Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"A Few Questions ..."

There are aspects of this article from the Jewish Press I came across that might well be "tongue in cheek" and there is some substance to some of the questions. What I found most intriguing about the article is the persistence of myths and ahistorical argument that is now entering its seventh or eighth decade.  There is sufficient reliable and solid historical material available for the interested reader and researcher to make a fundamentally sound assessment of Pius XII.  My comments are in red.

Why did the Pope excommunicate every single Communist in the world, but never excommunicate a single Nazi?

By: DovBear Published: October 1st, 2013

Thanks to Twitter, I am in correspondence with an Italian historian who is trying mightily to convince me that Pius 12 was an all around good guy and lover of the Jewish people. By way of evidence he has supplied the fact that a few famous Jews, who were not historians, said some nice words about the Pope back in the 50s and a report compiled by some Yad Vashem historians that I have not read because it costs $50.

Meanwhile, I keep asking the following questions. Should he answer them (holding breath) I will report back.

 #1: Why did the Pope excommunicate every single Communist in the world, but never excommunicate a single Nazi? This question is not a new one and demands and commands serious attention.  Pius' clear condemnation of communism in post-war Europe was loud and constant.

#2 Why did he cancel and suppress his predecessors’ anti Nazi encyclical? This is not accurate.  Pius XII took sections of the 1938 text written for Pius XI by John La Farge and incorporated it into his first encyclical - Summi Pontificatus (October 1939)

#3 Why did he protest the Nazi euthanasia program but not Final Solution? (The Nazis backed down) A fair question.

#4 Why did he protest Nazi round ups of converted Jews, but not round ups of non converted Jews? There are levels of complexity here, but in essence the question does ask for clarification of a very uncomfortable reality in parts of German-occupied Europe as well as in Axis allies and in Vichy France.

#5 Why did he protest invasion of Scandinavia (full page headline on the front page of the Vatican newspaper!) but not the Final Solution? This is unknown to me.  Perhaps a reader could help here.

#6 Why didn’t he protest or quit  when Civiltà Cattolica ran a series of editorials accusing Jews of ritual murder, notably in 1915 following the Bellis case? His direct superior, the monster Cardinal Rafael Merry Del Val personally approved those editorials. Why didn’t he complain? Something of a long-bow here and indicative of a lack of understanding as to the inner-workings of the Vatican's various departments.

#7: Why did he permit the German Churches to hold a Requiem Mass upon Hitler’s death? Meanwhile, there there was no papal prayer or Mass celebrated in solidarity with the Jews. The best known requiem Mass was that ordered by the Archbishop of Breslau, Cardinal Bertram, for all parishes in the diocese.  In April 1945 Breslau was under siege by the Red Army, making the request for parish requiems all the more odd.  The "best spin" was that Bertram was asking Catholics to pray for the dead head of state.  I admit, it was probably not the most successful pastoral strategy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Kevin Madigan's review of Justus Lawler's "Were the Popes against the Jews" (unedited version)

It with gratitude to Professor Madigan that I post his complete review of Justus George Lawler's book Were the Popes Against the Jews.  A shorter version of the review appeared in the latest edition of The New York Review of Books.  I admire Madigan's restrained and academic approach to dealing with a work that is anything other restrained or academic. Readers are encouraged to visit the correspondence generated by the review using the links below.

I also wish to express my thanks to Robert Silvers from the New York Review of Books for his generous permission to post Professor Madigan's review on the blog.

Editor’s Note:  This is the unedited and longer version of a review that Kevin Madigan published in shorter form in the November 21, 2013 issue of The New York Review of Books, which can be found at  There was correspondence regarding the review in the February 6, 2014 issue of NYRB, which can be found at

A Nasty Piece of Work: Justus George Lawler,
                                                Were the Popes against the Jews:
Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues[1]
Kevin Madigan

“Oh how wrong and deluded are those who think that Judaism is just a religion, like Catholicism, Paganism, Protestantism and not in fact a race, a people and a nation!  While it is certain that others can be, for example, both Catholic and either Italian, French or English…it is a great error to believe that the same is true of the Jews.  For the Jews are not only Jews because of their religion…they are Jews also and especially because of their race.”
—Father  Giuseppe Oreglia, S.J., (1823-1895)[2]

