November 2000 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
This issue is principally devoted to the history of Catholic Church and to
the policies of Pius XII, which continue to arouse considerable controversy.
In fact, during the compilation of this Newsletter, I received a copy of The
Catholic Church and the Holocaust, kindly sent to me by the author, Michael
Phayer. To be reviewed later.
Greetings to you at this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
2) Report on Conferences: a) Notre Dame, Indiana, b) GSA, Houston, Texas c)
International Bonhoeffer Congress, Berlin
a) Rychlak, Hitler, the War and the Pope
b) ed. Hastings, World History of Christianity
4) Journal articles: O.Heilbronner, German Catholic Ghettos
Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, March 2000
5) Titanically . . .
1) Peter Baehr presently at Lingnan University, Hong King, is making a new
translation of Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic. He asks for help in tracking
down some allusions which need clarification. Can any one assist him, and if
so, can you reply to:
He wants to know: a) why are some nations known as peoples of the Liberum
Arbitrium (free will), e.g. Italy and France?
b) What does “genus proximum differentia specifica” mean?
c) Weber refers to a “cawerische” sect. Who were/are these people?
2) Recent conferences:
a) A one day symposium on Pope Pius XII took place at Notre Dame University
on September 23. Participants were Jose Sanchez (St. Louis University),
Steward Stehlin (New York University), Michael Phayer (Marquette
University), and John Pollard (Anglia Polytechnic University), who chaired
the panel and the following discussion. Sanchez is publishing an
historiographical study of Pius; his remarks, consequently, reviewed known
positions, but Sanchez indicated that his own view was sympathetic to the
pope. Stehlin reviewed the situation of the church after the Weimar
Republic, pointing out that the Concordat with Germany was logical and
therefore did not constitute the papal power play that John Cornwell
portrays it to be in Hitler’s Pope. After noting studies of Pius that have
been completely favorable or completely unfavorable to Pius XII, Phayer
provided the views of his contemporaries, people like the English minister
Francis Osborne, the Jesuit advisor, Robert Leiber, and the French
ambassador to the Vatican, Jacques Maritain.
In the discussion that followed with the audience of about 40, Gary Wills’
recent book was mentioned along with his accusation that the pope could have
but did not excommunicate perpetrators. This led to a discussion about the
advantages and disadvantages of the pope’s speaking out. How many would have
been endangered? On the other hand, how many would have been saved by a
papal warning? One member of the audience mentioned that a new collection of
Jacques Maritain’s letters (six volumes!) was presently being published.
Some of this material is reportedly critical of the pope (Maritain was the
French ambassador to the Vatican after the war until his resignation in
b) The 24th German Studies Association met in Houston from October 6 to 8.
One session was devoted to a discussion of Pope Pius in the aftermath of
John Cornwell’s study, Hitler’s Pope. The panel consisted of Hannah Decker
(Houston University), Richard Rubenstein (president emeritus of Bridgeport
University), Michael Phayer (Marquette University); the session was chaired
by Michael Marrus (Toronto University) and Francis Nicosia gave the comment.
Decker and Rubenstein reviewed Cornwell’s biographical representation of the
pope, his family and educational background. Decker agreed that a
psychological study of the pope could shed light on his decisions during the
war and the Holocaust; she indicated that certain people experience crises
when they attain positions of complete power. Phayer compared favorably
Bishop Preysing of Berlin to Pope Pius and then reviewed the October , 1943,
razzia of Roman Jews, indicating that the pope’s actions were reasonable if
mistaken. Rubenstein, in basic agreement with Decker and Phayer, couched his
remarks around cognitive dissonance theory. In his commentary, Nicosia
indicated his favorable view of Hitler’s Pope.
In the discussion that followed the 15 minutes presentations, Michael Marrus
pointed out the mistake in assuming that the pope should have spoken out
when there was no precedent for this kind of intervention. The audience
asked about the pope’s diplomatic situation after the Hitler-Stalin pact and
invasion of Poland. Phayer noted that Myron Taylor, President Roosevelt’s
personal envoy to the Vatican, reported that the pope did not speak out
because of his extreme depression.
c) VIII International Bonhoeffer Kongress, Berlin
Over 250 members of the International Bonhoeffer Society met from August
20-25 at the historic Gendamenmarkt of Berlin to learn more about and
issues relating to the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Under the theme
“Religion and the Shape of Christianity in the 21st Century,” seven major
lectures and sixteen elective presentations were offered to the participants
representing eighteen countries.
