Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Church, Fascism and the Remarks of Bishop Daniel Jenky

by Nomad

In the Footsteps of Hitler 
Sometimes you hear statements by supposed authorities that sound so unbelievable you really have to wonder about their grasp on reality.
Take this recent remark by Bishop Daniel Jenky, who currently serves as Bishop of Peoria, Illinois.
As reported by ThinkProgress last month:
As part of a lengthy historical lecture on past attacks on the Catholic church, Jenky claimed that President Obama is following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler:
The Church will survive the entrenched corruption and sheer incompetence of our Illinois state government, and even the calculated disdain of the President of the United States, his appointed bureaucrats in HHS, and of the current majority of the federal Senate. . . .


Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.  In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
On the Bishop's remarks, Think Progress article concludes :
The very suggestion that Obama or his actions even vaguely resemble those of the Third Reich is deeply offensive and calls into question whether Bishop Jenky possesses the most basic understanding of the history of Nazi Germany.


Not quoted in the article is this portion of the Bishop’s homily which sounds very much like a campaign rally speech. He told his audience:
This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries -- only excepting our church buildings - could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the instrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.
Since his excellency decided to open the topic and since many of his parishioners might actually be as unaware of history as Bishop Jenky seems to be, I have decided to explore one aspect of this subject a bit further. 

Presumably, Bishop Jenky feels the right to comment on the Obama administration based on some long standing opposition with fascism. Presumably. However, taking such a stand does open the question: What is the record of the Catholic Church on dealing with fascism?
For a Catholic bishop to refer to the Nazi with idle (and illegitimate) comparisons is walking on terribly shaky ground indeed. 
In the past, many have brought up the questions about the current pope’s childhood and his membership in the Hitler Youth Camps. However, let’s be very clear on that point. Pope Benedict XVI, originally, Joseph Ratzinger, only joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 when it became compulsory for all German boys. The penalty for exclusion could be risky indeed so one must be rather wary of making too much of that point. (On this allegation, actress Susan Sarandon got herself in a pickle -similar to the Bishop- for making unwise and untrue statements about the pope.)

In any case, there's no real need to impugn the character of Pope Benedict.  He was a child at the time and was caught up in the times just as much as millions of other German children.
Perhaps it is better to look elsewhere for answers. We can begin with this tantalizing clue. The 1949 provocative book, The Vatican in World Politics, notes:
The fact that Fascism was born and first established in a Catholic country, and that it began its official career in the very seat of Roman Catholicism, is neither mere coincidence nor a freak of history. It was due to various important factors of a religious, social, economic, and political nature, not the least of which was the presence and co-operation of the Vatican in this first experiment of modern Totalitarianism.
 We shall see where this experiment of cooperation with fascism led.

Pope Pius XI and the Dictator
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Few would argue that the years of Pope Pius XI was a prelude to one of the most turbulent in the history of the modern papacy and in modern Europe as well. 
When Pope Benedict XV died unexpectedly Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan, Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti was crowned as Pope Pius XI, the head of the Catholic Church in January 1922. 
Pius seemed especially intent of revitalizing the Catholic church using whatever means at his disposal.
On becoming Pope, he issued the Papal Bull Ubi arcano, promulgated in December 1922, inaugurated the "Catholic Action" movement. The idea was to involve "chosen" lay men and women in an organisation, under the close supervision of the bishops, which would actively spread Catholic values and political ideas throughout society, taking control of governments to favour the church.
In the eyes of the pope, it was not merely a matter of spreading the faith, but of the very survival of the Christian faith. That threat to the authority and survival of the church had come from the East. The 1917 Russian revolution had thrown all of Europe into a panic. Fears of a Bolshevik revolution, similar to one that had toppled the Russian monarchy, spread throughout Europe. 
The atheist Communists of the new Soviet Russia were open about their plans to export a Socialist revolution to all nations, in Europe and beyond.

In March 1919, the Soviets had established the Comintern, also known as the Third Communist International, as a mechanism for coordinating communist activity abroad.
The Comintern would work "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State", in the words of its first World Congress.
Europe, still devastated by the first World War with economies ruins. Attempting to pay for reconstruction and World War I reparations and pay off the war debts had led to runaway hyperinflation. The economies of Europe, both of the victors and the vanquished, were devastated. In short, everything was in place for the Communist revolution to take over the whole Europe.

