Another Reckoning

A response to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair

The past few years have seen book after book critical of Pope Pius XII, and behind almost every one of them was a larger attack on the papacy and the Catholic Church. The culmination is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s hate-filled A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. In this book, the author calls on the Catholic Church to reject Scripture, deny that Christ is the way to salvation, and make repara­tions for its anti-Semitic history. Along the way it should also reject papal infallibility and adopt a religious pluralism that sees all religions as equal with one another.

Goldhagen says that the book grew out of a request he received to review several recent books on the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII. It looks as though he read the books but did not bother to verify their contents. He just culled the worst accusations from Garry Wills, Susan Zuc­cotti, James Carroll, John Cornwell, and others without giv­ing any consideration to the serious flaws that have been noted in their books. Goldhagen seems not even to have consulted the eleven-volume official publication of original documents related to the Church’s activities during World War II. In other words, he did none of his own research. Moreover, he ignored information given to him that he could have used to correct many of the problems that render this book so untrustworthy.

Goldhagen’s volume was foreshadowed in a 27,000-word essay that he wrote for The New Republic, “What Would Jesus Have Done? Pope Pius XII, the Catholic Church, and the Holocaust” (January 21, 2002). When that article was published, I prepared a long reply and gave it to the publish­ers of The New Republic. I never got a response, but my reply was eventually published in the June/July issue of First Things, under the title “Goldhagen v. Pius XII,” and it’s now available on that journal’s Web site.

It’s too bad that Goldhagen seems not to have read the First Things piece. As Jody Bottum recently wrote in The Weekly Standard, A Moral Reckoning “is filled with so many simple errors of fact that it’s positively embarrassing to read.” The problem for Goldhagen, of course, is that if he actually had made the necessary changes, he would have had to rework the entire thesis of his book.

One of Goldhagen’s most blatant errors relates to the Franciscan friar Miroslav Filopovic-Majstorovic, also known as “Brother Satan.” Goldhagen ends his (grossly inaccurate) portrait of Croatia by writing: “Forty thou­sand…perished under the unusually cruel reign of ‘Brother Satan’…. Pius XII neither reproached nor punished him…during or after the war.”

Actually, “Brother Satan” was tried, defrocked, and expelled from the Franciscan order before the war ended. In fact, his expulsion occurred in April 1943, before he ran the extermination camp (April through October 1943). For Pius XII to have punished him “after the war” would have been difficult indeed, since he was executed by the Communists in 1945. Goldhagen must have known this.

Similarly, Goldhagen asserts that the Polish ambassador pleaded with Pius in vain for the Jews and that by 1944 Pius XII was so “tired” of hearing about the Jews that he got angry with the ambassador. Goldhagen gives no documentation for this charge. That’s hardly sur­prising, since it isn’t true. The Polish ambassador to the Holy See during the War was Kazimierz Papee. In his 1954 Pius XII i Polska (Pius XII and Poland), Papee discussed Pius XII’s wartime policies and said that he agreed with them. The record is comprehensively analyzed and supported—in Papee’s book. I tried to tell Goldhagen about this, but he either didn’t get my message or he intentionally went ahead with the falsehood.

Again and again Goldhagen describes the notorious Bishop Alois Hudal as an important bishop at the Vatican and a good friend of Pius XII and Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Pope Paul VI). If he had researched the facts, however, he would know that Hudal never was a bishop “at the Vatican,” much less an “important” one. Hudal was the rector of the Collegio dell’Anima in Rome, and he was placed there precisely to confine him to a post of little significance. He was Austrian, not the “head of the Ger­man Church in Rome.” He was never a close friend of Pius or Montini (in fact, Hudal’s memoirs criticized both for refus­ing rapproachment with Germany). Professor Matteo San­filipo, granted access to Hudal’s papers, published an authoritative report that not only exonerated Pius of any involvement in Hudal’s pro-Nazi activities but showed that Montini categorically rejected Hudal’s efforts to win clemency for suspected German war criminals. In fact, rather than helping the—defendants, Pius XII autho­rized an American Jesuit to submit a dossier to the War Crimes Tribunal at Nurem­berg, authenticated by the papal Secretary of State, documenting Nazi crimes against the Church.

