Wednesday, July 18, 2012

James Felak on Pope Pius XII

There was a very interesting podcast produced on the Research on Religion site on 3 July 2012.  Tony Gill, professor of political science at the University of Washington, has been hosting the podcast since the northern autumn of 2009 and has covered a wide range of topics related to religion in all its expressions.  In this podcast he sits in conversation with James Felak on Pope Pius XII.

James Felak is professor Eastern European history at the University of Washington.  Felak is currently working on a history of the visits to Poland by Pope John Paul II.

I think Felak's discussion of the topic is very good.  He is clearly speaking for a non-specialist audience and is at pains to establish the appropriate historical contexts for Pius.  Gill is also a competent interviewer.  Between both men a fairly responsible and balanced view of Pius XII is reached.  There are some areas that I think could have been explored in greater depth, such as the possible reactions of Hitler to public protests either from the Vatican or other neutral organisations such as the Red Cross. Felak also points out the difficulties surrounding the role of historians with the use and abuse of documentation by both defenders and critics of the pope.  Nonetheless, Felak's examination of the impact of the 1960's anti-authority protests is compelling.

In a broad ranging sweep of issues, Felak comments on the historical contexts from the late 19th century through Italian history, fascism, the nature of the papacy, concordats, before moving into the specific issues surrounding the war and the Holocaust.  He comes out very clearly with the confronting question of "why, if you knew that bad things were happening, did you not speak out clearly?" and then proceeds to answer it.  I will not preempt Professor Felak by revealing his answer. 

The last part of the podcast treated the post-war years of Pius XII's pontificate including his role as a precursor of Vatican II.

The podcast can be accessed here.

Professor James Felak

Professor Tony Gill

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