1942: An Ugly Amount of Success

My files from 1942 have some obituaries of English Catholics, beginning with the death on July 10 of Lieutenant-General Sir George Macdonogh, G.B.E., K.C.B., K.C.M.G. At the age of 77, his life spanned the Second Afghan War, the Zulu War, the Boer War, and two World Wars. As the chief architect of modern military intelligence at the War Office, he suitably was "a man sparing of speech, who preferred to listen." A Knight of Malta long active in Catholic charities, he was a notable friend of beleaguered Finland, the homeland of his wife.

In contrast, dashing Wing-Commander Brendan Finucane died at 21, having won the D.S.O. and D.FC. with two bars after shooting down 32 German flyers: " A casual onlooker might be pardoned for thinking him a dare-devil type." But he was a moderate pipe-smoker and almost a teetotaler. A friend writes: "I shall like to think of him as I saw him the Sunday before he met his death — kneeling down at Mass, saying his beads with complete simplicity." A Requiem Mass was sung in Westminster Cathedral on July 29.
The death of Miss Alice Howard, youngest daughter of Sir Henry Howard, the first British Minister to the Holy See, brought back memories of how she had opened a tea shop in her little Cotswold village of Painswick to raise funds for a Catholic chapel, and eventually was able to turn a slaughterhouse into a Church, which she presented to the diocese. After so many years of work, an air raid destroyed it, but she was able to rebuild it in time for her funeral.
Across the Channel, the Vichy government was trying to elicit clerical support by promulgating measures abrogating the anticlerical laws of 1904. The Carthusians returned to France, and property was restored to the Grande Chartreuse. Dominicans and Jesuits were suspicious, and the archbishop of Carthage, Msgr. Charles-Albert Gounot, warned against the State control of the Church. The Jesuit journal Cité Nouvelle said that "neither France nor the Church stands to gain anything from a ‘Gouvernement des curés.’"
For the Allies, the general picture was bleak, and the enemy was attacking in Russia and the Atlantic "hard and with an ugly amount of success." Franco told the new Spanish Cortes that there was "no hope in the liberal-democratic system. The totalitarian system has shown itself to be obviously superior in the military field. In the economic field it is the only system that can save a nation from ruin."
Meanwhile, even the Hungarian premier was obliged formally to regret Axis-backed atrocities against Serbs in Novi Sad. This slaughter of a thousand captives would be re-enacted in the 1966 film Hideg Napok.
In Yugoslavia, Bishop Alojzije Misic of Mostar expressed horror at the massacres of Serbs with the complicity of Herzegovinian Franciscans headquartered at Siroki Brijeg near Medjugorje, a Ustashe center.
Bishop Misic described hundreds of women and children thrown alive into ravines at Surmanci. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant said the Franciscans behaved "abominably." And in Greece, in response to the shooting of hostages, the Archbishop Chrysanthos of Athens, who had refused to swear in the new Axis government, stood up in his cathedral and put a solemn curse on Altenburg, the German plenipotentiary.
Jozef-Ernest Cardinal van Roey, Primate of Belgium, castigated Nazi race theory as a materialist contradiction of Catholicism and was mocked as obscurantist by the newspapers. In July, the Vatican Radio broadcast the anti-Nazi pastoral letter of the bishop of Calahorra, Spain, for the first time in German. The "cafeteria Catholics" of our day who cast a blind eye to eugenics in return for government appointments and subsidies are bad echoes of figures like the Italian Fascist Roberto Farinacci, who appointed himself mayor of Cremona and proceeded to ridicule the hierarchy. Secular journalists were among the most docile to the new dictators. When the Milanese-Catholic journal Italia published a letter of Britain’s Arthur Cardinal Hinsley, which spoke of the sufferings of the Poles, Farinacci, who called himself a Catholic, ranted: "Cardinal Hinsley is acting in complete bad faith . . . . As regards Poland, our opinion remains unchanged, whatever the Vatican Radio may say. The People of Poland for many years were corrupted by the sons of Judah."
There were few "cafeteria Catholics" in Poland. So on May 16, Pope Pius XII granted a plenary indulgence "for all living in Polish territories who, at the point of death and being unable to confess or communicate, invoke even mentally the Holy Name of Jesus with sorrow for their sins, and accept their death with resignation." On the Vigil of the Assumption, the Salesians announced that 120 members of their Order had been put to death by the Gestapo in Poland, and Rev. Jan Piwowarczyk, rector of the Theological Seminary at Krakow, was reported to have died at Auschwitz. (There is no mention in my files of the death of St. Maximilian Kolbe in the same camp on that same day.)
As he was being injected with carbolic acid, a message was broadcast in English by the Vatican Radio saying: "It is necessary to increase the volume of the present Vatican stations very considerably, especially as they cannot be too well received even in Italy. A new medium-wave station is required, so that the Holy Father’s voice can be heard in all parts of the globe."


Fr. George W. Rutler is a contributing editor to Crisis and pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. A four-volume anthology of his best spiritual writings, A Year with Fr. Rutler, is available now from the Sophia Institute Press.

Join the conversation in our Telegram Chat! You can also find us on Facebook, MeWe, Twitter, and Gab.