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In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine , Peter Beinart continued his musings about the Democratic Party that once was and may be again. Lifted up were the figures of George Kennan and Reinhold Niebuhr who, says Beinart, represented a kind of moral realism, or even just plain morality, that the post-McGovern Democrats have long since jettisoned. Ross Douthat, over on The American Scene , is not persuaded. For instance, he writes:

As for Niebuhr, what would the man who once attacked Nelson Rockefeller for getting a divorce make of contemporary liberalism’s devotion to consenting-adults libertinism in all its variations? Maybe he would have reluctantly gone along with the program—but there’s a reason that so many culturally-conservative anti-communists made the neoconservative turn in the 1970s and ’80s. And whatever the weaknesses of the contemporary GOP, I’m not sure that even a Beinartized Democratic Party would have a real place at its table for many of the figures who once made political liberalism the dominant ideology of American life. The pining for Niebuhr, in particular, is one of the defining nostalgias of contemporary liberalism. But Niebuhresque figures are still with us—it’s just that they either became agnostics, or they became conservatives.

Ronald Rychlak is among those in the forefront of swatting off in scholarly fashion the persistent defamations of Pope Pius XII. Indispensable to an informed view on these matters are Rychlak’s writings in First Things and his books, Righteous Gentiles and Hitler, the War, and the Pope . But those who defame Pius and are determined to prevent his canonization are relentless. They even try to enlist Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) in their cause.

Herewith a recent e-mail from Prof. Rychlak:

Roncalli’s published diary is very slim when it comes to the war era. This is a section from Righteous Gentiles . The portions in brackets are from the footnotes:

In his book Constantine’s Sword , James Carroll shows an unreasonable eagerness to accept and readily advance a supposed deathbed condemnation of Pius XII by Pope John XXIII. [The origin of this story seems to be in the following statement: "There is finally the report that in the months preceding his death he was given Hochhuth’s play The Deputy to read and then was asked what one could do against it. Whereupon he allegedly replied: ‘Do against it? What can you do against the truth?’" Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times 63 (Harcourt Brace: New York, 1968).]

No eyewitness has ever come forward to support that story. "The Postulator of John XXIII’s Cause for Canonization, Fr. Luca De Rosa, OFM, states that the story is ‘absolutely untrue.’ He adds that Pope John was, in fact, ‘full of admiration and devotion’ for Pius XII." [Felicity O’Brien, Letter to the Editor, The Catholic Times [Manchester, England], July 20, 1997.]

Archbishop Loris Capovilla, formerly private secretary to Pope John, also categorically denies that Pope John ever said any such thing, calling it "a lie." [Private correspondence from Loris Francesco Capovilla to the relator of Pius XII’s sainthood cause, dated May 18, 2002.

With regard to the actions in favor of the Jews, affected particularly in Istanbul in the years 1935-1944, which was recognized and praised by Hebrew communities in Jerusalem, Istanbul, and the United States, it is obligatory to recognize that Roncalli was and declared himself the executor of the thought and the directives of Pius XII. He repeated, in fact: "The papal representative is the eye, the ear, the mouth, the heart and the effective hand of the Pope."

Capovilla continued that Roncalli’s rescue efforts on behalf of Jews make sense "only if they are referred above everything else to Pius XII, of whom Roncalli was the careful and most faithful interpreter. Any strictly personal action, even though it be heroic, of Roncalli himself, would otherwise be inconceivable." Id.]

Throughout his life, John praised Pius. Before he was made pope, John was offered thanks for his wartime efforts to save Jewish refugees. He replied: "In all these painful matters I have referred to the Holy See and simply carried out [Pius XII’s] orders: first and foremost to save human lives." [In Hitler, the War, and the Pope , I reported that John said the Pope’s order was "first and foremost to save Jewish lives." I gave the quote the way it was reported in O’Carroll at 20, and I cited O’Carroll. O’Carroll cited Pinchas Lapide for his authority, but Lapide says " human lives." After this was brought to my attention, I contacted O’Carroll through a friend. He stands by the accuracy of his quote, saying that in context there is no difference in the two terms. He also says that his information came not only from Lapide, but also from Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Israel. O’Carroll reports that Herzog was close to Pius XII and heard him give orders to save Jewish lives.

