In his thoughtful essay on Pius XII (“Humanity’s Conscience?” February 24), John Connelly writes that I belong to the group of historians who allege that Pacelli, through his silence, aided Hitler and the Nazis. In fact, my thesis, and the significance of my book’s title, Hitler’s Pope, has a different impetus. My main contention is that as secretary of state under Pius XI, Pacelli negotiated in 1933 a treaty known as the Reichskonkordat, which unintentionally aided Hitler’s project at an early stage before the Nazi police state was established. The treaty exchanged Catholic withdrawal from social and political action for protection of Catholic practice and education, which was not honored. It further acknowledged that the Catholic Center Party would disband itself after voting for the Enabling Act that gave Hitler his dictatorship. There is a sound, well-documented, historiographical trend, led by the late Klaus Scholder, which argues that the treaty demoralized Catholic opposition, scandalized Catholic youth, and gave Hitler credit in the eyes of the world. Hitler himself noted at a cabinet meeting after its signing that the concordat would assist the regime in its plans for solving the Jewish question.

I note in my book that, by contrast, Pius IX combatted Bismarck’s persecution of the Catholic Church—the Kulturkampf—by releasing German Catholics from obedience to the state. I also note that the future John Paul II, as cardinal archbishop of Krakow, despite the frequent urging of Paul VI, refused to negotiate a concordat with Moscow. It may be assumed that he learned the lessons of Pacelli. As for Pius XII’s silence during the war, I have frequently acknowledged that he had little scope for action, the Vatican being dependent entirely for all its services on the fascist regime, then the Nazi one. People are often shocked at the title Hitler’s Pope, suspecting that I accuse him of Nazi sympathies. There were a handful of Nazi prelates, but they were largely derided. Pacelli was certainly not one of them. Pacelli’s initiatives created something much worse than being a Hitler sympathizer. No matter how many lives of Jews he may have saved, and however many words of sympathy he may have expressed for them, he had already aided Hitler’s plans—not through malign intention but through unwise diplomacy. One expresses this somber opinion in the hope that the church may avoid the mistakes of the past rather than to “smear” a pope who reigned during a period of extraordinary crisis, and who was so evidently a man of prayer.

John Cornwell
Jesus College, Cambridge University


If the tension between Professor Cornwell’s book’s title and its content is so great, then he should consider a new title for future editions. This would be a service in the struggle against fake news, or more accurately, fake history. The possessive case signals ownership yet the book provides no evidence that Hitler “owned” the pope.

The book also does not document the claim that Paul VI wanted a Polish archbishop to negotiate a concordat with Moscow. The Polish episcopate under Cardinal Stefan Wyszyn’ski—whom John Paul II admired—did reach a modus vivendi with the Communist regime in April 1950, agreeing to inculcate respect among the faithful for the state and its policies in return for maintaining a Catholic presence in the press, state schools, hospitals, and the military chaplaincy. In part, they succeeded. The Catholic University in Lublin was reduced but survived, and priests and nuns continued to teach catechism in some state schools. Yet the church also suffered severe harassment, including show trials of priests, and when Wyszyn’ski condemned the abuses publicly before thousands of worshipers in 1953, he was placed under arrest for three years.

Pius XII was mortified at the news of Wyszyn’ski’s treatment by the Communists, but historians tend to credit Poland’s primate for exhausting the possibilities for protecting the church. To my knowledge no one has called him “Stalin’s Cardinal.” In evil times one deals with evil institutions; or as Wyszyn’ski wrote in his prison notes: “experience shows that the church never said ‘no’ when it was possible to achieve peace and reconciliation.” His examples were France, Mexico, and Spain…and Bismarck’s Germany.

John Connelly


What a dark view of the history of the Catholic University of America its current president has expressed (“What Makes a University Catholic?” February 10). And how peculiar to predicate his restoration project on a document designed to quell the still-rumbling earthquake from the Second Vatican Council. If President Garvey wanted guidance from the past, he might have studied the university’s founders, Gibbons or Spalding, or read their mid-twentieth century successors, George Higgins, Fred McManus, or John Tracy Ellis. If he wants to move the university into the twenty-first-century, he needs to look beyond Ex corde ecclesia and his definition of fidelity to hire and support faculty who can address wisely issues raised in environmental engineering, astrophysics, genome editing biology, and neuroscience.

James Youniss
Professor of Psychology, Emeritus
The Catholic University of America


Thanks to Peter Steinfels for his sensitive piece on Michael Novak (“A Turn That Went A Long Way,” March 24). Michael and I were both doctoral students in religion at Harvard and good friends. We enjoyed a lively extracurricular Catholic-Protestant dialogue group that also included future Commonweal editor Dan Callahan.

A real blow for Michael was that he did not pass the general exams for his PhD, which came as a huge surprise to his cohort. This is something that is understandably not mentioned about Mike, but I think it influenced his thinking a lot.

Michael and I served together on the editorial board of Christianity and Crisis (founded by Reinhold Niebuhr and John Bennett). He was, I think, the only Catholic. And I remember that Mike shocked everyone by appearing at one board meeting—during his countercultural phase—wearing beads. John Bennett shook his head in disbelief.

Michael and I also were on a peace delegation in 1968 that visited American “deserters” in Paris and Stockholm (members of the U.S. armed forces who left in protest of Vietnam).

When Mike suddenly made his sharp turn to the right (really sharp), we more or less lost touch. But he occasionally mentioned me in his writing, always cordially and fairly, even though we were on distinctly opposite sides. I devote a couple of pages to his theological defense of capitalism in my new book The Market as God.

Mike posed a question for me that many of us face: What do we do when personal friendships are torn by serious political differences?

I kept thinking I would like to have a long talk with Mike over a couple drinks, and see if we could sort things out. Now that will not be possible.

Harvey Cox
Professor Emeritus of Divinity
Harvard Divinity School


I remember Michael Novak as a really sweet and always thoughtful friend. When Peter Steinfels suggests that Michael’s radical period was an aberration from a more conservative beginning and ending, it prompted me to wonder about Michael’s good friend—and friend of mine—Dick Neuhaus (I guess I should say Richard John, but that is not the way I knew him), whose radical period could be judged an aberration in the same way. As for the third member of the Christian trinity of that period who went from left to right, Peter Berger, I never accepted his place in that group. Peter was, as far as I could figure out, always a conservative.

Richard Fernandez
Philadelphia, Pa.


It’s rare that we get treated to significant “hermeneutical principles” in a magazine article. But Luke Timothy Johnson, whose writing and good sense I have long admired, provides a solid stunner that should be heeded by teachers and preachers in all the churches (“The Church and Transgender Identity,” March 10). To wit: “Theologians need to read Scripture within a complex conversation that includes the voices of tradition alongside the witness offered in the contemporary world by human experience and reason.”

As an application of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum, para. 8) on how “the tradition that comes from the apostles develops,” Johnson is able to argue that we must let “experience and reason guide our reading of Scripture” to realize that “gender is properly neither a moral nor a religious category” but a “biological and social category, rooted partly in physical facts and partly in social construction. It is therefore a relative rather than an absolute good.”

Armed with this insight, we can hope that Catholics, at least, can confront the challenge of trans people more calmly and sensibly than has been the case among those social conservatives quick to castigate society for trashing earlier “moral” norms. Let’s avoid making a human issue yet another partisan grudge match.

Paul E. Dinter, PhD
Ossining, NY

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Published in the April 14, 2017 issue: View Contents
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