On this day in 1942, 75 years ago exactly, Dutch Carmelite priests Titus Brandsma died in the Dachau concentration camp. 22 years ago, in 1985, he was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II, and now, as his life and death are commemorated in his native Fryslân, as well as in Oss and Nijmegen, where he lived and worked, we may ask when he will be canonised.
The main thrust in that process, it turns out, comes from America, where, in 2004, a Carmelite priest was diagnosed with an advanced form of skin cancer. Members of his order in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as parishioners of St. Jude’s in that city, prayed for the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma for Father Michael Driscoll. After ten years of intermittent treatment and observation, Fr. Driscoll was dismissed by his doctors. He was clear of cancer cells.
In July of 2016 Bishop Gerald Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach opened the diocesan inquiry into the presumed miracle. Following this inquiry, in which all evidence, such as medical records, eyewitness accounts and testimonies will be collected and investigated, the case will advance to Rome, where the Congregation of Causes of Saints will once more look at the evidence and advise the Pope on whether a miracle has really occured and Blessed Titus Brandsma should be declared a saint.
Titus Brandsma was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis as one of several measures against the resistance of the Dutch Catholic Church, who protested the persecution of Jews and others in Germany and the countries they had occupied. His canonisation would underline the importance of free speech and the fight against hate, injustice and basic human dignity.
A unique remembrance in Munich today, of the only priestly ordination that took place in a Nazi concentration camp, today exactly 70 years ago. Karl Leisner, a deacon arrested in 1939, was ordained in Dachau by the bishop of Clermont, who also happened to be imprisoned there. From the website of the Archdiocese of München und Freising comes this bio:
“Karl Leisner, born on 28 February 1915 in Rees am Niederrhein, was already a deacon when he was arrested in 1939 for critical comments against the National Socialists, and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1940, and later to Dachau. In 1942, because of the hardships in the camp, Leisner’s pulmonary disease arose again and in 1944 he was seriously ill. Josefa Mack, a 20-year-old nurse in training and postulant with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, visited the archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, on 7 december 1944 and received from him the holy oils and other items required for the ordination. Via an imprisoned priest who had to sell produce from his herb garden in a concentration camp store, Mack brought the objects into the camp. Other detainees had made the staff, ring and mitre for Bishop Piguet in the workshops where they were made to work.
In the chapel in Block 26, Leisner was ordained in secret on 17 December 1944 and on 26 December 1944 he celebrated his first and only Holy Mass. After the liberation of Dachau in 1945, Leisner was brought to the sanatorium of the Sisters of Mercy near Planegg, where he died on 12 August 1945. Pope John Paul II beatified him on 23 June 1996.”
The bishop who ordained Blessed Karl Leisner was the bishop of Clermont, France; Msgr. Gabriel Piguet, who would survive Dachau and is now honoured as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. He saved Jewish families by issuing false Baptism certificates. He died in 1952.
Karl Leisner was beatified together with Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg, also a victim of the Nazis, who died en route to Dachau in 1943. In his homily for the beatification, Pope St. John Paul II said:
“Christ is life: that was the conviction that Karl Leisner lived and ultimately died for. His entire life he had sought the closeness of Christ in prayer, in daily Scripture readings and in meditation. And he ultimately found this closeness in a special way in the Eucharistic encounter with the Lord, the Eucharistic sacrifice, which Karl Leisner was able to celebrate as a priest after his ordination in the Dachau concentration camp, which was for him not only an encounter with the Lord and source of strength for his life. Karl Leisner also knew: he who lives with Christ, enters into the community of fate with the Lord. Karl Leisner and Bernhard Lichtenberg are not witnesses of death, but witnesses of life: a life that transcends death. They are witnesses for Christ, who is life and who came so that we may have life and have it to the full (cf. John 10:10). In a culture of death both gave testimony of life.”
Today’s memorial service brings together the archbishop of München und Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx with the current archbishop of Clermont, Msgr. Hippolyte Simon and the bishop of Münster, Msgr. Felix Genn, who is the protector of the Internationalen Karl-Leisner-Kreises and whose predecessor, Blessed Bishop Clemens von Galen, ordained Blessed Karl to the diaconate.
