May 2002 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- May 2002- Vol. VIII, no. 5

Dear Friends,
I am most grateful to my colleague, John Jay Hughes, for once
again undertaking to edit this issue of our Newsletter, which is
devoted to the still vibrant debate about Pius XII. This month a
major conference was held at Millersville University, Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, so we are glad to be able to supply a report on the

1) Conference Report, XXII Annual Conference on the
Holocaust, Millersville University, Pennsylvania
2) Book reviews:

a) McInerny, Defamation of Pius XII
b) Lawler, Popes and Politics
c) Sanchez, Pius XII and the Holocaust

1) The 22nd Annual Holocaust Conference at Millersville

University in Lancaster/PA on April 14/15 was devoted this year to
“Pius XII and the Holocaust.” Almost all the pope’s critics were
present save John Cornwell, who according to reports avoids
academic venues. Well represented also were the pope’s
supporters. In his opening address, Professor emeritus of
Bridgeport University, Richard L. Rubenstein, while conceding
that our information was still incomplete, stated that Pius was
neither “Hitler’s Pope” nor personally anti-Semitic. Since his
office required him to put church interests ahead of personal
views, however, he inevitably regarded the elimination of Jews as
“a benefit.” Unaddressed was the question, why the pope
protested Nazi persecution, and worked through his nuncios to
save Jews when he could. In a somewhat disorganized paper
Michael Phayer repeated the charges in his book, “The Catholic
Church & the Holocaust.” Fr. John Pawlikowski ascribed the
Pope’s muted reaction to Hitler to fear, not of communism, but of
liberalism (of the continental European variety). In a session on
the Vatican archives John Jay Hughes sketched their history,
explained the practical difficulties delaying their opening (the need
to catalogue, with inadequate staff, 3 million pages for Pius XII
alone), and pleaded for mutual trust without which archival
research becomes not history but politically driven polemics. John
Conway argued that the failure of papal peace efforts in World
War I, the first major European war with major Catholic
participation on both sides, damaged the church’s credibility, thus
limiting Pius XII’s peace and rescue efforts in WW II. The
Catholic-Jewish study group, which broke up in acrimony in 2001,
was an attempt to mend fences. It foundered on the lack of a
clearly defined mission and the political agendas of some
members. Seymour Reich, Jewish coordinator of the group,
defended the Jewish members, while conceding the violation of
confidentiality by one of them which precipitated the breakup.

Keynote speaker on the second day was the resigned priest
and novelist,James Carroll. In a highly emotional speech he linked
today’s defenders of Pius XII with the defenders of Boston’s
Cardinal Law’s handling of sexually abusive clergy. Scholarly
discourse resumed with Stewart Stehlin’s description of the
negotiations for the Concordat of 1933. This was not a “pact with
Hitler” but a guarantee of church rights. The weight of evidence
was that without the treaty the position of the Catholic Church in
Hitler‚s Nazi Reich would have been even worse than it was.
José Sánchez summarized his analysis of arguments by the pope’s
critics and defenders in the book reviewed below. His plea that
partisans on both sides view all the evidence “in context” provoked
a question: did he believe that examining the whole record in
context would compel agreement with the pope’s defenders?
Sánchez replied in the affirmative, adding that his conviction was
the result of long study and reflection. Michael Feldkamp of
Berlin, speaking on “A future pope in Germany,” argued that
Pacelli’s German years (1917-29) disclosed a skilled and realistic
diplomat devoid of anti- Semitism, admiring the best in German
culture, and a consistent foe of Hitler. The charge that
Pacelli had sacrificed the Center Party to obtain the Concordat
rested on unsupported assertions in Heinrich Brüning’s memoirs
which are refuted by other contemporary evidence. Rabbi David
Dalin repeated the arguments in defense of Pius XII which
appeared in his “Weekly Standard” article of Feb. 26, 2001.
Sergio Minerbi criticized papal rescue efforts on the
basis of his personal experience in wartime Rome. Rabbi James
Rudin carefully analyzed the pope’s Christmas messages, pointing
out that Pius was specific when he wanted to be, e.g. about his
concern for POWs. The implied question: why were his references
to Jews non-specific? Rudin did not address the answer frequently
given: because Pius knew that any mention of “Jews” sent Hitler
into a frenzy, thus increasing the danger of deadly reprisals. Susan
Zuccotti repeated the charge in her most recent book: that
extensive rescue efforts for Italian Jews were unconnected with the
pope and unauthorized by him. Without repeating the arguments
in his book defending the pope, Ronald Rychlak, in “A
lawyer looks at history,” said that if the charges against Pius XII
ever reached a court of law, they would be thrown out for lack of
evidence. John Roth spoke, as a Protestant, in the breast-beating
mode of James Carroll. Fr. John Morley, the sole member of the
Catholic-Jewish study group present, pleaded for moderation,
sensitivity, and humility on the part of historians. In response to a
question about supposed Vatican approval of French anti- Semitic
legislation, Morley cited the Sept. 1941 report of the Vichy
Ambassador to the Holy See, Leon Bérard, that the Vatican had
“no quarrel with us” over the anti-Jewish statute. Unmentioned was
documentary evidence showing that Bérard’s report was
unauthorized and swiftly contradicted by the Vatican. The
omission of this correction was an example of the many loose ends
during the long and intensive conference.

