Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, recently raised a commotion by trying to educate his country’s youth: Every fifth grader, he said, should adopt the story of one of France’s 11,000 Jewish children killed during the Holocaust, in order to teach them about prejudice and the evils of genocide. But the idea immediately came under attack-first from French nationalists, who would prefer that dark chapter in history remain forever obscure; and second (more honorably) from those who worry that children that age are simply unprepared, psychologically and emotionally, to deal with such horrors. “Adding to the national fracas,” reports the New York Times, is that “Mr. Sarkozy wrapped his plan in the cloak of religion, placing blame for the wars and violence of the last century on an ‘absence of God.’”[[<1>See “By Making Holocaust Personal to Pupils, Sarkozy Stirs Anger,” by Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, February 16, 2008. Due to the controversy, the proposal, has apparently been abandoned: See “Sarkozy’s Holocaust Study Idea Buried,” Reuters, February 29, 2008.]]
That may have been the most controversial aspect of all. In many quarters, and not just secular France, it is still accepted as wisdom that the Holocaust was caused by devotion to God—specifically, the Christian God. Never mind that the Nazis murdered millions of Christians, and that it was Christians who primarily defeated the Nazis; and put aside that Nazi hatred of Christianity often rivaled its insane hatred for Jews. (“The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity,” railed Hitler in his Table Talk, “was the coming of Christianity”).[[<2>Hitler’s comment during the night of July 11-12, 1941, as reported in Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944 (New York: Enigma Books, 2000), p. 7.]] Many opinion makers—academics, journalists, and even religious leaders—continue to draw a line, however crooked, from the teachings of the New Testament to the death camps at Auschwitz.
Among them is James Carroll, the well-known ex-priest (and notorious Catholic dissenter),[[<3>For a biting critique of Carroll’s clash with the Church, see “Vichy Catholic,” by C.J. Doyle, Catholic World Report, March 2000; also available online via the Catholicculture.org website. Contrast Doyle’s well-documented critique with the wholly uncritical profiles of Carroll which have appeared in the secular media, e.g., “Devout Catholic Answers a Call to Challenge Church,” by Gina Piccalo, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2007.]] whose controversial book Constantine’s Sword (2001) lays out this thesis in detail. At nearly eight hundred pages, the book is heavy—and repetitious—reading. Worse, it “is a book driven by theological animus and padded with irrelevant, distracting material from Carroll’s own obsessively chronicled life,” as Robert Wilken wrote in a devastating critique for Commonweal.[[<4>See “Dismantling the Cross,” by Robert Wilken, Commonweal, January 26, 2001, pp. 22-28.]] (Writing in National Review, Daniel Moloney added “the book has factual mistakes and errors in interpretation on almost every page.”[[<5>See “Sins of the Fathers,” by Daniel P. Moloney, National Review, March 5, 2001, pp. 50-52.]]) That said, anguish and sorrow about anti-Semitism is understandable. No one with a conscience can study Jewish history and feel anything but shame at the suffering endured by God’s chosen people-especially when their abusers claimed to be followers of Christ.[[<6>For a thoughtful and sensitive history of anti-Semitism, written from a balanced Catholic perspective, see: The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism by Edward H. Flannery (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1985). See also the obituary, “The Rev. Edward Flannery, 86, Priest who Fought Anti-Semitism,” by Eric Pace, New York Times, October 22, 1998.]] And because anti-Semitism has been tragically present throughout Christianity, Carroll is able to focus on Christian hypocrisy and guilt, compiling just enough evidence to make his argument appear plausible.
Plausible but not convincing. In preparing for Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate declaration On Non-Christian Religions, Augustin Cardinal Bea, its chief architect, frankly acknowledged prejudice among Christians but stated: “We are all aware that there are many reasons for anti-Semitism which are not religious at all but are political, national, psychological, social and economic.”[[<7>See The Church and the Jewish People by Augustine Cardinal Bea, S.J. (New York: Harper and Row Publishers).]] Add to that the often overlooked fact that anti-Semitism began well before the onset of Christianity,[[<8>For evidence of this, see Judeophobia: Attitudes Toward the Jews in the Ancient World by Peter Schafer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).]] and that quite anti-Christian phenomena-such as the French Revolution, Darwinism, and the eugenics movement[[<9>For evidence of this connection, see Leftism Revisited: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990), especially, pp. 57-84 on the French revolution; see also From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).]]—have a much better claim to paving the way for Hitler than does Christianity, and the Carroll thesis begins to come apart. But it persists. A few years ago, the U.S. Holocaust Museum drew serious objections after sponsoring a film that blamed the Holocaust on Christianity. In an editorial asking “Did Christianity Cause the Holocaust?” the editors of Christianity Today rebuked the museum for defaming a whole faith and people: “As a museum of conscience, the U.S. Holocaust Museum has a responsibility to report how Jews have suffered, in large part because of morally repugnant stereotyping. How ironic and sad that its own film should foster inaccurate stereotypes of Christianity!”[[<10>See “Is the Holocaust Museum Anti-Christian?” by Mary Cagney, Christianity Today, April 27, 1998, as well as the accompanying editorial in the same issue, “Did Christianity Cause the Holocaust?”]] Even before that controversy, Milton Himmelfarb published an essay in Commentary assailing the notion that Christian anti-Semitism led to the Final Solution. His title said it all: “No Hitler, No Holocaust.”[[<11>See “No Hitler, No Holocaust,” Commentary, March, 1984, pp. 37-43; also, “Milton Himmelfarb,” by Joseph Bottum, First Things online, January 7, 2006; and “Milton Himmelfarb, 87, Witty Essayist on Jewish Themes,” New York Sun, January 11, 2006.]] And in response to Rosemary Reuther’s claim that the Holocaust was the inevitable result of oppressive Christian legislation during the Middle Ages, Professor Yosef Yerushalmi commented: “Between this and Nazi Germany lies not merely a ‘transformation’ but a leap into a different dimension. The slaughter of Jews by the state was not part of the medieval Christian world order. It became possible with the breakdown of that order.”[[<12>“A Response to Rosemary Reuther,” Auschwitz: Beginning of an Era? (New York: Ktav, 1977), p. 104.]]
Undeterred by such correctives, Carroll has forged ahead, now starring in a new documentary, Constantine’s Sword, based on his book. It premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year and has now been released nationally.[[<13>The film’s official website is: http://www.constantinessword.com.]]
Carroll’s partner in making the film is Oren Jacoby, who has a reputation as a thoughtful, accomplished filmmaker. His previous documentaries include an enjoyable tribute to Benny Goodman,[[<14>See Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing (1993), available on DVD.]] as well as the Academy Award-nominated Sr. Rose’s Passion, about the late Sr. Rose Thering,[[<15>For a description of Sr. Rose’s career, as well as Jacoby’s documentary about her, see the obituary, “Sister Rose Thering, Nun Dedicated to Bridging Gap with Judaism, Dies at 85,” New York Times, May 8, 2006.]] a feisty Catholic nun who devoted her life’s work to strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations. Why Jacoby suddenly decided to make a film about James Carroll’s far less inspiring story is anyone’s guess, but his talents have not been well served.
Constantine’s Sword wastes no time getting to its bottom line: the violent nature of Christianity and the threat it poses to non-Christians, especially Jews. Focusing on anti-Semitism as Christianity’s original sin (and the source of its alleged modern intolerance)—“Why do we blame the Jews? Generation after generation, where does this contempt come from?”—Carroll points to his own experience as a young Catholic raised in the preconciliar Church: “I knew who the Jews were: They had killed Our Lord, then they had refused to believe in Him.” Whether this emotion was typical of American Catholics—who’ve had much better relations with Jews than European Christians—is never questioned, only assumed. So too is the anti-Semitism of the Catholic liturgy: “At every Good Friday service, with the reading of that Passion narrative-‘the Jews, the Jews, the Jews,’ it really hits the ear. . . . Jesus is against the Jews. I don’t know how else Christians can hear this story.”
But of course they can, and do. Carroll makes the mistake of projecting his own apprehensions onto Catholics in the pews; it doesn’t occur to him that Catholics who’ve participated in the Good Friday liturgy have always asked forgiveness for their sins and taken responsibility for the crucifixion themselves. After all, long before Vatican II the Catechism of the Council of Trent put the onus for Christ’s death on humanity, not any one group: “In this guilt [for Jesus’ death] we must deem all those to be involved who fall frequently into sin; for as our sins compelled Christ to undergo the death of the Cross . . . certainly those who wallow in sins and iniquities, as far as in them lies, crucify again the son of God, and make a mockery of him.”[[<16>As cited in Three Popes and the Jews by Pinchas Lapide (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), p. 76.]] [italics mine]
In his book The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews, Monsignor John Oesterreicher, a pioneer in ecumenical relations, underscores the point:
The Church prefers that the Passion be read in dialogue form to make us realize our personal involvement. We-our sins-nailed Jesus to the Cross; they are forgiven because Jesus freely suffered the anguish and pain of death for us. Hence, it is not only important, but necessary, that we acknowledge our part in Christ’s death. Were we to pretend that we are without guilt, we would not be redeemed. Christ came to save sinners, not those who think themselves righteous. That the Lord’s passion is of our making, and not the work of the Jews or the Romans, is the teaching of the Church. . . . Even the best of popular devotion upholds this thought, thus giving the Passion narrative its true significance. The German original of the moving hymn “O Sacred Head Surrounded” contains this stanza:
O Lord, what You endured is all my doing
I caused [the pain] you bore.
Wretched sinner, deserving but Your wrath
Your mercy and Your grace I do implore.
Another Passion Chorale asks:
Who was the guilty?
Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, has undone Thee.
‘twas I, Lord Jesus,
I it was denied Thee;
I crucified Thee![[<17>The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews by John M. Oesterreicher (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986), pp. 410-411. For more on this great priest, a survivor of Hitler’s Europe, see the obituary “J.M. Oesterreicher, Monsignor Who Wrote on Jews, Dies at 89,” by Wolfgang Saxon, New York Times, April 20, 1993.]]
Carroll cannot appreciate any of this because his theology is trapped in modernity, and thus is ahistorical and anachronistic. But the gospels cannot fairly be assessed by a post-Holocaust liberal sensibility; they have to be understood in the context of a passionate inter-Jewish struggle over Jesus and Judaism, carried out in a time when both sides were guilty of overheated polemics. (David Klinghoffer is particularly frank about this in Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History.[[<18>Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History by David Klinghoffer (New York: Doubleday, 2005).]])
