Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jacques Kornberg "The Pope's Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War"

Jacques Kornberg's book, "The Pope's Dilemma" (2015, University of Toronto Press) arrived on my desk a few weeks before the end of the second school term here in Australia. That meant it would have to wait until exams were marked, reports written and students sent home to their parents.  And what a wait it was.  I had read the table of contents, glanced through the introduction, made a note of scholars cited in the index and resolved to resist the urge to read until I had sufficient time to do so without interruption.  I am happy to write that I was successful.

This is a significant work that advances our understanding of Eugenio Pacelli in several significant ways.  

Firstly, Kornberg is a master of the topic; his erudition is obvious from the opening pages.  This led me to believe I was in the hands of a well-informed, learned and balanced guide, who had a profound grasp of the various disciplines necessary to make serious comment on Pius XII. He demonstrates with clear and logical writing the arguments of the current historical arguments and debates as well as the claims of the "canonise him now" apologists. In order to this Kornberg has immersed himself into the available archival material, especially the Actes et Documents, as well as the latest current historical research from both sides of the debates.  And while the opening of the Vatican archives for the pontificate of Pius XII remains in the future, Kornberg, as do other historians, believes the reader has enough evidence upon which to make a sound judgement through use of the available material.

Secondly, Kornberg demonstrates a detailed familiarity with the vast literature on Pius, as well as his predecessors, Pius XI, Benedict XV and Leo XIII, and his successors John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II.  It was clear to see how Kronberg linked elements from Pius XII into broader papal politics and policies, following equally clear lines within Catholic theology and ecclesiology of the late-Tridentine era.  

Thirdly, Kornberg makes lucid and learned comment on the history of fascism, National Socialism, the relationship between the Catholic Church in Germany and the Nazi regime, the Concordat and the demise of the Catholic Centre Party.  Context is never sacrificed, and while at times, the reader might be tempted to skip a few pages here and there because of their familiarity with the subject matter, it is definitely worthwhile reading the whole text.

I believe Kornberg's most significant contribution lies in the explanation of a politics of consistency from Leo XIII through to Pius XI and then into the papacy of Pius XII. He challenges one of the consensus views of Pius XII, namely that he stood apart from other popes in his diplomatic approach to crises and his silence in the face of atrocities.  Surely Pius XI was a model of outspoken language that the more phlegmatic Pacelli sought to interpret and re-cast in more calming words?  A lengthy quote from page 186 established Kronberg's thesis.  I found it compelling.

At least until fairly recently the consensus was the Pius XII stood alone, that he brought baggage to the papacy that other popes did not, that his personality and training were ill-suited to the times ... Domenico Cardinal Tardini, Pius XII's undersecretary of state ... believed Pacelli's temperament made him a natural fence-sitter: he sought to "please everyone and displease no one" ... In keeping with this view of Pius XII, Michael Phayer argues that Pacelli's predecessor, Pius XI, far more passionate, forceful, and outspoken, would have responded differently to the destruction of European Jewry,  in keeping with the enormity of the crime.  These assessments of Pius XI are just beginning to change in the light of additional research.  Phayer later agreed with historians Gerhard Besier and Peter Godman that Pius XI was as diffident as his successor when it came to acting against "racism, totalitarianism, and Nazism."   ... I will argue that the foreign policies of modern pope just prior to Pius XII - Leo XIII, Benedict XV and Pius XI - in the face of war and even mass atrocities were all of a piece.

This chapter is the setting for the final chapters in the book that examine the priorities of Pius XII's action or inaction in the face of the mass murder and torture on unprecedented levels.  In his conclusion, Kornberg's assessment of Pius is chilling, but the process that brings him to this point is so clear and well-plotted, that I was hard pressed to find reason not to share his conclusion.

Pope Pius XII's responses, or lack of response, during the 1939-1945 war, were successful in his execution of his perceived role as Pastor Pastorum - shepherd of the shepherds -  and the visible head of Christ's church on earth.  He successfully defended the rights of the church in the face of the dangers of fascism, Nazism and Communism.  The institution survived the war; the hierarchy was still in place, churches were opened, clergy ministered to their people and the sacraments were celebrated.  However, Pius' non-defence of the moral norms and ethical principals that lie at the heart of Catholic Christianity are judged a failure.  Kornberg cites Pacelli's own words to lay the charge against him.  In his 1939 encyclical Summi Pontificatus, Pius said he would not and could not remain silent in the face of crimes against divine law.  His silence in the face of the mass-murder of Catholic Poles, Orthodox Serbs, Catholic and Orthodox Roma and Sinta, and then the genocide of European Jewry seals Kornberg's argument.

This is an important book that gives us possibly, the most important work to date on Pius XII within the contexts of the early twentieth century papacy and its relationship with the modern world.  It is a valuable complimentary volume to other works on Pius XII.  Professor Kornberg has done us a great service in his book. It is accessible to the professional historian well-versed in the study of Pacelli, and, more importantly, is accessible to the lay reader who wants to know more about a man, a pope, about whom there appears never enough said.

