Dr Paul O'Shea…
Catholic historian, Dr Paul O'Shea was accorded a significant honour last Sunday evening by being invited to deliver the Reichspogromnacht/Reichskristallnacht Commemoration Service at the Great Synagogue in Sydney. We are pleased to publish his address on Catholica in two parts. His address, to a mixed Jewish and Christian audience sought to provide an insight into the Catholic thinking that formed Pope Pius XII's worldview towards the Jewish people. It also provides a summarised overview of the political and diplomatic exigencies that helped mould the public policy positions taken, or not taken, by the wartime pontiff.
Solidarity with the Jewish people…
This morning at St Francis of Assisi parish Paddington, where I am a congregant, we prayed "Lord hear us" to this prayer:
God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, your covenant with our elder Jewish brothers and sisters remains constant. As we recall with pain and sorrow the failure of the Christian Church to stand in defence and solidarity with the Jews of Germany in 1938, give us sight to see you in the faces of the Jews of today and to bless you for their fidelity to your Torah. Let us pray to the Lord.
Today Christians prayed for Jews and asked the Almighty for wisdom and courage to stand for what is true and good. I stand before you in this august synagogue as a Catholic Christian, as one who this morning remembered.
I also wish to acknowledge the presence of the young people gathered here this afternoon. Your presence is vital – it is to you that the mitzvah of remembering will pass in the near future. Young Jews be faithful to the command 'remember – zachor'!
Seventy years ago on what was a Wednesday morning in Rome, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli made his way to celebrate the Mass. At the beginning of the Liturgy he, and those with him, prayed the Confiteor…
I confess to almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore, I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, to pray for me to the Lord our God. Amen.
'Sin' in Catholic theology is a deliberate act of shunning the Divine Law. The Greek word — harmatia — literally means 'to miss the mark'. In that regard it is close to the Hebrew — aveva — 'transgression'. Over time certain parts of Catholic Christianity developed its understanding of sin to incorporate a veritable minefield of possible moral, ritual and physical categories of sin. Coupled with an increasingly negative view of the world as inherently sinful and alienated from God, much of Roman Catholicism became obsessed with a fearful dread of 'falling into sin' or being tainted by association with sinners. For many Catholics, this attitude encompassed many, if not all, those outside of the orbit of the One True Church; and that included the excluded Jews.
The demands of Divine Law…
However, the demands of the Divine Law were not nullified for those outside the Church. On the contrary, the Catholic tradition made it abundantly clear that believers were to obey the Divine Law with regard to all people — whether they believed or not. Acts of violence against Jews were to be condemned, not necessarily because the Jews were good, but because the Divine Law as expressed through the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7.12: "do unto others what you would have them do unto you" demanded it. Therefore murder was wrong under any and all circumstances. To put it very bluntly, Catholic teaching forbad the murder of Jews because it was contrary to the Divine Law.
And lest Christians feel a certain sense of non-obligation towards those being persecuted, the tradition taught clearly, echoing the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, that the duty to assist one's neighbour transcended all concerns of religious difference, and ethnic or national identity. Sins of deliberate omission were as serious as deliberate acts of commission. Integral to the Catholic understanding of sin were the demands placed on the believer to not only avoid 'occasions of sin' but to work towards creating and healing a world where sin would no longer exist — a Christian version of tikkun olam.
It is the sad reality that the vision proclaimed by Jesus has been so badly and poorly treated by many of his followers. Therefore it is no great surprise that the long history of contempt towards Jews and Judaism led to the creation of mutations within Christian theology. And from these mutations came even greater evils.
How attitudes to the Jewish people had changed…
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) summarised the reasons why Jews and Judaism were so widely distrusted:
In view of these and other more or less local, more or less justified, reasons, one can readily understand how the popular hatred of the Jews has too often defeated the beneficent efforts of the Church, and notably of its supreme pontiffs, in regard to them.
The irony of the a-historical banality of the last statement escaped most Catholics. It is a matter of shame for thinking Catholics that there are some who still hold to such fantasies. And this text was, by no means, exceptional.
