By DOUGLAS HYDE
THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND COMMUNISM IN HUNGARY AND CZECHOSLOVAKIA IS RAGING.
It is not an open fight, but a desperate tactical struggle with the dice loaded against the Church. This week's events in the battle are described below by Douglas Hyde, the only non-Communist writer in Britain to-day capable of seeing these events with an eye trained to understand Communist tactics and thus to appreciate the Communist plan and the Communist reaction to the various types of Catholic defence.
In order to win the support of the simple Catholic peasantry the Communist-dominated government of Hungary recently announced that it was having 700 bronze bells cast, which would be presented to any churches requiring them.
But to-day (Friday, June 18) the bells of Hungary will toll in every Catholic belfry in the land and special Masses will be said by order of Cardinal Mindszenty as the schools are nationalized and the education of Catholic children passes into the hands of the State.
The importance of the fight is fully appreciated by the Communists themselves who understand that the future of their infant regimes is at stake.
Their tactical campaign of " winning the Catholic masses away from their leaders" is now in full swing in both Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It is the key to the apparently contradictory reports of the treatment of the Church in those countries.
Gottwald at Mass
It is the explanation for the seemingly inexplicable resdort this week that immediately after his election as President of Czechoslovakia, Communist-atheist Klement Gottwald and his wife attended Mass and Te Deum in the Cathedral of St. Vitus, at which Mgr. Reran, Archbishop of Prague, pontificated. I do not pretend to know what were the Lonsiderations or the coerclan which led to Archbishop Beran's decision to take part, but no Communist would have any doubts about Gottwald's motives and the cynical laughter which greeted the news in every European Communist Party office must have been heard from the British headquarters in King Street to the Kremlin in Moscow.
Gottwald has been guilty of a number of " deviations" recently, but this time he was dead on " the party line." Much less to the Communists' liking is the uncompromising attitude of the Czech Hierarchy on the question of priests holding political office, for, if the Bishops' instructions are followed out by those concerned, the Communists will be deprived of the chance of giving the appearance of having to support at least some of the cleric-politicians and so splitting the unity of the ordinary Catholic citizen.
• Priests and Politics
The Bishops' stand on this question is revealed by the publication of recent letters from Archbishop Beran to the Minister of Justice and to the Rev. Josef Plojhar, a priest who is also Minister of Health, in which it is made clear that an absolute bar is placed on all priests without exception taking on such responsibilities.
Whether Fr. Plojhar will resign in order to retain his priestly status is not yet known but there are signs that, confronted with a choice between God and Caesar he is at present inclining towards Caesar.
A secular agency reports him as saying that the Prague Government will make no concessions " until the Church has given final proof of its positive attitude towards the Government."
Gottwald, receiving congratulations on his election from a Church delegation on Tuesday, said full agreement between Church and State would soon be achieved " providing all show goodwill and keep first and foremost in their minds the interests of State and nation."
Mgr. Reran, Archbishop of Prague, who headed the delegation, according to the official news agency, said the Catholic clergy would faithfully and unconditionally fulfil Their obligations towards the Church. He was convinced, he said, that the religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution would be fully respected. and hoped that all problems affecting Church schools and religious organisations would be settled on a legal basis.
The Heroic Cardinal
In Hungary the heroic, defiant figure of Cardinal Mindszenty stands out as one who, literally taking his life daily in his hands, refuses to accept the bland assumption so easily adopted in Western Europe that the fate of Hungary's Church is already sealed and that the Christian religion there must perish.
His protests at the nationalisation of the schools have had their repercussions both inside and outside of Hungary and the morale of millions of Catholics on the wrong side of the iron curtain must have been strengthened as a consequence.
In fact, so many people demonstrated in Budapest last Sunday on the issue that police with machine guns were used to break up the crowds. A Government statement immediately accused the Church of deliberately inciting the demonstra • tion, and Matyas Rakosi, the Communist leader, in a Hitlerian outburst, declared that " the Government is losing patience with the Catholic Church."
The Hungarian Government's news service here in Britain, reflecting the same tactical policy, declares: "The Hungarian State is determined to settle all outstanding problems in a way agreeable to the Government . and to the great masses of the Hungarian people."
The Cardinal has, it is reported, now indicated that he is regretfully willing to accept the Government's invitation to negotiate on the schools question but, typically, makes it clear that this will only be on condition that they take the nationalisation of Church-sponsored schools off the programme and has threatened with excommunication any Catholic who supports the nationalisation of the schools.