Friday, February 18, 2011

From the archives of The Guardian 1929

From the archives of The Guardian (Manchester).  The last sentence of the article is, even without the benefit of hindsight, quite telling.

The concordat between the Quirinal and the Vatican signed in Rome yesterday is an event of such profound significance that no one can tell what its ultimate consequences will be.



One thing seems to be sure – Mussolini has achieved a great diplomatic success, perhaps the greatest of his career. On this there is general agreement. His gain is absolute. Whether the Vatican's gain is so absolute, seems a little uncertain. There is evidently much Italian nationalist sentiment in the Vatican itself. In other words, the Vatican has considerable Fascist sympathies. Pope Pius XI is credited with much admiration for Mussolini. That the Italian clergy as a whole are pro-Fascist is easy to understand, seeing that Fascism is a nationalist, authoritarian, anti-liberal, and anti-Socialist force.

Will the concordat mean closer cooperation between clerical reaction and the various forms of political reaction (such as Fascism) all over Europe? It is impossible to tell as yet, but the question is one that gives Continental Liberals some uneasiness, and there must be some misgivings even amongst progressive Roman Catholics. To many the Pope's spiritual sovereignty is a mystical conception that is violated by any temporal sovereignty, however small the realm over which it is exercised. That this temporal sovereignty should include membership of the League of Nations is a dangerous thought.

Happily there is a clause in the concordat by which the Vatican State expresses its wish to "remain extraneous to the temporal competitions between other States, as well as international congresses convened for this purpose." Presumably the League is such an "international congress." It does indeed seem improbable that either the Roman Catholic hierarchy or the Roman Catholic world would wish to see the Vicar of Christ dragged into the very temporal battles that are fought in the public arena at Geneva. It is reported from Rome that the care of the Roman Catholic missions in the Near East shall be conferred upon Italians. If that is so, Italian influence in the Near East will be reinforced at France's expense, for until now the missions have been in French hands. And yet another question may have to be answered, not yet, but some time. The Fascist dictatorship is strong. But the day will surely come when it will go the way of all tyrannies. What will be the attitude of a free Italy towards a Vatican State so intimately bound up with the Fascist dictatorship?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reflections on ADSS Volume 11

I finished reading my way through the "conventional" war as recorded in the Actes et Documents.  Volumes 1, 4, 5, 7 and 11 cover the diplomatic activity of the Secretariat of State of Pope Pius XII throughout the 1939-1945 war.  What follows are a series of thoughts.  They are ruminations rather than any form of academic exercise.

As the editors attempted to find a way through the millions of documents they found that they it would be easier for the purposes of presenting a portrait of the activities of Pius, Cardinal Maglione, Monsignors Tardini and Montini, to name a few, if they divided the material into two distinct sections.  The volumes cited above describe the diplomatic activities of the Holy See, its engagements with governments and government agents: Allied, Axis and Neutral.  The remaining volumes deal with the letters of the pope to the German bishops (2) and Poland and the Baltic States (3 parts 1 and 2).  In order to deal with the Vatican's relief attempts and the growing awareness of the murder of European Jewry, the editors collated their selection of documents in volumes 6, 8, 9 and 10.

What did I learn through a close reading of the "diplomatic war" in Volume 11?

The volume opens in January 1944 and the focus remains firmly centred on Rome until several weeks after liberation in June.  Preoccupation with having the city declared "open" takes up many documents as does the energy spent on enlisting support throughout the Catholic world in the media.  There are some references to the Via Rasella partisan action in March 1944 and hints that point to knowledge of the vicious German reprisals carried out in the Ardeatine Caves.  As the days of German occupation drew to their close, the Vatican was keen to ensure that the departure of the Germans and the arrival of the Allies was orderly.  Apart from the quite reasonable and pastoral concern to preserve the city and its people, there was the fear that communist partisans would take advantage of the confusion and chaos and attempt to seize power.  Pius did not want that to happen.

