Political Catholicism

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The political Catholicism is a belief that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church as the basis for policy making decisions and trying to enforce the interests of Catholics politically.

With its strictly denominational orientation, the movement was particularly active in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The German Center Party (also known as the Center) and the Bavarian People's Party formed its partisan arm. The CDU was after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany founded as a non-denominational, Christian-oriented party. The Center Party, on the other hand, could no longer develop any binding force and sank into a splinter party.

In the Romance states of Western Europe and in Latin America , political Catholicism was often close to parties that were classified to the right of the Catholic parties in Germany and Italy . In Latin America, however, liberation theology , which can be located on the left , has also established itself.


The basic demand of political Catholicism is the shaping of the state and society in accordance with Christian, especially Catholic social teaching , based primarily on the natural law teaching of Thomas Aquinas . The origin of the human individual and society is therefore the divine plan of creation. The functional principle of this society is the principle of subsidiarity , according to which people must first shape their own lives. Only when he is unable to do so does the next higher level (from the family to the community to the state) have to intervene to help.


In the Middle Ages, political and ecclesiastical power stood in a close, mutually justifying and supporting relationship ( two-swords theory ). The Reformation did not change that much either. With the secularization in the context of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss 1803 almost all clerical principalities were abolished. In addition, after the French Revolution, the ideas of the separation of religion and state as well as religious freedom spread . With these developments, the unity of church and state and thus a large part of the church's position of power dissolved, especially in the Catholic areas.

In Protestant regions, the rulers took through the system of state churches significant impact on church life. However, since the Catholic Church is supranational and the Pope and Curia continued to hold fast to their claim to rule over the Church and in religious and ideological questions over the members of the Church, at the same time the secular rulers increasingly tried to exert influence on these issues in the Catholic area as well to numerous conflicts between the Catholic Church and secular rulers.



As early as March , Catholics began to organize themselves in political associations, which was expressly forbidden in the Kingdom of Prussia , among others . However, the ideas of the French priest Félicité de Lamennais , which declared a connection between Catholicism and democracy possible, were rejected as heresy by the Vatican in the 1830s. In Belgium in 1830, politically organized Catholics played a major role in the national movement .

The Cologne church dispute from around 1830 to 1840 represented a mobilization boost for the Catholic population in Germany . In the dispute over church competencies at universities and confessional mixed marriages, the arrest of Cologne Archbishop Clemens August Droste zu Vischering in 1837 led to the formation of more Catholic associations, especially in the Rhineland . With the help of these associations, the Catholics tried to give their interests to the state more emphasis. In addition, in the context of ultra-montanism , clerics and lay people attached themselves more closely to the church headquarters in Rome, whereas the German dioceses had previously emphasized their independence. Joseph Görres was the pioneer of political Catholicism in this early phase .

Revolution of 1848

When in the German Revolution of 1848/49 numerous political liberties, including the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of association, were demanded and in some cases enforced, Catholics also used these opportunities. A wave of Catholic associations was founded in the German states, including not only political, but also Catholic workers', women's and choral associations. The political associations began to form as Pius associations, but mostly only after 1849 .

In the Frankfurt National Assembly resolutely political-Catholic members formed the "Catholic Club". Catholic factions in the Prussian and other state parliaments were also mostly loose and short-lived associations, which also had difficulties in agreeing on a binding political program. Programmatically, the political representatives of Catholicism faced several problems: In principle, they saw themselves mostly as a state-supporting force, but tried to limit the state's influence on the church. This brought them into conflict with the sovereigns and the conservative camp. Since liberalism wanted to wipe out the influence of religion from state and society, there were also frequent arguments with this movement.

Forging an Empire and Kulturkampf

In the reaction era after 1848, the activities of political Catholicism were restricted by the state authorities, even if its organizations were no longer generally prohibited. The most important advocate of Catholic influence on politics in this era was the Mainz Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler . In the 1860s, new gatherings of politically active Catholics began. Between 1852 and 1867 there was a Catholic parliamentary group in the Prussian House of Representatives . The various approaches resulted in the establishment of the Center Party in 1870 . First in the Prussian state parliament and after the establishment of the Reich in 1871 in the Reichstag , she became the bearer of political Catholicism and was to remain so until 1933. With the Soest program , a document was created for the first time in 1870 that formulated the binding goals of political Catholicism.

