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Zheng, H. Catholic Church and Politics. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 02 December 2023).
Zheng H. Catholic Church and Politics. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 02, 2023.
Zheng, Handwiki. "Catholic Church and Politics" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 02, 2023).
Zheng, H.(2022, November 17). Catholic Church and Politics. In Encyclopedia.
Zheng, Handwiki. "Catholic Church and Politics." Encyclopedia. Web. 17 November, 2022.
Catholic Church and Politics

Catholic Church and politics aims to cover subjects of where the Catholic Church and politics share common ground.

templateglobalize/europe politics

1. Background

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "the separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life."[1]

2. 19th Century

As a program and a movement, political Catholicism - a political and cultural conception which promotes the ideas and social teaching of the Catholic Church (Catholic social teaching) in public life through government action - was started by Prussian Catholics in the second half of the 19th century, as a response to secular social concepts. The main reason were the measures by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to limit the influence of Catholic Church, first in Prussia, and then in united Germany. That struggle is known in history as the Kulturkampf.

From Germany, political Catholic social movements spread in Austria-Hungary, especially in today's Austria, Ukraine, Slovenia and Croatia. Catholic Action was the name of many groups of lay Catholics who were attempting to encourage a Catholic influence on political society.

After the 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum (Of New Things) by Pope Leo XIII, political Catholic movements got a new impulse for development, and they spread the area of their involvement. With this encyclical, the Catholic Church expanded its interest in social, economical, political and cultural issues, and it called for a drastic conversion of Western society in the 19th century in the face of capitalist influences. Following the release of the document, the labour movement which had previously floundered began to flourish in Europe and later in North America. Catholic believers, both lay and clergy alike, had a desire for active social and political engagement in order to deal with acute social problems according to Catholic Christian principles, as opposed to a purely secular approach. For example, Mary Harris Jones, better known as "Mother Jones", and the National Catholic Welfare Council were central in the campaign to end child labour in the United States during the early 20th century.

3. Catholic Movements in the 20th Century

In the 20th century, Catholic political movements became very strong in Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Ireland, France and Latin America. What these movements had in common was a defense of the acquired rights of the Catholic Church (attacked by anticlerical politicians) and a defense of Christian faith and moral values (threatened by increasing secularization). Members of opposing schools of thought called such attempts clericalism.

These Catholic movements developed various forms of Christian democratic ideology, generally promoting a morally and socially conservative agenda whilst supporting a middle ground third way between unrestrained capitalism and state socialism. Freemasons were seen mainly as enemies and vehement opponents of political Catholicism. A special situation occurred in Mexico, where an atheistic president ruled in the 1920s and oppressed the Church and Catholics. This led to the open Christian revolution of 1926 to 1929, known as the Cristero War.

Some of the earliest important political parties were:

  • Conservative Catholic Party of Switzerland – 1848;
  • Catholic Party (Belgium) – 1869;
  • Centre Party (Germany) – with origins in 1870;
  • Christian Social Party (Austria) – 1893;
  • Popular Liberal Action in France – 1901;
  • General League of Roman Catholic Caucuses (Netherlands) – 1904, transformed into the Roman Catholic State Party in 1926;
  • Slovak People's Party – 1918;
  • Croatian Popular Party – 1919;
  • Italian People's Party – 1919;
  • Polish Christian Democratic Party – 1919;
  • Bavarian People's Party – 1919;
  • National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty in Mexico – 1924.
  • Democratic Labour Party (Australia) - 1955

Most of these parties in Europe joined together in White International (1922). Franco's mixture of Catholicism and nationalism received its own brand of National Catholicism and it inspired similar movements throughout Europe.[2]

In addition to political parties, Catholic/Christian trade unions were created, which fought for worker's rights: the earliest include:

  • Typographic Workers Trade Union in Spain (1897);
  • Solidarity in South Africa (1902);
  • Confederation of Christian Trade Unions in Belgium (1904);
  • Catholic Workers Union in Mexico (1908);
  • International Federation of Christian Trade Unions (IFCTO), in The Hague in 1920 (which was preceded by the International Secretariat of Christian Trade Unions founded in Zürich in 1908, led through the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) to today's International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC));
  • French Confederation of Christian Workers (1919);
  • Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (1921);
  • Canadian Catholic Federation of Labour (1921)
  • Young Christian Workers in Belgium (1924);
  • Catholic Worker Movement in the USA (from 1933).

After World War II, more unions were formed, including:

  • Italian Confederation of Workers' Trade Unions (from 1950);
  • Christian Trade Union Federation of Germany (from 1959);
  • Christian Workers' Union in Belize (from 1963);
  • Solidarity in Poland (from 1980).

Until the Second Vatican Council, the Church did not always accept the model of modern democracy and its expansion into social and economic realms because it was wary of anticlerical socialistic tendencies. When Catholic social activists were perceived to be too extreme in social conflicts, the Church hierarchy tried to stop their excesses; occasions of this included the Worker-priest movement in France in the 1940s and 1950s, and liberation theology in Latin America in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. But some movements were strongly supported by the Church - in Australia the Catholic Social Studies Movement during the 1940s and 1950s, from which the National Civic Council has developed.

Catholic clergy and lay activists sometimes tended to support far-right leaders such Francisco Franco and António de Oliveira Salazar, as well as the military regimes in Latin America. As a result, many workers involved in the labor movement joined social democratic and communist parties, which were sometimes secular and called for revolution against old values, which included religion and the Church.

In recent times, after the Second World War, Christian engagement in politics became weaker and even "Demo-Christian" parties by name lost some of their Christianity. Stronger Christian involvement in Europe on the beginning of the 21st century has produced some new small parties, for example those joined in the European Christian Political Movement. According to The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, part of the younger generation of Catholics are now showing a renewed interest in forms of political Catholicism such as a revived Catholic Integralism or Tradinista! socialism.[3]


  1. "Catholics in Political Life", United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  2. Stanley G. Payne (1984). Spanish Catholicism: An Historical Overview. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. xiii. ISBN 978-0-299-09804-9. 
  3. Douthat, Ross (October 8, 2016). Among the Post-Liberals. The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2017
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