Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pope Francis and Pope Pius XII

Francis and Pius

Pope Francis has been Bishop of Rome for the better part of two years.  Since his election in March 2013 he has taken the Catholic world by storm – by changing absolutely nothing, but doing just about everything differently.  His famous “Who am I to judge?” quote on the plane from Rio to Rome is probably the best way to see this extraordinary man who is returning the papacy to something more in line with the vision of Vatican II and more attuned to the needs of the modern world.

Francis instinctively “gets it”.  He is not a theologian or philosopher by trade although he is well versed and fluent in both disciplines.  He is not consumed by the “culture wars” that dominated much of western and first world Catholic discussion, debate and diatribe over the last twenty years although he is very familiar with the context and content of these movements.  He is not remotely interested in the liturgical angst generated among neo-conservatives and those determined to “reform the reform” of the Council, although he is clearly concerned that the liturgical life of the Church be executed with reverence, respect and, to use a common phrase, “noble simplicity”.

This pope made his agenda clear from his first appearance on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica when he bowed in acknowledgement and reverence towards the thousands gathered in the piazza.  Francis takes very seriously the pontifical title – servus servorum Dei – servant of the servants of God.  People come first, everything else takes its turn after that.  Does this mean he is not interested in theology?  Of course not; but this pope has indicated in his words and actions that theology has to be linked to the lived experience of people and not the other way around.  His gestures, too many to even include a few examples, show a shepherd who loves being in the midst of his sheep, and everyone else’s too.

Papa Francesco the first Jesuit pope is also a shrewd operator.  He has shown in his gradual series of appointments a keen awareness of the need to reform the Roman curia and make it more transparent and accountable.  To those outside the Catholic Church and unfamiliar with Catholic “church speak” Francis’ actions in the area of reform may appear strange.  However, to those of us who grew up “on the inside” and “speak the language”, this pope has been gently rattling gilded cages, stirring a few pots and letting it be known that although he smiles and laughs more than any of his predecessors, he is pope.  The irony is that one of Francis’ major reforms is de-centralisation of papal power and the empowerment of local bishops’ conferences.

A good few neo-conservative groups around the English-speaking world are unhappy.  However they are in a bind.  Having proclaimed from the roof tops since the election of John Paul II in 1978 that devotion to the Holy Father, acceptance, often unquestionably, of papal statements, regardless of their provenance or intent, is one of the litmus tests of orthodoxy, they either have to accept that Francis is THE pope and so do as they have done, or move on.  Some have gone so far to say the church is heading towards schism.  This is the talk of fantasy and delusion.

One of the neo-conservative gripes is Francis’ perceived attitude towards the cause of Pope Pius XII.

Pope Francis has said little on Pius XII.  I believe there are five main reasons for this.

1. Francis is the first pope in modern times to have no direct connection with Europe during the fascist and Nazi eras or World War II.  He was too young (born 17.12.1936) to be anyway involved.  Unlike his immediate predecessors Francis has had no experience of totalitarian regimes other than the military juntas in Argentina, which while unquestionably brutal, were not murderous in the same way the Nazis and Communists were in the 1930s through to the 1950s.  Francis is an “outsider” to the events that John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI lived through.  I suggest that this gives him an objectivity that is needed in any discussion about Pius.  Francis is sympathetic to Pius, but he is not driven by a need to defend him or the institution of the papacy.

2. Francis has his priorities as bishop of Rome.  The canonization of Pius XII is not one of them.  He has canonized a number of women and men, but these cases were in the last stages of the process by the time he was elected.  This pope does not appear to see a need for a great number of canonisations – we have enough saints for the time being!  Indeed during his visit to Albania in September the pope’s embrace of Fr Ernst Simoni and Sr Marije Kaleta who had spent many years persecuted by the regime of Enver Hoxha summed up Francis’ priorities – he is here to be a shepherd; nothing else will stand in the way of his pastoral ministry.

3. Francis is content to allow historians and archivists to do their jobs.  There have been media reports suggesting that Francis is keen to get the archives opened up and the documents made available to historians.  It would be very odd if he had the opposite opinion.  Nonetheless, Francis respects conventions and protocols when they do not impinge on more important area.  The Secret Archives of the Vatican for Pius XII will be opened - eventually.  Pope Francis will not, I think, loose any sleep over the timing.