Were any minds changed? Partisans on both sides
remained unswayed. Members of the public, who attended in
considerable numbers, may have been influenced in one direction
or the other, if they came with views unformed.
A parallel assessment of this Conference by a professional
journalist from the Pitttsburgh Post Gazette can be found on the
website: Ralph McInerny, The Defamation of Pius XII. South Bend,
Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2001 xii + 211 pp, $19; ISBN
Ralph McInerny holds a chair in philosophy at the
University of Notre Dame. He is the author of almost 100 books in
philosophy and fiction,including dozens of mysteries. With candor
and clarity he states the “Thesis” of his book at the outset: “Since
the heroic efforts of Pius XII during World War II are a matter of
history and the attacks on him are risibly easy to dismiss, the
question becomes: Why is this good man being defamed? Who are
those attacking the man who behaved most nobly during the
darkest period of the twentieth century? Anti- Catholicism has
been called the anti-Semitism of the liberal. It has now become
the trademark of the Culture of Death.”
A point-by-point refutation of the charges against the
Pontiff is a Sisyphus task. One no sooner demolishes one count in
the indictment than three others are added. And proving a negative
is a philosophical impossibility, as McInerny knows. What he
does, therefore, is to set forth what Pius XII did, and compare it
with what his contemporaries did ÷ or failed to do. The book is
thus not so much a defense of the pope as an offense against his
critics. Written entirely from secondary sources, the book appears
to be directed not so much at professional historians, as to the
interested general reader. This impression is strengthened by the
frequent insertion into the text of journalistic sidebars illustrating
specific points. Because McInerny often cites Pinchas E. Lapide’s
1967 book, The Last Three Popes and the Jews, those who claim
that work is “discredited” (without offering any serious evidence
for their claim) will find it easy to dismiss this book. Especially
interesting, because still little known, are the sections
describing the response of Jews outside Europe, especially those in
the United States, to the suffering of their co-religionists. The
Jewish Agency in Palestine focused entirely on the Zionist aim of a
Jewish state and “rarely discussed the Jews of occupied Europe
during 1940 and 1941… Apart from weak support for illegal
immigration [legally there were quotas] the Agency did nothing for
them.” Jewish leaders in the United States reacted to reports
reaching them from October 1941 onward about the Nazi slaughter
of Jews with skepticism or disbelief. When these reports were
confirmed by the State Department on November 24, 1942, “the
American Zionist leadership campaigned against those Jews who
were trying to aid the stricken. American Jews were told by the
State Department that sending parcels to Poland was not in the
interest of the Allies, and [the prominent New York rabbi] Dr.
Stephen Wise said, ŒWe must stop for the good of England.'”
Refusing to blame the victims, McInerny narrates this
record soberly, helping the reader to understand why a policy
which today seems shameful was understandable in the
circumstances of the time. The unspoken question is clear: why is
Pius XII judged by a different standard? The book will be
welcomed by those convinced that the attacks on Pius
XII are unjust. It may influence the undecided. It will be
dismissed, however, (if read at all) by those who are convinced
that the Pontiff is guilty as charged. Their conviction is rooted not
so much in history as in ideology. Rejecting the claim of the
Catholic Church to hold a divine commission to teach the truth,
they cherish any evidence that during the Holocaust the Church’s
principal spokesman failed a crucial moral test.
McInerny contends that what drives the increasingly shrill
onslaught on Pius XII is what Pope John Paul II calls “the Culture
of Death:” the ideology which considers abortion and euthanasia to
be major advances in humankind’s upward march and hence sacred
rights. Motives are difficult to prove. Those (like this reviewer)
who accept the Catholic Church’s condemnation of these attacks
on life’s beginning and end will find McInerny’s ascription of
motive plausible. Few fair minded people, however, will reject his
parallel contention: “Early defamers of Pius XII were content to
distort the history of what he had actually done for Jews during
World War II. But as the attacks continued, it was clear that
authors were after bigger game. They were after the papacy as
such. They were after the Church.” They still are ÷ today more
than ever.
2b) Justus George Lawler, Popes and Politics: Reform,
Resentment and the Holocaust. Continuum. 252p $24.95 ISBN
In Popes and Politics Lawler has written two books. His first
four chapters analyze recent works about Pope Pius XII and the
Holocaust. His final three chapters address issues of church