The documentary does not even try to offer balance on these controversies. Of all the people one might select to offer a thoughtful Jewish perspective on Biblical matters—Jacob Neusner and David Novak come to mind—Constantine’s Sword settles on Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic, who once wrote that the shadow of the cross at Auschwitz, “with all due respect, is sickening.”[[<19>“At Auschwitz, Decency Dies Again,” by Leon Wieseltier, New York Times, September 3, 1989.]] His comments in the documentary are no more charitable.[[<20>In the film, Wieseltier stands before a statue of Christ and says, “When I stand before a figure like this I can appreciate them and be moved by them only on condition that I shut down a piece of my heart, and that I obliterate something of what I know about the actual consequences in the real world of these images and of these figures.” He also assails “the supremacy of the cross in European culture [which] was responsible for the death of many of my people, for centuries before I was born, and eventually for the death of my own family in Southeastern Poland.” Later, Carroll attacks the site of the cross at Auschwitz. Wieseltier and Carroll may wish to consider the testimony of Marianne Sann, a Polish Jewish survivor of the death camp, who stated:
“As a Jewish woman and a survivor of Auschwitz, I am deeply disturbed by the feud over the crosses there.... Because the Nazis preferred to incinerate more Jews than Roman Catholic Poles does not mean that Polish non-Jewish victims do not deserve a cross of remembrance and place of honor among their fellow Jewish victims. The Polish inmates felt the icy winds of doom just as acutely as I did. I want to, and must attest to the fact that I was saved by Catholic fellow prisoners, at their great personal risk, in Auschwitz and again in Mauthausen, Austria. I hope the Polish government will not be pressured to remove these symbols of respect....” (Letter to the Editor, New York Times, December 27, 1998).]] The film’s chief authority on the New Testament, Elaine Pagels, is best known for her strange theories about Gnosticism, not respect for orthodoxy.[[<21>See Pagels’ book, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979) and, for a sharp critique of it, Raymond E. Brown, “The Christians Who Lost Out,” New York Times Book Review, January 20, 1980, pp. 3, 33; also, “The Gospel According to Pagels: Reconsiderations,” by Bruce Chilton, New York Sun, April 2, 2008.]] Following the notorious Jesus Seminar, she suggests that the apostles fabricated the series of events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, shifting blame away from the Romans and onto “the Jews.” Calling the Passion narrative “an extraordinary twist” on what actually happened, she concludes: “It looks completely at odds with what we know about history.” That, however, is not the view of more accomplished exegetes, notably N.T. Wright,[[<22>Wright’s views on the Passion, defending the accuracy of the New testament, are outlined in Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), comprising volume 2 of his acclaimed trilogy, Christian Origins and the Question of God. Volumes one (The New Testament and the People of God, 1992) and three (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003), also published by Fortress, are well worth reading.]] and the late Raymond E. Brown.[[<23>Brown’s two-volume magnum opus on the subject is The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994). For Brown’s stature and accomplishments, also see the obituary, “Raymond E. Brown, 70, Dies; a Leading Biblical Scholar,” by Gustav Niebuhr, New York Times, August 11, 1998.]] Both have affirmed the essential historicity of the Passion narrative while warning against abusing the text. “The recognition that important Jewish figures in Jerusalem were hostile to Jesus and had a role in his death,” writes Brown, “need not of itself have produced anti-Judaism, any more than the fact that the Jerusalem priests and prophets plotted Jeremiah’s death would produce such a result.” He continues: “We Christians cannot dismiss or deny what happened to Jesus—that would be the easy way out. It would be wrong. In liturgically celebrating the truth and power of the Passion narratives, however, we must be equally energetic in proclaiming, as did Pope John Paul II in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz death camp: ‘Never again anti-Semitism!’”[[<24>“The Death of Jesus and Anti-Semitism: Seeking Interfaith Understanding,” by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., available online at: http://americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0397.asp.]] Vatican II, thirty years earlier, taught this another way: “Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during His Passion” (Nostra Aetate, 4).
Brown’s testimony is important because, if anything, he tends toward the liberal school of exegesis—criticizing a “literalist” approach toward Scripture but rebuking radical skeptics for theirs: “The other view I judge unacceptable discredits the Gospel passion narratives as almost totally the product of Christian imagination. Under the mantle of scholarly objectivity, advocates assert firmly but without proof that the early Christians knew little about how Jesus died and simply invented their narratives on the basis of Old Testament imagery. Indeed, some scholars (of Christian upbringing!) would paint the early Christians as creating lies precisely to vilify the Jews. . . . [T]his ‘imagination interpretation’ can have the effect of portraying Christianity as a false and hateful religion. Religiously sensitive Jews and Christians recognize that if either group of our respective first-century ancestors—Jews or Christians—is presented as liars who wanted to destroy their opposites, nothing has been gained in the ongoing Jewish-Christian dialogue. A careful examination suggests that the situation in the first century was far more complex than such overly simple reconstructions allow.”[[<25>Ibid]]
Carroll conveniently skips over the persecutions of the early Christians; their sufferings do not interest him. What grips his imagination most is the story of Constantine’s conversion, which he sees as catastrophic for the history of the Church. Recounting the well-known story of Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky, at the battle at the Milvian Bridge, the film quotes Constantine’s own words: “It bore the inscription, ‘By this sign, you will conquer.’ I described the marvel and its meaning to my men. I told them to reproduce it. A long spear crossed by a transverse bar forming the figure of a cross, to be carried at the head of all my armies.” Carroll then comments, mockingly: “They’re carrying their spears in the sign of a cross, and he comes onto this bridge, meets the enemy and—against all the odds—wins. Constantine goes into Rome, declares himself emperor, and-on the strength of that vision-he becomes a Christian!” The historian Jan Drijvers is brought on to question Constantine’s conversion, and ridicule every aspect of his “legend,” reminding us that he was a brute, dispatching one of his wives and son after suspecting them of incest. “It makes you actually wonder,” says Drijvers, “what kind of person Constantine was . . . quite another person from the ‘saint’ Constantine, the image a lot of people have. There’s even a source which says that Constantine had committed so many sins that there was no religion that could forgive his sins, only Christianity.” Drijvers is right about the boundlessness of Christian forgiveness but not for the cynical reasons he implies. That God sometimes works through broken vessels is never considered, nor is any value given to the relief Constantine provided persecuted Christians. Displaying frescoes honoring him in an old Roman convent, Carroll dismisses their message: “The great emperor falls to his knees as he shares his crown with the pope. This is the moment,” he intones dramatically, “when the cross and the sword become one: Christianity turns violent!” As proof, he notes, “When Constantine converted, there were almost the same number of Christians and Jews. Today, there are around 2 billion Christians—and only 15 million Jews.” How’s that for a non sequitur?
Still relying upon Drijvers, Carroll builds to a crescendo: “The cross had never been an important Christian symbol until Constantine in the year 326. For two and a half centuries, Christians had used symbols of life—the fish, the lamb, the shepherd—now this image of execution is brought in to unify the empire under a single orthodox doctrine.” But here Carroll stumbles yet again. He just finished telling us that the poison inherent in Christianity began with the New Testament texts; now he is suggesting that Christian life was sweet and gentle until Constantine came along and ruined everything. Which is it? The contradiction never fazes him. Moreover, his claims about the supposed unimportance of the cross to Christians before Constantine are demonstrably untrue. In his aforementioned critique for National Review, Daniel Moloney commented: “Carroll is wrong to maintain that the Cross became important only after Constantine’s conversion. That’s why the death of Christ takes up so much of each Gospel, and why Paul’s letters are packed with such lines as ‘we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (1 Corinthians 1:23).”[[<26>“Sins of the Fathers,” op. cit.]] In his History of Christianity, the eminent Owen Chadwick has this to say about the burial sites of nascent Christianity: “The catacombs contain the first surviving Christian art and symbols. There are paintings and carvings on tombs dating from about 230. . . . The Cross is the symbol most often seen in the catacombs.” [italics mine][[<27>A History of Christianity (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), p. 56.]] Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy adds: “In 298, pagan priests conducting the auguries at Antioch complained that the presence of Christian officials was sabotaging the ceremonies (the Christians had defended themselves from demons during the ceremony by making the sign of the cross).[[<28>Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) p. 17.]] Thus, well before Constantine’s rise in the fourth century, the cross was at the very heart of Christianity, exalted and affirmed by its believers. What are we to make of a documentary whose central thesis is based on a historical lie?
As if that isn’t bad enough, Carroll feels the need to end his revisionist history on a note of blasphemy: “And why wouldn’t Constantine—a man who had murdered a son—be drawn to a God who required the death on the cross of his Son?” Even for an ex-priest, this is beyond the pale.
Because Christianity is not of this world, a case can always be made against church-state collaboration, but Carroll doesn’t make it. That discussion—if it is to shed any light at all—has to take place on a much higher plane. A good starting point might be the debate between Oliver O’Donovan and Stanley Hauerwas over the politics of Christendom.[[<29>See the brilliant essay, “A Kingdom of Martyrs: The Politics of Christendom,” by Davey Henreckson, available online at: www.agnology.com/2007/05/a_kingdom_of_martyrs_the_polit.html. I’m indebted to Mr. Henreckson for bringing my attention to the Hauerwas-O’Donovan debate.]] In response to Hauerwas’ charge that Christians under Constantine attempted to “further the kingdom through the power of this world,” O’Donovan replied:
I am afraid I think it is simply wrong. That is not what Christians were attempting to do. Their own account of what happened was that those who held power became subject to the rule of Christ. Of course, clear-sighted individuals could see the temptations this situation posed. Criticism of worldly championship or papal pretension did not begin with the dawn of modernity. But they did not think this danger a reason to refuse the triumph Christ had won among the nations.[[<30>The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 216.]]
The cultural and religious changes Constantine brought about, he continued, were compatible with Christianity—even if subject to its judgment:
With the vast changes of context catalysed by the Edict of Milan the question of how to understand the obedience of rulers came high on the church’s agenda. There is no point regretting this. The church of that age had to do contextual theology just as we do; nor did the evolution of the missionary questions into political ones strike anybody at the time as constituting a volte-face. This was the logical conclusion of their confidence in mission, the confirmation of what they had always predicted.[[<31>Ibid, p. 194]]
In other words, the success of the early Christians, in establishing “Christendom,” need not be seen as a betrayal of their faith, or capitulation to the powers of this world; rather, it was the fulfillment of Christ’s command to evangelize and transform it. As O’Donovan puts it: “Christendom is response to mission, and as such a sign that God has blessed it. It is constituted not by the church’s seizing alien power, but by alien power becoming attentive to the church.”[[<32>Ibid, p. 195]]
Blind to any of this, Carroll presses his case further, employing the zeal of an out-of-control prosecutor: “In an empire united under the cross, Jews were now in danger. They might well have been wiped out right then, but Church Fathers decided the Jews should wander in misery forever, without a home. The Roman Empire fell, despite its embrace of Christianity. The Western world descended into chaos that lasted for six centuries. Then the pope cried, ‘God wills it!’ calling for a crusade, a war of the cross, against Islam. Europe’s princes and their armies stopped fighting each other; they set out to fight Muslims in the Holy Land but turned first on the infidels they knew [Jews] along the Rhine.”
