The Pope’s Battalions
More than half a century ago, the Catholic Church set out to take over Australian political life. The Church set up an underground organization to infiltrate political parties, to control their agenda, and to assume the leadership of their personnel. With church money, church facilities, and church authority, the organization had some noticeable successes. By 1952 it felt able to report that within a few years, Australian governments, federal and state, would be legislating its policies.
If this sounds shocking today, one should reflect that in a democracy it is legitimate for any interest group to organize politically. Even anti-democrats, such as Communists, have this right. Indeed, it was the threat of Communist power in Australia that had prompted the beginnings of the ecclesiastical organization, to negate such Communist power; only later did other possibilities become apparent. By then, however, the ecclesiastical organization had become a major faction inside the Australian Labor Party, thus attracting the animus of its factional enemies.
By then, too, some Catholics were beginning to have doubts: should the Church play politics? In terms of democratic theory it might be acceptable; but what about Catholic theology? Was this why Christ had founded the Church? By and large, such questions came from lay intellectuals, who suffered some obloquy for their questioning. Ecclesiastics were slow to take a stand, until finally the Vatican stepped in and got the Church out of factional politics–formally, if not always in actual fact.
The man who headed this Catholic excursion into politics was Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria, a quicksilver lawyer and charismatic speaker who became an inspirational leader. Growing up in the pioneering days of the lay apostolate, he was dedicated to realizing the vision of contemporary Catholic social thinking, however this might be achieved. When the Vatican dumped him, he felt aggrieved but he never reneged on his commitment to Catholic social theories nor to his loyalty to the Church. Facing factional defeat within the Labor Party, Santamaria took his cadres into a new political grouping that kept Labor out of office for more than two decades. As a result, many Australian Catholics are now aligned with the political Right.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