Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Vatican Policy of Détente
with Communist Governments –
Should They Resist?
The following document was written by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. In April 10, 1974, it was published with good results in the major newspapers of South America, because it provided a balanced, vigorously studied and wise answer to the most perplexing question of its day: what was the right position to take in face of the Vatican policy of détente with Communist regimes?
The American TFP proudly reproduces this public statement which was published by the autonomous TFPs around the world, defending the practice of an obedient and submissive protest, thus opening a new era for Catholics - the era of filial resistance.
1. The Facts
Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of the Vatican's Council for Public Affairs, has recently made known some results of his trip to Cuba. In an interview to a leading São Paulo daily (cf. O Estado de São Paulo, April 7, 1974), His Excellency stressed that “Catholics who live in Cuba are happy under the socialist regime.” It is not necessary to say what kind of socialist regime he is speaking of, since it is well known that Cuba is under a communist regime.
Still referring to Fidel Castro’s regime, His Excellency went on to say that “Catholics and the Cuban people in general do not have the least problem with the socialist government.”
Perhaps wishing to lend a note of impartiality to these amazing statements, Archbishop Casaroli went on to lament the insufficient number of priests in Cuba, a paltry 200. He added he had asked Castro for more opportunities for the practice of public worship. And, quite surprisingly, he concluded by saying that “the Catholics on the Island are as respected for their beliefs as the other citizens.”
A first glance at these words causes perplexity. Archbishop Casaroli recognized that Cuban Catholics suffer restrictions in their public worship, and he simultaneously affirmed that they are “respected for their beliefs.” As if the right of public worship were not one of the most sacred of their liberties!
If non-Catholics are as respected as Catholics under the Cuban regime, then one can say that in Cuba no one is respected…
So, just what is this “happiness” that Cuban Catholics enjoy, according to Archbishop Casaroli? It seems to be the cruel happiness that the communist regime metes out to all its subjects: forced submission. Indeed, Archbishop Casaroli recognized that “the Cuban Catholic Church and her spiritual guide always make sure to avoid creating problems for the socialist regime that rules the Island.”
Analyzed in greater depth, the observations of this high Vatican dignitary about his trip lead to conclusions of a higher order.
At a time when His Holiness Paul VI has stressed more than ever the importance of having sufficient material means as a necessary factor for the practice of virtue, it is inconceivable that Archbishop Casaroli should consider Cuban Catholics, who are immersed in misery, to be “happy under the socialist regime” of Fidel Castro. From this, one could deduce that, according to Archbishop Casaroli, they would enjoy economic conditions that are at least bearable.
Yet everyone knows that this is not the case. Moreover, Catholics who take seriously the encyclicals of Leo XIII, Pius XI, and Pius XII know that this cannot be true. These Popes taught that a Communist regime is the opposite of the natural order of things and a subversion of the natural order in economics as well as in every other field, and can only produce catastrophic results.
Accordingly, when Catholics around the world who may be naive or ill-informed on the true social doctrine of the Church read Archbishop Casaroli's comments about Cuba, they will be led to a conclusion diametrically opposed to reality, that is, that they would have nothing to fear should communism be imposed on their respective countries. For, according to this hypothesis, they would be perfectly “happy” under that regime, both with respect to their religious needs and their material conditions.
It hurts to say it, but the obvious truth is this: Archbishop Casaroli's trip to Cuba ended as propaganda for Fidel Castro’s regime.
This event, repulsive in itself, is but an episode in the policy of detente with communist regimes that the Vatican has been carrying out for a long time now. Several of these incidents are very well known to the public.
One of them was the trip to Russia in 1971 by His Eminence Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Christian Unity. The official purpose of his visit was to assist at the installation of Bishop Pimen as the “orthodox” patriarch of Moscow. Pimen was the man the Kremlin atheists chose to trust with religious matters. Cardinal Willebrands’ visit to Pimen was, in itself, highly prestigious for the heterodox prelate, justly considered the bête noire [abhorred] by all non-communist “orthodox” followers throughout the world.
