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The Roman Catholic Church: A Transnational Actor

  • Ivan Valuer

The notion of the Roman Catholic church as a transnational actor is both intriguing and elusive. Its global empire, and thus its transnationality, ties it to many situations, no two of which are exactly alike. Its center in Rome coordinates and shapes the actions of the subsidiary field units by supplying them with general norms, symbolic leadership, and authoritative decisions. Each of the field units possesses, in turn, a certain autonomy vis-a-vis the center; the field units make demands on the center, may provide it with new ideas, and often generate key resources for the center, for example, loyalties, money, and skills.

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1 Until 1967 its name was the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

2 For additional details on the formal features of the church and its governmental system consult one or more of the following works: Bouscaren, T. Lincoln, Ellis, Adam C., and Korth, Francis N., Canon Law: A Text and Commentary (4th rev. ed.; Milwaukee, Wis: Bruce Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 155175; Lierde, Peter Canisius van, The Holy See at Work: How the Catholic Church Is Governed, trans. Tucek, James (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962); Graham, Robert A., Vatican Diplomacy: A Study of Church and State on the International Plane (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 127154; and Pichon, Charles, Le Vatican (Les Grandes Etudes contemporaines) (Paris: Editions A. Fayard, 1960). See also Annuario pontificio (Vatican City: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana), the official, annual publication of the Holy See which details all major organizational units within the church, indicates their status, and includes the names of personnel.

3 The balance of power among these categories, especially the relationship between the residential bishops and the Holy See, has become the focus of a general controversy within the church. Many bishops, led by Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens of Belgium, want a more decentralized, collegial system with full participation in the center's decisions. Although their major focus is papal authority, especially since Humanae Vitae (1968), the Roman Curia is also implicated. For a report on an interview with Cardinal Suenens on these issues see de Broucker, José, “L'Unité de l'eglise dans le logique de Vatican II,” Informations catholiqties Internationales, 05 15, 1969 (No. 336, Supplement), pp. IXVI.

4 For figures by country see Bilan du monde: Encyclopédic catholique du monde chrétien, Vol. 2 (Collection églisc vivante) (2 vols.; Paris: Casterman [for the Centre de recherches socio-religieuse, Brussels, and the Centre église vivante, Louvain], 1964).

5 The “social encyclicals” of certain popes since the late nineteenth century concern basic moral and social positions: Rerum Novarum (1891), Quadragesimo Anno (1931), Mater et Magistra (1961), Pacem in Terris (1963), and Poptdorum Progressio (1967).

6 The significance of these changes in theological, sociological, and historical terms is examined in depth by O'Dea, Thomas F., The Catholic Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).

7 On the nature of recent, official changes in the relations between bishops and the Holy See, as well as in the organization of the Roman Curia, see Paul, Pope VI's “motu proprio,” Pro Contperto Sane (08 6, 1967) and his apostolic constitution, Regimini Ecclesiae Universae (August 15, 1967). These actions preceded the first meeting of the Synod of Bishops, September–October 1967. See L'Esprit du concile l'emporte,” Informations catholiques Internationales, 11 1, 1967 (No. 299), pp. 1317; and Zizola, Giancarlo, “Le Nouveau Visage de la Curie romaine,” Informations catholiques internationales, 07 15, 1968 (No. 316), pp. 2732.

8 The subtleties of papal sovereignty are ably described by Graham, especially pp. 157–302.

9 The full text of the Concordat between the Republic of Colombia and His Holiness the Supreme Pontiff Leo XIII is provided in Mecham, J. Lloyd, Church and State in Latin America: A History of Politico-Ecclesiastical Relations (rev. ed.; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966), pp. 126131.

10 See Trivière, Léon, “1949–1969: Les Chrétiens devant le défi chinois,” Informations catholiqttes internationales, 02 1, 1969 (No. 329), pp. 2632.

11 For a detailed study of the history of the patronato real, its original provisions, and its subsequent implications for political and ecclesiastical developments in Latin America see Mecham.

