Vatican II’s lost condemnations of communism revealed to public for first time
Editor's note: The lost condemnations of communism prepared for the Second Vatican Council but later discarded and forgotten are now being made available to the public in an English translation for the first time by LifeSiteNews.
The translations, by LifeSite's Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, are based on the drafts of documents contained in the official acts of the council’s preparatory commissions.
The documents contain an extensive plan for a coordinated and global effort to counteract the influence of Marxism and communism worldwide and “shatter its audacity.” However, following the takeover of the council’s commissions by the ultra-liberal “Rhine group” bishops, the condemnations were discarded and all attempts to explicitly condemn communism and Marxism were rejected.
Following the close of the council, the condemnations were confined to the volumes of the official acts of the council’s preparatory commissions, which are written almost entirely in Latin and have gathered dust on the shelves of research libraries for decades – until now.
In the following report, Hoffman explains the texts and their significance.
October 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In 1962, as millions of Catholics languished behind the iron curtain and the Soviet Union worked to spread atheistic communism throughout the world, the Second Vatican Council was preparing to deliver an historic condemnation of Marxist and communist ideology, one that would involve a global strategy for its defeat.
Vatican II’s preparatory commissions had created three different statements that would condemn Marxism as an “exceedingly grave and universal danger” and communism as “a false religion without God” that seeks to “to subvert the foundations of Christian civilization.” They also envisioned a massive and highly-coordinated campaign to liberate mankind from communism and “shatter its audacity.”
It would be a full-scale counterattack against what Fatima visionary Lúcia dos Santos called “the greatest heresy to appear at any time in the world,” which was “carrying its errors to the ends of the earth.”
However, the documents were discarded in the early months of the Council when the liberal German, French, and Dutch-speaking bishops of the “Rhine group” out-maneuvered the conservative majority and took control of the commissions overseeing the council’s documents. They then rejected most of the preparatory schemas that had been issued to the council fathers, replacing them with schemas that generally avoided condemning the errors of the age. The schemas condemning communism and Marxism were never considered. What remained was only a timid critique of atheism in the document Gaudium et Spes, with an oblique reference in a footnote to previous condemnations to communism by the popes.
The council’s plans to combat Marxism were almost entirely forgotten, filed away and ultimately published in their original Latin form in the official acts of the council, where they can be found gathering dust in research libraries throughout the world.
In the years following the council, Marxism-inspired forms of “liberation theology” took hold among many Catholic clergy and theologians, particularly in Latin America. One such priest, the Argentinean Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio, initially resisted such influences, but began to ally himself with Marxism-inspired liberation theologians before being elected to the papacy in 2013.
In a recent interview with Pope Francis, the leftist atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari reports that he asked the pontiff: “So you yearn for a society where equality dominates. This, as you know, is the programme of Marxist socialism and then of communism. Are you therefore thinking of a Marxist type of society?” To which he says Francis replied, “It has been said many times and my response has always been that, if anything, it is the communists who think like Christians.” Francis has never denied nor repudiated the statement.
Francis has also engaged in other gestures expressing sympathy for Marxism, including the acceptance of a hammer-sickle crucifix from Bolivia's Marxist president, Evo Morales, a gesture that caused much consternation in Latin America. He reportedly has requested help from Marxism-inspired liberation theologians such as Leonardo Boff in the composition of his encyclical letter Laudato Si’. Recently the Jesuit order elected a new Superior General, the Venezuelan Arturo Sosa Abascal, who has openly sought to reconcile Christianity with Marxism.
On other occasions, however, Francis has expressed disagreement with Marxism, while at the same time expressing respect for Marxists. “Marxist ideology is wrong. But in my life I have known many Marxists who are good people, so I don't feel offended,” he told reporters in 2013 after he was accused of promoting Marxism in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
Now, LifeSite is presenting full translations of Vatican II’s discarded condemnations of communism and Marxism. We believe that this is the first time that the documents have been translated into any vernacular language. There are three documents in all: two complete schemas with their own independent systems of footnotes, and a third text that comprised part of a larger schema. Together the translations cover twenty pages of text.
