July/August 2004 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
Pius XII Revisited
1) J.Bottum, Essay: The End of the Pius Wars (These extracts from Mr Bottom’s essay in First Things, April 2004 are reproduced by kind permission of the author)
2) Book reviews:
a) Peter Godman, Hitler and the Vatican
M.L.Napolitano, Il Papa che salvo gli ebrei
3) Forthcoming publications
1) Joseph Bottom: The End of the Pius Wars
The Pius War is over, more or less. There will still be a few additional volumes published here and there, another article or two from authors too slow off the mark to catch their moment. But, basically, in the great argument that has raged over the last few years about the role of Pope Pius XII during World War II, the books have all been written, the reviews are all in, and the exchanges have all simmered down. It was a long and arduous struggle, vituperative and cruel, but, in the end, the defenders of Pius XII won every major battle. Along the way, they also lost the war.
Who, even among scholars in the field, could keep up with the flood of attacks on Pius XII that began in the late 1990s? John Cornwell gave us Hitler’s Pope, and Michael Phayer followed with The Catholic Church and the Holocaust. David Kertzer brought charges against Pius XII in The Popes against the Jews, and Susan Zucotti reversed her previous scholarship to pen Under his Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy. Garry Wills used Pius as the centerpiece of his reformist Papal Sin, as did James Carroll in Constantine’s Sword. So, for that matter, did Daniel Goldhagen when he wrote what proved to be the most extended and straightforward assault on Catholicism in decades: A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. . .
The champions of Pius had their share of book-length innings as well – although, one might note, never from the same level of popular publisher as the attackers managed to find. In 1999 Pierre Blet produced Pius XII and the Second World War According to the Archives of the Vatican and got Paulist Press, a small but respectable Catholic house, to publish it in America. Ronald Rychlak finished his first-rate Hitler, the War and the Pope, but this appeared in presses not quite at the level of distribution, advertising and influence enjoyed by Doubleday, Houghton Mifflin, Knopf and Viking, the large houses that issued books against Pius.
The commentator Philip Jenkins recently suggested that this disparity in publishers sends a message that the mainstream view is the guilt of Pius XII, while praise for the Pope belongs only to the cranks, nuts and sectarians. Jenkins’ suggestion is worth considering. Still, no one can say that Pius’ supporters were crushed or censored. In just six years, Margherita Marchione managed five books in praise of the Pope. [Her views were followed by Ralph McInerny. Justus George Lawler and Jose Sanchez].
But it was primarily in book reviews and responses that the defenders of Pius XII fought out the war – which is something of a problem. Every pope precipitates biographies, hagiographies and maledictions, like the dropping of the rain; it is part of the job to be much written about, and the works on Eugenio Pacelli that began when he became pope in 1939 seem innumerable.
But no supporter has yet produced a book-length biography in the wake of the recent years of extended blame. Even Rychlak’s excellent book is essentially reactive, devoting a thirty-page epilogue to a catalogue of the errors in Cornwell’s book. We have seen this pattern before. Hochhuth’s play The Deputy premiered in Berlin in 1963, and its picture of a greedy pope, concerned only about Vatican finances and silent about the Holocaust, immediately caused a firestorm of comment from the intellectual world. Everyone who was anyone felt compelled to weigh in. Hochhuth himself faded away when he tried to extend his censure to Winston Churchill, which led to a lost libel suit. . . .
Even without Hochhuth, the wide discussion about Pius XII he initiated in 1963 went on for several years. . . . The brouhaha also prompted the Vatican to begin releasing material from Pius’ pontificate, which appeared from 1965 to 1981 as the eleven-volume series Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale. In part by relying on these new documents, but even more by simply gathering their forces and investigating each of the incidents taken as the core of the indictment, the defenders gradually tamped down The Deputy’s claims about Pius XII and the Holocaust. Pope John Paul II was a consistent advocate for his predecessor, and even once-popular notions about Pius – that he was, for instance, the great reactionary opponent against whom Vatican II turned – gradually seemed to lose steam by the late 1970s and early 80s. It took more than a decade, but the reactive reviewers appeared to carry the day, and the popular magazine press and major book publishers lost interest.. . .