In a speech before the synod that elected him, Pimen affirmed the nullity of the 1595 act whereby the Ukrainians left the schism and returned to the Catholic Church. This was tantamount to declaring that the Ukrainians should not be under the jurisdiction of the Pope, but under that of Pimen and his accomplices. Instead of reacting to this vicious attack against the rights of the Catholic Church and the conscience of Ukrainian Catholics, Cardinal Willebrands and his delegation remained silent. Silent is consent, says the Roman Law. Détente...
Naturally, this capitulation profoundly traumatized those Catholics who closely follow the policies of the Holy See. The shock was even greater among the millions of Ukrainian Catholics spread throughout Canada, the United States, and other countries. And it was related to the dramatic dissensions between the Holy See and His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Slipyj, the valorous Archbishop-Major of the Ukrainians, during the Synod of bishops held in Rome in 1971.
The general conduct of His Eminence Cardinal Silva Henriquez, Archbishop of Santiago, Chile, constitutes another step in the détente with Communist governments promoted by Vatican diplomacy. As the Chilean TFP demonstrated in a lucid manifesto printed by several newspapers, it is notorious that the Chilean Cardinal used all the weight of his authority and influence, to help Allende ascend to power, be triumphantly inaugurated, and maintained in the presidency up to the moment when this atheist leader committed suicide.
Afterward, showing flexibility incompatible with his reputation, His Eminence Cardinal Silva Henriquez issued some statements in an effort to cover his flank in the post-Allende regime. But this notwithstanding, the Cardinal’s constant manifestations of sympathy for the Chilean Marxists never ceased. Only recently, His Eminence celebrated in his private chapel a funeral Mass for the soul of another communist, “comrade” Toha, a former minister of Allende who also committed suicide. Relatives and friends of the deceased attended this Mass (cf. Jornal do Brasil, March 18, 1974).
The Prelate’s general policy, which by its nature leads Catholics closer to communism, has not received the least censure. If someone were expecting the Cardinal to lose his Archdiocese, he has been waiting in vain. So far, Cardinal Silva Henriquez has remained tranquilly invested with the mission of leading the souls of his populous and important Archdiocese to Jesus Christ.
While this prelate safely conserves his post by implementing the policy of détente with Communism, another archbishop, on the contrary, has lost his archdiocese. We refer to one of the Church’s most striking personalities of the twentieth century, a man whose name is pronounced with veneration and enthusiasm by all Catholics faithful to the traditional social and economic teachings of the Holy See. The name of this prelate is highly respected even by persons of the most diverse religions. He is seen as a symbol of glory for the Church even by those who do not believe in her. Yet this symbol was recently crushed when His Eminence Joszef Cardinal Mindszenty was dismissed from the Archdiocese of Esztergom to facilitate rapprochement with the Hungarian Communist government.
As can be seen, the visit of Archbishop Casaroli to Cuba – even disregarding the interview he gave after he left the Island – is but a link in a chain of events which have occurred for a period of years. Where will this chain end? What other painful surprises, how many more moral wounds are in store for those who continue to adhere entirely to the immutable social and economic doctrine taught by Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII?
We are certain that numerous Catholics, considering these facts, will feel the same perplexity, anguish, and trauma expressed in these lines. The tragic internal crisis they are undergoing is so very profound and poignant because it involves a matter far more acute than mere social and economic questions; it is an essentially religious matter. It regards what is most fundamental, vibrant, and tender in the soul of the Roman and Apostolic Catholic: his spiritual union with the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
2. Roman and Apostolic Catholics
The TFP is a civic association, not a religious one. However, its directors, members and volunteers are Roman Apostolic Catholics. Accordingly, the inspiration for all its campaigns undertaken for the good of the country is also Catholic.
The basically anticommunist position of the TFP comes from the Catholic convictions of those who compose it. Because they are Catholics, it is in the name of Catholic principles that the directors, members, and volunteers of the TFP are anticommunists.
