Fabio Paolo Barbieri (fpb) wrote,
Fabio Paolo Barbieri

An obvious remark nobody has made yet

The ending of World War Two engulfed all countries, victor and neutral, into a tide of horror. Even the Soviet Union, whose government had little to learn from Nazism at its worst, found it easy to show, indeed to feel, horror at what its troops discovered in the early months of 1945 in dozens of camps from Majdanek to Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. Many people evidently found it impossible to take in the enormity of German crimes; Giovanni Guareschi, for instance, in spite of having been himself dragged to Germany as a slave worker, simply does not seem to realize that the whole of the German state and army had been criminalized, and repeatedly treats individual German soldiers as honourable enemies. Such attitudes were not rare in the British and American armies as well - especially among officers; ordinary grunts who had fought the SS and knew that they tortured and murdered prisoners and made their comrades hear their screams in the night might have had a different view, but who listens to the grunt before the distinguished general?

But even to those who did not consciously or unconsciously shut down their minds against the real monstrousness of German behaviour, the facts were too close and too many to make a distinction. The Germans had murdered priests, gypsies, trades unionists, sick and old people. Their rationing policy in occupied France, according to expert testimony at the Trial of Nuremberg, seemed designed to cause mass malnutrition. There was, in fact, mass starvation in the Netherlands in the last months of the war. The amounts of food and animals stolen are unimaginable: millions of cattle, pics, fowl, made their way to Germany especially in the last few years of the war. In Germany itself, the Government had murdered thousands of people; American and French soldiers advancing through the woods of Swavia found them draped by hundreds of corpses, soldiers found by the SS and hanged without trial for supposed desertion.

Ito took a long time before the relative proportions of the various Nazi crimes became clear in men's minds. And when it did, one rather disquieting fact became clear. The worst and most determining of Nazi crimes, the one that dominated all the others and infected the whole of Germany with guilt, was one which none of the Allies had done anything to mitigate. The post-war powers, both western and Soviet, drew their legitimacy from the heroic saga of their resistence and overcoming of Nazi evil; Stalingrad and Normandy were sacred, resolving names, names that implied motivation, values and pride. But while everyone knew that the Soviets had, to put it mildly, no time for Hebraism, the record of the British Empire and the United States was if anything more despicable. The British had purchased a few hundred Jewish children from doomed Jewish families in Bohemia and Moravia. This is today presented as a humanitarian act, but to take the children while leaving the adults to their already foreseen fate strikes me as not much better than slave trade. Other than that, the record of the British Empire with respect to German Jews and Jews in general was black, and grew only blacker after the end of the war, when the very weapons that had brought down Nazism were turned against refugees fleeing to Israel and against Israel itself. As for America, the less said, the better. While universities cherry-picked illustrious and useful exiles (while remaining the one part of American society where Hitler was popular and admired), the country in general shut down against any effort to open its borders to fleeing Jews. During the war, Roosevelt and his administration repeatedly refused any proposal that might have helped the Jews, and they did so in the full knowledge that the Jews were being butchered. They also kept the knowledge of butchery from their people, on the reasoning that "we don't want them to think that we are fighting a war for the Jews". And they were right; they weren't.

There were exactly two sovereign bodies that seriously took action to help Jews. The unloveable Francisco Franco, Catholic tyrant of Spain, had inherited from his republican enemies a law dated 1926 that allowed any Jew of Spanish descent, however remote (this was meant to redress the injustice of the expulsion of the Sephardi Jews from Spain in the 1500s), could claim Spanish citizenship and reside in Spain. Under pressure from Nazi Germany, Franco gave them a list of Jews resident in Spain; a gesture that was worth nothing unless and until the Germans themselves invaded Spain. For Franco had no intention to persecute the Jews. To the contrary, his diplomatic representatives across Europe saved over 20,000 Sephardim by giving them Spanish documents according to the 1926 law, and placing them under Spanish protection. This policy also allowed the great Italian hero Giorgio Perlasca, under the guise of a Spanish diplomat, to save between three and five thousand Jews in Budapest more or less on his own.

Spanish decency, however, stopped at Sephardi Jews, a small minority of the Jews under threat; and it was simply dwarfed by the deeds of the Catholic Church, unless indeed it was to be counted as part of it - for Franco was a devout Catholic. The Catholic Church, driven by none too secret orders from the Pope himself, hid and smuggled abroad hundreds of thousands of Jews. Jews were hidden in monasteries, in church schools, in cathedral closes, among friendly families, in every possible place that resourceful priests and religious could find. Underground networks for the printing and distribution of faked documents were set up. The small puppet state of Slovakia, headed by a priest, did not arrest or execute a single Jew after 1942, when the Vatican made a strong protest (although it does seem to have taken the opportunity to accept or compel a huge bribe from surviving local Jews). An American Jewish historian estimates the number of Jews saved directly by Church intervention at 850,000. And the Church paid for it, too: Hitler knew who to thank for resistence against his exterminating policies, and 6000 priests and many more layment were murdered in the camps by way of thanks.