Carroll is confused, and a bit off here-by over half a millennium. The myth of the “Wandering Jew” did not take hold until the thirteenth century[[<33>“The ‘Wandering Jew’ is a figure from medieval Christian folklore whose legend began to spread in Europe in the thirteenth century....” (“Wandering Jew,” wikipedia.org). The earliest dating of the anti-Semitic legend “is recorded in the Flores Historiarum by Roger Wendover in the year 1228” (“Wandering Jew,” by Joseph Jacobs, JewishEncyclopedia.com).]]—but what’s seven or eight hundred years when you’re trying to score a cheap point against the Church Fathers? And the idea that the Crusades rose out of the blue (“then the pope cried, ‘God wills it!’”) is possible only if one ignores the Islamic aggression against Christians that preceded them. The pope who cried “God wills it!” had his reasons for doing so, even if they remain debatable. As Robert Spencer argues, “Pope Urban II, who called for the First Crusade at the Council of Claremont in 1095, was calling for a defensive action-one that was long overdue.” One of the biggest misperceptions of history, he says, “is the idea that the Crusades were an unprovoked attack by Europe against the Islamic world. In fact, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638 stood at the beginning of centuries of Muslim aggression, and Christians in the Holy Land faced an escalating spiral of persecution.” What ensued was “the destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of church property. . . . Untold number of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their lives.”[[<34>“Modern Aftermath of the Crusades: Robert Spencer on the Battles Still Being Waged,” Zenit News Agency, March 11, 2006. For the latest scholarship on the Crusades, see also, “Crusaders and Historians,” by Thomas F. Madden, First Things, June-July 2005, pp. 26-31.]] Is Carroll not aware of these assaults against human dignity, or has he simply chosen not to mention them? The crimes committed by Christians during the Crusades were evil and inexcusable, but to assail Christian abuses-and only Christian abuses—while airbrushing Islam, reveals either ignorance or bad faith. Ex-Father Carroll is obviously on his own unholy Crusade.
Further, his claim that the Christian West “descended into chaos” after the fall of Rome is right out of the Enlightenment school of anti-Christian propaganda. No one who has read Peter Brown’s Rise of Western Christendom[[<35>The Rise of Western Christendom (Second Edition) by Peter Brown (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003).]], or studied the brilliant works of Christopher Dawson[[<36>For an overview of Dawson’s many works and his unique contribution to Christian history, see Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson by Bradley J. Birzer (Front Royal: Christendom Press, 2007).]], can accept the myth of the Christian “Dark Ages.” Dawson, in particular, makes a point of stressing the inner dynamics, and irresistible nature, of Christianity, especially in its early development. If faith in Christ produced nothing but cruelty, intolerance, and fanaticism, it would have lost its appeal long ago. That it has survived—indeed flourished—even at times of great duress, indicates something more has been at work. Among the many failures of Constantine’s Sword is its refusal to acknowledge Christianity’s achievements. One would never know, watching this tract, how Christianity built on Judaism’s unique concept of monotheism and divine love. One would learn nothing about Christianity’s elevation of women, care for the poor, challenge to slavery, advances in science and medicine; nothing about its educational system, wondrous art, extraordinary religious orders-and yes, its philo-Semitism which has been documented every bit as much as have its sins.[[<37>“We can find plenty of instances among Catholics of a similar lack of prejudice towards the Jews—from the far-sighted popes of the time of the Council of Trent right down to the present day. Leo XIII, for instance, in his Encyclical of 15 February 1882 urges both clergy and laity to treat all derogatory generalizations about the Jews as things to be condemned out of hand and energetically to reject anti-Semitism as something wholly contrary to the spirit of Christ.” (The Jews: A Christian View by F. W. Foerster, New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1961, p. 101); for additional evidence of this, see the books by Flannery and Oesterreicher noted above.]] All one gets here are one-sided stories of horror and lament, inducing a feeling of revulsion in the viewer. Determined to expose anti-Semitism, and Christianity’s “teaching of contempt” against Jews—never mind how often its been repudiated—Constantine’s Sword succeeds only in the reverse: of creating a new teaching of contempt—a contempt for the Christian creed.[[<38>Carroll is not the only one who offends. In a special “Director’s Statement” from Oren Jacoby, part of the publicity material provided to reviewers of Constantine’s Sword, Jacoby goes so far as to ask: “Is there something in the DNA of Christianity—the majority religion in our country—that demonizes ‘the other’ and is inclined toward violence?”]]
That hostility is very much on display in the film’s treatment of the so-called religious right. Interspersed throughout the documentary, alongside its revisionist history, are attacks against conservative Christians, depicted as the final, awful result of Christianity’s exclusiveness. Early in the film we are taken to Colorado Springs, Colorado, headquarters of the U.S Air Force Academy—a place, we soon learn, that brings back difficult memories for Carroll, reminding him of his own misguided desire to become a cadet: “Being here makes me remember how very much I wanted to be in this world, this world of the Air Force,” he says—that is, before he freed himself from the grip of nationalism and militarism. But there is more. Colorado Springs is the home of many prominent evangelicals—Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and the now fallen Ted Haggard—and thus “a scene of controversy over one of the biggest religious revivals in our country,” warns Carroll. The documentary accuses evangelicals of proselytizing at the Academy—of pursuing “a mission to convert cadets.” Given that the academy was once troubled by a number of sexual-harassment incidents, many wouldn’t consider that a bad thing.[[<39>See “Commanders Faulted on Assaults at Academy,” by Thom Shanker, New York Times, December 8, 2004. As a result of these scandals, significant reforms were adopted by the Academy. Today it has a model policy against sexual harassment and assault, praised by leaders in the field: see: “Experts Praise AFA’s Steps Against Sex Assault,” by David Kassabian, Scripps Howard News Service, October 7, 2005.]] Faith-based values can enhance any institution, properly applied. But Carroll sees things differently, accusing evangelicals of creating an atmosphere of intolerance and coercion there. Casey Weinstein, a Jewish cadet, is brought on to allege prejudice at the academy, and his father, we later learn, actually sued the Air Force over its alleged religious bias.[[<40>Casey Weinstein’s father, Mikey, also a graduate of the Academy, sued the Air force: See “Air Force Sued Over Religion,” Associated Press, October 6, 2005; also “Marching as to War: Former Air Force Officer Mikey Weinstein Zeroes in on Proselytizing in the Military,” by Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, July 16, 2006. Mikey Weinstein also coauthored a book (with Davin Seay), With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006). As noted, the lawsuit was dismissed, but Weinstein continues to lead the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He is an articulate and forceful spokesman for it, but his views are not beyond challenge. A debate between Weinstein and Jay Sekulow, the well-known evangelical lawyer, took place at the Air Force Academy in 2007. It was covered by the Forward, and revealed this interesting exchange: “Addressing a sea of blue uniforms, Weinstein and Sekulow traded barbs over the extent to which military personnel, including Jews, should be permitted to express their religion when on duty. Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said he agreed with a 1986 Supreme Court ruling that an Air Force member could not wear a yarmulke on duty, as it interfered with the uniformity of dress. ‘This is where we disagree,’ Sekulow responded. ‘I think he should have been able to wear the yarmulke.’” (The Forward, April 27, 2007). Who sounds more open to religious freedom here?]] To the extent any problems existed, it was good they came to light.
But the story does not end there. After the allegations surfaced, the Pentagon immediately launched an investigation and found that the accusations were largely exaggerated. As the New York Times reported: “The panel said it had found no ‘overt religious discrimination’—only ‘insensitivity’—and praised the academy leadership for working aggressively to confront religious problems.”[[<41>“Air Force Academy Staff Found Promoting Religion,” by Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, June 23, 2005.]] A federal judge subsequently agreed, throwing out the related lawsuit.[[<42>See “Ruling Upholds Air Force on Religious Issue,” the Associated Press, October 27, 2006; also, “Air Force Academy Religion Suit Dismissed: Graduates Allegations of Bias, Evangelizing Vague, Judge Says,” by Bill Vogrin, The Gazette (Colorado Springs), October 28, 2006.]] Nonetheless, lest there be any doubt about its commitment to religious freedom, the academy soon implemented a mandatory class in religious tolerance for all 4,000 cadets and 5,000 other personnel;[[<43>“Air Force Academy Wrestles with Alleged Religious Bias,” by Patrick O’Driscoll, USA Today, May 3, 2005. ]] the superintendent of the academy delivered a well-received address to the Anti-Defamation League in Denver;[[<44>See “Remarks of Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa, Jr., Superintendent, U.S. Air Force Academy, ADL National Executive Committee Meeting, Denver, Colorado, June 3, 2005,” available on the Anti-Defamation League’s website: www.adl.org.]] and a prominent rabbi was brought in to oversee the academy’s relationship with Jews and other non-Christians.[[<45>See “Air Force Names Rabbi to Bias Post,” Associated Press, June 27, 2005.]] Any fair evaluation of the religious policies at the academy would mention these important facts; Constantine’s Sword does not mention a single one.
Melinda Morton, a former Air Force chaplain at the academy, is the one—and evidently only—chaplain to claim religious bias at the academy; but it soon becomes clear she has a larger target: “When a conservative Christian evangelical ideology becomes the norm for the Air Force,” she says ominously, “then anything that appears other needs to be at least moved to the side, if not banished and denigrated and humiliated. And what is most visibly other to conservative Christian evangelicals is Jewishness.” These demeaning generalizations, ascribing bigotry to evangelicals, are reminiscent of the Washington Post’s crude stereotype of them as “poor, uneducated and easily led.”[[<46> For an analysis and rebuttal of this prejudice, see In Defense of the Religious Right by Patrick Hynes (Nashville: Nelson Current, 2006). Morton’s claims have always been disputed: See, for example, “On a Wing and a Prayer,” by Sara Lipka, The Chronicle of Higher Education,” April 7, 2006; and the earlier report, “Religious Bullying at US Academy,” by Mathew Wells, BBC News, June 17, 2005. Quoted in the latter story was Phil Guin, a Methodist minister who also served as a chaplain at the Academy: “The picture has been painted that we’re holding a big tent revival here...its not that at all.”]] They also diminish the Jewish roots of Christianity, which evangelicals are well aware of. Apparently, Morton doesn’t know—or care—that faithful evangelicals read and cherish the Old Testament as well as the New, and therefore believe anti-Semitism is anti-Christian, a sin that strikes at the very heart of their faith.