The Vatican policy of détente with communist governments creates a profoundly difficult situation for anticommunist Catholics, much more as Catholics than as anticommunists. For at any moment they can face a supremely embarrassing objection: Doesn’t their anticommunist position lead them to a goal precisely opposed to the one being sought by the Vicar of Christ? And how can one consider a Catholic to be consistent if he goes in a direction contrary to the one taken by the Pastor of Pastors? This question leads all anticommunist Catholics to an alternative: Should they cease the struggle? Or explain their position?
We cannot cease the fight. A demand of our conscience as Catholics will not permit it. Since it is the duty of every Catholic to promote good and combat evil, our conscience calls us to propagate the traditional doctrine of the Church and to fight the communist doctrine.
Today, the words “freedom of conscience” echo throughout the West and even in the dungeons of Russia . . . and Cuba. Many times this oft-used expression has acquired abusive meanings. But in its more legitimate and sacred sense, it affirms the right of a Catholic to act according to the dictates of his conscience in religious as well as civil life.
We would feel more enchained inside the Church than Solzhenitsyn was in Soviet Russia if we could not act in consonance with the documents of the great Pontiffs who illuminated Christendom with their doctrine.
The Church is not, the Church never was, the Church never will be such a prison for consciences. The bond of obedience to the successor of Peter, which we will never break, which we love in the most profound depths of our soul, and to which we tribute our highest love, this bond we kiss at the very moment in which, overwhelmed with sorrow, we affirm our position. And on our knees, gazing with veneration at the figure of His Holiness Paul VI, we express all our fidelity to him.
In this filial act we say to the Pastor of Pastors: Our soul is yours, our life is yours. Order us to do whatever you wish. Only do not order us to do nothing in face of the assailing red wolf. To this, our conscience is opposed.
3. The Solution Given by the Apostle Saint Paul
Yes, Holy Father, Saint Peter teaches us that it is necessary “to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). You are assisted by the Holy Ghost and supported—under the conditions defined by Vatican I—by the privilege of infallibility. But this does not mean that in certain matters or circumstances the weakness to which all men are subject cannot influence and even determine your conduct. One of these fields where your action is subject to error—perhaps par excellence—is diplomacy. And this is precisely where your policy of détente with the communist governments is situated.
What, then, should we do? The limits of this declaration do not permit us to list all the Church Fathers, Doctors, moralists, and canonists – many of them raised to the honor of the altar – who have affirmed the legitimacy of resistance. This genre of resistance is not separation, it is not revolt, it is not acrimony, it is not irreverence. On the contrary, it is fidelity, it is union, it is love, it is submission.
“Resistance” is the word we choose purposely, for it is employed in the Acts of the Apostles by the Holy Ghost Himself to characterize the attitude of Saint Paul toward Saint Peter, the first Pope, who had taken disciplinary measures to sustain some practices from the old Synagogue in Catholic worship. Saint Paul saw in this a grave risk of doctrinal confusion and harm for the faithful. He then stood up against Saint Peter and “resisted him to the face” (Gal. 2: 11). In this zealous and inspired action of the Apostle of the Gentiles, Saint Peter did not see an act of rebellion, but rather one of union and fraternal love. Knowing well in what he was infallible and in what he was not, Saint Peter submitted to the arguments of Saint Paul. The Saints are models for Catholics. Accordingly, in the sense in which Saint Paul resisted, our state is one of resistance.
And with this, our conscience is at peace.
To resist means that we will advise Catholics to continue to struggle against the communist doctrine with every licit means in the defense of their threatened countries and Christian civilization.
To resist means that we will never use the unworthy resources of sedition nor, much less, take attitudes inconsistent with the veneration and obedience due to the Supreme Pontiff according to the terms of Canon Law.
To resist implies, however, that we will respectfully present our judgment of incidents like the interview of Archbishop Casaroli in which he spoke of the “happiness” of Cuban Catholics.
In 1968, the Holy Father Paul VI was in Bogota, the prosperous capital of Colombia, for the 39th International Eucharistic Congress. One month later, preaching from Rome to the whole world, he stated that he had seen there a “great need for a social justice that would offer immense numbers of the poor [in Latin America] in more just, comfortable, and human conditions of life” (speech of September 28, 1968).
