and endorsed nationalism as a way of preserving traditional morality, customs, and folkways. In doing so, Rerum Novarum proposed a kind of corporatism, the organisation of political societies along industrial lines that resembled mediaeval guilds. Under corporatism, your place in society would be determined by the ethnic, work, and social groups you were born into or joined. A one-person, one-vote democracy was rejected in favour of representation by interest groups. A strong government was required to serve as the arbiter among competing factions. Forty years later, the corporatist tendencies of Rerum Novarum were underscored by Pope Pius XI's May 25, 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno ("In the Fortieth Year"), which restated the hostility of Rerum Novarum to both unbridled competition and class struggle.

The Church and the Twentieth Century


In Spain, the Falange enjoyed the support of many in the Roman Catholic Church. Spain had a long history of contention between Catholic, largely monarchist, traditionalists and advocates of secular liberal democracy, or of more radical anticlerical views. Traditionalist Catholics, already alienated by the liberal secularism of the Second Spanish Republic whose democratically elected government imposed limitations and government intrusion upon the Church, were moved to outright hostility by what they viewed as the governments failure to prevent or punish attacks on churches and the killing of priests and others in religious orders by the various groups supporting the Republican government. Almost 7,000 clergy were killed, despite the fact that very few actively engaged in the opposition.

These attacks were frequent in the first months of the civil war, and radicalised a large number of Catholics, including clergy, who had previously tended to support the reformist right wing CEDA party. A number of Catholics decided that the liberal state could not (or would not) protect them or their Church and switched to supporting Franco's rebel Nationalists.

Association with monarchists was particularly clear in the case of Carlism, while Basque nationalism saw the majority of Basque priests break ranks with the Church to support the Republican government. This led to them being branded traitors and Communists by Franco.

Franco received the privileges of proposing trios of candidates from which the Pope would select a bishop in Spain, inheriting it from Spanish monarchs, and of being covered by a palio in processions.

During the 1960s and the 1970s, the movement of worker priests expressed the view of young priests unhappy with the hierarchy and the government. They organized parishes as social bettering centers. The contacts with Marxism led many to join leftist groups or to secularize. An agreement of Church and State turned one seminary into a special jail for prisoners who were priests.


The Catholic movement Action Française (AF), campaigned for the return of the monarchy and for aggressive action against Jews as well as a corporatist system. It was supported by a strong section of the clerical hierarchy, eleven out of seventeen cardinals and bishops. On the other hand, many Catholics regarded the AF with distrust, and in 1926, Pope Pius XI explicitly condemned the organization. Several writings of Charles Maurras', the leading ideologist of AF and, interestingly enough, an agnostic, were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum at the same time. However, in 1939 Pope Pius XII waived the condemnation. Maurras' personal secretary, Jean Ousset, later went on to found the Cité catholique fundamentalist organization along with former members of the OAS terrorist group created in defense of "French Algeria" during the Algerian War. Furthermore, the archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, one of the leading Catholic figures opposed to the reforms brought by the Second Vatican Council, created in 1970 the Society of St. Pius X. This finally led to a full schism in 1988, after the Ecône Consecrations during which Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without authority from the Vatican. During this time, the Society of St. Pius X still enjoyed control of several cult places. Since, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is negotiating with Catholic fundamentalists to smooth out relations between the Church and such organizations.


The Roman Catholic Church was granted "special recognition" in the Constitution of Ireland when it was drawn up in 1937, although other religions were also mentioned. This remained the case until 1972, when the constitution was amended by plebiscite. The considerable influence of the Church over Irish politics since independence in 1922 declined sharply in the 1990s after a series of scandals. In 1950 the Church helped force the resignation of the Minister for Health Noel Browne over his controversial proposals to provide free healthcare to mothers and children. The Government of Northern Ireland gave the Church considerably more responsibility for education than they enjoyed in the Republic and this remains the case today.

Elsewhere in Europe

The association of Roman Catholicism, sometimes in the form of the hierarchial church, sometimes in the form of lay Catholic organisations acting independently of the hierarchy produced links to dictatorial governments in various states.

