Archbishop Sheen and the Popes vs. Socialism and Communism

Imagine what would happen if Bishop Fulton Sheen, Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. John Paul II and other popes took center stage to share thoughts and warnings about Socialism and Communism.

(photo: Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke/Pixabay/CC0)

Is it a surprise an October 2019 Gallup poll found some shocking facts, among them that in the 18- to 34-year-old population, 52% saw socialism as favorable, higher than any other age group?

Maybe it’s less shocking and the drift becomes more apparent when we look at December’s EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research Poll which found in its first stage that only 39% of all Catholics go to Mass at least weekly and less than half overall, only 49%, believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

With socialism being touted today, the proverbial carrot on the stick, in so many places concerning government, we turn to Archbishop Fulton Sheen and a stellar lineup of saintly popes — imagine them on stage together — as they field questions and offer guidance and counsel concerning socialism and its close relative, communism.


Bishop Sheen, in the final show of your first TV season, you said something quite earthshattering about the state of the world. What was it?

The whole world is sick. Not just one part of the world.

When a human organism is sick, one cannot amputate an arm or a leg and feel that one has completely eradicated a poison, particularly when it is through the system. So it is with the world. We cannot. It is impossible for us just simply to point our finger to one particular country and say that it is wrong.


What was the cause you saw in 1953?

Our great problem of course, is communism.


We know communism still is the rule in several countries like China. In light of today’s apparently growing interest in socialism in the West — an “ism” cousin — especially among the young as polls are showing, what dangers did you already see from your perspective in the 19th century, Blessed Pius IX?

As regards this teaching and these theories, it is now generally known that the special goal of their proponents is to introduce to the people the pernicious fictions of Socialism and Communism…The final goal shared by these teachings, whether of Communism or Socialism, even if approached differently, is to excite by continuous disturbances workers and others, especially those of the lower class, whom they have deceived by their lies and deluded by the promise of a happier condition. (Nostis et Nobiscum, encyclical)


What do you see as one of the biggest problems of socialism, St. John XIII?

Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. (Mater et Magistra, encyclical)


Pius XI, how did you earlier state the same idea in another way that brought in the spiritual dimension?

There would be today neither Socialism nor Communism if the rulers of the nations had not scorned the teachings and maternal warnings of the Church. (Divini Redemptoris, encyclical)


Another one of your predecessors saw similar dangers. Isn’t that what you told us in your encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris (On Socialism), Leo XIII? By the way, thank you for giving us the St. Michael Prayer!

States have been constituted without any count at all of God or of the order established by him… The supernatural truths of faith having been assailed and cast out as though hostile to reason, the very Author and Redeemer of the human race has been slowly and little by little banished from the universities… and from every public institution.

For, indeed, although the socialists, stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes, nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist: ‘for what participation hath justice with injustice or what fellowship hath light with darkness’?


In light of the attacks on the family today, you also were prophetic in that same encyclical, Leo XIII, calling family life the “the cornerstone of all society and government.” Please share what you saw coming if we didn’t watch out?

The foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law, and is completed in the mutual rights and duties of parents and children…You know also that the doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union; since, that stability which is imparted to it by religious wedlock being lost, it follows that the power of the father over his own children, and the duties of the children toward their parents, must be greatly weakened. But the Church, on the contrary, teaches that ‘marriage, honorable in all,’ which God himself instituted in the very beginning of the world, and made indissoluble for the propagation and preservation of the human species, has become still more binding and more holy through Christ, who raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, and chose to use it as the figure of His own union with the Church.


Pius XI, you echoed this same shared characteristic in communism back in the 1930s. It sounds much like today. How do you explain it?

Refusing to human life any sacred or spiritual character, such a doctrine logically makes of marriage and the family a purely artificial and civil institution, the outcome of a specific economic system.

Naturally, therefore, the notion of an indissoluble marriage-tie is scouted. Communism is particularly characterized by the rejection of any link that binds woman to the family and the home, and her emancipation is proclaimed as a basic principle. (Divini Redemptoris)


Since Communist Russia subverted the idea of marriage in the early 20th century, there can be a danger of socialism morphing into communism. That seems very possible in today’s socialist Spain, where this January Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Valencia, vice president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, said of the recent coalition government election, “Marxist communism, which seemed destroyed with the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been reborn and is certain to govern Spain.”

Bishop Sheen, please tell us a few things you said about that stern cousin communism on your television show.

