Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Reflections: A Book Review of The Wanderer

Calculated Christian Realism

A Review of Pius XII: Greatness Dishonored (by Michael O’Carroll)

(Winter, 1983)

Pope Pius XII’s contribution to the life of the Church and the integrity of his performance as a great world leader have been obscured for several reasons. One has been the accusation of his inaction in the face of Nazi excesses during the course of the Second World War. The other has been the fact that his Pontificate was followed by a period of upheaval in the Catholic world of such cosmic proportions as to draw attention away from anything that proceeded it.

Fr. Michael O’Carroll’s work, Pius XII: Greatness Dishonored, is designed both to vindicate the character of that pontiff as well as to underline the significance of his achievements. It does so by presenting a well-researched and detailed response to the charges made by Pius’ critics, and by offering an ultimately less satisfying demonstration of the extent to which developments in the Church after his death may be attributed to him.

Anyone anxious over Pius’ behavior during the war would be well advised to consult Fr. O’Carroll’s book, since he provides historical evidence and logical argumentation sufficient to dispel all but the most irrationally-rooted doubts. His success in this venture is due to his exploitation of two serious chinks in the armor of the pope’s critics.

The first of these can be summarized under the heading of bad scholarship. Fr. O’Carroll refers to numerous examples of faulty research which have helped to build the convoluted case against the Pope: failures to consult sources crucial to any indictment of Pius’ behavior, misconstruction of the purport of those documents utilized, and the commission of errors regarding even easily ascertainable facts. Correction of these flaws yields a justification and pride in Pius’s wartime deportment, because, as the author shows, it inevitably uncovers its true motivation. This was nothing other than the good sense of a supreme realist concerned with saving lives and not with making empty gestures or being himself manipulated as an ideological tool.

Fr. O’Carroll’s evidence of the existence of this policy of calculated Christian realism is copious and clear. He notes the statements of gratitude abounding from those inside Fortress Europe who understood the perimeters within which the Pope could effectively aid them. He observes the way in which German diplomatic reports stressing Pius’ friendship towards the Reich—reports that have been used against the Pope—can easily be understood in the framework of an attempt to maintain a front behind which quiet relief work could continue. Most importantly, however, Fr. O’Carroll calls attention to unquestionable evidence of Pius’ aid to the victims of the war. This proves to have been infinitely more successful than that resulting from public episcopal protests in countries such as Holland, where the fate of the Jews was among the most tragic in Europe. And it contrasts strikingly with the manifest inactivity of the allied governments.

It is in touching upon this second weak spot in the critics armor that the author renders his most telling and vibrantly stated service. The idea clearly revolts him that those outside Fortress Europe, fighting in union with one of the world’s most blatant mass-murderers, engaging in systematic terror bombing, and demanding an unconditional surrender of dubious morality, presumed to lecture Pius on his duties during the war. Fr. O’Carroll’s recitation of the failure of the allies to do anything significant to aid the victims of the conflict, such as their refusal to bomb the railroad lines to Auschwitz, lends substance to his argument that Pius has since been used as a scapegoat for their own sins of omission. One could only wish that the author had pinpointed another indication of hypocrisy that has always troubled this reviewer: the realization that demands for public papal condemnations came from governments, and post-war criticism of his behavior from individuals who were often insistent upon a separation of Church and State that would seemingly preclude the work which they called for.

The author’s efforts to tie Pius’ work together with that of the conciliar era leaves one with a sense of dissatisfaction difficult to explain. On the one hand, Fr. O’Carroll is conscious that such a binding ought to be done only with the greatest care, since things did happen in the 1960’s that disturbed the normal development of Catholic theology and practice. On the other, he sometimes blurs distinctions of great moment and unites that which is potentially irreconcilable.