Once Rome was liberated stories of the French colonial Moroccan troops, the Goumiers, began to circulate.  The Goumiers had a reputation for hard fighting and, more darkly, for taking seriously their belief in their right to rape, loot and pillage.  Thousands of Italian women and girls were savagely raped in the months up to June 1944.  Pius's plea to General Mark Clarke to keep "coloured" troops out of Rome only makes sense if it is a reference to the Goumiers.

Volume 11 also refers to the exit of the Allied diplomats immured in the Vatican and their replacement by the Axis ministers.  Some members of the German embassy were not quick enough leaving their residences in Rome and were arrested by the Allies and interned in Taormina, much to the impotent fury of Berlin.

In August, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, the pope's secretary of state died of heart disease.  Pius took over Maglione's role personally for the rest of his pontificate.

There is mention of the Warsaw uprising in August 1944, always coloured by the growing fear of the Red Army's march westward.  The fear of communism is never far away and it grows in intensity as the war neared its end.  News from Poland, the Baltic States, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the eastern provinces of Germany is nearly always "bad".

As France is liberated the nuncio in Vichy, Valerio Valeri returns to Paris to find General de Gaulle is determined to cut all ties with bishops who, in his opinion, collaborated with the Vichy regime of, the now German held, Marshal Petain, including Valeri himself.  Rome attempts to calm de Gaulle to no avail.  When the nuncio in Argentina, Giuseppe Fietta, declined the move to Paris, the role fell to the Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli who sped to France towards the end of 1944.

Gustavo Testa, the representative of the Holy See in Athens, sent several reports describing the descent into civil war once the Germans had left Greece.  It makes for incredibly sad reading.

The last months of the war are described through documents that show the Vatican sensitive to the peace-feelers put out by some Germans and Mussolini's rump-fascist Salo Republic.  There is the positive response to FDR's call for an international body that would work for peace in the world, the genesis of the United Nations.  Pius expressed his happiness to cooperate in such a venture.

Finally, as communication with much of central and eastern Europe ends because of the collapse of nearly all social order, Pius expresses his deep personal sorrow to Eleanor Roosevelt on the death of FDR in mid-April 1945.  The last documents are the pope's telegrams expressing his joy at the liberation and return of peace to Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg - echoing his telegrams to the heads of state of each country in May 1940 when Germany invaded them.

What do these documents show?  On their own, they demonstrate the high volume of accurate information arriving in Rome and being responded to by the Vatican.  They were very well informed.  The texts also show that Rome seized every opportunity to save Rome from the fate that had befallen other European capitals and cities while also demonstrating that no talk of peace from either side would be dismissed.

There are levels of unreality throughout.  The phobia about communism in the west and particularly in Italy was without foundation.  The fear of communism in the east had an historical basis but ignored what was happening in reality.  The Polish bishops quite often found that the Soviet-backed Lublin government needed the help of the Church to rebuild the country for the simple reason that it was the only social institution that had survived five and half years of German occupation.  What the long-term aim of the Lublin politicians was going to be cannot be surmised from these texts and we must be wary of hindsight.  I am not saying the communists were well-intentioned towards Catholicism (or Orthodoxy for that matter) but Stalin did see a difference between the system in Russia and the need for some adaptation outside Russian borders.

There are also developments in understanding as well.  At the beginning of the war, Rome was still suspicious of liberal, popular democracy.  By war's end, democracy was seen as a force for good in the world.  This was no doubt helped through the positive relations Pius enjoyed with FDR and the lived experience of liberation by the United States Fifth Army.  Pius' embrace of the idea of the United Nations was also a major step forward in the Vatican's understanding of its place in the world and its relations with "the world".

All this must now be placed alongside the next phase of my study of ADSS - the victims.  My generally positive assessment of the Vatican's position in liberated Europe in the early summer of 1945 needs to be weighed against its role in working to help and save the millions of people displaced by the war.  This next part of the story will be far more complex and shaded in more hues of grey than the diplomatic war.

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