One error that didn’t appear in the New Republic article but does appear in the book caused a serious problem for Goldhagen in Germany. In fact, a court ordered Goldhagen’s pub­lisher to recall the book because of a false and mis­leadingly captioned photo that appears on page 257 of the German edition. Even after the photo had been exposed in Germany, Gold­hagen’s American publisher, Knopf, released the English language edition of A Moral Reckoning without correcting the error. It appears on page 178, with the false caption: “Cardinal Michael Faul­haber marches between rows of SA men at a Nazi rally in Munich.”

In fact, the photo shows papal nuncio Cesare Orsenigo, not Bavarian bishop Faulhaber. The city is Berlin, not Munich, and it isn’t a Nazi rally but a 1934 May Day labor parade. As nuncio and ex-officio dean of the diplomatic corps, Orsenigo was required to attend functions like this.

Faulhaber, whom Goldhagen tries to paint as a Nazi sup­porter, was a staunch opponent of the Nazis. They hated him, as he hated them, and more than once the Nazis tried to have him eliminated. After the war, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the leading American voice for the Jewish cause during the war, called Faulhaber “a true Christian prelate” who “had lifted his fearless voice” in defense of the Jews. In fact, Wise felt that Faulhaber had been a much better friend to the Jews of Europe than had the oft-hailed Protestant minister, Mar­tin Niemoeller.

Perhaps Goldhagen didn’t recognize the person depicted in the photo, but I suspect he already knew about Faul­haber’s opposition to the Nazis. I also suspect he was well aware that several other allegations in A Moral Reckoning were false. Nevertheless, he exposed his publisher to fines that could have totaled almost a quarter of a million dollars. One German reviewer said that if a fine were imposed for every mistake in the book, Goldhagen’s publisher would be driven into bankruptcy. A Moral Reckoning comes on the heels of the controversy sur­rounding Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America, also pub­lished by Knopf. When the shoddy scholarship in that book was exposed, it cost the author his position at Emory University. I truly hope that Knopf will start doing some investigation into the valid­ity of the outrageous claims made by its authors.

Goldhagen blindly follows the arguments of other papal critics, despite serious and obvious flaws. Susan Zuccotti, for instance, accuses supporters of Pius XII of mistranslating the Ital­ian word stirpe, which the pope used in his 1942 Christ­mas statement, when he spoke of hundreds of thou­sands of people being killed for no other reason than their “stirpe.” Most people who have studied this point translate stirpe in this context as “race or nationality.”

Zuccotti claims, and Goldhagen agrees, that stirpe does not mean “race,” only “descent.” Whether this is a distinc­tion with any meaning in this context remains highly ques­tionable, but if it does make a difference, Cassell’s Italian Dictionary (1979) gives the following as the definition of the Italian stirpe: “stock, race, descent, lineage, extraction.” (“Race” precedes “descent.”) The Zanichelli New College Italian and English Dictionary gives: “stock, race, family, lin­eage, ancestry.” (“Descent” is not given as an option.) Of greatest significance, the Nuovo Dizionario della Lingua Ital­iana, published in Milan in 1924 (therefore best reflecting Italian usage when Pius XII was a young man) gives schiatta (race) as an exact synonym of stirpe. It even provides as an illustration of the word’s meaning the phrase: “la stirpe semitica” (the Semitic race).

It seems silly to devote this much attention to the trans­lation of words, but Goldhagen has based central parts of his argument on mistranslations. Another example is the piece of evidence that Cornwell relied on so heavily in Hitler’s Pope. It is found in a letter, written in 1919 by Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, when he was papal nuncio in Munich. That year, Bolshevik revolutionaries temporarily took power in Bavaria. Their leaders occupied the royal palace and began operating what might best be described as a rogue government. Of particular concern to all diplomats in Munich was that the Bolsheviks violated the sovereign immunity of foreign missions and representatives. Two lega­tions were invaded, and a car was requisitioned from another. The Austro-Hungarian consul general was arrested without cause and held for several hours.

Nuncio Pacelli sent his assistant, Monsignor Lorenzo Schioppa, to meet with the leaders of the new government. Schioppa, accompanied by a representative from the Pruss­ian legation, met with the Bolshevik leader, Eugen Levine. Their purpose was to force Levine (incorrectly identified as Levien in the later report), “to declare unequivocally if and how the actual Communist Government intends to recog­nize and oversee the immunities of the Diplomatic Repre­sentatives.”

The only commitment that the representatives could get from Levine was that he would recognize the extraterritori­ality of the foreign legations “if, and as long as the represen­tatives of these Powers…do nothing against the [Bolshevik government].” Schioppa was warned that if the nuncio did anything against the new government, he would be “kicked out.” Levine made it clear that “they had no need of the Nunciature.”