                  Could it be true, as the church has argued over the past two decades, that European antisemitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was more sociological or political than religious in origin and could be distinguished from religiously-based antijudaism?  Or that there was no link between Christian antijudaism and the destruction, in the twentieth century, of European Jewry?  In a number of documents issued by the Vatican, most importantly its “reflection on the Shoah,” entitled “We Remember,” the church has attempted to maintain that precisely this distinction prevailed in the nineteenth century.[3]  In his widely-acclaimed The Popes against the Jews, David Kertzer argued convincingly that the Vatican’s version of the history of the development of nineteenth-century anti-Semitism “is a history that many wish had happened, but it is not what actually happened” (4).   The distinction made by ecclesiastical writers in the late twentieth century was, rather, “an article of faith,” Kertzer contended, “that relieved the Church of any responsibility for what happened” after the nineteenth century.  In fact, all of the elements of modern anti-Semitism were “not only embraced by the Church but actively promulgated by official and unofficial Church organs” (7).  In a church with both liberal and conservative wings, it is not surprising that the latter reacted with dismay and denial.             
            In the closing decades of the twentieth century and in the opening years of the new millennium paloeoconservative Catholics have tried, with great tenacity and often with appallingly boorishness, to deny Kertzer’s thesis; and they have attempted to absolve the popes from any blame in the antisemitic tragedies of the twentieth century.  In the volume under review here, Justus George Lawler contests Kertzer’s thesis, as well as those (including the present reviewer) who have supported it.  It is the latest in a long series of attacks on historians by apologists with slight or no professional historical training or standing.  Based on a fair analysis of the archival and published evidence, Professor Kertzer and his supporters have the truth on their side.  The ecclesiastical and papal apologists, on the other hand, are transparently driven by ideology, especially fear of the forces of religious liberalism and secularism, against which they imagine themselves to constitute a bulwark.  It is about the future of authority and the papacy with which their angry screeds are truly concerned.  In the end, historical evidence and argumentation matters when it comes to representing truth in history; and this truth cannot be obscured no matter how much smoke the apologists lay down, regardless of the degree to which they distort evidence presented, their willingness to try and bully historians into silence and the lack of good manners, even nastiness, in their writings.  Regrettably, they simply cannot accept the hard—and painful—facts.

            In 2001, David Kertzer, the Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science at Brown University, published his volume on the Vatican’s role in the rise of modern anti-Semitism.  Kertzer is the author of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (Knopf, 1977).  A tour de force of scholarship and storytelling, it was runner-up for the National Book Award in 1997.   Ultimately, it was transformed into a play by Alfred Uhry, who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar. With this volume, Kertzer firmly established himself as one of the world’s leading historians of the church and antisemitism in the nineteenth century.
            The first part of Kertzer’s The Popes against the Jews begins with a sobering account of the treatment of the Jews in domains under papal power from early in the nineteenth century until early in the twentieth (basically the period marked at one end by the abdication of Napoleon and the restoration of the Papal States and at the other by the accession to power of Hitler).  After the restoration of the Papal States, debate ensued about the rights and privileges Jews had enjoyed during the Age of Emancipation.  Should these rights be sustained, or should the ancient, repressive order be restored?  Despite appeals from his own secretary of state and the government of Austria, Pius VII (1800-1823) re-established the most odious conditions for Jews in papal domains.  It is likely that opposition to many modern ideas, especially as embodied by the French Revolution, inspired this decision.  But Pius’ decision may also be interpreted as a vengeful reaction to the belief, widespread in the Holy See, that Jews had both caused and profited most from the loss of the Vatican’s temporal power.
            Be that as it may, the doors to the squalid Roman ghetto were soon slammed shut again; they would not be opened for more than a half century, when, in 1870, Italian troops brought a decisive end to the existence of the papal domains.  In that half century, most of execrable practices from which Jews had been liberated by emancipation were reinstituted.  Now again, Jewish travel was restricted, the spectrum of occupations allowable narrowly defined, attendance at conversionary sermons expected, distinctive clothing required, life in all its aspects hemmed in, Jews isolated from their surrounding culture.  In short, the promises of emancipation had been taken back and the grim darkness of servitude, personal and professional restriction and social quarantine once more enveloped the Jewish communities under papal dominion.
            Kertzer’s book is based on extensive archival work.  It is grounded as well in published materials, including the Vatican’s daily l’Osservatore Romano (founded in 1861), the Jesuit’s weekly Civiltà Cattolica (founded in 1850), the French La Croix (a daily newspaper published by the Assumptionists of France, which had rallied antisemitic sentiment against Captain Dreyfus) and the works of Edouard Drumont (1844-1917), the doyen of French antisemitism. Kertzer proved that, far from resisting the rise of modern antisemitic ideas, Catholics (including popes, diplomats, priests, journalists and writers) helped build the treasury of antisemitic slurs and libels and their “Talmud-based religion”; and popes lent them the sacred imprimatur of the Vatican.  Late in his book, Kertzer summarizes the ideas that either originated with or were supported by “the highest Church authorities, including the pope”:
There is a secret Jewish conspiracy; the Jews seek to conquer the world; Jews are an evil sect who seek to do Christians harm; Jews are by nature immoral; Jews care only for money and will do anything to get it; Jews control the press; Jews control banks and are responsible for the economic ruination of untold numbers of Christian families; Jews are responsible for communism, Judaism commands its adherents to murder defenseless Christian children and drink their blood; Jews seek to destroy the Christian religion; Jews are unpatriotic, ever ready to sell their country out to the enemy; for the larger society to be properly protected, Jews must be segregated and their rights limited (206).
Many of these ideas, cited copiously in lengthier form by Kertzer, were published in l’Osservatore Romano or Civiltà Cattolica between 1880 and 1938.
             It is crucial to observe that Kertzer provides convincing evidence that ecclesiastically-sponsored antisemitism also included an element of racism.  Kertzer reaches back to sixteenth-century Spanish limpieza de sangre (“purity of blood”) laws, which discriminated against Jews seeking work in government and church.  Ultimately, these would find their way into the statutes of the Jesuit order; postulants would have to prove purity of blood to five generations.  These rules remained in force until after the Second World War.  The question that logically follows is, did those racial elements work their way into Catholic anti-Semitismand beyond, to the wider world?
            As it turns out, Kertzer finds evidence from Catholic periodicals that suggests writers had essentialized Jews in racial terms.  For example, in 1898, l’Osservatore Romano complained about the Jew, who had abandoned “himself recklessly and heedlessly to that innate passion of his race, which is essentially usurious and pushy” (212; emphasis added).  Kertzer cites 36 articles from Civiltà Cattolica, by the late nineteenth century “the unofficial voice of the Pope himself,” which he proves convincingly were part of an anti-Jewish campaign and “crucial to the rise of anti-Semitism” (135).  One of the characteristics of this form of antisemitism is that Jews are not just religiously and culturally different but racially alien. 
             Dozens of anti-Semitic articles appeared in Civiltà Cattolica, whose every number was reviewed by Vatican censors, in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.  The Jesuit writers for this journal dreamt up or parroted many new antisemitic ideas.  They wrote with conviction about the Jews’ secret conspiracy to achieve world domination—an idea, as Kertzer points out, that would come to be a pillar of Nazi racial ideology (138).  Since the publication of The Popes against the Jews, and because of the strength of Kertzer’s argumentation and the abundance of his evidence, the traditional distinction between religious anti-Judaism and modern “pagan” antisemitism, which the Vatican has striven to maintain, has started to crumble.
            Kertzer concludes his book with an analysis of twentieth-century popes and the further evolution of modern antisemitism.  As nuncio to Poland from 1918-21, Monsignor Achille Ratti, wrote: “One of the most evil and strongest influences that is felt here, perhaps the strongest and most evil, is that of the Jews” (251).  Ratti did nothing to try to put a stop to popular pogroms then endemic in Poland, and he refused to meet with Jewish emissaries hoping to procure Roman help in bringing an end to the violence.  When Ratti became Pope Pius XI, he actually supported (as had his predecessor Benedict XV [1914-22]) the French monsignor Ernest Jouin, a champion of conspiracy theories, a “man who had come to devote his life to alerting his fellow Catholics to the Jewish threat” (267). 
            The way that Jouin did so was by promoting the infamous forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  For Jouin, the discovery of the Protocols was an occasion of joy and vindication.  It provided, as Kertzer puts it, “irrefutable evidence that the secret Jewish conspiracy of which he had been warning for almost a decade was an established fact” (268). Surely, this sort of thing played some cultural role, however indirect, in the run-up to the racialist Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany (1935) and to the Italian counterparts promulgated soon afterward (1938).  Why was the church was silent about these laws?  Because they “embodied measures and views long championed by the Church itself” (287).  It was Kertzer, then, who has enabled us to perceive, more clearly than before, that it was the papacy (along, as Kertzer observes, with many of its foes) that monstrously dehumanized the Jews, imagined them as a separate people and race (not just practitioners of a different religion) and stimulated followers to view them as different, treacherous and iniquitous.
             Kertzer largely avoids the heated topic of the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-58), instead emphasizing the role his predecessors had played in “dehumanizing the Jews” and “in encouraging large numbers of Europeans to view them as evil and dangerous” (16).