Pacelli as Secretary of State in the build-up to World War II in Europe…
Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, former Nuncio to Bavaria and Germany, was, in 1938, the most able and experienced of Vatican diplomats. Since 1930 he had been the Secretary of State to Pope Pius XI. He had witnessed first-hand the dangerous rise of the politics of extremism from both the right and left-wings of the spectrum. He understood and loathed National Socialism; he understood, dreaded and despised Bolshevism; he did not understand liberal democracy either in its French and British forms or the Jeffersonian democracy of the United States. But, at the same time, he understood and appreciated as good and beneficial to humanity the authoritarian nature of Catholicism and those common elements shared between the Church and the fascist regimes. His late conversion to viewing democracy as a positive development was influenced in no small part to the increasingly anti-Catholicism of fascism in Italy and Germany that flared dramatically in 1938.
"Europe in 1938 seemed to be shaken by a gale of madness." The year was punctuated by crises, each growing more dangerous than the last. Hitler's gambles between 1935 and 1937 had achieved enormous popular endorsement for the Nazi regime and caused a state of paralysis in much of the Catholic Church in Germany. Each victory for the Führer made Catholic resistance harder. Papal teaching and exhortation against "statolatry" mostly fell on deaf ears. Institutional racism and antisemitism was accepted and tolerated throughout Germany and other European states, especially Poland, Romania and Hungary. Italy was preparing to adopt Nuremburg-style race laws and French antisemitism was resurgent and vocal in the face of the stream of Jewish refugees seeking asylum. The Western democracies appeared impotent against both fascism and communism, uninterested in the refugee problem and divided over policies of appeasement. War seemed imminent. Pius and Pacelli swept themselves into a fury of diplomatic and religious activity in attempting to stave off armed conflict. As the odds grew increasingly more risky, Vatican diplomacy became more desperate. Stalin's purges made the Soviet Union too weak to engage actively in late 1930s continental power politics, but in the mind of the Pope and his secretary this was only a temporary matter. A second European war would surely spell the end of Christendom, the advent of a Bolshevik bloodbath and an unimaginable persecution of the Christian Church.
It was in this climate that Pacelli went to Budapest for the Eucharistic Congress in May 1938. He had been drawn into the Austrian Anschluss débâcle in March and April because of the naivety of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Innitzer, with the Nazis. Innitzer had greeted the Anschluss in florid language, saying the Catholic Church welcomed integration into the Third Reich. Pacelli had forcefully reprimanded Innitzer and ordered him to issue a renunciation of episcopal support for the National Socialist government in Austria. 
In May 1938 Pacelli went to Budapest for the Eucharistic Congress. At the formal opening of the Congress, the Cardinal said the theme of the gathering had been given by Christ in his commandment "Love one another as I have loved you". In both his principal addresses the Cardinal made no direct reference to the political turmoil in Europe or to racism and religious persecution. In a world all too ready to throw off divine law and religious truth, Christians must renew their faith in God and trust that evil will not prevail. Pacelli described the "lugubrious array of the militant godless shaking the clenched fist of the Antichrist against everything that we hold most sacred". Surrounded by those who actively hate the Church and those "who without being personally hostile to Jesus Christ allowed themselves to be tossed by the muddy waves of indifference and frivolity", Christians must remind themselves of the fate of all other persecutors such as Herod, Pilate and Nero. "Heroic fidelity to Christ alone can give the victory over such a desperate enemy." Few were unaware that the Pacelli was referring to the battle between the Church and its two principal enemies, Bolshevism and Nazism. Equally so, it was noteworthy that no mention was made of the single largest victim group of National Socialist persecution across the border in Germany and Austria.
The growing climate of anti-Semitism throughout Europe…
At the end of the Congress, the Cardinal spoke of the Church's duty in the world. "The Church's duty in the apostolic service of justice is typified by universal love; it is, therefore, impossible for it to take sides and rigidly stand by any party." It would be difficult to see how a diplomat of such political astuteness as Pacelli could not have known of Hungary's antisemitic legislation and the fundamental injustice that it had wrought on Hungarian society through application of Horthy's Christian National Principle. Jews were being removed from Hungarian public life. Conversion provided a way out, but this was to prove a short-lived experience. European power politics precluded discussion on the "Jewish Question" in Hungary, or anywhere else for that matter.
It was to become another part of the tragedy of European Jewry that when antisemitic laws were passed in Italy two months after the Budapest Congress, the Catholic Church lost its greatest opportunity to speak unequivocally. The voluntary constraints of the Lateran Pacts, widespread European and Italian indifference to the fate of "foreign Jews", and the Vatican's insistence on observing diplomatic procedures to the letter meant that the only area of vocalised concern was related to "mixed marriages".
Continued in Part II…
What are your thoughts on this address by Dr O'Shea?