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Saturday, June 10, 2023

“In Defence of Catholic Action”: a Prophetic Arrow Shot into the Future

In 1943, an event convulsed the national Catholic circle: it was an impressive denunciation of the heresy which had infiltrated the Brazilian Catholic Action. Such a denunciation, however, resounds to our days, eighty years later…

Newsroom (Gaudium Press) Holy Mother Church is indestructible. Yet throughout history, there have been many attempts to destroy her and – perhaps worse – countless attempts to disfigure her, distorting her face, once seen as holy and indefectible.

One of these formidable assaults, at the beginning of the last century, took place within an excellent institution founded by Pius XI, but which came to be diverted from its true course by some of its own members: Catholic Action.

In founding it, Achille Ratti had wanted to encourage the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy. However, it did not take long for this genuine idealization to give rise to a series of deviations, both moral and theological.

These errors did not go unnoticed by a certain man – an undisputed Catholic leader in our nation of Brazil – whose denouncements went beyond the continental limits of this Land of the Holy Cross, being heard even by ecclesiastics of the highest rank, such as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, then as Secretary of State and, later, as the Pope.

Thus, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, eighty years ago, published one of his most famous works, which halted in a very large measure the advance of heresy that was already raging in such an important organism of the Church: that which was known as Catholic Action.

In defence of the Catholic Action

In fact, Dr. Plinio conceived the idea of writing a book that would contain an exposition of the doctrine erroneously taught by the members of the Brazilian Catholic Action – embedded in certain Belgian religious people of progressive tendencies – but that would also present the true traditional Doctrine of the Church.

Therefore, it was not a matter of destroying Catholic Action in itself, but on the contrary, of defending it. And, for that, it was crucial to delineate and clarify what was the true Catholic Action, in contrast to that which was the false, tendentiously heretical version.

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This is why Dr. Plinio called his book “In Defence of Catholic Action” – it should be noted, incidentally, that in the year Dr. Plinio published it, he was the President of the Archdiocesan Board of Catholic Action of São Paulo, Brazil. Nothing could be more appropriate and just.

With an iron logic and a brilliant clarity, once the pages were finished, Dr. Plinio presented them to various national ecclesiastical authorities, in order to obtain the Imprimatur (Church approval). As soon as it was published – and with the preface of the Apostolic Nuncio in Brazil, Dom Benedict Aloisi Masella – “In Defence of Catholic Action” caused an immediate stir throughout the nation, while also stirring the ecclesiastical spheres elsewhere, due to its forcefulness and, we might say, prophetic aspects.

However, Dr. Plinio knew perfectly well that his approach would not go unanswered or unchallenged. Thus, in a veiled and planned persecution, even if against the general Catholic opinion, the author was being silenced; it did not matter, because the immense good had been done to the Church, and that was what really mattered to Dr. Plinio, who had already dedicated a good part of his life to the service of the Catholic cause, without expecting any compensation.

There is no doubt, however, that his attitude revealed a notable unpretentiousness and humility, since he preferred, like a Kamikaze, to give everything and his all, as long as the Church was glorified and orthodoxy saved.

80 years later

Eighty years later, looking at the unfolding of events, we cannot but note how Dr. Plinio’s move had a true prophetic scope, for it targeted not only an episodic evil of that time, but an enemy that wanted to insert itself into the sacred organism of the Church.

Besides the denunciations of the lax and liberal morality reigning among the deviant members of Catholic Action, what Dr. Plinio most emphasized and denounced in his writing was the emergence of a new form of conceiving Catholicism; a form which, if it continued on its path, would end up denying Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

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Suffice it to say that more than a few adherents of the false Catholic Action flatly denied the existence of Original Sin!

Therefore, what morals did they have?

Let us give a toast to this article by reading some extracts from “In Defence of Catholic Action”:

“In the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ, many souls like to see only the sweet, gentle and consoling truths. On the contrary, the stern warnings, the energetic attitudes, the sometimes terrible actions of Our Lord in His life are usually passed over in silence. Many souls would be scandalized – that is the word – if they saw Our Lord wielding the whip to drive the peddlers out of the Temple, cursing Jerusalem as deicidal, filling Chorazin and Bethsaida with recriminations, branding the conduct and life of the Pharisees with scathing phrases of indignation.

But Our Lord is always the same, always equally adorable, good and, in a word, divine, whether when He exclaims, “Let the little children come to Me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” or when, with the simple statement, “It is I,” made to the soldiers who were going to arrest Him in the garden of Olives, He shows Himself so terrible that they all fall to the ground immediately, the voice of the Divine Master having caused not only on their souls, but also on their bodies, the same effect as the detonation of some of the most terrible modern explosions.

It delights certain souls – and how right they are! – to think of Our Lord and the expression of adorable sweetness on His Divine Face, when He recommended to His disciples to preserve in their souls the immaculate innocence of doves. They forget, however, that soon afterwards Our Lord also advised them to cultivate in themselves the cunning of the serpent. Could the preaching of the Divine Master have had errors, gaps, or simply shadows? Who could admit it? Let us remove from ourselves every form of one-sided thinking.

Let us see Our Lord Jesus Christ as the Holy Gospels describe Him to us, as the Catholic Church shows Him; meaning, in the totality of His moral qualities, learning from Him not only meekness, gentleness, patience, indulgence, love for one’s enemies, but also the strength, though sometimes terrible and frightening, the combative courage and heroism that went even to the sacrifice of the Cross, the most holy astuteness that discerned from afar the machinations of the Pharisees and reduced their sophistic arguments to dust. 

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“Indeed, in this very sad age of ruin and corruption it would not be explicable that there should not exist, as in the time of the Apostles, ‘false apostles, pretend workers’ who infiltrate the ranks of the sons of light and transform themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder, since Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. It is not much, therefore, that his ministers are transformed into ministers of righteousness; but their end will be according to their works (2 Cor 11:13-15). Against these ministers what other weapon is there but the necessary astuteness to know by deeds, by doctrines, to distinguish between the children of light and the children of darkness? Against the preachers of erroneous doctrines, sweeter, easier, and for this very reason more deceptive, vigilance must not only be penetrating, but uninterrupted.”

After eight decades, we are left with a word of gratitude. But that is not all! It is also up to us to continue the battle: in the first place by leading a morally sound life, and secondly by giving the value that is due to each one within the Church, whether to the hierarchy or the laity, without compromising values and still less without substituting concepts. In other words, not to exchange truth for lies!

This is the lesson that Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira transmitted to Brazil and, no doubt, continues to transmit even more today: that Our Lord is the Truth, for being Himself the only way and the only source of Life.

By Thiago Resende

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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