Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Galus Australia and Pius XII Update

Earlier I mentioned the ongoing discussion / argument on the Australian Jewish blogspot Galus Australia.  A month later and the thread has just begun to run out of steam.  There were some pleasing moments when the polemical attitudes of some of the posters gave way to a more serious discussion of issues, but these, unfortunately did not last long.  I perused the blog every now and again and left with the impression that at the end of the day there is no other alternative to serious reading and research.  Personal opinions based on faulty and flawed data will not help advance anything.  At my last look the number of entries was up to 213.
Just over a month ago I wrote about Hubert Wolf's book, Pope and Devil.  Today I came across a review of the book by Eugene Fisher, an academic who has worked in the fields of inter-faith dialogue for many years and whose work is of a consistently high claibre. 

Fascinating book on papal response to Nazism draws upon archival material



June 23rd, 2010


By Eugene J. Fisher

“POPE AND DEVIL: THE VATICAN’S ARCHIVES AND THE THIRD REICH” by Hubert Wolf. Translated by Kenneth Kronenberg. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Mass., 2010). 316 pp., $29.95.

(CNS) – Between 2003 and 2006, the Vatican released for scholarly study all materials in the Secret Archives relating to the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (Feb. 6, 1922-Feb. 10, 1939). With “Pope and Devil,” Hubert Wolf, professor of church history at the University of Munster in Germany, has gone through these materials to provide a fascinating “insider” view of how the Vatican sought to cope with the great danger that was German National Socialism.

The title of the study is from a 1929 statement by Pope Pius XI explaining the treaty he made with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and subsequent treaties with Francisco Franco in Spain and Adolf Hitler in Germany: “If it were possible to save even a single soul, to shield souls from greater harm, we would find the courage to deal even with the devil himself.”

Pope Pius XI’s secretary of state in 1933 was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who in 1939 would succeed him as Pope Pius XII and who, Wolf shows, strongly shared this view.

Cardinal Pacelli was the nuncio to Bavaria and then to Germany from 1917 to 1930, so Wolf spends a great deal of time on him and his attitudes toward Germany and the Jews, which give necessary background for the decisions he ultimately makes as pope during World War II. Wolf’s careful and balanced analysis will greatly enhance the reader’s appreciation of the complexities facing both Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII.

The author details two key experiences of Cardinal Pacelli’s in Germany that he believes lie behind what Wolf calls his “silence” about the Holocaust as pope. The first is the failure of the Holy See’s peace initiative during World War I, from which he learned the necessity of remaining neutral in international conflicts, since there would inevitably be Catholics on both sides of the battle lines and no pope could hope to facilitate peace or justice if the appearance of taking the side of one over the other were given.

The other issue was historical, one ingrained in his training, which was the attack on the Church in Prussia (1871-91), in which the state closed down thousands of Catholic parishes and schools, leaving countless Catholics without adequate catechesis and forcing them to live and die without the sacraments. The lesson, again, was the necessity of working above all to preserve the Church’s right to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of her people.

Both Pope Pope Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli clearly abhorred the paganism and racial anti-Semitism of Nazi ideology and considered them to be against the teaching of the Church, the latter because it denied the fundamental unity of humanity, that we are all descended from the same ultimate parents and that each human is made in the image and likeness of God.

But how to effectively attack racial anti-Semitism and Nazism while at the same time maintaining the diplomatic neutrality necessary to ensure the survival of the Church? This is the major question that embroiled the Vatican internally during two papacies.

One example on which Wolf goes into great detail indicates the passions involved in these internal disputes within the Curia. The first involved an association, Friends of Israel, whose membership consisted of about 3,000 priests, among them 19 cardinals and 278 bishops and archbishops. This group fostered love for the Jews, hoping thereby to attract converts. In 1928 it issued a pamphlet, “Pax Super Israel,” denouncing anti-Semitism, and appealed to the Vatican agency for liturgical matters to change the wording of the Good Friday prayer for the “perfidious Jews,” using more positive terminology.

The congregation accepted the group’s new wording, but the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) rejected any reform of the liturgy as setting a dangerous precedent, and throwing into the bargain a demand to dissolve Friends of Israel. Pope Pius XI compromised. He refused to make the changes and in an announcement disbanding the group specifically and clearly condemned anti-Semitism.

Wolf expressed disappointment with this decision, since such a change in the liturgy in 1928, he feels, likely would have had greater impact in combating anti-Semitism than did Pope Pius’ 1937 encyclical, “Mit Brennender Sorge,” which denounced anti-Semitism and the ideology of Nazism in clear terms. Cardinal Pacelli, who was secretary of state by that time, played a vital and positive role in the drafting of that encyclical.


