Friday 14 July 2017

The Decree Against Communism

In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published a pamphlet called The Communist Manifesto, which became one of the most influential documents of the 19th and 20th centuries. They described a political and social system in which social classes no longer existed and everyone could benefit from the labour of everyone else. The ideas they espoused went on to be the philosophical basis of political parties around the world, perhaps most notably in Russia, where Vladimir Lenin took power in 1917. Many more Communist governments took power in other countries over the next half-century and particularly after the Second World War. Theoretically, the tenets of Communism seem to improve the lives of average people; however, there were many leaders who used the political system to come into power, only to become dictators. Additionally, Communist governments tended to oppose the Catholic Church and promoted or even demanded atheism. Recognizing the threat that Communism presented to the Church and to the faithful, on July 16, 1949, Pope Pius XII published the Decree against Communism, which announced excommunication for anyone who professed Communist doctrine.

Decree Against Communism

Q4: If Christians declare openly the materialist and anti-Christian doctrine of the communists, and, mainly, if they defend it or promulgate it, "ipso facto," do they incur in excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See? 

R: Affirmative

July 1, 1949

MG RC295.01
Cardinal McGuigan Fonds

Here in the archives, the earliest reference to Communism is found in the Archbishop Lynch fonds. A correspondent assures Lynch that his trade union doesn't support the ideology.

"I also send you a copy of an address I procured from N.Y. so you can see what ... creeds they now advocate. Free Lovism and Communism are twin sisters in crime."

March 25, 1873

L AH18.03
Archbishop Lynch Fonds

By Archbishop McNeil's time in office, the Russian Revolution had taken place. The Archbishop of Lemberg (now known as Lviv, Ukraine) wrote to the Catholic hierarchy of North America in 1921 to tell them about the state of affairs in his territory and in Russia: "Bolshevism has caused in Russia great material hunger. Millions may die of starvation. But it has caused a still greater spiritual hunger ..." Continuing into the 1930s, concern continued to grow. Archbishop McNeil wrote a letter to be read in parishes about the dangers of the Russian government promoting atheism, and the possibility that other countries could follow in their footsteps. A 1933 publication warned of "The Red Menace:"

The Red Menace!

September 8, 1933

MN AS01.12
Archbishop McNeil Fonds

In 1932, Archbishop McNeil received a report about Communist activities in Toronto from the Chief of Police. There were many labour groups that were being monitored for socialist leanings. A few years later, Archbishop McGuigan shared similar information with the Apostolic Delegate. There was a recognition that Catholics should provide social action to provide an alternative to the appeal of Communist groups.

"I hereby submit to Your Excellency a succinct statement of Communistic Activities in Toronto, together with the remedies we are trying to employ against it."

July 13, 1936

MG DS38.29a
Cardinal McGuigan Fonds

Russia was an ally of Canada during the Second World War, but after 1945, the Iron Curtain fell and distrust turned into the Cold War. With Stalinism, anti-Catholicism increased. In Canada, Catholics were horrified to learn of the treatment of Hungarian József Cardinal Mindszenty, who was tortured into 'confessing' to crimes against the Party.

"The sentence passed on Cardinal Mindszenty, following the mock trial of Budapest, though not unexpected, will nevertheless shock the civilized world."


MG SP24.25
Cardinal McGuigan Fonds

As an important Canadian leader, Cardinal McGuigan was asked to comment on the threat of Communism:

"Should Canadian Communists continue to enjoy same privileges and guarantees as other individuals and other political parties? Request your opinion for publication in poll of representative Canadians."

July 18, 1946

MG DA32.71
Cardinal McGuigan Fonds

By the 1950s, McCarthyism took hold, and although Communism was a legitimate concern, there was a certain level of paranoia, as we see in this letter from someone who was convinced that fluoridated water was a Communist conspiracy:

"On page five of Fluoridation Unmasked, it is indicated that fluoridation is one form of Communist Warfare."

March 22, 1954

MG PO08.23
Cardinal McGuigan Fonds

By the 1970s, although there were still governments using the name of Communism around the world to gain and keep power, the threat on the home front wasn't as much of an issue. Canadians learned to differentiate democratic social policies such as universal health care from the policies of dictatorships. Though the threat of Communism didn't materialize in Canada, the documents in the archives show how worried the Catholic Hierarchy as well as Canadians at large were. It is clear that Communism had a huge effect on the world, but the fear of Communism also had a profound impact on North Americans.   

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