Most sceptical observers were unprepared when the criticism began again in the late 1990s. To journalists and
cultural commentators, Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope seemed almost to come out of nowhere in 1999, and it received almost entirely ecstatic reviews when it first appeared. . . . Time was needed for scholars to gin up the machine again, double-check the claims in Hitler’s Pope, and publish the reviews. Some of the results proved deeply embarrassing for Cornwell, particularly the falsity of his boast that he had spent „months on end” in the archives, when he visited the Vatican for only three weeks and didn’t go to the archives every day of that. The Italian letter from Pacelli that Cornwell placed at the center of his book as evidence of deep anti-Semitism had been, he claimed, waiting secretly „like a time bomb” until he did his research. In fact, it had been published in 1992 in a book by Emma Fattorini, who – an actual Italian, not working on a partisan translation – thought it meant very little. By the time all this came out, however, Hitler’s Pope had ridden out its time on the best-seller list.
Pius’ supporters were better prepared for Susan Zuccotti, and still better prepared for Garry Wills, and David Kertzer, and
James Carroll, and, particularly, Daniel Goldhagen, who was especially harried in late 2002. By then, the whole thing had turned into a giant game of „Whack the Mole”, with dozens of reviewers ready to smash their mallets down on the next author to stick up his head.. . .
Just as The Deputy moved the archivists in Rome to release Actes et Documents over the next sixteen years, so the current
Pius War has prompted an accelerated – by glacial Vatican norms – opening of a few new archives from the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939), whom Pacelli served as the Vatican’s secretary of state. Along with an Italian Jesuit named Giovanni Sale (who has been writing a torrent of articles for the Roman Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica), Peter Godman in his Hitler and the Vatican is among the first scholars to have used the new documents. And although he looked at only a handful – the title of his book is considerably overblown – he seems to have done so in a relatively reasonable and balanced way, particularly given the standard set by Cornwell and Goldhagen. . . .
In the public mind at the present moment, there is almost nothing bad you can’t say about Pius XII. The Vatican may end up declaring him a saint – the slow process of canonization has been winding its way through the Roman curia since the mid-1960s – but the general public has gradually been persuaded that Pius ranks somewhere among the greatest villains ever to walk the earth. . . .
The point is that there is simply no depravity one can put past the man. He suppressed the anti-Nazi encyclical that Pius XI on his deathbed begged him to release. He was deeply implicated in the Germans’ massacre of 335 Italians in the Ardeatine Caves. He expressly permitted, even encouraged, the S.S. to round up Rome’s Jews in 1943. At the root of all this lies the fact that Pius XII was, fundamentally, a follower of Hitler, a genocidal hater of the Jews in his heart and in his mind, and once we recognize him as a Nazi who somehow escaped punishment at the Nuremberg trials, we can see the origin of all the rest. He was Hitler’s Pope, etc.etc. . . . . In a 1997 essay, the widely published Richard L. Rubenstein concluded, „during World War II Pope Pius XII and the vast majority of European Christian leaders regarded the elimination of the Jews as no less beneficial than the destruction of Bolshevism.”
All of these claims are mistaken, of course – and more than mistaken: demonstrably and obviously untrue, outrages upon history and fellow feeling for the humanity of previous generations. But none of them are merely the lurid fantasies of conspiracy-mongers huddled together in paranoia on their Internet lists. Every one of these assertions has been made in recent years by books and articles published with mainstream and popular American publishers. And when we draw from them their general
conclusion – when we reach the point at which Rubenstein, for example, has arrived – then discourse is over. Research into primary sources, argument about interpretation, the scholar’s task of weighing historical circumstances: all of this is quibbling, an attempt to be fair to monstrosity, and by such fairness to condone, excuse, and participate in it. . . .
