chapter  9
21 Pages

A Vatican Conspiracy? Internationalism, Catholicism and the Quest for European Unification, 1945–50


On 5 May 1948, three years after the liberation of the Netherlands from its Nazi occupiers, eight people met in the third-class waiting area of Utrecht’s Central Station. After participating in an ‘international route’ organised by Pax Christi in Kevelaer, a well-known Catholic pilgrimage site just across the German border, they decided to establish a Dutch branch of the international Catholic peace movement. Growing out of the desire for reconciliation between France and Germany among members of the French resistance during the war’s final months, Pax Christi had quickly become a large, international movement of predominantly young believers who deemed that peace would best be served by the former enemies getting to know one another. What the group lacked in well-formulated goals and clear ideas about its organisational structure, it made up for in vigorous enthusiasm and a devout belief in the healing power of singing, praying, and worshipping together. The members of the new Dutch section shared such fervour, as well as a lack of a clear ideology or organisational structure. Although the eight co-founders had high hopes, they did not get much further than ordering a large number of envelopes adorned with the logo of the new Dutch section, which were to be used for correspondence with potential beneficiaries. Everything else remained vague until the early 1950s. 1

This vagueness was not entirely the new movement’s fault. Almost accidentally, these youngsters in several Western countries had stumbled upon a debate that had split Catholic religious, intellectual and political elites from the mid-1930s until the early 1950s. Sparked by the sense that modernity would eradicate the solid position of the Catholic Church in the life of the flock as well as in society as a whole, a wide range of intellectuals declared that there was an urgent need for religious renewal. 2 During and after the Second World War, this sense was connected with the feeling that the modern state as the basis for international relations had failed. 3 Instead of meeting in church, Catholics of different nationalities confronted one another on the battlefield; instead of acting as brothers in faith, they slaughtered one another in combat. Therefore, a new international Catholic community had to be built upon the ashes of decades of war. There was no consensus, however, about what the foundations of this community should be. Roughly two

lines of argument were available. The first, advocated most compellingly by the Holy See, stipulated that the nation-state was obsolete and needed to be replaced by an international spiritual community under papal leadership. The second, popular among Catholic intellectuals-writers, theologians, scholars-consisted of the conviction that a new international moral community had to be built. This would only be possible, however, if people would be willing to overcome their prejudices towards one another and, overcoming national and religious differences, would take on an active role in the creation of a truly international community. The central difference between the ‘moral’ and ‘spiritual’ emphases in these respective visions was that the community imagined by the Holy See was merely a religious project that in itself had few political implications, whereas the moral community envisioned by various intellectuals was broader, possessed social as well as political connotations, and was more inclusive towards non-Catholics.