  • The Roman Catholic Church supported the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal;
  • In Austria, Engelbert Dollfuss turned a Roman Catholic political party into the single party of a one-party state. In rural Austria the Catholic Christian Social Party collaborated with the Heimwehr militia and helped bring Dollfuss to power in 1932. In June 1934, he produced his authoritarian constitution which stated "We shall establish a state on the basis of a Christian Weltanschauung". The Pope described Dolfuss as a "Christian, giant-hearted man ... who rules Austria so well, so resolutely and in such a Christian manner. His actions are witness to Catholic visions and convictions. The Austrian people, Our beloved Austria, now has the government it deserves".
  • In Poland, in 1920s Józef Piłsudski founded a military-style government (Sanacja) that incorporated Catholic corporatism into its ideology. After the Second World War the Catholic Church was a focal point of opposition to the Communist regime. Many Catholic priests were arrested or disappeared for opposing the communist regime of People's Republic of Poland. Pope John Paul II encouraged opposition to the Communist regime in such a way that it would not draw retaliation, becoming (in a quote from CNN) "a resilient enemy of Communism and champion of human rights, a powerful preacher and sophisticated intellectual able to defeat Marxists in their own line of dialogue." After the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland became a multiparty democracy and several parties which professed to defend Catholicism were legalised, like Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność or Liga Polskich Rodzin.


For strategic reasons, it was desirable for the (essentially agnostic) fascist movements of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany not to alienate Catholics en masse.

Modern researchers are divided the degree of the Church's connection to fascism. Most historians of the period reject most claims of active complicity or active resistance, painting a picture of a Catholic leadership who chose neutrality or mild resistance over an explicit ideological struggle with fascism.

The closest ties of Roman Catholicism to fascism may have come in the clerical fascism in wartime Croatia; see Involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime.


In 1924, Pope Pius XI forbade the Catholic Popular Party to work with the Socialist Party against Mussolini's Fascist Party (whose politics at that time were a complex amalgam of left and right). The pope later dissolved the Catholic Popular Party .

Fear of communism, and a certain disdain for the liberal democracy that had revoked the long-standing privileges enjoyed by the Catholic Church, were made explicit in such Papal documents as Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors. These documents have been interpreted by some as showing Church support for Fascism, or at least with leanings toward fascism. By the Lateran Treaties, Mussolini granted Pope Pius XI the crown of Vatican City as a nation to rule, made Roman Catholicism the state church of Italy, and paid the Pope compensation for the loss of the Papal States. This indicates at de facto recognition by the Pope of Mussolini's coup. The relationship to Mussolini's government deteriorated drastically in later years.


The division of Germans between Catholicism and Protestantism has implicated German politics since the Protestant Reformation. The Kulturkampf that followed German unification was the defining dispute between the German state and Catholicism.

In Weimar Germany, the Centre Party was the Catholic political party. It disbanded around the time of the signing of the Reichskonkordat (1933), the treaty that continues to regulate church-state relations to this day. Pius XI's encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (1937) protested what it perceived to be violations of the Reichskonkordat. The role of Catholic bishops in Nazi Germany remains a controversial aspect of the study of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.


During World War II, Jozef Tiso, a Roman Catholic monsigneur, became the Nazi quisling in Slovakia. Tiso was head of state and the security forces, as well as the leader of the paramilitary Hlinka Guard, which wore the Catholic Episcopal cross on its armbands. The Catholic clergy was represented at all levels of the regime and its corporatist were based on papal encyclicals.


Mike Budak, the Minister of Religion of Independent State of Croatia, said on 22 July 1941:

"The Ustashi movement is based on the Catholic Religion. For the minorities, Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, we have three million bullets. A part of these minorities has already been eliminated and many are waiting to be killed. Some will be sent to Serbia and the rest will be forced to change their religion to Catholicism. Our new Croatia will therefore be free of all heretics, becoming purely Catholic for the future years."

Notice the absence of a mention of Bosnian Muslims. Unlike Serbs, they were considered Croatian brothers whose ancestors converted to Islam.

Controversy surrounds the depths of the involvement of the Roman Catholic clergy with the Ustaše, a Croatian Fascist movement in the former Yugoslavia. According to Branko Bokun, a Roman Catholic priest made the following remarks on 13 June 1941:

"Brethren, up to now we have worked for the Holy Roman Apostolic Church with the cross and the missal. Now the moment has come to work with a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. The more Serbs and Jews you succeed in eliminating, the more you will be raised in esteem in the heart of the Roman Catholic Church".

The issue of clerical fascism in wartime Croatia is further discussed in the article Involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustaša regime.


  • The Belgian Fascist movement Rexism arose out of a conservative Catholic movement and its publications. The full names of the Rexists was Christus Rex or "Christ the King"

See also: clerical fascism

The United States

Prior to 1960, the U.S. had never had a Catholic president. Many Protestants were afraid that if a Catholic were elected president, he would take orders from the Pope; this was one reason why Al Smith lost the 1928 election. Decades later another Catholic, John F. Kennedy, spoke to a convention of Baptist pastors in Texas during his election campaign. He assured them that, if elected, he would put his country before his religion.

