March 2006 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


March 2006— Vol. XII, no. 3


Dear Friends,


1) Book reviews:

a) Burkard, Häresie und Mythus
b) Inter Arma Caritas: Vatican service for prisoners-of-war, 1939-1947.
c) Gallo, Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Revisionists
d) Zeitgeschichtliche Katholizismusforschung

2) Journal articles:

a) Church and State in the Balkans

1a) D. Burkard, Häresie und Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts. Rosenbergs nationalsozialistische Weltanschauung vor dem Tribunal der Römischen Inquisition. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh 2005), 416 pp. ISBN 3-506-77673-8

The recent partial opening of the Vatican archives for the period up to 1939 has now provided scholars with an opportunity to gain a more informed and nuanced understanding of the Roman Catholic Church’s policies and attitudes towards National Socialism in its first years of power in Germany. As is well known, extensive controversy, often virulent and ill-informed, has arisen over the alleged failure of the Catholic authorities to condemn the Nazi regime and its flagrant crimes against humanity. For more than forty years now, this debate has raged, but in the absence of the principal body of source material, it has too often been an unseemly and unscholarly activity. But with the appearance of Gerhard Besier’s summary account of the political developments for the period 1933-1939, Der Heilige Stuhl und Hitler-Deutschland (Munich: Deutsche-Verlags Anstalt 2004) and now Dominik Burkard’s analysis of the activities of the Holy Office, formerly known as the Inquisition, we are now much better informed as to the parameters within which this debate should take place.

Burkard rightly points out that all the previous literature focused on the political relations between the Nazi state and the Catholic Church. The signing of the Reich Concordat in July 1933 was certainly a highly political act, and was designed to secure a favourable relationship with Hitler’s new regime. But, as is now well known, the Nazis had no desire to implement the spirit of this accord. And the area of least agreement was the ideological sphere, where for several years a heated exchange of books, pamphlets and propaganda had already indicated a wide and seemingly unbridgeable gulf. It is just this area of controversy and the policies pursued by the Vatican’s Holy Office in regard to Nazi publications which Burkard now investigates, with precision and careful scrutiny of the available archival sources. His over-all intention is to seek to refute the sensationalist charges of “collaboration” between the Vatican and the Nazi propagandists, especially on such matters as antisemitism. On the other hand, he draws attention to the striking ambivalence of some of the Roman officials, and of some of the clergy in Germany and outside.

Burkard’s prime focus is on how the Vatican’s Holy Office dealt with Alfred Rosenberg’s major publication, The Myth of the 20th Century. As editor of the chief Nazi newspaper, Der Völkischer Beobachter, and as one of Hitler’s inner circle, Rosenberg undoubtedly enjoyed a considerable standing in the Party’s ranks. But his book, despite enormous printing runs, was never officially approved, and Hitler could even dismiss it as a private work. The church authorities, however, regarded it as a central expression of the Nazi movement’s ideology and ethic, with its attendant virulent anti-Christian attitude – and in February 1934 placed it on the Index of forbidden books.

Burkard’s first task is to elucidate the stages which led to this provocative step. One theory is that the first attempt to have Rosenberg’s book banned came in 1931 from the Jesuits in Holland, who recognized early on that its onslaughts on the Church and its sweeping praise for racist and nationalist ideas were incompatible with Christian doctrine. But in 1933 – the year of illusions – the Curia, led by Cardinal Pacelli, still hoped that the Concordat would achieve a modus vivendi, when such authors as Rosenberg would be relegated to the sidelines, and a new climate of co-operation would prevail. But this did not happen. By the end of 1933, the continuation of anti-clerical outbursts and anti-Catholic agitation within the ranks of the Nazi Party, led to pressure on the Vatican to take more open measures of protest. As Secretary of State, Pacelli was certainly considering formal diplomatic steps, such as the publication of a “White Book”, outlining the Nazi regime’s breaches of the newly-signed Concordat. But instead, it is suggested, the less incendiary step was agreed upon, to place The Myth, and a similar booklet by another Nazi propagandist, Ernst Bergmann, The German National Church, on the list of banned books.

An alternative theory is that the indexing of these books was a deliberate tactic of the Holy Office to drive a wedge between the two factions in the Nazi Party – as they perceived them: the one, set on attacking the Christian churches root and branch, in favour of an exaggerated German religious nationalism, and calling for a new German man, no longer shackled by Judeo-Christian-Roman superstitions; or secondly, those favouring a Nazi revival based solely on political renewal, but maintaining the spiritual and moral bases of the past, through support of existing church structures. By isolating Rosenberg and his ideas, and by dismissing his book as a “private work”, the Holy Office hoped to uphold the kind of Christian nationalism which Hitler himself allegedly supported This was the line supposedly followed by the prominent German Catholic and former Reich Chancellor, Franz von Papen, whose influence however drastically waned during 1933-4. It was also adopted in numerous articles in the Jesuits‚ main publication, Civilta Cattolica. By this means the heretical errors of Rosenberg’s racist ideology could be castigated even while the hope for a political collaboration based on the Concordat could be still maintained.