He said this about a Continent where the Church enjoys the greatest liberty.
On the contrary, Archbishop Casaroli stated he saw nothing but happiness in Cuba.
In the face of this, to resist is to declare with serene and respectful frankness that there is a dangerous contradiction between these two statements, and that the struggle against communist doctrine must continue.
This is an example of what is true resistance.
5. Internal Panorama of the Universal Church
It is possible that some readers can be surprised by this declaration. The reason is that to date the TFP, reluctant to take this public position of resistance, had not reported on the growing perplexity and non-conformity among Catholics in diverse countries as a result of the Vatican's policy of détente with communist governments. Since to do that here would over-extend an already lengthy document, we will limit ourselves to summarizing a characteristic situation taking place among German Catholics. An account of it was given by Herman M. Goergen, a former federal German congressman and a Catholic in good standing (Correio do Povo, Porto Alegre, March 23, 1974).
Goergen commented on the launching of two new books on Vatican politics, both by German authors: Wohin steuert der Vatikan? (Where is the Vatican Headed?) by Reinhard Raffalt, and Vatikan Intern (Inside the Vatican) published under the pseudonym of Hieronymus. According to Goergen, the books have caused such an impact as to have become “a major topic of interest among German intellectuals and politicians.” He considered the work of Hieronymus to be satirical, hyper-critical, and exaggerated. On the contrary, he found Raffalt’s work to be “serious,” supported by “well-founded theses,” and inspired “by a profound love for the Church.” What Raffalt publicly affirms is this: “Pope Paul VI is a socialist.”
Shortly after the release of Raffalt’s scholarly work, Goergen added, a German newspaper published a cartoon showing Paul VI strolling with Gromyko. As they pass by a picture of Cardinal Mindszenty, Gromyko says to Paul VI: “Well, each one has his own Solzhenitsyn.”
Regarding the ousting of Cardinal Mindszenty, Mr. Goergen further noted that a German Jesuit, Fr. Oskar Simmel, published in the traditional weekly Rheinischer Merkur, “a conservative and intransigent defender of the faith,” a critique considered “irreverent” by Rome. In the article, titled “No, Mr. Pope,” Mr. Goergen wrote: “A veritable wave of support [for the Cardinal] has swept over German Catholics.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has spoken openly of the “Christian-Marxist dreams” of Pope Paul VI. And the Paulus Gesellschaft (Society of Paul), which normally promotes dialogue between Christians and Marxists, denounced the Vatican Ostpolitik as “Machiavellian” because it wants to “impose a Roman-Soviet peace on the world.” In view of such critiques, the moderation of the TFP’s appraisal stands out.
We cannot close our commentary on Mr. Hermann Goergen’s article without pointing to a serious affirmation he made: In Poland, as in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, the contacts and accords of the regimes with the Holy See have not diminished the intense religious persecution. An analogous affirmation was made by Cardinal Mindszenty with regard to his country.
We are left in a state of perplexity. A supposed attenuation of the anti-religious stance was the grand argument (insufficient in our view) presented by enthusiasts for the Vatican policy of détente. But reality shows that the policy of détente does not attain this objective but only favors communism. Cuba is another example of this. Yet an official promoter of this détente, Archbishop Casaroli, has declared that Catholics are happy living in this regime of persecution. We ask, then, if détente is not synonymous with capitulation.
If it is, how can we not resist the policy of détente, and present to the public its colossal error?
This is another example of how we understand resistance.
This explanation was imperative. It has the character of a legitimate self-defense of our Catholic consciences regarding a diplomatic policy that was becoming insupportable by placing anticommunist Catholics in a most difficult situation, that is, their position was becoming incomprehensible to the public. We emphasize this, by way of conclusion, at the close of this statement.
No conclusion, however, would be complete without reaffirming our unrestricted and loving obedience not only to Holy Church but also to the Pope, in the full terms prescribed by Catholic doctrine.
May Our Lady of Fatima help us on this path that we must tread in fidelity to her message, with the anticipated joy that the promise She made will be fulfilled: “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.