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Saturday, December 19, 2009

How not to be a saint

I've seen in the news that Pius XII is a bit closer to sainthood. I feel obliged to say that I don't think Pius XII should be made a saint, due to his response (or lack thereof) to the Holocaust.

The opinions of his supporters, though, can be summed up in this bit from B16 ....

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday backed the beatification of World War II Pope Pius XII, saying he spared no effort in "the defence of the persecuted, with no distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political affiliation." Pope Benedict said his predecessor operated during a "complex historical moment" and "often acted in secret and in silence" but spared no effort in "the defence of the persecuted, with no distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political affiliation", The Age reports. "In light of the real situations of this complex historical moment, he sensed this was the only way to avoid the worst and save the greatest possible number of Jews," Pope Benedict said at a Mass to mark the 50th anniversay of Pius XII' death.

I disagree with Benedict. There are indeed differing opinions on how Pius handled the Holocaust - one thing I think is disturbing, however, is that documentation from the Vatican on what happened during Pius' time as pope just never seems to come available. An example is that of the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission ....

The International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission was a body appointed by the Holy See's Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in 1999. With three Jewish and three Catholic scholars, the group evaluated the 11 volumes of the Vatican's wartime documents devoted to Pope Pius XII .... In October 2000, the group issued a preliminary report with 47 questions on the Vatican's response to the Holocaust .... after failing to gain access to the Vatican archives after 1923, the group disbanded amid controversy. Unsatisfied with the findings, Dr. Michael Marrus, one of the three Jewish members of the Commission, said the commission "ran up against a brick wall.... It would have been really helpful to have had support from the Holy See on this issue." ....

We may never know all there is to know about Pius and the Holocaust, but one thing we do know - he did not speak out publicly, did not condemn, did not take an official stance in the face of a terrible evil. I think he was wrong in that. Here below is most of an interesting article which brings up this issue .......


"Not Enough" vs. "Plenty": Which did Pius XII do?
Judaism, Fall, 200, by Berel Lang

[...] I would cite here specifically two examples of Pius XII's refusal to act--"refusal" rather than "failure" since the inaction was surely the result of conscious decisions. The first example goes unmentioned by Zuccotti [Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy] and Rychlak [Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews From the Nazis] in their discussions; both authors refer to the second example, but each finds a different turn in it than the one I suggest. Even in a world where moral ambiguity is granted an unavoidable place, both these acts of omission seem straightforwardly wrong; this is the case even when the acts are defended, as they typically are and have been, by strong prudential or instrumental arguments.

The first of these omissions is the fact that not once in the twelve years of Nazi rule or in the six years of World War II did the Pope use the instrument or even the threat of excommunication against leaders of the Nazi regime or against their subordinates or against their accomplices inside and outside Germany; this was the case although many of these perpetrators and the populace at large who took their cues from them were raised as Catholics and maintained their identities as Catholics at the same time that they were participating in or abetting the Nazi "project." The possibility of excommunication was an instrument directly in the Pope's control; he did not require an army to issue or enforce it, he did not have to capture the people who would be affected by the decision; he could have acted by words alone. And indeed, only a few years after World War II ended (1 July 1949), he did exactly this in a blanket condemnation of Communism and of those of its adherents who mistakenly believed that their polit ical allegiance was compatible with a commitment to Catholicism; those adherents, he warned, would have to make a choice: Either/Or. Yet during the years leading up to and then of the "Final Solution" he refused to take any such action with respect to the Nazis themselves or to their accomplices even in heavily Catholic countries like Poland, France, Hungary, or Italy itself

Any explanation must remain speculative as to why Pius XII, who from the time of his Munich years as papal nuncio beginning in 1917 was a fierce and open enemy of Bolshevism, would wait until the post-War period before ordering the excommunication of "Catholic" Communist adherents. One point in particular seems clear in this connection: that by the time he issued that condemnation, there was no "present" need or indeed possibility of fulminating against those who assumed a compatibility between Nazism and Catholicism. Could that fact have influenced the delay in reaching that decision? Speculation yields at most probabilities, but it is more than only a matter of speculation that Pius XII viewed Nazism as a "lesser evil" than Bolshevism; once that distinction is recognized in his thinking, it becomes an unavoidable, if not always decisive, element in understanding or explaining any of his actions (or inactions) that bear on the Nazi regime.