In an interview with the present writer, Johnny Whittaker—a graduate of the academy, on active service for thirty years, and now civilian director of communications there—disputed its depiction in Constantine’s Sword and said the documentary did not give proper time for a rebuttal: “I personally was interviewed for the documentary in February 2006 and for more than an hour on camera addressed the issues and incidents James Carroll cited as examples of religious intolerance at the academy. I did my best then to correct the record. However, the final documentary used less than 15 seconds of my interview, and, in my estimation, my statement in the film—and a TV clip of [former superintendent] General Rosa commenting on the situation at the time—were out of place and out of context.”
He continued: “Everyone here—cadets, staff, and faculty alike—are educated on the religious-respect issues, regulations, and policies. It’s mandatory training. As a result of this education and the new programs we have in place, we have not had any complaints of religious insensitivity over the last two years. Should we get some, they will be dealt with swiftly and fairly.”[[<47>Statement from Johnny Whitaker, Director of Academy Communications, US Air Force Academy, email, March 13, 2008.]]
Even when the documentary raises legitimate questions, it tries to prove too much. Back in 2004, after The Passion of the Christ came out, fliers promoting the film were placed on the dining-hall plates of every cadet, including those who disliked it. The documentary properly criticizes this overly aggressive marketing technique but doesn’t stop there; it feels the need to attack the film itself and question the motives of anyone who admired it. Thus, Casey Weinstein and his wife express their mutual disgust with the film, with Casey commenting: “I felt terrible watching that movie, just absolutely terrible. I look at how they portray Jews—these are my people; we are being portrayed as the people who killed Christ. How can believers look at that and not get pissed and angry at the Jews?” Apparently, quite easily. The first comprehensive survey taken after the film’s release, by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, showed an actual decrease of anti-Jewish feelings among Christians who saw it.[[<48>See “The Passion of Christ Having Unexpected Impact: Film and Surrounding Debate Might be Lessening Hostility Toward Jews, Says IJCR Poll,” March 15, 2004 news release from International Communications Research.]] And no one should be surprised. Film critic Roger Ebert—hardly a member of the religious right—commented: “A reasonable person . . . will reflect that in this story set in a Jewish land, there are many characters with many motives, some good, some not, each one representing himself, none representing his religion. The story involves a Jew who tried no less than replace the established religion and set Himself up as the Messiah. He was understandably greeted with a jaundiced eye by the Jewish establishment while at the same time finding his support, his disciples and the founders of his church entirely among his fellow Jews.” The Passion of the Christ, concluded Ebert, “is not anti-Semitic, but reflects a range of behavior on the part of the Jewish characters, on balance favorably. The Jews who seem to desire Jesus’ death are in the priesthood and have political reasons for acting. . . . The other Jews seen in the film are viewed positively; Simon helps Jesus to carry the Cross. Veronica brings a cloth to wipe his face. Jews cry out against his torture.”[[<49>See Ebert’s review of The Passion of the Christ, February 24, 2004, available online at www.RogerEbert.com.]] Similarly, Vatican Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos commented:
Anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, distorts the truth in order to put a whole race of people in a bad light. This film does nothing of the sort. It draws out from the historical objectivity of the Gospel narratives sentiments of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. It captures the subtleties and the horror of sin, as well as the gentle power of love and forgiveness, without making or insinuating blanket condemnations against one group. This film expressed the exact opposite, that learning from the example of Christ, there should never be any more violence against any other human being.[[<50>See “The Cardinal and the Passion,” by Antonio Gaspari, National Review online, September 18, 2003.]]
The Weinsteins’ concerns about the film is undoubtedly sincere and shared by a number of Christians. But as the cardinal’s comments demonstrate, there are equally sincere people who loved The Passion of the Christ and found it deeply moving. The inability to recognize this as a good-faith debate undercuts the stated purpose of Constantine’s Sword: to respect and even appreciate those who disagree with you.
Putting on his professor’s cap, Carroll tries yet again to offer another history lesson, only to fall on his own sword—and not Constantine’s. Carroll accuses the Church—and in particular Pope Benedict—of trying to rewrite the history of the Third Reich. Visiting a Cologne synagogue in 2005, says Carroll, the pope did address “the tragedy of the Shoah, the Holocaust [but] his acknowledgement of the Shoah was incomplete. He said Nazi hatred of Jews was ‘born of neo-paganism’—as if that’s the only source of it. Well, it was born of Nazi neo-paganism; but that hatred had two parents, and the other one—the long tradition of Christian anti-Judaism—he didn’t mention.” But as anyone who reads the speech can see, he did. In the very paragraph quoted by Carroll, the Pope also said: “The Jewish community in Cologne can truly feel ‘at home’ in this city. Cologne is, in fact, the oldest site of a Jewish community on German soil, dating back to the Colonia of Roman times. The history of relations between the Jewish and Christian communities has been complex and often painful. There were times when the two lived together peacefully but there was also the expulsion of the Jews from Cologne in the year 1424.”[[<51>See “Pope’s Address in Synagogue in Cologne,” (second paragraph), Zenit News Agency, August 19, 2005. For the favorable Jewish reaction to the pope’s address—not mentioned in the film—see “Pope Notes ‘Insane’ Ideology of Nazis During Synagogue Visit,” by Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, August 19, 2005; and “Pope Visits German Synagogue and Warns of Growing Anti-Semitism,” by Ian Fisher, New York Times, August 20, 2005. Pope Benedict XVI delivered a similar address at Auschwitz in May 2006: On that visit, see “Auschwitz is Always,” by Joseph Bottum, First Things online, May 29, 2006.]]
If this is not a clear acknowledgement of “Christian anti-Judaism,” what is? And the comment was made in the very city in which the abuse occurred. Aside from distorting the pope’s address, Carroll misses its purpose. Benedict’s emphasis at the Cologne synagogue was on our Judeo-Christian heritage, which the Nazis sought to eradicate[[<52>Recently released archives reveal just how determined the Nazis were to annihilate Christianity, along with Judaism: see: “The Case Against the Nazis: How Hitler’s Forces Planned to Destroy German Christianity,” by Joe Sharkey, New York Times, January 13, 2002.]]—not the sins of individual Christians, which have been acknowledged many times. In October 1997, when Pope Benedict was still serving as John Paul II’s principle adviser, the Vatican sponsored a three-day conference on anti-Judaism—the very topic Carroll claims is being avoided. At that conference, John Paul II delivered a very moving, and properly balanced, address: “In the Christian world—I do not say on the part of the Church as such—the wrong and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relating to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long, contributing to a feeling of hostility toward these people. These contributed to soothing consciences to the point that when a wave of persecutions swept Europe fueled by a pagan anti-Semitism—next to those Christians who did everything to save the persecuted at the risk of their own lives—the spiritual resistance of many was not that which humanity expected from the disciples of Christ.” The following March, the Holy See issued its historic teaching We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, expressing similar regrets while defending righteous Christians who lived up to their faith. These statements are more than ten years old and have received extensive publicity.[[<53>For John Paul’s address at the 1997 conference, see “Pope Ties ‘Unjust’ Teachings to Anti-Semitism,” by Celestine Bohlen, New York Times, November 1, 1997. The text of We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (March 16, 1998) is available online via the Vatican’s official website: www.vatican.va. See also “The Vatican and the Holocaust: The Overview,” by Celestine Bohlen, New York Times, March 17, 1998.]] Carroll doesn’t mention either. Who’s rewriting history here?
Carroll’s treatment of the fascist-Nazi period is similarly skewed. He highlights Italy’s anti-Semitic decrees under Mussolini without describing how the Church combated them: denouncing racialism, taking in Jews expelled from their jobs, and providing protection[[<54>For evidence of this assistance, see Church and State in Fascist Italy, by Daniel A. Binchy (London: Oxford University Press, 1971); also “Scholars at the Vatican,” Commonweal, December 4, 1942.]]. Commenting on the Vatican’s 1933 Concordat with Germany, he asserts: “The Vatican became the first foreign power to enter into a bilateral treaty with Hitler. It included a secret provision in which the Church defended Jews who had converted to Catholicism, but indicated it would have nothing to say about Nazi assaults against other Jews.” This is shameful. First, the Concordat was not an endorsement of the ruthless German regime but a defense mechanism against it; it explicitly asserts that the agreement “does not involve any sort of limitation of official and prescribed preaching and interpretation of the dogmatic and moral teachings and principles of the Church.”[[<55>From Article 32 of the Supplementary Protocol to the Concordat; for full text, see Controversial Concordats, edited by Frank Coppa, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999), pp. 205-214.]] That this and other provisions in the Concordat were at least partially effective is proven by Hitler’s later fulminations against it,[[<56>See Hitler’s outburst against the Concordat, on July 4, 1942, in Hitler’s Table Talk, op. cit., 553-554.]] realizing it had become a means of anti-Nazi subversion. Second, by using the term “bilateral,” i.e., between two entities, Carroll is able to avoid revealing that the first international treaty with Hitler’s Germany, was not the Vatican-German Concordat but the Four-Power Pact between Germany, France, England, and Italy, which preceded it by a full month. Even before that, the Soviets and the British had accepted friendship and trade agreements with Germany; Germany was recognized by the League of Nations; and in August 1933, one month before the Concordat was ratified, Palestinian Jews signed the Haavara agreement with Germany, relating to emigration.[[<57>The German-Vatican Concordat was signed on July 20, 1933, and ratified on September 10, 1933. The Four-Power Pact was initialed on June 7, 1933, and formally signed on July 15, 1933. The Soviet and British agreements with Germany were made on the same day, May 5, 1933; the Haavara Agreement, also known as the “Transfer Agreement,” was signed on August 25, 1933. For details, see “Four Powers Sign Mussolini Act,” by Arnaldo Cortesi, New York Times, June 8, 1933; The 1933 Concordat Between Germany and the Holy See: A Reflection of Tense Relations by Ronald J. Rychlak, The Digest, 2001 (National Italian American Bar Association Law Journal); and Hitler’s Rise to Power by Denis Barton (Birkenhead: Church in History Information Center), available online at: www.churchinhistory.org. On the Haavara (also known as the Transfer) Agreement, see The Third Reich and the Palestine Question by Francis R. Nicosia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985).]]