Following recent and fairly sudden signs of increasing antisemitism in both the Netherlands and other western countries, the Dutch bishops have issued a statement condemning any hate against Jewish and other people.
“Both in and beyond our Dutch society there is – as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas – an increase in displays of hatred against Jews. The Catholic bishops of the Netherlands, categorically denouncing hatred against Jews, feel obliged to once again strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism.”
This clearly refers to that shining moment in World War II, when the Dutch bishops stood up against the Nazi treatment of the Jewish inhabitants of the Netherlands. This in turn led , among other things, to the death of Blessed Titus Brandsma (whose feast day we marked last Sunday) in Dachau concentration camp. The bishops continue:
“It cannot be that people who (for many centuries) have been an inalienable part of our society now feel unsafe and unwanted. The incomprehensible and appalling tragedy of the Holocaust in the Second World War has made it more than clear what hate against Jews can lead to.
For us Christians the fact also matters that the Jews are our older brothers and sisters in the faith in the one God, Father and Creator of all men. Our Church’s bond with the Jews and Judaism is unbreakable and can’t be given up. Our Lord Jesus Christ was a Jew and we Christians come forth from the Jewish people. Pope Francis recently said, not without reason, “You can’t be a true Christian without acknowledging your Jewish roots” (interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia).
We acknowledge the rights of both Jewish and Palestinians to live in their own state, safely and in peace. The current war between Hamas and Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict are very complex matters. We consider it necessary for a lasting peace that those Jews and Palestinians who fight each other or see each other as enemies, end combat and start working together to build up countries which can live in peace with one another, as a blessing for coming generations and the entire world. We pray for peace for the Holy Land, the Middle East and our entire world. We also pray that every person will know he is safe and wanted in both our country and all other countries. After all, we are all – Jews, Christians, Muslims and all people – God’s creatures, called to life by Him out of love, to live together as His children.
On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands:
+ Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk,
President of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference
+ Hermanus W. Woorts,
Chair of the Bishops’ Conference department for Church and Judaism”
Although this is an issue which, in part, specifically concerns Dutch society, equal condemnation should be given to the even stronger displays of hatred against people for their religion in all parts of the world, not least the Christians in IS-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, the warring parties in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Muslims and Christians and the Central African republic… I could go on. Where politicians drop the ball, the bishops and all members of Church and society should be ready to pick it up.
Yesterday I watched a movie befitting the national day of remembrance we mark every May the 4th in the Netherlands. Sarah’s Key deals with a journalist investigation into the fate of a French Jewish girl whose family used to live in the house she and her husband have just bought. The girl’s entire family was deported to and killed in the Polish death camps, but of the girl and her brother there is no trace in the records. A story, therefore, about a girl who was deemed unwanted, but fought and managed to survive her would-be captors and murderers’ efforts to see her dead.
One storyline deals with the lead character’s unexpected pregnancy. As she and her husband have tried for years to conceive and are now somewhat older than the average first-time parents, there is some conflict about what to do. She wants to keep the child, he pushes for abortion.
In a movie about the Holocaust this is an extremely poignant topic. The one lies in the past, the other is very current, but both are centered around death. Public opinion about the Holocaust is, rightly, one of horror and unanimous rejection, but abortion is extremely well-accepted in modern society: it is a medical procedure and an expression about a person’s control over and right to her own body. Or so many genuinely believe.
But put both side by side and compare them: the Holocaust was the conscious and wilful murder of persons that some decided were unwanted, not worthy of life and without a place in their world order. Abortion is the wilful killing of an unborn person that one or more people have decided is not wanted, should not be allowed to burden other’s lives and has no place in their world.
There may be seemingly mitigating circumstances in many cases of abortion, but those guilty of the Holocaust would have said the very same thing. “We had no choice, we were under orders, what could I do?” Today we hear, “I can’t take care of a child, there is no place for a child in my life at this moment, I have no choice.” And so human lives are daily sacrificed to other people’s rights, choices and (perceived) limitations.
