Being Protector of Morals-in-Chief

The Catholic Church claims to be the highest moral authority on Earth. It also teaches to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to avoid doing to others what we don’t want others doing to us. These are of course wonderful, lofty goals and the Church is to be commended for holding them at the very top of their priority list. Yet, given the history of this institution, one wonders to what extent these are goals they strive to live by, or whether to them they are just nice-sounding goals on paper they just pretend to live by. After all, one needs to wonder given the attitudes of the Church as well as that of millions of Catholics during the Crusades, the religious wars in Europe, the persecution of others they considered to be heretical, their abominable behavior toward the natives in the New World, the Inquisition, and the deafening silence of the Church as millions of Catholics actively or passively participated in the murder of millions of Jews, Roma, Orthodox Christians, and others during the Second World War.

Gabriel Wilensky

When you are the self-avowed protector of morals, silence is not an option when faced with moral outrage. When Catholic Father Tiso, the leader of Slovakia, deported Slovakian Jews to their deaths during the 1940s, the Vatican merely made some token effort to try to stop him. The Vatican would have excommunicated Father Tiso if it had believed that what he was saying and doing was not in agreement with Catholic teachings and Church policy. Instead all he got was a slap on the hand meant to show the Church disapproved of his actions, while clearly that was not the case. What they truly disapproved of was the embarrassing situation Slovakia was getting the Church into, because so many members of the Slovakian government, including its president, were Catholic priests.

In Croatia the situation was worse, as many of the actual perpetrators were priests who were members of the ruling regime. Many committed the most heinous crimes imaginable. The commandant of the concentration camp of Jasenovac, a place where the crimes committed made even the SS cringe, was a Franciscan priest who had no qualms in cutting hundreds of throats of people in one night while wearing his Franciscan robe. These were priests with literally blood on their hands. Many more were part of the genocide through the incitement of their sermons and writings, the antisemitism they continued to spread throughout the war, and their failure to tell the faithful to stop. Given that the Croatian regime was in a crusade to eliminate Orthodox Serbs and Jews and forcibly convert thousands of Orthodox to Catholicism, the Vatican, and Pope Pius XII at its helm, remained as silent about this genocide as they were about the genocide the Germans and their helpers were perpetrating everywhere else in Europe.

“The willing auxiliaries in the East, the vast majority of whom were Christian and not brainwashed by Nazi racial propaganda but rather but the teachings of Christianity, were very happy to sign up for the task. They were very happy to join the Waffen SS and help in the killing squads. They were very happy to finally solve the ‘Jewish Question’. No one put a gun to their heads to do anything. No one forced the French police to round up the French Jews. And neither the Pope nor anyone else in the Roman curia reminded any of them that Jews were human beings too, and that murdering them was contrary to the Golden Rule, contrary to Christian teachings, a crime and a mortal sin.”

Typically papal apologists confuse “silence” with “actions”. Even if the Pope did take actions to save Jews—and I’m quite skeptical—the fact remains that the Pope was indeed silent irrespective of what these actions may have been. He never publicly condemned the extermination of the Jews in language that anyone other than the curia and the Nazi hierarchy understood. He never admonished the faithful and his entire Church network to save Jews. He never told the flock and his vast network of priests that denouncing, hunting down, and killing Jews was a crime and a mortal sin. He never instructed the German Catholic Church to avoid helping the German government in any way, and failed to reprimand them once they helped the Nazis identify the Jews. He never told the German Church, and thus never told the faithful, that obeying Catholic principles and being loyal to God was more important than obeying the authorities, particularly when those authorities were asking the faithful to do things that were contrary to the teachings of Christianity. He never threatened the faithful, or Nazi authorities, with excommunication if they persevered with the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. He never told his priests to tell the flock to refrain from having any part in the exterminatory campaign. He never reprimanded or even less told German Army Bishop Rarkowski to instruct his priests to admonish the troops to refrain from participating in any exterminatory actions.

It’s true the Germans are responsible for the Holocaust. It’s also true the Nazis wanted to make Nazism into a neo-pagan cult. But it’s also true that despite all efforts they failed, as the vast majority of the population remained Christian. In any case, any claims to neo-paganism are immaterial given the widespread active and passive participation of ordinary Christian civilians in the occupied countries, most of whom were Catholic. It’s disingenuous to say that the Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians and others are not responsible for the Holocaust too. Sure, Germany was the force behind it, but the Germans would not have been able to do what they did without the willingness—indeed, eagerness—of others that enthusiastically denounced, hunted down, and killed Jews. It’s a canard to say that they were forced. No one was forced to kill Jews. The belief that that was so is an already discredited post-war myth. The commanders of the killing squads gave their platoon members the option to not participate in killing operations. Only a handful did so, and they suffered no consequence for it. The willing auxiliaries in the East, the vast majority of whom were Christian and not brainwashed by Nazi racial propaganda but rather but the teachings of Christianity, were very happy to sign up for the task. They were very happy to join the Waffen SS and help in the killing squads. They were very happy to finally solve the “Jewish Question”. No one put a gun to their heads to do anything. No one forced the French police to round up the French Jews. And neither the Pope nor anyone else in the Roman curia reminded any of them that Jews were human beings too, and that murdering them was contrary to the Golden Rule, contrary to Christian teachings, a crime and a mortal sin.

I realize papal apologists tend to think they can counter these arguments by looking under the rocks for someone who can say the Pope told them to save a Jew, or a Jew that is thankful to the Pope for having saved him. But they are missing the point, because even if by his “heroic” behind the scenes actions the Pope was successful in saving tens of thousands of lives, he would still be a moral failure because he failed to do all the things I mentioned above, which could and most likely would have completely changed the course of history.

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