Third, Carroll’s attack about the Concordat and its supposed indifference toward Jews is disingenuous. The agreement concentrates on the specific rights of the Church, appropriate to her nature; but those concerns certainly didn’t exclude non-Catholics. This was understood at the time. On September 13, 1933, the Palestine Post ran the headline “Pope Signs Pact with Germany: Jews Must be Treated with Christian Charity” atop a story that read, “Jews must be treated with Christian charity, is the injunction which the Vatican has transmitted to Germany in the memorandum accompanying the ratification of the Concordat.” Speaking directly to Carroll’s point, it continues: “It is understood here that negotiations will begin shortly between the Vatican and the German government to secure the reinstatement of the rights of baptized Jews in Germany. The Vatican is also pressing for the charitable treatment of non-baptized Jews.” Zolt Aradi, a Hungarian diplomat stationed in Europe during the 1930’s, wrote a biography of Pius XI contending that the clergy and hierarchy used the Concordat “to save as many persecuted Jews as could be saved.”[[<58>Pius XI: The Pope and the Man by Zsolt Aradi (Garden City, New York: Hanover House, 1958), p. 222.]] This was in keeping with papal teaching, which had condemned anti-Semitism repeatedly, notably in a decree of March 25, 1928—five years before the Nazis came to power—declaring that the Church “condemns with all its might the hatred directed against a people which was chosen by God; that particular hatred, in fact, which today goes by the name of anti-Semitism.”[[<59>This condemnation was cited by Catholics fighting the Axis during World War II: See “Italy: Anti-Semitism,” The Tablet (London), July 25, 1942.]] The very first protest lodged with Germany by the Vatican, on April 4, 1933, was made on behalf of Jews, not Catholics.[[<60>See “New Proofs of Pius XII’s Efforts to Assist Jews: 1933 Letter Targets ‘Anti-Semitic Excesses’ in Germany,” Zenit News Agency, February 17, 2003.]] In May of that year, Pius XI met with a Jewish delegation in Rome, with the Jewish Chronicle reporting: “It is understood that the pope was extremely concerned about the sufferings imposed on the Jews and expressed his sympathy with them and his desire to help.”[[<61>“The Popes Desire to Help,” The Jewish Chronicle, May 12, 1933.]] In September, the same paper called attention to a new papal denunciation of Nazi anti-Semitism, quoting Pius XI as having “recalled the fact that Jesus Christ, the Madonna, the apostles and the prophets and many saints were all of the Hebrew race, and that the Bible is a Hebrew creation. The Aryan races, he declared, had no claim to superiority over the Semites.”[[<62>“Pope Denounces Anti-Semitism,” The Jewish Chronicle, September 1, 1933.]]
Perhaps Carroll and Jacoby are unaware of these rarely cited facts. But surely they are aware of Pius XI’s famous public condemnation of anti-Semitism, on September 6, 1938, aimed at Hitler and Mussolini: “Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is Our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It 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. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we are all Semites.”[[<63>See “The Holy Father on the Jews,” The Tablet, September 24, 1938.]]
“This statement,” writes Ronald Rychlak, “was made while the most powerful nation in Europe had an officially anti-Semitic government and was poised only a few hundred miles to the north of Rome. Everyone understood their significance, especially the victims.”[[<64>From Rychlak’s review, “Daniel Kertzer’s The Popes Against the Jews,” The Catalyst, December 2001, available online at http://www.catholicleague.org/research/kertzer.htm.]] It is a statement still quoted today. But Constantine’s Sword makes no mention of it. The omission is striking, as 2008 marks the seventieth anniversary of these historic words. Also missing is any mention of the Vatican’s support for Cardinal Hinsley’s public condemnation of German anti-Semitism in the wake of Kristallnacht—an intervention in which Pacelli was directly involved. That intervention, documented in volume six of the Holy See’s wartime collection,[[<65>See Actes et Documents du Saint Siege Relatifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1972), volume 6, pp. 12-13 and 539.]] was accompanied by a message of papal support for Jewish refugees attempting to escape Germany.[[<66>See “Pope Backs Britons on Aid to Refugees,” New York Times, December 10, 1938.]]
In his book on which this documentary is based, Carroll repeatedly assailed Pius XII, drawing heavily from John Cornwell’s notorious tract Hitler’s Pope. Perhaps aware of how badly that book has fared under scholarly examination, Carroll now pretends to qualify his thesis: “Cardinal Pacelli went on to become Pope Pius XII. While it may be unfair to call him Hitler’s Pope,” he says now, thinking he is being charitable, “it’s not too much to call him Hitler’s cardinal.” This is not only false—Pacelli was despised by the Nazis, and it was he who drafted Pius XI’s famous anti-Nazi encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (1937)—it’s another rip-off of Cornwell, who used the same line back in 2002. Reviewing Daniel Goldhagen’s book A Moral Reckoning, Cornwell concluded by describing “important lessons for subsequent generations. Pacelli did not need consciously to espouse Hitler’s cause to be Hitler’s cardinal if not his pope.”[[<67>“Catholicism in the Dock,” by John Cornwell, reviewing Daniel Goldhagen’s book, A Moral Reckoning, in the Sunday Times (London), October 27, 2002.]] Interestingly, two years after he wrote this, Cornwell further tailored his thesis by writing: “I would now argue, in light of the debates and evidence following Hitler’s Pope, that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the War, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.”[[<68>The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II by John Cornwell (New York: Doubleday, 2004), p. 193; see also, Cornwell’s remarks to interviewer John Hinton in, “I Never Accused Pius of Being a Nazi,” the Catholic Herald (Britain), July 27, 2007.]]
Apart from the error about Pius XII’s “silence,” this is quite a concession. Carroll cannot be unaware of Cornwell’s reversal, because he—Carroll—reviewed the very book in which Cornwell announced it. In that review, published in the Washington Post, Carroll made no mention of Cornwell’s change of heart but did write: “In 1999, John Cornwell published Hitler’s Pope. . . . The book caused a sensation, driving a stake through the pope’s reputation. Pius XII’s defenders dismissed Cornwell, but when new lists of people being promoted toward sainthood were published after that, Pius XII’s name was conspicuously absent. He isn’t mentioned much for sainthood anymore.”[[<69>“The Pope and His Legacy,” by James Carroll, reviewing John Cornwell’s book, The Pontiff in Winter, in the Washington Post, January 30, 2005.]] Carroll is clueless. Even as he wrote these words, Pacelli’s cause was proceeding undisturbed; the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints was putting the finishing touches on a 3,000-page positio, or dossier, covering every aspect of Pius’ pontificate, incorporating firsthand testimony, new archival evidence, and drawing on the latest historical scholarship, answering the allegations of his detractors. The result was a unanimous vote by the Congregation’s judicial committee to recognize the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII and a formal recommendation to the Holy See to advance his cause.[[<70>See “Sainthood Congregation Recommends Pope Pius XII be Named Venerable,” by Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, May 14, 2007.]] The Catholic world now awaits the next stage, which will come when Pope Benedict formally declares Pius XII “Venerable.” The Catholic League recently sent the Holy See a petition with 15,000 signatures calling for just that.[[<71>On March 2, 2008, the 50th anniversary of Eugenio Pacelli’s election as Pope Pius XII, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights announced 15,000 of its members had signed a letter in support of Pius XII’s cause; the appeal was sent to the Holy See: see the release, “Thousands Show Support for Pius XII; Petition Pope for Beatification,” available at the Catholic league’s website (www.catholicleague.org).]] That independent historians of the rank of Martin Gilbert[[<72>See Gilbert’s book, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (New York: Henry Holt, 2003), especially chapter 15, “Italy and the Vatican,” pp. 356-380. See also my long interview with Gilbert in “The Untold Story: Catholic Rescuers of Jews,” by William Doino Jr., Inside the Vatican, August 2003, pp. 26-36.]] and Michael Burleigh[[<73>See Burleigh’s book Sacred Causes (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), especially pp. 218-283.]] now praise Pius XII is further evidence of a sea change regarding his pontificate. People do indeed talk about Pius XII’s sainthood, and chances are that many of us will live to see it.
One Catholic who has been canonized is Edith Stein, now St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who perished at Auschwitz in 1942. Carroll recounts her well-known conversion but attacks her elevation, viewing it as a convenient way for the Church to salve its conscience and “Christianize” the Holocaust. The “real story,” Carroll assures us, has never been told. And what exactly is that? In 1933, shortly after entering the Carmelite order, Stein wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI, imploring him to take a stand against Nazi anti-Semitism. As we have seen, he did just that, and his efforts were covered by the Jewish press. But Carroll claims nothing was done, citing an entry in Stein’s diary, from 1938, suggesting that Stein never received a reply. Obtaining a copy of the 1933 letter from an elderly German nun, who knew Stein, Carroll asserts he is “the first person to ask to see it.” In a haunting voiceover, the actress Natasha Richardson, reads the letter—but only a portion of it, conveniently omitting the part that speaks about Nazi persecution of Catholics.[[<74>The full text of the letter includes these two sentences: “For the time being, the fight against Catholicism will be conducted quietly and less brutally than against Jewry, but no less systematically. It won’t take long before no Catholic will be able to hold office in Germany unless he dedicates himself unconditionally to the new course of action.” These lines are omitted in the film. For the full text of the letter, complete with analysis about its significance, see “Edith Stein’s Letter,” by William Doino Jr., Inside the Vatican Magazine, March 2003, pp. 22-31.]] The film presents the letter as a dramatic revelation. Director Oren Jacoby even told the Jewish Journal: “I got goosebumps when the nun shared the letter with us. It’s thrilling when you discover that the story you thought was there actually does exist.”[[<75>As quoted in “L.A. Film Festival Features a History of Hate and an Israeli Spy,” Jewishjournal.com, June 22, 2007. Jacoby also told Bloomberg News that his hunt for Stein’s letter “became kind of a detective story.” (“’Constantine’ Follows Murderous Christian Soldiers,” by Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg.com, April 24, 2008.)]]
The letter is real, but the “discovery” is a hoax. Five years ago, I obtained a copy of Stein’s 1933 letter, shortly after the archives from Pius XI’s pontificate were released.[[<76>The release of Pius XI’s archives, including Stein’s letter, were well-publicized at the time: See “Stein Letter Emerges from the Vatican Archives,” Associated Press, February 19, 2003, available on CNN’s website (www.cnn.com) and many other places.]] Those archives revealed that Stein’s plea was answered—in a sympathetic reply by none other than Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII). Pacelli’s letter was sent to Stein’s abbot, Raphael Walzer of the Beuron Abbey, because it was he who had mailed the letter to the Vatican. (Following protocol, Stein had her abbot forward it.) The reply correspondence may have been blocked by Nazi surveillance (hence, the likely explanation for her diary entry wondering about the Vatican’s reaction). Also revealed, in the new archives, were actions taken by the Holy See on behalf of Jews, even before Stein sent her letter. My dossier explaining all these facts was published in the March 2003 issue of Inside the Vatican magazine and has been available online for some time.[[<77>See “Edith Stein’s Letter,” by William Doino, available at: http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=5078. My article was cited by Susanne Batzdorff, Edith Stein’s niece, in her book Aunt Edith: The Jewish Heritage of a Catholic Saint, second edition (Springfield, Illinois: Templegate Publishers, 2003); and also by Michael Burleigh in his Sacred Causes, op. cit., pp. 179 and 495, note 94.]] Couldn’t Carroll and Jacoby have spent five minutes on Google finding this information out? That the documentary also fails to reveal the crucial reason Stein was sent to Auschwitz—because the Dutch bishops, citing papal teaching,[[<78>For a description of these statements by the Dutch Bishops, see Pinchas Lapide’s Three Popes and the Jews (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), pp. 197-209.]] publicly condemned the deportations, triggering the Nazi round-up of Catholics of Jewish descent, including Stein—only adds to the deception.
