“Praised be” – Encyclical day is here

LaudatoSi-255x397So today is the big day. I’ve not seen such excitement for the launch of an encyclical, but, then again, I’ve only been around as a Catholic for four of them. But this time around, everyone has an opinion, in part because they’ve seen the leaked early draft of Laudato Si’*, but mostly because the encyclical’s topic is such a heavily politicised one. Especially on the American side of the Atlantic, I notice that the question of the environment, and especially global warming, is seen as inherently connected and opposed to questions of population control and, more often than not, economic concerns. The issue of the scientific validity of what Pope Francis is a distant third element of the opposition.

Are these concerns warranted? Will Laudato Si’ suddenly advocate population control to protect the environment? That would be highly unlikely, considering that Pope Francis has time and again spoken against such things as abortion, euthanasia and curtailing the rights of people, which would all be means to the end of population control. Will Pope Francis speak against economic concerns as the driving force in our lives and actions? That seems almost certain, at least if these concerns plunge others in poverty and destroy their environment. Pope Francis’ chief concerns do not lie with western multinationals or millionaires, but with the poor and marginalised of the world. He is all for the common good, but not at the expense of others, or of the environment in which we all live. And that is also the Catholic attitude,and not without reason has Pope Francis said that Laudato Si’ will lie fully within the whole of Catholic social teaching.

In the end, it all boils down to the Creation stories of Genesis, in which we learn that man’s place in Creation is that of a steward. Yes, he can make use of what the world offers, but also has a duty to maintain it and not exploit or destroy it. Man is a part of Creation. He is not separate. If we destroy or exploit the world around us, we ultimately destroy ourselves. God has given us a world to live in and care for.

Are the concerns we hear against a major focus on the environment without any basis then? Not if our environmental concerns overshadow the care we must have for the people in our society and in other societies across the world. We must balance these concerns.

In the end, Laudato Si’ will be a document that needs to be read positively. It wants to invite us to act towards the betterment of ourselves and all of creation,not force us to stop and change what is good about our use of the environment.

*As an aside, this encyclical will be the first one since 1937 not to have an official Latin title. Encyclicals are titled after their opening words,which in this case happen to come from Saint Francis’ Caticle of the Sun,which was written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian. In 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge in German, as it was directed against the Nazi dictatorship in Germany.

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Much-maligned pontiff

A very good defense of Pope Pius XII on the website of Israeli newspaper Haaretz yesterday. Emphases and notes mine.

Much-maligned pontiff

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.