Several examples may serve to illustrate this problem. Fr. O’Carroll talks of the liturgical movement encouraged by Pius and continued after his pontificate, but he does not draw the conclusion that they are completely the same. The anarchic tendencies of the latter would, he insists, have been checked by Pacelli. Similarly, he does not attribute the decline in Marian devotion and denigration of the importance of Marian doctrine witnessed in the past twenty five years to Pius’ numerous teachings on these topics. Rather, he traces it, at least in part, to a failure to include a separate chapter in the Vatican decrees on Mary, a failure caused, to some degree, by the desire to please non-Catholic Council observers.

Yet the author insists upon seeing in Pius’ references to the need to tolerate evil and respect the rights of man a connection with the conciliar era’s attack on “Constantinian” political thought that seems forced. He is obliged, in consequence, to speak of a disagreement in theory between Pius and Cardinal Ottaviani which cannot stand on the evidence that is given. The reviewer can quote even stronger pronouncements on the Church’s need to tolerate evil, and even more insistent appeals to personal rights from intransigent and “Constantinian” counterrevolutionaries for whom John Courtenay Murray’s beliefs would have been anathema. Why not allow for the same distinction to be made in this case as he sees in that of the liturgical movement? Why not admit that certain alterations of thought have taken place in the period since 1958? Somewhat analogous arguments might be made with regard to ecumenism. The fact that Pius “would have used the word reunion” (p. 214) to characterize it is of no minor significance in treating of connections with later ecumenical writers who dislike its mention.

One begins to suspect that Fr. O’Carroll’s occasional failure to make necessary distinctions stems from a certain lack of awareness of the exact teachings and equivocations of some conciliar era thinkers. He may also underestimate the extent of the damage that they have done. How else can one explain his illustration of “a golden age of Catholic theology and philosophy” under Pius’ reign with reference to figures as diverse as Maritain, Gilson, Schillebeeckx, Haering, and Rahner (p. 178)? How else to interpret signs of respect for Teilhard, whose errors the author intimates and would, indeed, reject if he knew them in full? Why rejoice in the Pope’s refusal to apply sanctions in Humani generis unless one does not see just how much they were required? Why speak of the Curia as standing “then”, in Pius’ time, between pope and priests, unless one has not taken the full measure of an enormous bureaucracy of putative experts that “now” hinders access to bishops and the pope? When one meditates upon these questions, keeping several awkward statements that the author makes on philosophical-historical matters in mind (such as his assertion that Communism and atheism, while united in practice, were not so bound at the former’s origin), the conclusion that he has ventured unto uncertain terrain cannot be avoided.

The thought that most often intrudes during the reading of this section of Fr. O’Carroll’s book, a question that he addresses but briefly and the problem with which further research must eventually deal, is the quality of Pius XII’s administrative ability. For it may well be the case that that Pontiff himself, whose integrity Fr. O’Carroll so admirably defends, helped prepare the deluge that followed through administrative laxity. The errors and equivocations of many conciliar era theologians, and the assumption of their respectability, did, after all, require a period of peace in which to germinate. It is to be hoped that future biographers of Eugenio Pacelli will investigate this point as thoroughly as Fr. O’Carroll has examined and justified the pontiff’s wartime career.

Post Conciliar Carnival

A Review of Catholic Bishops: A Memoir (by John Tracy Ellis)

(Spring, 1984)

John Tracy Ellis’ Catholic Bishops: A Memoir, ought to be read by every Catholic interested in understanding how the Church in the United States collapsed at the incredible pace that it did.

This is not because the author intended to describe the American Catholic debacle. His goal was to give insights into the government of the Church in this country, to discuss the problems that have been faced by historians of American Catholicism, and to dabble in autobiography. A personal “memoir” of various prelates provided an interesting and instructive framework for accomplishing this three-fold task. Neither is Msgr. Ellis’ book crucial to students of the post-conciliar carnival because of its being a “great work”. He has written much more scholarly tomes, and he himself admits what anyone must recognize as being the inevitable limitations of a sketch such as this one.

