‘I Was a Red Priest’: Christianity on socialism’s side during the Cold War
Fr. Jean Boulier, left, with French Communist Party leader Maurice Thorez at an event in 1950. | via CW-Publishers

I Was a Red Priest: Memories and Testimonials offers through its protagonist a Christian social analysis that is now minimized but was widely held in the post-World War II era. It continues to be held by those like Pope Francis, who in May 2022 criticized NATO as “barking at Russia’s door.” The book is the autobiography of Fr. Jean Boulier (1894-1980), which for the first time has been translated from French into English, complete with newly added scholarly appendices, indexes, graphics, and bibliography, so that it is also a useful reference work.

Fr. Boulier was a professor of Christian Legal Principles at the Catholic University of Paris. Over his long life, he published multiple scholarly works, and his autobiography was one of them. The book is not only about Fr. Boulier, but a social history of his era from the Christian social perspective. It includes his analysis of theology, philosophy, religious associations and movements, liturgy and sacraments, political parties, trade unions, Jewish affairs, early Christianity, European history, and socialist countries and leaders.

For Social Christianity, as taught by Fr. Boulier, the main international peace issue that faced believers was the American-led Cold War, which the U.S. waged to take back the advances made by the working class as a result of capitalism’s World War II debacle. More specifically, the priest-professor took a stand, based on Christian authority, first against anti-communism. Second, he took a stand against America’s atomic policy because it violated the Christian principles of war and peace. Third, he took a stand on the side of Social Christianity: He maintained that Christians can be good citizens of the socialist order, but they could not accept the bourgeois state and its fundamental law, the one to which all others finally give in—make money, get rich.

In his scholarly writings and his autobiography, Fr. Boulier found Marxism compatible with Thomism, ecumenism, mysticism, liturgy, and hierarchy. His allies included Cardinal Suhard of Paris and Msg. Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, who in the post-war period was the papal nuncio to France. In America, Dorothy Day, who is being considered for sainthood, articulated the opposition of Social Christianity to the war­mongering of New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman, the CIA, John Foster Dulles, and Harry Truman. In her Catholic Worker newspaper, Day defended the cooperation of Fr. Boulier and that of American priests with the communists.

The book describes how Fr. Boulier’s activism began in 1912 when he joined the Jesuits. For 20 years he was with the “Company” and then became a priest of the Parisian clergy. Because of his work on the side of the Jews in the World War II resistance against the Vichy and Nazi governments, he is now being considered by Yad Vashem in Israel for its title, “Righteous among the Nations.” After the war, in 1950, fighting the same interests he faced during the war, he helped write and promote the Stockholm Appeal to prevent nuclear war in Korea. The petition gained 273 million signers, most of whom, as he pointed out, were Christians, not communists. Still later, in 1958, he was convicted of a felony for defaming the French military concerning its conduct in the Algerian War.

In the early 1960s, from within the peace movement during the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Boulier worked with theologians Fr. Marie-Dominique Chenu, OP [Dominican], and Cardinal Suenens to help it support peace. The language in the constitution Gaudium et Spes [Joy and Hope] contained the essence of Fr. Boulier’s proposed text, “Every act of war which tends indiscriminately to the destruction of entire cities or vast regions with their inhabitants is a crime against God and against man himself and it must be condemned firmly and without hesitation.”

Fr. Boulier’s activism extended into Eastern Europe, where Christians in significant numbers sided with the communists in the post-war period. This included priests, nuns, and some bishops. Fr. Boulier worked with their clerical organizations, including PAX in Poland, the Association of Priests for Peace in Hungary, and the Movement of Patriotic Priests and Catholic Action in Czechoslovakia. They published Fr. Boulier’s writings and sponsored his speaking tours to their countries. Their members held political offices and contributed positively to their socialist societies.

From Fr. Boulier’s view, to sum up, the interests that supported fascism during World War II sought to rebuild and unify Europe in order to destroy the communists. Ultimately they won the war. They unified Europe and in time destroyed the USSR. NATO is used to make the world a capitalist police station in order to enslave the working class. Believers, including Fr. Boulier and Pope Francis, resist.

Jean Boulier
I Was a Red Priest: Memories and Testimonials

New York: Red Star-CW Publisher, 2022
724 pp., $19.00
ISBN: 0-9764168-3-2; 978-0-9764168-3-8; LCCN 2022910981


Dean Richards
Dean Richards

Dean Richards is a retired secondary school teacher in Los Angeles and an activist in the peace movement.