The larger the butchery of Jews loomed among the other enormous crimes of Germany, of course, the more serious the cognitive dissonance in the West. Roosevelt's direction came back to haunt them: they had not, indeed, fought the war to save the Jews. The war to save the Jews had not been fought except by the Church and by a couple of unpleasant but Catholic tyrants.

Nothing, therefore, explains itself more easily than the savage and historically wholly groundless assault on Pope Pius XII as "Hitler's Pope". The people who handed themselves over to this mania were and remain utterly blind and deaf to facts; or they would have shut up long since. They are under the psychological compulsion of a crawling, subtle, horrible guilt. They will not say it, or even admit it; but they know that the entities to which they are loyal, eastern or western, and which draw a great deal of moral legitimacy from the destruction of Nazi evil (and quite right too, for Nazism was evil if anything was) have in fact failed, failed systematically, failed horribly, in the most defining of the many moral challenges that Nazism threw at mankind. They could not contemplate the camps and the ovens without a small voice somewhere telling them that their own leaders had betrayed that mass of murdered mankind. The connection between this and the vicious, unreasoning, deliberately cruel assault on a dead Pope should be obvious.

Are there other phenomena like this? Aren't there just! The other vicious assault on the Church in our time has been in the name of abused and sexually assaulted childhood. And let me say immediately that abuse is a horrible crime and that the priests who broke their vows in this peculiarly ugly and treacherous way deserve anything that happens to them. But the history of the sexualization of children in our time has not yet been written, indeed it is not yet completed, and when it is written it will tell a very similar story as that of "Hitler's Pope". For the horrible abuser priests who seem to have sprung up across the Church bore on their forehead, like the mark of Cain, the imprint of secular culture in their time. What was the hallmark of the fifties, even before the sixties, across the West? Sexual liberation! Sexual liberation, of course; so imprinted in our memories as children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that age that most of us don't even imagine taking a critical position towards it.

However, there is one way in which commonplace attitudes have retreated since the sixties. In the sixties, the calls for the complete normalization of sex with and among children multiplied till some countries legalized it or ceased to take any cognizance of violation of the laws on consent and rape. In 1969, the people involved in such things would frankly say that they saw no difference between the legalization of homosexuality and of paedophilia. For a while, groupls like NAMBLA were welcome partners in civil-rights environments.

However, in this area, and in this alone, there was an effective reaction. Throughout the seventies, grassroots movements of mothers rebelled against the normalization or toleration of paedophilia. It was from them, and in opposition to the sexual-revolution establishment, that the current hatred of paedophiles arose. Now we have a kind of broken-backed consensus that to have sex with someone under 14 is evil and forbidden and the worst thing in the word in all circumstances whatsoever, but to prevent two consenting persons above 16 from having any kind of sex they wish is is evil and forbidden and the worst thing in the world in all circumstances whatsoever. That is the conscious state of our society, in which the paedophile is absolutely the lowest of all beings.

However, this does not correspond to facts on the ground. I don't think there is a single thinking person who doesn't realize that the sexualization of children proceeds apace. Fashion, advertising, music, address and represent pre-teens in obviously allusive contexts. The revolt against paedophilia was a grassroots revolt, and the commercial heights of our society have every intention of circumventing and drowning it.

In this situation, what does it mean to single out the Catholic Church for a sin which it has taken in from the world - all the abusing priests were worldlings involved in "modern" movements in various ways, as indeed were those among the bishops who protected them - and in which the world greatly surpasses it? (It has been proven again and again that there are more child abuser among state schoolmasters than among priests, but it does not pay so much to prosecute the former. And the Church has not invented or decreed the success of Britney Spears and other paedophile-themed singers and actresses.)

What these facts suggest to me is simple: the Church is the conscience of the West. And when parts of the West feel filth on their consciences, they project it on the Church, imagining the objective body of the Church to be as filthy as their own inner consciences. It's an easy mistake to make.

NOTE: I corrected a mistaken account of the Slovak puppet tyrant Monsignor Tiso's activities. It was only after a direct protest from the Vatican that Tiso and his people stopped cooperating with Nazi persecutors. That, of course, only underlines more strongly the centrality of the Pope's position. From 1942 to 1944, Slovakia not only stopped deporting Jews, but became a refuge for Jews fleeing from neighbouring countries.
Tags: "hitler's pope", catholic church, conscience, morality, nazism, paedophilia, pius xii
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