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Anglican anti-communism was a powerful religious force in 1950s Cold War, VU study finds

The Anglican Church was deeply involved in the religious fight against communism in Australia during the early Cold War and its influence reached the highest echelons of power, a Victoria University study has found.

In what is believed to be the first major Australian study of the influence of Anglicans in Cold War anti-communism, VU PhD graduate Dr Doris LeRoy reveals how political leaders used religion and the strength of the Church to "obtain their ends''.

"While numerous studies have examined the role of the Australian Roman Catholic Church in fighting communism in the 1950s, little attention has been paid to the position and power of the numerically dominant Anglican Church,'' Dr LeRoy said.

"The Encyclical issued by the Pope at the time prevented any Catholics being involved with communism. But the pressure the Archbishop of Canterbury exerted on the Anglicans did not prevent some being admirers of the communist system, which meant there was conflict within the church.''

Her study highlights the high number of Anglican representatives in influential positions in the government, the military and the judiciary during Cold War Australia.

"These powerful elites were able to influence social opinion both directly and indirectly,'' she said.

"There were prominent members of the Anglican Church who were very helpful to the anti-communist Menzies government at the time. There were no overt statements about this link between Church and State but there probably didn't need to be. It was all pretty well understood.''

Dr LeRoy said one notable example was Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) head Brigadier Sir Charles Spry, who was an Anglican known for his conservative views.

"Spry was affiliated with everyone but he was a very secretive man. He was part of a closely knit defence establishment elite in Melbourne which was known for its vehement anti-communism and its informal links with the Liberal Party.''

Church newspapers were also used as a tool to spread anti-communist propaganda, particularly the evangelical titles, she said.

"The papers disseminated anti-communist news items from local and international sources and were powerful shapers of opinion. It was quite amazing that there was so much fear considering the small numbers of communists in Australia at the time, estimated to be 20,000 at the most.''

Dr LeRoy said her study had the potential to upset some Anglicans but the research was important "because it can be used as a lesson for the current fear, ignorance and misunderstandings of Muslims''.

"It shows how we should really start to step back and think about things rather than just blindly follow the leader.''

For interview: Dr Doris LeRoy on 9398 1302 or 0419 319 691

Media contact:

Daniel Clarke, Media Officer,

VU Marketing and Communications Department

Ph: 9919 9491 or 0407 771 072

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