On Tyrants and the Church

Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Saint Maximilian Kolbe

In response to Jorge’s post on the Church’s complicity with tyrants:

Yes, no doubt about it: Cardinal Ortega and Archbishop Wenski are not the first prelates ever to cooperate with tyrants, either knowingly or innocently, or with a wide spectrum of intentions. After all, the Catholic Church has been around for nearly two thousand years, and in all of this time its leaders have taken all sorts of different positions on the relationship between church and state. It doesn’t take much research to find whichever kind of behavior or attitude one is searching for: from virtuous to nefarious. If you look for any specific sort of behavior, you can easily find it.

The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with this issue is that the Catholic Church is not a single entity that acts or speaks uniformly concerning the pressing needs of the moment. Like any human institution, it is composed of individuals, and while some courageously resist evil, others wash their hands, and others willingly cooperate with evil. Eventually, the good, the bad, and the ugly get sorted out by history, and by the Church itself, which tends to crown as saints and martyrs those who oppose evil and pay for their resistance with their lives, such as St. Thomas à Beckett, St. Thomas More, St. Maximilian Kolbe. When dealing with the Church, one must always distinguish between the acts of its members – including its leaders – and the ideals of the institution. This is why collaborators such as Cardinal Ortega are so despicable: they actually betray the highest principles of the Church while appealing to the very principles they deny, just like the aliens in the film “Mars Attacks” who slaughter earthlings while saying “we come in peace.” He may be the head of the Church in Cuba, but he certainly does not represent its core beliefs through his behavior.

The current state of relations between the Catholic Church and Castolandia is not any different from the rest of Catholic history: within the Church you can find the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The photo of prelates giving the Nazi salute is not surprising. The Church in Nazi-occupied Europe had its rotten apples, and also its saints. It was also up against a monstrous empire that never shrank back from killing innocent people, simply to instill terror and obedience. A case in point: when the Dutch bishops complained about the fate of the Dutch Jews, the Nazis killed hundreds of innocent Catholics, chosen at random, and gave the bishops a clear message: complain again, and we will kill more of your flock. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place: it doesn’t get any worse than that.

Individuals, such as Father Maximilian Kolbe, represented the Church through their courage. Saint Maximilian hid over 2,000 Jews in his friary, was sent to Auschwitz, and died there. You can read more about him here, and here. And you can read his own words concerning the absolute imbecility of socialism here. You can’t ask for a sharper contrast with Cardinal Ortega or Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. I wrote an encyclopedia article a few years ago on the Catholic Church in the twentieth century. Here is an excerpt that focuses on the three popes who dealt with the First and Second World Wars. It explains some of these complexities in greater detail.

Three Popes and their Policies Toward War and Totalitarianism, 1914-1945

Benedict XV (1914–1922) Pius X’s successor, Pope Benedict XV (Giacomo della Chiesa), was wholly committed to restoring the peace in Europe but found himself unable to stop the war, which he called “the suicide of Europe.” From his call for a Christmas truce in 1914, to his seven-point Papal Peace proposal in August 1917, Pope Benedict’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Adopting a policy of pacifism and strict neutrality, this pope steadfastly refused to condemn any of the nations involved in the war. Instead, he repeatedly condemned war itself, associating it with Satan. At war’s end, the papacy’s neutrality may have cost it inclusion in the Paris Peace Conference and the deliberations that led to the Treaty of Versailles. On other fronts, the Catholic Church continued to wage a war of its own against “modernism” and the social and political ills of the age, though Benedict XV had a softer approach to this issue than his predecessor. With the rise of communism after the triumph of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Catholic Church stepped up its efforts to address the needs and concerns of workers and the poor. Pope Benedict XV seemed fully conscious of the church’s need to address questions of social and economic justice, and urged his clergy to become more active in this area, saying: “it is precisely in this field that the eternal salvation of souls is imperiled.”