This was exactly the stance taken by a consultant of the Holy Office, Bishop Alois Hudal, who was responsible for the assessment which led to Rosenberg’s book being condemned in February 1934. Hudal has long had an extremely debatable reputation, and for this reason is little known among English-speaking observers of the Vatican scene. Burkard’s researches into Hudal’s surviving papers are therefore helpful. Born an Austrian, he became in 1923 the Rector of the Anima, the college in Rome for German-speaking students, and later a consultant of the Holy Office. He was an active publicist, and had already produced several short works dealing with the Church’s involvement in current political debates. So it was only logical that he should have been assigned the task of assessing the publications of prominent Nazis, such as Rosenberg and Bergmann. Burkard makes clear that Hudal consistently attacked the excesses of the Blood and Soil ideologues, the anti-Christian bases of Germanic religions, and the Nazi contempt for all aspects of the Jewish people and its history. But at the same time, he viewed sympathetically the Nazi plans for rebuilding German society, and openly expressed his opinion that Catholicism could well co-exist with an acceptable form of National Socialism.

It was on this basis, Burkard suggests, that Hudal’s advice to ban Rosenberg’s Myth was adopted by the Holy Office, and confirmed by the Pope himself. Rosenberg was, of course, all the more convinced of the iniquity of the clerical clique in the Vatican, its anti-German myopia, and the blindness and hypocrisy of the Catholic hierarchy. In the following years he became even more actively involved in his propaganda campaign against the church, and aroused open hostility from both Catholics and Protestants by his violent attacks on their faiths. But Hitler never publicly endorsed such radicalism, and other leading Nazis like Goering and Goebbels were openly dismissive. Catholic spokesmen therefore felt free to express their opposition. They criticized Rosenberg in writing, even when they meant the whole Nazi regime. In reply, in 1935, Rosenberg issued another incendiary booklet An die Dunkelmänner unserer Zeit, which likewise was placed on the Index by the Holy Office. To the end of his days, Rosenberg saw the Vatican as Germany’s chief enemy.

Within the ranks of the German Catholics there were those who hoped that placing Rosenberg’s book on the Index would mark the beginning of a more general mobilization of Catholic opposition against Nazi extremism. But, in the event, this did not happen, even after the scandalous murder of leading Catholics during the so-called Röhm putsch. Political prudence was to dominate the relationship, and the Vatican constantly placed restraints on those who urged a more outspoken defiance. At the same time, these factors also led to restraints being placed on those, like Hudal, whose enthusiasm for the new regime was embarrassingly inappropriate.

To be sure, political factors also compelled the Nazis to a certain moderation. On the one hand, ardent champions of Rosenberg’s views sought to have them taught as mandatory texts in all schools and party indoctrination sessions. The Gestapo was apparently given orders in certain districts to confiscate any Catholic anti-Rosenberg publications as evidence of their authors‚ hostility towards the Nazi Party and state. But on the other hand, such wider events as the Saar plebiscite of 1935 and the Olympic Games of 1936 prompted a more cautious approach. Nevertheless the Nazi propagandists had free rein to disseminate their wares on a massive scale, while Catholic responses were limited in their outreach. As a result the Catholic faithful were confused. Their dilemma of how to resolve the competing loyalties between church and nation remained, and in fact only grew worse.

Despite all, Bishop Hudal continued to propagate his hoped-for reconciliation between the Church and a reformed National Socialism. Burkard makes good use of Hudal’s papers to expose clearly the illusory nature of such an attempt. Yet Hudal’s plea that the errors of Nazism should be exposed and condemned on a wider basis – in order to purge the movement of such faults – at first found a ready response at the Vatican’s highest level. Pope Pius XI himself took up the suggestion that a new Syllabus would be a more effective response than merely banning a heretical book. Such a statement, broadcast world-wide, should clearly outline the church’s teachings and warnings against the dangers of totalitarianism, radical racism and extreme nationalism. In fact, this plan was approved. But by the time it had been sifted by various committees within the Vatican bureaucracy more than two years had elapsed.

