This is indecent. This is obscene. This is unspeakable. The Jesuit magazine America has published what it titles “The Catholic Case For Communism.” Author Dean Dettloff begins by criticizing a piece that Dorothy Day published in that same magazine in 1933, in which she talked about people being drawn to Communism out of admirable idealism, but failing to grasp that Communism wants to destroy the Church. Dettloff writes:
But in her attempt to create sympathy for the people attracted to communism and to overcome a knee-jerk prejudice against them, Day needlessly perpetuated two other prejudices against communism. First, she said that under all the goodness that draws people to communism, the movement is, in the final analysis, a program “with the distinct view of tearing down the church.”
Then, talking about a young communist in her neighborhood who was killed after being struck by a brick thrown by a Trotskyite, she concluded that young people who follow the goodness in their hearts that may lead them to communism are not fully aware of what it is they are participating in—even at the risk of their lives. In other words, we should hate the communism but love the communist.
Though Day’s sympathetic criticism of communism is in many ways commendable, nearly a century of history shows there is much more to the story than these two judgments suggest. Communist political movements the world over have been full of unexpected characters, strange developments and more complicated motivations than a desire to undo the church; and even through the challenges of the 20th century, Catholics and communists have found natural reasons to offer one another a sign of peace.
He goes on:
Christianity and communism have obviously had a complicated relationship. That adjective “complicated” will surely cause some readers to roll their eyes.
Dettloff is a Catholic — America‘s Toronto correspondent — and a member of the Communist Party of Canada. From the CPC’s Facebook page:
Jesuit priest Matt Malone, the magazine’s editor in chief, writes a companion essay explaining America’s reason for publishing this unapologetically pro-communist piece. Excerpts:
So, you might ask, after 110 years of opposition to communism, why are we publishing an article in this issue that is sympathetic to it? Well, for one thing, you should not assume that America’s editorial position on communism has changed very much. It has not. What has also not changed is our willingness to hear views with which we may disagree but that we nonetheless think are worth hearing.
For what it’s worth, my general view of economics begins with the fact that markets, for all their downsides, are the greatest force for economic empowerment that the world has ever seen. But that is just my opinion and, therefore, not the point. Mr. Dettloff’s piece is in this issue not because I agree with it but because I think it is worth reading, just as I did with Arthur Brooks’s article in defense of free markets that we published in February 2017 and just as we did when we published Dorothy Day in 1934.
America, in other words, is not a journal of Father Matt’s opinions. Not even I would want to read such a magazine. This is a journal of Catholic opinion, and Catholics have differing opinions about many things. Our job is to host a conversation among Catholics and our friends in which people can respectfully and intelligently disagree. Accordingly, we publish something in almost every issue with which I personally disagree. I hope we publish something you disagree with, too. If not, we are not doing our job.
Wait a minute. No fair-minded and intellectually curious person could object to an essay in a Catholic magazine criticizing the excesses of capitalism. It’s also easy to see the justification for publishing an essay defending democratic socialism from a Catholic point of view. And nobody could reasonably complain about an essay like Dorothy Day wrote in 1933, explaining why some idealists are drawn to Communism.
But an essay defending Communism? Really? What to make of this?
My own views are very strong. A couple of weeks ago, I knelt in Warsaw at the grave of the Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, the chaplain of the Solidarity labor union movement. He was beaten to death by agents of the Communist government for opposing them. This is what Communists did to Father Jerzy:
So yes, in Poland, Communism and the Catholic Church had a “complicated” relationship.
Earlier this summer in Slovakia, I stood in a hidden chamber in a basement, a room reached only by secret tunnel, and listened to a historian of the underground Catholic Church tell me what had happened in that room. For a decade or so, dedicated Catholics secretly published prayer books, catechisms, and devotional literature in that chamber. They could have all gone to prison had the Communist secret police found out about their samizdat. The historian, Jan Simulcik, was part of that underground as a college student. It all had to be kept so secret that the historian himself didn’t find out until the fall of Communism what was happening in the basement of the house where he and his comrades organized the papers for distribution. Here he is in the printing room, which was left exactly as it was when Catholics did not have to gather there in secret, out of fear of Communist persecution:
Yes, the relationship between Communism and Catholicism in Slovakia was indeed “complicated” — so complicated that Catholics had to hide in secret catacombs to print their prayer books.