The refusal to deny to Nazis and their collaborators the sanctuary of the Church by way of excommunication becomes still more notable in light of Pius XII's awareness (at the time) of Nazi responsibility not only for Jewish victims in the death camps but for murder, in and out of the camps, committed against Catholics-including among the latter, priests of the Church in a number estimated now to have been in the thousands, most of these in Poland but extending to other countries, including Germany, as well. If the act of excommunication was not mandated in this setting, it is difficult to imagine what circumstances could ever command its application.

Against this charge, the standard argument from prudence--that if the Pope had availed himself of this means (more than just speaking out) , he would have made things worse than they were- seems at once mistaken and irrelevant. Mistaken, because however the Nazi hierarchy might have intensified its racist campaign as a consequence of such action (how, one asks, could that have been made "worse" than it was?) or turned more openly against the Vatican itself, the contrary effect on the passive acceptance by hundreds of millions of European Catholics would almost certainly have been substantial. No doubt Hitler himself; though born to a Catholic household, would have been undeterred by excommunication--but this does not mean that his being excommunicated would have made no difference to those still professing Catholics who were Hitler's followers and collaborators. The argument from prudence on this point is also, it seems-even if, contrary to the fact, one granted its force-irrelevant, and only in part because prudential arguments are as such always to some extent morally irrelevant. If individuals can be called on (by the Church, among others) to sacrifice practical interests in the name of principles or ideals, would it be too much to propose the same expectation for the Church itself?

A second instance of the moral refusal of an obligation provides the title for Susan Zuccotti's book-what Pius XII refused to do at the time of the roundup of Jews in Rome on October 16, 1943. One point here remains inexplicable, quite apart from any judgment of the act itself: the failure of the Vatican, which almost certainly knew of the impending roundup before it happened, to convey a warning to the Rome Jewish community-a warning that would have allowed them to go into hiding. It is difficult even to imagine a plausible explanation for this omission; the hypothesis that fear of being held accountable for such warning prevented it would itself condemn as much as it explains. A still more notable breach in moral terms, however, is the fact that once the roundup took place--"under the very windows of the Pope" in the words of Ernst von Weizsacker, the German Ambassador to the Holy See-and with the trains waiting to deport more than a thousand Roman Jews (the "Pope's Jews") to Auschwitz, not a single public word of protest was uttered then or subsequently by the Pope himself.

Soon after the event, then, Weizsacker could, accurately and in good conscience, report back to Berlin that the Pope "has not allowed himself to be carried away making any demonstrative statements against deportation of the Jews... he has done all he could... not to prejudice relationships with the German government." (3) Once again, the argument from prudence surfaces here among the Pope's defenders, principally, the threat uttered by Hitler to occupy Vatican City and to take the Pope prisoner: Would not this have been sufficient reason for a muted response, for resorting to "silent diplomacy" rather than open opposition? Putting aside the substantial question of just how active the alleged "silent diplomacy" in fact was, we may well in this context ask an alternate question: Is there no moment imaginable when the Vatican and the Pope himself should be willing to place themselves, even their lives, at risk? One dare not speak for anyone else or perhaps even for oneself of an obligation to choose martyrdom. B ut there was no reason for anyone to believe that the Nazis had in mind literal martyrdom for Pius XII-and why should something less than that (or even for that matter, in reference to the spiritual leader of the Church, that?) stand itself as a sufficient reason for silence and acquiescence? One would have thought that, so far as concerns the Church, the question had been long answered of whether man had been made for the laws or the laws for man.

Let me, in summary, propose an analogy--something like a parable--for the disagreement between "not enough" and "plenty" as these measurements are applied to Pius XII's role in the Holocaust: Imagine that a person who is morally conscientious, after much grappling and reflection, arrives at a policy about giving charity. He or she contributes a good deal, more than a tithe; he or she also spends considerable amount of time working for good causes. And then, having decided on the various amounts and means of giving, the person decides, quite reasonably, that those contributions taken together are the maximum possible, given all the other responsibilities and obligations to family and self that the person has. In other words, a limit has been reached--a generous and more than reasonable one, but still a limit: this much and no more. Then one morning, that person opens the front door to pick up the morning paper-and finds a stray young child sitting on the steps: ragged, emaciated, weak with hunger, obviously wi th no resources. Here the person has a choice between two courses of action: to apply the reasoned conclusions conscientiously arrived at about the limits of charity and time--and so to pick up the paper and shut the door. Or to bring the child inside, overturning a policy so thoughtfully arrived at and thus risking the consequences. Which, you-the reader-are asked to judge, is the right thing to do?

