The elimination of religion is something that many governments have pursued. So far, none have succeeded, at least not permanently. Over 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has been repeatedly and viciously persecuted and banned, but it is still here.
Why do various political systems want to eliminate religion? In Marxist theory, it is necessary to substitute the state as the be-all and end-all of people’s lives. Otherwise, the Church is a rival for control, money and the loyalties of citizens.
Christianity teaches behaviors that undermine certain political structures, especially dictatorships. For example, how could Hitler or Stalin succeed with a tyranny built on fear if Catholics/Christians are taught to fear only the evil works of Satan?
How could they enforce absolute obedience to the state if Catholics/Christians are taught to obey God above all else? Those who base their system on racial hatred cannot prosper if Catholics/Christians teach love. Obviously, God and Christian values have to go.
Money, Education, Power and Property
There are also the issues of money and power. Dictators don’t want to share. To them it is a waste for tithes to go to the church, or for money to be spent building churches and charities, when all that revenue could go to the state.
Another reason is education. Dictators know it is easier to fool an uneducated population, so the first to be executed or exiled are the intelligentsia. Since Catholics are known for building schools everywhere they go, the Church has to be eliminated.
While the Church isn’t intended to be a power structure, there is no denying that an organization representing1.34 billion people has clout. Many a government official has chafed at having to deal with a bishop, especially one who voices opposition.
Remember Henry II of England, who famously cried, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” That outburst led to the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had argued with the king over the rights of crown and church.
Then there are all those church properties. Many a dictator has seized Catholic properties and re-purposed them for state use or profit.
Religious Conflict, Atheist Governments, Gangs and Cartels
Until modern times, most anti-Catholic action was based on conflicts with other religions, that is, Muslims during the Crusades, Protestants after the Reformation, and once world exploration started, indigenous religions rejecting missionary evangelization.
Then came democracy, a good idea that actually fits well with Catholic teachings about equality and human dignity. The proliferation of secular governments followed, but so did ideas like fascism and communism with their inherent atheism.
Pius XII played a masterful game of political chess with the Nazis. While he secretly aided Jews, he carefully negotiated to defend the Vatican from invasion and to protect the Church in a time when thousands of priests and nuns were murdered.
All along, Pius XII knew that the more serious threat to the Church was communism. He was right. As communism spread across the world, the people of many nations lost the right to express their faith.
Fortunately, communism has largely failed. In former Soviet-bloc countries, even in Russia, churches have re-opened. Meantime, in China, the Catholic Church exists, but under strict controls and persecution.
Catholics face an increasingly dangerous situation in many countries today. In some places, like Nigeria and Syria, the issue is once again about religion because of Muslim extremists.
In Mexico and Central America, Catholics are being terrorized and murdered, especially clergy. In those cases, the cartels and the gangs want to silence the Church’s advocacy against violence and corruption.
In the United States, in 15 months of 2020-21, there were 105 incidents of hateful vandalism of Catholic sites including arson, graffiti and defaced statues.
Persecutions Around the World
On its web site, Aid to the Church in Need posts news about the persecutions of Catholics around the world. https://www.churchinneed.org/survey-shows-us-catholics-growing-concern-about-global-persecution-of-christians/
For example: In Pakistan, in 2020, “1,000 primarily Christian under-age girls were abducted and threatened to be forcibly converted to Islam; in China, Mass-goers are subject to digital surveillance; in Nigeria, nearly 3,500 Christians were killed for their faith in 2020, and in North Korea being a Christian can carry the death penalty.”
If you search Wikipedia for “Anti-Catholicism” you get an article that is stunning in length. It describes the history of Catholic persecution country by country. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism
In 1969, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger predicted that the Church would go through great upheavals. “She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.”
So how small will the Church become? That depends on how many Catholics will stand steadfast, as the Church has stood steadfast through twenty centuries. Whatever the number, it will still be the Catholic Church, or as the future Pope Benedict said, “a Church of faith.”