            Justus George Lawler achieved considerable and well-deserved distinction as a man of letters in the twentieth century.  His work as an editor brought to publication many fine and influential books (a fact of which, in the volume under review, he never tires of reminding his readers), often with Continuum.  This was an independent publishing house with which his name will be forever and honorably linked.  Lawler was also founder and editor of the journal Continuum, which during the sixties and seventies, and, especially for the Catholic laity, was among the liveliest periodicals available on a wide spectrum of religious, social and political issues.  A literary critic by training, Lawler’s readings of English poetry were little short of brilliant.  Among the most perceptive critics of Gerard Manley Hopkins, he also authored a volume of literary criticism, Celestial Pantomine:  Poetic Structures of Transcendence (New Haven, CT: Yale, 1979).  This was bravura performance which, though not an easy read, astonished not only by the sheer range of its erudition.  Lawler deftly treated, it seemed, almost every major poet in the English tradition from the Restoration to the modern era by keen, “New Critical” close readings of what seemed much of the traditional poetic literary canon.
            Unfortunately for literary studies and even more for the discipline of history, Lawler in 2002 bent the application of that New Critical, “close-reading” method to the study—not of popes—but of historians of popes.  History is a field in which, Lawler would freely admit, he has had had no professional training.   Regrettably, it showed then; as we shall see, it shows even more clearly now, with the extremely unfortunate publication of the irascible and profoundly flawed Were the Popes against the Jews?  It is the rare autodidact who can write or competently judge serious works of history.  Lawler is not that rara avis. 
            While not uncritical of apologists of twentieth-century popes, Lawler in Popes and Politics, a survey and critique of papal critics, directed his strongest fire against critics of several twentieth-century popes.  He charged the critics, startlingly, with “verbal legerdemain,” “doctored texts,” “bogus scholarship,” “manipulation of data” and above all “fabrication”—-his preferred, if rash and even reckless accusation.  These allegations, some felt, bordered not just on exaggeration but on invention themselves, so much so that some of his critics responded that it was Lawler, not they, who had doctored data.   In fact, that venture’s hypercritical tone, the audacious charges of fabrication, the slender knowledge of the actual subject matter, the complete ignorance of the recent scholarship and the untraversable forest of tangled prose—all mar the latest book as well. 