When talking about the Holocaust we do not accept this: the murder of countless people is not suddenly alright because others wanted to exercise their rights or choices, and not even because they were forced to. The murders are not suddenly okay.
The same should be true when we talk about abortion (and, for that matter, euthanasia). Murder is never alright. Mitigating circumstances don’t make it so. It is certainly never a clinical procedure, an industry as the Holocaust was in the past, and abortion is today.
Remembering the dead, as we did yesterday in this country, must never be a safe ritual which only refers to the past. There are organisations which rightly emphasise that many of the atrocities we remember still happen today in other parts of the world. But we are not exempt from that realisation. In our society there is also still a Holocaust taking place every day: a Holocaust against the unborn.
And those unborn are persons, just like the Jews and other unwanted persons during the Holocaust never stopped being persons. Many would wish it so, but there is no magical transition during birth which make a fetus a person. A person is a person is a person from the get go. Killing a person is never alright, never a medical procedure, never an industry.
A short post to draw attention to Rorate Caeli, who present what is presumably the first English translation of a groundbreaking Dutch text… from 70 years ago. It is the pastoral letter written by the Dutch bishops on July 20 1942, and scheduled to be read out from all pulpits on the following 26th of July. In it, the bishops condemn “the persecution of the Jews and the unfortunate lot of those who are sent to work in foreign countries”.
Go, read the text at Rorate Caeli. Rumours that the Church, local and worldwide, never spoke out against the Holocaust are, as this letter may indicate, simply untrue.
On the last day of the first year of this blog’s existence, I think it’s nice to do what everyone and their dog is doing: offering an overview of the year gone by. I’ll present the ten most popular blog posts by page view, much like the monthly stats I’ve been sharing here (December’s statistics will follow tomorrow, once December is actually over).
It is clear that a blogger can’t do without a network. The top-scoring posts have reached so many viewers not only because of their topics, but to a large extent thanks to people who have linked to them. And to be honest, it is something of a feather in one’s cap if a noted blogger like Fr. Tim shares something one has written.
So, without any further ado, here’s my list:
1: Pornography or art? (17,630 views). A link from a Polish news-gathering website to this post about alleged pornography found on Belgian Cardinal Danneels’ computer (seized during the illegal police raid on his home) resulted in the largest peak in visitors this blog has yet seen. It also resulted in some discussion, here and on Twitter, about the photo itself. Some did not consider it disturbing in itself, but I maintained that the that, since it can apparently so easily be considered child pornography, there is something rotten going on regardless.
2:What to do about the sacrilege displayed in Obdam? (1,153 views). A news item that made headlines in Catholic blogs and news sites across the world, and which led to serious discussion on my blog as well. It was one of the first times that I decided to call for specific action in my blog, suggesting people contact Father Paul Vlaar and/or Bishop Jos Punt to relate their concerns. Many people, among them parishioners from Obdam chimed in in support of Fr. Vlaar, but many others tried to clearly express why a football Mass, no matter how much fun it is, has no place in the Catholic Church.
3: “The Belgian Church has been too passive” (1,022 views). Thanks to a link from Father Tim Finigan, my translation of an old interview with the new archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Msgr. André-Joseph Léonard, gave my blog the first considerable peak in visitor traffic. Archbishop Léonard has continued to be a considerable presence in the blog throughout the year, certainly not least due to the abuse crisis, which continues to hit Belgium particularly hard.
4: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution(975 views). Another translated interview, this with Msgr. Georg Gänswein about Pope Benedict XVI. Msgr. Gänswein’s popularity can be considered the main reason for this post’s popularity,but perhaps many readers also wish to know about the man in white. And who better to tell them that than the Holy Father’s personal secretary?
5: A diocesan statement about Fr. Paul Vlaar (859 views). Continuing the saga surrounding Obdam and Fr. Vlaar’s football Mass, the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam released an official statement in a very bad English translation. I re-translated the short piece, which was once more quite seriously covered across the world (the statement itself, not my translation).
