Monday, March 24, 2014

Kevin Spicer reviews David Kertzer's The Pope and Mussolini

Occasionally I think about compiling a list of the basic English-language texts I would recommend to a student wishing to get a sound grasp of the issues surrounding Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.  As the tenor of scholarship surrounding Pius and his different contexts has changed, so too have the books I would consider as fundamental texts.  Nonetheless, there is a core of scholars who have produced research of such quality and soundness of research that they would remain on any list.  One author whose work I regard in this league is David Kertzer.  I have read his work over the years beginning with The Popes Against the Jews (2001) and found his history to be accurate, meticulously researched, with carefully thought out conclusions.  I may not agree with all his conclusions, and among historians that is a given, but I have no doubts as the high calibre of the work that was undergone to reach those conclusions.

Kertzer's latest book, The Pope and Mussolini (2014) explores the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini using both Vatican archival material and archival material from Italian state archives.

A few weeks ago a copy of the book arrived in the post.  I have only just gotten around to reading it.  From the opening chapter it is an absorbing read.  At the same time I started reading the reviews that came through.  Kevin Spicer, the James J. Kenneally distinguished professor of history at Stonehill College, Massachusetts, has written a review of the book - The Fatal Embrace - which was recently published on America.

I am grateful to Fr Spicer for his permission to re-publish his review on this blog.

In May 1941 Karl Adam, a priest of the Diocese of Regensburg and a noted professor of theology in Tübingen, wrote to a colleague, “I am convinced that the new political movement [National Socialism] would long ago have thoroughly enriched even church circles with its ‘You will renew the face of the earth,’ if the latter would not constantly encounter a profound anti-Christian instinct in certain proponents of the national movement.”

The history of the Catholic Church in Europe during the first half of the 20th century can certainly support this conclusion. The church and its leaders found themselves much more at home under dictatorial regimes than in pluralistic democracies. Yet this harmony was quickly shattered when the former reared its monolithic face and implemented laws that directly contradicted church doctrine and practice.

David Kertzer’s The Pope and Mussolini offers compelling evidence of this. Kertzer, the Paul Dupee university professor of social science and a professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University, is well equipped to recount this particular history. He has written several significant works on the Catholic Church and the papacy, including The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (1997) and The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (2001).

In The Pope and Mussolini, Kertzer examines the interplay between the reigns of Achille Ratti, Pope Pius XI (1922–39) and Benito Mussolini, Italian prime minister (1922–43). Building upon the work of others, including John Pollard, Emma Fattorini and Hubert Wolf, Kertzer charts his own course not only by virtue of the depth of his archival research and analysis, but also by virtue of his engaging prose.

Pius XI and Mussolini sought to shape kingdoms that reflected their respective world views. As Kertzer writes, “The Rattis’ heroes were saints and popes; the Mussolinis’ were rabble-rousers and revolutionaries.” Aloof, ill-tempered and unpredictable, Pius XI yearned for Italy’s medieval past, in which the papacy held firm sway over the Italian city and Papal States in a steadfast effort to bring about a kingdom of God on earth. Mussolini too, dreamed of a greater Italian empire, forged by blood and bullets. Both men pursued their aspirations with ruthless conviction.

Initially, Pius and Mussolini might appear to be blatant enemies. In 1904, the future Italian dictator published God Does Not Exist and publicly called priests “black microbes, as disastrous to humanity as tuberculosis microbes.” Years later in 1921, realizing the formidable political challenges that lay ahead, Mussolini knavishly changed his tune and proclaimed that Fascism could bring about a restoration of Christian society.

These promises were enticingly seductive to Pius XI and ultimately resulted in a “Fatal Embrace,” with the church withdrawing its cards from the Popular Party, its own political faction, and placing them in the hands of Fascism in exchange for the state’s protection and promotion of Roman Catholicism. This alliance continued in the face of significant physical violence against Popular Party supporters, often, for example, involving almost comically forced dosages of castor oil. Even the Fascist murder of the socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti did not alter this alliance. Rather, it was Pius XI who remained by the Italian dictator’s side even when the world’s press condemned the murder of Matteotti and called for Mussolini’s deposition.