Professor Christian Gremmels, chair of the International Bonhoeffer
Gesellschaft, preached the sermon for opening worship held at the Berlin
while Renate Bethge, widow of Eberhard Bethge and niece of Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, served as lector. Following the opening worship on August 20,
the Karl Barth Prize (given by the Evangelical Church of the Union) was
presented to Dr. John de Gruchy of Capetown, for his faithful leadership
many years in the South African struggle to end apartheid.
The major lectures were given by Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain (Chicago):
“Religion and Modernity”; Dr. John W. deGruchy (South Africa) and Dr. Bassam
Tibi (Germany): “Christianity in Times of Religious Pluralism”; Dr. Larry
Rasmussen (USA) and Dr. Johann Baptist Metz (Germany): “The Shape of
Christianity in the 21st Century and the Future of Ecumenism”; and Bishop
Wolfgang Huber (Germany): “The Relevance of Christian Freedom in View of the
Social Challenges of our Time”. (Scheduled to speak, but later unable to
attend, was Dr. Peter L. Berger of the USA. )
Included in the week’s program were elective tours of significant sites
related to Bonhoeffer and the Holocaust, such as the Sachsenhausen
Concentration Camp, the Topography of Terror and German Resistance Memorial
Centers, the House of the Wannsee-Conference, as well as two evening
at the Bonhoeffer Haus in Charlottenburg.
The closing worship service on August 25th was held at St. Matthaikirche,
near the Tiergarten, the parish at which Bonhoeffer was ordained in 1932.
Officiating at Holy Communion and preaching the sermon was Dr. Wolfgang
Huber, Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg and an active member of the Bonhoeffer
Society. Following the worship was a reception for conference delegates at
the Schloss Bellevue, at the invitation of the Bundespraesident, Dr. h.c.
Johannes Rau, who because of illness could not personally be present, and
delegated the host responsibilities to his secretary of state.
For copies of the conference lectures, contact: Enno Obendieck at
Koetschaustrasse 14, D-40474 Dusseldorf, Germany.
The date and place for the (next) IX International Bonhoeffer Kongress (year
2004) has not yet been determined; the Newsletter of the International
Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section (Box 235, Afton, Minnesota
55001) will publicize such details, as they become known.
John W. Matthews, vice-president
International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section
3a) Ronald J.Rychlak, Hitler, the War, and the Pope. Our Sunday
Visitor, Huntington IN. 548 pp. US $26.95
Amid the flood of tributes to Pope Pius XII following his death on
October 9, 1958, those of Jewish leaders were especially warm. “During
the ten years of Nazi terror,” said Golda Meir, then Israeli
representative to the United Nations and later Prime Minister of Israel,
“the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate
with their victims.” Rabbi Elio Toaff, who would one day welcome
another pope to his synagogue as Rome’s Chief Rabbi, said that Italian
Jews “more than anyone else … had the opportunity to appreciate the
great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope
displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror.” The
tributes of major rabbis in New York alone were so numerous that it took
three issues of the New York Times to report them all. Praise came also
>from the Jewish press. “There was probably not a single ruler of our
generation,” wrote the Winnipeg Jewish Post, “who did more to help the
Jews in their hour of greatest tragedy … than the late Pope.”
The triumphal car got off to a good start. But Vengeance came limping
after in the form of the German playwright Rolf Hochhuth. His play The
Deputy, first performed and published in 1963, portrayed Pius XII as
indifferent to the Holocaust, concerned chiefly to preserve the
financial interests of the institution over which he presided in
imperial isolation. Born in 1931, Hochhuth was too young to have
experienced the events of which he wrote. But his play captured the
imagination of a generation starting to protest against authority in all
forms. Ever since, the wartime Pontiff has been the anti-hero of a
Black Legend, the one wartime leader who might have stopped the
slaughter of six million Jews and failed to do so: out of cowardice,
cynicism, and indifference – even (in the recently expanded version of
the indictment) anti-Semitism.
Acceptance of this legend is now so widespread that the Pope’s supposed
“silence” during the Holocaust was the starting point for all media
comment on John Paul II’s prayer for forgiveness of Catholic sins in
March of this year and his subsequent visit to Israel.