6: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie – onofficiële vertaling (606 views). My first serious translation – of Msgr. Guido Marini’s address at the Clergy Conference in Rome – garnered much attention. A summarised version was published in the bulletin of the Dutch Latin Liturgy Society, and of all of my translations this has been the most popular. Not too shabby for a blog which is pretty much all in English.
7: In memoriam: Bishop Tadeusz Ploski (574 views). The tragedy of the plane crash that killed much of Poland’s government and military officials led me to write something about on of the clergymen killed. Many people, from Poland and elsewhere, found their way to that post via search engines. A blog post, therefore, that seemingly fulfilled a need for many.
8: Het probleem Medjugorje (486 views). My translation of an interview with Fr. Manfred Hauke, expert on apparitions and the Blessed Virgin, about the dubious events that led to the popular pilgrimage to Medjugorje, led not only to a considerable number of views, but also discussion. It is a topic that many people feel passionate about, and like the abuse crisis and the form of liturgy, it is often hard to have a balanced discussion about it. And, I admit, perhaps I was a bit in over my head as well when sharing this topic. A blogger, after all, has some responsibility to write about what he knows.
9: Under the Roman Sky (366 views). A very short post with the trailer to a film about the Holocaust in Rome and the role of Pope Pius XII in that. I still need to see it, by the way, and many others are interested as well, it seems. The false accusations that Venerable Pius XII was a Nazi collaborator are very persistent, and I still hope that this film can, in some small way, help to dispel those rumours.
10:The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (320 views). A report of some personal experiences of mine, when I visited St. Agnes’ church in Amsterdam for a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, presided over by Archbishop François Bacqué, the nuncio to the Netherlands. An event that is still remarkable enough that it triggered some considerable attention. The website of the FSSP-run St. Agnes linked to my post, and they may be thanked as well for the traffic it received.
All in all, this first year has not at all been bad for my blog. Of course, there is always the pressure of time, especially now that I have a job as a teacher and a girlfriend to devote time to. For 2011, I hope to continue posting regularly about the things that happen in the Catholic Church worldwide and especially in the Low Countries.
Bild publishes an interview with Msgr. Georg Gänswein today. The topic: Pope Benedict XVI. Msgr Gänswein reflects on the past, the media, the abuse crisis and the Holy Father’s personality.
By SARAH DANIEL MAJORCZYK
Five years ago, a German Catholic was elected head of the Catholic Church. Next week Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate his official anniversary.
Bild speaks to the man who knows the pope best: his private secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein.
Bild: Msgr. Gänswein, you accompanied the pope every day for the past five years. What was the best moment to be at his side?
Msgr. Gänswein: There has been a string of beautiful moments. I especially remember the early days: the election in the Sistine Chapel, the procession into the Apostolic Palace, the first audiences and travels – they are all unforgettable. And every day there are new beautiful moments.
Bild: Have there also been difficult moments for you?
Msgr. Gänswein: For me personally the start was a great challenge: the mass of letters, requests for audiences, invitations were almost too much for me. The whole world knocks at the door, and I asked myself: How do I deal with that? What do I send on, what not? I felt as if I were in the shower and could not find the lever to stop the water. My inner tranquility was at risk, but I had to maintain it to the outside.
Bild: Has the pope been able to successfully implement what he wanted?
Msgr. Gänswein: A pope does not begin with a program of government which he then works to implement. Above all he is a witness of faith, he places himself in the line of successors of St. Peter, and he has to fulfill the task he is given. He has clearly formulated this task in the homily in St. Peter’s Square when he took office: He is concerned with God, with the faith in Jesus Christ, with the Church, with people. Faith, hope and love are the pillars of his preaching. He who believes is not alone. He who has hope, lives differently. God is love. This trinity runs like a thread through the pope’s work in the past five years. In that the pope is not affected by either loud objections from the media or intimidation.
Bild: Has there been a moment which you consider a defeat?
