Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hubert Wolf and the ASV

In my earlier post on Wolf's book - Pope and Devil - I made mention of the review that spent most of the time analysing Bishop von Galen of Munster.  I've had the opportunity to read Wolf's book.  It is one of those "Wow" books that keep you riveted from beginning to end.  Wolf's research is meticulous and his conclusions compelling.  He has spent considerable time looking at the material available in the ASV and putting Pacelli's story together from his days in Germany through his time as Secretary of State.

Among the very interesting points Wolf makes in the book are:

1. Pacelli's reports to Rome on the German bishops from the early 1920s.  He is not particularly kind when it comes to Cardinal Adolf Bertram, Prince-Bishop of Breslau.  Pacelli considered Bertram a "typical" Prussian state bishop, namely, one who would avoid conflict with the state at all costs and whose reliability could never be counted on 100%.  On Bishop von Preysing, first in Eichstatt and then Berlin, Pacelli pushed his candidacy because he saw a "Roman party man".  Von Preysing was not highly regarded by some of the episcopal electors, and remained something of an outsider until his move to Berlin and his confrontational stand against the Nazis.  Von Galen was thought to be a bit limited.  Of course once the war started and Pacelli was now Pope, he found among his greatest supports in Germany to be these two men whose careers he had such an influential role.

Bertram above

von Preysing below

2. As Secretary of State from 1930 Pacelli and Pius XI operated virtually as a "two man show".  Wolf went looking for discussion and "sessioni" from the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, Pacelli's department, and found very little.  The robust and lively arguments that marked much of the 19th century and early 20th century sessioni disappear from the succession of Pius XI.  Pius and his Secretary tended to work on major Vatican policy without much consultation.  The Pope would discuss things with Pacelli, make decisions and leave it to his Cardinal Secretary to issue instructions to ensure things happened.  When he looked for sessioni on the major events in Germany in 1933 Wolf found nothing.  This gives us a very important insight into how the future Pius XII viewed governance, especially when it came to Germany - it was his affair. 

3.  Throughout the 1930s as the persecution of German Jewry grew more oppressive, there is very little comment from the Pope or Pacelli.  Nuncio Orsenigo reported regularly and reliably to Rome but there appears to have been little response from the two men "at the top".  It took the violence of the November 1938 pogrom to shake Pius XI into a more vigorous action.

  Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo and  Foreign Minister Ribbentrop
4. The 1928 condemnation of Antisemitism.  Until the archives were opened, the dissolution of the Amici Israel was considered an odd footnote in the history of the period, except for the very clear condemnation of antisemitism.  Wolf's study of the inter-congregational documents surrounding this episode show that the original intentions of the Amici - to reform the Good Friday liturgy and have the adjective "perfidis" dropped from the prayer for the Jews; renounce the charge of deicide and the theology of supercessionism - were seen by the Holy Office to be an accusation that the Church was herself antisemitic, or if not deliberately,her liturgy could give that impression.  This challenge to authority was not to be taken lightly.  The Prefect of the Holy Office, Merry del Val, rushed an investigation of the Amici and their petition in comparative haste recommending Pius ban the group altogether.  Pius accepted Merry del Val's recommendation, showed his displeasure at Abbot Schuster, the Benedictine liturgical expert who said the Amici's requests were liturgically legitimate, and issued the ban.  He couched the ban in terms of dissolving the Amici because they had strayed from orthodoxy, and then issued a loud condemnation of antisemitism asserting that the Church had always defended the rights of the oppressed.  In the light of the archival material, the whole three month affair (January to March 1928) is rather shabby.  Yes, it was good antisemitism was denounced, but it was not good that the very group who urged its denunciation was itself denounced as unorthodox!

4. Interpreting "silence".  Here is where von Galen enters the picture.  It was, as I have argued in my book, Pius XII's hope that the bishops of Germany would take up the fight.  This also follows a well-established pattern.  In April 1933, Giuseppe Pizzardo, in the Secretariat of State, was ruminating on how to respond to letters from Jewish community leaders in Europe and the USA who appealed to the Holy See for the Pope to condemn German antisemitism.  Pizzardo posed the question - "would it not be better for the German bishops to take such a step (ie do something)?  Or "Perhaps, later, indirectly, via the nunciature??"  This remained the pattern for the rest of the 1930s - Jewish matters were to be handled by the local bishops.  It was part of the tragedy of the German episcopate that this largely did not happen.  Remember that von Galen preached fierce and very direct sermons against euthanasia. He did not preach against the transports heading East.

       The Lion of Munster 1946

This is a book I recommend very heartily.  It is a timely reminder of the value of studying the pre-war years with rigour and thoroughness.  There are patterns emerging that will, undoubtedly, continue into the war years. 


  1. your "earlier post" link above is broken!

    "In my earlier post on Wolf's book - Pope and Devil - I made mention of the review that spent most of the time analysing Bishop von Galen of Munster."

  2. Dear Mevashir,

    Thank you for pointing out the broken link. I have replaced it.


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