I would love to watch the America editors sit down with Rudolf Dobias and tell him how Catholics need to consider that Communists are their friends. Dobias, a Catholic and a poet, spent 18 years in a Communist prison for being a dissenter, many of those years at hard labor. When he was released, he and his family endured persecution, until the end of Communism. When I met with him in his home, he told me that everything in his body hurts now. He was beaten and tortured by the Communists. His relationship with them was indeed complicated.
My Slovak Catholic friends gave me a stunning book by Silvester Krcmery, a Catholic physician who suffered terribly in Communist prisons for his faith. Dr. Krcmery recalled one horrific beating he suffered at the hands of Communist interrogators trying to pummel him into signing a false confession:
Even though this was my first experience with this level of violent physical assault, I actually did not feel anything. Perhaps I was in such a state of shock that I was not fully conscious of the pain.
I considered the whole thing a very valuable ordeal. For hours I repeated, “Lord you didn’t disappoint us. You always promised that you would be with us, that you would never abandon us. What could I now possibly bring you as a sacrifice? nothing hurt me. I really have nothing to offer you as a sacrifice.”
Despite everything, in a sense I cherished those wounds. This was after all the only tangible, although insignificant evidence I had that I had offered Christ something.
After this interrogation I found that I had two broken ribs. I was not allowed to see a doctor but in the course of three or four weeks they healed, apparently without consequences.
This didn’t happen just once, and it didn’t happen only to him. Dr. Krcmery’s memoir talks about the incredible hardship the Communists inflicted on Catholics, in an attempt to destroy the Church.
I visited the apartment of Cardinal Korec, who had been a persecuted bishop of the underground Slovak church under Communism, and was a hero, maybe even a saint. What would the America editors have to say to him, if he were alive? What would they say to other Catholics I met who suffered Communist persecution for their faith?
What would they say to the Christians forced to undergo torture at Pitesti, the special Romanian prison where the Communists experimented to attempt to create a new kind of man. Here’s what happened there:
Performances on religious subjects, black masses staged at Easter or Christmas, horrified the detainees. On such occasions, it was the theology students who were to suffer the most, dressed up as ‘Christs’, clothed in cassocks smeared with excrement. They were made to take ‘communion’ with urine and faeces, and instead of the Cross, a phallus was fashioned of soap, which all the others were made to kiss. Alongside them hymns were sung with scabrous words, in which the commonplaces were insults against Christ and the Virgin Mary. Sometimes the detainees would be stripped naked.
The late Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand survived Pitesti, and after he went into exile, testified in 1966 to the US Senate as follows:
[Richard Wurmbrand:] A Westerner can’t understand God is here and knows that I will not tell you the while truth because if I will tell you the while truth, you will faint and rush out of this room, not bearing to hear what things have happened. But I will tell you that in a prison they crucified a cat before ourselves. They beat nails in the feet of the cat and the cat was hanging with the head down, and can you imagine how this cat screamed and the prisoners, mad, bead on the door, “Free the cat, free the cat, free the cat,” and the Communists very polite, “Oh, surely we will free the cat, but give the statements which we ask from you and then the cat will be freed,” and I have known men who have given statements against their wives, against their children, against their parents to free the cat. They did it out of madness, and then the parents and the wives have been tortured like the cat. Such things have happened with us.
[Sen. Thomas Dodd:] Did you have any fellow Christians like you imprisoned?
We had hundreds of bishops, priests, monks in prisons; my wife who is near me, she has been with Catholic nuns. My wife tells that they were angels; such have been put in prisons. Nearly all Catholic bishops died in prison. Innumerable Orthodox and Protestants have been in prison, too.
The point I was getting at – and I guess I did not make it clear – where the Christians treated any differently or mistreated any differently?
Everybody in prison was very badly treated. And I cannot be contradicted on this question, because I have been with physicians, I have much more broken bones than anybody, so either I broke my bones or somebody else broke them. And if I would not have been a clergyman but a murderer – it is a crime to torture a murderer, too. The Christian prisoners were tortured in a form which should mock their religion. I tell you again in the prison of Pitesti one scene I will describe you about torturing and mocking Christians, and believe me I would renounce to eternal life to paradise after which I long, if I tell you one word of exaggeration. God is here and knows that I do not say everything. It cannot be said. There are ladies here. There are other people hearing it.
