The capture of Ratko Mladic, the notorious bastard of the Bosnian War, once again reminded me of a similar Italian situation, how Italians dealt with it, and why.
The Italy of the post WW I years was extremely explosive, and during the “biennio rosso” (1919-1921) it seemed that an outright civil war was in the cards. As it is well-known, a de-facto alliance of liberals, landowners, industrialists, conservative Catholics and Fascists put an end to this danger.
When it was clear that the Fascists had got the upper hand, they had to deal with the opposition. But they weren’t Serbians, or Spanish commies. In the end, everyone wanted to live peacefully, and leave adversaries alone as much as this could be reasonably done. The most used device to “pacify” the country was typically Italian: castor oil.
In two words, a small troop of Fascist activist would present themselves to the home of the relevant chap (a socialist, or an anti-fascist liberal or Catholic) and invite him to drink the castor oil. The refusal to drink obviously meant open war, but the acceptance of the “medical aid”a sort of token: one would abstain from anti-fascist activity and would, henceforth, be left alone. No blood, no murders, no widows, no orphans. Not even physical violence. You can call this fascist oppression and I won’t say it was pleasant. But given the circumstances I call it absolutely genial, very Italian, and very Catholic.
This praxis, savagely criticised in the following decades, was in my eyes extremely civilised, and I don’t know any other country where such limitless hate was set aside in such a bloodless way. Humiliating as the drinking of the castor oil was, it was a humiliation meant to consolidate Fascism in power without tragedies, and keeping even one’s adversaries totally unscathed.
I must honestly say that, whilst the civil war phase at the end of WW II was much bloodier than the Fascists ever dreamt to be, most anti-Fascists were honest and decent enough to remember the wisdom of the treatment and, when their hour struck, caused many bottles of castor oil to go over the pharmacy counter and, from there, down different throats. Again, I see in this the way of a country where even the strongest hatred very rarely causes people to forget a sense of humanity and Christian piety; not even then, when those now in the commanding position wouldn’t even define themselves as Christians. Such is the power of an all-pervading Catholic attitude.
The most humorous way to describe in very visual terms the difference between the Serbian and the Italian attitude can be seen in this fragment of a Don Camillo/Peppone film, so popular at the time because so adherent to the Italian reality.
Unfortunately there are no subtitles, but the story is easily told.
1) An old fascist (the great Paolo Stoppa, dressed as a Redskin) has profited from the Carnival to come back to his old village; but he has been recognised from Peppone’s commies and is now very afraid something truly bad may happen to him. He takes refuge by Don Camillo.
2) Don Camillo reminds him that he would feel “safer” if it wasn’t for the castor oil the other had made him drink many yeasr before. The other has the usual excuses: come on, we were mere boys then…
3) Don Peppone, the commie mayor, intervenes after having gone in from the window. He carries a bottle of…. castor oil. Doctor’s orders, he says. “It will do you good”. An iron bar strenghtens the doctor’s advice considerably.
4) The Fascist chap makes a first attempt at escaping, but is stopped. He frees himself a second time, reaches for Don Camillo’s gun, threatens Peppone. “Don’t be stupid, it’s loaded”, says Don Camillo.
5) Now it’s iron bar against gun. Peppone must drink.
6) Triumphant, the fascist chap sends him away. “Now go and call your reds. Perhaps it will cost me my skin, but I won’t go to hell alone”.
7) Don Camillo smiles. He fills a glass. He remarks about how good the oil’s quality is. “You’ll like it”, he says. When the chap threatens him, he informs him that the gun is not loaded, and overcomes him with sheer physical strenght. “I’ll count up to three, then I’ll pulverise you by mere force of slaps”. The chap has no choice but to drink. He is then sent away with the advice of “dressing as a hare” before he is found by Peppone’s boys.
8) Everything seems fine, but Jesus now talks to Peppone: he has lied. “If I had told that the gun wasn’t loaded, Peppone would have massacred him”, tries Don Camillo. “You could have spoken when the redskin forced Peppone to drink the oil!”, says Jesus. “But then Peppone wouldn’t have drunk!”, answers the cheeky priest feigning indifference whilst lighting a cigar.
9) Jesus calls this “vengeance”, Camillo replies with “Justice”. When Jesus insists on him having a “profound sense of justice”, his words are clear: “justice demands that violence and lie be punished”. Camillo’s eyes fall on the castor oil bottle. “Ah, you understood me well!”, says Jesus.
10) At this point, resistance is futile. Camillo tries to cheat, but then fills the glass properly. Before he drinks, he movingly says: “in the end, my Lord, this will remind me of my youth”.
I hope that this little, delightful sketch has added some sun to your Sunday, and that it has explained to you the difference between mad fanaticism, and a Catholic approach to the enemy.
Interesting article from Ann Widdecombe (alas, on the “Guardian”) about the PR attitude of the Church.
In short, Ann Widdecombe if of the opinion that the Church does not defend Herself vocally against the allegations and accusations of the secular press because she does not even make “much of a fuss” when her own priests and nuns are killed. Similarly, the Church does not do even 1% of the PR work of every modern government about the good work She does everywhere because not to trumpet around one’s good works is Jesus’ instruction. Brilliantly, Ms. Widdecombe sees the link to the brilliant work of the Church to help the Jews during WW II.