            Kertzer’s book was published to overwhelmingly positive reviews.  A few serious scholars raised objections to the latter part of the book.[4]  But the majority of the hostile reviews bore much in common; they came from Catholics who are so defensive about criticism of any popes that they bustle off to their word processors to fire an angry fusillade the moment any serious historian deals with the sorry history of papal anti-semitism.[5]  Among the many to bestow kudos on Kertzer’s The Popes against the Jews was none other than Justus George Lawler.  As Lawler himself concedes in his invective, he had “mentioned it favorably in Popes and Politics.”[6] Why, then, would Lawler so comprehensively change his view now? And why compose a book nearly 400 pages in length devoted largely to withdrawing praise and dispensing churlish criticisms of the book he once lauded?          
            Lawler attempts to account for his volte-face in the opening chapter. The chapter is long and opaque (something like 9000 words), as are all the chapters in this book, so it is difficult to winkle out from it a clear response.  It seems that Lawler, on second reading (and practicing what he complacently designates “a kind of engaged detachment” [7]), had suddenly and unexpectedly discovered that Kertzer’s book deserved not praise but condemnation, not a brief statement of admiration but a prolix refutation; and that he was the man for the job.  After scrutinizing the beginning of the book, Lawler purports to have discovered, for the first time, suspicious errors in spelling and punctuation (7). Lawler then gives a most peculiar explanation of how he interprets such “hints:”
These hints often take the form of errors in spelling, in punctuation, or of less blatant mistakes having to do with grammar, logic and chronology.   In themselves, these may be insignificant and readily corrected, but they are often a clue to something beneath the surface of the author’s presentation that demands greater attention.
Then the explanation turns quite bizarre:
The basic assumption behind this entire process is that any minor disruptive element in the text of an experienced writer—and here I return to David I. Kertzer—is a kind of ‘tic’ that betrays preoccupation with some rhetorical or logical stratagem that may reveal more about the author than his explicit statements (7; emphasis added).
For Lawler, such minor and inevitable errors in orthography or punctuation are evidence of nothing less than Kertzer’s anti-papal ideological agenda.  Apparently nothing can escape this man’s “close reading” of a text.
             Lawler then refers to new works of scholarship on the aid supposedly given to Jews in 1940 by Pius XII, the one pope between 1829-1958 upon whom Kertzer urges us not to focus attention.  Then, as if to pile humiliation upon misrepresentation, Lawler explicitly admits to learning about these new works of scholarship from “the indispensable bibliography of William Doino” (11).[7]  Doino is a journalist for a periodical called Inside the Vatican and his writings show him to be a remorseless papal apologist; no professional historian would risk  relying on his partisan work .  With suspicions thus aroused, Lawler portentously declares, “It was around this point in the process of evaluating the book that I decided to write a critique” (18). Some readers will find this account of sudden epiphanic insight credible.             
            In any event, all readers will soon have discovered that Lawler delivers not a critique but a long, uninformed, unfair, extremely tedious philippic.  And nasty.  Very nasty.  Lawler’s book is almost 400 pages long, or more than one-third again as long as the book at which it takes aim. It is also very poorly written.  Indeed, the prose is execrable.  Reading the book is like swimming through jello.