Whenever a civilization begins to die morally or spiritually, then there begin to appear vultures, and that is the mission of communism in the world. Communism is the scavenger of decaying civilizations. It makes this way into a country and into a culture only when that culture begins to rot from the inside. The measure of the incipient death in any civilization is the progress that communism makes. Just as soon as this culture begins to die then this winged scavenger with the mechanical wings of hammer and sickles descends upon these decaying countries in order to devour them.

Toynbee says in his history that 16 out of 19 civilizations that have decayed from the beginning of the world until the present time have decayed from within. Lincoln always said that America would never be conquered from without. If it ever perished please God it will not it would come only from within. The proper way then to look upon communism is to see that it's a judgment of God.


Already in the early 1950s you saw the decay going on and on the horizon how it would multiply. Again in the 1930s, Pius XI, what you said of communism also easily applies to its cousin socialism. Why did you see this spread?

This explanation is to be found in a propaganda so truly diabolical that the world has perhaps never witnessed its like before. It is directed from one common center. It is shrewdly adapted to the varying conditions of diverse peoples. It has at its disposal great financial resources, gigantic organizations, international congresses, and countless trained workers. It makes use of pamphlets and reviews, of cinema, theater and radio, of schools and even universities. Little by little it penetrates into all classes of the people and even reaches the better-minded groups of the community, with the result that few are aware of the poison which increasingly pervades their minds and hearts. (Divini Redemptoris)


Were you surprised?

It can surprise no one that the Communistic fallacy should be spreading in a world already to a large extent de-Christianized.


Pope Leo XIII, what you warned about in Humanum Genus on the freemasons certainly applies to this situation of both ‘-isms.’

The partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purposes, they are now boldly rising up against God Himself … that which is their ultimate purpose forces itself into view — namely, the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism… they thereby teach the great error of this age — that a regard for religion should be held as an indifferent matter, and that all religions are alike. This manner of reasoning is calculated to bring about the ruin of all forms of religion…


St. Paul VI, why do you see even some Christians attracted to socialism?

Too often Christians attracted by socialism tend to idealize it in terms which, apart from anything else, are very general: a will for justice, solidarity and equality. They refuse to recognize the limitations of the historical socialist movements, which remain conditioned by the ideologies from which they originated. (Octogesima Adveniens apostolic letter)


You referred to the teachings of your predecessors on socialism and communism, St. John Paul II. Please share your thoughts and warnings on socialism.

Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order.


What does it eventually lead to?

In fact, where self-interest is violently suppressed, it is replaced by a burdensome system of bureaucratic control which dries up the wellsprings of initiative and creativity. When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a ‘secular religion’ which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world. But no political society — which possesses its own autonomy and laws — can ever be confused with the Kingdom of God. The Gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30; 36-43) teaches that it is for God alone to separate the subjects of the Kingdom from the subjects of the Evil One, and that this judgment will take place at the end of time. By presuming to anticipate judgment here and now, man puts himself in the place of God and sets himself against the patience of God. (Centesimus Annus, encyclical)


Do you Blessed Pius IX, see any collaboration Christians can have with socialism if it softens its principles?

If these false principles are modified and to some extent erased from the program, the question arises, or rather is raised without warrant by some, whether the principles of Christian truth cannot perhaps be also modified to some degree and be tempered so as to meet Socialism half-way …There are some allured by the foolish hope that socialists in this way will be drawn to us. A vain hope!

According to Christian teaching, man, endowed with a social nature, is placed on this earth so that by leading a life in society and under an authority ordained of God. he may fully cultivate and develop all his faculties unto the praise and glory of his Creator; and that by faithfully fulfilling the duties of his craft or other calling he may obtain for himself temporal and at the same time eternal happiness.

Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone.

Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.

We have also summoned Communism and Socialism again to judgment and have found all their forms, even the most modified, to wander far from the precepts of the Gospel.

(Quadragesimo Anno, On Reconstruction of the Social Order)


So, Blessed Pius IX, we need to avoid not only communism but socialism too. What do you foresee if we lean to socialism as politicians and so many of our citizens seem to be doing today?

But if the faithful scorn both the fatherly warnings of their pastors and the commandments of the Christian Law…and if they let themselves be deceived by the present-day promoters of plots, deciding to work with them in their perverted theories of Socialism and Communism, let them know and earnestly consider what they are laying up for themselves. The Divine Judge will seek vengeance on the day of wrath. Until then no temporal benefit for the people will result from their conspiracy, but rather new increases of misery and disaster. (Nostis et Nobiscum, encyclical)


Thank you for your insights, Venerable Fulton Sheen, Blessed Pius IX, St. Paul VI, St. John XIII, St. John Paul II, Leo XII, and Pius XI.