It was just at this juncture in 1936 that Hudal published a new book Die Grundlagen des Nationalsozialismus, seeking to build a more constructive relationship. The book appeared in Vienna with the approval of the Austrian cardinal, but again indulged in all sorts of wishful thinking. The response in the Vatican’s top circles was one of exasperation, coming as it did when wiser counsels were convinced that the Nazi policy was becoming more oppressive, and that therefore no further compromises with Nazism could be entertained. Hudal came to be regarded by his superiors as a naive, and possibly dangerous, individual. He was later to be relegated to the margins of the Vatican’s activities. Needless to say, his book received an equally cool reception from the Nazi authorities.

By late 1936, the Vatican believed it to be more opportune to issue a Papal Encyclical specifically and more critically dealing with the German situation. This eventually was proclaimed in March 1937 with the title Mit brennender Sorge. But it is notable that the text was prepared without the help of the Holy Office. The result was, however, extremely disappointing. German Catholics were subjected to a renewed bout of oppressive measures, and there was no sign that the Nazi authorities were willing to moderate their ideological stance or anti-clerical campaigns. Above all, the Encyclical did not serve to rally Catholics against the regime. Its failure undoubtedly led the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pacelli, soon to be Pope Pius XII, to distrust this kind of tactic in the on-going struggle to reserve the church’s autonomy in Germany. The fate of similarly planned Encyclical on the subject of racism, which was abandoned as soon as Pius XII was elected, proves this point.

Burkard’s lengthy analyses of these debates within the Vatican hierarchy are suggestive rather than definitive, since the conclusive documentation has still not been released. But he is correct in pointing out that, in view of the Nazis‚ incessant and noisy onslaughts, the tactic of placing a few books on the Index was absurd. In any case, the whole idea of trying to control the reading habits of the Catholic faithful was obsolete. And the Nazi propaganda campaigns‚ overwhelming advantage clearly showed how ineffective the Vatican’s strategy was in meeting the challenge of these modern myths and heresies.

On the other hand, it was Hudal’s achievement, Burkard suggests, that he saw the need for an on-going and vehement campaign against the ideological errors of Nazism, Fascism and other racist philosophies. But his efforts were to be sabotaged by Pacelli’s politicized calculations. Maintaining the church’s existence in a beleaguered country seemed to Pacelli to be a higher priority than strident denunciations of ideological heresies or political criminality. Burkard lays out the arguments on both sides, while showing a certain sympathy for Hudal’s position. Too often, he laments, the Vatican’s policies were determined by political rather than theological considerations – a position also adopted by the English writer on this topic, Peter Godman. But Hudal’s idealistic fantasies lacked credibility on either side. Pacelli’s sounder political sense prevailed.

Burkard’s account of these various conflicts within the Vatican bureaucracy led him to the clear conclusion that political factors not ideological affinity governed Papal attitudes towards the Nazi regime. Goldhagen’s accusations that the Curia’s officials were rabid antisemites supporting Hitler’s policies of racial elimination, are therefore totally erroneous. The silence of Pope Pius XII on the subject of Nazi crimes during the second world war was not due to antisemitism, but rather the product of his diplomatic training and his desire to act as an impartial peace maker between the warring sides The failure to speak out against the Nazi war-time atrocities was in fact in line with the failure to attack Nazi heresies in earlier years. But, as Burkard suggests, the question of how the Church can hope to stem the tide of ideological error with the limited resources at its disposal, still needs to be discussed.

1b) Inter Arma Caritas: Uffizio Informazioni Vaticano per i prigioneri di guerra instituito da Pio XII (1939-1947) Vatican City: Archivio Segreto Vaticano 2004, 2 vols. 1472 pp.

One of the services instituted by Pope Pius XII immediately after the outbreak of war in 1939 was an office where relatives could attempt to get in touch with prisoners-of-war, other missing persons, and later on refugees. This was modelled on a similar attempt made during the First World War, but in 1939 the scope was only barely recognized. Parallel to the Red Cross, this service was eventually to cover all theatres of the war, and to offer some contact points where messages could be exchanged in both directions. Since many of the participants in the war were Catholics, especially Italians, this service was seen as a particularly valuable pastoral office, and undoubtedly was of help to many families whose sons or fathers had disappeared without trace. But it also produced an enormous amount of paper, covering the fate of some 2 million prisoners.
Sixty years later, the Vatican Archives decided to make these papers available, and to publish a helpful catalogue or index. Since this Information Office was set up separately from the main Papal archives, this meant that the restrictions on the latter do not apply, and so the war-time documents can be released. The catalogue is in two massive volumes – almost all in Italian. Volume 1 includes, besides the Inventory of files, a helpful description of how the Office was established and maintained, and a lengthy historical essay by Fr. Sergio Pagano, outlining the circumstances – often frustrating and limiting – in which the Office sought to do its work. Volume 2 consists of documents, a selection of the over 10 million letters received, mostly reports sent to the Vatican from its nunciatures in the warring countries, along with lists of prisoners or missing persons, appeals for help or counsel, arranged chronologically. Unfortunately the replies are not necessarily provided, so it is unclear just what effective steps were taken.

