Six Million Crucifixions differs in two very important ways: first, it provides a summary of the history of antisemitism with an emphasis on the genesis and evolution of the Christian aspects of this hatred and, second, it makes a legal case in which I suggest the people responsible for crimes should have been brought to a trial, and go into a legal analysis of why this would be the case including a discussion of the specific counts of the potential indictment. Other books don’t do these things and focus on just the Catholic Church over the Nazi period, or the theological aspect, or Vatican assistance to war criminals, or just the role of the churches during the war. Six Million Crucifixions is a good, short way to learn about all these things in one place.
Monthly Archive for February, 2010
It’s unquestionable that the role of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis Croatia during WWII was disgraceful. A good article on Huffington Post gives very good information, and there’s more. That Pavelic was such a devout Catholic who was received by Pope Pius XII in April 1941, and that the Church supported what they perceived to be the good work of strong Catholics against Orthodox schismatics (and anyone else not Catholic, like Jews, for instance), led the British Foreign Office to describe the Pope as “the greatest moral coward of our age.” As the Foreign Office later told the British ambassador to the Holy See, the Pope’s reception of Pavelić “has done more to damage his reputation in this country than any other act since the war began.” The immorality of support for the Ustasha regime crossed the threshold into criminality when the Vatican established the ratlines with the help of Ustasha priests and members of the Catholic hierarchy to spirit wanted war criminals out of Europe after the war.
The role of the Catholic Church in regards to Slovakia should not be forgotten either. A Catholic priest ruled Slovakia and he and his regime were instrumental in the disenfranchisement of the Jewish population of Slovakia, the passing of anti-Jewish laws that constituted grave civil rights violations, and the deportation of Slovakia’s Jews to their deaths in German death camps. The Vatican made some token gestures to show concern about all this, but their concern was with the potential damage to the Church’s reputation, not the fate of those Jews.
I would have told the clergy in the German Church to destroy the baptismal records before it fell in the hands of the Nazis; I would have told them to stop spreading antisemitism in their sermons or other communications with the faithful; I would have prevented the German Church from lifting the ban on membership to the Nazi Party; I would have instructed every single member of the Church hierarchy to give shelter and protect Jews; I would have instructed every priest to give repeated sermons telling the faithful that the Jews were our brothers and that it was a crime and a sin to deport and murder them; I would have broadcast as widely and repeatedly as possible condemning the genocide, and I would have done it using plain, clear words that anyone could unequivocably understand; I would have have confronted the Germans with a threat of an interdict or the excommunication of Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazis belonging to the Catholic faith; I would have threatened the entire German Catholic population with excommunication if they persevered in denouncing, deporting or exterminating Jews, and I would have stood in front of the train deporting the Roman Jews to Auschwitz.
Sure, maybe one or more of these things would have made Hitler abduct the pope, perhaps even kill him (although I seriously doubt Hitler would have done that; he knew killing the pope would have likely turned hundreds of millions of Catholics against him). Of course, if Pope Pius XII had not been so concerned with protecting the treasures in the Vatican he and the curia could have moved to London or the United States, and broadcast from there and dropped leaflets all over Europe (which the Allies were already doing, anyway). But in any case, if the pope and his bishops were martyred, at least they would have followed the example of Jesus and would have cemented the Church’s moral standing.
For centuries, Christians everywhere were brought up in a tradition that taught antisemitism. The were raised in a cultural environment that promoted a feeling of hatred toward Jews, a feeling that tended to promote a certain violent behavior toward them. There’s nothing in the Catechism that says “Go and kill the infidel, the heretic, and the Jew” but that that did not stop Catholics from massacring Protestants, witches, Jews, Orthodox Christians and Moslems in large numbers. The reason why people—Christians generally—did that is because they thought they were doing the right thing, and they arrived at this conclusion because they were taught this way by their priests, their parents and their teachers, all of whom had been influenced by the writings in the New Testament and from the writings and sermons from the Church Fathers. The mob that went on the Crusades were not educated folk who were students of the tenets of the Church, they were regular folk incensed by what their leaders were saying. Godfrey of Bouillon, who led the First Crusade, swore to “avenge the blood of Christ on Israel and to leave no single member of the Jewish race alive” and the mob went on a killing rampage with the war cry “Baptism or death.” Christian apologetics often say that there is nothing in Christianity that teaches this type of behavior. Of course there are no Christian teachings that teach that, but Christianity did teach that Jews were Christ-killers and that there was no salvation outside the Church. This is the kind of stuff that made up the cultural environment in which Christians lived until very recently. What was a poor, illiterate peasant in the Middle Ages supposed to think?
The Catholic Church collaborated with the Nazis, and they did it on many levels. The offenses vary and some are of omission and some of commission: the German Catholic Church provided the Nazis with baptismal records in the early days of persecution, which allowed the Nazis to identify who was a Jew; they continued to spread antisemitism from the pulpit, even as it was clear what that led to; the Vatican signed a Concordat with Nazi Germany, making it the first nation to recognize the Nazi state and giving it and Hitler much needed prestige; the Church did not condemn the anti-Jewish laws in Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere, laws which constituted severe civil rights violations and therefore provided tacit approval of them; the Church continued to provide succor to the soldiers, policemen and SS troops who were murdering Jews by the thousands every day; the Church never enjoined the faithful to refrain from murdering Jews, or being part of the extermination organization and, the Vatican set up escape routes to spirit wanted Nazis out of Europe after the war.
