Monday 18 September 2023

Pius Fiction

Will this silly season never end? As someone once said, “Tell a lie big enough...” In fact, Pius XII was first ever called “Hitler’s Pope” by John Cornwell, in his 1999 book of that name, a thinly disguised liberal rant against Saint John Paul II with the ‘thesis’ that the future Pius XII, while a diplomat in Germany, could have rallied Catholic opposition and toppled Hitler. Pure fantasy, like the origin of the whole “Pope supported Hitler” craze: the 1963 play The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth, who was later successfully prosecuted for suggesting that Churchill had arranged the 1944 air crash that had killed General Sikorsky.

Pius XII directly or indirectly saved between 8500 and 9600 Jews in Rome; 40,000 throughout Italy; 15,000 in the Netherlands; 65,000 in Belgium; 200,000 in France; 200,000 in Hungary; and 250,000 in Romania. This list is not exhaustive, and the Dutch figure would have been much higher had not the Dutch Bishops antagonised the Nazis by issuing the sort of public denunciation that Pius is castigated for having failed to issue.

After the War, Pius was godfather when the Chief Rabbi of Rome became a Catholic, and was declared a Righteous Gentile by the State of Israel, whose future Prime Minister, Moshe Sharrett, told him that it was his, “duty to thank you, and through you the Catholic Church, for all they had done for the Jews.” When Pius died in 1958, then the tributes to him from Jewish organisations had to be printed over three days by The New York Times, and even then limited to the names of individuals and their organisations. All of this is contained in works of serious scholarship by Margherita Marchione, Ralph McInerny, Ronald J Rychlak, Rabbi Professor David G Dalin, and others.

There were Bavarian Catholics who were active in the early Nazi Party in Munich. Looking back to Döllinger, they defined themselves as Catholics in the sense of belonging to a community of faith across the world and throughout the ages, rather than in terms of perfect submission to the Petrine See as that See required.

They strongly affirmed the purported autonomy of the German Church, including the control of Her affairs by the activist laity on the basis of their financial contributions (in Germany, the church tax system) and by means of quasi-parliamentary institutions. Does any of this sound familiar? Those of such mind were key to the emergence of Nazism until it was kicked out of Bavaria following the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch. After that, Nazism became a movement and a party with its base in staunchly Protestant areas of Germany and within the fiercely anticlerical Third Lager in Austria.

Colonel Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg, later to be given the full Tom Cruise treatment, was a devout Catholic, with close dynastic connections to the Bavarian Royal House of Wittelsbach that Jacobites would have on the Thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland, and to the family of Saint Philip Howard, martyred Earl of Arundel.

In Austria, Hitler ordered the murder of the Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, who defended, on the borders of Italy and Germany, Catholic Social Teaching and what remained of the thoroughly multiethnic Habsburg imperial ethos (to this day, numerous German, Magyar and Slavic names are found throughout the former Austria-Hungary) against both the Communists and the Nazis. In the same tradition was Blessed Franz Jägerstätter.

Examples of Catholic anti-Nazism could be multiplied practically without end. The more Catholic an area was, the less likely it was to vote Nazi, without any exception whatever. Not least, the future Pope Benedict XVI’s Mathematics teacher sent him to get the Hitler Youth form, and then just kept it on file for him. “Thus was I able to escape it.” So he was never in it. Have you got that? He was never in it.

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