It was here that the Pius War was lost – and lost for what I believe will be at least a generation – despite the victories of the reviewers. . . . I am convinced that we will not achieve anything resembling historical accuracy until all present views have been cleared away – and thus, that the job for every honest writer who takes up the topic now is to correct the slander of Pius XII. A good example was set by Rabbi David Dalin, in an essay which was published in the Weekly Standard in February 2001. Dalin concluded that that Pius XII deserves recognition among Jews as a Righteous Gentile who saved hundreds of thousands of lives during the Holocaust. The reaction. . . was brutal, and the Weekly Standard found itself leading the parade only in the sense that a man running for his life leads the mob pursuing him. . . . The center-left New Republic immediately commissioned Daniel Goldhagen to interrupt the book he was writing and savage Pius XII instead – which he did in what is said to be the longest essay ever published in the magazine’s pages. The neo-conservative Commentary was so rankled that it did what it would not have done in nearly any other circumstance: it published a long rebuke of the Weekly Standard by a leftist author who had already made many of the same complaints in an article for Christian Century. . .
The attempt to sift through the endless stream of books about Pius XII in recent years was actually carried out by indefatigable reviewers in dozens of magazines and journals, responding to the texts one by one. The controversy also motivated additional research, and new material now seems to arrive every week. As far as I can tell, all this recent information tells in favor of Pius XII. A recently discovered 1923 letter to the Vatican from Eugenio Pacelli, then nuncio to Germany, for instance, denounces Hitler’s putsch and warns against his anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. A document from April 1933, just months after Hitler obtained power, reveals how Pacelli (then secretary of state) ordered the new German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, to protest Nazi actions. Meanwhile, newly examined diplomatic documents show that in 1937 Cardinal Pacelli warned A. W. Klieforth, the American consul to Berlin, that Hitler was „an untrustworthy scoundrel and fundamentally wicked person” to quote Klieforth, who also wrote that Pacelli „did not believe Hitler capable of moderation, and . . . fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand”. This was matched with the discovery of Pacelli’s anti-Nazi report, written the following year for President Roosevelt and filed with Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, which declared that the Church regarded compromise with the Third Reich as „out of the question”. Archives from American espionage agencies have recently confirmed Pius XII’s active involvement in plots to overthrow Hitler. A pair of newly found letters, written in 1940 on the letterhead of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, give Pius XII’s orders that financial assistance be sent to Campagna for the explicit purpose of assisting interned Jews suffering from Mussolini’s racial policies. And the Israeli government has finally released Adolf Eichmann’s diaries, portions of which confirm the Vatican’s obstruction of the Nazis’ roundup of Rome’s Jews. There’s more, a regular flow of new material: intercepts of Nazi communications released from the United States’ National Archives include such passages as”Vatican has apparently for a long time been assisting many Jews to escape”; in a Nazi dispatch from Rome to Berlin on October 26, 1943, ten days after the Germany’s Roman roundup. New oral testimony from such Catholic rescuers as Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, Sister Mathilda Spielmann, Father Giacomo Martegani, and Don Aldo Brunacci insists that Pius XII gave them explicit orders and direct assistance to help persecuted Jews in Italy. The posthumous publication this year of Harold Tittmann’s memoir, Inside the Vatican of Pius XII, is particularly interesting, for in it the American diplomat reveals, for the first time, that Pius XII’s wartime conduct drew upon advice from the German resistance. Out of all this, one might begin to build a new case for Pius XII. My own sense is that the anti-Pius books are coming to an end. . . .
What we really need now is a new biography of Pius XII during those years: a nonreactive account of his life and times, a book driven not by the reviewer’s instinct to answer charges but by the biographer’s impulse to tell an accurate story. Before that can be done well, I think, the archives of Pius XII’s pontificate will probably have to be fully catalogued and opened. Documents released here and there are useful, but useful is a dangerous word in this context, for the use is always in building an argument: a laying out of evidence to make or rebut a charge, rather than a knowledge of the Pope’s day-to-day actions. The Vatican has already begun to open some archives earlier than scheduled under the various time-locks, and it promises to open more. In the meantime, the reviewers’ contributions remain. But the reviewers’ dilemma remains as well: They won the battles, but how are they going to win the war?