Msgr. Gänswein: I wouldn’t speak call it defeat, but rather disappointment. I have experienced times when decisions or statements from the Holy Father were wrongly presented or even deliberately twisted. These have disappointed, even hurt me. I think of the case of Bishop Williamson: just when the pope had lifted the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Bishop Lefebrve, and then one of them denied the Holocaust. The one had nothing to do with the other, but it was a painful coincidence. The good intentions of the Holy Father were not just misheard, but totally misunderstood and used against him.
Bild: Is the Holy Father affected by the criticism from Germany, that he is silent on the current abuse crisis?
Msgr. Gänswein: Criticism that helps the matter is always justified. I doubt that criticism really has that intention in this case. Let it be noted: any form of sexual abuse is abhorrent and should be condemned. No one has done that as clearly as the Holy Father and the Catholic Church. And not just since yesterday, and not just with words. Benedict XVI has met with victims of abuse in America and Australia. The recent letter from the pope to the Catholics of Ireland takes as clear a position against the facts as never before. It is neither useful nor helpful if the pope makes personal excuses for every single case. The fact that individual bishops and bishops’ conference also bear responsibility is too readily overlooked. There are clear responsibilities to be taken into account and to be respected. Those who wish for papal words may read the very detailed pastoral letter to the Irish.
Bild: In Germany the number of Catholics has been dropping since the 1970s. Does that affect the Holy Father, even though as shepherd of the World Church he must look out for all countries in the world?
Msgr. Gänswein: Of course he is affected by what happens in Germany, and especially in Bavaria. Both the good and the bad. Additionally, he is also concerned about the crisis in faith. But on the other hand, one must not overlook the good which also in Germany grows and flourishes in the foundation of faith. As shepherd of the World Church he meets with bishops from all over the world every day, who report about their dioceses, and there he hears – thanks be to God – many good things. The bishops from Africa especially, speak of faith flourishing and many vocations to the priesthood and religious life there. To hear that is good for the soul.
Bild: The Holy Father once said that he experienced his election as a ‘guillotine’. How is he doing now in his office?
Msgr. Gänswein: The guillotine is a very harsh image. Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had a primarily defensive role; before anything else, he had to defend, deflect, take the coal out of the fire. As pope he has a lot more opportunities to also act offensively. The Holy Father is an excellent teacher, he has to gift of the word, he loves writing. He speaks clearly and intelligently. With his words he fills the heart.
Bild: If you had to name three characteristics that you appreciate in the pope, which would they be?
Msgr. Gänswein: Unyielding faith, humble strength, disarming mildness. His style is gentle, but he is rock solid in the execution.
Bild: You work very closely together. Is there anything that annoys you about the Holy Father?
Msgr. Gänswein: A close working relationship does not lead to annoyance. On the contrary, it removes it. Of course there are moments when the Holy Father needs to take a break because of great external pressure. I try to create space so he can catch his breath, to hold the pressure at bay, so that he can collect his strength. I must admit that I have never seen him in a bad mood, not as a cardinal and not as pope. He is always courteous and gentle towards people.
Only this week did I hear about an upcoming miniseries, titled Sotto il Cielo di Roma (Under the Roman Sky). It deals with the efforts of Venerable Pope Pius XII to protect the Jewish citizens of Rome from Nazi persecution. It stars James Cromwell as the Holy Father.
Could this be just what we need to deter the ongoing misguided reports about the non-action of this pope? Let’s hope so. If one man deserves that the truth of his life be told, it is Pius XII.
The Catholic News Agency reported earlier that Pope Benedict XVI watched the series last Friday. It is not yet know what he thought of it.
I am seeing tweets and media reports which claim that Pope Benedict XVI or his spokesperson (there seems to be disagreement) compared the current biased media reporting against the Church and the pope to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. Said media are tumbling over one another to be the first to spout their indignation at this comparison.
But what really happened? Zenit has the answer. The person making the comparison was Father Raneiro Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, and he made them during his Good Friday homily. Here is the passage in question:
“By a rare coincidence, this year our Easter falls on the same week of the Jewish Passover which is the ancestor and matrix within which it was formed. This pushes us to direct a thought to our Jewish brothers. They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms. I received in this week the letter of a Jewish friend and, with his permission, I share here a part of it.