            The first issue on which Lawler cheats Kertzer of a fair hearing is that of sources.  Lawler declares that the “publicized raison d'être” (8) of Kertzer’s book was the cache of new revelations uncovered by Kertzer’s research in the Vatican archives.  Nonetheless, Lawler later repeats, quite outrageously, “almost all of Kertzer’s archival material is second-hand... and “in the most accessible area of that domain, newspapers and magazines” (49-50).  Reading the acknowledgments to his book, it is clear that Kertzer spent quite a lot of time in many archives.  His notes are chock-full of references to archival documents he had examined.  In short, the book Kertzer wrote could not have been written had he relied, as Lawler insinuates he had, solely on sources in the public domain. 
            As he read further into Kertzer’s book, Lawler realized (he tells us) that that “Kertzer seemed [my emphasis] almost entirely dependent on the scholarship of Giovanni Miccoli” (8).  Born in 1933, Miccoli has become the dôyen of scholars of popes and antisemitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a fact Kertzer does nothing to deny and which he actually emphasizes.  But for Lawler, it “gradually became more and more difficult to avoid the impression [my emphasis]” that Miccoli had been “the source of almost every archival or novel position and perspective in The Popes Against the Jews” (9).   As if the reader had yet to receive the message, Lawler, no enemy of repetition, says once more that Kertzer’s book was “based as we have seen [as if Lawler had proven the point] on Giovanni Miccoli” (49).
              Now, in his acknowledgments, Kertzer thanks Miccoli for his kindness.  He observed, “Miccoli had done pioneering work in the Vatican archives on papal policy toward the Jews, especially in the period from Leo XIII to Pius XII” (294).  He then respectfully adds: “In doing the work that I have for this book, I stand on his shoulders” (295).   All of that sounds like sincere thanks and respect for a revered scholar.  Yet Lawler criticizes Kertzer because, “unlike others using that imagery...the acknowledgment was of dependence on previous tradition of scholarship, not on the research of one person” (9).
            This is a no trivial charge.  In effect, Lawler is accusing Kertzer at best of recycled work, at worst of plagiarism.  Does he have a case?  Hardly.  The “close reading” of Kertzer’s book that Lawler promises at the beginning, and in which he reposes such self-satisfied faith, seems to have betrayed him.  Lawler’s “method,” he informs us, with characteristic self-congratulation, “is mainly explication de texte” (9)—that is, close, presumably precise, competent and comprehensive glossing of the author’s arguments and narrative.   Inspecting Kertzer’s bibliography, it is clear that he occasionally searched out and read archival documents cited in Miccoli’s work, as any responsible historian of this period would.          That said, Miccoli never published, or even studied, much of the history Kertzer covers.  Miccoli’s main interests were in diplomatic history.  Kertzer examines ecclesiastical policy toward Jews in territories in which it preserved temporal power, above all in the Papal States and nineteenth-century Rome. 
            Though no Homer, Lawler nodded here.  On the very first page of Kertzer’s notes there, right there in caps, is Kertzer’s “GUIDE TO CITATION OF ARCHIVAL SOURCES,” the first of which is explicitly identified as “the newly opened archive of the Inquisition at the Vatican” (299).  Kertzer’s notes are also chock-full of references to sources from the archive.  How could Lawler have possibly missed this?
              Lawler’s vaunted close reading failed him here.  That it happened so very early in his critique and that he failed immediately to ascertain Kertzer’s sources—one of the principal jobs of a professional historian reviewing a colleague’s work—-suggests that more such failures are to come; and, unfortunately, an abundance of them awaits the tenacious reader not drugged by Lawler’s hard-to-follow and cantankerous argumentation, pompous and irrelevant self-references, and needlessly grandiloquent prose—and, above all, his tiresomely scornful tone.
            Less excusable, indeed morally and intellectually reprehensible, are Lawler’s repeated charges that Kertzer leaned slavishly on Miccoli.  Actually, the main reason Kertzer’s book came out to such justly enthusiastic reception was that it had made compelling new arguments and came to fresh conclusions; and that it did so precisely because it relied so heavily on sources consulted by virtually no one at the time, as the relevant archives had just been opened in early 1998.   Moreover, the main reason that historians today fruitfully debate the utility of the antisemitism/anti-Judaism distinction is that Kertzer, relying on newly-available documents, enabled historians to wonder if there really was any tangible foundation to the conventional abstract distinction the church had long exploited to exonerate itself from twentieth-century atrocities.
            Even more serious than the charge of overreliance on another scholar is the allegation that one has “doctored” or “fabricated” texts.[8]  Lawler’s first charge in this connection is in response to the response of Rabbi A. James Rudin, a noted scholar of interreligious relations, to the book: “Those who challenge his disturbing conclusions will have to match Mr. Kertzer’s scholarship, research and command of the Italian language.”[9]  Lawler makes the grave error of suggesting that Kertzer doctored texts because he was not fully competent in Italian.  In response to Rudin, Lawler asserts: “The only issue here has to do with ‘command of the Italian language’ in the sense of doctoring texts” (180 n. 42).  Later he refers to Kertzer’s “alleged command” of Italian (182).  Finally, circling back to Rudin’s comment, Lawler, in an ill-considered moment of folly, declares: “The commendation by Rabbi Rudin is particularly noteworthy since there are few errors that are as flagrant as Kertzer’s assault on ‘the Italian language.’” These are dangerous claims to make, as one’s own Italian has to be good enough to detect errors in the translations of the author under review.  In addition, Lawler is charging Kertzer with falsifying or inventing texts based on his knowledge of Italian.
            Unfortunately for Lawler, not only is Kertzer’s Italian unassailable; but Lawler’s flawed control of Italian seems to be the “only issue here” having “to do with ‘command of the Italian language.’”  Kertzer quotes Achille Ratti (the future Pius XI) expressing his fears for the Polish people, potential victims, in his mind, of ritual murder:
