By John Martin
It’s an oft-repeated claim that the wartime Pope Pius XII was “silent” about the Holocaust. The BBC, challenged by a British peer about reporting on such a claim, conducted an internal inquiry and conceded that its coverage on the matter was untrue and unfair.
During the visit of Pope Francis to Auschwitz in July 2016, a BBC news bulletin said, “Silence was the response of the Catholic Church when Nazi Germany demonized Jewish people and then attempted to eradicate Jews from Europe.”
This report led to an official complaint by Catholic peer Lord Alton of Liverpool and the Rev. Leo Chamberlain, an ex-headmaster of the Ampleforth College.
Almost six months on, the BBC editorial complaints unit has conceded that the news comment was unfair. It said its reporter “did not give due weight to public statements by successive popes or the efforts made on the instructions of Pius XII to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution, and perpetuated a view which is at odds with the balance of evidence.”
Pope Pius XII has often been accused of silence about the Holocaust, not least by John Cornwell, who published Hitler’s Pope in 1999. Cornwell has since backed down on some his book’s claims.
For his part, Lord Alton pointed out in a weblog post that several historians praised the pontiff’s actions, quoting the Jewish historian and diplomat Pinchas Lapide as saying that Pius XII “was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.” Lapide said the Vatican’s network helped Jews travel safely out of Eastern Europe, issuing baptismal certificates to Hungarian Jews to help them leave Nazi-occupied regions. The Vatican became a shelter for some.
Lord Alton said after the ruling: “The BBC is right to recognize that the libel that Catholics said and did nothing against Nazism is precisely that, a collective libel.” The notion that the Church was silent was “a canard that is either repeated through sheer ignorance or because the facts don’t fit the story.”
Alton added it was an “irony” that part of the BBC report was filmed from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s cell at Auschwitz. Kolbe died having taken the place of another prisoner. He was arrested for denouncing the Nazis in his magazine Knight, which had a circulation of a million. “Hardly silence, then.”
Alton has called for a new BBC documentary that weighs the evidence and corrects the “lazily regurgitated half-truths and untruths.”
Pemberton Loses Appeal
The Rev. Canon Jeremy Pemberton, a gay clergyman, has lost his appeal against an employment tribunal ruling. Pemberton, who married his male partner and was stopped from being licensed to a new post as a hospital chaplain in Nottingham, claimed the Church of England’s stance on same-sex marriage violated equality laws.
Judge Jennifer Eady, QC, dismissed his case on every ground but gave Pemberton leave to take his case to the U.K. Court of Appeal. Pemberton is reported to have resigned his current post as a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of Lincoln. It is not clear if he has relinquished holy orders.
Welby Praises Cultural Memory
Opening a debate in the House of Lords on Dec. 2, Archbishop Justin Welby said the government defines fundamental British values as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” None of these, he said, contain the “deep magic” necessary for human flourishing.
They have become, he said, “increasingly disconnected from our historical narratives” and are “not properly embedded in the heritage of our country.” The parable of the good Samaritan is a reminder that British values emerged “not from a vacuum but from the resilient and eternal structures of our religious, theological, philosophical, and ethical heritage.”
He said the government’s version of British values is “not grounded in an understanding of how we came to be who we are. They will remain an insubstantial vision with which to carry the weight of the challenges of the 21st century.”
He said times of change in mood and culture demand “a reimagining of what we are about as a nation. As we move into a post-Brexit world, alongside the other events that buffet and deflect us, unless we ground ourselves in a clear course and widely accepted practices, loyalties and values (what I will call values in this speech), we will just go with the wind.”
He contended that “democracy is not in and of itself the final answer to things; nor is the rule of law. Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu did not accept the final authority of the rule of law when the law was unjust. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not accept the final authority of the rule of law — democratically passed in a democratically elected assembly — over issues of German Jewish citizens when the law was manifestly evil.
“We live in easier and happier times. But there is still debate over freedom of speech, and an increasingly anxious approach to tolerance. Alongside the nation’s seasonal debate about the true meaning of Christmas, we have seen questions return about the boundaries of free speech for Christians and those of other or no faith.”
He said his predecessor, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and before him Archbishop Temple, both lamented a “decline of intermediate institutions in the face of an over-mighty state and of rampant individualism. Intermediate groups are where we build social capital, integrate, learn loyalties, practices and values, learn to disagree well — to build hope and resilience. The most fundamental intermediate institution is the family: the base community of society.
“In short, we need a more beautiful and better common narrative that shapes and inspires us with a common purpose; a vaulting national ambition, not a sense of division and antagonism, both domestically and internationally. We need a narrative that speaks to the world of bright hope and not mere optimism.”