March 1998 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- March 1998- Vol. IV, no. 3
 Dear Friends,


1) The Hidden Encyclical
2) Book reviews : Latour, Papacy in World War I; Bacque, Crimes and Mercies
3) Kirchliche Tourismus or Postcards from Sacred Spots


1)”The Hidden Encyclical”: In the summer of 1938, Pope Pius XI was deeply troubled by the Nazis’ vicious antisemitic campaigns against the Jews, and by the likelihood that Mussolini would pass equivalent legislation affecting Italy’s Jews. He therefore resolved to commission an Encyclical which would make clear the Catholic Church’s opposition to such pernicious developments. To this end he requested a prominent American Jesuit, Fr. John LaFarge, well-known as an expert on race relations, and also as a leading contributor to the respected Jesuit periodical ‘America’, to prepare a suitable text. For three months, LaFarge, together with a German and a French Jesuit, laboured to summarise Catholic teachings on racism. He then submitted the results to the head ofthe Jesuit order in Rome for onward transmission to the Pope. For as yet unclear reasons, the document only reached the Pope’s desk in early 1939, but he died before it could be promulgated. His successor, Pius XII, chose not to make any statement on this highly controversial and politically explosive subject, and the Encyclical was in fact suppressed. Only in 1995 did a book in French, with the title “The Hidden Encyclical” appear, written jointly by two scholars, one Catholic and one Jewish, G.Passelecq and B Suchecky, as noted in our Newsletter no 21 (September1996), p.4-5. Their findings have helped to shed light on the origins, the contents, and the disposition of this document.

But debate continues. Recently, in the latest issue of ‘Holocaustand Genocide Studies’, Vol 11, no 2 (Winter 1997), Professor Michael Marrus published an excellently authoritative article on this “hidden encyclical”, which was followed last month by a public debate at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum inWashington, D.C., in which Professor Michael Phayer, Professor Tom Breslin and Fr. John Morley took part. In its usual secretive way, the Vatican long denied even the existence of this proto-encyclical. But Tom Breslin found the text in 1972 amongst John LaFarge’s Nachlass. Passelecq and Suchecky have now published the full text, and Marrus’ article makes its main points available in English. For several years, some critical observers, such as Connor Cruise O’Brien, have argued that here was “one of the greatest and most tragically missed opportunities of history”. Had the Vatican issued the Encyclical, it is claimed, its effect would have been enough to “save the Jews” from Hitler’s racial fanaticism.

It is one of the most significant “might-have-beens” of contemporary church history, a point of view not surprisingly shared by many observers of the Holocaust, whether Jewish or Catholic. More cautious scholars, such as Marrus and myself, discount such exaggerations. What possible results the Encyclical might have had were fully explored at the Washington meeting, but can only really be a matter of speculation. To be sure, LaFarge’s extensive text was suitably condemnatory of racism in general, and of Nazi antisemitism and American anti-negro attitudes in particular. But it would be wishful thinking to believe that significant sections of opinion in Germany, let alone in Poland, even among Catholics, would have changed their minds about the treatment of the Jews. In fact, LaFarge’s draft largely restated the classic Catholic position on Judaism, though he was also emphatic that the Jews are the Chosen People of God and that their Covenant has not been revoked. The Church should nevertheless ardently seek their conversion. But antisemitism was directly counter-productive to such a goal, and persecution only made matters worse. Justice and charity should be the hall-marks of the Christians’ attitude. Such general statements – as is usual in Papal Encyclicals – were not accompanied by any specific denunciations of either Hitler’s or Mussolini’s policies, and, as Marrus correctly states, this was more like a repetition of conventional wisdom of the Church on antisemitism rather than a call to arms against antisemitic forces in Germany or Italy. “Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine that the issuing of the encyclical on the eve of the Second World War would have made a great deal of difference – let alone that it might have ‘averted the Holocaust'”. It is only too probable that its publication would have been as non-effective as was the1937 Encyclical ‘Mit Brennender Sorge’.

