Sunday, January 2, 2005

Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and the Jews

I should have expected it -- but Nathan Nelson has siezed upon the latest story of Pius XII as a vehicle for bashing orthodox Catholics:

Nathan: What's even more embarrassing, however, is that some Catholics in the blogosphere are actually defending the actions of Pope Pius XII. It is my belief that if this had not been ordered by a Pope, they would not be defending these actions. But given the latent and heretical belief in papal impeccability among conservative Catholics, they have no choice but to defend the actions of Pope Pius XII. . . . The rationale of these bloggers, and indeed of the Pope and the Curia at that time, is that children who had been baptized Christians could not be given into the care of those who would not educate them in the Christian faith (i.e., their Jewish parents). This position has been taken up by Christopher Blosser from Against the Grain. Some of those commenting on the story over at Amy Welborn's blog, Open Book, are also taking this position."

The question of whether Pius XII was right in issuing such a directive is debatable. Nathan is incorrect in characterizing me as "taking up" Pius XII's position -- I did so only in demonstrating how the absence of attention to the theological rationale perpetuates The Guardian's blatant slander that Pius XII was anti-semitic. (I said as much in my post).

A lot of over-the-top rhetoric is to be expected in discussing this issue, but I would encourage Nathan to partake in a closer reading of Amy Welborn's blog. I've read through the exchange on Open Book twice and it seems Pius XII's "defenders" are motivated not by a loyal desire to 'defend the Pope at all costs" but rather a nostalgic appreciation for a time when Catholics gave greater weight to what baptism really meant (assuming the baptisms were valid), and the importance of a Catholic education in the salvation of one's soul. Certainly that much can be appreciated, regardless of whether Nathan or I agree with Pius XII's decision.

Likewise, I agree with those who find the consequences of such a decision -- the deprivation of children from their parents, or the literal kidnapping of a child in the case . In such cases, the primary mission of the Church ("to save souls" does not, in the words of one commentator, "mean that saving souls is an end to which anything becomes a proper means. Saving souls may be an end without which the Church loses its earthly meaning, without being a licence to make decisions for others that are not given to us to make. St. Thomas might help here on such things as formal and final causes."

If you can look past the heated rhetoric and verbal abuse, there is actually a really good discussion of this topic going on by commentators Amy Welborn's blog, with arguments by both sides worthy of consideration and reasoned discussion. Don't take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. It's a tough issue with no easy answer, and I agree with Mark Shea's comment:

What seems to me to be missing on both sides of this discussion is any sense that this is a difficult question. For Rad Trads, it's obvious: screw the interests of the parents. They're just Jews, so no big loss. What we need is tough Catholics who tell the unbelieving dog just where his right to mess with our Church ends: at the baptismal font! Oh, for the days when the Fourth Lateran Council kept unbelievers in their place and Catholic enjoyed unquestioned temporal *power*! There appears to be no *serious* consideration of the Person in all this.

For the defenders of Roncalli and Woytila, it's equally simple: parental rights trump whatever cloud cuckoo theological issues might be involved. Baptism, sure, is important. But not all *that* important. Not really. Completely absent from this side of the discussion is any serious consideration of "Unless a man hate his father and mother and indeed his very life, he cannot be my disciple". No discussion or consideration of "I come to set father against son and son against father." The notion that Pius might have felt a profound responsibility before God that a child of God not be deprived of their eternal destiny through his neglect seems not to really be entertained. He's simple labeled a "kidnapper" and that's that.

It's all white mitres and black mitres. There seems to be no consideration of the possibility that everybody involved was confonted with competing goods. Rather, everybody seems to be talking as though one side (Them) wanted Evil and the other side (Us) wanted Good.

Fulfilling the desired ends of The Guardian's article, Nathan goes on to indulge in some unwarranted speculation of the true intentions of Pius XII and those who baptized Jewish children:

Nathan:. . . then again, perhaps the rush to have [Jewish children] baptized was part of a plan to later keep them from their parents -- such would not be beyond the realm of possibility, considering the liturgy at the time and for many years before referred to the Jews as the "perfidious Jews." The Church certainly does have a colorful history of anti-Semitism, and it's not out of the question that curial officials or even Pope Pius XII himself would have wanted to rescue Jewish children from their alleged perfidy.