4. Francis does not fear or seem terribly worried about church history, good or bad.  He has said on many occasions that the church has to be open and honest about its past, seek forgiveness for past wrongs and make amends.  And while this is often seen within the context of the ongoing scandals related to sex-abuse by members of the clergy, I have no doubt that the pope believes it applies to all aspects of the church’s history.  That said, there is another dimension that comes from this Latin American pope, namely his non-European frames of reference.  John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI were modern men within the contexts of their times, but they were European men.  Their world-views were shaped through European lenses.  This in no way detracts from their significant contributions to the life of the church, especially that of John XXIII, but Francis brings a world-view shaped by life outside of Europe, where the majority of the world’s Catholics now live.

5. Francis values the adult relationship between Catholics and Jews and will certainly do nothing to damage it.  I believe he considers questions about Pius XII and the Holocaust are important and valid, but are not what the dialogue and friendship in 2014 is built on.  Catholics and Jews are now at a point where the trust between both sides on many levels is so strong that argument and disagreement is, and indeed, should be a part of the relationship.  I believe Francis is saying, as his predecessors also said in their own ways, “there is no going back, we will walk forward together side by side.”

These thoughts are things that have been floating around in my head for some time.  Internet traffic on Pius XII has virtually ground to a halt since Francis’ election – and there is some good in that.  Many of the neo-conservative sites have gone very quiet as well – there is simply nothing new to say; and if loyalty to the Holy Father is one of your group’s self-identifying traits, then you can’t say what he hasn’t said!  For those of us who have been waiting for the archives to open will just have to be patient.  What gives me a cheerful optimism is Francis’ cheerful optimism – all in good time!

I took this photo when I was in Rome last year.  
I confess that I am an unabashed Francis fan!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ADSS 10.356 Secretariat of State to the UK Legation - violence of the Red Army in Hungary

Reference: AES Hungary 124, minute

Location and date: Vatican, 16.10.1944

Summary statement: Request intervention with the Soviet government regarding occupied parts of Hungary.

Language: Italian


The Secretary of State has the honour to bring to the attention of the Legation of Great Britain to the Holy See the following:

From news sent directly to the Holy See from Budapest (1) we are informed that those parts of Hungarian territory occupied by the Russians and Romanians have not occurred without episodes of serious violence against the civilian population, episodes that have nothing to do with the conduct of the war.

To cite some examples, the cities of Nagyszalonta, Jöddeàk, Kesermy, Biharugra etc, were scenes of looting, plundering and burning, because of the ill-disciplined behaviour of the soldiers.

More painful than the damage to property has been the violence of the soldiers which has been so great, excessive and frequent that the people are in a state of panic and near despair because of the rash acts occurring here and there.  Not even the sanctity of the cloister has been respected (and some innocent and helpless Sisters have been subject to the most painful violence) (2)

The Secretary of State can not refrain from expressing to the Legation feelings of horror and painful concern that the above facts give rise to, while strongly urging you to appeal as much as you can to the various offices of His Britannic Majesty’s Government to ensure that the aforementioned troops are called back to a sense of discipline and humanity regarding the civilian population and above all to women and children. (3)

Note from the Office: 

I talked with the Secretary of Mr Taylor. (4)