One Sunday morning in the prison of Pitesti a young Christian was already the fourth day, day and night, tied to the cross. Twice a day the cross was put on the floor and 100 other cell inmates by beating, by tortures, were obliged to fulfill their necessities upon his face and upon his body. Then the cross was erected again and the Communists swearing and mocking “Look your Christ, look your Christ, how beautiful he is, adore him, kneel before him, how fine he smells, your Christ.” And then the Sunday morning came and a Catholic priest, an acquaintance of mine, has been put to the belt, in the dirt of a cell with 100 prisoners, a plate with excrements, and one with urine was given to him and he was obliged to say the holy mass upon these elements, and he did it. And I asked him afterward, “Father, but how could you make this?” He was half mad. He answered to me: “Brother, I have suffered more than Christ. Don’t reproach to me what I have done.” And the other prisoners beaten to take holy communion in this form, and the Communists around, “Look, your sacraments, look, your church, what a holy church you have, what fine is your church, what holy ordinance God has given you.”
I am very insignificant and a very little man. I have been in prison among the weak ones and the little ones, but I speak for a suffering country and for a suffering church and for the heroes and the saints of the 20th century; we have had such saints in our prison to which I did not dare to lift my eyes.
I am a Protestant, but we have had near us Catholic bishops and monks and nuns about whom we felt that the touching of their garments heals. We were not worthy to untie their shoelaces. Such men have been mocked and tortured in our country. And even if it would mean to go back to a Rumanian prison, to be kidnaped by the Communists and going back and tortured again, I cannot be quiet. I owe it to those who have suffered there.
Indeed, Communism and Catholicism had a “complicated” relationship, as Comrade Dettloff writes in a magazine that, by publishing this essay, defecates on the memory of all those Catholics and others who suffered and died under Communism. What would America‘s editors say to the millions of Ukrainians who starved to death in the 1932-33 famine engineered by Stalin?
In the 1997 Black Book Of Communism, historians estimate that the worldwide death toll from Communism’s crimes was 94 million. That number has been criticized as exaggerated, but even the lower estimate is around 60 million. I’m not sure where the overall death toll stands now, with more recent scholarship finding that Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward (1958-62) perhaps resulted in the deaths of 45 million Chinese.
Historian Frank Dikötter has written:
Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors by herding villagers across the country into giant people’s communes. In pursuit of a utopian paradise, everything was collectivised. People had their work, homes, land, belongings and livelihoods taken from them. In collective canteens, food, distributed by the spoonful according to merit, became a weapon used to force people to follow the party’s every dictate. As incentives to work were removed, coercion and violence were used instead to compel famished farmers to perform labour on poorly planned irrigation projects while fields were neglected.
A catastrophe of gargantuan proportions ensued. Extrapolating from published population statistics, historians have speculated that tens of millions of people died of starvation. But the true dimensions of what happened are only now coming to light thanks to the meticulous reports the party itself compiled during the famine….
What comes out of this massive and detailed dossier is a tale of horror in which Mao emerges as one of the greatest mass murderers in history, responsible for the deaths of at least 45 million people between 1958 and 1962. It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates, but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction. When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later. The case of Wang Ziyou was reported to the central leadership: one of his ears was chopped off, his legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back and then he was branded with a sizzling tool – punishment for digging up a potato.
Forty-five million. In one country alone.
It will not do to say that the persecution of the Church under Communist regimes was an aberration. Destroying religion has always been at the core of Communist theory and practice. To claim otherwise is sheer mendacity, and worse: it whitewashes history, degrades the memory of the martyrs and confessors executed by Communist butchers, and opens the door for a return of the most bloodthirsty ideology that ever existed.
Last year, one of the Jesuit pope’s top officials praised the Communist Party of China for being the world leaders who are “best implementing the social doctrine of the Church.” Pope Francis sold out the underground Church in China by reaching a deal to allow the Communists to appoint Catholic bishops there. Earlier this month, Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, warned once again that Beijing wants to destroy the faith, and that the Vatican is playing into the Communists’ hands.
