We have grown lamentably used to bans on public prayer or the removal of Bibles or Christian symbols from public places. The Catholic Church, being America's, and the world's, biggest Christian denomination is a special target. On television, priests are pedophiles. On the streets and art galleries of trend-setting New York and San Francisco, Catholic symbols — nuns, the pope, the Virgin Mary — are degraded whenever possible. Regularly heading The New York Times bestseller lists are titles like Hitler's Pope, Papal Sin, and Constantine's Sword — alleging Catholic anti-Semitism among other charges.
But as bad as these things are, the cover story of the January 21, 2002, issue of The New Republic, to which more than half the magazine was devoted — "What Would Jesus Have Done? Pope Pius XII, the Vatican, and the Holocaust," by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen — leveled so many charges at the Catholic Church that it was a veritable Der Stürmer of anti-Catholic abuse, including accusations that the New Testament, the symbol of the Cross, and the Catholic Church are inherently anti-Semitic.
The New Republic article is especially important because it shows that anti-Catholic hate is being "mainstreamed." Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's piece resurrects, in essence, Voltaire's old battle cry of "crush the infamous thing" — by which Voltaire meant the Catholic Church. But unlike Voltaire, who had wit — the Jesuits educated him, after all — Goldhagen, a professor with yet another anti-Catholic book to sell, is a mere blunt instrument of abuse.
Historical accuracy or even a semblance of reality is not his strong point. To go through every hysterical accusation of Goldhagen's argument would take an essay twice its length, because it would deal with facts rather than misleading assertions. Still, suffice it to say that in an essay that spans 24 pages, Goldhagen's sole written evidence of Pope Pius XII's alleged "anti-Semitism" is two paragraphs of a letter from 1919 pointing out that the Communist insurrectionists in Munich were Jews. That's it — and not very convincing, or convincing at all, given the lengthy documentary record of Pope Pius XII's opposition to Nazism (before and after he was elevated to the papacy) and his well-documented efforts to save Jewish lives.
It is shocking that Goldhagen never once mentions the numerous postwar Jews who praised Pope Pius XII. Nor does he mention the estimate of Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide that Pope Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands." As I point out in my own book, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, A 2,000-Year History, that means that the Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives in World War II than any other institution save the Allied armies. And let's remember that the Pope's own armed forces consisted of the Swiss guards at the Vatican. But perhaps Goldhagen rejects Pinchas Lapide, Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, the chief rabbi of wartime Rome, and the many other Jews who praised Pope Pius XII, as merely Jews of a self-hating stripe.
Goldhagen makes much of the Church signing a Concordat with the German government in 1933, but again he never once mentions that the Church tried to reach concordats with many other governments — including Bolshevik Russia. He says that the Catholic Church signed the Concordat with Hitler "to maintain its worldly power." But that is precisely what it did not do. The purpose of the Church's concordats was to try to secure government sanction for the free practice of the Catholic religion. In Germany, it did this by dissolving the existing Catholic political party (that is, surrendering worldly power in order to win governmental tolerance for priests to carry on their sacramental duties).
Perhaps Goldhagen's studies — we know how awful education is nowadays — have left him ignorant of Bismarck's anti-Catholic Kulturkampf and the similar legal proscriptions against the Church in France and Italy, which made such concordats necessary. Perhaps Goldhagen never heard of what happened to the Church in Bolshevik Mexico (where it was outlawed and persecuted), in Bolshevik Russia (ditto, and where every Catholic bishop and 200,000 of the faithful simply disappeared), and in Republican Spain in the decades before World War II. Indeed, it might be noted that papal diplomacy and underground assistance were more effective at saving Jewish lives from the Nazis than they were at saving the Church from destruction at the hands of the Communists in Soviet Russia.
But Goldhagen is stronger on making remarkable condemnations and a plethora of fiery rhetorical questions than he is at engaging the more sober accumulation of facts and documents that argue against him. Indeed, he hardly addresses these voluminous facts at all, dismissing them in toto as merely a variety of exculpatory "strategies."
That a mainstream magazine would print such a piece — and apparently take pride in it and think it important — is ominous. It is ominous for what it says about intellectual standards on the Left, ominous for what it shows about the Left's disregard for truth, and ominous for its announcement of a new Left-wing Kulturkampf against Christianity.
February 2, 2002
H. W. Crocker III is the author of the newly published Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, A 2,000-Year History (Random House). This piece is excerpted from Crocker's article in the February 4, 2002, issue of Human Events.