Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pius XII Conference at the Sorbonne?

In his presentation on Intelligence Squared, Professor Ronald Rychlak said that he had attended a conference on Pius XII at the Sorbonne in Paris.  I think I am reasonably adept at finding information on the internet, but so far have been unable to discover anything on this conference.  I have looked at the Sorbonne website to no avail; done several "google" searches and drawn a zero result.

If a reader knows someting about the conference I would be grateful for any shared information.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Intelligence Squared - the debate

Last Sunday night I sat down and watched the Intelligence Squared debate from London.  To be frank, the topic did not inspire much in the way of confidence for a solid historical debate.  I was not greatly disappointed.

I mentioned in the previous post that the two apologists, Professor Ron Rychlak and William Doino would be up against two seasoned and professional masters of debate in the public forum, Lord Norwich and Geoffrey Robinson.  Norwich and Robinson provided great entertainment but not all that much history.  Rychlak and Doino provided a lot of historical data but not much by way of context.

How did the debate pan out?

John Julius Norwich opened with a general overview that relied too greatly on some poor history – forcefully rebutted by Doino – and which detracted from what I think his thesis was, namely that despite numerous opportunities that presented themselves, Pius XII did not speak out at all.  His comments on the Christmas 1942 address demonstrated a very poor grasp of the situation Pius found himself in and showed that Norwich had not done sufficient reading of the available material.  The strongest point I think Norwich made was related to the Holocaust in Hungary, but even here he showed a lack of historical context.  Citing nuncio Angelo Rotta’s comments to the Hungarian government “not to continue its war against the Jews beyond the limits prescribed by the laws of nature and God’s commandments” without the necessary and relevant context makes for poor argument.  Viscount Norwich should know better.

Historically, Norwich made a weak show that would prove relatively easy to demolish.

William Doino began speaking at the twelfth minute.  I found it irritating that he spent quite a bit of time correcting Norwich and allowed himself to delve in tangential issues such as the story of Roi Ottley, an Afro-American journalist who had an audience with Pius XII in 1944.

From here Doino reverted to his customary style which is to bury your opponent in facts.  And there was no shortage.  However, as has been my criticism of Doino for some time, he is able to produce facts by the cart load but does not place them into context.  Facts without context are dangerous to the point of being misleading.  The questions raised by Norwich were not addressed except in saying that Pius did speak out and had done for many years.  The grey zones of nuance and varying historical circumstance did not get much of a mention here.

One would expect a magisterial performance from a silk such as Geoffrey Robinson, and I was not disappointed.  As speakers went Robinson was the superior orator on the night, but his history was weak and polemical.

Opening with the stirring statement that he was about the “dissecting the soul of a man who could not bring himself to speak out publically against the Holocaust” Robinson then cited Elie Wiesel: “Take sides, neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victims.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  And this is a truth that applies to the silence of Pope Pius XII in face of the most heinous crime against humanity ever committed even when it was taking place under his very windows.”   There was little variation from then on.  How Robinson could jump from his perception that Pius did not speak to papal silence being the “license to the Catholic SS to kill…” rather escaped me.  There was eloquence, there was masterful rhetoric and there was entertainment, but there was little history.  I got the distinct feeling that Robinson was there to enjoy himself at the expense of his opponents. Robinson’s final argument that Germany needed papal neutrality and silence in order to preserve hope in German victory was astounding for its brazen audacity.  “Mr Pacelli, the bad Samaritan” ended the Queen’s Counsel’s time at the podium.

I was ready to hear Professor Rychlak.

If Robinson was the most entertaining speaker, Rychlak was certainly the best historian of the evening, and I believe, the most convincing of the speakers for the motion.  He kept his presentation simple, spoke calmly and did not rise to take the bait proffered by Norwich and Robinson.  However, I found Rychlak’s arguments to be unsatisfying because they were highly selective and avoided the thornier problems surrounding events such as the 1943 Rome Juednaktion, the post-war statements of Angelo Roncalli and Giovanni Battista Montini and the German plans to kidnap the pope.

At the end of the presentations the vote taken at the beginning of the night was announced.  146 had voted in favour of the motion, that Pius XII had been silent, 41 against the motion, and 171 undecided.