America would never run an essay on “The Catholic Case For Fascism,” even though you could make a stronger case for it than you could for reconciling Catholicism with an ideology that explicitly hates religion. Whatever criticisms you might have of the authoritarian Franco regime in Spain — and there are many — Franco did not persecute the Church. Is there any Communist regime anywhere that has failed to persecute the Church?
In Nicaragua, in the 1980s, the Sandinista government tried a standard Communist move: attempting to create a breakaway “popular” church. It didn’t work. Today, the Sandinista strongman Daniel Ortega is turning up the heat on the Catholic Church. From the Washington Post:
Ortega has responded to Nicaragua’s worst political unrest since the 1980s by banning protests and smothering dissent. As conflict still simmers, the Catholic Church, one of the country’s last venues for protest, finds itself besieged.
Ortega supporters try to infiltrate parishes. Security forces surround churches during Mass. Priests suffer harassment and death threats. Police ring the Jesuit university when students dare to wave Nicaraguan flags and chant anti-government slogans.
There are echoes of the 1980s, when Nicaragua’s pro-Marxist government clashed with conservative bishops in a Cold War standoff. As it was then, Ortega’s Sandinista party is in power. Now, though, the dispute is over democracy, at a time of rising populism and authoritarianism.
Ortega, 73, has accused church leaders of being “committed to the coup plotters,” as he calls the young activists who organized mass demonstrations last year
The clergy deny they’re trying to undermine Ortega. But as Nicaragua has become one of the most repressive countries in Latin America, the church has become a refuge for dissenters.
Students in Nicaragua hide out in a Jesuit university for protection from a corrupt Communist authoritarian leader, while a Jesuit magazine in the US publishes an essay talking about how Communists are good friends to Catholics. How about that.
Maybe it’s for the best that America is publishing “The Catholic Case For Communism.” It is better to know where the battle lines are, and to assess the stakes, than to remain in the dark. Five years from now, when America publishes “The Catholic Case For Atheism,” it will mark another Jesuit triumph.
This essay appeared on the same day as the orthodox Catholic journalist Phil Lawler’s confession that decades of writing about scandal and corruption in the Church has worn him down. Lawler says, in part:
For more than 25 years now, I have been reporting and writing about scandal within the Catholic Church. Yesterday, as I wearily wrote one more article about episcopal corruption, I realized how much the topic has come to nauseate me. I can’t do it anymore.
Since the 1990s I have been digging in the muck, uncovering more and more of what Pope Benedict XVI aptly termed the “filth” in the Church—the filth that obscures the image of Christ. It hasn’t been pleasant work. It isn’t the work I would have chosen. It isn’t edifying. The daily dealing with appalling ugliness—week after week, month after month—has taken a heavy toll: on my health, on my family, on my spiritual life. In warfare, good commanders know that even the toughest troops need a break after weeks in battle. And believe me, this is—always has been—a spiritual battle.
I’m not going to walk away from that battle. Far from it. I’ve devoted my life to the cause of reform in the Catholic Church, and I fully intend to continue speaking and writing on that topic. But I need to step back, to take a new approach, to fight this war on a different front. I can’t continue plowing through the documents, chasing down the leads, dredging up the facts. Fortunately, in the past few years many other reporters have joined the hunt for the truth. I’ll comment on the facts they unearth; I’ll provide my perspective. But in order to have a healthy perspective, I have to escape the miasma, to raise my sights.
He goes on to say that his 1990s prediction that the sexual abuse scandal would bring the Catholic Church to its worst crisis since the Reformation has been vindicated. The rot has only been partly exposed; there is much yet to come. The corruption is not just sexual and financial. How is it possible that only five years after the canonization of a pontiff who was an indisputably central figure in the defeat of Communism, one of the Catholic Church’s leading journals publishes an essay praising the most murderous creed in human history, one that specifically targeted Christian churches for destruction?
It’s a sign of the times. It really is.
You want to know what Communism is? Look once again into the eyes of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, and see for yourself. It’s all there — but the Jesuits who edit America magazine are too blind to see it: