An ‘Uncompromising Catholic’: Pedro Crisólogo Cardinal Segura y Sáenz

While reading David A. Wemhoff’s John Courtney Murray, Time/Life, and the American Proposition, I recently came across mention of a Spanish prelate whose name was already familiar to me, Pedro Crisólogo Cardinal Segura y Sáenz (1880-1957). Here is the mention:

A number of U.S. agencies reported on Catholic prelates and the status of the Catholic Church in various countries around the world. … One of the more prominent Catholic personalities was Cardinal Segura of Spain, whose honest assessments of the Protestants precipitated editorial attacks by [the Catholic publications] America and Indiana Catholic. The U.S. Information Services (USIS) read the Cardinal’s pastorals and observed that while he was “anti-Franco” he was still “very reactionary, authoritarian, etc. No salvation outside church.” [Pg. 286, bold emphasis added.]

Shortly before the quoted assessment of Cardinal Segura was written, His Eminence had attempted to help Father Leonard Feeney in upholding the unpopular doctrine I emboldened. More on that further down.

The words quoted by Mr. Wemhoff inside that passage come from an August 8, 1952 document he found in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, entitled, “USIS Country Plan — Spain.” It’s nice to know that good old USIS had a “plan” for Catholic Spain! His Eminence, Cardinal Segura, was not liked by the USIS agents who authored that plan because he was “very reactionary” and “authoritarian,” in proof of which the authors cite his fidelity to a defined dogma of the Catholic Church. For all this, he was certainly an enemy of the CIA-Henry Luce apparat I wrote about in the last Ad Rem.

From what I can tell, the mention of the Cardinal’s being “anti-Franco” is due to his dislike for the regime’s Falangist political philosophy (he was a monarchist, indeed according to his Spanish Wikipedia page, a friend of the Carlist cause), and his principled rejection of the Franco’s willingness to cooperate at all with the Nazis. Given His Eminence’s public stances, the Cardinal was certainly not critiquing Franco from a liberal perspective at all. Franco’s enemies, the liberal Spanish Republic, had exiled Segura from Spain before Franco successfully defeated them. As Gary Potter writes in Spain’s Crusade, 1936-39, “In 1931, the Archbishop of Toledo and the nation’s Primate, Pedro Cardinal Segura, was expelled from the nation. He was guilty of warning the faithful, in a pastoral letter, that ‘difficult days lie ahead for the Church.’”

Some of the other mentions of Cardinal Segura in Mr. Wemhoff’s book cite Time articles denouncing the prelate. Like Cardinal Ottaviani, Cardinal Segura was a favorite bogeyman of the Americanist media giant; both Cardinals represented the dark, medieval specter of the Catholic confessional state that stood in the way of the U.S. imposing our way of life on the rest of the world.

Regarding the assistance Cardinal Segura attempted to lend to Father Feeney, I cite the following, from Malachi Martin’s 1992 interview with Brother Francis:

Brother Francis: In my memory of the story, the next thing we heard was that one Cardinal in Spain, the famous Cardinal Segura, had raised his voice and said it was a great scandal that the Archbishop of Boston should silence a priest for holding that there is no salvation outside the Church and he wrote to the Pope about it. Some of our friends visited Cardinal Segura and told them that he had received an answer from Pius XII, saying that in his next encyclical he’s going to take care of the matter. The next encyclical (August, 1950) was Humani generis  which, among other things he was worried about, was strongly critical of the modernists and the liberals. I think the pope conceived it as an updating of the famous Pascendi Dominici gregis in which Pope Saint Pius X had condemned modernism. In that encyclical, Pope Pius XII expressed dismay that some of “Our sons,” and you can say what does he mean by his sons, theologians? bishops?, “are reducing to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to obtain salvation.”

Here are the two paragraphs of Humani Generis that Brother Francis referenced from memory:

27. Some say they are not bound by the doctrine, explained in Our Encyclical Letter of a few years ago, and based on the Sources of Revelation, which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing. Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation. Others finally belittle the reasonable character of the credibility of Christian faith.

28. These and like errors, it is clear, have crept in among certain of Our sons who are deceived by imprudent zeal for souls or by false science. To them We are compelled with grief to repeat once again truths already well known, and to point out with solicitude clear errors and dangers of error.

To get a better picture of the man, here are some notable passages from the Cardinal’s Spanish Wikipedia page:

  • “A man of strong character, an uncompromising Catholic, opposed to fascism and without diplomatic tact, it has been said of him that he only bowed his forehead to the pope. These features, together with his faithfulness to the monarchy, led him to clashes with the authorities of the Republic and, later, with the dictatorship of General Franco and even more than once with the Holy See.”
  • “In 1931, a little more than fifteen days after the proclamation of the Republic, Segura launched a violent diatribe against the newly established regime, affirming in a pastoral: ‘When the enemies of the reign of Jesus Christ advance resolutely, no Catholic can remain inactive.'”
  • “He came to affirm that the Carlist cause is the Cause of God. The Cardinal maintained a close friendship with the Carlist Manuel Fal Conde and General Sanjurjo. In addition, he publicly showed himself as the “Cardinal of the Carlist,” supporting them from Rome, because he affirmed that Spain must absolutely reject liberalism, and that only the Carlists maintained the unchanging traditionalist principles.”

The English Wikipedia page for the Cardinal reveals the obsession that Henry Luce’s Time magazine had with its subject, citing as it does no less than eight unfavorable articles from that shameless mouthpiece of an arrogant, Anglo-Protestant American foreign policy. (Alas! all of the links are broken.)

For more on this “uncompromising Catholic,” the reader is referred to a reflection on Our Lady of Lourdes, in which the TFP founder, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, relates an edifying and amusing encounter between Cardinal Segura and Pope Pius XI. There is also this enthusiastic piece, with many photos, by a writer who is obviously a fan.