But speculations continue, as they do about the reasons why this hidden document never saw the light of day. Conspiracy theories, such as the view that Pius XI was deliberately murdered to prevent its appearance, or that the Jesuit leaders were ready to appease Hitler because of their violent anti-communism, or that the diplomatic Pius XII would not have been elected had a stronger anti-fascist course been set earlier, were aired at the Washington meeting. But whether or not such a pronouncement would have significantly altered the Church’s stance, or the fate of the Jews, still seems very debatable. All speakers were at least in agreement that access to the Vatican and Jesuit archives would be highly desirable in order to obtain a more complete account of this draft and its subsequent history. JSC (with thanks to Peggy Obrecht).

2a) Francis Latour, La Papaute et les problemes de la paix pendantla premiere guerre mondiale, Paris/Montreal: L’Harmattan 1996 ISBN 2-7384-4600-0 350pp. For the past thirty years considerable controversy has erupted about the policies of the Vatican, and of Pope Pius XII, during the Second World War. By contrast, the equivalent stances of the Vatican during the First World War have been largely passed by. Francis Latour, who teaches at the Catholic Institute in Paris, has recently produced a serviceable account of this earlier period, using the now available records for the pontificate of Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922). He shows that, in fact, both the principles and practices followed by the papacy in both conflicts were remarkably similar,to the point where one can conclude that Pius XII’s policies clearly owed much to the example of his predecessor. So too thepredicaments and the opposition faced by the papacy were similarin tone, often sparked by the same kind of resentments and disappointments. Benedict XV’s principles, enunciated immediately following his election, which took place a month after the outbreak of hostilities, were, firstly, to uphold resolutely the ideal of peace and to refuse to succumb to the war fever which engulfed all the combatantnations. Secondly, he deliberately decided to adopt a stance of strict impartiality, refusing to support or to blame either side.Thirdly, he sought to use the Vatican’s influence to promote the cause of a negotiated settlement, and to prevent any escalation of the conflict. These were honourable motives, but subject to incessant misrepresentation. His frequent appeals for a cessation of hostilities were politely and firmly rejected, his impartiality continually impugned, and his attempts at negotiation spurned by one or other side, for as long as the hope of military victory remained uppermost.Latour demonstrates that the Papacy’s horror at the calamities of modern warfare was genuine, based on the recognition that the whole edifice of Christian civilisation was being undermined. But equally, the Vatican was obliged to face the unwelcome fact that its power was insufficient to bring about a reversal or to re-establish a rational peaceful international order. And while its political influence was held to be an asset which both sides sought to obtain for their own ends, it was inadequate to challenge the massive nationalist enthusiasms mobilised for the propagation of ever-increasing mutual hatreds.

Each of the combatants criticised the Papacy’s refusal to take sides, or attacked the Pope for failing to protest the alleged atrocities of their opponents. Each side condemned the Vatican’s stance as “too weak”, and only a handful of commentators were prepared to recognise the difficulties and dilemmas faced by the Pope and his advisers. To be sure, in 1914, the papacy’s situation was not propitious. Ever since the unification of Italy in 1870, its position in Rome has rested solely on the good will, or otherwise, of the Italian government. With the separation of church and state in France in1905, the open hostility of such Protestant nations as Germany and Britain, the apparent disinterest of the United States, and the clear suspicion of the Russian Czarist Empire, the Vatican’s only reliable supporter was Austria-Hungary. But the Austrians’ determination to plunge the continent into war over the misdeeds of Serbia was a sad blow. So too was the readiness of Italy to join the Allied side in May 1915, despite Benedict XV’s strenuous efforts to prevent this development, prompted in part by considerable fears that an Italian defeat might lead to revolution in the streets of Rome and endanger the Vatican’s very existence.