I'll try to be charitable in assuming that Nathan has written this post in an impassioned state and will think otherwise when his temper subsides. But let's look at the reasons why we can refrain from speculating (as Nathan does) that Pius XII's directive was motivated by "true feelings" of hatred toward "the perfidious Jews":

We can credit the Church's repudiation of the 'teaching of contempt' which fostered anti-semitism to a Jewish-French professor named Jules Isaac. You can find a summary of how he did so here. Those who have studied the topic will recognize that such a reform could not have occured without the initial help and collaboration of Pope Pius XII. It was by papal authorization in 1949 to translate the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, pro perfidis judaeis with the milder translation "unfaithful" or "unbelieving" that prompted Isaac to obtain an audience with Pius XII, in which:

. . . he pointed out that such a change was insufficient, not only because the wording of the new translation was still objectionable, but also because priests continued to use the Latin word, with its damaging psychological associations. [Isaac] urged that nothing but the total suppression of the word could be satisfactory. He also mentioned that Catholics did not kneel for the Jews in the Good Friday devotion. . . . Kneeling for the Jews was re-established in 1955, after nearly twelve centuries. Professor Isaac's work was certainly significant in helping to effect this result.[Preface to The Teaching of Contempt by Jules Isaac, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964].

At the papal audience, Dr. Isaac presented the pope with his scholarship and his Eighteen Points (specific recommendations for the purification of Christian teaching regarding the Jews). He petitioned the pontiff for further changes, and these in turn were addressed by Pius XII's successor, Pope John XXIII. In his book The Hidden Pope, Darcy O'Brien expresses his belief that Pius XII's meeting with Jules Isaac "may even have affected the pontiff's preference for a true reformer, John XXIII, as his successor. Cardinal Deskur, for one, believes this is so." And as Dave Kubiak pointed out (commenting @ Open Book): "it may be useful to recall that on 29 October 1953 at Castelgandolfo, Pius XII held the scarlet galero over the head of Archbishop Roncalli, whom he named Patriarch of Venice."

The belief that Pius XII "paved the way for Vatican II" was also held by Jewish convert Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher (1904-1993), a close friend of Cardinal Willebrands and participant in the drafting of Nostra Aetate (His book The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews contains a behind-the-scenes history of the document). Msgr. Oesterreicher describes the revolutionary attitude Pope Pius XII took in the preface to his encyclical on Holy Scripture Divino Afflante Spiritu (my brother Jamie will get a kick out of this, considering it "the greatest papal encyclical ever written"):

In his encyclical on Holy Scripture, Pius XII warmly acknowledges that the inquiry of modern exegetes "has also clearly shown the special preeminence of the people of Israel among all other ancient nations of the East . . ." Today, we hear a statement like this without overtones, as something obvious, if not commonplace. In those days, however, with the Nazis in power, to praise the genius of the Jewish people was considered treason, an assault on the purity and grandeur of the Nordic race. Strange though it may seem to men and women of our generation, in the days of Hitler it was a courageous affirmation. He thus helped us become more and more aware of the authentic bond between the Church and the People of Israel. (p. 52)

We know very little from the newspaper accounts of the specific circumstances under which the baptisms in question occured, so I believe it would be imprudent to speculate on the motives of the foster parents. We do know, however, what Pius XII thought of "forced conversions." Commenting on Open Book, Steve H. says:

Pope Pius XII addressed the charge of "forced conversions" (at least once) in a Papal Allocution on October 6, 1946. He referred to a memorandum dated January 25,1942 which said that conversion must be chosen freely and that there must be an "interior adherence of the soul to the truths taught by the Catholic Church". I found this in Consensus & Controversy by Margherita Marchione. She says that "at times, classes were established to let children study their own [Judaism] religion". She also notes rabbis thanking the Pope for caring for the children.

Finally, Nathan ends his post by praising the actions of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as models of dissent from papal authority:

As I mentioned before, as papal nuncio to France, the man who would become Pope John XXIII used his own discretion (that pesky thing called a conscience) and disobeyed Pope Pius XII, returning Jewish children to their families. Apparently, Pope John Paul II also advised Polish families to return Jewish children to their families when he was a priest in Poland. An example of healthy dissent or Christian disobedience that all Christians can be happy about . . . an example of openly defying the direct orders of a Pope in favor of the direct orders of the Gospel.

I hope the events I've described above will call into question those who seek to portray Pius XII and John XXIII as simple adverseries with respect to the Jews. Likewise, Nathan should recognize that Fr. Wojtyla was dealing with a different kind of situation, parents who were intending to baptize the child. He wasn't "disobeying" Pius XII in doing so. Nor can one presume he was aware of the directive to retain childrenn who were already baptized -- or that Pius XII would have necessarily disagreed with Wojtyla's actions.

The secular media is already having a field day by using this latest story to slander Pius XII as an anti-semite. No sense for Catholic liberal bloggers, whatever their beef is with the Vatican, to join them in doing so.


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