“Shatter its audacity”
The members of Vatican II’s preparatory commissions, in response to requests made by theologians prior to the preparatory phase, were determined to make a clear condemnation of communism and the Marxist ideology that underlay it, as well as to lay out a global strategy to bring about its demise.
The most comprehensive document formulated by the preparatory commissions was entitled, “On the care of souls with regard to Christians infected with communism” (De cura animarum pro Christianis communismo infectis), prepared by the Commission on Bishops and the Supervision of Dioceses. It called for a three-pronged approach that would seek to counteract communist propaganda among those who were under its influence in the free world, would seek to aid those Catholics who had escaped from communist countries, and would offer covert help to the “silent Church” suffering under communist tyranny.
Warning that communists seek to “radically overturn the social order and to subvert the foundations of Christian civilization,” De cura animarum declared that communism was the equivalent of a false religion based on materialism, with its own doctrines, sacraments, and promise of salvation. It was, in sum, a knock-off of true Christianity, seeking to supplant it with an ideology that replaces God with the state.
Quoting Pope Pius XI, the document notes that communism is “pervaded, in a pseudo-mystical way, with a certain false idea of justice, equality and fraternity” which has the effect of “inflaming the masses by enticing them with deceitful promises,” and adds that it “offers a false idea of redemption,” a “false religion without God,” which functions like “a new gospel and like a form of salvific redemption.” The result, warns the schema, is “the plundering of man’s liberty . . . and likewise the overturning of human dignity and the desecration of human life, as well as the removal of the authority of parents to educate their children.”
“To the Church belongs the right and duty of fighting against atheistic communism regarding doctrine and regarding action or methods of activity,” the document states. It later adds that “a spiritual struggle against atheistic communism, or ‘this invention so full of errors and delusions,’ must be carried out so that the Christian faithful might be strengthened.”
De cura animarum envisioned a general strategy that included an international commission of bishops and lay experts that would oversee the global struggle to “defend and liberate mankind from the errors of atheism and communism” and which would “promote and coordinate the studies, works, ordinances, and laws that debilitate communism and shatter its audacity.”
The document also advocated programs to thoroughly educate the faithful regarding the Catholic Church’s doctrines on social justice, provide a systematic counter-response to communist propaganda, and launch an evangelical effort to convert communists to Christianity. All of this would be in the service of a project to Christianize modern society, with the schema urging priests to have “a heart that burns for the establishment of a Christian social order.”
Importantly De cura animarum insisted that Catholics who involve themselves in “progressivism” and resist the Church’s battle against communism, must be “publicly silenced by ecclesiastical authority,” and priests guilty of the same were to be “severely admonished, and, if the case so merits, inflicted with penalties.”
The other two schemas, “On the care of souls and communism” (De cura animarum et communismo), and “On the apostolate of the laity in environments imbued with materialism, particularly Marxism” (De laicorum apostolatu in ambitibus materialismo, praesertim Marxismo, imbutis) repeated much of the material in “On the care of souls with regard to Christians infected with communism.”
Although they also condemned communism and Marxism in no uncertain terms, the two documents focused mostly on educating Catholics regarding the Church’s social justice teachings, and urging them to set a good example in their conduct so as to attract workers and others to the Church and away from atheistic and extremist ideologies.
Although the final documents were generally pleasing to the commission members, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Pro-Prefect of the Holy Office, voted against approval of “On the care of souls and communism,” on the grounds that it failed to offer a practical program to counteract the communist menace. Many others, including Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, supported incorporating its material into the longer and more comprehensive “On the care of souls with regard to Christians infected with communism,” which did have such a program.
While Cardinal Ottaviani voted to approve “On the care of souls with regard to Christians infected with communism,” he expressed the desire to add more to it regarding the evils of communism from a purely natural standpoint, as opposing the fundamental dignity of the human person. The document contained statements to this effect but they were brief and somewhat vague.
