Catholic Corporatist States

From the March 2014 Trumpet Print Edition

After the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, many people around the world became disillusioned with the Wall Street brand of capitalism. Many turned to corporatism as an alternative. By substituting “Fascist Party” for “Roman Catholic Church,” Benito Mussolini more or less co-opted Pope Leo xiii’s economic system.

Even though Mussolini’s one-party state fought occasional battles with the Catholic Church over state control, the Vatican accepted his corporatist economy. Mussolini declared the Holy Roman Empire restored and, in return for Catholic endorsement in the Lateran Treaty of 1929, he established Roman Catholicism as the only recognized religion in Fascist Italy. His treaty also subsidized Catholic clergy, subjected textbooks to church veto, and made insulting the Vatican a penal offense. All of this delighted Pope Pius xi, who spoke of Mussolini as “a man sent by Providence.”

Other countries soon followed Mussolini’s example. Austria established a corporatist dictatorship of Catholic clerics under the leadership of Engelbert Dollfuss in 1933. Then in 1936, Gen. Francisco Franco staged a coup d’etat in Spain and faithfully replicated Italian corporatism with his National Syndicalism movement. After Adolf Hitler appointed Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain as the head of Vichy France in 1940, the devoutly Catholic Pétain also established a corporatist economy based on the writing of Pope Pius xi.

Even Hitler followed in the economic footsteps of the Roman Catholic Church and Benito Mussolini. After coming to power in 1933, his Reich Economic Ministry assumed the power to suspend the creation of new enterprises and to fix the production capacity of existing enterprises. Within months, the German economy was partitioned into 28 employer-employee industrial corporations, all were controlled by the Reich Economic Ministry.

Like Mussolini, Hitler also fought battles with the Catholic Church over control of the state. However, in return for a Vatican Concordat designed to keep priests out of politics, Hitler granted complete freedom to Catholic confessional schools throughout the country, among other things. In his book Adolf Hitler, author John Toland recalls the Vatican’s enthusiasm for entering into a relationship with the Third Reich. “His holiness welcomed Hitler’s representative, Franz von Papen, ‘most graciously and remarked how pleased he was that the German government now had at its head a man uncompromisingly opposed to communism and Russian nihilism in all its forms.’”

After the Second World War, Latin American Catholic dictators like Juan Peron and Augusto Pinochet ran openly corporatist economies with papal blessing. In fact, one of the primary criticisms of the current pope is that he failed to stand up to the Catholic corporatist military junta that ruled his Argentine homeland in the 1970s.

It is a Christian principle to care for the poor. However, when a humanly run state steps in to force people to do their Christian duty, things end badly. History teaches that all forms of human totalitarianism fail—whether communist, socialist, fascist or Catholic corporatist. Both Pope Leo and Pope Francis have been astonishingly overconfident in their assertion that the Catholic Church possesses a power to bring men to act selflessly in the service of others. Centuries of medieval history and numerous 20th-century fascist dictatorships prove that power corrupts most human beings—including devout Catholics.