If the events in Russia were anything to go by, one result of this would be the brutal repression and permanent dismantling of the Catholic Church. Soon after the establishment of the revolutionary government, the Russian Orthodox Church had become the subject of an aggressive campaign to rid the new state of all vestiges of its former religion. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. Additionally the wealth and sacred relics of the Church were confiscated under threat of arrest and execution. It was, by all accounts, a bloodbath.

Determined not to allow the same thing to happen to the Catholic church, Pius attempted, with minimal success, to thwart the spread of this dangerous challenge.
Pius XI also gave his approval to specialised movements like the Jocists, associations of young Catholic industrial workers who aimed to Christianise the workforce, and provide a Catholic alternative to Communist and socialist trade unions.
*    *    *    *    *
In the same year as the coronation of Pope Pius XI, there was in Italy another significant incident- though at the time, it seemed little more than a farce and an amusing footnote.  
In October 1922, the leader of the so-called Fascist party of Italy, Benito Mussolini and his gang of thugs, called the Blackshirts, led a march on Rome with the idea of seizing power of the government. 
In fact, most historians agree that the march was a fiasco. Despite that, the  march and the threat of  force that lurked behind it was enough to frighten the government into offering Mussolini a chance to form a new government. 
According to some sources, Pius immediately saw an opportunity to establish an alliance with this energized form of politics. 
A few months later (January 20, 1923), Cardinal Gasparri, the Vatican Secretary of State, had the first of numerous secret interviews with Mussolini. During this meeting, the bargain between the Vatican and Fascism---as yet weak---was struck. The Vatican pledged itself to support the new regime indirectly by paralyzing the Catholic Party, which had become as serious an obstacle to Fascism as were the Socialists. This, providing the new Government continued its policy of destroying Socialism, protected the rights of the Catholic Church and rendered other services to Catholicism. Mussolini, aware of the Pope's goodwill towards his movement, tried to make of him an ally, and gave his promise.
This new alliance proved beneficial to both sides. When the Catholic-controlled Bank of Rome was on the brink of bankruptcy and the loss of funds of the Vatican's High Prelates and the Holy See a very real possibility, it was Mussolini who stepped in and saved the bank. The cost to the Italian State was reported to be approximately 1,500,000,000 lire. It was the beginning of the beautiful relationship.
Shortly afterwards, the first voices of the Italian Hierarchy in praise of the leader of Fascism could be heard. On February 21, 1923, Cardinal Vannutelli, Head of the Sacred College of Cardinals, paid public homage to Mussolini "for his energetic devotion to his country," adding that the Duce "had been chosen (by God) to save the nation and to restore her fortune."
By the skillful use of rigged elections and brutish intimidation, Mussolini was able to tighten his grip on power. He successfully intimidated the Italian Parliament into bestowing emergency powers which he used to crush all dissent, close down all other political parties,  censor the press and to stamp out civil liberties.  By 1925, with the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the socialist politician who had publicly denounced the Fascist party and had accused them of fraud in the election, Italy was a unquestionably a fascist dictatorship.  Mussolini was given the Italian title, 'il Duce', the new Caesar. 

At this point, the head of the Church and the dictator of Italy entered into negotiations of a more serious nature. 

Lateran Pact of 1929
These negotiations started in 1926 and culminated in a treaty which was designed to resolve a long standing problem involving the earlier confiscation of Church property in 1870.

Mussolini Signing Lateran Treat
Under the treaty, the Italian government gave sovereignty and land to an independent state within a state. The new nation-an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of just over 800- -the smallest independent state in the world. 

It was to be crowned the Vatican City.

Moreover, according to this contract, properties and buildings were to be returned to the Church and would no longer be subject to tax. Catholicism was to become the official (and only) religion of the state. According to the treaty, the Catholic church retained the sole right to regulate marriages involving Catholics- which was, of course- most of population of the Italian kingdom.

