Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich.
In a 1961 Stimmen der Zeit article, the Jesuit priest and confidant of Plus XII, Father Robert Leiber, stated "that Plus XI was in general not easy to dissuade from taking public positions on burning questions; Plus XII was not easy to move toward that end" (211). Lifting Leiber's insightful quote for his book, Pope and Devil, Hubert Wolf concurs that many of the conclusions that historians have already deduced about Eugenio Pacelli's conduct during the 1920s and 30s are valid, having confirmed this in his own investigation of the records released by the Vatican Secret Archive from Pius XI's pontificate. At the same time, Wolf provides much needed contextualization to trace the debates within the Vatican around central decisions taken by the Church's hierarchy in the face of authoritarian regimes. Primarily utilizing four archival record groups from the Nunciatures of Munich and Berlin, Papal Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Wolf, a priest of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese and professor of church history at the University of Munster, seeks to reconstruct Rome's view of Germany from 1917-1939. In his acknowledgments, he admits that it will take years of study and the opening of additional archival collections in order to write definitive works on this period. Nevertheless, Wolf's study already shows clear patterns in the choices that Eugenio Pacelli made as Nuncio in Munich and Berlin and as the Holy See's Cardinal Secretary of State. Similarly, Wolf's writing style--made available in a fine translation--makes this complex history accessible and uncovers the mystery surrounding Vatican archival sources.
As nuncio in Munich (1917-1920), Munich and Berlin (1920-1925), and then as nuncio in Berlin alone (1925-1929), and finally as Cardinal Secretary of State (1930-1939), Pacelli followed the path of his mentor and predecessor, Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary of State (1914-1930), to "translate the letter and the spirit" of the 1917 Code of Canon Law into practice (37). Pacelli believed that such steps would serve to ensure the implementation of Vatican policy and the uninterrupted continuation of pastoral care to Catholics. Nowhere was this more important than in the appointment of bishops. Wolf stipulates that for Pacelli, "the bishops were little more than papal head altar boys, called on to act only on the instructions of the pope" (74). However, Pacelli distrusted those kinds of bishops, such as Cardinal Adolf Bertram of Breslau, whose seat the government might have procured for him and whose theological training took place at a German state university. Clearly behind such thinking was an anti-modernist stance, though Wolf's portrayal of Pacelli is more nuanced to attribute any one issue as the determinative factor behind his decision making process.
Among the Vatican documents, Wolf finds validity in the claim that Pacelli's diplomatic failure to negotiate peace during World War I was a pivotal experience that shaped the future pope's hesitation to involve the Church directly in international conflicts, but rather follow a course of strict neutrality. At the same time, Pacelli's thirteen years in Germany inculcated in him a profound awareness of the Kulturkampf's significance for German Catholics. For Wolf, both might help to explain the future Pope's silence in face of Jewish persecution and murder at the hands of the Nazis. In this context, Wolf reports that anti-Semitism "played only a minor role" in Pacelli's regular reports as papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin. At the same time, while suspicious of fight-wing volkisch anti-Semitism, Pacelli also employed language in his reports that included anti-Semitic stereotypes. Wolf concludes that such discrepancies "cannot be easily categorized or reconciled" (80).
Wolf's study does show the depth of anti-Semitism that existed in the Vatican, especially in regard to the debate over Amici Israel, a liturgical reform movement intent on creating reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. With more than 3,000 members, including cardinals and bishops, Amici Israel should have been a force for change in the Church. However, this was not to be the case. In 1928, when Abbott Benedict Gariador, Amici Israel's president, beseeched the pope to remove the words perdifis and perfidiam from the Good Friday liturgy, he first found support in the Sacred Congregation of Rites. However, the necessary approval failed to come from the Holy Office, which condemned the entire movement, and convinced Pius XI to suppress it. In the process, Wolf reveals the role Catholic anti-Semitism played in the arguments among the officials of the Holy Office. In the end, the official wording of the suppression of Amici Israel "meant that only racial anti-Semitism was condemned, whereas theological anti-Semitism on the part of the Church would be considered legitimate and even necessary" (111). Wolf states that "Pius XI not only failed to initiate steps against anti-Semitism ... but actually rejected and condemned such action outright" and concludes that Pius XI "wasted his big chance" (121).
Still Wolf's portrayal of Pius XI is much more positive than Pius XII. Wolf portrays the latter as a churchman who will do anything to protect the interests of the Church, even if this means negotiating with the "devil"--Adolf Hitler and his government--or refusing to place Mein Kampf on the Index. According to Wolf, Hitler's stance against communism seems only to strengthen Pacelli's resolve to work with the Nazi state. At the same time, Pacelli proceeds cautiously while waiting for the German bishops to act. Such an interpretation leads one, for example, to discredit the conspiracy claims of Klaus Scholder and to support the position of Konrad Repgen and the late, Ludwig Volk, regarding the genesis of the Reich-Vatican Concordat. According to Wolf, the Vatican documents do not reveal a circle of intrigue that results in a series of events leading to the signing of the concordat.
What the documents do reveal is that that the Berlin Nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo kept Pope Pius XI and his Cardinal Secretary of State very well informed about the rise of anti-Semitism and violent anti-Semitic acts in Germany. Orsenigo even provided Pacelli with detailed reports concerning events such as the April 1933 Civil Service Law, the fall 1935 Nuremberg Laws, and Kristallnacht. Similarly, Wolf details and contextualizes heartfelt entreaties of individuals such as the Jewish convert and soon-to-be-Carmelite religious, Edith Stein, the scholar of Hebrew literature, Rabbi Arthur Zacharias Schwarz, the Munich cathedral dean, Father Anton Scharnagl, the Dominican Master General, Father Martin Gillet, and the devout Catholic pilot, Victor Haefner, whose written pleas Pacelli read and selectively shared with Pius XI. According to Wolf, Pius XI became more troubled by anti-Semitism in 1938 when it made its face clearly felt in Italy with the gradual introduction of racial laws. Still, the words of Pius XI's undelivered speech of November 1938, to which Wolf devotes considerable amount of space, do not truly offer the impact Wolf attributes to them. Thus, Pacelli's order to destroy all printed copies of the speech does not come across as deceitful as once believed. Wolf concludes, "Pacelli was clear in his rejection of racial antisemitism, and he believed that the Church had a general responsibility to support human rights. Rather, his espousal of public silence had to do more with his understanding of the office of pope as padre comune of all faithful Catholics.... His priority was not to imperil the pastoral mission of the pope and the Church" (212).
In Pope and Devil, Wolf has produced an important study on the papacy and its relationship with pre-World War II Nazi Germany. In certain places, the author makes leaps in his conclusions such as in his discussion of Nuncio Orsenigo's May 8, 1933, report, which Wolf states "gave Rome a precise understanding of Hitler's anti-Semitism." He continues, "Once it was received, they knew exactly where things stood: Hitler intended to exterminate the Jewish 'vermin'" (199). If such was true, then others would have also been fully aware of the implications of anti-Semitism and its annihilative conclusions. In other places in the book, such as in his chapter 4 discussion of Bishop Clemens von Galen of Munster, Wolf might have dialogued more with the extensive secondary literature available. In addition, Wolf seems to end his work abruptly without offering a conclusion. More than likely this was done with purpose since the story of the Vatican during National Socialist rule is still awaiting an ending as we anticipate the opening of the papers of Pius XII's pontificate. Without a doubt, when that time arrives, Hubert Wolf will have a great deal more information to share with his readers!
Kevin P. Spieer
C.S.C. Stonehill College
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|Author:||Spicer, Kevin P.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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