This Prisoner-of-War/Missing Persons service is to be distinguished from the Pontifical Relief Commission, which provided actual material assistance to the needy in various countries, wherever the Papal representatives were allowed to function.
As a means of gauging the fate of prisoners-of-war in various different settings, – where they being held, or in hospital, or were deceased – these documents yield interesting material, even if they cannot be described as comprehensive or complete. Likewise the letters from home to the prisoners afford glimpses of war-time conditions. Even though the Vatican’s Information Office never achieved the status of the International Committee of the Red Cross, it may be credited with some amelioration of the conditions where the “host” country, such as Great Britain, recognized its value.

Any one considering using these archives in Rome will find these two volumes of help in beginning their search. But fluent Italian is mandatory.

1c) ed. Patrick J. Gall, Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Revisionists: Essays Jefferson, North Carolina, USA: McFarland and Co. 2006 218 pp. US$ 39.95 paper

Two years ago, the American journalist, Joseph Bottom, published an essay entitled “The end of the Pius Wars”, which is reprinted here as the epilogue to this short collection of articles. He began: “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”.

This seems entirely appropriate as a description of the book under review. Professor Patrick Gall is a political scientist at New York University, whose expertise so far has been in the field of American foreign policy. He is certainly a newcomer to the extensive debates about the policies of Pope Pus XII. But he has now rounded up contributions from several authors to supplement some chapters of his own. All these are reprints from earlier publications and are characterized by two attributes: they have all appeared before, and are inspired by the same strongly critical approach towards any writers, i.e. Revisionists, who have dared to attack the revered figure of Pus XII – the subject of the above-mentioned Pius Wars.

In fact, Professor Gall and his team appear as a posse of outriders, rushing around the outer reaches of the ranch in search of any miscreants (i.e. Revisionists), even though by now all these have long since been driven into the corral and suitably castigated. Sad to say, there is nothing new in this book at all. Professor Gall writes in a sprightly fashion, rehearses the by now well-known facts, cites with approval a number of my own contributions to this debate, but has not added any substantial evidence or new interpretation.

It has been a sad feature of the so-called Pius War that the so-called revisionists have waxed indignant over the so-called moral failures of the Pope, of the Vatican bureaucracy or of the Catholic Church at large. Equally lamentable is the sight of the Pope’s defenders waxing indignant at the sloppy scholarship, at the years of extended distortion or at the catalogue of errors to be found in the revisionists‚ books.

The fact is that no final judgment can possibly be made until the prime documentary source in the Vatican archive is open for scrutiny. No records for the reign of Pope Pius XII have so far been released to the public. So all these controversies are based on conjecture (for or against) rather than accurate scholarship. The same applies to Professor Gall’s essays. Bottom is quite correct to conclude his essay with the excellent observation:

“What we really need is a new biography of Pius XII during these 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, the archives of Pius XII’s pontificate will have to be opened.”

This desirable goal would still seem to be several years off. So one-sided recapitulations, such as the articles in this book, cannot be regarded as definitive. They are really only the evidence of a strongly partisan stance, which will inevitably be outdated when at last the full documentation becomes available.

1d) Karl-Joseph Hummel, ed., Zeitgeschichtliche Katholizismusforschung (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2004), 273 pp. ISBN: 3-506-71339-6 (This review appeared first in the Catholic Historical Review, October 2005)
This commemorative volume appropriately serves as the 100th addition in a
well-known series from the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, a German and
Catholic historical association founded in 1962 with the express goal of
researching the recent Catholic past. To scholars of German Catholicism,
this association will be instantly familiar as the home of the so-called
“Blaue Reihe,” (blue series), a standard and invaluable series on German and
Catholic history, not just for the 20th century but for the 18th and 19th
centuries as well.