the more I have come to admire the goodness and faith of their people…the more I fear that they may fall into the clutches of the evil influences(cattive influenze) that are laying a trap for them and threatening them (161).
In the quote above, Kertzer quotes cattive influenze, accurately, as “evil influences.”  Lawler retaliates by arguing, in a way no honest scholar fully competent in Italian could, that Kertzer’s translation is wrong because one would never translate cattivo tempo as “evil weather.”  This is utter nonsense.  Giuseppe Zanichelli’s authoritative dictionary translates cattivo as “evil,” “bad,” “mean,” or “nasty,” among other definitions.  Kertzer has of course chosen the correct adjective, and one could only translate cattivo tempo using the adjective “bad” (“bad weather”).  Similarly, Lawler complains that Kertzer translates nefaste influenze as “evil influences.”  But, again, Zanichelli’s translates nefasto as “evil.”  Lawler writes at length about Kertzer’s translating “avversione” as antipathy.  Yet again, Zanichelli cites antipatia (“antipathy”) as a synonym for avversione.  While criticizing Kertzer’s supposed errors in translation, Lawler makes three errors in Italian on just one page of his own pseudo-scholarly book.  He has Revista for Rivista; dei modernista rather than dei modernisti; and Bonaiutti for Bonaiuti (35).  As readers of Alexander Pope should know, a little learning is a dangerous thing.
            Now to Lawler’s very grave charges of “doctoring,” “fabricating” or “rigging” of arguments and texts.  Given limitations of space, I will focus only on the two cases Lawler takes to be Kertzer’s most serious misrepresentations.  However, Lawler accuses him of such scores and scores of times.
            Lawler writes at length about the so-called Beilis case.  In this case, Mendel Beilis (1874-1934), a Ukrainian Jew, was in 1913 accused of ritual murder and put on trial at Kiev.  Of Kertzer’s treatment of this case, Lawler concludes severely but, again, falsely: “This treatment entails Kertzer’s most clearly demonstrable rigging of arguments and doctoring of texts—at least up to that point in his book” (102).  Later he adds, “as we will also see, Kertzer is not above mistranslating or doctoring crucial texts” (117).  Lawler speaks of Kertzer’s “effort to convict a pope and his secretary of state of having refused to save the life of an innocent Jew at the ritual murder trial in Kiev” (258).
            In Lawler’s telling, Kertzer “pre-designated” (131) the villain of this narrative: it was Merry del Val, the Cardinal Secretary of State (1865-1930).  It was he, in Lawler’s presentation of Kertzer’s account, who wished to see Beilis convicted of the ritual murder charge.  Now, Kertzer’s reading of the Inquisition’s archives leaves little doubt that del Val, a notorious anti-Semite,[10] was never happy to see Jews acquitted of charges of ritual murder.  Indeed, a letter he wrote suggests that he did nothing to stop certain Frenchmen from using the Beilis trial to “renew the ritual murder campaign against the Jews” (233).  Other archival documents relating to the philosemitic Catholic sodality, Friends of Israel, supply abundant evidence of del Val’s aversion for Jews.                         
            Here, however, Kertzer argues that it was likely that del Val’s letter, which may have been read by the Czar, was instrumental in exonerating Beilis (231).  Far, then, from arguing that anyone at the Vatican attempted to convict him, Kertzer actually contends that Cardinal del Val and Pope Pius X attempted to defend him.  Kertzer concludes, “After decades of papally approved campaigns smearing the Jews with the brush of ritual murder, a pope had stood up and defended them” (231).  Kertzer goes on to show that the pope would attempt by every means to prevent such fatal charges from being brought again and concluded, “I pray that the trial will end without harm to the poor Jews” (232). Again, Lawler is egregiously guilty precisely of that of which he accuses Kertzer: misrepresentation of the evidence.
            We conclude with Lawler’s argument regarding what he solemnly condemns as “the most blatant distortion of the pope’s words in the entire book” (178).[11]  Lawler charges Kertzer, per usuale, with “concoction,”  “slander” “ventriloquial virtuosity,” and all manner of scholarly dereliction (183, 184).  The question at stake is whether, and how, Ratti’s experience as nuncio in Poland shaped the views of European Jews he would hold as pope.  Lawler charges that it was really Kertzer, utilizing his “ventriloquial virtuosity,” not the pope, who had emphasized the distinction between Italy’s Jews and the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe.  In order to prove this, Lawler contends, “words are simply invented by the author [i.e., Kertzer] to be put in this pope's mouth” (184).  He is particularly upset with Kertzer’s conclusion:
The Pope [Pius XI] thought that the Jews in Italy—a few of whom he had met—were basically good.  But the mass of the Continent’s Jews, the hordes of Jews who lived in central and eastern Europe, were something quite different, a threat to healthy Christian society, a lesson he learned in Poland (263)
Again, it is hard to know what Lawler means by “blatant distortion.”  The fatal problem with Lawler’s argument is that Kertzer’s twelfth chapter is filled with distinctions by Ratti and by those writing in his name between Eastern and Western Jews.  Ratti complains that the Jews have a disproportionate element in Poland (251).  Contemplating the enemies of the church in Poland, Ratti fears (in his own words, not Kertzer’s) they may fall “into the clutches of the evil influences” that he has now seen “close up” in Poland, of which, “perhaps the strongest and most evil, is that of the Jews.”  Jews in the East were subject to pogroms because of their “link to the Bolsheviks” (252)—a pillar of antisemitic rhetoric.  The Jews in Warsaw are “incredibly numerous” (256); it is on this basis that Kertzer can refer to papal fear of “hordes,” which Lawler somehow imagines Kertzer has simply concocted.   The Final Report of the Ratti Mission in Poland, based on letters Ratti had written to the Secretary of State, asserts “Poland is the most Judaized country in the world” (259).  Jews, it says, form “the principal force” of Bolshevism in Poland (260).  The Ratti report, Kertzer argued, “painted a picture of the Jews as an insidious foreign force eating away at the Polish nation” (260).  In short, the reports on the Polish Jews Ratti himself wrote, along with the final report on his mission based on those reports, “allow us,” according to Kertzer, to comprehend “the attitudes that Pius XI brought with him when he became pontiff” (262-63).