In 1929, the fatal embrace turned into a formal alliance with the signing of the Lateran Accords, which declared Roman Catholicism the only religion of the Italian State and made Vatican City a sovereign territory under papal rule. The sanctioning of this treaty did not mean that all was well in relations between the Vatican and Italy. At regular intervals tensions sprang up, often resulting from the incessant demands of the Vatican on the Italian government: to squelch Protestant proselytizing, to ban anti-Catholic publications and to take action against problematic ex-priests. The central concern, though, was over Catholic Action—a movement focused on restoring Catholic influence in society—and the ability of its members to operate freely. Too often, Mussolini and those around him perceived Catholic Action as too politically involved in Italian society and forbade the movement from operating altogether. In June 1931, Pius XI countered this move with the encyclical “Non Abbiamo Bisogno” in support of Catholic Action. Unlike many other historians, Kertzer argues this was not an attack on Fascism but only a momentary pause between “indispensable” allies who worked together to Christianize Italian society. Mussolini did eventually relent and permitted Catholic Action to resume its work.

According to Kertzer, the individual who worked hardest to ensure good relations between Mussolini and the Vatican was Pietro Tacchi Venturi, a Jesuit academic, likened by German newspapers to Rasputin. Venturi was convinced there was a Jewish-Masonic plot working to dominate and deChristianize European society. Venturi was joined by his superior general, Włodzimierz Ledóchowski, an ardent anti-Semite. While Ledóchowski’s anti-Semitism veered toward the extreme, the majority of Vatican churchmen rejected racial anti-Semitism, especially that espoused by Germany’s National Socialists. But this in no way made them overtly supportive of Jews. Rather, most were ready to embrace legislation that limited Jews’ civil rights and participation in public life. Thus when the Italian Manifesto of Racial Scientists was issued in July 1938, there was little opposition from church leaders. The major concern voiced publicly was that the Italian anti-Jewish laws should avoid excessive emphasis on blood as the basis of Jewish identity; that would diminish the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism for Jews who had been baptized. This latter point soon moved to the fore, especially as Italian Fascism appeared to be appropriating attributes of National Socialism, which were extremely hostile to the church.

Even though these concerns over racial anti-Semitism remained, protection of the church and its interests took top priority. Again, at the fore was Catholic Action. Kertzer purports that in August 1938 Venturi and Mussolini worked out a deal whereby Catholic Action would be allowed to function in exchange for the Vatican’s agreement not to oppose the Italian racial laws. Though Pius XI dreamed of an Italian-Catholic kingdom, toward the end of his pontificate he became less willing to negotiate for it as Italy grew ever closer to Germany. The persecution of the church in Germany was too blatant and harsh for the pope to ignore. In turn, Pius XI became ever more critical in his public statements of German-Italian rapprochement and racial anti-Semitism. Yet, his words still betrayed a clear anti-Jewish bias.

In all this, however, Kertzer still places the brunt of questionable behavior upon Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state from 1930 to 1939, along with Venturi and Ledóchowski, who together worked expeditiously against the wishes of an ailing Pius XI. And although the book does not focus primarily on Pacelli, but on Pius XI and Mussolini, Pacelli is nevertheless present as an ominous secondary figure, though not completely fleshed out in the book’s narrative.

Like other recent works, Kertzer’s study of Italy confirms that the Catholic Church worked too readily to adjust itself to Europe’s authoritarian dictatorships in exchange for protection of its salvific mission. Pius XI desperately yearned for a Christianized Europe—one free of the influence of non-Catholics, especially Jews. He was not unlike many Catholics of his time, who aggressively fought against what they perceived as the ills of modernity and pluralism. Though Pius XI recognized the evils of racial anti-Semitism, unfortunately he did not live long enough to offer a significant challenge to it. Nor was his final address, composed but undelivered, an unconditional condemnation of antisemitism and of the authoritarian regimes that promoted it. Instead, the church must now live with a legacy of appeasement, accommodation and silence.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Contemporary Church History Quarterly - March 2014

The CCHQ is a valuable resource for those of us who spend much of our time exploring some of the less pleasant aspects of church history.  The latest edition headlines with Suzanne Brown-Fleming's, public lecture:  “November 1938: Perspectives from the Vatican Archives,” The Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide, 23 October 2013.  Brown-Fleming is Director of Visiting Scholar Programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Her article looks at the events surrounding the Reichskristallnacht in 1938 using material from the ASV.  The lecture is detailed and well-argued. I have written to Dr Brown-Fleming asking for a copy of the notes and, in particular, details of the ASV files.