Rather, the value of Catholic Bishops: A Memoir, is quiet, indirect, and even, at times, accidental. Its importance lies in its demonstration of three points that help to explain the dissolution of the Church in America: the unfortunate narrowness of the preconciliar Episcopacy; the unconscious liberal presuppositions of even non-liberal prelates, and the inability of many distinguished, honorable, and scholarly Catholics, like Msgr. Ellis himself, to understand the disaster that has befallen us.

The author gives ample evidence of the first point. He presents the picture of a well-meaning Hierarchy which could frequently be unnecessarily heavy-handed in enforcing an overly-rigid, iron-clad unity, and condescending in intellectual matters to boot. Ellis was himself irked by the way in which some bishops used to equate serious historical discussion of the Church’s human warts with disloyalty, and he was right to be so irritated. Episcopal lack of concern for profound studies in this country allowed for the development of a shallow apologetics, an ignorant Catholic laity, and a wholesale flight from the Church as soon as the first open questioning began.

My second reason for insisting upon the value of Msgr. Ellis’ work is based upon a number of stories that he recounts about the behavior of American Bishops. Two in particular come to mind in writing this review. Cardinal Spellman, by no means a progressive hero, went out of his way to provide John Courtenay Murray a position at the Vatican Council, when his reputation for promoting novelties in the realm of Church-State relations seemed likely to deny him one. Cardinal Cushing, who departed the Council because of his inability to hear the proceedings, made certain that he remained until “he had delivered his strong intervention in behalf of religious freedom…and spoken in favor of the statement on the Jews…” (p. 118). It appears to me that such loyal Prelates took for granted certain American pluralist notions of tolerance and open-mindedness whose possible transformation into anti-Catholic dogmas neither they nor Murray clearly saw. Hence, when post-conciliar Catholic pluralists demanded a hearing for all manner of divergent opinions on the basis of an American respect for the beliefs of the dissident, the orthodox had not thought through sufficient distinctions to answer them. Hence, the paralysis of authority that we have witnessed.

The most important reason for the value of Msgr. Ellis’ work may, however, be the last one. The author’s criticisms of pre-conciliar bishops, and his approval of post-conciliar prelates, indicate just how oblivious even such great scholars and devoted priests can be to what is happening around them. While he rightly criticizes the shallowness, heavy-handedness, and disdain for serious historical work notable in some of the former, he does not seem to recognize that bishops whom he praises for openness to the arguments of Betty Friedan and Barbra Streisand (Barbra Streisand!!) will lead no intellectual revolution. Nor does he grasp that a Cardinal Cooke’s willingness to be publicly humiliated by a Fordham ordinand is not a proper step towards correct behavior, but is, rather, a replacement of private arrogance by an unjustifiable tolerance of disrespect for the episcopal dignity in and of itself. Nor does he allow for the real result of the progressive victory in the Church with regard to historical studies. True, many individual historical works are better now than in 1900. But the progressive advance has encouraged a disdain for the past infinitely more destructive to the historical sense as such than the sugary and hagiographic works of many pre-conciliar writers.

God’s Broker: The Life of John Paul II

By Antoni Gronowicz

(Summer, 1984)

Antoni Gronowicz’s God’s Broker is an unfortunate book. It recounts the life of John Paul II within the context of the author’s conversations with important leaders of Church and State. Prominent among them are Cardinals Wyszynski and Glemp, Edward Gierek, and, of course, the Pope himself.

The misfortune of this work is due to a variety of reasons. One of these is Gronowicz’s insistence upon detailing the minutia surrounding his many interviews, an enterprise that both expands the work inordinately and focuses too much attention upon himself. Another, more basic problem, is his interjection of peculiar philosophical, historical and political speculations regarding the nature and policies of the Church. Gronowicz, for example, plots much of that which he says and hears within the framework of a struggle of light and darkness between several enlightened Popes and a manipulative, arch-reactionary Curia. So pervasive are such dubious themes that the final result is to make the reader suspicious of the degree of accuracy with which he interprets all of his subjects’ words and sentiments. Those interested in studying the last twenty years of Church History, as well as those who are attracted by the life story of the present Pontiff, would do well not to begin with God’s Broker.

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