Carroll concludes his meditation on Auschwitz by trying to appeal to Jewish sensitivities, and the Christian conscience, but only succeeds at offending: “If Jesus had died here, it would not have been as a Savior of the world, but as an unknown Jew, with a number on his arm.” Of course, Christ did die a brutal death, on the cross; and Christians believe that he was, is, and shall forever remain the Savior of the world—a belief Edith Stein unforgettably testified to.[[<79>The best biography of Stein, testifying to her profound Catholic faith and witness, is Hilda Graef’s, The Scholar and the Cross: The Life and Work of Edith Stein (Westminster: Maryland, Newman Press, 1955).]]
Carroll concludes his indictment of the wartime Church by depicting it as utterly indifferent to the fate of Jews. Nowhere is that clearer, says Carroll, than in the Vatican’s supposedly passive reaction to the Nazi round-up of Rome’s Jews on October 16, 1943—which he calls “the episode that made me, as a Christian, feel most ashamed.” But if the Vatican was so indifferent to the Holocaust, then why did the Palestine Post write in September 1942: “In their sermons, Catholic priests have cited the warning by the Vatican Radio that anyone furthering the persecution of Jews is an accomplice to murder”?[[<80>“Vatican Condemns Vichy Anti-Jewish Measures,” Palestine Post, September 20, 1942.]] And why, just a few months later, did Pius XII deliver a famous Christmas address, provoking the Nazis to brand him a “mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals”?[[<81>As quoted from wartime German documents, in Anthony Rhodes book, The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, 1922-1945 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), pp. 272-273.]] As for the Vatican’s reaction to the round-up of Rome’s Jews, far from being its most “shameful” moment, it was one of its finest. As Michael Tagliacozzo, the leading authority on the round-up and a survivor of it himself, has pointed out, Pius XII was the only leader who did take forceful action against it, helping save three-quarters of Rome’s Jews.[[<82>See “Jewish Historian Praises Pius XII’s Wartime Conduct,” Zenit New Agency, October 26, 2000. Also note the extensive profile, “Witness to a Miracle: Michael Tagliacozzo, a Jewish Historian and Holocaust Survivor who Lives in Israel, Says Pius XII Was the Only One Who Intervened to Impede the Deportation of Jews from Rome on October 16, 1943,” by Sister Margherita Marchione, Inside the Vatican, April 2008, pp. 88-93.]]
Anne O’Hare McCormick, who covered these events for the New York Times, wrote after the liberation: “The Romans give credit to the Pontiff for the sparing of the city . . . the Vatican was a refuge for thousands of fugitives from the Nazi-Fascist reign of terror, Jews received first priority . . . but all the hunted found sanctuary in the Vatican and its hundreds of convents and monasteries in the Rome region. What the pope did was to create an attitude in favor of the persecuted and hunted that the city was quick to adopt so that hiding someone ‘on the run’ became the thing to do.”[[<83>See her column “Position of Pope in Italy has Been Enhanced by War,” August 21, 1944, published in Vatican Journal, 1921-1954 by Anne O’Hare McCormick (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1957), pp. 117-120.]] Even cloistered nuns were aware of Pius XII’s orders to rescue Jews. “Having arrived at this month of November  we must be ready to render services of charity in a completely unexpected way,” wrote one of them, in a recently discovered diary. “The Holy Father Pius XII, of paternal heart, feels in himself all the sufferings of the moment. Unfortunately with the Germans entry into Rome, which happened in the month of September, a ruthless war against the Jews has begun, whom they wish to exterminate by means of atrocities prompted by the blackest of barbarities. They round up young Italians, political figures, in order to torture them and finish them off in the most tremendous torments. In this painful situation the Holy Father wants to save his children, also the Jews, and orders that hospitality be given in the convents to these persecuted, and that the cloisters must also adhere to the wish of the Supreme Pontiff.”[[<84>See “The Unpublished Memorial of the Augustinian Nuns of the Convent of the San Quattro Coronati in Rome,” in the Italian journal, 30 Days, August 2006, available online at: http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=11037. See also the accompanying article “The Jews Hidden in the Convents: The Holy Father Orders” at: http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=11035.]] After the war, the Jewish community in Rome was so grateful that they paid special tribute to Pius XII. In March 1946, the Museum of Liberation unveiled a plaque that reads: “The Congress of Delegates of the Italian Israelite communities, held in Rome for the first time after the Liberation, is obliged to pay tribute to Your Holiness, and to express the deepest sense of gratitude from all Jews, for the show of human brotherhood by the Church during the years of persecution and when their lives were put in danger by Nazi-Fascist atrocities.”[[<85>A photograph of the tribute appears in Inside the Vatican magazine, June 1997, p. 25. For a full-scale response to the leading critics of Pius XII, see The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, edited by Joseph Bottum and David G. Dalin (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2004).]]
If Constantine’s Sword teaches us little about history, it reveals a great deal about James Carroll. Anyone who has read his memoir, An American Requiem: God, my Father, and the War that Came Between Us,[[<86>An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us (New York: Mariner Books, 1996).]] knows about his love-hate relationship with his father, Joe, an Air Force lieutenant general who helped prosecute the Vietnam War. Critics have drawn a connection between James’ paternal rebellion and his revolt against the Church.[[<87>“It doesn’t take a doctorate in psychology to see that Carroll’s disenchantment with the Church, which he once regarded with wide-eyed idealism, is deeply intertwined with his personal issues with his father,” (Harry Forbes, reviewing the film version of Constantine’s Sword, for the Catholic News Service); also, Sister Mary Boys, a leader in Catholic-Jewish relations, said that the film is “skewed by the fact that its so tied personally to James Carroll,” paying “insufficient attention to the many generations of people who have worked for justice for the Jews in the Church, and (for) a corrected self-understanding in our own (faith) tradition.” (Catholic News Service, April 22, 2008).]] Freudian analysis aside, what strikes one most about this documentary is how much Carroll puts himself at its center. Constantine’s Sword appears to have meaning only to the extent it illuminates James Carroll’s own tormented life. Describing how he was misled into the priesthood, he points to the sacred Catholic relics he was shown as a child—only to learn that they were “fiction” and “pure invention”[[<88>In the film, Carroll describes his youthful devotion to the relics of Christendom—especially those associated with St. Helena, Constantine’s mother (for example, the True Cross, the Robe of Christ)—only to learn, from unnamed experts (“scholars now tell us”), that they are pious legends, with no evidence behind them. What he does not tell the viewer is that such relics, however famous and honored, are not, and have never been, a fundamental part of Catholic belief; and according to Catholic teaching, faithful Catholics are free to disbelieve in them.]]—and ultimately blames his parents: “My mother told me that she was the Blessed Mother’s representative here on earth—that is to say, her name was Mary; and she made me understand that she was associated with Mary. Of course, I was aware my father’s name was Joseph; my initials were J.C. I just came of age in a relationship with my mom and dad that very much included God in the family circle.” Such religious doting, combined with a special audience his family arranged with Pope John XXIII, induced Carroll to enter the religious life. But when he did, he says, he knew nothing about the violent history of his Church. “I didn’t know any of it when I made the most important decision of my life.” The problem, you see, was that Carroll bought into the Church’s own propaganda: “I was a young Catholic brought into this perfect Church—it was the place that human beings were entirely pure. We had saints; we knew who they were; and our priests and our bishops and our popes were holy, holy men. I hadn’t a clue about the failure.”
This narrative defies belief. Faithful Catholics believe that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ; as such they hold that it is sinless, in its spiritual essence. But the Church does not teach, and has never taught, that all its members are perfect—quite the contrary. Original sin and human imperfection are core elements of Catholic teachings; so pronounced are they that an enormous body of literature exists, among disaffected Catholics, accusing the Church of saddling them with feelings of “guilt” and “shame.” Yet Carroll wants us to believe that the preconciliar Church taught that all Catholics were sinless, holier than angels. Are we to believe that Carroll never heard of the sacrament of penance until he entered the priesthood? Perhaps he did but wasn’t aware that popes and bishops attend to it as well. Even more incredible is the idea that Carroll had no idea about Catholic history when he decided to become a priest. Sixty years before Carroll was even born, Leo XIII had opened the Vatican’s archives, asserting that the Church “has nothing to fear from the truth.”[[<89>“Historical Scholars are indebted to him [Leo XII] for the opening of the Vatican Archives (1883), on which occasion he published a splendid encyclical on the importance of historical studies, in which he declares that the Church has nothing to fear from historical truth.” (“Pope Leo XIII,” Catholic Encyclopedia, available online at the newadvent.org website).]] And when Carroll was growing up in the fifties and sixties, historians like Henri Daniel-Rops[[<90>Henri Daniel-Rops (1901-1965), the eminent French historian, published his multivolume, Histoire de l’Eglise du Christ (History of the Church of Christ) from 1948-1956; these books were translated into English well before Carroll became a priest, in 1969.]] and Hubert Jedin[[<91>Hubert Jedin (1900-1981) was among the greatest Catholic historians of the twentieth century; his best-known work is A History of the Council of Trent (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1957).]] were publishing massive church histories, leaving no stone unturned regarding the sins of Catholics, including high-ranking prelates. If Carroll was unaware of these facts, at the moment he made “the most important decision” of his life, that’s an indictment of his own ignorance—and lack of preparation for the priesthood—not the fault of the Church.
