John Connelly on Catholic Racism and Nostra Aetate

Some of you will have read John Connelly'ssuperb piece(password necessary) on theologian Karl Adam in the Jan. 18 issue. Connelly emphasizes that Adam at once believed in an anti-Semitic racialism, and even spoke favorably of Hitler as a promoter of "blood unity," while at the same time emerging as one of the leading "progressive" theologians in the period before Vatican II. (Interestingly, and by contrast, our own Joseph Komonchak has written on how the "progressive" French theologians of the 1950s and 1960s tilted toward opposition to Vichy and early awareness of the poisonous effects of anti-Semitism.)For a taste of Connelly's ongoing work on the origins of Nostra Aetate, admidst the maelstrom of Vienna in the 1930s, look at his "Catholic Racism and Its Opponents" in the current Journal of Modern History. It's a terrific article, with interesting analogies to the Catholic experience of racism and racialist thought in the United States. One of the concluding paragraphs:"What lessons can one draw from this story of Catholic racism? The first pertains to the Church itself.Despite its social and institutional coherence, there was no such thing as 'the Church': bishops, clergy, and politically engaged Catholics spoke with many voices. Scholars who focus on Vatican pronouncements of universalism would conclude that if any question was settled in the 1930s, it was the race question. In fact, the institutional Church left huge spaces for debate about how to discern divine will in history, whether through nation, race or other categories. And Catholics speculated with passion, especially in Central Europe."

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

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