“He said: “I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism. Therefore I desire to express to you personally, to the Pope and to the whole Church my solidarity as Jew of dialogue and of all those that in the Jewish world (and there are many) share these sentiments of brotherhood. Our Passover and yours undoubtedly have different elements, but we both live with Messianic hope that surely will reunite us in the love of our common Father. I wish you and all Catholics a Good Easter.””
Can you say ‘whoops’, media and twitter users? It was not the pope, nor Fr. Cantalamessa, but a Jewish friend of the latter who recognised the similarities. I can’t help but consider this yet another example of the failure of certain modern media outlets and its consumers to be objective and to think before they write.
I also see criticism from Catholic circles against Father Cantalamessa for using the passage from the letter in his homily. I am not entirely sure why that is so. Is it because it focusses the attention on a painful situation? Well, the media bias deserves to be called out. Is it because it sounds like the Church assuming the role of the victim? Perhaps, but that is not entirely unwarranted and does not say anything about the culpability of the Church or her officials in other cases. Or is it perhaps because Fr. Cantalamessa should have known that this passage would be picked up and distorted? Well, he obviously should have known (and who’s to say he didn’t?), but that in itself is not enough reason to keep quiet about it.
In the current climate of accusation and defence it is so very important to read carefully. It is us, the readers, who must make the distinction between fact and fiction, between objectivity and hype. Because we can no longer rely on the media to do it for us.
A very good defense of Pope Pius XII on the website of Israeli newspaper Haaretz yesterday. Emphases and notesmine.
by Dimitri Cavalli
Some things never go away. The controversy over Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II was recently reignited when Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree affirming that his predecessor displayed “heroic virtues” during his lifetime. When the pope visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on Sunday, Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome’s Jewish community, told him: “The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done.”
This was not the first time the wartime pope, who is now a step closer to beatification, has been accused of keeping silent during the Holocaust, of doing little or nothing to help the Jews, and even of collaborating with the Nazis. To what extent, if any, does the evidence back up these allegations, which have been repeated since the early 1960s?
On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, instructed the papal nuncio in Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policies.
On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an encyclical, entitled “Mit brennender Sorge” (“With Burning Anxiety”), that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church. The encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits on March 21, 1937.
Although many Vatican critics today dismiss the encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German foreign ministry, wrote that the “encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the state, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace.”
Both Great Britain and France should have interpreted the document as a warning that they should not trust Adolf Hitler or try to appease him.
After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased with the new pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: “Midday with the Fuehrer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli’s election as pope.”
During the war, the pope was far from silent: In numerous speeches and encyclicals, he championed human rights for all people and called on the belligerent nations to respect the rights of all civilians and prisoners of war. Unlike many of the pope’s latter-day detractors, the Nazis understood him very well. After studying Pius XII’s 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security Office concluded: “In a manner never known before the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order … Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.” (Pick up any book that criticizes Pius XII, and you won’t find any mention of this important report.)
In early 1940, the pope acted as an intermediary between a group of German generals who wanted to overthrow Hitler and the British government. Although the conspiracy never went forward, Pius XII kept in close contact with the German resistance and heard about two other plots against Hitler. In the fall of 1941, through diplomatic channels, the pope agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that America’s Catholics could support the president’s plans to extend military aid to the Soviet Union after it was invaded by the Nazis. On behalf of the Vatican, John T. McNicholas, the archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered a well-publicized address that explained that the extension of assistance to the Soviets could be morally justified because it helped the Russian people, who were the innocent victims of German aggression.
Throughout the war, the pope’s deputies frequently ordered the Vatican’s diplomatic representatives in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered Jews. Up until Pius XII’s death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: “It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews … The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance.” [Ironic, since many later did forget…]
The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him – that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews – with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation. [It shows the power of populaist theory. As long as it sound good, people will believe it, despite the evidence against it.]
Dimitri Cavalli is an editor and writer in New York City. He is working on books on both Pope Pius XII and Joe McCarthy, the late manager of the New York Yankees.