Obviously unsuited for the religious life, Carroll became easy prey for the Church’s secularizers, though he now credits them with helping him slough off (as he sees it) the dead carcass of preconciliar thinking: “I began to think about religion more critically. Instead of making me more obedient and accepting, the seminary gave me the ability to challenge some of the things I’d never questioned about my Church and about America.” Among them was what he sarcastically calls “America’s struggle against godless Communism.” The crimes of communism are of course real—all too real[[<92>“In 1995 a Russian government commission found that more than 200,000 priests and nuns of various denominations had been killed, and half a million imprisoned or deported in Soviet purges of the 1920s and 1930s, a period now described as the worst persecution ever inflicted on Christians. Russian school textbooks state that 20 million Soviet and East European citizens perished in communist labor camps; another 15 million died during famines, deportations, and mass executions.” (National Catholic Register, November 2-29, 1997). This is just in the Soviet Union; for the full extent of Communist horrors around the globe, see The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, edited by Stephane Cortois, et. al. (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1999).]]—but Carroll acts as if they’re a concoction of the military-industrial complex, a product of far-right paranoia. In his eyes, the real nobility was fighting anticommunism, not communism itself. As the documentary relates, one of the defining moments in his life was his participation in the antiwar movement: Joining it was a thrill, more satisfying than anything an old catechism could deliver, and it had the added benefit of humiliating his conservative father. Carroll describes his transformation—from pious young Catholic to radical priest-activist—as a story of someone who finally found his calling, until, one assumes, his next prophetic impulse: leaving the priesthood itself. He believes opposing the Vietnam War was an epic achievement and proudly places himself among the luminaries who dared speak against it.
Of course, speaking out against the Vietnam War—given the way it was being fought, the enormous sacrifices involved, and the limited prospects for victory—may have been morally prudent, even necessary, but there was nothing exceptional about protest in 1969, the year Carroll was ordained. By that time, most Americans, including many conservatives, were demanding an end to the conflict, hoping (alas, unsuccessfully) for “peace with honor.” But Carroll, ever the egotist, feels the need to present his own opposition as heroic: “Its 1969, and I’m to be ordained as a Catholic priest. I’m saying my first Mass in the chapel at Boling Air Force base, because that’s where my parents live; it’s the tradition. And in the chapel [are] my mom and dad’s neighbors, friends colleagues, the general officers of the United States Air Force. . . . But we are in the middle of a war, and I knew that the intelligence assessments in Vietnam where coming from the Defense Intelligence Agency—from my father. Vietnam tore this country apart, set one generation against another, and my father and I had long since stopped discussing it. But I have to give a sermon, and I preached on the text from Ezekiel, where he describes the valley full of dead bones. I said that the bones he was looking at had been burned, scorched by the sun [pause, for dramatic effect] and then I said, ‘and by napalm.’ It was as close as I could get to referring to the war in Vietnam, but it was plenty close—believe me—the word napalm, in that chapel, on that day, was a deep offense, and my father never forgave me for it.”
Not exactly the stuff of martyrdom, but Carroll makes it sound as if he endured worse torments than St. Isaac Jogues under the Iroquois.
One of the men Carroll says inspired him was Daniel Berrigan, the famous Jesuit and Catholic peace activist. But Father Berrigan is made of a different cloth: Unlike Carroll, he has remained in active ministry and challenged the left as well as the right. Long an outspoken opponent of abortion, he has been arrested for protesting it. Reporting on one such incident, the New York Times commented: “Father Berrigan was among five people found guilty after they demonstrated against a plan to open a new abortion clinic last October. The protest was sponsored by the Faith and Resistance Community, an organization in the Rochester area that supports the ‘seamless garment’ philosophy of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, linking war, capital punishment and abortion on moral grounds. Among those who testified on Father Berrigan’s behalf was Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, an auxiliary of Detroit, who told the court, ‘For us, the violence of abortion is equivalent to the violence of bombing a city.’”[[<93>Quoted in, “Religion Notes,” by Ari L. Goldman, the New York Times, February 8, 1992. Fr Berrigan has also withdrawn his long-time support for Amnesty International, because of its recent embrace of abortion “rights”: See “No Amnesty for the Unborn,” National Catholic Register, by Tom McFeely, June 17-23, 2007.]] Somehow, one just can’t imagine anyone associated with Constantine’s Sword making a similar statement.[[<94>The violence of abortion is not mentioned once in the film, much less condemned.]]
Agree with him or not, Father Berrigan was a powerful presence on the antiwar scene, as he had an authenticity and sincerity seemingly absent in Carroll.[[<95>For Berrigan’s support of the Baez protest, and his other appeals against Communist persecution, see, Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Phillip Berrigan by Murray Polnar and Jim O’Grady (New York: Basic Books, 1997), p. 335. For more on Berrigan’s eventful life, see his autobiography, To Dwell in Peace (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987).]] Berrigan’s appearance in the documentary is fleeting but leaves an impression. In watching it, I couldn’t help but feel that Berrigan’s activism sprang from deep Christian convictions, whereas Carroll comes across as the perpetual adolescent, involved in protest simply because it was The Thing to Do. In any event, Constantine’s Sword would have more credibility if it spoke out not just against America’s war in Vietnam but also against the horrors of the communists who took over there—as indeed Father Berrigan did in a famous ad sponsored by Joan Baez. In the 1980s, Berrigan also signed an ad proclaiming, “American dissenters demand amnesty for dissidents in Communist countries. . . . To protest U.S. policies in Indochina but to acquiesce in the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia would not only be immoral but would quite properly call into question the sincerity of our commitment at home.” [[<96>William Grimes, reviewing Carroll’s book, House of War (2006), in the New York Times, June 7, 2006.]]
It is precisely such intellectual honesty and consistency that Constantine’s Sword lacks. Intelligent critics of America are at least aware of the good things this country has achieved, and the possibilities it offers for reform. But Carroll appears blind to any of this. His recent book, House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, is so smoldering in its anger toward the United States that even the liberal New York Times remarked: “It is hard, really, to understand what Mr. Carroll wants from the United States, since he detests the very notion that it has power and sometimes seems to be suggesting that the wrong side came out on top in the Cold War.”[[<97>See, for example, The Return of Anti-Semitism by Gabriel Schoenfeld (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004); and Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 by Matthias Kuntzel (New York: Telos, 2007).]]
Silent about the crimes of communism, the film is equally silent about radical Islam and the toxic anti-Semitism that often rises in the Arab world.[[<98>Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam by David G. Dalin and John F. Rothman (New York: Random House, 2008).]] Even critics of the wartime Catholic Church have acknowledged the defamation of Pius XII; but no one questions the pro-Nazi record of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the former grand mufti of Jerusalem and the subject of a new book, Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam by David G. Dalin and John F. Rothman.[[<99>In the film, Carroll says: “Every religious person has to take responsibility for the way in which their tradition encourages intolerance, suspicion, hatred of the other,” but never explicitly criticizes Islam, much less holds any of its leaders responsible for extremism or anti-Semitism. It is a different case, however, with Christianity: “In the Christian tradition, both in relation to Muslims and Jews, we have some very clear reckoning with history to do.”]] If Carroll and Jacoby want to learn about real (as opposed to imaginary) collaboration with the Third Reich, they should read it. And in a documentary examining the religious roots of violence, lasting almost two hours, there is not a single mention in Constantine’s Sword—not one—of September 11, quite an achievement. Passing reference is made to the Taliban and al-Qaida,[[<100>In the wake of September 11, some critics of President Bush have become so angry with his reaction to it that they have downplayed or excused the worst aspects of Jihadism. For a sharp critique of this attitude, see Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left by David Horowitz (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2004).]] without describing their heinous activities, and only in the context of decrying the West’s alleged Christian imperialism. The Jihadists, we are given to understand, may have a point.[[<101>For bin Laden’s declarations and fatwas against America, see The 9/11 Commission Report (New York: WW Norton), pp. 47-70.]]
Constantine’s Sword comes down hard on President Bush’s reaction to September 11, suggesting it stems from his overt evangelical faith. Carroll is beside himself that the president actually used the word crusade in a speech against America’s jihadist enemies. But one does not have to accept George Bush’s religion, or every aspect of his administration’s “War on Terror,” to realize the danger Islamic extremism poses. Commenting on its fanatical hatred for America and its allies, a hatred that long preceded George W. Bush—Osama bin Laden issued his infamous fatwa against America in 1998, two years before Bush became president[[<102>9/11 Commission Report, op. cit., p. 362.]]—the bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded: “Bin Laden and other Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the ‘head of the snake,’ and it must be converted or destroyed. It is not a position with which America can bargain or negotiate. With it, there is no common ground—not even respect for life—on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated.”[[<103>“A Center Called McCain,” by Roger Cohen,” New York Times, January 17, 2008.]]
What do Jacoby and Carroll think of this analysis? Do they have an alternative view, a better way to confront and defeat the Jihadists? We don’t know, because they don’t address the issue or even acknowledge a threat exists. Apparently, the greatest threat to Western civilization are overzealous cadets in Colorado Springs, passing out fliers on The Passion of the Christ.
Constantine’s Sword takes a strong stand against the Iraq War, as is its right. But that view would have greater weight if it considered the strongest, not weakest, arguments for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. In a recent column for the , columnist Roger Cohen, a centrist, excoriated the Bush administration’s handling of the war but also called attention to Hussein’s horrifying record (“this death-and-genocide machine killed about 400,000 Iraqis in internal persecutions and another million or so people in Iran and Kuwait”), concluding, “I still believe Iraq’s freedom outweighs its [the war’s] terrible price.”[[<104>See, for example, “Pope Worried Over Christian Exodus from Iraq,” by Philip Pullella, Reuters, June 21, 2007, which reveals Benedict’s concern, and comments: “The United Nations said in a report...that of the 1.5 million Assyrian Christians living in Iraq before 2003, half had fled the country and many of the rest were moving to ‘safe areas’ in the north of Iraq.”]] It is a measure of the extreme evil of Saddam Hussein that, even at this late date, with all the things we now know and all the sacrifices made, people of goodwill still support America’s intervention. Yet, from a Christian perspective, one must admit, apart from the intense sufferings all wars bring, the Iraq War has proved very painful for the Christian minority there.[[<105>For papal and Vatican statements leading up the War in Iraq, see the archives of the Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org) from 2002-2003. Also Papal Diplomacy: John Paul II and the Culture of Peace by Bernard J. O’Connor (St. Augustine’s Press, 2005).]] And so one would think, given its political views, Constantine’s Sword might invoke John Paul II and Benedict as natural allies, since they both warned against the consequences of invading Iraq.[[<106>For Fr. Pawlikowski’s negative assessment of Mel Gibson’s film, see his comments in, “The Passion—a Forthcoming Movie,” by Lynn Ballas, Compassion (Newsletter of the Passionists), Autumn 2003; and also his essay, “Gibson’s Passion: The Challenges for Catholics,” Shofar, Spring 2005, pp. 96-100.]] Remarkably, however, their opposition to the war is totally missing from this documentary, as that might put the papacy—at least from the film’s perspective—in a favorable light, which would defeat one of its purposes.
