Italian Priest-Writer's Unconvincing Optimism
ROMANS RUSH FOR VATICAN PAPER
From Our Own Correspondent
While Italian opinion is regaining confidence after the German occupation of Austria owing to the assurances of the Fascist press, Catholic opinion in Rome is far from sanguine.
The Osservatore Romano has been very guarded throughout the week.
Not since the Coronation of George VI has the Vatican organ been so popular.
Not Pleasant Reading The news as it comes in is hardly reassuring : the violence used against the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Primate of Germany; the arrest of the Austrian ArmyBishop; the raiding and closing of the central office of Austrian Catholic Action; the arrival of Herr Burckel, Regional Governor of the Saar and the most anti-Catholic of German leaders, to reorganise the Austrian National-Socialist Party; and the measures taken by Herr Himmler, head of the German police, against what he is pleased to call " clericals," but who are in fact the Catholic laymen prominent in public life whose political and social outlook and programme were informed by the Catholic Faith in S. way which is little known in Italy.
In view of all these indications of the transference to Austrian soil of the persecution that rages in the Reich, it is hard to share the optimism more particularly of that well-known Vatican correspondent (an Italian prelate) who writes weekly in La Tribuna, and who is obviously the source of a much commented upon note in 11 Messaggero of March 16.
" The Pope's Silence " " According to an Agency in touch with Vatican opinion (Agenzia informata del pensiero vaticano)," writes that paper, . . " the Holy See has abstained from any intervention in the Austrian question ...
" If apprehensions have arisen as to the fate of religion in Austria, this has not (as some wish to insinuate for obvious reasons) determined the ecclesiastical authorities to protest or react .politically . . Catholics will not renounce the. great hope of a progressive amelioration of the relations between the Holy See and the Reich. Too many. and for reasons that are neither clear nor disinterested, would he glad that, such an improvement should not take place. They fear a new and formidable moral support for the Berlin-Rome Axis, not as an expression of international politics, but in so far as it means, and is, a defence of the supreme principles of Christian civilisation and of peace in opposition to the doctrines of Communism."
He Forecasts Better Times In the Tribuna the same Vatican correspondent argues that the Austrian question has two possible consequences: the destruction of Catholicism in Austria or the improvement of Catholicism in the Reich owing to the incorporation into it of six million Catholics and a Catholic culture.
• Ile believes that the second consequence is the one most likely.
It would, however, seem to be the most foolish optimism to hope that the " rape of Austria " is going to benefit German Catholics. The German Government is quite prepared to allow Catholicism to remain as a cultus as long as it does not really inform the political and social life of the nation. There will only be religious peace in Germany when, if he succeeds, Herr Hitler has destroyed Catholicism as a vital social force in the new Reich, including Austria.
Surprise at " Cardinal's Joy " Surprise was caused in Rome by the newspaper headlines announcing the visit of Cardinal Innitzer to express the " joy " of the Austrian Catholics at the German occupation : it is impossible to confirm the truth of this and nothing appeared in the Osservatore Romano. Certainly the Cardinal did visit Herr Hitler, although what was said at the interview is unknown.
As I indicated last week, it is becoming daily clearer that the dismay on the reception of the first news from Austria was due to fears of political consequences for Italy; now these fears have been largely dispelled, although many lingering doubts remain, after the speeches of both Mussolini and Hitler.
The grave plight of the Church in Austria is now easily forgotten except by the Catholic minority in Italy: on the strength of this minority as an articulate force depends the lengths that Hitler will be able to go without breaking up the Rome-Berlin axis.