More “diversity”, less Catholic dogmatism, would have prevented the Holocaust (or something like that)

Fighting Modernists, a Decree Shaped Catholicism. By Peter Steinfels. I’ll give the opening paragraph, the final paragraph, and then sum it up.

One hundred years ago next Saturday Pope Pius X issued a papal encyclical, “Pascendi Dominici Gregis,” that would have a huge impact on the Roman Catholic Church and consequently on its role in the blood-drenched history of the first half of the 20th century.
[. . .]
In the short run, in other words, “Pascendi” was a success: it stopped risky new ideas dead in their tracks. In the long run, however, it failed abysmally — and at a very high cost.

The argument of this editorial is that the encyclical “Pascendi” of 1907 engendered an authoritarianism in the Church, which resulted in a purge of a number of progressive theologians. The result of this purge was an authoritarian group-think that made the Church favorably disposed to the secular authoritarian regimes that rose after World War I, which meant that when the mass murders began, the authoritarian spirit that the Church shared with these regimes made it reluctant to speak out against them.

The moral of the story is twofold:

First, as you may have gathered from the sarcastic reference to stopping “risky new ideas dead in their tracks,” it’s a push for “diversity.” Dont’ be dogmatic about your religion, because dogmatic people lack the moral fortitude to stand up to evil. Nurture and embrace diversity of theological opinion. Otherwise, millions of people may die.

Second, the editorial is taking the 100-year anniversary of “Pascendi” as an opportunity to perpetuate the myth that the Church encouraged 20th-century dictators, rather than opposed them.

Needless to say, I don’t agree with this editorial. First, I find it hard to believe that the Church was *not* authoritarian prior to 1907. Second, it does not follow that simply because an institution is “authoritarian,” it will therefore support authoritarian regimes—especially when the values and purposes of the two groups are so wholly incompatible as those of the Church and those of the dictatorships of the 20th century.

And most importantly, it’s a myth that the Church didn’t speak out against the authoritarian regimes of the interwar period. Pius XII (pope from 1939-58) is the favorite punching-bag for the mythmakers: see William Doino’s piece at First Things. Doino examines some patent errors in Saul Friedlander’s Nazi Germany and the Jews. Referring to Pius XII by his given name, Eugenio Pacelli, Doino writes,

“Whether it is the author’s description of Pacelli’s character, the statements he made publicly and privately, or his attitude and conduct toward the Jewish community, Friedlander consistently gets Eugenio Pacelli wrong—and not only wrong but—in critical areas—spectacularly wrong.”

It is worth reading in full.

Also well worth your while is the absolutely fascinating account given by Ion Mihai Pacepa, called “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican.” Pacepa is described at the end of the piece as “the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc.” He was in charge of a KGB operation, begun after Pius XII’s death in 1958, to infiltrate the Vatican archives for documents pertaining to the late pope, which documents would then be sent to headquarters and modified to create a picture of him as having encouraged the Nazi holocaust. In other words, there was no evidence until the KGB created it.

The point is that the Communists and the Nazis both hated the Vatican. Pacepa begins his piece with this startling fact:

In March 2006 an Italian parliamentary commission concluded “beyond any reasonable doubt that the leaders of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate the pope Karol Wojtyla,” in retaliation for his support to the dissident Solidarity movement in Poland.

The whole point of the NY Times editorial—to criticize the Church for not using its moral authority to speak out against atrocities—begs the question, why would dictators listen to the pope anyway? As Michael Novak pointed out in 2000, John Paul II had been railing very publicly against the atrocities of abortion and euthanasia for at least 15 years, but world leaders were not listening. He adds,

Indeed, for the rigor of their logical position, they must concede to the papacy far greater rhetorical power than modern theories of the advanced secularization of Europe permit. Do such historians pledge that they, for instance, would heed the solemn words of a pope today, even when those words go against their own beliefs and interests? And if they wouldn’t today, why would others then?

In the end, if you believe that the Catholic Church in any way willingly abetted or connived at the “blood-drenched” atrocities of the totalitarian regimes, you are believing exactly what the Soviet disinformationists would have wanted you to believe.

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4 Responses to “More “diversity”, less Catholic dogmatism, would have prevented the Holocaust (or something like that)”

  1. Mark Says:

    I think your conclusion is a bit draconian. I’m pretty sure that I can believe that there was plenty of “abetting” and “conniving” between the Catholic Church and the various fascist regimes of the early 20th century. And I’m only partially brainwashed by the Soviet disinformationists.

    But my problems are really not the issue. The real story is that, well, it’s complicated. Catholic people and their clergy were more likely to cozy up to fascist regimes, simply because they did not encourage the obliteration of religion. Let’s look at the fascists in Italy and Spain as well as Germany, which had a more bizarre approach to religion through Naziism.

    The period of time between WWI and WWII had the effect of moving people to the extremes. There was an absolute panic about communism in Europe (well founded) and this caused many otherwise good people to look for safety and continuity on the far right.

    But I do agree with your first point. I think that the author is incorrect to argue that a reinvigorated Catholic authoritarianism encouraged fascism. That is very simple-minded. To tell the big story: the destruction and chaos of WWI cultivated extremism, then people and organizations moved to their respective camps. Fill in the details.

  2. Mark Says:

    BTW, I LOVE the new Curly mascot. Classic.

  3. Curly Says:

    My point was not that there was zero guilt on the Church’s part, for it’s a fact that some priests cooperated with the Communists. But those were individual choices and not official Vatican policy, and I was unclear on this in the post. Yes, it was and still is complicated. Sometimes in the face of very bad situations the Vatican can’t say anything critical because it would result in even more suffering for Christians in certain countries (China comes to mind today). It happened in 1570, too, when Pius V (to my mind) rashly excommunicated Elizabeth I. Bad times ensued for English Catholics.

    I’m told that the author is married to the former editor of the lefty Catholic magazine, The Tablet. So it’s simple-minded to make the argument he does in the first place, but disgraceful and simple-minded if he also calls himself a Catholic.

    Glad you like the Simpsonized mascot. He’ll be around for a while.

  4. Mark Says:

    Yes, please keep the mascot – Although I think he makes me less hostile to your opinions, so he might be playing mind games with me…

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