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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Hitler's Pope

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Hitler's Pope:


The beatification process has begun to  make Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) a saint. Aside  from whatever we might think about how saints  are created by the church as an institution, I  suspect everyone would agree that any saint  should have a reasonably spotless reputation.

John Henry Newman, a famous British convert  to Catholicism in the eighteenth century,  once wrote that “It is not good for a Pope to live  twenty years. It is an anomaly and bears no  good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to  contradict him, does not know facts, and does  cruel things without meaning it.” The papacy  alters a man’s consciousness. He becomes a  solitary individual. Paul VI recognized this solitude  and penned a note to himself that described  this loneliness and power, “assume  every responsibility for guiding others, even  when it seems illogical and perhaps absurd.  And to suffer alone. . . Me and God.”

Cornwell, aware of the rumors surrounding  Pius’s actions during WWII with regard to the Jewish  problem in Germany, decided to do the definitive  research into these accusations. He was given  unprecedented access to Vatican files. He was  sure that Pius would be vindicated. What he discovered  surprised and saddened him. The secret  files revealed a man obsessed with power who maneuvered  with Hitler and the German Catholic  Church in such a way that helped to bring Hitler to  power.  It’s important to remember that the papacy as  we know it today is very different from that which  preceded the nineteenth century. It is an invention.  Prior to the rise of almost instant world-wide communication,  power was distributed through great  councils and a hierarchy that left much discretion to  local control. It was “more a final court of appeal  than a uniquely initiating autocracy.”

Pacelli played  a key role in strengthening the central authority of  the papacy. This was in part a reaction to the oppression  the Catholic Church had suffered at the  hands of the state in the early nineteenth century.  There was also a struggle between those who  urged more central authority for the pope and  those who were anxious to decentralize and distribute  more authority to the bishops. The centralists  won at the First Vatican Council of 1870 when the  pope was declared “infallible” in matters of faith  and morals and the undisputed leader of the  church. Pacelli, as a Vatican lawyer, played a substantial  role in redrafting the Church’s laws in such  a way as to grant future popes “unchallenged  domination.” The Code of Canon Law was initiated  in 1917 and distributed to Catholic clergy.  Pacelli received special dispensation to study at  home for his seminary training. Ostensibly, this  was because of his nervous stomach’s inability to  handle seminary food. Whatever the case, the influence  of his mother remained very strong.

Following his ordination, he began work on his  doctorate, studying with the Jesuits. This was at  the time of the Dreyfus trials in France, and—  despite his subsequent pardon and evidence of innocence—Jesuit publications continued to  warn of the dangers of Jews: “wherever Jews  had been granted citizenship the outcome had  been the ruination of Christians.” Anti-Semitism  had a long history in the Catholic Church, and it  was the sixteenth century pope Paul IV who instituted  the ghetto and required Jews to wear a  distinctive yellow badge.

In the 1920s, Germany had one of the largest  — and best-educated — Catholic populations  in the world. As papal nuncio, it was  Pacelli’s role to create a pact between the German  state and the Church, a pact resisted by  Protestants and many Catholics who believed  his vision was too authoritarian.  Pacelli remained pro-German all his life. He  failed to publicly condemn any of the mass killings  the Germans had begun. Even the slaughter  of Catholic priests in Poland and the handicapped  under the euthanasia program were  never condemned.  Cornwell shows that Pacelli was Hitler’s best  ally. Despite appeals from many, including  some top German commanders in Italy, he refused  to condemn Hitler’s acts, self-righteously  concluding that Hitler was preferable to Stalin  since Hitler was willing to pay lip service to  Christianity. In return, Pius XII received full  control of the Church in Germany. Cornwell  documents how Pacelli had been fully informed  of the “persecution unleashed against the Jews  at the very point when he was to enter into substantive  negotiations for a concordat with its perpetrators.”  Hitler even justified the concordat by  suggesting that it would be “especially significant  in the urgent struggle against international  Jewry.”

It is unclear whether Pacelli understood the  wider implications of his diplomatic maneuvers  that led to Hitler’s supremacy, but he supported  Hitler to the very end, sending Hitler his personal  congratulations following the unsuccessful  bomb assassination attempt in 1939. His failure  to condemn the persecution of the Jews rendered  Hitler invaluable aid.  Cornwell’s ultimate judgment of Pacelli is that  his life was a “fatal combination of high spiritual  aspirations in conflict with soaring ambitions for  power and control. . . not a portrait of evil but of  fatal moral dislocation – a separation of authority  from Christian love. The consequences of that  rupture were collusion with tyranny and ultimately  violence.”

Anti-Semitism alone does not  explain Pacelli’s silence, although clearly he regarded  the Jews as a contemporary as well as  ancient enemy of his church. He placed papal  power and the accumulation of even more  power to the papacy as the highest value.  Cornwell answers in the affirmative to the question  he poses, “Was there something in the  modern ideology of papal power that encouraged  the Holy See to acquiesce in the face of  Hitler’s evil, rather than oppose it?”

The move to beatify Pius XII should come to a  screeching halt. The sanctification of someone  whose moral authority has been documented to  be considerably less than holy would render the  entire concept of sainthood as meaningless if  not foolish – if it isn’t already. If Pius were to be  beatified, his policies would be confirmed,  “endorsing the modern ideology of papal power  and justifying Pacelli’s wartime record.”


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