Above all, the evident inability of the Vatican to assert its ideals was a source of constant grief. The Pope’s fervent pronouncements in favour of peace were ignored or disdained, and his motives continually misinterpreted. Yet his silences were equally criticised as an abdication of his pastoral responsibilities. But Benedict XV clung on to the belief, as Pius XII was to do twenty-five years later, that sooner or later the warring parties would see the folly of their war-like ways and require the help of a moderator to bring hostilities to an end. As Latour shows, this was a worthy but utopian illusion. Only in 1917, with the stalemate on the western front, and the overthrow of the Czarist regime, did a Papal initiative in favour of peace appear to have some chance of success.

This diplomatic endeavour has been fully documented in the large-scale volume, Das Friedensappell Papst Benedicts XV, beautifully edited by W. Steglich, which appeared in 1970. Incredibly, this volume is not mentioned at all by Latour. Nor is a convincing article on this topic in Stimmen der Zeit by a later papal adviser, Fr Robert Leiber. Even though Latour has had access to the papal records, he does not produce any new analysis to account for the failure of this significant undertaking.With the advantage of hindsight, it is clear that at no point did the prerequisites for a successful peace initiative by the Papacy or anyone else prevail. At no point were all the powers, simultaneously, prepared to recognise that neither side could obtain victory, to withdraw their ambitious dreams of national aggrandisement, or to abandon the hope of revenge for all the terrible losses suffered. Such a moment never came, and the papacy’s influence was palpably too weak to induce such changes in the belligerents’ attitudes.

On the other hand, the fact that all the combatants used moral terms in the attempt to justify their actions, and to demonise those of their opponents, appealing thereby to their public opinions, meant that the Vatican’s idealistic stance could not be rejected outright. Noble ideals were useful for propaganda purposes, even though they served only to foster illusionary prospects. In the event, Realpolitik and force majeure were the true proponents of each state’s policies,including those of the United States, despite President Wilson’s highly moralistic rhetoric. Wilson’s refusal to give any support to the papacy’s efforts was, in fact, deeply disillusioning, as was his capitulation to the anti-clerical forces, especially in Italy, which refused to allow the Vatican to be invited to the eventual Paris Peace Conference, or to become a member of the League of Nations. These rebuffs hurt, and were taken as a poor reward for Benedict’s high-minded and persistent pursuit of peace throughout the conflict. They were attributed therefore to the petty jealousies of anti-clericals, unable to grasp the nobility of the Pope’s ideals.

But, as Latour admits, no one at the Vatican was prepared to accept how much its own anti-democratic, authoritarian and distinctly un-ecumenical political style, dreaming of reconstituting a kind of mediaeval world order with the Pope as its spiritual guardian, was bound to arouse opposition and suspicions. The first great war was, in fact, a striking reminder that the Vatican’s position in the world was far less influential than its dignitaries desired. It was the beginning of an irreversible process. But the dilemma of how to uphold the vision of Christian idealism in the midst of the realities and disasters of power politics remains. Latour has provided a useful description of how this predicament was faced during the short reign of Benedict XV. JSC.

2b) James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies. The fate of German civilians under Allied Occupation 1944-1950, Toronto:Little, Brown and Co., 1997 288 pp. James Bacque is, according to the book jacket, a novelist living in Toronto. He is also, clearly, as man of extensive compassion, particularly for Germans. His earlier book, Other Losses, sought to describe the fate of “about 1 million” Germans captured at the end of the war in 1945, imprisoned on the banks of the Rhine and left to starve to death by the deliberate neglect of the American zonal authorities directed by General Eisenhower. This provocative accusation was supported by some highly original manipulation of demographic statistics seeking to account for the”disappearance” of so many suffering Germans, but earned only justified criticism from such historians as Eisenhower’s biographer.

