Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Return to index.

Newsletter- May 1998- Vol. IV, no. 5

 

Dear Friends,


I am pleased to let you know that I have been appointed the J.B. Smallman
Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of History at the
University of Western Ontario for the first half of the next academic year.
So Ann and I will be leaving for London, Ontario at the end of August until
Christmas. Just what the implications for this Newsletter are as yet unclear.
I shall hope to establish an E-mail connection through the University of
Western Ontario, and will also try to arrange to have messages forwarded from
here. But there may be some unavoidable interruptions or delays, for which I
apologise in advance. But perhaps, in return, there may be a chance to see
some of you in Ontario or nearby while I am there. That would be a
welcome opportunity for me. It would also help if I could prepare Newsletter
material in advance. I therefore repeat my invitation to you all to send in
comments or contributions. I would also like to ask those who have books out
for review (Fraser, Bergen, Ericksen, Friedrichs) to let me have your copy as
soon as possible. In the meanwhile the June issue will come to you a week
late as I have to be in Munich for a conference on the German Church Struggle,
on which I will report later. By contrast, I will try and get the September
issue off to you before I leave Vancouver. JSC


Contents: 1) Pius XII and the Jews 2) The Hidden Encyclical 3) Conference
proceedings: Amer. Cath.Hist. Ass. 4) Conference announcement - Holocaust and
Reconciliation 5) Book reviews - Raabe, SED Staat und katholische Kirche -
Sugate, Japanese Christians


1) Pius XII and the Jews: Considerable comment, with a wide range of opinion,
not much of it historical, has reached me about the recent Vatican
statement which was reviewed here last month. On the one side, several Jewish
commentators treated the document sceptically, showing an unwillingness to
believe that the Catholic Church, after so many centuries, could really be
changing its doctrinal stance. Others expressed disappointment that
the statement did not go far enough. But Rabbi Mark Shook of St Louis,
Missouri is surely right to say that "our expectations must be focussed on
the possible, not the impossible. No Pope will allow for open and frank
criticism of a predecessor. There is too much theology and church history
concerning the role of the pope to allow for critical review of one pope by
another.. . .This is not the end of the process. We need to give the church
time and space to allow reflection to continue. In a mere generation, the
Catholic Church has swept away the shadow of prejudice and ignorance from its
official pronouncements on Jews and Judaism. How long will it take before the
sweeping reaches down to the pew?" On the Christian side, opinion was also
mixed. The leadingU.S. Catholic journal, America, commented that "the
document reflected two concerns - to defend the Church against calumny and to
express repentance. The defensive motif predominates. . . .The horrors of the
Holocaust are attributed not to religious anti-Judaism but to nationalism and
racism hostile to both Christianity andJudaism alike. This leaves unsettled
how far religious prejudice nourished secular antisemitism. "John Paul II has
frequently deplored the Holocaust but has been reticent in speaking of
the church's responsibility." We shall have to wait for a further
personal pronouncement expected during the coming jubilee year. Kenneth
Woodward, writing in Newsweek on this topic "in defence of Pius XII" claimed
that "No one person, Hitler excepted, was responsible for the Holocaust. And
no one person, Pius XII included, could have prevented it. It's time to lay
off this pope." In Britain, the leading church historian Sir Owen
Chadwick,who has written extensively about the Papacy, believed the document
was inadequate, since "No one can be convincingly repentant about someone
else's crimes - or in this case someone else's failure to resist crime as
bravely as they should. If they cannot be convincing by the nature of the
exercise, the words will sound hollow, and hollow words are better not
spoken. . . . Nothing that anyone could ever say in the way of apology or
sorrow in repentance can ever be adequate; anything that is said is bound
to be resented. If you wish to avoid resentment (which is a good thing to
avoid), say nothing. . . History is much too complex to be painted with a
brush that daubs a few crude red or purple lines. The legends are a daub,
you cannot refute them with a different daub, they cannot be covered up by
shovelling on whitewash. The only thing that corrects them is more history
and that takes time." Whatever the merits or otherwise of such declarations
of repentance - which are surely more appropriate than the
former triumphalism - they are no substitute for historical research.
But Chadwick is right, that takes time. How many scholars have in factfully
absorbed the 11 volumes of the Actes et documents relatifs ala seconde
guerre mondiale? These are an indispensable place to start for historians of
Pius XII and his diplomacy, even if sometimes, as recently in the Tablet, a
lady journalist used these in a highly apologetic manner only.. But see also
H.Favre's highly critical analysis of these documents, L'eglise catholique
face aufascisme et au nazisme - reviewed here in Newsletter no 7,
August1995.JSC

