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Pius XII and Modernism

In 1953, in his Christmas address to the faithful, Pius XII complained that today there was an increase in the number of people who "are indifferent to the church and who are altogether disbelievers." There were movements and groups in the Catholic parties, as well as in other organizations, which demanded unity of action of these organizations regardless of religious, national, or party affiliations. The Communists of Italy, France, and other countries worked hard to create such unityof action with the Catholics. In 1955 Pope Pius XII declared that such unity spellrf capitulation of Catholics before the atheists. Millions of Catholics remained Catholic, but voted for the Communists.

The Vatican's loss of political influence over Catholics can easily be seen in the defeats which the Catholic parties suffered during elections in various countries. In 1953, during the elections to the Italian parliament, the leading party of the Christian Democrats received only 40% of the votes instead of the 48.5% in the elction of 1948, having thus lost 1.9 million votes. The French party (MRP), which was close to the hearts of the Catholics, suffered even greater losses at the time of elections to the French parliament. In 1951, it received 2.2 million votes against 4.76 million in 1946.

In 1939 Pope Pius XII wrote in his programming address: "... faith is a friend.of reason :and therefore the church is a friend of science. The Church respects its freedom, its methods and principles and interferes only to guard it from mistakes against the faith." In 1950, Pius XII, in his address to the faithful, said regretfully "There are people today who strive for the new more than necessary... The advocates of the new easily transcend from despising scholastic theory to insufficient respect for and even despiction of the leaders of the Church."

The whole problem of religious liberty had many aspects. It affects churchstate relations, and principles of religious liberty are invoked by both parties in the struggle between parochial and public schools for tax money. Religious liberty is involved to some extent in the problems attendant upon mixed marriages, the practice of non-Catholic physicians in Catholic hospitals, adoptions, sectarian content in the public school curriculum, credit for courses in religion, and the observance of religious holidays. The address of Pope Pius XII to Catholic jurists in Italy in December, 1953, was used to good effect by both Protestants and Catholics. He said in effect that tolerance would be required for the sake of good relations with nations where Roman Catholics are not the majority or dominant group.

On the question of religious liberty, it may be said that the Catholic Church caught up with the eighteenth century only in the middle of the twentieth. In 1948 John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit professor of theology at Woodstock Seminary in Maryland, presented a paper at a gathering of Catholic theologians entitled "Governmental Repression of Heresy," in which he contended that it was not the duty of a good Catholic state to repress heresy even when it was practicable to do so. Thus the internal argument was revived, though at first it was not a fair fight.

The majority of Catholic authorities, following the Papal teachings, opposed Murray; his adversaries included French, German, Italian, and Spanish theologians of his own religious order. In the United States the leading expert on Catholic political philosophy had been Monsignor John A. Ryan, known as the "the Right Reverend New Dealer" for his support of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's economic policies. Having studied Mirari Vos, Ryan had concluded in 1941 that protection and promotion of Roman Catholicism "[is] one of the most obvious and fundamental duties of the state." Murray's opponents had a certain logic to their position which David Hollenbach, SJ, one of Murray's intellectual heirs, summarizes as follows; "The Roman Catholic faith is the true religion. It is good for people to believe what is true. The state is obliged to promote Catholic belief, and wherever possible to establish Catholicism as the religion of the state. Advocates of religious freedom are denying one of the cardinal premises of Roman Catholicism: they are rejecting the absolute truth of Catholic Christianity."

Though he was unambiguously committed to Catholic doctrine, properly interpreted, Murray argued that the received Catholic teaching on religious liberty, because it was not complete, was neither permanent nor irreformable. While consistent with the Catholic teaching since St. Augustine on the coercion of heretics, the official position ignored both apostolic and sub-apostolic writings on the priority of conscience. Armed with these insights, Murray set about to challenge the dominant, semi-theocratic versions of church-state theory, beginning with that propounded by St. Robert Bellarmine. The young Jesuit also retrieved the notion of "the indirect power of the Church" first elaborated by fourteenth-century theologians; and he insisted that the nineteenth-century encyclicals be read in their proper context, namely, as polemics against the anti-clericalism and irreligious rationalism infecting European intellectual life at the time. The American concept of church-state separation, Murray contended, was vastly more congenial to Catholic principles.

Murray fell into disfavor with the Holy Office and was effectively silenced when a Jesuit censor in Rome declared that his article, "Leo XII and Pius XII: Government and the Order of Religion," could not be published. But other developments pointed to a change in the theological climate. That same year the Holy Office excommunicated Leonard Feeney, a Jesuit chaplain at Harvard, for insisting on the narrowest possible interpretation of the ancient patristic phrase, extra ecclesiam nulla salus est - "outside the Church there is no salvation."

In his 1951 Address to Catholic Mid wives, Pope Pius XII asserted with respect to the pronouncement of his predecessor : "This precept is as valid today as it was yesterday, and it will be (he same tomorrow and always, because it does not imply a precept of human law but is the expression of a law which is natural and divine." In his address to the Italian midwives in 1951, Pius XII made plain that the primary purpose of marriage is to procreate children, and that matrimony "imposes a fulfillment of positive work connected with that state of life." Nor was there any doubt that the large family is truly the Christian ideal. As Pius XII also said, "Wherever you find large families in great numbers, they point to the physical and moral health of a Christian people; a living faith in God and trust in His Providence; the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage."

Pope Pius XII condemned the Pill at the Congress of Haematologists on September 12th, 1958. It had become necessary about ten years before, he said, for the Holy See "to declare expressly and publicly that direct sterilisation, permanent or temporary, of a man or woman is illicit by virtue of the natural law from which the Church herself, as you know, has no powers to dispense". The Pill-or, as the Pope put it, the use of medication-had as its end the prevention of conception by preventing ovulation. It was therefore an instance of direct sterilisation.

Pius XII in 1958 told representatives of Large Families of Rome and Italy : "The value of the testimony offered by the parents of large families lies not only in their unequivocal and forceful rejection of any deliberate compromise between the law of God and human selfishness, but also in their readiness to accept joyfully and gratefully these priceless gifts of God - their children - and whatever number it may please Him to send them."

There can be no doubt but Pius XII intended this teaching to be binding in conscience. It is true that theologians do not consider that such moral pronouncements are proposed to the faithful like an article of faith with infallible authority. But his authoritative pronouncements call for acceptance, and are binding in practice on the consciences of Catholics. Nor is that all. Unquestioning obedience was demanded of a good Catholic even when an ordinary Bishop speaks, to say nothing of the Pope. It is precisely this authoritarianism, implicit if not too frequently overt, which calls forth the protest of laymen.

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