The Conflicted Relationships of the American Catholic Church with European Fascism




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Faced with European Fascism, the American Catholic Church had no choice but to react to the changing political realities taking place in Europe and Latin America during the 1920s and 1930s. Because of fascist control over the Vatican and the German Catholic Church, the words and actions of bishops, priests, laymen and the Catholic press in the United States revealed a distinctly American force that championed to the world American-style freedoms prior to World War II. Yet, this support took time to become a reality. Originally, many in the U.S. Church openly and enthusiastically supported Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco because of their stance against the Church’s great enemy, communism. However, this support would erode as the U.S. Church united itself with the U.S. government in its campaign to confront Hitler and his allies. Still, even after the rise of Hitler, the Church had to battle against supporters of Hitler’s racist ideology, led by the Detroit priest Fr. Charles Coughlin. Studying the U.S. Church and its members during this period, separate and apart from the rest of the Catholic Church, offers a new way of understanding the inner workings of the Church. While the American Church had an intimate connection to the Vatican, Pope Pius XII, and the German Church, it had a semiautonomous leadership structure that responded differently to the fascist crisis. Unlike the Vatican and German Church, the American Church was much freer to express its opinions about fascism and react against it. The Church in the U.S. also had a friendly American government willing to work with it, while at the same time the Church was hopping to ingratiate itself with President Roosevelt and his administration. The American Catholic Church during the inter-war years not only represented Catholicism but also stood for America.



Catholicism, Fascism


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