(1) The news was passed to the Vatican via the Royal Hungarian Legation in a communiqué - dated 12.10.1944.
(2) As the Red Army moved deeper into Hungary a pattern quickly emerged.  Hungary was not being “liberated” in the way Poland or Czechoslovakia.  Hungary was a defeated enemy and “to the victor the spoils”.  Treatment of the civilian population by the Red Army varied but was, in general, exploitative and brutal.  Thousands of civilians were killed, tens of thousands of Hungarian women – irrespective of age, religion or Jewishness – were raped, and hundreds of thousands of Hungarians were deported to the Soviet Union where they died in the labour camps of the Gulag.  It was estimated that about 25,000 Jewish men who had been conscripted into the Hungarian army as labourers, were deported to the Soviet Union, along with about 10,000 Jewish women. See Zoltan Vagi et al, the Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide, p 334.  The total number of Hungarian women raped in the last months of the war will most likely never be known, but some contemporary (ie November 2013) research suggests the figure could be as high as 800,000.  Bishop Apor of  Gyor was killed by Soviet soldiers as he attempted to prevent local women from rape.
(3) Two telegrams were addressed to Berne on 27.10.1944 (telegram 718, AES 8272/44) and Washington (telegram 1941, AES 8271/44):  “News of Russian troop behaviour in occupied villages; treatment of some Hungarians is disastrous.  Sacking, burning, killing, numerous violations of religious women: religious practice is practically impossible”. (See ADSS 11).
(4) Franklin C. Gowen (1895-1981), employee of the State Department, was appointed Myron Taylor’s assistant, replacing Harold Tittmann in December 1941.

ADSS 10.355 Alexander Easterman to Pius XII - Hungarian Jews face renewed deportation

News that the Hungarian government was under enormous pressure and further, that Regent Horthy was looking at ways to extricate Hungary from its alliance with Germany, spread quickly.  The World Jewish Congress was well-informed and appealed directly to the pope urging him to speak out in order to avoid the resumption of deportations.  One day later the German-backed Arrow Cross deposed Horthy's regency and installed a pro-Nazi government.  The Hungarian Holocaust resumed immediately.

Alexander Easterman, Secretary of the World Jewish Congress to Pope Pius XII

Reference: Telegram 996 (AES 6915/44)

Location and date: London, 14.10.1944 @16.35 (Rec’d Rome 16.10.1944 @ 11.30)

Summary statement: Request intervention for the Jews of Hungary.

Language: English


Desperate appeals reaching us save surviving Jews in Hungary. (1) Germans now preparing carry out plans deporting three hundred thousand men, women, children.  Your Holiness intervention by public call in name of humanity may avert this appalling tragedy.  We are sure our ill fated innocent people will not appeal in vain for utmost and urgent last hour efforts save them from doom. (2)

(1) See ADSS 10.321, notes.
(2) See ADSS 10.362.

ADSS 10.338 Casimir Papee, Poland to Domenico Tardini - Extermination camp KL Birkenau

This was not the first time Papee had written to the Secretariat of State about Auschwitz-Birkenau.  In both cases the Polish ambassador was well informed.  Three days after the document was written the Sonderkommando at Birkenau rose in revolt.

Tardini's response at the end of the document seems surprisingly tame given the amount of information the Vatican had regarding the extermination camps.  News of KL Majdanek had received enormous attention after the Red Army liberated it in late July 1944.  It also seems a rather desperate act on Tardini's part to expect that the nuncio in Germany, Cesare Orsenigo would be able to do much.

Reference: Nr 708/SA/141 (AES 6345/44)

Location and date: Rome, 04.10.1944

Summary statement: Information on the extermination of prisoners in KL Brzezinka (Birkenau)

Language: French

On instruction from my government, and in response to my note of 25 September 1944, number 708/SA/141 (1), I have the honour to send your reverence the following information:

Among the concentration camps in Poland, including prisoners intended by the Germans for extermination is Birkenau, near Oswiecim. 16,725 men and 39,125 women are being held there.  In agreement with the orders he has received, the commander of the camp, like commanders in other camps, has already taken all measures to kill all the prisoners in as short a time as possible.  He has written orders from his superiors to put the execution into action.  Established precedents do not permit us any illusions about the implementation of the monstrous plan.  The Polish underground did not have the means to frustrate this crime the Germans are preparing.  They request the joint action of the governments of Great Britain and the United States of America to make it their business to save thousands of lives. (2)

Tardini note:
In responding you must find a way to say a good word for Poland … the Holy See can not take part in the sorrows and trials etc … (It is good that the battered nation feels that the Holy See is with it.) (3)

Cross references: 

(1) Not published.  See ADSS 10.330, note 1.
(2) Tardini sent the news to Cesare Orsenigo (telegram nr 908 on 06.10.1944, AES 6345/44) hoping that the news was false, and that the Nuncio “act promptly and made enquiries about it”.
(3) See ADSS 10.349.

Ambassador Casimir Papee