Joseph Bottum, Arts editor of the Weekly Standard, poetry editor of First Things, and co-editor of The Pius War, an anthology of reviews forthcoming from Lexington Books.
2) Book reviews:
Peter Godman, Hitler and the Vatican. Inside the Secret Archives that Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church. New York: Free Press 2004. 285 pp. ISBN 0-7432-4597-0.
Matteo Napolitano and Andrea Tornielli, Il Papa che salvo gli ebrei. Dagli archivi segreti del Vaticano tutta la verita su Pio XII.
Casale Monferrato: Editizioni Piemma 2004. 202 pp.
Both of these new books may be described – to use Bottum’s phrase quoted aove – as post-war. Neither is likely to change the opinions of either the defenders or the critics of the man destined to become Pope Pius XII. But these authors’ contribution is to be the first to use some of the latest tranche of documents now made available for public scrutiny by the Vatican archives. These consist of only a part of the documentation for the reign of Pope Pius XI, (1922-1939), i.e. while Eugenio Pacelli was serving as Cardinal Secretary of State, and only those papers which deal with Germany. This move was undoubtedly due to the pressures put on the Vatican archivists after the failure, three years ago, of the ill-planned Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission. [See this Newsletter, Vol. VII, no 9 – September 2001]
Both books cover the same ground, namely the initial stages of the Vatican’s responses after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany in January 1933, but do not extend their accounts to tackle the much more controversial period after 1939 when Pacelli was elected Pope and the Second World War broke out. Godman’s narrative has the merit of avoiding the kind of accusatory finger-pointing which marred several earlier works in English, and similarly does not indulge in the kind of wishful thinking which claims that history would have been so very different if only . . . .
Godman teaches at the University of Rome, while Napolitano does the same at the University of Urbino, and is here assisted by an experienced Italian journalist. These latter pair are more defensive, seeking to offset the torrent of aspersions, legends, accusations or downright lies which they, rightly, believe have distorted the picture of the Vatican’s pre-1939 diplomacy.
But in their haste to make use of the few, hitherto unseen documents from these new files, both authors fail to mention that, for the period of Pius XI’s reign, much is already known.The origins of the 1933 Concordat has been fully explored. The major documents subsequently sent from the Vatican to the German government, protesting against the breaches of this Concordat, were all published in Germany thirty years ago. And the background to the Papal Encyclical „Mit brennender Sorge” of March 1937 is also well known. So it is misleading, to say the least, for Godman or his publishers to suggest that his book Reveals the New Story from Inside the Secret Archives. And Napolitano and Tornielli certainly, in their short account, do not even begin to give us tutta la verita su Pio XII.
Godman’s title is equally misleading in that we are not given any information about Hitler, or his religious policies, or even about the planning and execution of the nefarious repression and persecution which the German Catholic Church suffered in these years. His focus is solely on the Vatican and its responses to the Nazi threat. Godman sees three different ways in which the papal authories tried to meet this challenge. The first was the conclusion of the diplomatic Concordat in the sumer of 1933, which Cardinal Pacelli regarded as the successful completion of his labours over the previous decade. But the disadvantages soon became apparent when the Nazis made clear their deliberate refusal to abide by the Concordat’s terms. The second strategy – though this is an overblown term – was advocated by a maverick Austrian bishop, Hudal, then Rector of the German College in Rome. He argued for a closer association with the new German regime in a joint campaign against Bolsheviks and Jews. But he found no support from the Vatican hierarchy and even less in Berlin.
The third strategy was deliberated by the Holy Office, namely to attack the doctrinal errors of Nazi totalitarianism ideologically, as was done in the above-mentioned Encyclical in 1937. The only trouble was that the German Catholics ignored its warnings, and continued to believe that they could be good Catholics and good Nazis at the same time.
For the record, Godman and Napolitano have salvaged a few new documents, but provide no startling revelations which could possibly support the claims of their sub-titles. Godman’s bibliography and footnotes are excellent and his prose style commendable. But his final chapter, which examines the Vatican debates, as to whether or not Hitler should be excommunicated, is a weak way of ending this brief account of the Curia’s deliberations. For their part, Napolitano and Tornielli offer repeated expressions of exasperation at the deliberate misrepresentations by the Vatican’s critics, especially the accusations that Cardinal Pacelli was anti-semitic or pro-Nazi. In this they are perfectly justified and correct. But they add nothing new to the already well-known accounts of Pacelli’s statements and attitudes on the Jewish question.