In exchange for these advantages, the Church was henceforth obliged to remain neutral “and to abstain from mediation in a controversy unless specifically requested by all parties.” Additionally, the treaty..
forbade all the clergy ( a good minority of whom, headed by the ex-leader of the Catholic Party, remained hostile to Fascism) to belong to or to support any political party whatsoever. Thus it was impossible for any clergy to join an anti-Fascist movement, and as all clergy were under the direct orders of the Vatican, the ally of Fascism, it is easy to imagine the meaning of the clause.
In a region where the Catholicism forms an important factor in the daily lives of every person, this particular provision of the treaty was essential in the rise of Mussolini’s regime. Without this, the regime might well have had a powerful opposition to its excesses. The road was, therefore, open for the dictator seemingly with the pope’s blessing.

Both the Fascists and the clergy got what they wanted from one another. As our source points out:
In addition to acquiring its independence, which it had always refused under Liberal Governments, the Vatican had achieved another and no less important goal; it had restored the Catholic Church in Italy in accordance with Catholic principles that Church and State must not be separate, but, like body and soul, must co-operate together.
Catholicism was at least proclaimed the only religion of the State; religious education was made compulsory in schools; teachers had to be approved by the Church, and only those textbooks "approved by the ecclesiastical Authority" could be used; religious marriage was made obligatory, "the civil effect of the Sacrament of matrimony being regulated by Canon Law"; divorce was forbidden; the clergy and religious Orders were subventioned by the State; books, Press and films against the Church were forbidden; and criticism or insult against Catholicism was made a penal offence. In short, the Catholic Church was reinstated as the dominant and absolute spiritual power over the whole nation.
Thus the Church became the religious weapon of the Fascist State, while the Fascist State became the secular arm of the Church. The Vatican had at last gathered the fruit of its new policy---annihilation of its great enemies (Secularism, Liberalism, Freemasonry, Socialism, Communism, Democracy); and restoration of the Catholic Church as the predominant spiritual power in the land.
Interestingly, the cozy relationship between the Italian dictator and the pope was soon to hit a snag when the Church officials discovered that, contrary to the pope's expectation, the fascists tended to place the supremacy of the State above everything, including the Catholic Church. The pope issued a statement called the encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno in which he criticized the concept of a totalitarian state. Even then he was very careful not to overstep his bounds. He wrote:
"We preserve and shall preserve both memory and perennial gratitude for what had been done in Italy, for the benefit of religion, even though no less and perhaps greater was the benefit derived by the Party and the regime."
Just a gentle reminder. the pope seems to be saying, Benito, don't forget that you need us as much as we need you.
One would think that this bad experience might have chastised the pope from making deals with dictators and regimes. History was to prove otherwise.


Reich Concordat of 1933
The Lateran Pact was really only a trial run for a much more important agreement made four years later with the head of the German National Socialist Party, Adolf Hitler.

Similar in nature to the Lateran Pact, the Reichskonkordat, or the Reich Concord, permitted the Church no interference in political affairs. It also required all bishops to swear a loyalty oath to the German state, mandated that all priests be German citizens and to be subordinate to government officials. For all intents and purposes, from the moment the concord was signed, the Catholic Church and the Nazi government were indivisible.

Some have claimed that the concord gave a form of moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime. And that is perhaps exactly the reason that Hitler sought an agreement in the first place. 

With this one agreement, he was able to silence dissent of the German bishops who might have undermined his rise. Three years prior to the pact with the Church, the Nazi Party had polled six million votes during the 14 September 1930 election campaign, the Catholic hierarchy had called on its people to examine their consciences. Pope Pius XI had stage-managed the agreement without the usual oversight. According to historian John Cornwell:
The negotiations were conducted exclusively by Pacelli on behalf of the Pope over the heads of the faithful, the clergy, and the German bishops.
With the signing of the pact, the Church fell in line with the Pope and one German Cardinal Faulhaber was bold enough in his support to state:
After my recent experience in Rome in the highest circles, which I cannot reveal here, I must say that I found, despite everything, a greater tolerance with regard to the new government... Let us meditate on the words of the Holy Father, who in a consistory, without mentioning his name, indicated before the whole world in Adolf Hitler the statesmen who first, after the Pope himself, has raised his voice against Bolshevism.
Incidentally, some historians, after having read the concord- including the secret supplement- have concluded that Church official were aware that the Nazis were preparing to launch into a full-scale war. The evidence is based on the provisions that outline the general conscription of Catholic clergy, theology students into the armies of Greater Germany.
*   *   *   *   *
Hitler, through his statements, demonstrated without any doubt that he felt that he had an ally in the Catholic Church and that they shared the same vision of a Europe free of the Jewish race. In April of 1933, he remarked to Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabrück, representative of the German Bishops’ Conference,
I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.
Cologne Cathedral, 1937 
In some ways, Hitler’s view of his kinship with Church (based on their shared hatred for the Jews) was historically accurate.