Pacelli wrote a letter back to Rome, reporting on this meeting. John Cornwell mistranslated a few sentences from that letter and set them forth as “proof” that Pacelli was an anti-Semite. The key passage, as translated by Cornwell (and accepted uncritically by Goldhagen), described the scene at the palace as follows:

[I]n the midst of all this, a gang of young women, of dubious appearance, Jews like all the rest of them, hanging around in all the offices with lech­erous demeanor and suggestive smiles. The boss of this female rabble was Levien’s mistress, a young Russian woman, a Jew and a divorcée, who was in charge. And it was to her that the nuncia­ture was obliged to pay homage in order to pro­ceed.

This Levien is a young man, of about thirty or thirty-five, also Russian and a Jew. Pale, dirty, with drugged eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both intelligent and sly.

Goldhagen suggests that these 106 words out of a six-page letter, based on Schioppa’s report to Pacelli, prove that the future pope was an anti-Semite. In truth, however, this translation is grossly inaccurate.

The phrase “Jews like all the rest of them” is a distorted translation of the Italian phrase i primi. The literal transla­tion would be “the first ones” or “the ones just mentioned.” Therefore Goldhagen’s assertion that “the Communist revo­lutionaries, Pacelli averred, were ‘all’ Jews” is wrong. The word “all” appears only in the mistranslation. Similarly, the Italian word schiera should be translated as “group” instead of “gang.” Additionally, the Italian gruppo fernminile should be translated as “female group,” not “female rabble.” The Italian occhi scialbi should be translated as “pale eyes” not “drugged eyes.”

This letter was published in its original Italian in 1992. Historian John Conway—an Anglican and a distinguished scholar—reviewed the book in which it was included for the Catholic Historical Review. Neither he nor anyone else at that time suggested that the letter was anti-Semitic. Indeed, when the entire letter is read in an accurate translation, it isn’t anti-Semitic at all. The tone of anti-Semitism is introduced only by the bogus translation that Goldhagen relied on. If he had read the original letter, instead of relying on Cornwell’s mistranslated snippet, he would have known this.

Rather than fabricating Pacelli’s attitude toward Jewish people, Goldhagen could have looked to direct, relevant evi­dence from that same period. During World War I, the American Jewish Committee of New York petitioned the Vatican for a statement on the “ill-treatment” suffered by Jewish people in Poland. The response came on February 9, 1916, from the office of the secretary of state, where Eugenio Pacelli was working hand-in-hand with Cardinal Secretary of State Gasparri. It said:

As Head of the Catholic Church, which, faithful to its divine doctrine and to its most glorious tra­ditions, considers all men as brothers and teaches them to love one another, [the Supreme Pontiff] never ceases to inculcate among individuals, as well as among peoples, the observance of the principles of natural law and to condemn every­thing which violates them. This law must be observed and respected in the case of the children of Israel, as well as of all others, because it would not be conformable to justice or to religion itself to derogate from it solely on account of religious confessions.

When Pacelli visited the United States in 1936, he reiterated this 1916 statement to a delegation of Jews who came to meet with him. Where is this statement in A Moral Reckoning? Nowhere to be found. Ditto for Vatican condem­nations of anti-Semitism that were issued in 1928, 1930, and 1938. Goldhagen mentions the bold anti-Nazi encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge, but his treatment is so misleading that one can hardly recognize it.

Goldhagen says that the Vatican “endorsed” Italy’s adop­tion of anti-Semitic laws in 1938. Again he gives no citation. Mussolini’s “Aryan Manifesto” was issued on July 14, 1938. On July 28, 1938, Pius XI made a public speech in which he said: “The entire human race is but a single and universal race of men. There is no room for special races. We may therefore ask ourselves why Italy should have felt a disgrace­ful need to imitate Germany.” This speech was reprinted in full on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano on July 30, under a four-column headline. Other articles condemning anti-Semitism appeared on July 17, July 21, July 23, July 30, August 13, August 22-23, October 11-18, October 20, Octo­ber 23, October 24, October 26, October 27, November 3, November 14-15, November 16, November 17, November 19, November 20, November 21, November 23, November 24, November 26, and December 25, 1938, and January 19, 1939. This information isn’t hard to find if you care to look beyond secondary sources. Back issues of L’Osservatore Romano are available on CD-ROM.