BEREL LANG is Professor of Humanities at Trinity College (Hartford). He is the author, among other books, of Heidegger's Silence (1996) and Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide (1990). His article, "Translating the Holocaust: For Whom Does One Write?," appeared in the Summer 1999 issue.



Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I must admit that the article is very persuasive. I would have to say that at minimum the "burden of explanation" is on the Vatican.

I've been willing to give Rome the benefit of the doubt, not knowing how much Pius XII really did behind the scenes, and not being privy to communications between Germany and the Vatican. But with forces now pushing for his canonization, it seems obvious that the wider Church needs an explanation, if not our Jewish friends. He should not be declared a saint when so many doubts (at best) remain.

11:00 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

Yes, from what little I've read, I do feel the burden is on the Vatican, but sadly they don't seem interested in resolving any doubts by providing information.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Of course not a few fail to point out that it was the KGB's attempt to smear the memory of Pope Pius XII -a saintly man who also did more to save Jewish lives than every nation in the world at that time combined- which is at the basis of the attempted "critical scholarship" of the late pope:

KGB and the plot to taint ‘Nazi pope’

Consider for example he assessments of Pius' contemporaries and in the immediate aftermath of his death:

Too many people today take for granted a complete falsification of actual history and thereby become useful idiots for old communist KGB propaganda. Indeed, when the smear campaign started in 1963 (Hockhuth's play first premiered in February of 1963), Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini -formerly the personal secretary of Pope Pius XII from 1939-1954 and later elected as Pope Paul VI- wrote an editorial in the English paper "The Tablet" which was published about a month before he was elected pope. I will post the full text of Cardinal Montini's June 29, 1963 letter in a follow up to this posting in the interest of correcting the historical record.

Hopefully you will take some time to review the links above, the letter about to be posted, and seriously reconsider what you think you know about the actions of the late pope. Remember also that history as well as a proper appreciation of it requires one to not view others from previous eras through the lenses of what is considered the contemporary orthodoxy but instead in the contexts of their own eras. That is the only way anyone in history will ever receive a verdict by subsequent generations that can genuinely be considered just. As I see it, is good that the "righteous gentile" Eugenio Pacelli will at long last be recognized for his heroic virtues.

"We know very well that all of our words, all of our intentions, can be misinterpreted and twisted through political propaganda." [Pope Pius XII (circa December 24, 1946)]

1:09 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

I have to post this in two parts due to character limits. Nonetheless...


Dear Sir,

It gave me much pleasure to read the article entitled "Pius XII and the Jews," which appeared in your excellent periodical on May llth, 1963: it was a most welcome defence not only of Pope Pius XII, of venerated memory, and of the Holy See, but also of historical truth and sound logic, not to speak of common- sense.

It is not my intention here to examine the question raised by the author and the producer, Rolf Hochhuth and Erwin Piscator respectively, of the play Der Stellvertreter ("The Vicar"): namely, whether it was Pius XII's duty to condemn in some public and spectacular way the massacres of the Jews during the last war. Much, to be sure, might still be said on this point, even after the very clear and cogent article in L'Osservatore Romano of April 5th; for the thesis of Herr Hochhuth's play that, to quote Mr. George Steiner's review in the Sunday Times of May 5th, "We are all accomplices to that which leaves us indifferent" bears no relation whatever to the personality or the work of Pope Pius XII.

I cannot myself conceive how anyone could bring such a charge (let alone make it the subject of a play) against a Pontiff who might well, had he wished, have declared with a clear conscience to the whole world: "No effort on our part was lacking, nothing that anxious solicitude could suggest was left untried to prevent the horrors of mass deportation and exile; and when despite our just expectations this proved impossible, we set ourselves to do everything in our power to mitigate, at least, the cruelties of a state of affairs imposed by brute force." But history a very different thing from suchartificial manipulation of facts to fit a preconceived idea as we see in Der Stellvertreter will vindicate the conduct of Pius XII when confronted by the criminal excesses of the Nazi regime: history will show how vigilant, persistent, disinterested and courageous that conduct must be judged to have been, when viewed in its true context, in the concrete conditions of that time.

For my part I conceive it my duty to contribute to the task of clarifying and purifying men's judgment on the historical reality in question so distorted in the representational pseudo-reality of Hochhuth's play by pointing out that the character given to Pius XII in this play (to judge from the reviews in the Press) does not represent the man as he really was: in fact, it entirely misrepresents him. I am in a position to assert this because it was my good fortune to be drawn into close contact with Pius XII during his pontificate, serving him day by day, from 1937, when he was still Secretary of State, to 1954: throughout, that is, the whole period of the world war.