Eugene Fisher is retired associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

***************I think it is important to point out Wolf's superb references and notes.  His survey of the available archival material is extensive.  He goes to great lengths to place Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XI and the German bishops within their contexts.  Wolf cites from Pacelli's reports to Rome where he gives his opinions on various German bishops - Cardinal Bertram does not come out very favourably, Konrad von Preysing is considered fine bishop material, Clemens von Galen is not thought to be particularly gifted - through the 1920s.  

Wolf uses the extensive material now available to explore in considerable detail the relationship of the Vatican and Germany up to 1939.  His work has persuaded me that the wait for the release of the wartime archives of Pius XII will be worth it because of the growing number of academic works that have helped demonstrate the inner workings of Vatican diplomacy, the inner workings of the German bishops and the ever-increasing problems posed by the rise of National Socialism and its anti-Catholic / Christian world view.

It is a book well worth reading.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Galus Australia and Pius XII

On 20 May 2010 the Australian Jewish blog Galus Australia published an article entitled Jewish Knight Defends Pius XII.  In the days following there has been a lively and often heated discussion going on between several people notably Gary Krupp, founder of Pave The Way Foundation; Gabriel Wilensky, author of Six Million Crucifixions: How Christian Teachings about Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust; Michael Hesemann, an independent historian in Germany, and a number of others.  It is a tribute to each of the contributors that each has remained polite and considered in their questions, positions and responses - a welcome relief when confronted with much online behaviour. 

However, I have observed a number of interesting things as I read through the comments.  At the time of writing this entry, there are 99 comments and it does not look as though the debate is anywhere near being over.

The first observation relates to documentation.  Documents tell historians a lot, and they can also conceal.  Documents cannot be examined in isolation - they did not originate in vacuums - they have contexts, and often the contexts are complex crossing several disciplines, languages, cultures, political and economic barriers as well as religious dimensions.  Since the ASV German files for 1922-1939 have only been opened since 2003, it is still too early to make anything approaching final judgement - something I fear is all too evident in some of the posts I have read.  Certainly the broad strokes appear fairly clear, but the details that are emerging also help clarify and illuminate.

One example.  The distinction between traditional Catholic anti-Judaism as expressed in the late Tridentine era (before the reforms of Vatican II) and racial based Antisemitism that enjoyed great popular and "scientific" currency from the early 19th century until its obscene apogee in the Holocaust.

No serious scholar asserts Eugenio Pacelli was an Antisemite.  He was not.  To claim he was is risible and contradicts the historical record.  However, to assert that Pacelli was immune to many of the cultural stereotypes about some Jews is also unsupportable.  There are occasions when Pacelli's diplomatic pose slips as he writes about the characteristics of the 1919 Munich revolutionaries, many of whom were Jews.  His distaste reflects a cultural hostility towards some Jews, not all Jews.  And in some of the 1919 reports sent to Rome describing the Bavarian Soviet, the nuncio does engage in using the Jewish-Bolshevik-Russian labels that were fast becoming accepted as fact by many right-wing Germans and others in Europe.

Another observation has to do with the questions related to context.  In many of the posts there is a fixation with one issue with scant regard to the surrounding issues.  To ask the question "How did Pacelli view Jews?" cannot rely on one or two documents. 

The question demands research into the situation in Germany at the end of World War One, the relationship between the Church and the Jews (if one can speak of such a thing), the perceptions of Jews within various Catholicisms, the German Catholic experience of the Kulterkampf and how that shaped attitudes towards authority and helped fashion the way German Catholics responded to government policy under the Third Reich, the attitude of the Holy See and its nuncios, and finally, Pacelli himself and how he viewed Jews as individuals, as a religious group and the reality of secular Jews.  It is terribly complex.  The simple statement "Pacelli was not anti-Jewish" is too bald.  It needs qualifying.  The documents emerging from ASV help us define Pacelli's attitudes to an extent; but we also rely on other sources as well.

I will not be joining in the conversation on Galus Australia - I don't have the time or energy.  I will stick to the steady plod through the documents and the steady flow of scholarly works that help place these documents firmly within their contexts.

A lighter story on the Secret Archives

This article comes from the Irish based blod "Clerical Whispers" and is a little bit of light relief in what is usually a far more serious topic.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010



The Vatican Archive: the Pope's private library

The man standing outside the Porta Santa Anna Gate of the Vatican wearing a blue Gap shirt and none-too-expertly pressed Muji trousers could easily pass as an academic, or the cultural correspondent of an obscure television channel.

In fact, he is neither of these things.

He is a man on a mission, a mission of the utmost delicacy.

Soon the man will pass beyond the gate and the Swiss guards with their navy blue uniforms with brown belts, white collars and black berets, designed by Commandant Jules Repond in 1914.

Overhead, a flock of starlings, ancient symbols of undying love, wheel in the morning air.

