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Blessed Karl, Clericalism and Lay Church Governance

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Above: Emperor Karl as King Charles IV of Hungary taking his coronation oath in Budapest on 30 December 1916. To the left is Cardinal János Csernoch, Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary.

Editor’s note: our Patrons at OnePeterFive include a model cleric (St. Maximilian Kolbe) and a model layman (Bl. Emperor Karl) as a means to promote the traditional doctrine of the Two Swords against the Liberal and false distinction between “Church and State.” We encourage our readers to attend the upcoming symposium on Bl. Karl at which our contributing editor, Mr. Charles Coulombe, author of a biography on the holy emperor and an upcoming biography on his wife Empress Zita, will serve as one of the speakers.

What is Clericalism?    

There has been on every side over the past few years denunciations of “clericalism” in the Church – not least by the Holy Father. The same word can be used, however, to cover a multitude of meanings.  If, for instance, one uses it to mean reserving various liturgical and sacramental actions or governance of parishes to members of the clergy, that could, I suppose, be called “clericalism.” But by the same token, the various changes in the liturgy, to say nothing of recent attempts to alter Church teaching, might also be called “clericalism,” since the ability to do such things is entirely in the keeping of the clergy, high and low, and is generally done with no reference to the laity whatsoever. When Pius XII decided to change the rites of Holy Week, abolish the Octaves of a number of major feasts, and the like, no laity were consulted. So too when St. John XXIII deleted from the calendar all feasts that he thought “repetitive.” These of course paved the way for the oceans of changes liturgical and otherwise that Paul VI inflicted upon the Church – including eliminating most lay positions from the Papal Court. Since none of these things were asked for by the laity, they arose simply from the idea of the reigning Pontiffs that they or their clerical cohorts understood the Faith better than their predecessors who had gone before or the laity. One sees in these actions clericalism of the deepest dye.

But where did it begin? Paradoxically, one might trace present-day clericalism to the fall of the Papal States. Prior to 1870, the Popes ruled over a small but nevertheless real country. It had strengths and problems like any other nation, but it allowed the Papacy to be independent of any temporal ruler on the one hand – in an age when most Catholics lived under Catholic rulers – and on the other made them cognizant of the actual difficulties rulers have. Reigning over both nobility and commoners, successive Popes perforce had to provide for the needs of their laity. While this dual role of Pope and temporal ruler was fraught with many difficulties, it anchored each Pope in the world his subjects had to live in. After the fall of Rome to the Sardinians, so the popular mythology has run, the Popes were “freed” to devote themselves entirely to spiritual issues; moreover, it is asserted that this temporal rule was responsible for various of the worst Popes the Church has had to endure through history. But it may be well be argued that since 1870 Popes have become ever further divorced from the experience of both laity and law, which has made them increasingly oblivious to either. Moreover, if the temporal rule of the Popes was responsible for the bad ones, to what do we attribute the far greater number of Saints in their number, who were just as intimately involved with temporal concerns?

The Lay Governance of the Church

At any rate, if the Popes were concerned with temporal issues, in the traditional Catholic State, Emperors and Kings were very much concerned with religious ones. Each had an ecclesiastical household with chaplains of their own; they founded Cathedrals and Abbeys and petitioned the Holy See for approval of new feasts and devotions. The Holy Roman Emperors and the Kings of France, Spain, and England were honorary canons of major Roman basilicas – and had specific liturgical roles at Papal Masses when visiting Rome. They publicly observed in various ways the great feasts of the Church – most notably the footwashing of the poor on Maundy Thursday, and processing after the Blessed Sacrament on Corpus Christi. Bishops and Abbots served in provincial and national legislatures, and very often, the Primate of the given country crowned the Monarch. The Crown supported the Church financially – and, in the case of the French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonial empires, footed the entire bill for the evangelisation of those countries. As the Pope had the power of veto over any number of Imperial and Royal ecclesiastical measures, so the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of France and Spain had the power to exclude any particular Cardinal from consideration in the Papal Conclave.

In the countries sheared off from Christendom by the Protestant Revolt, a similar connexion was kept with the newly created Protestant State Churches of Northern Europe. The French Revolution began the destruction of this relationship in Catholic Europe, and by 1914, it survived intact in only two countries: Spain (which, as our Carlist friends will tell you, however, had compromised in several key areas with Liberalism) and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

Emperor Franz Joseph

In many ways, Austro-Hungarian Emperor-King Franz Joseph epitomised the traditional relationship between the lay and clerical powers of the Church. As with the other Crowned Heads of Europe, he had inherited a particular style of Catholic devotion peculiar to his own dynasty – the Pietas Austriaca. Bound up with a veneration of the True Cross and the Passion, the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph (the family patron), this religiosity had led to the tremendous collection of relics at the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace in Vienna. The Maundy Thursday Footwashing and the Corpus Christi procession were highlights of court life in Vienna, and in 1898 Franz Joseph led the Imperial Family in observing the Consecration of All Mankind to the Sacred Heart, led by Leo XIII in Rome. In the canon of the Mass, the Good Friday Collects, and the Holy Saturday Exsultet, the Emperor was prayed for by name.

Franz Joseph was crowned and anointed King of Hungary in 1867. As Emperor-King he appointed the Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops, subject to Papal approval. Exempt from this were Salzburg and Olomouc, their metropolitans being elected by the cathedral chapters, and the former ‘Salzburg dioceses’ of Seckau, Lavant, and Gurk. The Archbishop of Salzburg had the right of appointment for Seckau and Lavant, the occupation of Gurk was regulated in a mixed manner, that is, the Emperor proposed two candidates, the subsequent nomination was made by the Archbishop of Salzburg. The Nuncio had to be consulted to make sure that the choice was not obnoxious to the Pope – either disapproval would derail the process; the separate Austrian and Hungarian ministries of Worship and Education would do the research, but it was Franz Joseph who had to approve the choices, both for Latin and Eastern Rite Catholic Bishops. Moreover, he had to bear in mind that some of his appointees would sit in one or more legislatures within the Monarchy.

