Catholic Action are groups of lay Catholics who advocate for increased Catholic influence on society. They were especially active in the nineteenth century in historically Catholic countries under anti-clerical regimes such as Spain, Italy, Bavaria, France, and Belgium.

In 1934, Adolf Hitler ordered the murder of Erich Klausener, head of a Catholic Action group in Nazi Germany, during the Night of the Long Knives.

Catholic Action is not a political party in and of itself; however, in many times and places, these movements have engaged in political activities. Since World War II, the concept has often been supplanted by Christian Democrat parties that were organised to combat Communist parties and promote Catholic social justice principles in places such as Italy and West Germany.[1]

Catholic Action generally includes various subgroups for youth, women, workers, etc. In the postwar period, the various national Catholic Action organizations for workers formed the World Movement of Christian Workers, which remains active today as a voice within the Church and in society for working class Catholics.[2]


The Catholic Action movement has its beginnings in the latter part of the 19th century as efforts to counteract a rise in anti-clerical sentiment, especially in Europe.[3]

A variety of diverse groups formed under the concept of Catholic Action. These include the Young Christian Workers, the Young Christian Students; the Cursillo movement, RENEW International; the Legion of Mary; Sodalities; the Christian Family Movement; various community organizing groups like COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service) in San Antonio, and Friendship House in Harlem, an early influence on Thomas Merton.[3]


The emblems of Acción Católica Mexicana displayed on altar walls in the temple of Fábrica-María village, Otzolotepec, Mexico. In the 20th century, the movement was enthusiastically supported by the workers of the local textile industry.

Around 1912, as a curate in a parish in Laeken, on the outskirts of Brussels, Joseph Cardijn, who dedicated his ministry to aid the working class, founded for the young seamstresses a branch of the Needleworkers' Trade Union.[4] In 1919 he founded the Young Trade Unionists. In 1924, the name of the organization was changed to "Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne", the Young Christian Workers.[4] JOC grew throughout the world; its members were often known as "Jocists" (the movement was often called "Jocism"). By 1938, there were 500,000 members throughout Europe;[5] in 1967, this had increased to 2,000,000 members in 69 countries.[5]

A fruit of the contemporary Catholic Action movement, the International Catholic Union of the Press UCIP was founded in Belgium in 1927. A year later, the Organization Catholique Internationale du Cinéma (OCIC) was founded in The Netherlands, and the Bureau Catholic International de Radiodiffusion (BCIR), in Germany. It became Unda in 1946. Members of these professional Catholic lay associations, working in the world of the professional media, wanted to unite their efforts against the perceived secularization of society. On the one hand, they believed that the press and the new media of radio and cinema were contributing to secularization. On the other hand, they participated in the secular media in order to use them as a new means of evangelization. They answered a call from God through the church to evangelize the secular mass media, or at least endow them with Gospel values. As a result of the merger of the Catholic media organizations OCIC and Unda, a new organisation was founded in 2001 in Rome called SIGNIS.[6] In 2014, the Holy See suggested that SIGNIS should also integrate the members of the former International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP).[citation needed]


Main article: Democratic Labor Party (Australia, 1955)

The National Civic Council is an Australian Catholic Action group formed in 1957 out of the Australian Catholic social studies movement under the leadership of B.A. Santamaria. Precursors to the NCC were active in the Australian Labor Party, but were expelled from the party by less conservative members during the 1955 Labor Split. The expelled members of the party went on to form the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) and the subsequent Democratic Labor Party.[7]


In Chile, Catholic Action was the name of a nationwide youth movement. Under the aegis of Saint Alberto Hurtado it was responsible for the founding of the Chilean Trade Union Association.[8][9]


Main article: Azione Cattolica

Azione Cattolica is probably the most active Catholic Action group still around today. Catholic Action was particularly well suited to Italy where Catholic party political action was impractical, firstly under the Anti-Clerical Savoyard regime from 1870 until about 1910[10] and later under the Fascist regime which prohibited independent political parties.

The present association Azione Cattolica was founded in 1867 by Mario Fani and Giovanni Acquaderni with the name of Società della Gioventù Cattolica Italiana (Italian Catholic Youth Society), then reformed during the Mussolini regime when the association was structured into 4 sectors and was called Azione Cattolica.[11][12][13]

Catholic Action in other countries

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Catholic Action was organised in many other countries, including:

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Tom Truman, Catholic Action and Politics (London: The Merlin Press, 1960).
  2. ^ "A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH: World Movement of Christian Workers". Eternal Word Television Network. Vatican City: ZENIT International News Agency. September 10, 2006. Archived from the original on 2017-09-25. Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Sanna, Emily (June 30, 2015). "A return to Catholic Action". Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Canon Joseph Cardijn -". Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Religion: Jocism". Time. 26 September 1938. Archived from the original on August 26, 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  6. ^ Peter Malone (ed.), The Emergence of SIGNIS (Brussels: 2009).
  7. ^ James Franklin, "Catholic Thought and Catholic Action: Dr Paddy Ryan Msc.," Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society (1996) 17:44-55 online.
  8. ^ Ana Maria Bidegain, "From Catholic Action to Liberation Theology: The Historical Process of the Laity in Latin America in the Twentieth Century" (paper #48 Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, 1985)
  9. ^ Brian H. Smith, The Church and politics in Chile: challenges to modern Catholicism (Princeton University Press, 2014)
  10. ^ For example in the encyclical Custodi di quella fede Pope Leo XIII asked Catholics to become more involved in forms of Catholic Action away from the "Masonic" state: "Masonry has confiscated the inheritance of public charity; fill the void, then, with the treasure of private relief." Para 18, Custodi di Quella Fede
  11. ^ Gianfranco Poggi, Catholic Action in Italy (Stanford University Press, 1967)
  12. ^ Albert C. O'Brien, "Italian Youth in Conflict: Catholic Action and Fascist Italy, 1929-1931." Catholic Historical Review (1982): 625-635. in JSTOR
  13. ^ Kertzer 2014, p. 55-56, 101-102, 125=126, 158-169.
  14. ^ "Home".
  15. ^ Scott Mainwaring, The Catholic church and politics in Brazil, 1916-1985 (Stanford University Press, 1986)
  16. ^ Mark Biondich, "Radical Catholicism and Fascism in Croatia, 1918–1945 1." Totalitarian movements and political religions 8.2 (2007): 383-399.
  17. ^ "Home". Acción Catolica Mexicana (in Spanish).
  18. ^ "Home". Acción Catolica General (in Spanish).
  19. ^ Jones, Anny Brooksbank (1997). Women in Contemporary Spain. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719047572.


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