The center was initially in opposition to Bismarck and, with the Kulturkampf from 1871 to 1878 , experienced the sharpest confrontation with the state to date. However, this also led to greater unity among the Catholic population and electorate around their political representatives. In 1874 the center achieved its highest result in the Reichstag elections with around 28 percent. From 1881 to 1912 it was the largest parliamentary group in the Reichstag.

Reconciliation with the state

While from 1880 to 1887 various mitigation laws dismantled the state coercive measures against the Catholic Church and the Catholic association system, the center took an increasingly pro-government course, which was also connected with Bismarck's economic policy turn to protectionism . After Bismarck's dismissal in 1890, the center became the most important pillar of the respective imperial government.

The center united a large part of the German Catholics, regardless of their social position. As a result, the party initially found it difficult to develop a program that went beyond the defense of religious rights. With the emergence of a Catholic social doctrine (encyclical Rerum novarum , 1891), however, the center began to strengthen its profile in this political field, not least as a counter-offer to social democracy .

In 1890 the People's Association for Catholic Germany was established , which placed Catholic social teaching at the center of its work and grew to 805,000 members by 1914. From 1860 there were attempts to found Catholic trade unions . In 1901 an umbrella organization was established in which both Catholic and Protestant trade unions came together. In relation to the socialist trade unions, however, their importance remained minor. More important were the Catholic workers' associations , which by the First World War grew to more than a million members.

The growing importance of the partially democratically oriented workforce within political Catholicism also led to internal conflicts with the strong monarchical-conservative and agrarian wings. Even an opening towards Protestants was discussed in the central dispute from 1906 onwards.

The 20th century

As part of the truce , the center supported German war policy in World War I , but from 1917 onwards the majority favored a negotiated peace.

In the Weimar Republic , the center formed a coalition with almost all other parties, thus representing a stabilizing factor and, apart from that, mainly operating the expansion of the welfare state . In this position of power and under the liberal conditions of democracy, the center was able to enforce extensive church and school freedoms. In Bavaria , the center had split off in 1918 with the Bavarian People's Party (BVP).

In the late phase of the republic, the center positioned itself increasingly conservatively. On March 23, 1933, the central faction in the Reichstag voted unanimously for the Enabling Act . Under pressure from the Nazi regime , the center dissolved itself on July 5, 1933 - 15 days before the conclusion of the Reich Concordat between the Vatican and Hitler's Germany. The Volksverein for Catholic Germany was also banned in 1933.

The Catholic milieu has long been considered resistant to National Socialism . Resistant behavior, however, as in cross- fighting, was mostly limited to repelling attacks against the church. Even if no resistance groups were formed, Josef Müller and other Catholic politicians participated in the resistance against National Socialism .

After 1945 the CDU, or in Bavaria the CSU, largely took over the Catholic-Conservative clientele. However, they both saw themselves as non-denominational collection parties and included not only conservative and Christian-social elements but also liberal elements. Notwithstanding this, the view was taken that in the early years of the Federal Republic the Catholic element in the CDU had a clear preponderance, which could only be pushed back later - also under the influence of anti-clerical criticism from the opposition. The Center Party , which was re-established after the end of the war, was no longer of marginal importance.


In the 19th century, political Catholicism in France was traditionally close to royalist and anti-republican circles and was also a carrier of anti-Semitism. Comparatively progressive, on the other hand, was the Le Sillon movement (“The Furche”), founded in 1894 by the then 21-year-old Marc Sangnier , which tried to reconcile Catholicism with the values ​​of the French Republic and to offer Christian workers an alternative to materialism and anti-clericalism of the socialists to offer.

Due to the Dreyfus Affair , largely caused by right-wing Catholic circles , political Catholicism lost a lot of its influence around the turn of the century. The right-wing extremist Action française (AF) embodied from 1898, led by Charles Maurras , a combination of militant Catholicism and integral nationalism . It is supported by Ernst Nolte as the first representative of fascism , of Zeev Sternhell , after all, regarded as the forerunner of fascism. Pope Pius XI The AF condemned it in 1926 and had its newspaper and several of Maurras' writings put on the Librorum Prohibitorum index .