renewal and reform. So massive has been the devastation inflicted
on Pius XII by Rolf Hochhuth’s pseudo-historical drama, The
Deputy (1963), that the praise heaped upon the pontiff before 1963
by Jews and Gentiles alike for his wartime rescue efforts is now
largely forgotten. Hochhuth’s “third-rate literary effort,” as Lawler
calls it, did more than besmirch the reputation of a man widely
acknowledged at his death to have been a leader of towering moral
stature. It defined the terms of all subsequent debate. “What is
asked of Pius,” Lawler writes, “is not a deed which would achieve
the cessation of the Jewish slaughter, but merely a statement, a
proclamation, a word.”
Overlooked in the strife of tongues which Hochhuth unleashed
are two incontrovertible facts. First, the pope himself was
convinced that he had spoken clearly, not only in papal allocutions
but through his personally directed radio station and newspaper.
He said exactly what he thought would save lives, and carefully
avoided anything which could cause more deaths. Moreover, the
pope’s contemporaries on all sides heard and understood the pope’s
words clearly, even if six decades later critics living comfortably
“in the precincts of somnolent libraries at claustral universities
with their snug professorial digs” cannot. And overlooked, second,
is what Lawler calls “the fatuity of mere Œspeaking out’ when
action was called for.”
Lawler criticizes the pope’s defenders (“ideological
consecrators”) and excoriates his critics (“ideological
denigrators”). Of the former (Ralph McInerny and Margherita
Marchione) he is dismissive. They “proffer testimony to the
righteousness of their viewpoint rather than exposition or argument
to support that viewpoint.” About the denigrators he is
devastating. In great detail, and with biting sarcasm reminiscent of
Jonathan Swift, Lawler analyzes the anti-papal books of John
Cornwell, James Carroll, Michael Phayer, and Susan Zuccotti. He
finds in their books an “omnipresent papaphobia …the startling
phenomenon of slanted and bogus scholarship where one
might least expect it … among the acknowledged professional
exponents of candor, honesty, and rectitude.”
He shows Zuccotti constructing a “tissue of suppositions
[which] displays an astonishing reliance on unverified and
unverifiable assumptions,” and cites examples of her “doctoring of
facts.” In her 1993 book, “The Holocaust, the French, and the
Jews,” Zuccotti excused the French and others for inactivity in the
face of Nazi atrocities because “during the war [the Holocaust] was
almost inconceivable.” In “Under His Very Windows,” by
contrast, Zuccotti gives “a vitriolic description of the allegedly
precise knowledge [of the Holocaust], grasped early in the war
years and conveyed to his emissaries by the detached and
indifferent figure of the pope frigidly gazing down at the
swelling ranks of the doomed Œunder his very windows.'”
In devastating detail Lawler shows how both Zuccotti and
Phayer “distort facts to support personal prejudice.” A case in
point: Phayer writes that Pius failed to condemn the German
bombing of England during 1940 and 1941, but then spoke out
against the bombing of civilians when the Allies gained aerial
superiority.” In fact, the pope repeatedly condemned the bombing
of civilian centers, starting in 1939, less than a week after the Nazi
ten-day bombing of Warsaw. He continued these
condemnations later, when Allied planes devastated German cities.
Allied leaders paid as little attention to these protests as the Nazis
had earlier in the war. “Might not a similar fate have met any
repeated denunciations of what led to the Holocaust?” Lawler asks
Lawler’s indictment of Carroll and Wills is even more severe.
Wills’ “Papal Sin” “is not distinguished by any discernible narrative
sequence or development, save for its leitmotiv of papal sin and
deception. And it is as jumbled thematically as it is
chronologically.” Lawler charges Wills with “deliberate
mistranslation of texts … textual truncation and mutilation” and
“authorial fabrication, in short, a hoax.” And Carroll is worse. His
“Constantine’s Sword” displays “an author whose cutting edge is so
severely blunted by self-indulgent effusions” that he is unable “to
envision any phenomenon, social, cultural, or religious outside the
constricted ambit of its impingement on matters related almost
exclusively to him and his.”
Lawler’s final chapters, on church renewal and reform, reject
both the nostalgia of the right, and the experimental restlessness of
the left. Too original to wear any label, Lawler comes closest to
the position of the extreme center once claimed by the Belgian
Cardinal Suenens. “What will count”, he says in a quotation from
Bernard Lonergan which prefaces the book, “is a perhaps not
numerous center, big enough to be at home in both the old and the
new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to
be made, strong enough to refuse half-measures and insist on
complete solutions even though it has to wait.”
The insistence on complete solutions and the willingness to