Ronald J. Rychlak, a professor and dean at the University of
Mississippi’s School of Law, a nationally recognized authority on the
interpretation of evidence and a non-Catholic, he had never heard of the
Legend until a few years ago, when “a friend of mine accused Pope Pius
XII of having been a Nazi.” This book is the result.
Starting in the 1920s and concluding with Pius XII’s death, Rychlak
presents the judgment of the Pope’s contemporaries in rich detail. A
concluding chapter analyzes the charges against the pontiff in the form
of ten questions and finds them without foundation.
The New York Times is in the forefront today of those propagating the
myth of Pius XII’s “silence.” As the story unfolded, however, the
“newspaper of record” saw things differently: For example,
– “NAZIS WARNED IN LOURDES”: was the headline reporting the protest in 1935
then Cardinal Pacelli against “superstitions of race and blood.”
When Pacelli was elected Pope on March 2, 1939, the Times
reported “nearly general applause around the world,” except in
Germany. “POPE CONDEMNS DICTATORS, TREATY VIOLATORS, RACISM”: was the
three-column front-page headline reporting the Pope’s first encyclical, Oct.
28, 1939. Or again,- “VATICAN DENOUNCES ATROCITIES IN POLAND; GERMANS CALLED
EVEN WORSE THAN RUSSIANS”: Jan. 23, 1940.
– “JEWS’ RIGHTS DEFENDED”: Mar. 14, 1940, reporting the Pope’s
“burning words to [Nazi Foreign Minister] Ribbentrop in defense of the
Jews in Germany and Poland.”
– “Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping
Europe this Christmas. … The Pope put himself squarely against
Nazism”: Dec. 25, 1941.
– “The papacy is throwing the whole weight of its publicizing
facilities into an exposé” of Nazi atrocities (through Vatican
radio): Jan. 24, 1942.
– “POPE IS SAID TO PLEAD FOR JEWS LISTED FOR REMOVAL FROM FRANCE”:
Aug. 6, 1942. And on Aug. 27: “VICHY SEIZES JEWS; POPE PIUS
– “This Christmas  more than ever [the Pope] is a lonely voice
crying out of the silence of a continent”: editorial on the Pope’s
reference to “the hundreds of thousands who … solely because
of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive
– On August 21, 1944 Pulitzer laureate Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote in
the Times that the Pope had given “first priority” to saving Jews.
– “Under the Pope’s direction the Holy See did an exemplary job of
sheltering and championing the victims of the Nazi-Fascist regime. … None
Rome] doubts that the general feeling of the Roman Curia was anti-Fascist
very strongly anti-Nazi”: Times reporter Herbert L. Matthews, Oct. 15, 1944.
Expressions of thanks by Jewish leaders, throughout the war and at its
conclusion, were numerous. “The people of Israel will never forget what
His Holiness is doing for us,” Chief Rabbi Herzog of Palestine wrote in
one of his many wartime communications to the Holy See. Similar
assurances recur repeatedly. On October 11, 1945 the New York Times
reported a gift to the Vatican of $20,000 from the World Jewish Congress
“in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from
Fascist and Nazi persecution.”
The perception of Pius XII’s contemporaries is virtually unknown
today. When adverted to, it is dismissed as irrelevant, or simply
wrong. Why? Hochhuth’s play may have occasioned the change. It cannot
have caused it. “The evil is so great that people keep looking for
another culprit,” Rychlak writes. Hochhuth’s indictment of the Pope
came, as already noted, just as the rebellion against authority was
getting underway in western democracies. The demonization of an
authority figure revered by millions was welcome to an age proclaiming
the death of God and rejecting the pretensions of those claiming to
speak in his name. Today people who hold that there is no such thing as
truth, but only differing opinions, cherish the Black Legend as a means
of discrediting an institution still too benighted to concede a position
they hold to be self-evident.
Readers skeptical about the value Rychlak assigns to the judgment of
Pius XII’s contemporaries may wish to consider Rychlak’s Epilogue. This
deals with the most recent statement of the case against the wartime
Pontiff by John Cornwell in his book, Hitler’s Pope, which appeared when
Rychlak’s manuscript was substantially complete.