Bacque has now produced a sequel which equallyconcentrates of the plight of the Germans in the post-1945 period,particularly those who endured “ethnic cleansing” by being expelled from eastern Europe, or as prisoners-of-war in the Soviet Union. Altogether, Bacque calculates, at least 9.3 million Germans died needlessly after the war because of the conditions imposed by the four major victors. “This is many more Germans than died in battle, air raids and concentration camps during the war” (p.131). Bacque believes these deaths have never been fully reported, largely because of a high-level cover-up by the Allied governments and their compliant historians. His aim now is to reverse this omission by exposing the lies and hypocrisy which enabled so-called democratic governments to ignore the mistreatment and plight of these helpless Germans. His final chapter entitled “History and Forgetting” describes what he calls “the great institutions of public opinion feverishly denying the Western Allied atrocities of the post-war period against Germany” (p.191), and points to the unfortunate reception given to those brave enough to bare the truth.

To support his case. Bacque tried to see the records of the Red Cross in Geneva, but was denied access. He did however visit the KGB archive in Russia, despite having no fluency in this language. Documents he obtained in Moscow, he claims, accurately gave the figure of 500,000 German deaths in Soviet captivity. Therefore, another missing million must have died in western-held camps. The silence about their fate, he asserts, amounts to a vast international falsification maintained for fifty years. “Sometimes the Allies have lied in co-operation with the Soviets, sometimes they have lied to foment hatred against them,s ometimes they have lied to cover up their own crimes. They are still at it” (p.88). The contrast between the well-publicised atrocities of the Nazis and the cover-up of post-war Allied crimes, forcing the Germans into starvation and death, is therefore glaring.

But his own examination of the surviving statistics and thed iscrepancies in reported death rates in Germany for 1946-1950, when he reaches the conclusion that 5.7 million persons”disappeared”, is largely speculative and so remains unconvincing. Bacque produces a similar indictment of the dreadful expulsions of Germans in 1945-6 from Poland, Czechoslovakia and other eastern European countries, despite the Potsdam Conference’s assurance that such population transfers would be orderly and humane. Enormous suffering also resulted form the Allies’ vindictive policy of dismantling industrial production in the name of reparations, when, Bacque claims, the Americans took from Germany at least twenty times the amount later returned under the Marshall Plan. It was all part of the Allies’ horrendous animus against the Germans. Leading figures in this conspiracy were such men as Henry Morgenthau, Churchill, De Gaulle and Eisenhower, the authors of the infamous policy of unconditional surrender. On the other hand, there were also the “good guys” such as Herbert Hoover, Victor Gollancz, Senators Langer and Wherry, journalists such as Dorothy Thompson, countless aid workers and a very few honest reporters. These were the merciful saviours whose compassion was in the end successful. Thanks to their efforts, Bacque believes, the ban on private aid to Germans was relaxed. And the horrendous German death rates in 1946-7, twice those of pre-war years, finally forced the Allied authorities to abandon their starvation policies.

As a historical work, this book suffers from both imbalance and imprecision. Contrary to Bacque’s assertions, much of the inhumanity inflicted on the German population has been well and more fully described before. His graphic recapitulation of eye-witness reports only adds graphic details to this regrettable story. On the other hand, his attribution of infamous motives to the main agents of Allied occupation policy ignores the complexities, even the contradictions, which dominated the political scene at the time. Portraying the Germans as helpless victims of Allied vindictiveness totally overlooks the fact that only a handful were prepared to acknowledge, let alone show remorse for, the manifold crimes committed in Germany’s name during the Nazi years. All observers at the time were appalled by the Germans’ complete pre-occupation with their own sufferings, and their total amnesia about what they had done to others. His indulgence in a conspiratorial view of history may in fact be due to his belief – as explained in an appendix – that, as a result of his earlier work, he was (is) under surveillance by such agencies as the CIA, his post censored and his telephone calls intercepted and recorded. Deplorable as this may be, his moralistic approach to history, seeing it as a continual struggle between the criminals and the merciful, leaves much to be desired. By upholding the democratic ideals of truth and justice, and by denouncing some of the lies and distortions of yester-year, Bacque is in the good company of other “expose” journalists. But his own partiality is so strident and one-sided that only the converted are likely to find much of value in this extended diatribe. JSC

3) Kirchliche Tourismus or Postcards from Sacred Spots (This column, which will appear from time to time, invites contributions from anywhere, recalling any aspect of church history which may be of general interest to our readers).