Pius XI (1922–1939) Embracing the motto, “the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ,” Pius XI (Ambrogio Ratti) could no more ignore the upheavals of his day than could any of the clergy or laity that he shepherded. Close to home, in Italy, the rise to power of Benito Mussolini brought an end to the political impasse that had been in place since 1870. In 1929 Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty with Mussolini’s government, creating an independent Vatican State within Rome, and supposedly freeing him from his “prisoner” status. Instead of having no territory to call his own, the pope now found himself ruling the smallest independent nation-state in the whole world, a state composed of no more than a dozen or so buildings. He also found himself wholly surrounded by a Fascist nation that espoused an intensely secularist and even anti-Christian ideology. And across the Alps, even worse regimes were gaining power and momentum day by day. Pius XI was helpless in the face of a civil war in Spain (1936-39) that erupted between a conservative coalition led by Fascists (Nationalists) and a coalition of communists, anarchists, and liberals (Republicans), in which the Catholic Church became both a battleground and a weapon. In areas controlled by the Republicans, rabid anticlericalism led to the deaths of thousands of priests and nuns, and to the destruction of many churches and their belongings. In Nationalist areas, the Fascists committed many atrocities in the name of Catholicism, and when they finally triumphed, their leader, Francisco Franco (1892-1975) set up a repressive Fascist state that continually used the Catholic Church for its own purposes, even to the point of naming Saint Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) an honorary general in his army. In Germany, the postwar economic depression led to the rise in power of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Nazi Party., Pope Pius XI found himself unable to do more than secure guarantees for the safety and survival of the Catholic Church through the Reichskonkordat, an agreement signed in 1933. But this treaty between the Vatican and Berlin, like all others signed by the Nazis, was never fully honored. Hitler himself boasted of having duped the pope into helping him, saying to his cabinet: “An opportunity has been given to Germany in the Reichskonkordat and a sphere of influence has been created that will be especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry.” At the Vatican, Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) denounced Hitler’s duplicity, as well as his virulent racism, but to no avail. As attacks on Jews and the church mounted, Pope Pius XI found it necessary to issue an encyclical that condemned both Nazi ideology and violations of the concordat of 1933. Written by the Vatican’s secretary of state, Pacelli, the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (“With Burning Sorrow”) was smuggled into Germany and read from the pulpit of every Catholic Church on Palm Sunday 1937. In it, the Vatican boldly and clearly spelled out the Catholic Church’s opposition to the racist and nationalist thinking of the Nazis, arguing that it was fundamentally wrong for anyone to exalt “race, or the people, or the State” above all else, or to “divinize them to an idolatrous level.” A year before the outbreak of war, in September 1938, Pius XI carefully articulated once more the church’s stand against at anti-Semitism once more, in a pronouncement that was banned by the Fascist press in Germany: “Anti-Semitism 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.”

