ADSS 3.2.477 Karol Radonski to Maglione: papal silence

ADSS 3.2.477  

Reference: AES 2474/43

Location and date: London, 15.02.1943 (arrived Rome 17.03.1943)

Summary statement: Anti-papal criticisms encouraged by the Germans in Poland.  Promoting the story of the Pope’s ‘silence’.  Make comparisons with Pius XI.  “They remember the words of Pius XI to the Catholics of Mexico and Spain during the great persecutions, to be strong under torture; they heard Your Holiness condemn the persecution of the Jews in France.  Are we now (Poland) worth so little that they pray only for the Jews?”

Language: Latin


With my whole heart, I thank Your Eminent Reverence for the letter dated 19 January [1943], which I received yesterday. (1) For many things are proven, and holding to a firm mind, but now leaning on the words of Your Eminence, I am able to contend with greater freedom.

Convinced by what Your Eminence says, we will omit nothing from the sermons of the Holy Father and we will study them so as to use them against all calumnies.  However, there are some learned men, writers well versed in the faith, who had formerly had opportunity to take arms against the Church and the Supreme Pontiff.  Among these, for the first time, the moderator takes the “place of the leaves, which in London are edible” (sic) is well known to the writers of dissertations published and read avidly throughout the whole of Britain. Last year [1942] misinterpreted comments of this man critical not only of the Holy Father and the Apostolic See, but harassing the national church as the best event, were preached. (2)

We are irritated by the silence of the Holy Father, from Who we day by day, we expect to hear words of condemnation of the crimes, or at least words of comfort afforded to a prepared field in which are found seeds of weeds.

In the first place, there is a sense of indignation and rebellion on the increase among the soldiers against the Supreme Pontiff.  Military chaplains have often complained to me that they feel they do no good that the Holy Father has decided to go along with the aggressors. 

I hesitated to contribute to the journal, wondering if it was legitimate for a bishop to mention these things.  In short, however, friends were determined not to leave it to other Catholics, but in this case to get me to write about it so that all my longings became known, so that all who read it would know I had reproached that writer.  Events have proved me right in that decision.  For the most shameless lies, I have answered the author with more writing.  It may have destroyed his authority.  And at that time – that is, over the last three months – he has ceased to openly challenge the writings of the Supreme Pontiff.

Most Eminent Lord.   Of course the fight for the integrity and authority of the Roman Pontiff was a difficult one for us, and in the circumstances there is a risk in fighting battles.  We have no documents which provide us with the accurate text of His Holiness. Vatican radio is often interrupted by noise from the Germans and it can be very difficult to understand.  On matters relating to Poland, the English Catholic papers have inaccurate information.  For example: in the case of the appointment of Fr. Breitinger there was great indignation and only afterwards was the matter made clear.

Now there are two issues that are causing problems:  the first is that which is supposed to damage the concordat between the Apostolic See through the commission granted to the Bishop of Gniezno (Gniezno-Poznan diocese) for the administration of the diocese of Chelmno and the archdiocese of Vilnius under the care of His Excellency monsignor Reinys (3).  This matter has not been made public only dealt with privately with the representatives of the National Council (4).  Although these points, concerning the nominations do not offend the spirit of the Concordat, since articles 11 and 19, speak about the role of it the bishops and parish priests in a stable role, there has been serious damage to its spirit and meaning by the Apostolic See, to entrust citizens of another state with jurisdiction over Polish citizens.  Consequently they say that this new freedom used by the Holy See with the Concordat needs to be more tightly constrained.

The second issue is the objection to the silence of the Holy Father.  We know from those most beautiful words from the encyclical “Summi Pontificatus”, in a similar way we know in the first year of the war news was passed to the Poles living in Rome.  The remarkable repeated works of mercy His Holiness performed fur Polish prisoners or exiles.  But the fact that the desire of all people and which is so distressing and causes so much difficulty, namely that the Supreme Authority in the Christian world has for nearly two years remained almost totally speechless in the face of grievous persecution, from unheard of crimes committed by an invader from day to day.  For we did not know the causes, which Your Eminence has deigned to let me know.  For what could I answer, when asked by a certain prelate deep in the Catholic hierarchy of Britain when asked me:  “After everything that has happened to you, why is the Holy Father silent?”  All I have been able to answer so far is: “I do not know the reason”.  Is it any wonder, Your Eminence, if the Poles, unaware of the cause of the silence accuse the Pope unjustly?

They remember how during the persecution of Mexican and Spanish Catholics Pius XI used strong words to comfort them and condemn their torturers.  Now they have heard new that His Holiness has condemned the persecution of the Jews in France (5).  They ask whether we are of less value than the Jews?