The documentary’s most embarrassing episode occurs when Carroll meets up with an old acquaintance, Father John Pawlikowski, who sounds much like the kind of priest Carroll would have become had he remained in ministry. Pawlikowski, a professor of ethics at the Catholic Theological Union, is perhaps best known for leading an unsuccessful campaign against Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.[[<107>Fr. Pawlikowski might want to ask this question to himself, since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting selected The Passion of the Christ as one of the ten best films of 2004: See “The Top 10 Films of 2004—and the Picks for Families Too,” by Harry Forbes and David DiCerto,” Catholic News Service, January 5, 2005.]] The exchange involving the two is illuminating:
Carroll: In Rome, I sought out my old friend, Father John Pawlikowski, who stayed when I left, and fought for the very things that now matter so much to me. . . .
Pawlikowski: Good to see you again . . . was it ‘73, I think, was the first time?
Carroll: We were young priests together. . . . I think you know what a definitive summer that was for me—
Pawlikowski: You confessed to me that perhaps you weren’t going to stay around.”
Carroll: I was deciding to leave the priesthood right then. Confession is not a bad word for the feeling I have. I don’t feel that way so much now, but at the time, as you know, it was a real struggle. You stayed in the trenches [and] you’ve done tremendous work over the years.
Pawlikowski: Well, thank you.
Carroll: What’s it been like?
Pawlikowski: Well, its been very positive, I would say . . . then you get a Gibson film, a Gibson film that kind of destroys it, and then you get people who are supposedly speaking for the Church or something coming up and saying, oh, this is totally wonderful, there is no contradiction here between [this and] what Nostra Aetate says, and you’re staring into space, and saying: ‘What planet are you on?’[[<108>See “Contrition in the Age of Spin Control,” by Mary Ann Glendon First Things, November, 1997, pp. 10-12.]] If you want to make religion a constructive force in society, religions must begin with an honest admission of those moments when they haven’t been a constructive force, when they’ve been a destructive force. And the thing that frustrates me [to] no end, is when religious leaders get up and give the impression that religion’s always been on the side of good and virtue. It hasn’t—let’s be honest.
Yes, let’s be honest. If you want to know why certain members of the Church not only desire Christian contrition but also act as if Catholics should “apologize themselves into nonexistence,” to quote Mary Ann Glendon’s quip,[[<109>On the postconciliar crisis of American Catholicism—including a penetrating critique of the nuttiness ushered in by “Catholic progressives”—see Joseph Bottum’s much-discussed essay “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano: Catholic Culture in America,” First Things, October 2006, pp. 27-40.]] look no further than priests like Father Pawlikowski. And, by appearing in this film, he has allowed himself to be used by Carroll, serving as his enabler, permitting the ex-priest to adopt the role of a secular confessor—which, in a way, perfectly encapsulates the “progressive” madness of the conciliar era.[[<110>This particular postscript states: “Rev. Ted Haggard stepped down as President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and pastor of the New Life Church, calling himself a ‘liar and deceiver’ for carrying on a three-year relationship with a male prostitute. Rev. Haggard’s agenda, using politics to advance Christian religion, and vice versa, is carried on today by other groups in Colorado, like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.” But the film ignores the statement Dobson made after Haggard’s resignation, which was both responsible and Christian: “The possibility that an illicit relationship has occurred is alarming to us and to millions of others. He will continue to be my friend, even if the worst allegations prove accurate. Nevertheless, sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, has serious consequences.” (“Church Forces out Haggard for ‘Sexually Immoral Conduct,” CNN.com, November 4, 2006). Further, those on the “religious left” have never been shy about advancing their own political agendas: See, for example, “Left Wing and a Prayer,” by R. Scott Appleby, reviewing two books (by Amy Sullivan and E.J. Dionne, advocating just such an approach) in the New York Times Book Review, February 10, 2008.]] Introducing this segment, Carroll actually says, without a hint of irony: “Thousands of young priests like me left our orders. I wonder if the liberal reform would have taken hold if we’d stayed.” At that point, a faithful Catholic watching this just might be tempted to exclaim, “Good riddance!”
Constantine’s Sword ends with several loaded and misleading postscripts: one on the religious right, the other concerning Pope Benedict. The film reminds us of the sex scandal that forced Ted Haggard from his influential post at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, near the Air Force Academy. (It also tries to taint James Dobson, quite unfairly, by linking him to Haggard).[[<111>For a recent reflection on Hart’s career, see “ ‘Those Aren’t Rumors:’ Two Decades Ago an Anonymous Telephone Caller Sank Gary Hart’s Presidential Campaign and Rewrote the Rules of Political Reporting,” by Dick Polman, Smithsonian magazine, April 2008.]] But it says nothing whatsoever about the scandal that ended the presidential hopes of former Colorado senator Gary Hart[[<112>On the transformation of Donna Rice, see “Enough is Enough: Donna Rice Hughes,” by Ramona Cramer Tucker, Today’s Christian Woman, September/October 1996.]]—a significant omission, as Hart is brought on to accuse evangelicals at the Air Force Academy of trying to usher in a “theocracy.” Nor does it say anything about Donna Rice, the woman at the center of Hart’s political downfall, who has since become a born-again Christian and children’s-rights advocate, as well as a noted opponent of pornography.[[<113>See, as an example, “Muslims, Christians Consider Faith-Reason Dynamic,” Zenit News Agency, April 30, 2008.]] The last thing Constantine’s Sword wants, apparently, is any evidence that evangelical Christianity might actually be a positive force in this world, transforming people’s lives and elevating our culture.
But the film stoops to its lowest level by launching a disingenuous attack upon Pope Benedict: “Months after associating Islam with ‘things only evil and inhuman’ Benedict XVI reversed reforms of Vatican II to authorize a Good Friday Mass that includes a previous disavowed prayer—for the conversion of Jews.” What Benedict actually did, at his now-famous Regensburg address, was quote (not endorse) a fourteenth-century emperor, in order to highlight the relationship between faith and reason—a bold move that has ultimately resulted in an unprecedented level of Catholic-Muslim dialogue.[[<114>In expanding use of the traditional Latin Mass, Pope Benedict wrote, contrary to what some believe, “this Missal was never juridically abrogated and consequently, in principle, always permitted.” (Letter of Pope Benedict to the Bishops of the World to Present the ‘Motu Proprio’ on the Use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reforms of 1970.” (July 7, 2007) This letter accompanied the pope’s Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum.]] Moreover, there is no such thing as a “Good Friday Mass.” On Good Friday, the day Christ died, Catholics have a service but they do not celebrate Mass—something every priest, even a disgruntled resigned one like Carroll, should know. The traditional Latin Mass, recently expanded by Pope Benedict, was celebrated by Carroll’s favorite pope, John XXIII, at the beginning of Vatican II—and was never abrogated by the Council, as the pope made clear in his recent motu proprio.[[<115>See “Pope Reformulates Tridentine Rite’s Prayer for Jews,” by John Thavis, Catholic News Service, February 6, 2008.]] The old Rite’s Good Friday liturgy does indeed carry a prayer for Jews, but its language has been revised by Benedict, precisely to avoid unnecessary offense;[[<116>For an explanation and defense of the Catholic concept of Evangelization, see “Covenant and Mission,” by Avery Dulles, America magazine, October 21, 2002.]] and were the Church to formally “disavow” evangelization, it would betray its very mission.[[<117>See “Catholics Have a Right to Pray for Us,” by Jacob Neusner, The Forward, February 28, 2008.]] Rabbi Jacob Neusner, among others, has strongly defended Pope Benedict, pointing out that observant Jews, too, pray for those outside their faith, and have been doing so for many years.[[<118>See “In Another Historic Act, Pope Benedict Visits a Manhattan Synagogue,” by Paul Vitello, New York Times, April 19, 2008.]] As recently demonstrated by his visit to an America synagogue, Pope Benedict’s outreach to Jews is a central feature of his pontificate.[[<119>“The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas,” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, L’Osservatore Romano, December 29, 2000.]] He has written extensively on the subject and once published an essay, “The Heritage of Abraham,” that is among the most beautiful Catholic tributes ever penned to Judaism.[[<120>In his autobiography, Carroll admits that by the time he left the priesthood to get married, “I was, by the lights of the Roman Catholic Church, an excommunicant,” even as he received a formal dispensation “less than two months later.” (An American Requiem, op. cit., p. 260). In a recent profile of Carroll in Salon.com, Andrew O’Hehir wrote that, even though he has left the priesthood, and is frequently criticized by “defenders of the faith,” Carroll “is still a Catholic, still a communicant and still a weekly Mass attendee.” (“The Pope, the Jews and Repentence,” by Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com, April 18, 2008). But Carroll’s conception of the Catholic Church and its teachings is quite different from that of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Back in 1989, as the Soviet empire was coming apart, Carroll lamented: “For many Catholics, the effect of John Paul’s papacy has been profoundly—and often literally—demoralizing. Should the Communist rulers of Rumania ever be deposed, the Pope may be left as the last absolute authority in Europe.” He went on to call for “restructuring the government of Catholicism itself, so that authority is shared, not only among clergy, but among all people.” (“Catholicism with a Human Face,” New York Times, December 1, 1989). More recently he spoke of the Church as “an institution in serious transition....I think that Pope Benedict is the last of the old order, not the beginning of something new.” (Quoted in “Film Revisits Catholic anti-Semitism,” by Ben Harris, Jewish Telegraph Agency, April 15, 2008). This sounds like wishful thinking. Even secular outlets have noted the revival of orthodoxy under JP II and Benedict, pointing to a more traditionalist future for the Church: See “Priests of the 60’s Fear Loss of Their Legacy,” by Diana Jean Schemo, New York Times, September 10, 2000; and “Is Liberal Catholicism Dead?” by David van Biema, Time, May 3, 2008.]] Any suggestion that he has turned his back on the Jewish community is not only wrong; it is inexcusable.
Carroll claims still to be a Catholic, of sorts, but his faith is of a kind that no traditional Catholic would recognize, as it eviscerates orthodoxy and abandons Christian hope and fortitude.(121) He sums up his newfound religion in wholly negative terms: “Once, I focused on the good the Church could do. Now, my faith hangs on facing directly the worst.” Equally depressing is the opening scene of Constantine’s Sword, yet it is a scene which is unintentionally revealing, about both Carroll and this film.
“I used to be a Roman Catholic priest,” he says somberly. “That was a long time ago. Now I’m married and father of two grown kids, and I make my living as a writer and journalist. . . . I cover a lot of stories. But there is one that haunts me, probably because it hits so close to home. It’s the things people are doing in the name of God.”
After watching Carroll’s wholesale abuse of history and Christianity in this appalling documentary, one feels compelled to agree.
William Doino Jr. writes for Inside the Vatican and published an 80,000-word annotated bibliography on Pius XII in The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (Lexington Books, 2004).