With the law of December 9, 1905 , church and state were strictly separated. In the period that followed, practically all political parties were secular. Only the Parti Démocrate Populaire , founded in 1924 and positioned in the political center, invoked Catholic social teaching and the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum . But it only got about 3% of the vote. The lay organization Fédération nationale catholique , founded in 1925 by General Noël de Castelnau , was directed against the anti-clerical efforts of the left-wing coalition and existed until the beginning of the Vichy regime in 1940.

After the end of the Second World War there was an influential Christian Democratic party rooted in social Catholicism, which, in view of the prevailing laïcité, was consciously not “Catholic” and - unlike the Christian Democratic parties in other Western European countries - not even “Christian”, but Mouvement républicain populaire ("Movement of the People's Republicans") called. However, in the early 1950s it quickly lost ground to the rising Gaullism .

After the Second Vatican Council , as a counter-movement to the modernization of the church around Marcel Lefebvre, Catholic traditionalism , which also has a political component and has an effect beyond the borders of the republic , emerged. The Civitas movement , which was founded in 1999 and is closely related to the Pius Brotherhood , under the leadership of Belgian Alain Escada, is right-wing extremist, Catholic-fundamentalist and wants to make Catholicism the state religion again. With La Manif pour tous , a movement attributed to Catholicism emerged from the rejection of a changed family image from 2013, which has also had the status of a party since 2015.



With the national unification of Italy ( Risorgimento ), political Catholicism grew out of defense against the secular national liberal policy of the Kingdom of Italy , proclaimed in 1861, under Victor Emmanuel II and its Prime Minister Camillo Graf von Cavour . This operated the secularization and so came into conflict with the Catholic Church. In 1865 the Associazione cattolica italiana per la difesa della libertà della Chiesa in Italia (“Catholic Association for the Defense of the Freedom of the Church in Italy”) was founded in Bologna . Pope Pius IX gave her his blessing in an apostolic brief of April 4, 1866. In 1867 the Società della Gioventù Cattolica ("Society of Catholic Youth") was founded in Bologna . In the summer of 1870 marched Italian troops under King Victor Emmanuel II. Almost without a fight one in the Papal States , Pius IX deposed. politically and soon afterwards proclaimed Rome the capital of Italy. (Main article: Risorgimento # Further development after 1870 )

Pius IX responded to this and to the abolition of ecclesiastical privileges by the Kingdom of Italy with the papal bull Non expedit ("It is not appropriate"). It banned religious Catholics from voting in the Italian nation-state. Instead, Catholic lay people organized themselves in the Opera dei congressi e dei comitati cattolici ("Congress Work "), which was founded in Venice in 1874 and was "unmistakably intransigent ". H. Loyal to the Pope and opposed to the Italian state, positioned. In the face of "war [it] against the Church", the state was seen as an enemy with whom one should not compromise. Instead, a "Christian reconquest" of society was called for. Liberal Catholics who came to terms with the state rejected the “congress work”. At first glance, paradoxically, the Opera dei congressi was most strongly represented in the developed regions of northern Italy, while it hardly played a role in the more backward regions of central and southern Italy (which were actually further away from the new state).

Pope Pius X dissolved the “Congress Work” in 1904 in order to overcome the division of Italian Catholics into “intransigents” and liberals. Instead, with the encyclical Il fermo proposito , he set up the Catholic Action as a movement for all lay Catholics, which spread from Italy to all over the world. In 1909, the same Pope relaxed the ban on voting in an apostolic letter motu proprio . Count Vincenzo Gentiloni then founded the Unione Elettorale Cattolica Italiana (UECI) as a loose association of Catholic politicians.