There were three national parliaments. In the Upper House – House of Lords (Herrenhaus) of the Austrian Parliament could be found the prince-archbishops of Vienna, Prague, Salzburg, Görz, and Olmütz, the archbishops of Lemberg and Zara, the Byzantine Catholic archbishop of Lemberg, the Armenian Catholic archbishop of Lemberg, and the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Czernowitz, as well as the prince-bishops of Brixen, Breslau (although located in what was then Germany, for the diocesan territory in Austrian Silesia), Krakau, Seckau, Trient, Laibach, Lavant, and Gurk. In the Hungarian Upper House, the Főrendiház or “House of Magnates,” had an even higher proportion of ecclesiastical members – although it was also more interfaith than Austria’s: forty-two dignitaries of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, including the Primate, Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, and various other high officials, and thirteen representatives of the Protestant confessions. The annexation of Bosnia in 1908 presented a challenge in creating representative institutions for a region that had never known them. But while Bosnian diet (Sabor) would only one have one house, it would also have religious representatives appointed by the Monarch. These were, in deference to the Muslim majority, the Reis, who was the principal of Muslims’ granted lands, and the Muslims’ regional leader from Mostar; four Metropolitans and the president of the Orthodox community; the Catholic archbishop and two province members of Franciscan order of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the Sephardic rabbi of the higher order. The various provincial diets in the Austrian half of the Monarchy also numbered the local Catholic bishops in their number.

Another religious duty that Franz Joseph took very seriously was that of funding missions – even though Austria-Hungary had no colonies. The Catholic Church in Scandinavia, Albania, and Bulgaria (Latin and Byzantine in that case) was heavily funded by the Emperor, as was the Church in the Holy Land and Egypt (the Coptic Catholic Church was funded from its beginning thereby, and Franz Joseph paid for the building of the Latin Catholic Cathedral of St. Catherine in Alexandria, where, ironically, the remains of  his wartime enemy King Victor Emmanuel III would rest until their recent repatriation to Italy). But since 1826, very largely out of funds given by both Franz Joseph and his two immediate predecessors, a large amount of this largesse went to the Church in the United States. Through an organisation called the Leopoldinenstiftung – the “Leopoldine Foundation” – the Habsburgs and many of their subjects poured millions of dollars into the American Church, founding 400 parishes, subsidising wholly or partly 300 missionaries (such as St. John Neumann and Ven. Bishop Baraga), and sending an endless flow of vestments, statues, stained glass, liturgical implements, and the like. A great deal of dynastic money went to Eastern Rite churches in the United States as well. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war in 1914 ended the flow of generosity – which, of course, would be repaid by Woodrow Wilson’s insistence of the deposition of Franz Jospeh’s successor, his exile, and the partition of his domains.

Blessed Emperor Karl

That successor was Blessed Emperor Karl, who succeed Franz Joseph in 1916. As all the Catholic world knows, he was beatified for his personal piety and virtue. As a boy, he had made the Consecration to the Sacred Heart in the family chapel, when illness prevented him from going to Vienna with his parents for the aforementioned Sacred Heart observance in 1898. Whenever possible, from childhood until his untimely death in exile in 1922, he went to daily Mass. Despite personal betrayal by Vienna’s Cardinal Piffl (who urged Austrians to rally to the republic, declaring it to be a “religious duty,” and persuaded most of the other Austrian bishops to join him in his stand) Karl never lost his love of the Church nor his reverence for the clergy.

Responding to Piffl’s move in a January 15, 1919 letter delivered by his secretary, Baron Karl Werkmann, the Emperor asked the cardinal to influence the Catholics of all the dioceses of Austria through the priests to achieve not only a Christian, but a monarchist election result. The Emperor argued that the Church in Austria would soon perish without the Monarchy, as shown by the revolutionary government’s many anti-church laws (marriage legislation, allowing Freemasonry, etc). Bl. Karl declared that, as rightful ruler of German-Austria, he had never abdicated and would never abdicate.

…The current government is a revolutionary government because it has eliminated the state power instituted by God. I am always surprised when Catholics are led to believe that Pope Leo XIII approved the republics; this is fundamentally wrong; a republic that has set aside the rights of others, can never, according to the views of the great Pope, be a legitimate form of government for Catholics.

While a few bishops (Archbishop Ignaz Rieder of Salzburg, Sigismund Waitz of Brixen, Johannes Maria Gföllner of Linz, Janos Mikes of Szombathely, and a few others) remained loyal to the exiled Emperor-King and his son, Otto, most did not. But there were others also on the road to canonisation who did. Cardinal Mindszenty is the best known of these, but one might also mention the Hungarian Bl. Zoltán Meszlényi, who in 1921 wrote a study entitled “The King and the National Assembly” in which he declared that the King’s will is above that of his national assembly. Of course, his greatest loyalist in terms of both earthly and heavenly rank is St. John Paul II, whose father named him Karol after the Emperor, and who, when meeting Karl’s widow, Servant of God Zita, declared that it was an honour to finally meet “my Empress.”

In an age when many laymen feel left out, ignored, and even victimized by a large part of the hierarchy, the example and intercession of Bl. Karl and his consort have never been more important. And while the relationship between the lay and clerical powers of the Church in almost every country to-day may be very different from what it was – and that of Christendom has even been condemned by many theologians in recent decades – the latter system produced and was endorsed by many Saints, not least of which was Bl. Karl. 

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