12 The features of these agreements are reported by Kennedy, John J., “The Legal Status of the Church in Latin America: Some Recent Developments,” in The Church and Social Change in Latin America, ed. Landsberger, Henry A. (International Studies of the Committee on International Relations, University of Notre Dame) (Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970), pp. 165171.

13 The information on diplomatic arrangements between the Holy See and particular countries is for 1960 and is drawn from the Annuario pontificio per I'anno 1960 (Vatican City: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1960), pp. 9811001.

14 The transnational church has recently stated in clear terms that rights of patronage and decisions on all ecclesiastical matters belong only to the church. The text of Chrisms Dominus, the decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church of October 28, 1965, promulgated during the fourth and final session of Vatican II, states “that in the future no rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be any longer granted to civil authorities.” See chapter 2, article 20.

15 For those who wish to look into church-state-Holy See relations in particular countries see, as a beginning, Jemolo, A. C., Church and State in Italy, 1850–1950, trans. Moore, David (Philadelphia: Dufour Editions, 1961); Bois, Victor D. Du, “New States and an Old Church [ Guinea, Congo (Brazzaville), and the Ivory Coast],” in Churches and States: The Religious Institution and Modernization, ed. Silvert, Kalman H. (New York: American Universities Field Staff, 1967), pp. 5179; Lewy, Guenter, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964); Moody, Joseph N., ed., in collaboration with Alexander, E. et al. , Church and Society: Catholic Social and Political Thought and Movements 1789–1950 (New York: Arts, 1953), especially Moody's monographic contribution on France, pp. 93–186; and Ebenstein, William, Church and State in Franco's Spain (Research Monograph 8) (Princeton, N.J: Center of International Studies, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 1960).

16 An extensive report on this phase is provided in Graham, chapter 13.

17 Ubi Arcano Dei (1922).

18 On the development of the Catholic Action movement in Italy, its internal problems, and its significance for political variables (including the Christian Democratic party) see Jemolo, chapters 6 and 7; Poggi, Gianfranco, Catholic Action in Italy: The Sociology of a Sponsored Organization (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1967); and LaPalombara, Joseph, Interest Groups in Italian Politics (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1964), pp. 5759, 360–366, and 404–412.

19 The development and influence of Catholic Action in France are examined at length by Bosworth, William, Catholicism and Crisis in Modern France: Trench Catholic Groups at the Threshold of the Fifth Republic (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1962). One of the most influential essays on the principles of Catholic Action in relation to civil and political life is “Catholic Action and Political Action” byMaritain, Jacques in his book Scholasticism and Politics, trans. Adler, Mortimer J. (Garden City, N.Y: Image Books, 1960), pp. 185211.

20 The evolutionary and cross-national configurations in the church's problem-solving efforts are examined inVallier, Ivan, Catholicism, Social Control, and Modernization in Latin America (Modernization of Traditional Societies Series) (Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1970); and Vallier, Ivan, “Extraction, Insulation, and Re-Entry: Toward a Theory of Religious Change,” in Landsberger, , pp. 935.

21 On developments between Catholic movements and politics in Brazil consult Sanders, Thomas G., “Catholicism and Development: The Catholic Left in Brazil,” in Silvert, , pp. 8199; de Kadt, Emanuel, Catholic Radicals in Brazil (London: Oxford University Press, 1970); and Bruneau, Thomas C., ”Conflict and Change in the Brazilian Catholic Church” (Ph.D. diss., Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, 1970).

22 For a discussion of change in the Communist system seeBrzezinski, Zbigniew, “Threat and Opportunity in the Communist Schism,” Foreign Affairs, 04 1963 (Vol. 41, No. 3), pp. 513525; Lowenthal, Richard, World Communism: The Disintegration of a Secular Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964); Aspaturian, Vernon V., The Soviet Union in the World Communist System (Integration and Community Building among the Fourteen Communist Party-States, Vol. 3) (Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford University, 1966); and Bennett, Edward M., ed., Polycentrism: Growing Dissidence in the Communist Bloc? ([Pullman]: Washington State University Press, 1967).