One of the most amazing things about A Moral Reckoning is Goldhagen’s attempt to construe the U.S. bish­ops’ 1942 statement as a slap at Pius XII. At their annual meeting in November 1942 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. bishops released a statement on the plight of the Jews in Europe. It said, in part:

We feel a deep sense of revulsion against the cruel indignities heaped upon Jews in conquered coun­tries and upon defenseless peoples not of our faith…. Deeply moved by the arrest and maltreat­ment of the Jews, we cannot stifle the cry of con­science. In the name of humanity and Christian principles, our voice is raised.

Goldhagen calls this an “all but explicit rebuke of the Vati­can.” Had he read the original letter, he might have learned that the American bishops invoked the teachings of Pius XII in several places (“We recall the words of Pope Pius XII”; “We urge the serious study of peace plans of Pope Pius XII”; “In response to the many appeals of our Holy Father”). Moreover, there is every reason to believe that the bishops issued this statement in cooperation with Pius XII.

In a letter to the American bishops and archbishops, written at that very time, Pius expressed his satisfaction with their “constant and understanding collaboration.” There was a general thanks given to the “hierarchy, clergy, and faithful” for their efforts, but the thanks for collaboration was separate and directed to the bishops and archbishops. The bishops replied with a letter pledging “anew to the Holy Father our best efforts in the fulfillment of his mission of apostolic charity to war victims.” They also offered a prayer for the pope’s collaborators. Not the sort of thing one would expect from a group at odds with the pope.

Goldhagen’s repeated, strained efforts to link the Nazis with Christian statements or symbols is very interest­ing. For instance, the photograph on the cover of A Moral Reckoning shows a Nazi sign (“Jews not welcome here”) near what Goldhagen calls a “Catholic shrine.” He tries to make similar linkage with other illustrations. Of course, it isn’t hard to link Nazi symbolism with Christian symbols. In Mein Kampf, Hitler went into great length about misusing images influenced by religion to inspire and inflame the masses. Hitler also played to a populist mentality, a racist mentality, a socialist mentality, a chauvinistic mentality, a nurturing/mothering mentality, a scientific mentality, and just about any other mentality one could name. That Hitler would embrace all of these different ideologies and try to link them to Nazi symbolism is no surprise. He didn’t intend to honor his commitments. The only surprise is that Gold­hagen takes these symbols at face value.

Goldhagen also tries to make much of the 1933 concor­dat between the Holy See and the German government. Throughout the book, he keeps returning to this document as if it somehow proves his case. It doesn’t. The concordat merely promised that the Church would be permitted to hold services and function in general in the coming years. In fact, the Nazis did not honor that agreement, and the Church was regularly persecuted in Germany and in Ger­man-occupied areas. Pius XII even went so far as to ship documentation of such persecution to London, where it was published in 1940 in the book The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich, Burns & Oates (London, 1940). See also The Persecution of the Catholic Church in German-Occupied Poland: Reports by H.E. Cardinal Hlond, Primate of Poland, to Pope Pius XII, Vatican Broadcasts and Other Reli­able Evidence, Longmans Green & Co. (New York, 1941).

In January 2002, documents from the personal archive of General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, who served as special assistant to the U.S. chief of counsel during the Inter­national Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, were posted on the Internet by the Rutgers Journal of Law & Religion. In a confidential report documenting Nazi persecution of the Church, it was made clear that the concordat was a “Nazi proposition.” The Nazis accepted terms that the Church had previously proposed to Weimar but which Weimar had rejected. The Nazis told the Vatican that the choice was to accept those terms (which assured that the Church would be able to function) or face severe persecution. In fact, to prove that they were serious, the Nazis persecuted German Catholics in the weeks leading up to the concordat. In a pri­vate conversation with the British chargé d’affaires to the Vatican, Pacelli said that the choice was “an agreement on their lines, or the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in the Reich.”

The concordat, of course, came during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI. As one might expect, Goldhagen makes the ridiculous argument that Pius XI was himself an anti-Semite. Pius XI is usually presented as the good, outspoken pope, in contrast to the “silent” Pius XII. Not only did Pius XI con­demn racism in major statements issued in 1928, 1930, and 1937 and in the July 28, 1938, speech on Mussolini’s “Aryan Manifesto” already mentioned, but on September 6, 1938, in a statement that—though barred from the Fascist press—quickly made its way around the world:

Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, 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.