No final verdict will be possible until the papers of Pacelli’s own pontificate from 1939 onwards are released. So these preliminary accounts can do little more than set the scene. Whether or not Pacelli, as Pope, demonstrated an excess of diplomatic prudence or an excess of political cowardice still remains a debatable and unresolved question.
3) Forthcoming publications: (Contributed by William Doino)
a). The posthumous memoirs of Harold Tittmann Jr, the American Charge d’Affaires in Rome during World War II, have just been published by Doubleday (a major American publisher), under the title: Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II, edited by his son (who was with his father during the German occupation of Rome). The book is one of the most important documents on Pius to appear in the last twenty-five years–at least since the publication of the last volume of the Holy See’s Actes et Documents of the Second World War (11 volumes, 1965-1981).Tittmann, assistant to Myron Taylor, was a first-hand witness to Pius XII’s conduct during the war–for which he expresses support, appreciation and admiration. It is a remarkable memoir, vital to the debate about Pius XII. Indeed, most of the arguments still made against Pius are analyzed and knocked down by Tittmann, one by one, in a restrained, persuasive manner. The fact that Tittmann was an Episcopalian, not Catholic, gives him added credibility– since he cannot be accused of being emotionally attached to the Church. Tittmann’s praise of Pius is striking because certain of the pope’s detractors (e.g., Saul Friedlander and John Cornwell) have quoted Tittmann’s dispatches out of context, suggesting Tittmann was frustrated by the Holy See’s wartime policy. But the memoir clarifies these dispatches, providing proper context, and makes clear that Tittmann believes that Pius XII “detested the Nazi ideology and everything it stood for” and that “the Holy Father chose the better path” and “thereby saved many lives.” (pp. 122-124).
b) Later this year, Lexington Books will publish The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, edited by Joseph Bottum and David G. Dalin, which includes my [Doino’s] 80,000-word annotated bibliography. The entire book is close to 300 pages. Below is a link to Lexington’s website, announcing its forthcoming publication, followed by the comments of four distinguished Jewish scholars, involved in Catholic-Jewish relations.
Sincerely, William Doino Jr.
“The contributors to this important volume have made judicious arguments in defense of the actions of Pope Pius XII before, during, and after the Holocaust. These arguments deserve an equally judicious hearing from non-Catholics–especially from Jews–who need to know how they are to judge this pope when they remember an unforgetable event in their own history and in the history of the West. Catholics, too, need to make equally judicious use of these arguments in their own deliberations about the possible canonization of Pius XII.”˜David Novak, University of Toronto
“Rabbi David Dalin’s omnibus review in the February 26, 2001, Weekly Standard . . .opened and changed my mind. To see it here at the center of this fine collection, buttressed by William Doino’s astonishing bibliography, is a great pleasure. David Dalin and Joseph Bottum are indeed friends of truth.”˜David Klinghoffer, author of The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism and Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History
“Stouthearted courage and vast wisdom are vital in those who come to denounce the grievous defamation of a good man. The result is The Pius War, this compelling book that deals a devastating blow to those who claim to be combating anti-Semitism yet descend into deceit, hate, and anti-Christianism. Read it and find yourself stirred to indignation at how the smear of secularism stained a righteous reputation, and be inspired by these brave authors who herein right a historic wrong. “˜Rabbi Daniel Lapin, President, Toward Tradition
“This volume provides a valuable corrective to the over the top “Pope bashing” so prevelant in politically correct academic circles.
Taken as a whole the contributors’ critique of the recent attacks on Pope Pius X11’s conduct during the World War 11 offers a compelling case for the defense. The annotated bibliography of the dispute is an indespensible vade mecum for future scholars.”˜Marshall Breger , Catholic University of America
With very best wishes for the summer holidays
John S. Conway