Mauritius Times 60 Years ago – 2nd YEAR NO. 24 – Friday 21st January 1955
Our London correspondent has thought it fit to throw some more light on such a thought-provoking subject as the relation between religion and communism. We do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed by him. As an independent paper, the Mauritius Times welcomes the views of anybody either for or against. We believe that only through discussion that light can come out on such a thorny subject.
I am not a Communist. But I must comment the Pastoral of the Bishop of Port Louis of November last. The Bishop of Port Louis writes that there is “une opposition innée et irréductible entre le Communisme et la religion,” and that in all Communist countries, men are denied religious freedom and religion is prosecuted.
This is simply not true. I know there is free practice of religious worship in Russia; I have been to church there myself. Last year, a party of English churchmen, including Dr Spear and Canon Raven visited Russia to study religion; they too, like many other non-communist visitors, remarked on the freedom of religion. Not only the Orthodox Church, but Jews, Moslems, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Roman Catholics, worship openly and freely. I had the privilege of a long interview with the Metropolitan Nicolai, Dean of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church, in the course of which I asked him how he reconciled the incompatibilities of Christianity and Communism. He didn’t discuss their ideological differences but replied that matters such as the care of the needy, love of labour and just distribution of property were points of agreement, not incompatibility. Common ownership and mutual aid were in accordance with the great commandment “Love thy neighbour”.
Religious freedom in Communist Europe
Visitors to other communist lands confirm that there is freedom of religion there. In Poland, the churches are packed regularly. The Roman Catholic Church remains the largest religious organisation. That its followers are free to worship is admitted even by émigré Poles who have no love for Communism. In Hungary, before the War, the Protestant churches were not allowed freedom; now, they have equality with all other religions. The Hungarian Lutheran Church is undertaking a new translation of the Bible into Hungarian – the first for 4 centuries. Many churches have been rebuilt. The Anglican Bishop of Chichester has been to Hungary to preach in a number of churches; Hungarian divines attended the 1954 World Council of Churches at Evanston, USA, where the Council adopted a resolution that the churches are not bound to any social system – they believe in the peaceful living together of all peoples. Before the War, the Hungarian Reformed Lutheran Church was prosecuted by the government which was denominated by the Hapsburg-Roman Catholic feudal coalition – and the Vatican raised no protest about persecution and lack of religious freedom!
Martyrdom – a modern technique
What lies behind the Catholics’ protest against what they call persecution? Before the War, in many East European countries, the Roman Catholic Church was a powerful temporal, political organization; wealthy and not of the people. Now, it has lost its temporal power and is on equality with other churches. Catholics want their old power back – hence their protests of persecution. Wyzynski in Poland and Grosz and Mindszenty in Hungary were three leaders who dabbled deeply in anti-governmental political affairs (I can produce plenty of evidence of that) and who paid the penalty of their political machinations. But be it noted and remembered that they were not punished for their religious beliefs, but for their political activities. Just like Father Garnet in England – he was put to death in 1606, not for being a Catholic (i.e. not for his religious beliefs) but for his treasonable complicity in the Gunpowder Plot which was intended to encompass the death of the King.
Persecutions by Catholics
The Bishop, in alleging that there is religious persecution in Communist countries, and posing the antithesis between Communist and religious countries, suggests that there is no religious persecution where there is Catholicism supreme. A travesty of the facts again! What of the torture of the Spanish Inquisition, when thousands died for professing an anti-Catholic faith? What of England’s Protestant martyrs? What of the “fires of Smithfield”? What religious freedom is there in Spain, one of the world’s Catholic strongholds? Where else are the world’s dictatorships? In Spain, Portugal and many Latin American lands – all Catholics, all dictatorships. Italy, the home of Catholicism, was the happy hunting ground of Mussolini; was he ever excommunicated? Has Franco ever been excommunicated for the bestialities associated with his regime?
Catholic Church denies freedom
The allegation of religious persecution by the Bishop does not stand up to examination of the facts. All citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom to practise their religion; all are guaranteed freedom also to indulge in anti-religious propaganda if they wish.
This is not a denial of religious freedom; it is not a denial of intellectual freedom either but the Catholic Church denies intellectual freedom by its Index; by requiring books to have their episcopal imprimatur. And where Catholicism is powerful, it either denies freedom of religious practice to other sects (as in Spain, Colombia and Venezuela) or protests when all communities are put on a basis of constitutional equality, as in the Republic of Ireland.
Unity – the Salvation of the workers
By paying heed to the honeyed words of the Catholic authorities on sociological matters, which soon lead to political matters, the workers are allowing themselves to be split. In Germany, in France, in Belgium, the Catholic Church has insinuated itself into the workers’ political organization (also in Australia) with the result that the working class is a divided class, hence a class without chance of emancipation. The hope, the only hope, of the workers is UNITY; and that unity will not be achieved by listening to the prejudiced pronouncements of the Catholic Church on sociological matters.
* Published in print edition on 30 January 2015