Emeritus Professor Jacques Kornberg

Friday, July 24, 2015

ADSS 1.79; 1.80 Maglione to Cortesi and Orsenigo: calming tensions

ADSS 1.79 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, to Filippo Cortesi, Poland.

Reference: Telegram 36 (AES 4182/39)

Location and date: Vatican, 01.07.1939

Summary statement: Dispatch of ADSS 1.78.

Language: Italian


Telegram as per ADSS 1.78.

ADSS 1.80 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, to Cesare Orsenigo, Germany.

Reference: AES 4119/39

Location and date: Vatican, 01.07.1939

Summary statement: Advises Orsenigo of advice of prudence sent to Warsaw and Hlond.  Hope that the German gov’t will do likewise.

Language: Italian


Having noted that Baron von Weizsäcker mentioned to you “the moderating influence that could be exerted on the Polish population by the Catholic clergy” (1) I think it right to inform you that the Holy See has repeatedly taken action in this sense.  Even recently, namely on 16 June 1939 (2), by august order of His Holiness, I instructed his Excellency, Monsignor Cortesi, Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw, to renew the recommendations already made to the Polish Government.  On the 22 June the Nuncio communicated to me the reply given by his Excellency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (3), who told him that “Poland will maintain the prudent and moderate attitude observed so far notwithstanding the numerous incidents intentionally provoked by the other side.”

In addition, the August Pontiff, wishing not to miss an opportunity to do something on behalf of peace, has instructed me immediately to invite the Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw to beg Cardinal Hlond to do his utmost that the Polish clergy should exhort a moderating influence on the faithful. (4)

I need not add that the Holy See is certain that for her part Germany will remain calm and prudent as is required at such a delicate moment.

(1) ADSS 1.71.  Ernst von Weizsäcker (1882-1952), German Secretary of State, Foreign Office 1938-1943. 
(2) ADSS 1.64.  Filippo Cortesi (1876-1947), Nuncio to Poland 1936-47.
(3) ADSS 1.70.  Józef Beck (1894-1944), Polish Foreign Minister 1932-39.

(4) ADSS 1.78.  August Hlond (1881-1948), Primate of Poland and Cardinal Archbishop of Poznan 1926-46.

ADSS 1.78 Maglione to Cortesi: request to Polish clergy to urge calm.

ADSS 1.78 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, to Filippo Cortesi, Poland.

Reference: AES 4182/39, Domenico Tardini draft.

Location and date: Vatican, 30.06.1939

Summary statement: Encourage Hlond to exert moderating influence on the clergy.

Language: Italian


In consideration of the present excitement and of the consequent risk of dangerous complications, the Holy Father, deeply concerned, asks your Excellency to invite Cardinal Hlond in a very confidential way to exhort and to guide, with his well-known zeal and tact, the Polish Clergy to exert a moderating action on the faithful.


ADSS 1.77 Maglione to Orsenigo: Asking clergy to urge calm in Poland

ADSS 1.77 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, to Cesare Orsenigo, Germany.

Reference: AES 4119/39 – draft written by Domenico Tardini

Location and date: Vatican, 28.06.1939

Summary statement: After having asked the Nuncio to induce Warsaw to take a prudent attitude, Maglione asks Orsenigo to invite the Primate, to advise the clergy to be calm and relies on the moderation of the German government.

Language: Italian


I have received Report 48 of 23 June. (1) Regarding Holy See’s action recommending calm and moderation, I inform you that, by august order of His Holiness, on 16 June I invited Monsignor Cortesi to repeat to the Polish Government the recommendation already made. (2) – Monsignor Cortesi states that his approach to the Foreign Minister had been favourably received. (3) I am telegraphing in the same vein to the Warsaw Nunciature in order that Cardinal Hlond (4) does his best to invite the clergy to exert a moderating action.  The Holy See is sure that the German Government will do their best to reach the desired aim.

(1) ADSS 1.72
(2) ADSS 1.64
(3) Filippo Cortesi (1876-1947), Nuncio to Poland 1936-47; ADSS 1.70

(4) August Hlond (1881-1948), Cardinal Archbishop of Poznan and Primate of Poland 1926-46.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

ADSS 1.76 Tardini, notes: draft telegrams on German-Polish tension

ADSS 1.76 Domenico Tardini, notes

Reference: AES 4119/39 – handwritten note

Location and date: Vatican, 28.06.1939

Summary statement: Draft telegrams for Berlin for easing German-Polish tension.

Language: Italian


The Report No. 48,(27.810) 0f Berlin Nunciature dated 23 June (1), relating to the “German-Polish tension”, says that Baron von Weizsäcker (2) mentioned the moderating influence that could be exerted on the Polish population by the Catholic clergy.  In view of this, the Cardinal Secretary of State in order to once more demonstrate the unceasing activity of the Pope on behalf of peace, would suggest sending the enclosed dispatches.

(1) ADSS 1.72

(2) Ernst von Weizsäcker (1882-1951), German Secretary of State, Foreign Office 1938-43.