Jacques Maritain wrote that “no stronger word has been uttered by a Christian against anti-Semitism, and this Christian was the successor to the Apostle Peter.” In January 1939,

the National Jewish Monthly reported that “the only bright spot in Italy has been the Vatican, where fine humanitarian statements by the Pope [Pius XI] have been issuing regularly.”

The religion editor at Newsweek, Kenneth Woodward, has already called Goldhagen a “known academic nut.” A Moral Reckoning confirms that judgment. Goldhagen con­demns Catholic author and official Eugene Fisher at one point, while citing his work as authoritative elsewhere, and in a third place he absolutely praises the document Reflec­tions on Covenant and Mission, in which Fisher had a signifi­cant hand. Similarly, one passage of A Moral Reckoning presents the document Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) as “a great step forward” in Catholic-Jewish relations, but else­where Goldhagen calls the same document a “deeply flawed and tepid statement.” He reports that the Church has made “enormous strides” in its approach toward Jews in the last 40 years. Later, however, he decides that these “enormous strides” were “meager steps.” Goldhagen wants the Vatican to cease being a state, to eliminate its diplomatic corps, and to end diplomatic relations with other nations. At the same time, he wants the Church to more fully embrace and support the nation of Israel. Finally, after arguing throughout the book that anti-Semitism has been “integral to the Catholic Church” and that efforts at repair have been shamefully small and late, he turns around and says that “the Catholic Church and its moral creed is [sic], at its core, good and admirable.”

The most controversial part of the book is Goldhagen’s demand that the Catholic Church make reparations for its alleged wrongdoings. He says that monetary reparations are deserved but not that important; political reparations are useful; but above all he stresses the need for the Church to admit its moral failings. He asks for more apologies, the erection of suitable monuments, and for a radical pruning of Church teaching to expunge anti-Semitic material. He also demands a renunciation of papal infallibility and says that the Church must repudiate any claim that Christianity has supplanted Judaism. Instead, the Church must embrace true religious pluralism, acknowledging that salvation is not lim­ited to the Catholic Church or to Christianity.

Goldhagen’s argument that the Gospels are anti-Semitic comes from passages such as John 8. Here Jesus is instruct­ing reluctant people on the need to follow Him. Jesus tells them to reject Satan and follow Him to the Father. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Noting their refusal to follow Him, Jesus continues:

You belong to your father the devil and you will­ingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.

The Gospel says that Jesus was talking to a group of “Jews,” but in context that simply means He was talking to group of people who were not His followers. Jesus was born into a Jewish family. His mother was Jewish. His early disciples were all Jewish, and the people who first heard Him were Jewish. In John 8, He was merely trying to convince a group of those people to follow Him. This is not anti-Semitism.

Alice von Hildebrand has perfectly pegged what Goldha­gen is trying to do with his book. Discussing the controversy over the recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, she noted in the November 2002 issue of New Oxford Review that “beliefs held in good faith are not intended to hurt people, but only to objectify the Catholic Faith.” She goes on:

To put pressure upon people of other faiths because the contents of their beliefs are “subjec­tively offensive” is to shift the whole issue away from the essential question, “are they true?” to a totally different question, “do I feel offended by them?” It is a psychological trick aimed at making a person whose beliefs one rejects feel “guilty” because of his “insensitivity” to the feelings of oth­ers, and to therefore put him in a weaker position, from which he has to defend and justify himself.

Goldhagen is asking the Church to abandon Scripture, turn from Christ as Savior, and deny all that Christians have held to be true—all because he’s offended. Maybe he could make this case if the facts that he presents in the book were true, but they aren’t. The Weekly Standard reports that Goldhagen seems to have made just one correction as a result of the long list of errors that was published in First Things (most of which are not repeated in this review). It’s hard not to con­clude that Goldhagen has manufactured his evidence to accomplish his goal.

Goldhagen’s book is essentially a demand for the Church to apologize itself out of existence. But it’s Goldhagen who needs to apologize. There are too many errors in A Moral Reckoning for them all to have been honest mistakes. In light of the published reply to his magazine article, Goldhagen must have known about many of these uncorrected errors. Nevertheless, he went ahead with a grossly inaccurate attack on Catholics and Catholicism. He denies holding an anti-Catholic bias, but his actions speak otherwise. It is time for a reckoning. Daniel Goldhagen should apologize for the out­rageous slander that he presents as scholarly work.


Ronald J. Rychlak is the associate dean and MDLA Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Revised and Expanded) (2010) and Righteous Gentiles (2005).

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