This particular volume emerged out of a conference held at the Katholische
Akademie in Bavaria in May, 2003, in part, to commemorate the 75 birthday of
Rudolf Morsey and the 80th birthday of Konrad Repgen, two of the most
prominent and founding members of this renowned historical association. Like
a similar conference held in 1987, this conference was intended to take
stock of the existing state of research on Catholicism. This state of the
field, so to speak, thus features more than one dozen contributions from
leading researchers, junior and senior, in the areas of German Catholicism,
European Catholicism, and in one case, German Protestantism. This
distinguished list includes Urs Altermatt, Wolfgang Altgeld, Magnus
Brechtken, Wilhelm Damberg, Michael Ebertz, Martin Greschat, Michael
Hochgeschwender, Hans Günter Hockerts, Ulrich von Hehl, Karl-Joseph Hummel,
Christoph Kösters, Antonius Liedhegener, Christoph Kösters and Wolfgang
Tischner. The close of the volume provides a highly useful compendium of
scholars in the field, including their institutional affiliations and year
of birth.

True to the aim of the conference, some chapters dish out commentaries on
recent historical controversies. Michael Hochgeschwender’s somewhat abstruse
chapter on Catholicism and anti-Semitism nonetheless provides a compelling
overview of the recent debates that prominently featured Olaf Blaschke and
Urs Altermatt. Thomas Brechenmacher’s plea for a broader perspective on the
question of Pius XII and the Second World War, summarizes the state of the
source material, secondary literature and avenues for future research, and
concludes by denouncing Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s recent work as libelous.
Wilhelm Damberg discusses the research examining the relationship between
Catholicism and the pluralized society and politics of the Federal Republic.
Other contributions provide a brief historical sketch of the Kommission für
Zeitgeschichte. Although it was most concerned in its early years with
sketching the relationship between Roman Catholicism and the fate of the
Weimar republic, the impulses for this historical association actually
predated Rolf Hochhuth’s incendiary play, “The Deputy,” and Ernst-Wolfgang
Böckenforde’s provocative article about German Catholicism in 1933 from the
liberal Catholic journal, Hochland in 1960/61. Instead, even in the 1950s,
some voices were calling for a scholarly examination of the recent past,
including most notably, the young Rudolf Morsey. Though the Kommission dealt
almost exclusively with the years of the National Socialism in the 1960s and
1970s, by the 1980s and 1990s, scholars of German Catholicism began to turn
their attention to approaches pioneered in social history and analyze the
so-called “Catholic milieu” in the 19th and 20th centuries. The field of
inquiry has since broadened to examined the history of the Federal Republic,
and after 1989/90, the role of Catholicism in the former DDR.

Not all of the contributors and panelists in the conference were in complete
agreement on the state of the profession. For Wolfgang Tischner, Catholic
research stood in danger of being limited by insularity, by the relatively
small number of mostly Catholic practitioners. For Urs Altermatt, in
contrast, Catholic research, especially in other nations such as France,
found easy connections to “profane” history, in part, because Catholic
religiosity itself was transformed in an increasingly pluralistic world.
Still, one receives the impression that the Kommission has maintained a
certain distance and reserve toward the newer approaches that have gained
favor in the secular historical world – cultural history, gender history,
the history of memory, to name but the most widespread of these newer

Yet throughout many parts of this collection, sometimes explicitly,
elsewhere implicitly, lies the complaint that the massive historical
research sponsored by or published in the blue series of the Kommission has
failed to reach not just the larger, secular historical profession but the
broader public. The more sensational claims made by men as Rolf Hochhuth,
Ernst Klee, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen or John Cornwell consistently manage to
find a strong outlet in the news media, even though scholars, many
associated with the Kommission, have produced works which, in their eyes,
have definitively refuted their claims. Such allegations have, for instance,
accused the popes of fostering anti-semitism and the church of collaborating
with the Nazis. This underscores the central (and paradoxical) dilemmas
facing the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte and like-minded scholars in other
nations who seek both to bring “the truth to light” – to quote Konrad Repgen
from the year 1962 – and, in many cases, to defend the church against
unwarranted and even slanderous attacks. As the product of this intersection
of an objective, “wissenschaftlich” historical methodology and confessional
identity, dozens of outstanding 500 to 800 page scholarly monographs have
all too often proven to be no match against popular historical accounts with
extensive exposure through television, talk shows, trade presses and radio.
It might often seem that in winning the battles, the Kommission has yet to
win the war.

Mark Ruff, St Louis University.

2a) A Ilic, On the road towards religious pluralism? Church and State in Serbia; P.Petkoff, Church-State relations in Bulgaria in Religion, State and Society, Vol. 33, no 4, December 2005, p. 265-314.

These two articles describe comprehensively the present situation affecting the place of the church in Serbia and Bulgaria. Despite having a common border, these two societies have had divergent political and ecclesiastical histories. These authors explore the current pressures both internal and external which are affecting these communities in the aftermath of a turbulent century.

With best wishes
John S.Conway