2) Frank Coppa has contributed, in The Catholic Historical Review, January
1998, vol LXXXIV, no 1, pp 63-72,. a valuable guide to the "reception" of the
"Hidden Encyclical" of1939 in analysing the various books and articles which
have recently appeared on this topic.

3) The American Catholic Historical Association held its spring meeting at
Marian College, Indianapolis on March 27-28th. Of particular relevance to
members of this list were three panels. The first examined "Priests and
Pastors in the Third Reich" and included a paper by Doris Bergen, who asked
whether theWehrmacht chaplains were Christian soldiers or Nazi priests. Using
two examples, one Protestant and one Catholic, Bergen demonstrated that
German military chaplains responded to the demands of their tasks in various
ways, from adopting soldierly ways to identify with their comrades at the
front to appealing (ultimately in vain) to army officers to prevent the
killing of Jewish children. Bergen exploited the records of the Reich Ministry
of Church Affairs to argue that the complex selection process produced
military chaplains who were generally older, more nationalist clergymen.
Members of the Confessing Church, other independent-minded clergy and
aggressive "German Christians" were all screened out. Bergen concluded that
"the moderate nature of many chaplains" made the service "an effective vehicle
for legitimization of the Nazi regime". John Delaney contributed a paper which
examined the role of Catholic priests in "opposing Nazi anti-Polish racial
policy measures directed at Bavarian peasants". By inviting Poles,
mainly forced labour recruits on Bavarian farms, to Mass, including them in
the local spiritual community, giving them small gifts and instructing
parishioners "to treat Polish fellow-Catholics as co-religionists, not
'sub-human racial threats'", parish priests demonstrated a high level of
leadership (in the absence of support from the ecclesiastical
leadership). Kyle Jantzen gave a paper on the politics of pastoral
appointments in the German Church Struggle. Arguing that local church
history often fails to correspond with the high church politics of the
Naziera, Jantzen used the example of pastoral appointments in
Nauen (Brandenburg) to illustrate how parish patrons, local
political authorities, parish clergy, lay leaders, district synods and
Land church authorities combined to appoint pastors. As they engaged in this
process, local clergy and laity enjoyed " a significant range of freedom in
which to act" and displayed the willingness to articulate practical and
ideological grievances against potential pastors.The second panel of note
dealt with the Catholic responses to war, and included a paper by Frank
Buscher of the Christian Brothers University (and Canadian Department of
Justice, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Section). Buscher detailed
the work of Cardinal Josef Frings in dealing with the German refugees
from 1945-1955, demonstrating the dilemma Frings and others faced between many
refugees' desire to return to their former homes, their frustration with a
prolonged existence in temporary camps, and the difficulties of integrating
them into post-war Germany. A third panel had an interesting contribution by
Jose M. Sanchez on Pius XII, which took a different approach to the question
of that pope's response to Nazism and the Holocaust. Rather than an austere
monarch of the church, Sanchez argued that Pius was infact a shy but warm
personality, a lonely man in a lonely job, who simply wasn't prepared for the
crises he faced. Hampered by his diplomatic background and his habit of
looking at both sides of every problem, Pius did not have the confidence or
experience to be the pastor that the Roman Catholic Church needed in World War
Two. (Ed.note: This last sentence should surely be questioned. Pius had every
confidence, as well as the experience, in his own abilities as a diplomat.
Whether these were the right qualities at that juncture is still a matter of
debate.) (Contributed by Kyle Jantzen, Saskatoon)

4) The 5th Biennial Conference on Christianity and the Holocaust will be held
from October 18-19th at the Princeton Marriott Forrestal Village, at which
such leading figures as Cardinal Cassidy, Professor Martin Stoehr, President
of the InternationalCouncil of Christians and Jews, Rabbi Leon Kienecki, and
Dr John Gager, Princeton, will be the principal speakers. Contact:
Dr H.Kornberg, Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey =HOLCTR@Rider.edu

