1943: The Ides of March

The radical social commentaries of the United States‘ vice-president, Henry Wallace, would lead to a tense exchange with Winston Churchill in May, but Wallace had already stirred controversy with his leftist reduction of international relations, and war itself, to an economic dialectic. As chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secret “war cabinet,” he had offended the State Department by negotiating contracts with foreign countries. The commerce secretary, Jesse Jones, took umbrage when he tried to assume the purchasing authority of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Wallace accused Jones of delaying the shipment of quinine to dying Marines. With both Cordell Hull and Jones insulted, Roosevelt dissolved the Board of Economic Welfare in July.

Wallace’s tours of Latin America in 1943 persuaded 13 of its countries to break relations with the Axis powers, but his own case was primarily against Fascism, which he sweepingly identified with capitalism. In March, he declared that the war was the result of poverty. Describing his own religious views as vaguely Buddhist, he found no place for sin and evil in his explanation of the causes of war and had little patience for contemplating the depth of what John Henry Cardinal Newman called “those giants, the passion and pride of man.” In Leviathan, Hobbes had said: “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man.” It is striking to realize that, replaced by Harry Truman on January 20, 1945, Wallace missed succeeding Roosevelt as president by 82 days.


When in March the Swiss government lifted the ban on the Communist Party, which had been imposed in 1940, the Germans cited it as proof that National Socialism was the only defense against creeping Bolshevism. Radio Bremen, broadcasting in Flemish, quoted Jozef-Ernest Cardinal van Roey’s condemnation of Marxism as if it were an approval of National Socialism: “By opposing, Bolshevism will simultaneously strike at all those elements whose aim is to enslave the whole of our population, the rich as well as the poor, the propertied as well as the working classes.” Not mentioned was the Joint Pastoral Letter of the Belgian hierarchy in December, deploring the deportation of Belgian workers to Germany as slave labor.


No bishop had been more outspoken against all forms of totalitarianism than Arthur Cardinal Hinsley. His death on St. Patrick’s Day was a somber loss for the Catholics of England. Prayers were also offered for him in Anglican cathedrals, and the Agudath Israel World Organization sent a message to the Apostolic Delegate: “We have seen so much evidence of brotherhood and loving-kindness from the Cardinal in these past years that we feel with all his other friends for his well-being.”

Cardinal Hinsley was reared in Yorkshire, the son of a carpenter in the service of the 9th Lord Beaumont at Carlton Hall, which would be refashioned a decade later for the Catholic peer as Carlton Towers by Augustus Pugin’s son Edward. The future cardinal studied at Ushaw and then at the Venerable English College in the flowering of the Thomistic revival during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII. He returned to teach philosophy at Ushaw, founded a grammar school in Bradford, taught in the seminary at Wonersh in southern England, and spent twelve years as a parish priest until Pope Benedict XV appointed him rector of the English College in Rome in 1917, and in that position virtually refounded the college materially and spiritually. In 1928 he was named vicar apostolic in Africa, where he served for six years, coping with poor health, nearly dying from blackwater fever, a complication of falciparum malaria. Back in Rome, he settled in as a canon of St. Peter’s, planning on a quiet retirement, until he was announced for Westminster in 1935.

The first year of his new office saw the start of civil war in Spain, for whose beleaguered churches he organized a relief committee. Although he assumed that his time at Westminster would be an interim post, within two years he was created a cardinal, which did not give him joy, and which especially surprised him since his outspoken opposition to the Italian government had made him many enemies, including some Italian cardinals who had taken offense at his opposition to the invasion of Abyssinia. He protested to Raffaele Cardinal Rossi that he was too old, but Pope Pius XI was sending a clear message and asked Hinsley to take as a motto the pope’s phrase, once used by St. Charles Borromeo, invoked at the canonization of John Fisher and Thomas More: “tales ambio defensores” — I surround myself with such defenders.

As cardinal, Hinsley voted in the conclave that elected Pope Pius XII, and the two had remained in close communication. His “Sword of the Spirit” campaign, to enlist all denominations against threats to democracy, gained wide support but also criticism for being too ecumenical. Churchill indicated both his regard for Cardinal Hinsley and his own vague ecclesiology when he privately wished that Hinsley might replace Dr. Lang, whom he considered an appeaser, as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942. Lang said that Churchill “knows nothing about the Church, its life, its needs or its personnel.” King George VI was deeply frustrated that protocol prevented him from attending the cardinal’s funeral.

Coincident with the London funeral rites, which included the peripatetic Archbishop Francis Spellman fresh from Algiers, the British minister plenipotentiary to the Holy See, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, organized an elaborate Requiem Mass in St. Peter’s for the English prelate, paid for by the British government. In his diary, he noted:

He was a great patriot, though perhaps more courageously outspoken regarding the Nazi persecution of the Church and other offences against the law of God and man than would please the hypersensitive neutrals of the Vatican. They probably do not realize how much he has done to counteract the unfavourable effects abroad of their neutrality.