Shaking the Heavens. One of the lesser-known but still notable pilgrimage sites in North America is situated at Niskeyuna, near the banks of the Mohawk River, in upper New York State. When Ann and I visited there last month, we found it almost engulfed by Albany’s noisy airport. But two hundred years ago, this was where, in 1774, the first settlement of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing was established under the charismatic guidance of their leader “Mother” Ann Lee. Because of the fervour of their religious ecstasy, especially in dancing, their opponents labelled this sect as the Shakers, and the name has stuck ever since.

Ann Lee was born in 1736 in the squalid slums of Manchester, at atime when the Lancashire cotton mill owners ruthlessly exploited child labour. She never attended school, nor indeed ever learned toread or write. Nevertheless as she grew up, she developed aremarkable spiritual presence which was to have a profound effecton thousands of lives. Having been mightily impressed by the preaching of George Whitefield, she joined a break-away group of Quakers who warmly encouraged the gifts of women, including preaching and prophesy. Their intense religious search led them to believe in the imminent return of Christ, and in Ann’s case to the conviction that this would happen in the form of a woman. But first, sin must be overcome, and, in particular, Ann believed, the sin of sexual lust. It is probable that she came to this view after her own early marriage and the loss of four children in rapid succession to early deaths. She therefore persuaded her followers that henceforth they must follow a life of strict celibacy, when men and women would live together in community but on separate lines.

Persecuted and harassed by the authorities in England, she resolved to seek the remoteness of America where she hoped their special witness would be allowed free expression. Somehow orother she and eight others, including her husband and brother, set sail for New York, and after a year of hardship and deprivation, finally realised their goal of setting up a small agricultural colony where they could practise their worship and evangelisation.In the 1770s the British American colonies were in a state of political and religious turmoil. Possibly for this reason, Ann Lee found an increasing number of men and women willing to renounce all worldly possessions and sex and to join the Shakers’ idealistic vision of new birth, despite the rigid discipline demanded.

By the turn of the century numerous Shaker farm settlements hadbeen established in New England, and by the mid-nineteenth century had spread as far away as Ohio and Kentucky after the remarkable religious revivals which swept these states. But in the following decades, the Shakers began to decline in numbers.Without children to carry forward their beliefs, they relied solely on sporadic conversions which grew less frequent. The last colony finally ceased in 1970, when their assets were turned over to a Heritage Society.

To get a clearer view of the Shakers’ life, we went over to Hancockin Massachusetts, about forty miles from Niskeyuna, which wasfirst settled in 1790 and still maintains most of the Shaker buildings in good repair. Here we found an impressive brickhouse, the dwelling of some 100 Shakers, symmetrically built with separate doors and staircases for men and women, and still furnished with fine examples of the simple pure Shaker furniture. The meeting house is beautifully proportioned with a large open area where the community practised their dancing rituals and gave their testimonies to God’s blessing. Here too were the workshops where the Shaker furniture, which has since gained a world-wide reputation and is much sought after, is still being made, and the weaving rooms where chair seats, pads and baskets are produced, and dried herbs and seeds harvested and packaged for sale. The commitment to hard work of this community is readily apparent in what was to become one of the most successful attempts in community living ever seen, where work and worship went hand in hand..

Their success and ingenuity in developing newinventions to improve their farming techniques were such that, int heir day, these settlements became models of a thriving agricultural way of life. But primary was the devotion to God in simplicity and humility, following the precepts of their foundress Ann Lee.In Niskeyuna, all that remains now of this inspiring experiment is part of the old orchard and a historic cemetery where Mother Ann Lee lies buried, surrounded by the ranks of her followers withs imple gravestones under the maple trees glowing in the autumnal sunshine. Here they rest, as witnesses to St Paul’s words: “All that believed were together and had all things common, being of one heart and of one soul” in an island of peace set over against the worldliness against which they witnessed so fervently, transformed, as they were convinced, by the perfect will of God. JSC

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With all best wishes,

John Conway