23 Lowenthal attaches fundamental significance to this “Caesaro-papist” feature of modern totalitarianism:

The ideological disintegration of world communism … raises the question of why it has proved impossible to maintain a single doctrinal authority for a movement ruling a plurality of independent states—why the unity of doctrine could not survive the diffusion of power. The answer must be sought in the “Caesero-papist” nature of modern totalitarianism, with its inseparable unity between ideology and state power: here lies the fundamental difference between the structure of international communism and that of the Catholic Church. A spiritual movement may preserve its world-wide doctrinaire unity so long as … it refrains from seeking to exert political power directly. But in a movement constructed on the Byzantine model, where loyalty to the faith and obedience to the state coincide, ideological fragmentation is bound to follow the growth of political pluralism. [Lowenthal, pp. 234–235.]

24 In a more speculative vein the East-West contest can be viewed as taking place between two transnational systems, and within each system instrumental and expressive problems exist. Each system faces the imperatives of developing transnational areas of specialization with corresponding control centers that, on the one hand, carry forward instrumental activities—economic growth, educational development—and, on the other hand, handle expressive activities—the articulation of collective ideals, promotion of integrative norms, and the symbolic representation of “religious” beliefs. In the Communist systemboth areas of specialization have been anchored in the same concrete structures up and down the vertical scale. By contrast, the West is much more internally differentiated, with the Judeo-Christian system and its representative bodies performing the expressive role and the major nation-states, such as the United States, performing the instrumental role. In this perspective the transnational features of the Roman Catholic church play a crucial role because its center is structurally differentiated from the main centers of the West's instrumental power.

This combination of the two areas of specialization within the Western system provides it with tremendous advantage vis-à-vis the Communist system mainly because the religious system can (but may not) function as an expanding base of integrative and legitimate action as changes occur in the instrumental sector. On the other hand, the Communist system—the fusion of “church” and “state” (the instrumental and expressive functions in concrete structures)—finds that its failures in the instrumental sector carry direct and thus negative implications for its “religious sector.” Similarly, its “religious” norms are tendered as capable of being operationalized into concrete, instrumental structures. These norms lose their overarching autonomy and flexibility, becoming norms that have to demonstrate practical payoffs or lose their meaning.

On this basis I suggest that the primary matrix of transnational developments in the West is the changing relationship between the Roman Catholic church and the United States. Respectively, these two actors represent the main foci of expressive and instrumental leadership. Moreover, certain symbolic and organizational alliances have already been forged at the international level, for example, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, notably in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). These two systems gained somewhat charismatic ascendancy between 1960 and 1963—the era of the “two Johns,” Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy. Their interrelationships were not only symbolized by the fact that Kennedy was the first Catholic president of the United States but also on the basis of their shared interests in Latin America since the Cuban revolution. For a few years the Western system took on a new grace and grandeur.

Since 1963 the relationship between the two actors has become more complicated, perhaps even more structurally interconnected. The “field operations” of United States technical assistance programs and those of the church often overlap in interesting, if not productive, patterns. It is to be expected that Washington-Rome relations will undergo new and significant changes in the next two decades with the not unlikely possibility that these relations will raise many of the issues and tensions distinctive to the “church-state” problem, although this time at the transnational level rather than at the level of the nation-state as in the past.

25 In his encyclical Mortalium Animos (1928) Pope Pius XI condemned the ecumenical developments that were taking shape among Protestants. Twenty years later the Holy Office refused the invitation of ecumenical leaders to participate in the first assembly of the World Council of Churches. In 1964 Unitatis Redintegratio, the decree on ecumenism formulated by Vatican II, was promulgated. By 1967 the Holy Sec appointed fifteen official observers to the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Uppsala. See Beaupère, P., “De la condamnation à la collaboration,” Informations calholiques internationales, 07 1, 1968 (No. 315), pp. 3132.

26 Background materials are provided by Rouse, Ruth and Neill, Stephen Charles, eds., A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517–1948 (2nd ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967).

27 An exchange process appears to be taking place: As Roman Catholics move toward certain “Protestant-type” structures and ideas, Protestants (via national and international organizations) are taking on some of the features of the Roman Catholic system.

28 On this problem and other basic problems in comparative research see Vallier, Ivan, ed., Comparative Methods in Sociology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).

Professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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International Organization
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