Monday, April 30, 2018
Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler Paperback – November 8, 2016 by Mark Riebling (Basic Books) , a review by Stephen Darori (#stephendarori,@stephendarori,#stephendrus) , The Bard Of Bat Yam (#BardOfBatYam), Poet Laureate of Zion (#PoetLaureateOfZion)
This is a captivating book. It represents a kind of “paradigm-shift” from the many recent books that have attempted to portray Pope Pius XII as a Hitler-supporting, Anti-Semitic, crypto-Nazi. The paradigm shift is long in coming, and represents nothing more than a return to the original sources of history, where the idea of Pius as being in any way a supporter of Hitler would have been considered the height of insanity.
I have been reading up on the contemporary sources for a few years now. That exercise has marked me with the realization that history is a communal enterprise, subject to fads and, of course, laziness. Starting with “The Deputy,” it seems that there has been a thread of historians that have competed with each other in their anti-Pius depictions. What has happened is that each successive writer, selects more of the anti-Pius material to incorporate into their narrative and chooses to leave out the data that might distract from their thesis. The net result after a dozen iterations is a history that looks nothing like the history that people actually experienced.
The thread I am describing is obviously the leftist, secularist, anti-Catholic thread, together with a leftist Catholic thread that has the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their sights. We might chalk up the ratcheting of a falsified history to nothing more than human laziness and the eagerness to tell a story that fits the narrative except for the facts that, (a) as Justus George Lawler has established in Were the Popes Against the Jews?: Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues, a lot of the anti-Pius narrative is actually fabricated and (b) when you read histories from outside this thread, the actual fact that the Catholic Church opposed Hitler and National Socialism are accepted as trivial truths.
This book begins with the little-known fact that Pius permitted the Vatican to be used as a conduit for anti-Hitler conspiracies. This fact has been acknowledged by even John Cornwell in “Hitler’s Pope.” In a revision of his book, Cornwell was forced to acknowledge that he didn’t really mean that Pius was a Hitler supporter – something impossible to propose in the face of the fact that Pius had inconiently participated in conspiracies to overthrow or kill Hitler – but that he meant something far vaguer and less likely to sell books.
Riebling’s book takes this fact and investigates the backstory, and what a backstory it is. We are introduced to Joseph Muller, a Bavarian Catholic lawyer who acted as a linchpin between the Canaris group, which was trying to overthrow Hitler from within the German military, and the Catholic resistance, which brought in Dietrich Bonhoeffer to win over Protestants, and the Vatican, which had to intervene with the Allies in order to broker a peace once Hitler was overthrown. Riebling’s story shows the white-knuckled bravery of the resistance: we see Canaris’s last days and we learn how close Mueller was to being executed like all the rest of the resistance, but for some last minute turns of good fortune.
Riebling’s story is extremely well-researched in the original German sources. I’ve done a lot of reading on this period and I haven’t heard these stories, but they fit what I do know. For example, one of Riebling’s claims is that Pius’s purported silence arose from the request of the German Resistance that he be silent so as not to draw attention to Catholics in Germany. This is the mirror image of a story validated by the American adjutant to the Ambassador to the Holy See, Harold Tittman, Jr., who wrote the following. Here is the passage from Tittman's memoirs (which is actually a postscript from Tittman's son):
//My fathers memoirs ended with his move out of the Vatican in July 1944, but it is appropriate to conclude the story of his Vatican assignment by reproducing a memorandum he wrote to Myron Taylor on June 4, 1945, reporting on a conversation with Dr. Josef Mueller, a Bavarian Catholic lawyer who had been a leading figure in the anti-Nazi German underground movement and had acted as the liaison between that movement and the Holy See. My father met Mueller following a speech by the Pope to the College of Cardinals on June 2, 1945, during which the Pope had severely castigated National Socialism and had referred to the deaths of 2000 Catholic priests at Dachau.
FOR THE AMBASSADOR June 4, 1945
Dr. Mueller told me last night that contrary to what I had heard, he had no part in drafting any part of the Pope’s speech, but that he had furnished the Holy Father with the information on which certain passages were based.
Dr. Mueller said that during the war his anti-Nazi organization in Germany had always been very insistent that the Pope should refrain from making any public statement singling out the Nazis and specifically condemning them and had recommended that the Pope’s remarks should be confined to generalities only. Dr. Mueller said that he was obliged to give this advice, since, if the Pope had been specific, Germans would have accused him of yielding to the promptings of foreign powers and this would have made the German Catholics even more suspected than they were and would have greatly restricted their freedom of action in their work of resistance to the Nazis. Dr. Mueller said that the policy of the Catholic resistance in Germany was that the Pope should stand aside while the German hierarchy carried out the struggle against the Nazis inside Germany, without outside influence being brought to bear. Dr. Mueller said that the Pope had followed this advice throughout the war.
I then said to Dr. Mueller that I had heard rather widespread criticism of the Pope in connection with his latest speech, because he had waited until Germany had been defeated before attacking the Nazis in public. Dr. Mueller said that he had already explained why the Pope had maintained silence during the war. He imagined that the Pope had decided to come out in the open now against the Nazis because the implications in the denunciations were so very important at the present time and seemed to the Pope to override other considerations.//
(See Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II.)
I had a moment of chill when I got the end of Riebling’s book and I realized that the Dr. Mueller I had been reading about in Reibling had a cameo in Tittman’s book. In the Tittman memoir, “Dr. Mueller” comes on stage and delivers his lines and leaves. To get the backstory and to understand why Dr. Mueller knew what he knew was mind-blowing.
I was surprised by the extent of information that Riebling had on Canaris. I’ve read other books about Canaris and they didn’t hint at the amount of information known about his death or the extent of his involvement with the Papacy (although, I believe that Cornwell alludes to the Canaris connection.)
Another interesting detail is Riebling’s explanation for why there was no Protestant resistance comparable to the Catholic resistance. I was surprised to find that Bonhoeffer was part of the Catholic resistance, although I knew that Stauffenberg was Catholic. Riebling’s explanation was that Catholicism had a doctrine of just resistance to tyranny, which, while difficult to trigger, did provide an intellectual escape hatch for Catholics that did not exist for Protestants. I also suspect that there was also a history of German Catholic “resistance” to integration in the German culture, which expressed itself in a distaste with hyper-nationalism, or, because of the tendency of people to react against the mainstream, in the hypernationalism of apostate Catholics like Goebbels, Streicher and Hitler. Catholics, unlike Protestants, were confronted with the choice between nationalism or faith, and the choosing led to a variety of options from resistance to apostatic hypernationalism.
Obviously, real history is far more interesting than the Monday-morning quarterbacking moralizing of modern historians who have been blessedly spared from the duty of making difficult choices.
This is an interesting book. It is an adventure story. It deserves to be a movie. The men who gave their lives in resisting Hitler deserve to be remembered and not tossed down the memory hole so that modern writers can score points against their modern enemies.