Hitler’s Pope?

How much does the church need to do to bring forth justice?

I raised this question in my last blog, ‘Is one green shoot enough?’  This question continues to trouble me.

Recently, I finished John Cornwell’s biography of Pope Pius XII, ‘Hitler’s Pope.’ Cornwell argues that Pope Pius XII’s style of leadership fitted well with Hitler’s strategic plans, i.e. the quashing of all his enemies, internal and external.

As Cardinal Secretary of State, the then Eugenio Pacelli negotiated and signed the ‘Reichskonkordat’ in 1933, which gave legitimacy to the Nazis and forbad Catholic priests from engaging in political activity in Germany, thus undermining the one remaining source of opposition to the Nazis. (It also centralised ecclesial power in the Papacy, overriding local input in the appointment of bishops.)

As Pope, from 1939 to1958, Pius XII, a prayerful man, refused to denounce the Nazis for their diabolical policies towards the Jews. (He did denounce Communists and declared that a believer could not be a Communist and remain part of the Catholic Church.)

Cornwell’s assessment of Pius XII is contentious. Nonetheless, Pius’ silence in the face of the Nazis genocidal policies is worrying.

It is not right to pass judgement quickly on another who lived in very different times, but Cornwell’s account throws up questions that are of concern and continue to be relevant to this day.

I am disturbed by the way the church is given to blessing power, especially as its originating vision, articulated in the ministry of Jesus, was critical of political and religious authorities. (After all, it was the state powers in Palestine who executed Jesus.)

I realise that the church must engage contemporary political and cultural norms, and in turn, be shaped by them, but I don’t perceive a sufficient willingness on the church’s part to be self-critical in this process.

This week’s lectionary gospel (Matt. 4:12-23) narrates Jesus calling his disciples. It concludes by noting that James and John followed Jesus, leaving behind their boat and father.

Leaving home and livelihood symbolised a profound turn around in their lives.

From that moment on, James and John had to uncover new worlds of meaning while on the road with Jesus. Their conclusions were likely dynamic, not static; their new home base changed regularly. Further, they needed to articulate it without immediate reference to family and job.

Here is a picture of the willingness to set aside, and likely critique, familial, cultural and religious norms.

Unlike James and John, most of us don’t engage in this practice. Family and work are and remain the basis of our lives. We assume this and, when required, add new meaning to it. We don’t have to move…or leave anything behind.

On the radio recently, I heard a guest suggest that ‘we are addicted to being comfortable.’

Practising the art of critique causes significant discomfort. Is this why we rarely attempt it?

I sense that green shoots only emerge from such discomfort.

What might Pius XII have discovered if he left behind his concern for Papal power?