At The American Conservative, John Rodden and John Rossi present “Not Hitler’s Pope: What history taught Pius XII about resisting tyrants,” an efficient but substantive overview of Eugenio Pacelli’s dealings with the Nazis first as papal secretary of state under Pope Pius XI and later as his successor, Pope Pius XII, having both secured the Concordat with the Nazi government in 1933 and then having issued Mit brennender Sorge in 1937. One hopes as the historical record becomes ever clearer and black legends about Pacelli ever more dispelled, his cause towards sainthood may advance.
Beyond serving as an overview of Pacelli’s dealings with the Third Reich, Rodden’s and Rossi’s piece is also of value as it discusses Pacelli’s judgments and tactics in light of those of Pius V during Elizabeth I’s reign in England and those of Bergoglio in Argentina in a way that may be instructive for thinking about how Catholics and others of conscience might engage fruitfully in high-stakes political poker (such as Cardinal Dolan is doing regarding the HHS Mandate). Excerpt:
One option for dealing with Nazism was off-limits—a papal bull, an official condemnation by the Pope of the Nazi regime. According to Oxford University historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, the leading British scholar of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, the use of a papal bull excommunicating a secular ruler was rejected because of the Church’s experiences during the Counter-Reformation. In The Reformation: A History, MacCulloch argues that the 1570 papal bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I of England “was so generally recognized as a political blunder that it was even remembered in the 1930s when the Papacy considered how to react to Hitler’s regime.”
Honest, idealistic, and fanatically puritanical, Pope Pius V (1566-72) issued a papal bull, Regnans in Excelis, to deprive Elizabeth I of her title as Queen and absolve her subjects “from any type of duty” to her. In his capacity as “Prince over all nations and kingdoms,” Pius V proclaimed that Elizabeth was “a servant of vice,” “a heretic and abetter of heretics,” and merely the “pretended queen of England.”
What followed was a terrible backlash in Tudor England: a wave of persecution against English Catholics, the execution of hundreds of priests, the definitive secession of the Church of England from Rome, the fatal identification of Catholicism with treason, and the loss of tens of thousands of formerly faithful Catholics who decided to remain loyal to the temporal order.
The Vatican is not a sound-bite culture, and the backfires of 1570 taught Cardinal Pacelli during the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. As MacCulloch notes, “discreet voices in the Vatican privately recalled the bad precedent” and reminded Church leaders of what had happened. Much of Cardinal Pacelli’s measured response to Hitler and Nazism rests on this historical experience.
(cross posted at First Thoughts)