1942: Passing through a Severe Calvary

Marking the end of the third year of war,
Italy seemed fated to lose, whichever side won. Germany began to view Mussolini as, in the words of Churchill, “a lackey and a serf, the merest utensil of his master’s will.” Italian aspirations for “spazio vitale” were not mentioned when Joseph Goebbels was in Venice to open an international cinema exhibition, and the propaganda minister, Alessandro Pavolini, hunkered down very much in his big shadow. The Italian Fascists began to sense that Vichy might replace Rome as the second capital of Berlin’s New Order.
Early in September, Rev. Pierre Chaillet, S.J., one of many priests caught hiding Jewish children, was detained in the small town of Privas, an old Huguenot center 70 miles outside Lyons, once nearly destroyed by Richelieu. At the same time, Pierre Laval told foreign correspondents in Vichy: “Nobody and nothing can sway me from my determination to rid France of foreign Jews. Cardinals and bishops have intervened, but everyone is a master of his own trade. They handle religion. I handle government.”

The Vichy government continued to fabricate a preposterous “Celtic Gaul” racialist mythology with an exaltation of “le plateau druidique” represented by poster images of a druidical oak-leaf sprouting out of the heart of France. At Gergovia, a contrived celebration of the defeat of the Romans by Vercingetorix vaulted Celtic Gaul over France’s Latin heritage. Pétain would be the modern Vercingetorix. In response, the conflicted philosopher of Action française, Charles Maurras, wrote, “The civilization of Rome brought us too many things for it to be possible for us to repudiate it.” Tragic for his ambivalence, and blind to his own racial mysticism, he would be sentenced in 1944 to life imprisonment as a collaborator, with his seat in the Académie française declared vacant. He died in 1952 at the age of 82, still convinced that his degradation was “Dreyfus’s revenge.”
In response to the Brazilian declaration of war, Argentina’s opposition to the Axis became louder with the encouragement of the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, Msgr. Miguel de Andrea. President Castillo sent him to the United States to get diplomatic advice from the Roosevelt administration. While two soi-disant Catholic dailies, Pueblo and Crisol, were pro-Axis (the latter’s editor, Enrique Oses, was openly Nazi), the democratic journal Orden Cristiano received support from many Latin hierarchs. The Bishop of Ayacucho, Peru, praised its “highly moral work” and envisioned “a new day which will triumph over the clouds which hell has spread over the world.” For such bishops, racialism was “the somber menace of the world today.”
The British government expressed concern about a declining population. The Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion had given a positive nod to artificial contraception in 1930. While there were some 6 million children in English and Welsh schools in 1942, it was predicted that the number would fall to four million by 1950 and slightly more than three million by 1960. This was quite off, as 50 years later there are slightly under 11 million children in England and Wales, but these make up only one fifth of an aging population. The numbers are inflated by a rising tide of immigrants, which was not anticipated at all in 1942. Nonetheless, a book, Parents Revolt, called contraception “a great democratic freedom” and declaimed, “Women cannot enjoy the things of the mind, or play any part in democratic self-government, if the best twenty years of their lives are given up to the drudgery of the home.” Meanwhile, 223,525 replies to a survey of the Commissariat Française de la Famille agreed that a parallel decline in the French birth rate was due to diminishing religious belief.
After the occupation of Yugoslavia in July of the previous year, the Germans and Italians had partitioned the Catholic land of Slovenia. In the German zone, only nine of 193 priests remained after a year, and these were elderly, leaving a quarter of a million Catholics without the Sacraments. The Italian archbishop of Gorizia, adjacent to the occupied diocese of Ljubljana, sent an unprecedented protest against the Axis troops to the Italian Government and to the Holy See. The archbishop had previously been formally supportive of the Italian government, but in his protest he asked that the Fascist Militia in Slovenia be replaced by a civil administration.
In mid-September, Vatican Radio broadcast in German a pastoral letter of the German bishops dated “from the tomb of St. Boniface, August 19th, 1942.” The Church had to “pass through a severe Calvary . . . . It has the courage of truth and faith in the fight for the liberty of conscience, for human dignity and for liberty in exercising the rights given to man by God and nature . . . . Not all Catholics are worthy members of the Holy Church . . . . Our enemies need not point this out to us again and again with malignant pleasure.” The Vatican broadcast included a not insignificant aside of the bishops: “During these days, we have been occupied with serious questions and immediate anxieties, and we considered it our sacred duty to turn to the competent authorities. However, in this time of difficulties of war (kriesgsschwer), we do not think it appropriate to give further details in this episcopal letter.”
While all this was unfolding, and the siege of Stalingrad continued with unspeakable suffering, a Requiem Mass was celebrated for Archbishop Stanislaw Gall, administrator of the Archdiocese of Warsaw. At the height of the terror during the German occupation, he had been instructed to issue a pastoral letter calling on all Poles to obey the German authorities, to which the archbishop replied, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, but I am not a Judas.”



Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016); The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017); and Calm in Chaos (Ignatius, 2018).

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