Questions followed.  Most of these were populist questions that could have led the speakers to delve deeper into the issues, or at least allude that there were depths that could not be plumbed in the context of the debate.  It was disappointing that this was not done.  I will leave it to the reader to make up their own minds about Question Time.

During the questions I thought that Norwich and Robinson were enjoying themselves particularly at Doino’s expense.  They made outrageous statements and Doino “bit” responding far too seriously and with no intimation that he was over-reacting.  Norwich’s dismissal of American phobias about communism was one example.  I must admit I did laugh a little at it – it was so silly.  And Robinson kept the joke alive with ongoing digs at Doino.

Once again, it was Rychlak who responded best I believe.  He is clearly quite at home with debates and can carry himself with the thrust and parry that goes on.  “How do we assess Pius XII?  He did the best he could.  Did he do too little?  He didn’t stop the Holocaust; he tried, he wanted to  … he wanted to end the war.”  These are fair statements.  They need further expansion, but they are a start.

The final vote of the night was interesting:  227 voted in favour of the motion that the pope did too little, and 103 against the motion.  It marked a shift in thinking of a large number of people.

Did the evening change anything?  I suspect not.







Tuesday, November 6, 2012

ADSS 9.38 Borgongini Duca to Maglione: the Italian report

One of the regular questions that arises in the study of Pius XII relates to what the pope knew and when.  I have dealt with aspects of that question throughout the blog and in my book.  The one area where the pope's knowledge was probably unrivalled was Italy.  The nuncio, Archbishop Francesco Borgongini Duca (1884-1954) made his regular tri-annual report to Cardinal Maglione.  The document reveals considerable detail in its brevity and customary florid language.  The summary statement lists the principal concerns, but reading the report reveals a number of very interesting details, such as the reference to interned "Chinese pagans" in the camp at Tossicia in the Abruzzi.  However it is the plight of the refugees, including Jews, that dominates the report.

This report, sent to Maglione at the end of January 1943 gave Pius a summary of information that he already possessed from a variety of sources.

ADSS 9.38 Italian Nuncio, Francesco Borgongini Duca to Cardinal Maglione.

Reference:  Report number 10944, AES 1171/43
Location and date:  Rome, 31.01.1943

Summary statement: Recapitulates last three years and the racial question in Italy; refugees; help provided to POWs and Internees; exchange of news of POWs; steps for victims of war; many Jews have fled the Germans into Italian occupied zones.

Language: Italian


I have the honour to present this tri-annual report on the activities of the Nunciature characterised as they are by the enormity of the war, which still rages. (1)

The conflict has given the activities of the Nunciature new forms, due mainly to the apostolic charity of the Holy Father.

As soon as the conflict broke out, this Nunciature had to assume the protection of the diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See, and whose countries were at war with the Axis.  The British Legation, and the embassies of France, Belgium and Poland were sealed and the nunciature was charged with the protection of the interests of ecclesiastical and religious personnel of all these countries … (2)

The realities of war have led to a tightening of the racial question.  Many Jews have fled from the territories occupied by the Germans, preferring to come to Italy, even at the risk of being interned.  They have also sought help from this Apostolic Nunciature to go abroad, especially to America.  Many are also in transit, and the Holy Father, in his inexhaustible charity, has provided for many the means for travel.

In a very few cases, the Nunciature was successful in obtaining Italian entry visas for Jews in danger of deportation from Count Ciano. (3)

With the worsening of the conflict, many refugees arrived in Italy in the most pitiable condition, especially from Poland.  His Holiness deigned to place at my disposal considerable sums to help them, and so with the help of the Ursuline sisters, (4) the Nunciature was able to place Polish girls and women, who were more or less abandoned, and provide for men out of work. 