The earliest of Church documents makes its position on the Jews clear even less than 250 years after the death of the Christ. In 248 AD, for example, St. Cyprian wrote that because the Jews had departed from the Lord and had followed idols, they were under the heavy wrath of God.

And in every century since Christianity’s inception, there has been some notable persecution of the Jewish people by the devout followers of Christ. One pope after another had made Anti-Semitic declarations; from Pope Leo VII who encouraged his newly appointed archbishop of Mainz to expel all Jews who refuse to be baptized, to Paul IV who in 1555, restricted Jews to ghettos and decrees that they are to wear distinctive headgear. from Pope Leo XII who in 1828 decreed that Jews were to be confined to ghettos and their property is to be confiscated. 

In this light, some would say that, outside of the genocidal extermination of the Jews, many of the Nazi Anti-Semitic policies had their precedent in Catholic history.

Adolf Hitler- Doing the Lord's Work
The image of Hitler as an atheist has been widely promoted and much emphasis has been placed on his pagan or Teutonic roots. 
However, to deny that Adolf Hitler saw himself as a leader with an essentially religious mission (and identified himself with both the Church and the Christ himself) is to pervert the historical record. Atheist or not, the leader of the Nazi party certainly did not start out that way.
By birth, Adolf Hitler was Catholic and even attended a Benedictine monastery school for a year as a child., In retrospect, it is surprising to learn that this founder of one of the most brutal and merciless regime in European history was confirmed on 22 May 1904, and also sang in the choir at the monastery. A choir boy?
The standard view of history tells us that very early in his life, Hitler apparently abandoned his Catholic faith, turned against its humanist teaching and became the tyrannical dictator we know today. However, the truth is much more enlightening. 

As early as April of 1922, Hitler made apparent his dedication to his warped view of Catholic faith
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.
In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice...
And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people."
While in jail after leading a failed revolt in 1924, he penned his famous biography and statement of philosophy in his book In his book, Mein Kampf,
in which he wrote:

"I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews. I am doing the Lord's work...I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator."
Most revealing perhaps (given our current climate) is this quote from the book:
"The greatness of Christianity did not lie in attempted negotiations for compromise with any similar philosophical opinions in the ancient world, but in its inexorable fanaticism in preaching and fighting for its own doctrine."

Priests giving the Hitler salute
at a Catholic youth rally
in the Berlin-Neukölln stadium 
in August 1933.
Thus we can pretty much dismiss the godless totalitarian. (Whether Hitler sincerely believed he had been called by God or whether it was merely a bit of role-playing to convince the Church to join with him is another question.)


Certainly his megalomaniac delusions of grandeur would fit in with his overall dysfunctional pathology. According to one study, of one hundred and ninety three people who had previously been admitted to hospital and subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia, 24% were found to have religious delusions.

With the signing of the pact with the Catholic church, he clearly felt vindication as the leader of a religious crusade. His mission was clear and indeed, he was now encouraged to proceed with the next steps.
"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life...."
The rest of the story? Hitler eventually betrayed Pope Pius XI who soon realized the hard way that the infallibility of the pope was a false premise. In March 1937, the pope issued an encyclical letter entitled “With Burning Sorrow” in which he accused the Nazis of violating the terms of the concord. In 1938, he also fully understood that Nazis were realistically contemplated the wholesale destruction of the Jews.
“I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually we are all Semites.”
National Bishop Friedrich Coch giving a Hitler greeting
in Dresden, 10 December 1933
(His comments were later reported in various newspapers in Europe. Not, strangely enough, in the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano)

By that time, however, the damage had been done and the Nazi party no longer needed the blessing of the Catholic Church. It had been a mere stepping stone to power as far as Hitler was concerned.
In what was supposed to be the final break between the Catholic pope and the leader of the German Reich, Pope Pius XI was scheduled to deliver a stinging rebuke on fascism on February 10, 1939. However, on the day before the speech, The leader of the Catholic faith, Pope Pius XI, was dead.