To be continued…

1:13 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Continued from previous posting...


It is true that the precise scope of my duties did not include foreign affairs ("extraordinary" affairs, as they are called in the language of the Roman Curia) ; but Pius XITs goodness towards me personally, and the nature itself of my work as "Sostituto" in the Secretariat of State, gave me access to the mind and, I would add, to the heart of this great Pope. The image of Pius XII which Hochhuth presents, or is said to present, is a false one. For example, it is utterly false to tax Pius with cowardice: both his natural temperament and the consciousness that he had of the authority and the mission entrusted to him, speak clearly against such an accusation.

I could cite a host of particular facts to drive this point home, facts that would prove that the frail and gentle exterior of Pius XII, and the sustained refinement and moderation of his language, concealed if they did not, rather, reveal a noble and virile character capable of taking very firm decisions and of adopting, fearlessly, positions that entailed considerable risk.

Nor is it true that he was a heartless solitary. On the contrary, he was a man of exquisite sensibility and the most delicate human sympathies. True, he did love solitude: his richly cultivated mind, his unusual capacity for thought and study led him to avoid all useless distractions, every unnecessary relaxation; but he was quite the reverse of a man shut away from life and indifferent to people and events around him. Rather, it was his constant desire to be informed of everything. He wished to enter fully into the history of his own afflicted time: with a deep sense that he himself was a part of that history, he wished to participate fully in it, to share its sufferings in his own heart and soul.

Let me cite, in this connexion, the words of a well-qualified witness, Sir D'Arcy Osborne, the British Minister to the Holy See who, when the Germans occupied Rome, was obliged to live confined in the Vatican City. Writing to The Times on May 20th, Sir D'Arcy said: "Pius XII was the most warmly humane, kindly, generous, sympathetic (and, incidentally, saintly) character that it has been my privilege to meet in the course of a long life."

Again, it is not true to say that Pope Pius XITs conduct was inspired by a calculating political opportunism. It would be just as true and as slanderous to assert that his government of the Church was motivated by considerations of material advantage.

As for his omitting to take up a position of violent opposition to Hitler in order to save the lives of those minions of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis, this will be readily understood by anyone who avoids Hochhuth's mistake of trying to assess what could have been effectively and responsibly done then, in those appalling conditions of war and Nazi oppression, by the standard of what would be feasible in normal conditions or in some hypothetical conditions arbitrarily invented by a young playwright's imagination. An attitude of protest and condemnation such as this young man blames the Pope for not having adopted would have been not only futile but harmful: that is the long and the short of the matter. The thesis of Der Stellvertreter betrays an inadequate grasp of psychological, political and historical realities. But then the author was concerned above all to write an interesting play.

To be continued...

1:45 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Continued from previous posting...


Let us suppose that Pius XII had done what Hochhuth blames him for not doing. His action would have led to such reprisals and devastations that Hochhuth himself, the war being over and he now possessed of a better historical, political and moral judgment, would have been able to write another play, far more realistic and far more interesting than the one that he has in fact so cleverly but also so ineptly put together: a play, that is, about the Stellvertreter who, through political exhibitionism or psychological myopia, would have been guilty of unleashing on the already tormented world still greater calamities involving innumerable innocent victims, let alone himself.

It would be as well if the creative imagination of playwrights insufficiently endowed with historical discernment (and possibly, though please God it is not so, with ordinary human integrity) would forebear from trifling with subjects of this kind and with historical personages whom some of us have known. In the present case the real drama, and tragedy, is not what the playwright imagines it to be: it is the tragedy of one who tries to impute to a Pope who was acutely aware both of his own moral obligations and of historical reality and was moreover a very loyal as well as impartial friend to the people of Germany the horrible crimes of German Nazism.

Let some men say what they will, Pius XII's reputation as a true Vicar of Christ, as one who tried, so far as he could, fully and courageously to carry out the mission entrusted to him, will not be affected. But what is the gain to art and culture when the theatre lends itself to injustice of this sort?

With my sincere respects, devotedly yours,

Archbishop of Milan
Published in The Tablet
June 29, 1963


Cardinal Montini was elected pope on June 21, 1963.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

One last article for consideration:

A Question of Judgment: Pius XII & the Jews

By Dr. Joseph L. Lichten

2:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Well, I have to say that I disagree with you completely, but that's what makes horse races.

3:56 PM  

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