Since the late 1960s, the Catholic Church has been politically active in the U.S. around the "life issues" of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, with some bishops and priests refusing communion to Catholic politicians who publicly advocate for legal abortion. This has created stigma within the Church itself however. The church has also played significant roles in the fights over capital punishment, gay marriage, welfare, state secularism, various "peace and justice" issues, among many others. Its role varies from area to area depending upon the size of the Catholic Church in a particular region, also it depends on the region's predominant ideology. For example, a Catholic church in the Southern U.S. would be more likely to be against universal health care than a Catholic church in New England.

Robert Drinan, a Catholic priest, served five terms in Congress as a Democrat from Massachusetts before the Holy See forced him to choose between giving up his seat in Congress or being laicized. The Church forbids Catholic priests from holding political office anywhere in the world (Code of Canon Law 285 §3; 287 §2).

Catholics currently active in American politics are members of both major parties, and currently hold many important offices. The most prominent include Chief Justice John Roberts, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Additionally, Democratic governor Bill Richardson and Republican former mayor Rudy Giuliani, both Catholics, sought the nomination for their respective parties in the 2008 presidential election. Four associate justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy, are members of the Supreme Court, resulting in a Catholic majority on the court. Vice President Joe Biden is also a Roman Catholic.


Secularism became enforced in Argentina in 1884 when President Julio Argentino Roca passed Law 1420 on secular education. In 1955, the Catholics nationalists overthrewed General Peron in the "Revolución Libertadora," and a concordat was signed in 1966. Catholic nationalists continued to play an important role in the politics of Argentina, while the Church itself was accused of having set up rat-lines to organize the evasion of former Nazis after WWII. Furthermore, several important Catholic figures have been accused of having openly supported the "Dirty War" in the 1970s, including the current Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio. Antonio Caggiano, Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1959 to 1975, was close to the fundamentalist Cité catholique organisation, and introduced Jean Ousset (former personal secretary of Charles Maurras, the leader of the Action française)'s theories on counter-revolutionary warfare and "subversion" in Argentina [5].



Traditionally, Catholics in Australia had been predominantly of Irish descent. They have also been traditionally in the working-class. As a result, for much of its early history, the Australian Labor Party had a significant proportion of Catholics as members and supporters. However, this historical link has eroded over time and Catholics are now present across the political spectrum.

Prominent Archbishop Daniel Mannix was perhaps the most politically vocal Catholic figure, including in his opposition to conscription. This conscription debate was often framed in terms of a divide between Protestants and Catholics.

Links between the Catholic Church and Australian politics strengthened when the Australian Labor Party split and the Democratic Labor Party was founded, chiefly under the influence of Bob Santamaria. In one state, the Catholic Church threw its institutional support behind this party and the movements upon which it relied. However, after the Archbishop died, the party and the Industrial groups upon which it was based no longer had any Church support.

Prominent Catholics in the Liberal-National coalition, the main centre-right political force in Australia, include Tony Abbott, formerly federal Minister for Health, and since the Liberal Party's election loss in November 7 Shadow Minister for Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Prominent Catholics in the Labor Party, the main centre-left party, include former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

International Law

In 2003, Pope John Paul II also became a prominent critic of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He sent his "Peace Minister", Pío Cardinal Laghi, to talk with US President George W. Bush to express opposition to the war. John Paul II said that it was up to the United Nations to solve the international conflict through diplomacy and that a unilateral aggression is a crime against peace and a violation of international law.


The Catholic Church has been a staunch defender of anti-Communism, as the latter defined itself as atheist and often followed anti-clerical policies.

Pope John Paul II offered support to the Polish Solidarity movement. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once said the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II [1].

In later years, Popes have also criticised some of the more extreme versions of corporate capitalism.


  1. "The First Christian Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Early Church", Edited by Gillian Rosemary Evans, contributor Clarence Gallagher SJ , "The Imperial Ecclesiastical Lawgivers", p68, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0631231870
  2. "On Pagans, Jews, and Christians", Arnaldo Momigliano, p. 158, ISBN 0-8195-6218-1
  3. Summa Theologica on The power of human law
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. Quoted by Horacio Verbitsky, in The Silence, extract transl. in English made available by Open Democracy: Breaking the silence: the Catholic Church in Argentina and the "dirty war", July 28, 2005, p.4

See also