Would the speech have changed history? It's unlikely. By that time the relationship between the Nazis and the Church had devolved. Late in the play, The Church saw that it had lost control of the situation.

In any case, Cardinal Pacelli, who had acted as the Pope's Secretary of State, saw to it that Pacelli the document was never released. In this position, he himself had helped to conclude the papal treaties with European and Latin American nations, including the concord with Germans. If the speech had expressed any regret or dissatisfaction with the terms of those contract, it would have reflected badly on him. 
And that had become an important point. 
After the third ballot, it was Pacelli who would take the helm of the Church as Pope Pius XII.
Whether or not the suspicions of foul play are true, for Hitler and the Nazi regime, the death of the pope at that critical juncture must have seemed like divine intervention. This new Pope's role, (indeed, his entire career before ascending to the papacy), and especially his willingness to appease the Nazis earned him the ignoble title "Hitler's Pope."
  * * * *
One final note about the Catholic Church and its relationship with fascism: 
Although Albert Einstein would be quoted in 1950 magazine article as praising the Pius’ efforts against fascism, he denied making those statements and in fact, in a 1943 interview was critical of the Catholic Church's behavior under the Nazis. He placed particular blame on Pope Pius XI and his Concord with Hitler, saying: 
"Since when can one make a pact with Christ and Satan at the same time?"

This Growing and Open Hostility
The reaction to Bishop Jenky’s injudicious remarks equating Obama with Hitler has probably been more than he might have expected. While acknowledging his right to free speech, more than 90 faculty members at the University of Notre Dame signed a complaint letter, asking the Bishop renounce his remarks which were described as “insensitive” and as “too political in tone.” If, the letter added, he should be unwilling to do so, the Bishop should resign from the 12 member University of Notre Dame Board of Fellows.
Other groups condemned his remarks as well. According to wikipedia,

The local chapters of the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Anti-Defamation League also demanded an apology, and there were calls to have the IRS investigate the Bishop because the Diocese, as a tax-exempt, non-profit private entity, is supposed to refrain from overly political comments.
Not unexpectedly Catholic Online, an organization which boasts "a highly targeted audience of over to 100 thousand Catholic users per day" and "visitors come from over 120 countries around the world" stood behind Bishop Jenky’s remarks.
One of the silver linings in the ominous cloud threatening the freedom of the Church in America is the extraordinary way the hostility of the new Caesar has mobilized the faithful. Perhaps even more heartening is the way that this growing and open hostility has elicited such courageous leadership from so many of our shepherds. Most recently that kind of courage was demonstrated by Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois.
(In case you hadn't recognized it, the New Caesar the writer mentioned is none other than President Barack Obama. It's an highly ironic phrase to choose since this was exactly the same title given to the Church-approved , pope-endorsed Benito Mussolini.)

For a bishop, like Jenky, to display such an obvious -and appalling- ignorance of his own religion’s unfortunate history with fascist regimes is embarrassing enough. 
What is more disconcerting is his eagerness to dive into the polluted and murky waters of American politics which can benefit neither the Church nor his own reputation. If secularists are suspicious of the motives of the American bishops of the Church then perhaps it is simply a matter of remembering the past empowerment of and collaborations with ruthless fascists. 
History has shown us what calamity can occur when bishops, cardinals and popes (as well as political leaders) ignore the separation between the world of faith and the world of politics. 

I can conclude this essay with the following interesting quote:
In 1938 this man who had seen the demon face to face, and who for a time had believed him before he understood the terrible thing that was afoot, diagnosed National Socialism, in a book that is still of significance, as the revolution of nihilism...In the mental climate of the time Hitler's revolution made use of the nationalism of the bourgeoisie, which at the same time he fanatically hated and wished to destroy, and also of its order, which seemed to him like the real antithesis of his will.

Anyone who looks more closely and who does not let himself or herself be blinded by phrases will discover sufficient similarities between the disaster of that time and the forces that today proclaim as salvation revolution in itself, the denial of order in itself.

The link between this nihilism and the social idea, and with our shock at the misery suffered by millions of men and women in this world, is no less deceitful than the link between the nihilism of that time and the national idea.

Only someone who is blind or who finds it convenient to be blind can overlook the fact that the threat of totalitarianism is a question of our age.
 Conscience in Its Age, Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) 1987
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