            As it happens, we have a particularly precious piece of evidence regarding Ratti’s distinction between Eastern  and Western European Jews.  The source is a letter Mussolini wrote summarizing the only meeting he ever had with the Pope (February 11, 1932). After complaining about the Protestants as propagandists, proselytizers and foreigners in Italy, the Pope turned his attention to Russia and the East:  “When I was in Warsaw” [the Pope said], “I saw that the Bolshevik Commissioners...were all Jews.”  He hastened to add that the Italian Jews represented an exception (In Italia, tuttavia, gli ebrei fanno eccezione) .[12]  If this is not a distinction between Eastern and Western Jews by the pope, what could count as one?  Along with the wealth of other evidence Kertzer introduces in this chapter, it amply justifies his conclusion that Ratti brought with him to Rome a fear of numerous hordes of so-called Ostjuden  who, Bolshevized, represented a threat to Christian society—something Ratti explicitly affirms that he learned in Poland.  Sadly, Lawler cannot assimilate the abundance of the evidence. “These threatening hordes are nonexistent save in the author’s imagination,” he concludes (183).[13]
            In a recent post on the attacks by papal negationists on Kertzer and this reviewer, Dr. Paul O’ Shea questions:
those who have for some time now enjoyed engaging in a largely unchallenged polemic against historians who do as their craft demands, namely seek the truth.  For several years now apologists, that is, a group of neo-conservative writers and journalists, some with academic qualification, many with none, have taken it upon themselves to ‘set the record straight’ on Pius XII, the Catholic Church and everything related to it.  In their extremely limited understanding of Catholic theology and history, they believe they have the right to impose their version of a ‘fatwa’ on those with whom they disagree.  In email correspondence with colleagues in more than a few places around the world there is a growing anger that these ‘snake oil’ merchants and bullies have gone too far. I have taken deep offence at their unbridled attacks on historians.  I have also taken deep offence at their appalling lack of customary good manners and basic decency.[14]
After declaring, sensibly, that “it is time for this nonsense to stop,” O’Shea goes on to wonder, “What on earth did David Kertzer do to warrant such vitriol and venom in [Lawler’s] book? ...Where does the anger that fuels Lawler’s writing originate?  It can’t be in the history, it must come from somewhere else.  It has the vehemence of someone spurned.”[15]
            One can only wonder.  One possibility has to do with the painful private acknowledgment of scholarly inferiority and publishing failure; none of the apologists is recognized as an authority by professional historians, and none has published a book taken seriously by them.  Another has to do with the certainty that the professional historical community holds them in collective contempt, as indeed it does.  One papal apologist, Joseph Bottum, who described himself as “a minor member of the chattering classes,” acknowledged these possibilities.  Speaking of Rychlak’s work, Bottum goes on to observe that one:
can reasonably point out that Our Sunday Visitor is not quite at the level of distribution, advertising and influence enjoyed by Doubleday, Houghton Mifflin, Knopf and Viking...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.
Bottum concludes: “Jenkins’ suggestion is worth considering.”[16]  
It certainly is.  
            Aside from personal resentments, professional disappointments and collective failure in the realm of publishing, it seems likely that many of the apologists are using the popes as ciphers in a larger cultural war.  Some may be paleoconservative, throne-and-altar Catholics, restorationists longing for simpler days when the human failings of those who occupy the See of Peter were not publicly recognized, and papal teachings were taken seriously and obeyed. Some may be opposed to the epoch-making changes of Vatican II and the dramatic improvement in Jewish-Christian relations they ushered in; perhaps some want to shut the windows of aggiornamento John XXIII memorably invited the church to open.  Others may long to restore the clericalism and papalism of the pre-Vatican II era.
            But mostly, the apologists for the popes discussed strike me simply as people who find the truth too painful to confront. Rather than admit the failings of these popes, they prefer to attack the bearers of the bad news, often viciously. Ironically, their furious denial of the disease makes a cure less likely. But, fortunately, in many quarters of the Roman Catholic Church, including the papacy itself, a reassessment of the traditional “teaching of contempt” has proceeded nonetheless, with results that all should applaud.
            For such Catholics, critical examination of the papacy is tantamount to an attack on the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. One must acknowledge that some writers on the left do use the history of Catholic anti-Semitism to score unfair points against the Catholic Church.  However, for professional historians, it is history, not ecclesiology, that is at stake in their research; this crucial point, to the dismay of the guild of professional historians, has yet to be grasped by papal apologists.  Instead, the apologists have circled the wagons around the twentieth century Pope Piuses.  Unfortunately, with a well-established history of an antisemitic papacy, and a pope whose wartime conduct is legitimately in dispute, the apologists have chosen the weakest imaginable front to defend.  The papal apologist, like one whistling in the dark, will insist that the papal wars, especially the “Pius War,” have been won. Yet, the shrillness and lack of decency with which the apologists respond to professional historians suggests that they protest too much.  Their nastiness is a symptom of fear that those debates have been lost—and that this loss portends further losses in the ecclesiological and cultural spheres.[17]         
            Kevin Madigan is Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University.                     