Under escort, he will be taken into the inner sanctum of the Vatican, through an enormous pair of brass doors upon which some of the gorier scenes of the Old Testament are picked out in bas-relief.

Passing through various security cordons, each one staffed by guards more suspicious than the last, he will mount a narrow winding staircase.

Up the staircase he goes, past barred windows and tiny panelled chambers in which black-soutaned figures sit reading by the light of hushed lamps, to the very top of the 73m-tall tower.

This is the Tower of the Winds, built by Ottavinao Mascherino between 1578 and 1580, a place to which mere members of the public are never normally admitted.

Here in the Hall of the Meridian, a room covered in frescoes depicting the four winds, is a tiny hole high up in one of the walls.

At midday, the sun, shining through the hole, falls along a white marble line set into the floor. On either side of this meridian line are various astrological and astronomical symbols, once used to try to calculate the effect of the wind upon the stars.

But this is not the real reason why this man with the shabby trousers, the oddly distinguished-looking grey hair and the abundance of irrelevant detail has come to the Vatican.

No, the real reason for this lies elsewhere in the Tower of Winds, in rooms lined with miles and miles of dark wooden shelves – more than 50 miles of them in fact.

Here, bound in cream vellum, are thousands upon thousands of volumes, some more than a foot thick.

This is the Vatican secret archive, possibly the most mysterious collection of documents in the world.

Here you can find accounts of the trial of the Knights Templar held at Chinon in August 1308; a threatening note from 1246 in which Ghengis Khan’s grandson demands that Pope Innocent IV travel to Asia to ‘pay service and homage; a letter from Lucretia Borgia to Pope Alexander VI; Papal Bulls excommunicating Martin Luther; correspondence between the Court of Henry VIII and Clement VII; and an exchange of letters between Michelangelo and Paul III.

There are also letters from Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, St Bernadette, Voltaire and Abraham Lincoln.

And here too – depending on how much faith you have in the novels of Dan Brown – lies proof that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and continued their own earthly line.

Once, Napoleon had the whole of the secret archive transported to Paris.

It was brought back, albeit with some key documents missing, in 1817 and has remained in the Vatican ever since – a constant source of myth and fascination.

But now the Vatican Secret Archive is secret no more.

This story begins two years ago when a Belgian publisher called Paul Van den Heuvel asked a friend of his who works in the Vatican if there was any hope of his being allowed to do a book about the secret archive.

This friend, says Van den Heuvel, is ‘very close’ to the Pope.

As he admits, Van den Heuvel is not a particularly ecclesiastical man. He’s not a particularly ecclesiastical publisher either.

An excitable, gap-toothed Belgian, his previous book was a lavishly illustrated coffee table volume on The Most Beautiful Wine Cellars in the World.

To his surprise he received word back that highly placed sources within the Vatican had been impressed with The Most Beautiful Wine Cellars in the World. As a result, he was told, his proposal might be given the go-ahead.

Just what the Vatican’s motivation was is none too clear. Scholars have been allowed in the archive since 2003, so long as they know exactly which document they’d like a look at – browsing is not allowed.

Certainly, they haven’t always looked kindly on book proposals about the secret archive.

Fifteen years ago, when a priest and former Vatican archivist called Filippo Tamburini published a book called Saints and Sinners about the clergy’s indiscretions, the full weight of the Vatican’s disapproval came down upon him.

He had, it was claimed, perpetrated ‘an abuse’ that was ‘strongly deplored’. But largely as a result of the Vatican’s intervention, Tamburini’s book sold far more copies than it would otherwise have done.

According to Monsignor Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano: ‘A lot of hypotheses and stories about the archive have been going around. We want to show it as it really is.’

For three days Van den Heuvel was given the run of the archive with no restrictions placed on what he could inspect or photograph – or so he claims.

In fact, this turns out not to be quite the case: there was one extremely big restriction in place. He wasn’t allowed to look at any documents that dated from after 1939.

The reason given was that these include Papal annulments of marriages of people who might still be alive.

It’s at this point that the keen conspiracy theorist throws up his or her hands and exclaims ‘Ha!’.

What a coincidence that this should also cover the most sensitive periods in recent Vatican history: the Second World War and the continuing scandal of paedophile priests.

There may be something in this, of course.

Nine years ago, a joint plan by Jewish and Roman Catholic scholars ended amid acrimony with the Vatican refusing to allow the Jewish scholars further access to its archives – and the Jewish scholars protesting that the Vatican was plainly trying to cover something up.

This came after a report that said the documents examined ‘did not put to rest significant questions about the Holocaust’.

However, one should also remember that the Vatican has recently released a number of wartime documents, which, they say, help to prove that Pope Pius XII, far from being a Nazi-sympathising anti-Semite – as his detractors claim – was in fact working behind the scenes trying to help the Jews.