Pius XII (1939–1958) As Pope Pius XI was preparing to issue yet another public condemnation of Nazism and Fascism in February 1939, he died unexpectedly and was succeeded by the Vatican’s secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, who took the papal name of Pius XII (1939–1958). No other pope in modern history is wrapped in as much controversy as Pius XII, because he seemed so helpless in the face of World War II and the Holocaust. Debate continues to rage. In the minds of some detractors, he seems to have been a willing collaborator, or perhaps an unwilling but uncaring accomplice in the extermination of 6 million Jews. According to his defenders, he was a brave opponent of consummate evil and a prudent shepherd who did all he could in the worst of circumstances. As Europe plunged into total war in the fall of 1939, Pius XII assumed a stance of public neutrality similar to that taken by Benedict XV in World War I. But having made public his views of the Nazis and Fascists long before the outbreak of the war, Pius XII’s neutrality was much less convincing. On 25 December 1941, for instance, The New York Times praised Pius XII in an editorial, saying his was “a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas,” and that he was “about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.” Yet, the fact that he lived in the capital city of one of the Axis Powers, surrounded by their armies, made his position much more precarious than that of Benedict XV. Moreover, the Nazis were well-known for their brutal reprisals against all opponents, and as a result the pope under severe constraints when it came to accomplishing anything within Germany itself. The same was true for every Catholic bishop and priest who lived in Axis-controlled areas. Any protest could incite a reprisal. And indeed, such reprisals routinely occurred on the local level, as in the Netherlands, when Dutch bishops protested against the deportation of the country’s Jews. Adolph Hitler barely tolerated Pius XII with impatience, saying that he was “the only human being who has always contradicted me and who has never obeyed me.” Pope Pius XII was well aware of his precarious situation yet chose to encourage or engage in clandestine acts of defiance, such as providing hiding places for Jews in churches, monasteries, and convents, or facilitating the escape of Jews from Axis-occupied areas to other countries. It is estimated that about three hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand Jews were saved by such means, at great risk for all involved. Nonetheless, detractors of Pius XII not only challenge the accuracy of these figures but also point out that any such number—no matter how high—is insignificant when compared to the enormity of the Holocaust. As the Cold War developed in the postwar period and the threat of nuclear annihilation increased, Pius XII began to speak out more forcefully against modern warfare and especially against the concept of deterrence and the stockpiling of atomic weapons, which, as he saw it, only served only to make the horror of nuclear war a more imminent and more horrifying possibility. This did not keep him from taking sides, however. A staunch anticommunist and an outspoken critic of the Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin, Pius XII made it clear to the faithful that communism was as incompatible with Catholicism as Nazism had been.

3 thoughts on “On Tyrants and the Church”

  1. At least Catholics in Cuba have their hands tied against Ortega, but Cuban Catholics in South Florida are free to actively oppose Wenski and what he represents, yet appear to be doing nothing much. I mean, the guy is not even Cuban, and he dares to tell Cuban exiles to basically STFU because they’re not “on the ground.” What does it take for some (too many) Cubans to act like they’ve actually heard of self-respect and understand what that entails?

  2. Well said Asombra. While I consider the RCC a false religion (I speak from firsthand knowledge and say this so as to not hypocritically hide my position) I am more astonished at the blind loyalty of RCC Cuban Americans. I would argue that the RCC is indeed one organization and to say otherwise is to be disingenous. They have one supreme leader which is the pope. He, along with cardinals, bushops, and their hierarchy establish church policy which is followed by each diocese and parish. They are tied at the hip in churches, schools, charities, etc. To try and argue that you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because of a handful of men is also erroneous. The bloody history of the RCC speaks for itself. Now back to the RCC Cuban Americans. They are as much to blame as all the Ortegas of the world. While Ortega and his cohorts hide behind their cloth the RCC Cuban Americans hide behind the old “well we can’t change the ‘church'”. Yes you can change that church. You can leave the deceptive church which you are held to by superstition and fear. The Bible teaches us to judge a tree by its fruit. Do so and see that if there is rotten fruit there are also rotten roots. The RCC is not “the church”. It is merely a religion established by men and has diverted from the Bible since its political birth around 300 AD when it was imposed by Constantine. If you are a RCC Cuban American and do nothing yet blame Ortega you are a hypocrite at best.

  3. I see those 3 popes and raise you 10. Just a small sampling of the history of corruption and sin.
    1. Alexander VI – known for his immorality, illegitimate children, and corruption
    2. Pope John XII – Adulterer and murderer
    3. Benedict the IX – Sold the papacy
    4. Sergius III – Murdered the previous pope, adulterer, illegitimate son became a pope.
    5. Stephen VI – Known for the Cadaver Synod and the “son” of a priest.
    6. Julius III – Adopted a boy who later turned out to become his lover.
    7. Urban II – The father of the crusade that murdered countless non-Catholics.
    8. Clement VI – Seller of church offices as well as nepotism.
    9. Leo X – Buyer and seller of church offices as well as famous for the selling of indulgences.
    10. Boniface VIII – Basically a warlord who wanted to politically dominate,

    So if anything the RCC coddling with scum is just par for the course.

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