- A number of popular Catholic apologists, most of them nonhistorians, have answered [allegations concerning the "silence" of Pope Pius XII and the Church] in a similarly one-sided manner, by trying to demonstrate that the Church’s record during these years is beyond reproach. Their central focus is the undoubted enmity between National Socialism and the Catholic Church. They point to the Church’s uncompromising condemnation of Nazi racial doctrine, most specifically in the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (1937), and to the Nazis’ increasing hatred of the Catholic Church, viewed by them as the heir of Judaism because of its roots in the Jewish Old Testament. But this apologetic somehow misses the point. The Church was indeed a powerful bulwark against National Socialism and its insidious racial theories. Was the Church, however, also a bulwark against anti-Semitism?
Fr. Rhonheimer believes that the answer is no, and presents what I believe is a well-established case. He demonstrated how European Catholics of that time held in varying degrees "a specifically modern anti-Semitism . . . nourished by traditional Christian anti-Judaism," which manifested itself in social, political and economic aspects of society, and made it "possible in 1933, and even as late as 1937, for a Catholic to reject Nazi racial doctrine yet remain an anti-Semite and a supporter of the Nazi regime."
There are some Catholics who might have found such a critique easier to dismiss had it come from the pages of, say, Commonweal or The National Catholic Reporter. It is significant that it should appear in First Things, a decidely more politically and religiously "conservative" journal, which has also published many articles in defense of Pius XII.
Likewise, Fr. Rhonheimer will probably defy readers' assumptions by his being a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and a professor of ethics and political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. But as he mentions in his article, he also comes from a family three-quarters Jewish, which may explain his keen intuition and ability to convey the concerns of Jewish and Catholic parties in this discussion:
- "I believe in the truth that the Church proclaims. I proclaim that truth myself. Yet I also have an emotional bond to Judaism, and to my Jewish relatives. I am pained by unfair Jewish attacks on the Catholic Church. But I am also pained by a one-sided Catholic apologetic that minimizes the injustice done by Christians to Jews in history, or seeks to relegate it to oblivion. I am especially aware of the Jewish sensitivity to topics that Catholics often pass over either too quickly or in silence. "
Fr. Rhonheimer's article contains difficult truths -- let us pray that they are heard and will contribute to the Church's "purification of memory and conscience" and reconcilation with the Jewish people which has been the particular concern of our Holy Father.