5a) Thomas Raabe, SED-Staat und katholische Kirche. Politische Beziehungen
1949-1961. Paderborn: Schoeningh. 294 pp. DM 64.(This review appeared in
German History, Vol 16, no1, 1998,138-9) Historians of the churches in the
former German Democratic Republic have usually ignored the fate of the
Catholics for two reasons: they were only a minority in the predominantly
(at least nominally) Protestant land of Luther, and they kept a carefully low
profile, adopting a reticence without taking a stance for or against the
Communist government. Their history seemed therefore uninteresting. Thomas
Raabe's dissertation makes use of the newly-available documents of the
unlamented regime to clarify its policies towards the Catholics during its
first twelve years, when its ideological class warriors attacked the
"reactionary" remnant of this "mediaeval survival" as part of its campaign to
overthrow all traces of the past and all institutional links with the Vatican
or the outer world. At the same time he seeks to outline what was the Catholic
Church's response to this virulent onslaught. His findings are elegantly and
scholarly presented, and have therefore been included in the prestigious
series of research studies produced by the Catholic Commission for
Contemporary History, of which this is now the sixtieth to appear. The book
is well edited, has full footnotes and bibliography and has been kept to a
readable length. Raabe's study is essentially one of an embattled
church, which had already undergone severe institutional repression at
the hands of the Nazis. In fact, German Catholics, ever since Bismarck's days,
have seen themselves as a threatened minority trying to uphold the integrity
of their faith and witness when confronted with the challenge of state power,
whether in the Protestant-led imperial period, the racist-dominated Nazi era,
or now in the explicitly atheistic-materialist communist G.D.R. The Catholic
strategy had been to concentrate on the pastoral life of its parishes, to
strengthen the spiritual resources of its own following against all heretical
deviations, and to circumvent political confrontations where possible. This
strategy seemed to have worked well under the Nazis, enabling the church
leaders after1945 to claim that they had been victimised by the regime,
and hence to avoid direct responsibility for any Catholic collaboration. It
was only natural that a similar strategy should be advocated in the no less
turbulent early years of the G.D.R. Raabe succinctly describes how, in the
immediate post-war period, the Soviet military authorities adopted a
benevolent attitude towards all the churches, and their communist
lackeys similarly declared their support for all "anti-fascist
democratic forces". But, even though the new G.D.R.'s constitution in
1949 enunciated high-sounding principles of religious freedom, the practice
was very different. In the 1950s the governing party, theSED, refused to
recognise the legitimacy of the 1933 Concordat, and disallowed any legal
appeals against its regulations. Catholic social, educational and welfare
institutions were in great part suppressed, and the regime launched an
intensive campaign to propagate the "inevitable" victory of Socialism. All
this is already well known, though Raabe is able to add a particular
Catholic perspective on these campaigns. The novel part of this book consists
of six case studies of how various Catholic institutions sought to protect
their autonomy during this repressive period. Raabe make good and
informative use of the surviving party and church records to show the
regime's intransigent and belligerent intentions. However, already by
1953, and largely because of Soviet pressure, this headlong onslaught was
recognised as counter-productive. More time would be needed to root out all
ties to the Catholic church, so a more pragmatic tactical approach was to be
preferred. After 1961, increased efforts were made by the Stasi to infiltrate
the church's activities, not without some success. But, in the earlier
period, the atmosphere was one of provocative confrontation, with numerous but
largely unsuccessful remonstrances by the church authorities. Because these
aggressive policies were formulated by the highly-centralized state
apparatus, and responded to by the Catholic bishops acting together and
forbidding any local initiatives by their priests, Raabe's account rightly
describes events from the top downwards. We still need additional accounts of
how matters turned out on the local level. As a coherent strategy,
the Catholic response ensured survival, though with drastically reduced impact
outside the church's immediate surroundings. Its doctrinal position was not
undermined by "fellow-travellers" in its own ranks, except for one lone
maverick priest. The price was however high. The church lost the battle over
the so-called "Youth Dedication", an increasing proportion of the population
was alienated, and the church's ranks were steadily reduced. Raabe's
competent study gives a good picture of the SED's convoluted policies, which
have already been documented in numerous works on the fate of the Protestant
churches. He rightly notes that the Catholic bishops were always more
sceptical and reticent than some of their Protestant counterparts. As
one dignitary trenchantly noted: "We live in a house whose foundations we did
not build, and whose structures we can only regard as false". This insight
was however not enough to outweigh the persecution and pressures of the
totalitarian regime. By the 1980s only a remnant remained. But in the end the
Catholic church survived to live another day. JSC