CCHQ's archive for the last quarter of 2013 also holds Jacques Kornburg's review of the proceedings of the 2009 scholars' seminar held at Yad Vashem.  I also commend it for wide reading. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

ADSS 8.208 Cardinal Seredi to Maglione: Hungarian anti-Jewish laws

ADSS 8.208

Reference: Number 8991/1941; AES 10041/41

Location and date: Esztergom, 24.11.1941

Summary statement: Steps of the Cardinal against the racial laws and for the Jews of Hungary.

Language: Italian


Even before your Eminence’s letter (1) reached me, the last episcopal conference had been occupied with the question of “the Jews” (including the baptised) expelled from Hungary.  From that conference on 10.11.1941 (number 7098/41) (2) I turned to the Royal Hungarian Minister of the Interior (3) with the request and insistence that “Jews” who are Hungarian citizens are not expelled, especially if they are Catholics.  Others have insisted that the way to remove them from the country must be humane.

The Minister replied to me on 24.11.1941 with the following:
“I wish to reassure your Eminence, and have to honour to inform you that only Jews from Galicia have been expelled from Hungary.  If however, it is latter proved that they are Hungarian citizens, then there will be no impediment to their return.  At the same time I gave orders to the police to be humane to those being expelled.  Of course once they were across the border, the police are no longer able to give orders in this regard, because that would go beyond my jurisdiction and my powers”. (4)

I do not know what position to take regarding such orders as these given to subordinate officials of the Royal Ministry of the Interior.  In any case I will try to intervene in cases where these or other concerns offend against the law of charity.  I must confess, however, that the case becomes more and more difficult and less popular.  But above all the difficulties and popularity is the law of God!

(1) See ADSS 8.194
(2) Not published in ADSS.
(3) Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer (1881-1948), Minister of the Interior 1938-1944.  He was a supporter of Regent Horthy and was deposed when the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944.  He spent the rest of the war in a KL.
(4) In July 1941 the Hungarian government expelled about 20,000 Jews, mostly refugees from Poland, into German-occupied Eastern Galicia. Between 14,000 and 16,000 of these people were murdered by the Germans between 27-29 August at Kamianets-Podilskyi.  The language used by Keresztes-Fischer is open to suggestion that he was aware that the fate of the expelled Jews would be very dangerous, if not, lethal.

Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer (1881-1948)
Hungarian Minister of the Interior 1938-1944

ADSS 8.194 Maglione to Seredi - summary of Vatican re/actions towards Hungary's anti-Jewish laws.

This is the last Roman document that refers directly to the Jews of Hungary before the German occupation in March 1944. (See ADSS 10.117).  Cardinal Seredi replied to Cardinal Maglione three weeks later.  ADSS records interventions made by the nuncio, Angelo Rotta and the Cardinal Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione for Slovakian, Romanian and Polish Jews as well as Italian prisoners of war (after September 1943), but nothing more on the situation for Hungarian Jews.

What this document does is give a summary statement of the position of the Holy See and its satisfaction at the efforts, to date, of the Cardinal Primate, Justinian Seredi.  It is important to keep context  in mind.  Unlike the situation for Jews in German-occupied Europe, especially "in the East", Hungarian Jews were comparatively safe; the situation was not yet lethal.

ADSS 8.194

Reference: AES 8217/41

Location and date: Vatican 02.11.1941

Summary statement: Information on the steps taken by the Holy See against the race laws.

