FaithWorld

“In retrospect, I wish Pius XII hadn’t been so diplomatic”

The role of Pope Pius XII during World War Two is a subject of endless dispute, part of which we’ve tracked on FaithWorld over the past year. This has gained in interest because of Vatican plans to put him on the path to sainthood, which may be held up now because of protests from Jewish groups. We’re all waiting for the secret archives of his papacy (1939-1958) to be opened to finally see what the documents say about his relations with Nazi Germany. While we’re waiting, one of the key questions that could be assessed on the basis of files already available is what Pius thought about dealing with the Nazis before he became pope. There is a long paper trail there, because Pius was the Vatican Secretary of State — effectively, the prime minister of the Vatican — from 1930 until his election as pope. But a lot of people argue for or against Pius without having read this material. (Photo: Pope Pius XII/Vatican photo)

Gerard Fogarty S.J., a University of Virginia historian and Jesuit priest, has worked through much of this material and come up with a fascinating article in the U.S. Jesuit magazine America. He’s examined much of the paper trail the future pope left in the 1930s but many of the documents are in a language that the leading commentators on Pius don’t speak. We’re not talking about that dead language Latin, but Italian — a lively regional tongue in Europe that happens to be an international language within the world’s largest church, Roman Catholicism.

“This is one of the problems even now,” Fogarty recounted in an informative podcast for America. “Scholars come to me and ask, do you use a translator? No scholar is going to do that. You’ve got to learn the language yourself. So people have not looked at what was published.” (Photo: Cover of America magazine, 15 Dec 2008 edition)

Fogarty has scoured archives in the United States, Britain, Italy, Germany, Spain, Ireland and Vatican City for all the information he can find about Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli — the future Pius XII — and the Nazis in the 1930s. He has also pushed the Vatican to publish documents from the Pius XII papacy in stages, so we can get the files from the war years soon, but come up against the reflexes of a bureaucracy that goes back two millennia. “Some people in the archives opening up just a segment because they want to open it pontificate by pontificate,” he said. Publishing the war documents once the archivists have sorted material until 1945 could give us this information earlier, “but they want to go up to 1958.”

After reading what’s available now, Fogarty thinks Pius XII did the best he could given his understanding — from long diplomatic experience with Germany and advice given by, among others, members of the German resistance — that open protest against the Nazis was counterproductive.

Vatican reaffirms stand against IVF, designer babies, cloning

The Vatican issued a major document on bioethics today, “Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions,” that outlines Roman Catholic teaching on the latest procedures concerning human reproduction. This is the third major Vatican document on bioethics in recent years after Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) in 1987 — issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), like today’s document — and Pope John Paul’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) in 1995. (Photo:Pope kisses baby at Vatican, 8 Oct 2008/Max Rossi)

Our news story on the document is here, accompanied by a list of procedures it declared morally unacceptable and acceptable and selected quotes from the text. The full text in English is here. The Vatican also has comments from the news conference presenting the document (here all in Italian).

Much of this is a restatement and updating of known Vatican positions. The wording is in places quite strong and sound-bite-like, which may mean those passages could be intended for use in national political debates about bioethics. There is too much to comment on individually here, so go to the links for details.

Peering through funnels at interfaith problems

Imagine you’re asked to examine a problem through a funnel but not told which end to look through. Some people will look through the narrow end and get a wide-angle view of the problem. Others will look through the wide end and get a narrow focus on certain parts of it. Both will be looking at the same problem, but in different ways.

This image came to mind after I spoke to members of both delegations in advance of the Catholic-Muslim Forum that starts today in Vatican City. Both sides are looking at the same problem – how to really improve understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims – but from different points of view. This doesn’t have to deadlock the talks – I don’t think either side wants that. But it does complicate things…

A kind of news blackout has been imposed on the closed-door talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, with only the official spokesman for both sides – Cardinal Tauran and Ibrahim Kalin – supposed to make any statements. In the run-up to the talks, the Catholic side has been quite active. Tauran spoke to La Croix and Vatican Radio in French on Monday, his deputy Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata to Vatican Radio in Italian and the Egyptian Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir, an adviser to the Catholic delegation, wrote a comment on Asianews.it (here in English). Kalin spoke to Reuters in advance – see our news story here – but the other Muslim delegates told me they could not be quoted.

Pope Benedict’s evolution book finally comes out in English

Creation and Evolution bookcoverAn English translation of Pope Benedict’s 2006 discussion of evolution with his former students has finally come out and I recommend it to anyone who’s confused about where the Roman Catholic Church stands on this issue. It’s called Creation and Evolution and is publised by Ignatius Press in the U.S. The discussion was held in German and the original text, Schöpfung und Evolution, appeared in April 2007.

I mention the confusion about this issue because a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece by Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn prompted supporters of “intelligent design” (ID) to think the Church was embracing their argument. He denied that to me in an interview a few months later. So when it became known that Benedict would discuss evolution with his former doctoral students — his so-called Schülerkreis — at Castel Gandolfo in September 2006, there was considerable interest in what he would say.

Schöpfung und Evolution bookcoverThe German publisher, Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg, sent me a PDF version of the book in German under embargo, so I wrote a news story the day it appeared. In the book, Benedict said science was too narrow to explain creation, which was not random as Darwinists insist, but has a rationality that goes back to God. He argued this on philosophical and theological grounds, not on the faith arguments that creationists use (“the Bible says so”) or the biology-based examples that ID prefers to argue that some life forms are too complex to have evolved.

Cardinal denies zucchetto thrown into papal succession ring

Book of interviews with Cardinal Rodriguez MaradiagaCardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga has denied throwing his red zucchetto (clerical skullcap) into the ring as a possible candidate to become the next pope. As we’ve already blogged here and here, the publication of a French book of interviews with the archbishop of Tegucigalpa last month has been interpreted by some Vatican watchers as subtle self-promotion — una autocandidatura, as they say in Rome. This was bolstered by unfounded speculation about Pope Benedict’s health, which seems quite good for a man of his age (81).

Now, in an interview with the Milan daily Il Giornale, Rodríguez Maradiaga has dismissed this speculation as a “mistaken interpretation” of his words. Most importantly, he said the interview in question took place in 2004, before the death of Pope John Paul II and simply expressed an obvious fact being discussed at the time. “Of course, the day will come for a pope from the South, as it came for one from the East,” he said. “At no time have I thought of myself as papabile (a possible pope). I have much to do in my beloved Honduras and I’ve never thought of putting my name forward.

Andrea Tornielli blog logoKudos to Il Giornale‘s Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli for tracking this down. The book in question, a collection of the cardinal’s interviews with a French journalist in Rome, states the conversations were held in 2006 or 2007. Soon after the speculation began in the French press, Tornielli challenged the date of these “recycled quotes” on his blog Sacri Palazzi. He later nailed down the date as 2004.