5b) Alan Sugate. (with the assistance of Yamano Shigeko), Japanese Christians
and Society, Bern, New York: Peter Lang,1996 285pp ISBN 3-906755-84-3 This
work represents a break-through in English language book-length studies of
Japanese Christianity. Apart from a few articles, most works have dealt with
what be called the official side of Japanese Christianity, the "political" or
"ideological" record of the movement as seen from the outside. Here, through
a collaboration between an English and a Japanese scholar, we are able to
delve more deeply into the record and to see it from the inside. Thus the
writers are able to identify an element that they admit is a minority,
marginal to the movement as a whole, even looked on with "hostility . . .in
their struggle for the quality of social life in Japan". Yet this is a
significant minority which has made a surprising impact on the society as a
whole, whether by themselves or "in concert with . . non-Christian
compatriots whenever common ground was possible" (13) Japanese Christianity is
itself a minority - never increasing to more than about one percent of the
total population - but it is the minority described by Sugate and Yamano that
gives the overall movement its cutting edge. Following an introductory
chapter which offers an interpretation of Japanese society as a whole, the
book proceeds to define and describe the important ideological nature of the
Tenno system. When Japan opened itself to the West in the mid-19th century, it
developed a constitution centred around the person of its ruler, a figure who
was seen as both a monarch and a priest. Not only did this monarch rule by
divine right, as in pre-civil war England, but he was himself in some sense
divine, the ultimate source of authority and power in the nation. This divine
nature was expressed in the ruler's title. Tenno, usually translated
as 'Emperor' but used untranslated here because "the term 'Tenno' implies
religious headship, whereas 'Emperor' implies primarily a political headship"
(8) The various elites which dominated society- bureaucrats, both civil and
military, industrial and financial concerns and politicians - drew their
authority from the supremehead, and therefore considered that their power
could not be challenged. This constitution was abolished after Japan's defeat
in 1945 and a new constitution established in which the emperor was seen as
the "symbol" of the people's power. Nevertheless, the powerful elites, which
continued even after defeat (and whose power has been increased
astronomically by Japan's 'economic miracle') havebeen pushing steadily and
with some success to restore the pre-war status of the Tenno and with it,
their own power to run the nation. This book describes the 'machinations' of
these 'elephants' (13) and the way in which the 'ants' (i.e. the Christian
minority and their allies in secular society) have struggled to maintain and
promote a juster and more democratic and humane society. In nine chapters the
authors describe with detailed documentation the revival of State Shinto (the
religious foundation of the Tenno system), the oppression of the
workforce, environmental pollution, discrimination against minorities and
the struggle for peace, all problems exacerbated by the revival of the Tenno
system. The book ends with a chapter of reflections. The authors have written
this study, not just to educate but to challenge Christians in the West.
According to the writers, the latter need to do two things. "First they
should listen to those Christian voices [which are raising the challenges in
Japan] and give them understanding and support. . . Secondly, they should
consider to what extent they are prepared to ask themselves critical
questions about their own societies, and act accordingly." (250) We in
the West need to reflect on our own record when it comes to questions like
discrimination and imperialism (particularly as it takes its contemporary
trans-national form). Confronting social problems has led Japanese
Christians to review critically their traditional theology of "the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore the very nature of
God" (256). In confronting the "immanental" nature of the Tenno system, they
have been led to emphasise the transcendence of God,underlining the crucial
distinction between God's sovereignty and human power. The suffering of
oppressed minorities like the Koreans and the outcast communities has given
them a fuller understanding of the Cross: the suffering and self-emptying
of Christ. Thus they strive to go beyond a liberal social-gospel type of
activism to develop a living theology which will serve to enlighten the whole
Christian movement, not only in Japan but throughout the world. A book well
worth reading. Cyril Powles, Vancouver.

With best wishes
John S.Conway