I was interviewed about “Six Million Crucifixions” by the Freed Hardeman University Exposed web site. Freed Hardeman is a Christian university in Tennessee. They posted the interview today. If you wish to read it you can find it here: http://fhuexposed.com/?p=153.
Feel free to write back to me with comments, or even better, write your comments on the article’s page!
I think it’s important to ask what may be an uncomfortable question: why is Pope Benedict in such a hurry to canonize Pope Pius XII? Even though I think the Catholic Church has the right to rise to sainthood whoever they please, including its own popes, it may be counterproductive to do it with a person that was so visible and whose actions are so questionable. The Catholic Church moves at a glacial speed on anything they do; everything is done decades or even centuries late (think of Galileo). Yet, when it comes to Pope Pius XII, the Church wants to push the process of canonization forward as soon as possible, even as the debate rages on.
Perhaps the Church feels that the combination of time and new “facts on the ground” may whitewash the role of the pope and the Church during WWII. After all, it has worked in the past many times when the Church canonized many people whose record was atrocious, yet today we call them Saint This or Saint That and that makes them automatically good people. Pope Pius XII may have been a profoundly wonderful human being whose religious work may indeed warrant raising him to the sainthood. However, a pope is more than a religious figure. A pope is a head of state, and the head of a giant church, and Pope Pius had the misfortune to reign over it during the darkest period in history. Maybe he did indeed work tirelessly in defense of the Jews as his apologetics claim, and maybe his “heroic virtues” would warrant calling him a saint. However, his public record is well known and the available evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. As far as is publicly known, Pope Pius failed to speak loud and clear on behalf of the Jews, failed to prevent the German Catholic Church from providing the Nazis with baptismal records that allowed them to identify Jews, failed to instruct Catholics to stop murdering Jews, failed to officially instruct the clergy everywhere to give shelter to Jews, and failed to excommunicate any Catholics including Hitler, Goebbels, and many others in the Nazi hierarchy, let alone the actual Catholic perpetrators whose souls were cleansed by field priests as the soldiers, policemen or SS came back to the barracks with blood stains in their uniforms from the hundreds of Jews they murdered at point blank range that day.
I applaud the letter these scholars and religious figures sent to Pope Benedict. These people are experts on the subject and are familiar with the information available. Pope Benedict should heed their advice and delay the canonization process to avoid a backlash to the church. There is no rush. If the Vatican Secret Archives or other sources show the role of Pope Pius XII to have been different and scholarly scrutiny shows him to have indeed bestowed heaps of Christian caritas on the hounded Jews, then I believe the entire world would join the Catholic Church in celebrating Saint Pius.
The Pave the Way Foundation will be scanning and posting online some documents from the Vatican Secret Archives covering the WWII period. The Vatican had published these documents decades ago in the hope of making public the work purportedly done by Pope Pius XII on behalf of the Jews during the Holocaust. The Vatican commissioned six scholars, three Catholic and three Jewish, to evaluate the documentation and publish the results. The commission went through the documents, which raised more questions than provided answers, and produced a list of further questions for the Vatican including a request for further documents from the Vatican Secret Archives. The Vatican did not produce either and the commission eventually disbanded.
The Pave the Way Foundation provided a mischaracterization of what happened with the joint Jewish-Christian commission. In an article they correctly stated that the commission prepared a series of further questions as they found that the documents they had access to were not conclusive. They also stated that the commission was unable to understand the documents, as they couldn’t read them in the original languages. This is not correct. They did not have any problem in reading the documents for lack of understanding of the various languages. The Church refused to provide more information or further access to the Archives and eventually the commission disbanded, as it was unable to perform the duties that were asked of them.
It’s commendable that the Pave the Way Foundation wants to make these documents widely available, but nothing short of opening the Secret Archives covering the war years to scholarly scrutiny will once and for all make clear what the Church and the Pope did—or did not do—to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Bishop Pieronek, who had expressed the Holocaust was an “invention” and was used by Jews for propaganda, apologized for his remarks and claims that it was all a short-cut in thinking and that what he said did not reflect his views at all. This type of Freudian slip of the tongue was received pretty badly, given it came just a few days from the International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration ceremony taking place at Auschwitz-Birkenau, not too far from the bishop himself.
It would be interesting to know what Pope Benedict must have told this bishop. Given the pope’s ongoing reconciliation efforts between Christians and Jews, this must have made him quite angry. Yet, one must question why the bishop would say such things, even if they were uttered unintentionally. Given that Bishop Pieronek was ordained before the Second Vatican Council, it’s quite possible he may have internalized the ancient antisemitism so prevalent in Christianity even at that time. It’s interesting that these long-suppressed teachings managed to come out so many years later.