With the introduction of universal suffrage for men of age by the Giovanni Giolitti government in 1912, political Catholicism also gained in importance in elections. Previously, there was a census voting system that allowed only a small minority of aristocratic and upper-class men to participate in elections, which were mostly secular and (national) liberal. However, the liberalism of the Kingdom of Italy had always remained an elite project; its values ​​were not anchored in the broader population. In the parliamentary elections in 1913, however, no independent Catholic party stood up, but the UECI recommended - in order to prevent a victory for the socialists - according to the so-called patto gentiloni the election of liberal candidates. However, they had to agree to a catalog of seven demands (including religious instruction in state schools, rejection of the legalization of divorce).

After the end of the First World War, the Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI) was founded as a genuine Catholic people's party, which is also the first Christian Democratic party at all, at the decisive instigation of priest Luigi Sturzo . Pope Benedict XV approved this establishment and finally lifted the non-expedit of participation in the parliamentary elections in November 1919 . The PPI played a central political role until the fascists came to power. Its program was rooted in Catholic social doctrine, but it wanted to be organizationally independent of the Catholic clergy and appeal to both conservative and left-wing Catholics - workers, farmers, middle-class and entrepreneurs alike. It rejected the totalitarianism of both communists and fascists. It was banned in 1926 during the reign of Benito Mussolini . Subsequently, most of the Catholic politicians behaved apolitically, but from 1943 many Catholics also became involved in the Resistancea .


In view of the failure of both elitist liberalism and fascism and as an antipole to communism, religious Catholics became particularly politically active in the post-war period. In 1943 the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) was founded, which succeeded the PPI as the Catholic and Christian Democratic People's Party. Since this in the sense of an “anti-fascist consensus” cooperated with communists and socialists in the immediate post-war period and advocated land reform , it initially met with rejection from conservative elites and part of the Catholic clergy, instead the more right-wing forces such as the “Jedermann Front” “ ( L'Uomo qualunque ) supported.

After Alcide De Gasperi had terminated the coalition with communists and socialists in 1947 and spoke out clearly in favor of Italy's ties to the west, the Democrazia Cristiana enjoyed the unreserved support of the Catholic camp and achieved election results of over 40 percent. It dominated the political landscape of Italy, in turn united conservative, liberal and moderate left wings and claimed to represent both workers and employers. The DC disintegrated after a major corruption scandal in the early 1990s. Since then, Catholic politicians have been scattered across numerous different parties.


Political Catholicism in Spain was intertwined with Carlism in the 19th century and faced a particularly pronounced anti-clericalism on the part of the Spanish liberals. Catholicism therefore often found itself in opposition to the Spanish monarchy of the Isabelline and Alfonsine forms, which was dependent on liberal politicians, and which often gave in to anti-clerical efforts, but basically tried to find a compromise with the Catholic Church. The opposition to the liberal state became particularly acute in the republican phases, in which there were regularly popular uprisings and attacks against churches, clergy and religious members, as well as state restrictions and bans on church activity, which were promoted or instigated by radical liberal politicians. Standing in this tradition, the government of the Second Spanish Republic also pursued a strictly secular policy, abolished the privileges of the Church, banned religious orders from teaching and again banned the Jesuit order. Militant anti-clerical popular movements set fire to churches and attacked religious and priests. Almost all Catholic circles were in fundamental opposition to this republic. The Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas , the most important representative of the political right camp during this time, was located in political Catholicism, it combined Christian-conservative with anti-republican and fascism-like elements.

After taking power in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Francisco Franco declared so-called national Catholicism to be a state ideology and in 1937 urged the Carlist Comunión Tradicionalista to merge with the fascist-national syndicalist Falange Española de las JONS . As the leading party organization of the Francoist state, Franco formed the FET y de las JONS - also known as Movimiento Nacional - which were oriented towards himself and ideologically self-contradictory . He also based his rule on substantial parts of the Catholic clergy. The Catholic lay organization Opus Dei , which strived for political influence in the 1950s, played an important role in the cooperation between Catholics and the unified Spanish state, but its leadership was hostile to traditional political Catholicism. It was not until after Franco's death in 1975 that noteworthy parties were formed that combined Christian-Catholic politics with a commitment to democracy, namely the Christian Democratic People's Democratic Party . In 1989 it merged with Alianza Popular, which was determined by earlier exponents of the Franco regime, and other, smaller parties to form the conservative Spanish People's Party .

