Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And while on the ADSS

One book that represents something of a "lost opportunity" on the Acts and Documents is Pierre Blet's summary volume entitled "Pius XII and the Second World War". I wrote an online review for Amazon in July 2000.  I think it worth putting up here on the Blog.

To the reader unfamiliar with the complexity of Holocaust and Catholic history Fr Blet's book could appear helpful. Indeed as a summary of the Vatican's 12 volume series of Vatican during WW2 it is indeed helpful. I argue that this is where the positives end. This work is so tightly bound by its parameters that it is difficult to see how it contributes anything to the debate over Pius XII's wartime role. Blet has, by his own admission, produced an edited version of the twelve volume series Actes et Documents. The lack of references, an index and contextual detail from both the wider Catholic world and the war years make this work weak. While Cornwell may have stirred things up by asking difficult questions - at least he took the risk and asked them. By failing to even address Pius' pre-1939 history (where the evidence for his future action or inaction lay) Blet has avoided taking any risks with the subject matter. It makes the case for the Pope's defenders look precarious. The treatment of the Rome Jews in October 1943 belies the whole neutrality scenario of Pius XII. The documentation cannot hope to cover all the aspects of this part of the nightmare of the Shoah. While the train rolled out of Rome he was silent. At every stop up the Italian peninsula people rang the Vatican to inform them where the train was in the hope that the Pope would say something. The silence of October 1943 has no justification for whatever reason. I respect Cornwell because he at least tried to make sense of the man's inaction. I cannot respect Father Blet's work since it looks alarmingly like a "damage control" exercise out to crush any suggestion that Pius did make mistakes after all.

Ten years later I think I may have been a tad harsh on Blet.  The work is helpful as a summary of the documents, but my criticisms regarding a lack of index and direct reference to documents stand.  And I publicly confess that the language of "respect" for Cornwall was inappropriate - "Hitler's Pope" is airport fiction stuff.  It just goes to show what a difference a decade can make!  And for something a little lighter, I have included the two comments posted about the review.  Both, curiously, were posted this year (2010).  One clearly thinks I am mad, the other, just bad.

Doggreen had this to say on February 15: You are obviously an anti-catholic and an idiot. Golda Meir, awarded Pope Pius the title "A rightous [sic] gentile." Every time the Pope spoke up the Nazi's executed thousands of Jews.......Never mind you are too damn stupid to understand.

(Never let the truth get in the way of a good dose of vitriol I say!  Clearly Doggreen knows something the rest of the world doesn't - Righteous Gentile?)
And on March 27 James E Egolf wrote: The Catholic Bashers who attack Pope Pius XII cannot cite one source from the Vatican Documents to accuse Pope Pius XII-not one. The Vatican Documents have been digitized, and 99% plus of his tenure as Pope have NO indication of Pope Pius XII hating Jews or anyone else. The documents do confirm Pope Pius XII's compassion, kindness, mercy, and rare courage. Not one of Pope Pius XII's critics have looked at the actual documents-not one. They repeat each other's media driven stupidity and then get angry when the actual historical sources refute their media driven lying and stupidity.
(I have had a short online discussion a few months after this post with James and he strikes me as someone who is prepared to listed to an alternative view.)
Oh the wonderful world of blogging and internet discussion!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

ADSS and references to Jews and elements of "The Final Solution"

One of the re-occurring problems in the study of Pius XII and what he and the Vatican knew or did not know during the war lies in the simple fact that the Acts and Documents of the Holy See during the Second World War are so often overlooked. 

The collection of over 5000 documents is an unavoidable source for any student or scholar who wants to grasp the complex realities surrounding Vatican responses to the murder of European Jewry.  What ADSS reveals is, quite simply, a high degree of awareness of events occurring across German Occupied Europe.  When compared with the growing awareness of the Holocaust in Britain and the USA as demonstrated by scholars such as Richard Breitman.  Breitman's books, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned; What the British and Americans Knew  and US Intelligence and the Nazis, the student discovers great similarities.

Table 1: "The Conventional War"

Vol         Title                                                      Docs       Jews

1     War Mar 1939–August 1940                         379            4

2     Letters of Pius XII to the German bishops       124            4

3.1  Poland and Baltic Sates Feb 1939–Dec 1941 344           10

3.2  Poland and Baltic States Jan 1942–May 1946 261            6

4     War: Jun 1940 –Jun 1941                               433             8

5     War: Jul 1941–Oct 1942                                511            11

7     War: Nov 1942–Dec 1943                             505              7

11   War: Jan 1944–May 1945                              552              6

Table 2: The Victims of War
Vol           Title                              Docs               Jews

6     Mar 1939–Dec 1940              419             154 (36%)

8     Jan 1941–Dec 1942                581            195 (33.5%)

9    Jan 1943–Dec 1943                 492            205 (41.6%)

10  Jan 1944–Jul 1945                   488            180 (36.8%)

Of the 5,089 documents in ADSS, 734 (14.5%) relate directly to persecution and murder of Jews.  When placed in context and the Vatican's global concerns, the number of documents related to the dispossession and murder of the Jews is significant.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

After a few weeks away ...