wait are equally important, in Lawler’s view. Little is achieved by
compromisers or by the impatient. As examples of reformers who
took the long view Lawler repeatedly cites Newman and, on the
final page, Yves Congar. “Cardinal Congar had faith in history and
faith in the power of the spirit ultimately to reform the distortions
and errors which he saw about him.” Censured and suppressed
before the Council, Congar’s writings are “bearing now in these
more propitious times ÷ completely unforeseeable five decades
ago ÷ the richest and most lasting fruit. Paul VI and John Paul II
have stated publicly that the work of Congar had nurtured their
own spirit and instructed them in the ways of religious renewal. It
is no small thing to be a teacher of popes.”
Lawler’s original book stretches the mind and, in its final
chapters, the imagination. It deserves a wide readership.
2c) Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy.
By José M. Sánchez. Catholic Univ. of America: Washington,
2002. ISBN 0-8132-1081-X. ix + 197 pp. Cloth $39.95; paper
The sub-title is all-important. Sánchez, professor of modern
European history at St. Louis University, sets out not to offer new
evidence but to analyze the existing evidence and its interpretation
by others. He succeeds admirably.
Text, endnotes, and bibliography show impressive familiarity
with the sources and the already enormous and steadily expanding
secondary literature. In considerable detail Sanchez tells the
reader what Pius XII said, personally and through the Vatican
press and radio; and what he did, personally and through others.
He portrays the pope’s personality: “mild and shy, not a fighter … a
trained scholar, he approached problems with the belief that many
scholars have: that common folk read encyclicals and statements
as carefully as scholars do, and that they are capable of discerning
meanings that appear to be hidden.”
With the meticulous care characteristic of his subject Sánchez
examines in turn each of the alleged motives for the pope’s actions:
anti-Semitism, concern for the security of the Vatican and the city
of Rome, personal fear of capture and imprisonment, the need to
protect German Catholics, adherence to the caution traditional in
Vatican diplomacy, fear of Communism, the desire to mediate
peace, belief that stronger and more explicit protests would make
things worse.
Sánchez’s conclusions: Pius XII was no anti-Semite; his concern
for the security of Rome and the Vatican was never a major factor,
though his concern for German Catholics was; his training in
Vatican diplomatic caution did not prevent his serving as a conduit
for secret talks between German dissidents and the British early in
the war; and the claim that he feared Communism more than
Nazism “lacks substance.”
The Pope “did not want to create a crisis of conscience for
German Catholics [who like] common folk everywhere, would not
be able to defy an omnipotent totalitarian state.” He certainly
wanted to mediate peace. Most importantly, he did not want to
make things worse. … He believed that private diplomacy and
private action would save more lives than public protest.” To
those who ask how could anything be worse than
Hitler’s determination to kill all Jews, Sánchez responds that
“during the war few people outside the Nazi hierarchy knew that
the Germans intended to kill ALL of the Jews.”
Sánchez questions the common assumption that both the Pope’s
critics and his defenders are extremists. “In fact, most of the Pope’s
critics tend to extremism, while defenders tend toward
moderation.” The reason? The critics argue that strong papal
action would have diminished or even averted the Holocaust,
“while defenders of the Pope argue more convincingly that a strong
papal protest would have had little effect upon the Nazi machine
of destruction.”
Readers who know little of the controversy would do well to
start their investigation with this book. It would be an invaluable
textbook for advanced undergraduates, or starting graduate
students, teaching them that judgments about historical causality
and events cannot be made without close attention to chronology,
context, and critical evaluation of the arguments even of those
considered authorities in their field.
The June issue of this Newsletter is very kindly being edited by
Professor Thomas Hockenos of Skidmore College, Saratoga
Springs, New York.
The July-August issue will, as usual be a joint one, and will appear
in late July.
Subscription to this Newsletter is open to all interested scholars in
contemporary church history, without charge, but on submission of
a request to me personally, along with a postal address, to
Your comments on any aspect of the contents will be welcomed.
If you have some comment which you wish to share with all subscribers,
(approximately 250), then use the return address:
All previous issues are now to be found, in reverse chronological
order, on the website noted below.
Best wishes to you all
John Conway


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.