The Catholic Church, is, I firmly believe, the world’s greatest collection of sinners.  I usually feel at home there. But when I behold Jacob Rees Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and their ilk, behaving like Lord Snooty and his Friends, I have qualms. I’m told that the Dundee publishers of the comic which featured Snooty had two rules – 1. Don’t employ Papists. 2. Don’t employ Trade Unionists.  

My late Uncle Dermot, a priest who spent some years in the 1930s in Paris (and was uneasy with the French Church’s attachment to Empire) said that Pope Pius XI, the former Cardinal Ratti., was known as “Ratti by name, Ratty by Nature.”  He ridiculed that Pope’s praise of the Italian Army. What I’ve read recently of Italy during his Pontificate he was more dictatorial than any of the secular dictators of his time and I’m surprised that his Cardinals didn’t knife him. When the Popes were in Avignon and dined with a huge entourage, only the Pontiff was permitted to hold a knife. Perhaps Ratti dined alone.

He blessed Mussolini’s rape of Abyssinia and Franco’s treasonous revolt in Spain.

In Ireland the Catholic Hierarchy collectively supported Franco and on one Sunday collected from Massgoers, the then huge sum of over £43,000 to support the mutineers. (They had never recognised the democratically established Dail Eireann and Cardinal Logue had sneered at the popular Republic of 1919-1921). Fine Gael, in opposition, demanded that the de Valera Government flout International Law and recognise the mutineers.(In Government today, having shed its ultra-Catholicism, it has not yet acquired sufficient regard for International Law.

When Franco’s mutineers took the small Basque town of San Sebastian, they murdered 25 Priests. At a meeting in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, organised by the Republican Congress, Father Ramon  Laborda,  from the Basque Region described Franco as “a bloodthirsty militarist and Fascist”. At the time the Cardinal Primate of Spain was claiming the Republicans had bombed Guernica. The founder of the Jesuits was from Loyola, virtually a suburb of San Sebastian. It seems to me that Shameless Seumas Murphy SJ, who claims that Daniel O’Connell never shot anyone would be a good character witness for Franco.

The Irish clergy at the time fomented attacks on leftist premises, looting and burning occupied buildings, singing Faith of Our Fathers and Hail Glorious Saint Patrick. Like the Brownshirts they made bonfires of books in the street. An outstanding exception was Father Michael O’Flanagan, former Vice-President of Sinn Fein who had led the prayer at the inauguration of Dail Eireann and been active in movements for social justice all his life. He presided over the organisation of a food-ship for Republican Spain to evade the blockade by allies of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.

At one meeting in Dublin’s Mansion House, organise by the Labour Party to launch a new addition of the works of James Connolly, a heckler started shouting – “What about the works of Jesus?” and “What about the works of St Patrick?”. At length, Frank Ryan, recuperating from a wound received fighting with the International Brigade, grabbed the offender, shaking a massive fist under his nose and advised him  ” to keep his bloody  mouth shut or he’d give him the works of Frank Ryan.”  Ryan was a faithful Catholic, a fine Irishman and a fine Internationalist. A black member of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International  Brigade, in his memoir “From Mississippi To Madrid” attests to his stature. But “Revisionists” have sought to blacken it.

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