The present Pope, back in the days when he was plain Cardinal Ratzinger, authorised the opening of one section of the archive in 1998.

This dealt with the Spanish Inquisition. To great surprise in some quarters – and less surprise in others – these documents revealed that the Inquisition hadn’t really been such a bloody business after all.

The Catholic Church had executed a mere one per cent of the alleged heretics they put on trial. As for the others, they had been dealt with by ‘non-church tribunals’ – overenthusiastic freelancers.

A similar thing happened when a document about the Knights Templar was released three years ago.

According to the document, Pope Clement V was not the persecutor of the Templars as had previously been claimed. Far from it: he initially absolved the Templar leaders of heresy.

Only after he’d come under pressure from the French king, the far-from-appropriately-named Philip the Fair, did he reverse his decision. But even then, it seems, Clement’s intention was to reform the Templars, not drive them from the face of the Earth.

By the end of his three days, Van den Heuvel had whittled his choice of documents down to 125. The oldest document in the archive dates from the end of the eighth century.

Among the more recent is a letter written by Pope Pius XI to Hitler in December 1934. However, anyone hoping for something bullish in tone will be looking in vain.

The letter – in response to an earlier letter from Hitler asking Pius to try to improve relations between Germany and the Vatican – addresses Hitler as ‘Illustro and honorabili viro Adolpho Hitler’, which must have brought pleasure to the F├╝hrer.

However, as the text points out, the Pope markedly omits to offer Hitler his blessing at the end. Not exactly a brush-off, but a diplomatic snub just the same.

Here, too, is a letter written in 1530 by the Archbishop of Canterbury along with five other bishops and 22 mitred abbots to Clement VII complaining about the Pope’s ‘excessive delay’ in annulling Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon (there was also, some time later, an excessive delay in finding the document; it was discovered under a chair, in 1926).


Any refusal by the Pope to issue an annulment, they intimate, would result in them taking extreme measures for the good of the kingdom; request denied, Henry formed the Church of England.

Among the seals with which the letter is festooned – plus the red ribbons that inspired the phrase ‘red tape’ – is one belonging to Thomas Wolsey, ‘Cardinal and Archbishop of York’.

Fifty-six years later, Mary Queen of Scots wrote to Pope Sixtus V on the eve of her execution. Mary declares that she wishes to die in the grace of God and regrets that she does not have recourse to the sacraments.

As the letter goes on, it becomes steadily more plaintive, more poignant. She begs the Pope to take care of her son, James, and concludes with a postscript in which she warns him that there may be traitors among his cardinals.

Voltaire’s letter to Pope Benedict XIV, written in 1745, strikes a more sycophantic tone:

‘Allow me, Holy Father, to present my best wishes together with all of Christendom and to implore Heaven that Your Holiness might be most tardily received among those saints whose canonisations you have so laboriously and successfully investigated.’

Legend has always had it that an infuriated Napoleon snatched the crown from the hands of Pius VII and stuck it on his own head at his Coronation in December 1804.

In fact, as a document here makes plain, the Pope was eager to keep his own involvement in the whole affair to a minimum.

Napoleon, by contrast, didn’t think anyone else was worthy of crowning him and was more than happy to do the job himself.

One of the archive’s more fragile documents is a letter from a group of Christian Ojibwe American Indians, written on birch bark.

Dated ‘where there is much grass, in the month of the flowers’ (in other words, Grassy Lake, Ontario, in May), the letter is addressed to Pope Leo, or ‘the Great Master of Prayer, he who holds the place of Jesus’.

If there is anything among the tomes about Jesus getting hitched to Mary Magdalene or about St Paul making up the Resurrection you won’t find it here.

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t there. The truth is that no one really knows just what exactly is in the archive.

There are only 30 archivists – plus a small team charged with digitising their finds – and they have an awful lot of volumes to examine.

Three years ago, a Michelangelo drawing was found – ‘a partial plan for the radial column of the cupola dome of St Peter’s Basilica’.

Hardly the most exciting Michelangelo ever unearthed, but a Michelangelo none the less.

Perhaps more interesting is the note in which the artist complains that his payment for work on the dome is three months overdue.

For the time being Van den Heuvel’s The Vatican Secret Archives should keep the non-specialists satisfied.

Along with a main edition of 14,000, he is publishing 33 ‘unique collectors’ editions’ priced at just under £4,360 a throw – each ‘fully hand-bound in sheep parchment and hand-stitched with cotton thread’.


One of these unique collectors’ editions is being reserved for the Pope himself.

Soon, it will no doubt occupy an honoured place on his Holiness’s shelves – perhaps next to his copy of Great Wine Cellars of the World.

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