[1] Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2011.
[2] Civiltà Cattolica 4 (Rome, 1880): 109-110.  Oreglia was one of the Jesuit journal’s founders and most active contributors.
[3] “We Remember” may be found at the Vatican website:
[4] See, e.g., Marc Saperstein, “An Indictment:  Half Right,” in Commonweal 128/16 (September 28, 2001):19-21.  Kertzer responds convincingly in a letter to Commonweal  121/20 (November 23, 2001): 28.

[5] See, e.g., Ronald Ryclak’s review, “Spins of Omission: A Review of the Popes against the Jews,” in Crisis Magazine (March/April, 2002), written with wanton cruel personal spite. His Hitler, the War and the Pope, the vade-mecum of papal apologists, was brought out in 2000 by Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic weekly with a book publishing arm.  Like Lawler, Rychlak is not an historian; he is a professor of law at the University of Mississippi.  While praised by fellow apologists for his trial-lawyer approach, Rychlak’s forensic dichotomies and false alternatives of good and evil (Pius XII: Hitler’s Pope or Righteous Saint?) cannot illuminate the complexities of lived history, which must almost always be painted in shades of gray. 

[6] Were the Popes against the Jews?, ix.
[7]Doino’s work makes one wonder why Lawler would want to rely on him to the exclusion of professional—and vastly more comprehensive—historians.  For powerful and persuasive posts on these apologists, their bullying of professional historians and their lack of basic decency and good manners (especially for those accustomed to Catholic norms of discourse), see Dr. Paul O’Shea at and
[8] These verbs are used countless times.  A typical example occurs in Were the Popes against the Jews, p. 193, where Lawler asks plaintively “why Catholic commentators seem so eager to reconstruct and even doctor texts”?
[9] Quoted in Lawler, Were the Popes against the Jews, p. 52.
[10]On del Val, see Hubert Wolf, Pope and Devil:  The Vatican Archives and the Third Reich, trans. by K. Kronenberg (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2010), esp. Chapter 2.  On the basis of thousands of units of archival research, Wolf speaks convincingly, if chillingly of “echoes of völkisch interpretations” (106) in de Val’s thought.

[11] Earlier Lawler had referred to “the most blatant distortion of Ratti’s ipsissima verba [“very words” or “own words”] in the entire book (169 n. 30).
[12] Here are the Pope’s exact words: “Ho ricevuto, proprio in questi giorni, il 36° volume, della biblioteca anti-religiosa russa. Sotto c’è anche l’avversione anti-cristiana del giudaismo. Quando io ero a Varsavia, vidi che in tutti i reggimenti bolscevichi, il commissario civile o la commissaria erano ebrei. In Italia, tuttavia, gli ebrei fanno eccezione. Ho avuto — un tempo — dimestichezza col vecchio Massarani, che era il padrone di Balsamo Monzese, e che dotò la chiesa del paese di una Via Crucis; con Elia Lattes e sono stato anche scolaro del rabbino di Milano, da Fano, Quando volli penetrare certe ‘nuances’ della lingua ebraica” (Documenti Diplomatici Italiani, Series 7, 11:205 [Roma : Libreria dello Stato, 1952-2007]).

[13] Lawler also denies that that anti-semitic articles were published Civiltà Cattolica with papal approval—and this despite recent archival discoveries indicating requests from the pope, as well as the secretary of state.  Lawler also argues, preposterously, that Civiltà Cattolica was simply repeating what its writers heard in the ambient culture.  Even if true, how would that excuse Jesuit writers and editors and Vatican officials from the charge of antisemitism?  Equally ludicrous—risible, actually—is Lawler’s suggestion that a multi-decade campaign of dozens of anti-Semitic articles were issues about which the popes were not happy but powerless to stop.
[14]Regrettably, Rychlak’s tonality is remarkably like Lawler’s.  Almost standing in judgment of one who is by far his professional superior, Rychlak says of Kertzer’s book, e.g.,:  he “contorts an interview given to a French journalist...Kertzer is not delving into history here; he is advancing a thesis. He does not weigh the evidence impartially but tries to make it fit his theory. In a strategy remarkably similar to that of Cornwell [associating any author with Cornwell, author of the widely-discredited Hitler’s Pope, is a common guilt-by-association ploy of papal negationists] in his book on Pius XII Kertzer takes some selected quotes from a letter written by Monsignor Ratti before he became Pope Pius XI, notes some uncomfortable language, and, on this foundation, attempts to build his case that the future pope was a lifelong anti-Semite” (“Spins of Omission,” emphasis added). Note that virulently anti-Semitic language has been downgraded to merely “uncomfortable.”


[16] First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion & Public Life, 142 (April 2004):18-24.
[17] Finally, I must respond briefly to Lawler’s observation that I both praise Kertzer’s work and am enthusiastic over the pope whom Kertzer exposed as being at heart another anti-Semite” (“Two Popes, One Holocaust” Commentary 130/5 [December 2010]: 27-32.  See Were the Popes against the Jews? p. 188).   That is so grossly uninflected a caricature of what I wrote, it would take pages justly to rectify.  Most importantly is Lawler’s willingness to overlook the distinction I make as early as the first page of my article between Ratti’s early career and his last year as pope.  “In terms of his attitudes to Jews and Judaism, Pius was, at the start of his service to the Vatican, no saint” (28).  I dwell on his Pius’ XI’s “moral evolution,” his acceptance of “deplorable and dangerous anti-Semitic stereotypes” (28), his unwillingness to condemn violence against Polish Jews by Catholics, his clinging to anti-Semitic biases, like “Judaeo-Bolshevism” even as pope, a slowness in responding to the lethal consequences of Nazi antisemitism (29) and so on.  I only observe that in his last year of his life did he begin to feel that Nazism was an anti-Catholic heresy and that he planned a speech against it, which he could not deliver before he died.  With these distinctions in place, one can, contrary to Lawler, “have it both ways.”  I stand by my enthusiasm for Kertzer and for Pius’s late but morally clear revulsion of Nazism.  Lawler correctly observes that I misdated by three months Pius’ famous remark affirming that, spiritually, Christians were semites; I regret the error. Lawler’s remark on p. 187 that it was “quite clear [for Madigan] that Pacelli was indeed Hitler’s pope is such a shining example of Lawler’s bad faith, it hardly deserves a response.  Readers interested in my actual views may access my review of Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope at

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