Language: Italian


The Holy See has learned, with great satisfaction, of the public and noble declaration, which Your Eminence, in the name of the Hungarian episcopacy, made last July to the Upper House, during the discussion over the unfortunate race laws. (1)

For its part the Holy See did not neglect to use diplomatic means to make known to the Hungarian government its concerns caused by the aforementioned laws, while expressing confidence that the government would render the application of the laws less harsh with appropriate mitigation. (2)

On 6 September the Hungarian government expressed its regret at the disappointment of the Holy See and gave assurances that, for its part, it would take into account, within the framework of the law, the arguments that had been presented. (3)

The Holy See is fully confident that Your Eminence in your role as Primate, caring for the interests of the Catholic Church, and for the great influence which it enjoys in government circles, will ensure that the assurances given by the Hungarian government to the Holy See are, in all practical matters, fully confirmed.

If what is hoped for does occur, not only will it turn to the praise of the Catholic Church, who, in a time of great physical and moral violence, once again preached the fundamental precept of charity that unites people without distinction of race, but will also reflect the great honour of the Hungarian nation, because it will show the truth that it really is the heir, (as is rightly affirmed) of St Stephen, that Christian prince, whose wisdom and tolerance were the most beautiful ornaments of his reign.

Unfortunately, some of the information received by the Holy See from Hungary, suggests that excessive seal or passion of some subordinate officials, regarding the aforementioned racial laws, have been applied harshly and a great cost so as to arouse grave fears for some lives.(4)

Your Eminence is certainly in a position to judge whether or not to best respond to the memorandum sent to the Holy See concerning the expulsion of Jews from Hungary that I wrote about in the memo. (5) If it is so, the Holy See would very much appreciate if your Eminence would intervene with the relevant offices of the government, so that they are given the necessary orders to mitigate the unhappy fate of the expelled and return much needed calm and confidence to the many Hungarians of the Jews race.

In the hope that your Eminence will be able to provide reassuring news which I will hasten to bring to the Holy Father (6), I offer my thanks for all you do to meet the desires of the Holy See and the advancement … (text ends here).

(1) See ADSS 8.116
(2) See ADSS 8.128
(3) See ADSS 8.141
(4) This may be an oblique referral to the expulsion of about 20,000 non-Hungarian Jews, mostly Poles and Slovakians, who were expelled from Hungarian Western Galicia into German-occupied Eastern Galicia in July 1941.  Most were murdered by the Germans in August 1941 at Kamianets-Podilskyi
(5) Not published in ADSS.  Maglione sent it privately to Seredi.

(6) See ADSS 8.208

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pacelli's Rome 5

After he completed his secondary education and made his retreat at the basilica of St Agnes, Eugenio Pacelli went to the famous Collegio Capranica where generations of diplomats, bishops and popes began their careers.  Founded in 1457 by Cardinal Domenico Capranica, Pacelli walked through its doors on the piazza of the same name, a short walk from the Pantheon and Pacelli's parents' home on Via Vetrina.  Later last year I did the walk in just under ten minutes.

Pacelli spent one year at Capranica.  The generally accepted reason for his brief time at the college was put down to his indifferent health.  From 1896 until his ordination in 1899 Pacelli continued his priestly formation in the family home.  This was a highly unusual, but not unknown, situation.

The young Pacelli also attended courses in languages and history at Rome's primary civil university, La Sapienza, canon and civil law at the Ateneo Pontificio di Sant’Appolinare founded by Pius IX in 1853, and the pontifical university, the Gregorian, for philosophy and theology.  By the standards of late Tridentine Catholicism, Pacelli enjoyed a full and well-rounded education.  By all accounts he was an able and gifted student.

Above: Sant'Apollinare; below: La Sapienza as Pacelli would have known it.  Both photos were taken in 2000 on film.  The dates indicate when I copied the originals with my digital (and forgot to remove the date stamp!)

On Easter Day 1899 he was ordained priest in the basilica of St Mary Major.  Plaques commemorating the event adorn the basilica walls along with plaques for Pacelli's silver jubilee of episcopal ordination in 1942.

Santa Maria Maggiore

Above: The Borghese Chapel where Pacelli was ordained.  
Below: plaque commemorating Pacelli's ordination on the occasion of his 40th anniversary as a priest - 1899-1939.

Above: The ikon of Our Lady, Health of the Romans, which occupies the place of honour over the altar in the Borghese Chapel.  Pacelli celebrated his first Mass at this altar.

Below: Pacelli's ordination card.