He cites abundant evidence contradicting Cornwell’s claim that his
original intention was to defend Pius XII against calumny (the Black
Legend), but that “previously unseen material” which Cornwell studied
“for months on end” in the secret Vatican archives reduced him to the
“state of moral shock” which produced Hitler’s Pope. In reality,
Cornwell’s research in the Vatican archives extended for three weeks
only, during which his visits were not daily. None of the material he
cites was “previously unseen.”
A letter written in 1919 by Pacelli when he was nuncio in Munich, which
Cornwell calls “a ticking time bomb” and proof of anti-Semitism,
appeared in print several years before Cornwell started his research.
The letter reports an attack on the Munich nunciature by a band of
communist thugs led by “a young Russian Jew: pale, dirty, with vacant
eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both
intelligent and sly.” This description is by an aide not by Pacelli
(who did not witness the incident). Though this language has been
criminalized by today’s language police, it was hardly remarkable eighty
years ago. Moreover it correctly states the facts. It no more proves
Pacelli’s lifelong anti-Semitism than incidents from his early
schooling, which Rychlak shows that Cornwell has either misunderstood or
Rychlak also demonstrates that Cornwell misrepresents Pacelli’s role
(as papal Secretary of State) and motives in negotiating the Holy See’s
Concordat with Hitler in July 1933. Cornwell’s source is the German
Protestant Klaus Scholder, whose work is available in English
translation, and whom Cornwell calls “unchallenged in German
scholarship.” In fact, Scholder’s work has been decisively refuted by
two German Catholic historians whose works remain untranslated: the late
Ludwig Volk SJ and Konrad Repgen. (Cornwell appears to have used no
German sources at all.)
The initiative for the Concordat came not from Rome (as Cornwell,
following Scholder, claims) but from Hitler. Far from weakening the
resistance of German Catholics to Hitler, as Cornwell contends, the
treaty contained protections for the church, eagerly desired at the time
by the German bishops. Moreover, Pacelli was more realistic about the
value of Hitler’s promises than most political leaders, telling the
British Minister to the Holy See that while he expected Hitler to
violate some of the Concordat’s provisions, he probably would not
violate all of them at the same time.
Cornwell makes much of Pius XII’s supposed indifference to the roundup
of Roman Jews by the Nazis on October 16, 1943, shown (Cornwell
contends) by the Pope’s failure to mention this in a conversation with
the American official Harold Tittmann the very next day. Though
Tittmann’s published report is dated October 17, this is clearly
erroneous. The Vatican records show that the conversation took place
October 14. Rychlak writes: “The Pope did not mention the roundup of
Jews because it had not yet happened.” In fact, thousands of Roman Jews
were saved by the Pope. When Robert Katz (another star witness for
Cornwell) claimed the contrary after Pius XII’s death, his niece won an
action for libel from the Italian Supreme Court. Cornwell falsely
claims that the verdict was “inconclusive.”
Similarly skewed is Cornwell’s account of papal policy toward the
wartime Ustashi regime in Croatia, which cooperated with Nazi
persecution of Jews. Far from approving of the regime, the Holy See
refused to recognize it and mounted feverish efforts to help Jews in
Croatia. Cornwell repeats post-war charges by the Yugoslav communist
government that the Croatian Archbishop Stepinac supported the Ustashi
regime. His approval was short lived. After learning of the regime’s
brutality, and receiving instructions from Rome, Stepinac vigorously
condemned the regime and worked to save its victims. Following his
post-war conviction by a communist court, widely recognized even then as
a frame-up, the American Jewish leader Louis Braier defended Stepinac,
calling him “a great man of the church … who spoke openly and
fearlessly against the racial law. After His Holiness, Pius XII, he was
the greatest defender of the Jews in persecuted Europe.”
While Rychlak’s refutation of the Black Legend is impressive, it is
unlikely to change many minds. The myth of Pius XII’s silence and
inactivity serves a function similar to that of the myths in classical
antiquity. It helps explain what would otherwise be unintelligible.
Moreover, deeply held beliefs seldom yield to facts. Already an Israeli
member of the six-member panel charged with evaluating the twelve
published volumes of wartime documents from the Vatican archives has
called Pius XII “complicit in German policy.”
