Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 15. July 26, 1939
The third matter on which enlightenment is sought is a wide one. I do not believe that there is a single one of the Victoria College Communists, Socialists and other "leftists" who would condone the shooting of priests, merely as priests, or any "massacres" perpetrated by Reds or anyone else. But they would, on sound authority, say that "Communist atrocities" have been much ex-aggerated and that they are by no means an essential part of the communist or socialist economic system (nor if democracy were a world-wide reality would violence be a necessary part of revolution).
The Communist attitude and behaviour to priests is fundamentally different from the Fascist attitude to Communists. Communists are opposed to religion both because it is politically an anti-socialist force historically on the side of authority against reform, and because they consider it false, contrary to science. But they consider that education and reason will gradually overcome religious ideas. Priests were not executed on purely religious grounds, either in Spain or Russia. Doubtless many were killed by small groups of fanatics, or by enraged peasants and town mobs where individual priests were especially detested, and others were executed for political reasons, i.e., "counter-revolutionary" (in Russia) or rebellious activities. This is deplorable—so are all political executions. (It is said that 14 Basque priests were executed by the Spanish Fascists for supporting the Government.) Nevertheless in Russia about 1934 W. H. Chamberlin reports that some 38,000 churches were open, about 70 per cent of those existing before the Revolution. The Constitution of 1936 enfranchised in the U.S.S.R. nearly 50,000 practising priests of the Greek Orthodox Church alone. This rather discredits the charge that Communism means the wholesale massacre of priests. At present religious persecution consists, according to Chamberlin (an anti-Soviet writer), in the Government's refusal to print or import religious books, in the prohibition of organised religious teaching of children (though parents may teach religion in the home and children may be taken to church), and in the refusal to allow churches to carry on charitable and recreational work. Priests are also sometimes "arrested and de ported on grounds that they do not understand." Nearly all seminaries for training priests have been closed. Since 1929 public religious propaganda, apart from services and sermons, has not been allowed. On the other hand the constitution guarantees freedom of worship. Of recent years the Government has ceased to allow village meetings to close down a church by a bare majority; the vote must be overwhelming, while in cities, except for street-widening, churches may not be demolished or taken over, unless no congregation can be found to keep the building in repair and pay the ordinary taxes. No rent is charged.
Yaroslavsky's recent statement, probably based on the census, shows that out of just over 100 million adults, 30 million are "believers."
Naturally, Communist persecution of religion is far less severe than Fascist persecution of Communism. Fascists would not risk leaving Communism to die out gradually from the efforts of counter propaganda, official restrictions and discouragement.