We also entered into communication with other Polish refugees scattered throughout Italy, without neglecting those confined, who are, in some ways, in better conditions because they have bread and a roof over their heads.  Your Eminence knows that the Holy Father is pleased to welcome the humble proposal of this Nunciature, to open a welcoming refuge for women (5), and this was given over to the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus (6) with excellent results and with everything functioning normally.(7)

From all other fronts refugees have poured into Italy, not only from Poland, but from Greece, the Levant, Maltese, Italians evacuated from Tripoli and Cyrenaica, Italians expelled from France, Slovenes, Croats and Serbs.  The Holy Father has, with apostolic gesture, opened up the limited resources of the church of Rome, so that this Nunciature was responsible for the distribution of the goods to all who presented themselves to the Nunciature, as well as for those scattered throughout Italy or in the various concentration camps.

The distribution of money is made, normally, after the local parish priests have received certificates of the good conduct and poverty of the applicants.  The question of religion has never been entered into, because the charity of the Pope embraces all; but for all I have endeavoured to take authoritative assurances of good conduct. 

At the date of this report, the Apostolic Nunciature distributed from the beginning [of the war] Lire 625,816.56 for the Poles, and for the other refugees Lire 307,705.80.

Because of the war the Royal Government set up many concentration camps for foreign civilians more or less regarded with suspicion, and also created prison camps for soldiers captured in combat.  The first camps are generally under the authority of Public Security and the second under military authority.

The Holy Father expressed his august desire that the apostolic nuncio go personally to visit the internees and bring them the comfort of his blessing and august charity.

At the time of writing this triennial report, the visits made by the undersigned numbered 106.  The camps are located throughout Italy, from Bolzano and Udine all the way Puglia and to Calabria, and the island of Sardinia.  The secretary of the apostolic nunciature made five solo visits.

I have found that generally the prisoners and civilians are treated with humanity.  The nunciature has had special attention for religious assistance.  At our suggestion, the government appointed a permanent chaplain in the border colony of Pisticci. (8)  Another (who speaks several languages) was appointed to the camp of Ferramonti Tarsia (9) where the charity of the Holy Father has equipped a church and provided a harmonium. A Chinese-language chaplain (10) was appointed to the Chinese camp in Tossicia in Teramo province, and on the island of Gran Sasso.  With much zeal the good father chaplain has instructed the poor Chinese pagans, printing a catechism in Chinese.  After one year of instruction and testing, fifty catechumens were admitted to baptism, and another fifty the following year.  I went twice myself to the shrine of St Gabriel on Gran Sasso, for the ceremony that was attended by the Chief of Teramo, the Inspector of the Ministry of the Interior and local authorities.

Other conversions occurred in other places especially among the female element, even among the Jews.  The Ursuline sisters teach and instruct these women, and more than one baptism was celebrated.  I have also regularised quite a few marriages in Rome and beyond.

The occupation of Dalmatia (11) resulted in the confinement in Italy of about 50,000 Slovenes and Croats.  They are interned in Tuscany, in the Veneto and the island of Arbe.

I visited the camp of Gonars in Friuli; as well the Apostolic Nunciature is interested in the improvement of conditions for all the deportees, who were all affected by the tumultuous evacuation that occurred in the civil war.  Some improvement is being obtained by the government and by order of Your Eminence and I will soon visit those confined to the island of Arbe.  Meanwhile, His Holiness has welcomed the humble suggestion of this nunciature to take at its own cost 200 young Slovenians to the Pontifical College in Loreto (12) and are in negotiations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which is under enormous strain through the heavy bureaucracy of war) in order to carry out the wish of the Pope.

In addition the Apostolic Nunciature has become a liaison between the Office of the Secretary of State and the Italian Red Cross for the transmission of messages to prisoners in Italian hands and their families abroad, as well as sending prayer books and catechisms, published by the Vatican and books from the Secretary of State to the same prisoners.

For Italian prisoners overseas, this nunciature has a special section to collect the messages of families, which are sent by the [Vatican Information] Office, as well as on behalf of the Secretary of State has collected 16,000 volumes for delivery to the Red Cross for Italian prisoners. (13)

The war has also led to a multitude of questions of all kinds from the suffering, directed to the Holy Father (exemptions from military service, approaches from soldiers, pensions for families, freedom for those confined with convictions even for small infringements and requests for pardon, permissions to marry for those prevented by the race or military laws, advancement of employees, transfers and the like); all these come to the Nunciature, sent by the Secretary of State or directly sent to us by the interested parties, are considered as best we can with an answer provided for each where possible.