O’Carroll has a point about the context of the quote, but frankly, I think it more appropriate for the Pope to have said "human lives" without distinction. A Pope should not give priority to a particular group of people in need. Certainly an order "first and foremost" to save "human lives" encompasses saving Jews. So, I think the "human lives" quote actually speaks better for Pope Pius XII than does the quotation that I originally used.]

When Pius died, the future John XXIII said that he had been like a "public fountain" pouring forth good waters at which all the world, great and lowly, could profitably drink. [McGurn at 88. "In the autumn of 1958 the world showed little doubt that one of its great ones had departed, and none showed less doubt than Angelo Roncalli (the future John XXIII)." Purdy at 7.]

John’s staff had a photograph of Pius published with a prayer on the back asking for his canonization as a saint. The prayer called Pius "a fearless defender of the Faith, a courageous struggler for justice and peace . . . a shining model of charity and of every virtue." [Id. at 99.]

A million of these prayer cards were soon in circulation, and John XXIII (who prayed monthly before the tomb of Pius XII) said in an audience that surely one day Pius would be raised to the catholic altars. John even considered taking the name "Pius XIII," and one of the first things that he did upon becoming Pope was to have a photo of Pius XII put on his desk. [McGurn at 36, 39.]

In his first Christmas broadcast to the world after his election, John paid the high honor of saying that Pius XII’s doctrinal and pastoral teaching "assure a place in posterity for the name of Pius XII. Even apart from any official declaration, which would be premature, the triple title of ‘Most excellent Doctor, Light of Holy Church, Lover of the divine law’ evokes the sacred memory of this pontiff in whom our times were blessed indeed." [ Discorsi I, 101. It should be noted that only a saint can be declared a Doctor of the Church. See Days of Devotion at 12 ("Pope John’s programme and its concern for the modern world naturally enough found much of its inspiration in Pope John’s predecessor under whom he served for 19 years, and from whom came much of the intellectual foundation on which the Council is built. No one was more generous in acknowledging this debt than Pope John himself.")]

Here’s an item I’ve been meaning to mention. According to Religion News Service, Chicago Theological Seminary president Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ clergyperson, recently told Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advisory Board that abortion restrictions indicate that America has “lost its soul.” The Rev. Thistlethwaite suggests the abortion issue is inherently theological, coming down to one’s view of “ensoulment,” when the soul is imparted to the human body. Pro-life Christians see this “ensoulment” at conception; she sees it at birth. Therefore, according to Thistlethwaite, the state should guarantee abortion rights so as not to interfere in what is essentially a theological dispute. “Ensoulment is a lifelong project but individuals and nations can not only gain their souls but lose it,” said Thistlethwaite. “The U.S. no longer knows what it is or what it stands for.”

The implication would seem to be that America—along with babies who have not achieved ensoulment and adults who have lost their ensoulment—should be aborted, with the refusal to abort being the sure sign of soul loss. Or something like that. I see that the motto of Chicago Theological Seminary is “Preparing Religious Leaders to Question, Teach, Transform.” And thus, presumably, to achieve ensoulment. You have a question about that? Take it elsewhere.

In addition to which :

Many contemporary church buildings, Catholic and Protestant, are really auditoriums designed for entertainment and the celebration of our amazing selves. It has not always been so, and a change for the better does not necessarily mean going back to whatever “traditional” design one may prefer. These are the questions engaged in a lively article by architectural critic Catesby Leigh in “Sacred Spaces and Other Places.” It is among the scintillating articles in the May issue of First Things . Isn’t it time for you to subscribe to First Things ?

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