Your Eminence, I understand the intense pain of the Holy Father, having to hear such things.  God knows how greatly I wish him happiness.  But do not judge too severely.  Consider the condition of our lives here.  There is hardly anyone among to be found among our kinsfolk who does not deplore a violent death.  They who are entering their fourth year separated from their people and native land, from their lives, passing their time tortured with heart-breaking anguish for the fate of their families.  News continually reaches them with messages of deportations, expropriation, executions, horrible torture of family and friends.  Nor need we wonder that among our troops in Scotland there are frequent suicides as well as 60 soldiers who are in sanatoriums for the insane.  Deeply wounded in their souls, they wait for days for the balsam of words of consolation to soothe them.  This is why there is such love and veneration from the Poles in Britain for His Eminence Cardinal Hinsley, because they know he has a loving and compassionate heart.  The Poles when shown such goodness will not hesitate to seize it.   

I wonder just which bishops have asked the Holy Father to remain silent, and I do not venture to judge whether their advice has been well chosen.  According to Your Eminence, they did so out of fear of aggravating the persecution.  But the facts prove that with the pope being silent, each days sees the persecution becoming more cruel.  Infants are not being snatched from their parents and deported as a group to Germany, and the mothers who try to defend them are immediately killed.  When such crimes, which cry out to heaven for vengeance, are committed, the inexplicable silence of the supreme head of the church becomes for those who do not know its reason – and there thousands of them – a cause for spiritual downfall (7).  An emissary recently arrived here from Poland. A worthy man of faith, a frequent receiver of the sacraments and a member of Catholic Action who told me about their state of mind:

A  mystical piety grows from day to day.  Never have the churches been so full of the faithful, never have the priests enjoyed such veneration, especially the younger ones who show an heroic contempt of death in their faithful service.  As for the bishops, the greatest respect is reserved for the archbishops of Krakow and Vilna and the bishop of Lomza (8) Other bishops enjoy greater authority in respect to others, some less.  However sad it is to say, the same distrust and rebellion towards the Holy Father is observed here too in Britain, derived from the same causes, and not only among the laity.  It is not of little consequence for the future:  the war will end, most of the clergy will be extinct, the field of the Lord will be empty of workers.  But American Protestants with American money will find it easy to harvest the oppressed and bitter souls.  Would to God that I am a false prophet, but I fear the future more than the present.

Your Eminence:  Please do not be angry at the less than pleasant things I repeat.  I think I would be unfaithful to my office if I only declared that everything was good, even when they are not good.  Nonetheless, there are some brighter moments.  Firstly, there is a total aversion to communism; it has no followers.  The second, is the opposition to the spread of schism in the form of a national church has consolidated. Only those with no religion have praised the idea of schism.  But the most vigorous opposition has come from the Nationalists who declare that our age-old national religion is Roman Catholicism.  A gathering of Catholic Poles intends to meet in London at Pentecost out of which I hope will come greater fruits.

This is what I ask Your Eminence to send me.  I ask permission to add a text to the Italian radio broadcast on 17 January in four languages for the bishops of the Catholic world (9).

(1) ADSS 3.2.460.  Maglione had written to Radonski attempting to explain the pope’s decision to appoint Hilary Breitinger OFM Cap (1907-1994) as Apostolic Administrator for the German speaking Catholics in the Wartheland as well as explain that Pius had said and done everything he could for Poland.  Radonski had accepted the explanations offered in the British press that the pope’s silence had been bought as a pay off for the independence of L’Osservatore Romano.  See too Blet, p83.

(2) This was a reference to a series of articles published between October and December 1942 in the weekly Polish journal in London, Wiadomosci Polski [Polish News] by the director, Polish actor Zygmunt Nowakowski (1891-1963).  Responses to the articles were written by Karol Radonski and Professor Oscar Halecki (1891-1973).  Halecki was a devout Catholic who believed Poland’s only way forward during the war was to humbly submit to the Holy See. See

(3) Mecislovas Reinys (1884-1953), auxiliary bishop of Vilna and vicar general of the diocese.  Acted in place of the exiled Romuald Jalbrzykowski (1876-1955).

(4) A reference to the Polish National Council or Government in Exile that was based in London from December 1939.  The council was disbanded in July 1941 but reconstituted in February 1942 and lasted until the end of the war.

(5) In autumn 1942 the Allied radio and press announced that during a diplomatic banquet in Vichy, Marshall Petain had been publically rebuked by the Nunio, Valerio Valeri, when the Marshall hinted that anti-Jewish legislation in Vichy had the approval of the Holy See.  Radkonski’s information was accurate.

(6) On Polish troops in Scotland see

(7) Translation of this paragraph is from Blet, p84.

(8) Adam Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow, Romuald Jalbryzkowski, archbishop of Vilna (interned in Marimpiol), Stanislaw Lukomski, bishop of Lozma.

(9) This letter and the previous one to the Pope were presented to William Godfrey, Apostolic Delegate in London.  It was sent to the Vatican with Radonski’s radiomessage and an article Papiet a Polska published in Wiadomosci Polski (number 46, 15.11.1942).  Godfrey to Maglione, Report 280/43, 19.02.1943 (AES 2474/43).

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