Papal “Power over the Past”

John Allen’s headline (here) reads, “Pope Francis Deploys his Power over the Past.” Allen is the editor of Crux, a biographer of Pope Francis, and a long-time Vatican correspondent. He explains that in addition to controlling today's Church, “a pontiff also enjoys a degree of power over the past as well, especially which parts of it are remembered and celebrated, and which controversial figures in Catholic history are rehabilitated and presented as role models.” Allen’s story is about one of the “rehabilitated.”

Father Mazzolari (1890-1959) “had faith in democracy, meaning the optimism born of the push for Italian unification in the late 19th century.” Allen explains that this “put him at odds … with more intransigent elements of Catholic life in Italy.” Mr. Allen neglects to mention that the “intransigent element” included the pope and Catholic officialdom, who not only fought unification but declared “Americanism” – the type of democracy in question – to be a damnable heresy.

Mr. Allen also notes that Father Mazzolari was anti-fascist: “By 1943 he was a partigiano, meaning a support of the Italian resistance to fascism, and actively encouraged young people to take up the struggle.” He neglected to mention that the Church was very closely allied with Mussolini’s fascists, and that resistance to fascism also meant resistance to the Church. Mazzolari said, “I love the Church and the pontiff, but my devotion and my love don’t destroy my Christian conscience.”

While Mr. Allen writes of the Pope’s power over the past to rehabilitate rebels, he somehow ignores the Pope’s power to revise and even rewrite the past – a far more common application of his power. This ranges from suppression of inconvenient facts, like child abuse or the Church’s affiliation with fascists and Nazis, to even more creative attacks on history. Mr. Allen and his colleagues also have considerable power over the past.