The battle continues during the council
Although the schemas denouncing communism were discarded and forgotten following the opening of Vatican II, large numbers of bishops expressed their disappointment at such an omission and sought repeatedly to correct it, according to Ralph Wiltgen, author of The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, a highly respected account of the history of the council.
In early December 1963, Archbishop Geraldo Sigaud of Diamantina, Brazil, presented a petition addressed to Pope Paul VI, requesting the creation of a schema in which “Catholic social doctrine would be set forth with great clarity, and the errors of Marxism, socialism, and communism would be refuted on philosophical, sociological and economic grounds.” The petition was signed by more than 200 council fathers from 46 countries. In what may have been a response to this petition, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical letter Ecclesiam Suam eight months later, in which he denounced communism and protested its tyrannical mistreatment of Christians, while expressing a desire for dialog with the leaders of communist regimes. However, no schema on communism was forthcoming.
In late October 1964, Paul Yu Pin, the exiled archbishop of Nanking, China, speaking on behalf of 70 council fathers, asked that a chapter be added to the schema Gaudium et Spes denouncing atheistic communism because it was “one of the greatest, most evident and most unfortunate of modern phenomena.” Yu Pin, speaking for Chinese Catholics, reminded the council of all those “who groan under the yoke of communism and are forced to endure indescribable sorrows unjustly.” His plea fell on deaf ears.
Finally, in late September of 1965, after a new revision of Gaudium et Spes again failed to mention communism, a letter signed by 25 bishops was circulated among the council fathers, which listed ten reasons why Marxist communism should be addressed by the council. It stated that if the council failed to condemn communism, it would be “equivalent to disavowing all that has been said and done up till now” on the topic, and warned that eventually “the Council will be reproved— and justly so— for its silence on communism, which will be taken as a sign of cowardice and conniving.”
The letter was accompanied by a petition that bishops were invited to sign, which was circulated by the conservative “International Group of Fathers,” (Coetus internationalis patrum). Four hundred and fifty bishops from 86 countries – about one-fifth of the total council fathers – signed the petition, asking for Gaudium et Spes to address the issue. According to the rules of the council, the request should have been submitted to a vote of the whole body of the council, but the joint commission in charge of drafting the document made no reference to it in its next report, and again failed to mention communism in its next draft.
At this point, the signatories, led by Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, Italy, protested to the presidency of the council and began to accuse the joint commission of denying the voting rights of the council fathers. A participant on the joint commission told the press that the petition had never gotten to them, and another anonymous source told the press that it had been submitted late – a claim vigorously denied by the bishops who delivered it. Wiltgen states that a confidential report to Pope Paul VI by the council’s president, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, concluded that the secretary of the joint commission, Msgr. Achille Glorieux, had received it but had not passed it on to the rest of the commission’s members, a fact that was widely reported by the Italian press.
At this point, Pope Paul VI sought to redress the problem. In an audience with Latin American bishops he condemned “Marxist atheism” and its influence in Latin American society, and noting that it saw “violent revolution as the only means for solving problems.” The next day, according to Wiltgen, the pope sent a direct order to the commission to include a footnote in Gaudium et Spes referencing previous magisterial documents condemning communism. The commission responded by including a paragraph in the document that vaguely condemned “those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity” and provided a footnote citing several papal encyclicals that contained condemnations of communism, but without any specific references. In its report to the general assembly of the council, the joint commission said that the phrase referred to “the condemnations of communism and Marxism made by the Supreme Pontiffs.”
This vague, almost indiscernible reference to communism in Gaudium et Spes was not enough for the petitioners, who asked the council fathers to vote against the entire schema. However, in the final vote on December 7, 1965, only 75 fathers voted against it, and the schema passed. Gaudium et Spes was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on the same day. Vatican II’s projected condemnation of communism had been reduced a cryptic text and a vague footnote.
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