In the face of six million dead, no one can claim that enough was
done. To claim, however, that nothing was done – or that the failure to
do more was the result of cynicism or indifference – is a grave
falsification of history. When the victim of this falsification is a
person of demonstrable moral courage and goodness, it is shameful.
John Jay Hughes, St Louis, Missouri
3b) ed. Adrian Hastings, A World History of Christianity, London: Cassell,
1999. pp.xiv, 594.
This handsome volume, clearly essential to the shelves of any
self-respecting library, will strike its readers as indispensable and
infuriating., in proportions likely to teach each reader a good deal about
him/herself! Built on a plan drawn up by Peter Hinchliff, whose early death
was one of several blows to affect the final outcome, it consists of 13
essays on particular areas/periods, so that the entire world-wide experience
of Christians to date is ‘covered’. But not encyclopaedically – don’t expect
to be able to look up your favourite episodes or witnesses. The editor
forestalls not a little of the infuriation with his apology on p. 4f for
areas that are overlooked – though he could have included Poland, Bohemia
and Hungary too!
Any such project cannot but provoke endless questions about emphasis and
structure. The writers clearly all strive to be properly ‘objective’. yet
already the centrality of ‘Christianity’ as their topic proves in detail
slippery. It was undoubtedly a good idea to entrust the opening chapter on
“The emergence of Christianity” to a learned and courteous Jew, who gives
half his space to the social and intellectual background in the Roman Empire
and in Judaism. But the other chapters vary considerably in their relative
attention to the ‘outer’ aspects, i.e. the church history, or to the ‘inner’
history, what the faith has meant (or otherwise) in a given culture, let
alone to the overall social and intellectual history of that population as a
whole. And while it is excellent to have all continents represented, was it
necessary to give Western Europe three whole chapters where Africa, Latin
America and North America (the three most quantitatively ‘most Christian’
areas today) only get one each? Good too that N.America and Australasia
provide their own authors, but why oh why could we not have African, Indian
and Latin American authors (good as their western proxies are!)?
The main word must however be of profound appreciation for what the book
does offer. None of the chapters is less than valuable, most of them
fascinating. Two whose topics are specific enough for the author to be able
to tell a key period of history as a continuous story are those on the
Reformation (Andrew Petegree) and Christianity in W.Europe from the
Enlightenment (Mary Heimann), the latter encouragingly fresh in pointing
beyond the ‘myths’ that have crept into so much contemporary interpretations
of the huge swings in her period (see her account of the 1860
Huxley-Wilberforce debate on pp 494-6).
Dismayingly frequent, though clearly in no way concerted, is an emphasis on
the disastrous effects of quarrels and splits among Christians. Hardly less
frequent are the passages, at least for this reader, where one realises that
a person or group one has regarded as key to a given area proves to be less
so – Ziegenbalg for instance is evaluated much more highly for Christianity
in India than William Carey. No reader will fail to learn a great deal,
whether of detail or of the larger movements of history, even those who
might like to think of ourselves as relatively well-informed. And the
bibliographies are magisterial.
Martin Conway, Oxford
4) Journal article: a) Oded Heilbronner, From Ghetto to ghetto: The Place of
German Catholic society in recent historiography, Journal of Modern History,
72, June 2000, pp453-495.
This 40 page review article gives an extensive analysis of a number of works
dealing with German Catholic society during the last 15o years. Heilbronner
develops his highly critical views of the current German Catholic research
establishment, accusing its participants of outdated historical and
methodological opinions. His account of the “backwardness” of Catholics
during this period is unlikely to make many friends, but some of his
strictures have merit.
b) The March issue of Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht is devoted
to the subject of Church, State and Society. The opening article by H-J
Kracht touches on Heilbronner’s subject, while Kurt Nowak (Leipzig)
contributes a masterly overview of the literature on church history, mainly
German, for the past two centuries, pp.190-207, also April issue, pp256-66.
Claudia Lipp gives a useful summary of the historiography of the divided yet
united Protestant Church 1945-95.
5) Titanically . . .
This is a transcript of an actual radio conversation of a US naval ship with
Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995:
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR
Canadians: No, I say again, divert YOUR course.
Americans: This is the Aircraft Carrier, USS Lincoln. The second largest
ship in the US fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers
and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15
degrees, that is one five degrees, north or counter measures will be taken
to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.