John Allen is a regular columnist with the Kansas-based National Catholic Reporter, a left-of-centre English language journal.  He is widely regarded as one of the best Vaticanistas around. His column this week is of interest from my perspective because of the unnecessary blunders caused when time is not taken to get facts right and express them in such a way they are easily understood.  Benedict XVI's PR disasters are not stand-alone incidents.  The 1999 International Christian Jewish Historical Commission fell foul of a similar information disaster when the Vatican effectively shut down the work of the commission.  No amount of "spin" takes away the impression that there are things to hide or conceal.  And impressions are what many remember - not convoluted statements attempting to justify or "put the record straight".

Allen's column adds to the reasoned arguments why the archives for Pius XII and the war years must be opened as soon as possible and with complete transparency.  They must not only be fully open, but they must appear to be fully open. 

Read the column here: 'Attack on Ratzinger': Italian book assesses Benedict's papacy

The section on the mess around the lifting of the excommunication of Richard Williamson is worth copying here:

It concerns the affair of Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four traditionalist prelates whose excommunications were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2009. Williamson infamously gave an interview to Swedish television in November 2008, repeating statements he had made two decades earlier in Canada, to the effect that Nazis did not use gas chambers and that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had died in Nazi camps during the Second World War. The interview was not broadcast in Sweden until Jan. 21, 2009, but its contents were anticipated in a piece in the German weekly Der Spiegel the day before, on Jan. 20.

By that stage, Benedict XVI had already decided (sometime in late 2008) to lift the excommunications of the four bishops -- seeing it, he would later insist, as the beginning of a process of reconciliation, not the end. A formal decree was presented to Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, on Jan. 17, 2009, and it took effect on Jan. 21. The decree was not made public by the Vatican, however, until noon Rome time on Jan. 24, when it was published in that day's news bulletin.

Once that happened, headlines about the pope "rehabilitating a Holocaust denier" became the shot heard round the world. After weeks of controversy, Benedict XVI would eventually issue an agonizing letter to the world's bishops apologizing for the hurt caused by the affair.

All that, of course, is a matter of record. What Tornielli and Rodari add is that on Jan. 22, 2009 -- two days after Der Spiegel broke the story of Williams' interview, and two days before the Vatican formally announced the lifting of the excommunications -- a high-level meeting took place in the Vatican to discuss the presentation of the pope's decree. The meeting was convened by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state. Also present were:

•Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, then president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission for relations with the traditionalists;

•Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;

•Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then prefect of the Congregation for Bishops;

•Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy;

•Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts;

•Archbishop Fernando Filoni, substitute in the Secretariat of State.

The gathering, in other words, brought together the Vatican's most senior brain trust. Tornielli and Rodario reconstruct the meeting on the basis of a previously unpublished set of confidential Vatican minutes.

Here's the mind-blowing point: During the meeting, there was no mention whatsoever of Williamson's explosive comments on the Holocaust, despite the fact that they had been in circulation for two full days. The minutes reflect a detailed discussion about whether, and how, the lifting of the excommunications applied to other clergy of the Society of St. Pius X, but there was apparently no consideration of how this move might go down in the broader court of public opinion.

Two key figures were not on the guest list for the Jan. 22 meeting: Lombardi, who had to explain the decision to the world's media, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, who had to explain it to the Jews. Instead, Filoni led a brief discussion about a proposed statement to the press, and the minutes reflect general agreement not to grant any media interviews. Coccopalmerio was commissioned to publish an article in L'Osservatore Romano explaining the decree, but only "after a few days."

The lack of any sense of urgency, or alarm, about public reaction is astonishing. The impression one gets is that the Vatican's best and brightest were acutely sensitive to the kinds of questions canon lawyers might ask, but either unaware of -- or, even more troubling, indifferent to -- how the decree might strike the rest of the world.

The rest is history. After being whipped around by a global tsunami for 10 full days, the Vatican's Secretariat of State finally released a statement on Feb. 4, calling Williamson's statements on the Holocaust "unacceptable." It clarified that by lifting the excommunications, Benedict XVI only opened a door to dialogue, and it's now up to the traditionalists to prove their "adherence to the doctrine and discipline of the church." The four prelates still have no authority to act as Catholic bishops, and their movement is still not recognized. If they want to be fully reintegrated into the church, they will have to accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

Looking back, here's the thing.

Even if Williamson had never given his interview to Swedish TV, anyone looking at the situation from a PR point of view should have anticipated that once the Vatican announced these four bishops were no longer excommunicated, reporters would look into their backgrounds. Had anyone in the Vatican spent even five minutes on Google searching under the name "Richard Williamson," his troubling history on the Holocaust would have leapt off the screen, which was a matter of public record long before he spoke to the Swedes. (Indeed, all the Swedish journalist did was ask Williamson to repeat stuff he had already said.)

Armed with that information, the Vatican could have issued its detailed Feb. 4 statement along with the decree itself, to explain from the outset that these guys have not been "rehabilitated," but rather given an opportunity to clean up their act. They could also have organized a press conference, so there would be TV sound bites assuring the world that this decision in no way signified a rollback on Catholic/Jewish relations or anything else.

Under any set of circumstances, failure to take such common sense steps is hard to explain.

Yet Williamson did give that interview to Swedish TV, and in that light, the revelation that the pope's top aides assembled two days after it went public and still seemed oblivious to the train wreck hurtling towards them -- well, you'll never need additional proof that the Vatican has a PR problem.

Tolle legge, tolle legge!