In his panegyric preached at the requiem in London, the archbishop of Liverpool quoted lines of the late Pius XI: “For or against God . . . . This is the alternative that shall decide the destinies of all mankind. . . . Let all those who still believe in God and adore Him loyally and heartily, concur in order to ward off from mankind the great danger that threatens us all alike.” The official German news agency issued its own communiqué: “Cardinal Hinsley, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, regards it as his supreme aim to further the spread of Bolshevism. As is well known, he recently issued a Pastoral Letter asking for daily prayers for the Soviets. Hinsley acquired world-wide notoriety for his violent hatred for the Germans, and for his campaigning for Bolshevism.”


The Germans were more approving of the president of the Slovak State, Msgr. Josef Tiso, who continued to minister as a parish priest while also being head of what had become since 1939 a German protectorate. Tiso had gone to Berlin, where he acquiesced to Hitler’s ultimatum: Either Slovakia would declare its independence and then become a client of Germany, or Germany would permit Hungary and Poland to annex Slovakia after Germany had annexed the Czech territories of Czechoslovakia. As a convinced Fascist and anti-Semite, in 1942 he offered the Germans money to deport 60,000 Slovak Jews for extermination in Auschwitz, making Slovakia the only country to pay for such deportations.

On September 11, 1941, the pope had officially protested against the introduction of racial laws. He instructed his chargé d’affaires to tell Tiso of

the profound distress of His Holiness for the sufferings to which so many persons are subjected against the laws of humanity and justice — because of their nationality or race. Let him know also that these injustices committed under his Government damage the prestige of his country and that the adversary exploits them to discredit the clergy and the Church in the whole world.

Deportation ceased for a while, and in March of 1943, the auxiliary bishop of Budapest, Msgr. Endre Havas, presented Tiso a letter from Rome ordering him to stop all deportations of Jews under the threat that he would be excommunicated. Exactly one year earlier, the chargé, Msgr. Giuseppe Burzio, wrote: “It is not true that Jews deported would be sent to the service of work, the truth is that they are murdered.” When in 1944 the Nazis would call for “rail shipments of foreign workers” for Auschwitz, another papal intervention stopped it, but then the Germans directly intervened and ignored another papal intervention in August. The pope sent Tiso a telegram saying that he was “greatly pained” by what was occurring. Tiso sent 13,500 more Jews to death camps, while the pope arranged for 25,000 Jews to be hidden in monasteries.

At the time of Cardinal Hinsley’s death, a false report of Tiso’s death at Bratislava spread and was widely printed in the press. He survived the war, having destroyed 80 percent of the Slovak Jews, and was hanged for collaboration and war crimes on April 18, 1947, wearing his clerical clothes on the gallows. The same day, he was buried secretly for fear that his grave would become a shrine for those Slovaks to whom he still was a hero.


The Dutch hierarchy issued a joint pastoral letter on Septuagesima Sunday, angering the Nazis. The socialist daily Het Volk editorialized: “Later on [the bishops] will cry out that this is religious persecution, but then we shall know that they have been removed from their places not because of their faith, but because of their lack of faith, as they wanted the Dutch people to conclude a Pact with Jewry.” Then followed a sanguineous threat: “Churchmen and bad shepherds must disappear first. This is the demand of the moment, however difficult it may be to write of it and advocate it.”

The cardinal archbishop of Palermo, Luigi Cardinal Lavitrano, wounded in an air raid, protested in Avvenire against “inhuman warfare,” and he was joined by the cardinal archbishop of Genoa, Pietro Cardinal Boetto, who counted 72 churches damaged or destroyed in his archdiocese by Allied bombs, including the church of Santo Stefano where Columbus was baptized. Alessio Cardinal Ascalesi of Naples wrote: “There is no word strong enough to stigmatize so brutal an act, of which even savages would be ashamed.” The British government conveyed to the Holy See an expression of regret for the death by bombing of the archbishop of Reggio di Calabria, Msgr. Enrico Montalbetti.

But the Vatican’s response through L’Osservatore Romano was arch:

These plaintive voices are understandable, but at the same time they bring to our minds the question, “did these churches fulfill the mission for which they were built by past generations?” Where are today the crowds which once filled them? The sad truth is that the greater part of these fine churches have been left empty lately, or at the best have been filled only for Sunday Mass, when the pleasure-hunting youth of the great cities kept their rendezvous in church. In these circumstances it should cause no surprise that the Lord, who permitted the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem owing to the wickedness of the Jews, has now allowed bombs to fall on the churches deserted by the faithful.


Image: Josef Tiso

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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