Latin America

After Catholicism in Latin America had long been close to the existing and traditionally less democratic structures of rule and ownership, a counter-movement developed there in the second half of the 20th century with the liberation theology , one of whose best-known representatives is Óscar Romero, who was beatified as a martyr .

Parties rooted in Catholic social doctrine were and are among others the Falange Nacional in Chile (which despite its name had little in common with Spanish Falangism and, due to its progressive economic and social program, was in conflict with the high Catholic clergy) and those from it emerged Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Chile ; the Partido Republicano Nacional and its successor parties to Calderonismo in Costa Rica; the conservative Partido Social Cristiano and the more left Democracia Popular in Ecuador; the Partido Demócrata Cristiano in El Salvador; the Partido Popular Cristiano in Peru; as well as the COPEI in Venezuela.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Kurt Sontheimer: The Adenauer era . 4th edition. dtv, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-423-34024-X , p. 122 .
  2. ^ A b Jean-Claude Delbreil: Le parti démocrate populaire. Un parti démocrate chrétien français de l'entre-deux-guerres. In: Christian Democracy in Europe in the 20th Century. Böhlau, Wien 2001, pp. 77–97, on p. 77.
  3. Ernst Nolte: Fascism in its epoch. Action française - Italian fascism - National Socialism. Piper, Munich 1963.
  4. ^ Zeev Sternhell, Mario Sznajder, Maia Asheri: The Birth of Fascist Ideology. From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution. 1994, pp. 78-91.
  5. Dirk Zadra: The change in the French party system. The “présidentiables” in the Fifth Republic. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 1997, p. 29.
  6. Jean-Claude Delbreil: Le parti démocrate populaire. Un parti démocrate chrétien français de l'entre-deux-guerres. In: Christian Democracy in Europe in the 20th Century. Böhlau, Wien 2001, pp. 77–97, on p. 78.
  7. ^ Chemin des mémoires: Edouard de Castelnau Army Ministry of France
  8. Suzanne Krause: France - "Politically disregarded" Catholics make politics. Deutschlandfunk, broadcast day by day , September 26, 2016.
  9. Angelo Gambasin (1958): Il movimento sociale nell'Opera dei congressi (1874-1904): contributo per la storia del cattolicesimo sociale in Italia , p. 20 ( online )
  10. Angelo Gambasin (1958), p. 21.
  11. ^ Reimut Zohlnhöfer: The party system of Italy. In: The party systems of Western Europe. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2006, pp. 275-298, on p. 276.
  12. Riccardo Nanini: Believe in works. Theology, politics and economics at the Compagnia delle Opere. Lit Verlag, Berlin / Münster 2010, pp. 159–160.
  13. Riccardo Nanini: Believe in works. Theology, politics and economics at the Compagnia delle Opere. Lit Verlag, Berlin / Münster 2010, p. 168.
  14. a b Detlef Pollack, Gergely Rosta: Religion in der Moderne. An international comparison. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt / New York, 2015, p. 178.
  15. ^ A b Helena Dawes: Catholic Women's Movements in Liberal and Fascist Italy. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke (Hampshire) / New York 2014, pp. 17-18.
  16. ^ Carlo Masala : The Democrazia Cristiana 1943-1963. To the development of the partito nazionale. In: Christian Democracy in Europe in the 20th Century. Böhlau, Wien 2001, pp. 348–369, on p. 355.
  17. Ferdinand A. Hermens: Verfassungslehre. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1968, p. 451.
  18. Dieter Krüger: Security through integration? The economic and political cooperation of Western Europe 1947 to 1957/58. Oldenbourg, Munich 2003, p. 79.
  19. Martin Blinkhorn: Democracy and Civil War in Spain 1932-1939. Routledge, 2002, p. 15.
  20. ^ Paul Preston : The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge. 3rd edition, Norton, New York 2007, pp. 62-65.
  21. ^ Brian H. Smith: The Church and Politics in Chile. Challenges to Modern Catholicism. Princeton University Press, 1982, p. 95.
  22. Michael Fleet: The Rise and Fall of Chilean Christian Democracy. Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 48.