This interesting reflections do introduce, though, another problem, promptly recognised by the author. By being so weak, the Church does not help – and in many case, positively confuses – the common Catholics, who may often feel humiliated or ashamed of perceived grave faults, or even slowly detach themselves from proper Catholicism. It is obvious that a true Catholic will always stay with the Church and will not be influenced by malicious propaganda, but if we look at the reality on the ground we must recognise that 40 years of “Catholicism light” have greatly lessened the resilience of ordinary Catholics when the Church is attacked from the forces of secularism and no proper reaction is made promptly available to them.
In my eyes, the most efficient way here lies in the middle. Yes, the Church must not go around trumpeting all her good deeds as if it was a Prime Minister asking his PR staff to glorify the latest “policy”. But at the same time, the Church should be much more aggressive and much more vocal when the issue is not the good the Church does, but the evil other do against Her. If TV channels are gravely biased against the Church, this must be repeated ad nauseam and in time even the thickest heads will get the message; if there are widespread lies about Pius XII’s work during WW II, the Church must take care that Catholics all over the world are correctly informed; if the press gives the impression that the Church is a criminal organisation mainly occupied with keeping Her priests out of jail, statistics and comparisons with other professions and situation must be spread everywhere and no, to profuse oneself in apologies is not enough.
A much more assertive work of proper information of Catholics on current issues would not only avoid the risk of the creation of a diffuse anti-Catholic sentiment (as currently tried in the UK on a vast scale), but would give ordinary Catholics better weapons to deal with the enemies of the Church.
There is a middle way between being a boaster and a doormat.
Sandro Magister, one of the most informed and attentively read Vaticanists, has obtained a rather interesting letter from a member of the gravely disgraced order of the Legionaries of Christ.
Leaving aside for a moment the acute (but well-known) considerations of Magister about the energy of the Pontiff in dealing with a man and an organisation that had been able to acquire a status of almost untouchability during the Pontificate of John Paul The Gullible, Magister points out (with the help of the letter, which he reports in full) to these in my eyes very important facts:
1) The hierarchy within the Legionaries of Christ is still largely the one surrounding Marcial Maciel before his fall from grace.
2) The scale of Maciel’s shameless failings lets it appear more and more unlikely that he could lead his double life without the acquiescence of the people nearest to him within the organisation. The official “we knew nothing”-mantra seems therefore increasingly more untenable.
3) Portraits of Maciel still appear in several locations owned by the Legionaries. This indicates an utter absence of the will to come clean and try to make amends for the past.
4) Most importantly, the letter reveals a scandal of astonishing proportion: the systematic treatment of the followers mainly in light of their ability as potential spenders. Families are divided into “categories” depending on wealth and accordingly assigned to members of the orders, a praxis suitable for an insurance brokerage but not for a religious order. As the priest is the one who will work as spiritual counsellor, the scope for abuse is immense. Mind, this is not simply what used to happen during Maciel’s tenure. This is what is still happening today.
A long time after the exposure of Maciel’s corruption, the leaders of the organisation he founded continue not only to stonewall, but to openly identify with him. If this were not enough, they continue to use at least some of the extremely questionable practices put in place by the founder.
I have often stated, and would like to repeat today, that in my eyes The Legionaries of Christ must be disbanded. The idea to reform such an ideologically rooted organisation is in my eyes as unrealistic as it would have been to allow the Nazi Party to survive after 1945, taking away the personality cult and transforming the party into a democratic organisation. People don’t change so easily and they most certainly don’t change when they are allowed to stay within the organisation which has totally formed their personality.
Besides this obvious organisational point there is another point we should not neglect: the effect of the survival of this organisation on the Church’s reputation. I could not name to you one single big Catholic religious order established by a person who was less than a saintly man, let alone an unspeakable bastard like Maciel. St. Francis was not homosexual. St. Dominic was not a child molester. St. Benedict didn’t have a double life with lover and several children. St. Ignatius was not an embezzler. Maciel was all these things together. They were all Saints.
Do we really want all the detractors of the Church to point out, in two or three hundred years’ time, that one of the Church’s biggest orders was founded by such a (I must say the word again) bastard? Do we really want the Church getting on record for having allowed the Legionaries to go on? How can the Church allow such stain to haunt her for all the centuries to come? Is this the prudent thing to do? The extremely prestigious seminary of Sankt Poelten has been closed down after its homosexual scandal; the reasoning was that there are failings an organisation cannot survive, shames from which it can never recover. Exactly.
Allow me to make a (politically incorrect, which is always good) comparison with the Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS – not to be confused with the notorious SS, to which they were linked in name only – were arguably the most brilliant military force ever to thread the fields of WW II. They were selected among the Third Reich’s best of the best, were revolutionary in their being multinational (“The first modern European army”, as it has been rightly said) and were highly admired even by their enemies. Have they been allowed to survive after Hitler’s fall? Nope. Why is that? Because good as they were, their indefensible founder made them indefensible. Because good as they were, their rotten ideology made them (collectively) irredeemable. Because had they been allowed to go on after the fall of their founder, it was clear that they would have continued to share the values in which they were totally immersed. Because there are situations where how good you are is not the point anymore.
Exactly the same considerations can be applied, I think, to the Legionaries of Christ. No one doubts their devotion to the cause and high efficiency in what they do; but one must recognise that they are pretty much brainwashed by the personality cult they have lived in for so many years and that by allowing them to remain within the organisation this brainwashing would never be “washed away”. They will therefore (like the Waffen-SS) have to be disbanded and their people (the good ones, I mean) placed elsewhere, where they will be able to progressively shed their “legionary” thinking.
The Legionaries of Christ must be disbanded. It doesn’t make sense to keep an organisation so horribly tainted. What has happened is beyond reconstruction and beyond redemption. As the post-Maciel years abundantly prove.