Special mention needs to be made about the correspondence with the internees, because all, or almost all of these unfortunate people, without exception, calling for the involvement of the Nunciature with the police, who welcome with great deference our intervention.  In our archives each internee has their own file… (14)

Cross references: 
(1) Covering the years 1940-1942
(2) Information on the protection of extra-territorial buildings omitted.  See ADSS 5.248 were there is a summary of the legal position of diplomatic representations near the Holy See.
(3) Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), Minister of Foreign Affairs, (1936-1943).
(4) See ADSS 6, page 348, note 3.
(5) The word used is “focolare” and literally translates as “hearth” or “family fireside”. 
(6) This was a Polish religious congregation of women commonly referred to as the “Grey Ursulines”.
(7) Their convent was located at 2 Via di Villa Ricotti (near Via Nomentana).  The convent later hid many Jews.
(8) Pisticci, province of Matera (Basilicata)
(9) Fr Callistus Lopinot, OFM Cap (1876-1966).  See ADSS 8.329, note 1.
(10) Not identified.  There were at least 116 Chinese travelling salesmen interned in the camp after 1940.  See Donald Kenrick (1999), In the Shadow of the Swatika: Volume 2: The Gypsies during the Second World War, p26.
(11) After the armistice with Yugoslavia signed on 17.04.1941, Bastianini was appointed governor of Dalmatia on 20.05.1941.
(12) The relevant information about the college of Loreto has not been found.
(13) See ADSS 8.427, note 2.
(14) The rest of the report is omitted.  It covered the religious situation in Italy.  A reply to the nuncio’s report was sent on 28.02.1943: “ … In particular I have seen with satisfaction the assistance for prisoners of war and the interned civilians with which you, with great zeal, have constantly accorded the intentions of the august pontiff …” (AES 1171/43) 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pius XII and intelligencesquared - London, 14 November

On Wednesday 14 November at the Royal Institution in London there will be an "Oxford-style" debate.  The question proposed for discussion is "Pius XII did too little to save the Jews from the Holocaust".  Tickets are £25 and can be purchased online.

The speakers are not historians of the genre or era, in fact three of the speakers are not historians.

John Julius Norwich is author of The Popes: a history (2011) an attempt to write a global portrait of the institution.  According to Edward Pentin writing in the Catholic Herald, Norwich bases much of his understanding of Pius XII on Cornwall's "Hitler's Pope" (1999).  This does not bode well for good and reliable history.  Reviews of the book in the New York Times, The Guardian and Telegraph were generally positive, but point out that this is a general history not a detailed study of the whole papacy. Therefore, comments are likely to be more on the general side and indicative of the personal interests of the author.

 John Julius Norwich

Geoffrey Robinson

Geoffrey Robinson, the well known human rights advocate who attempted to have Benedict XVI indicted for trial before the International Criminal Court in the Hague will also speak in favour of the motion.  His book "The Case of the Pope" (2010) was given to me as a Christmas present by one of my students as a tongue-in-cheek end-of-school bit of fun.  I read the book and while I admire Robinson's brilliance of mind and written word, I was not convinced of his arguments, spoiled as they are by a serious lack partiality and of understanding of Catholicism, the institution of the Church, the Vatican and Papacy.  Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet, wrote a balanced review of the work for The Telegraph. The review in The Guardian proves Pepinster's case, that a one-sided look will lead inevitably to a one-sided conclusion.

William Doino and Ronald Rychlak are two of the best known apologists for Pius XII.  I have commented on their work several times on this blog.  There is no need to re-visit their material here.

William Doino

Ronald Rychlak

I doubt very much that this evening's debate will add anything of substance to the work historians are engaged in.  In fact, I suspect that the only result will be a night of entertainment as two highly accomplished writers, Norwich and Robinson, neither of whom have much time for the Catholic Church, and less for Pius XII, will face two passionate and dogmatic apologists, Doino and Rychlak, who have shown in their writing little interest in the craft of history and great interest in propaganda and over-simplification of fact and contexts to further the agenda of various neo-conservative groups.

There may well be a few good laughs, but I doubt there will be much good history.  Of course, I would be delighted to be proved wrong.