Frank J. Coppa
In 1938, Pope Pius XI quietly commissioned the drafting of an encyclical by an American Jesuit, John La Farge, author of “Interracial Justice”. The Pope had spoken out several times on the terrible moral evils of these times: exaggerated nationalism, racism and violations of human rights. He was incensed by anti-Semitism. He was encouraged by the German bishops and even begged by Dr. Edith Stein to issue an encyclical. Others within the Vatican urged a more diplomatic course. The Pope died in 1939 with a draft of the encyclical on his desk. The encyclical was never released by the Vatican. Dr. Coppa explores the position of this Pope on anti-Semitism and human rights and seeks to bring Pius XI's long hidden “encyclical” to public attention.
A bibliographical essay by Dr. Coppa, entitled, “The Hidden Encyclical Against Racism and Anti-Semitism Uncovered Once Again!” appeared in the January 1998 issue of “The Catholic Historical Review”. The author compares the policies of Pius XI and Pius XII in the essay, “Pope Pius XI's ‘Encyclical,' Humani Generis Unitas Against Racism and Anti-Semitism' and the ‘Silence' of Pope Pius XII,” which is scheduled to appear in the autumn 1998 issue of the “Journal of Church and State”.
In 1936, following three years of racial and Anti-Semitic policies, Adolf Hitler brushed aside the criticism of German Churchmen who deplored his mistreatment of the Jews. “Why do you complain?” he asked, answering, “I am only following through on what you have taught for centuries.” 1 Actually, the Nazi leader and racialists in the party ardently and loudly preached the difference between the long-standing Christian anti-Judaism, and their own virulent and racist anti-Semitism. As early as 1919 while spawning his program of hate, Hitler had warned that “Anti-Semitism as a political movement” had perforce to be based on the fact “that Judaism is a matter of race and not of religion.” 2 Once in power he continued to emphasize this distinction, but from time to time found it convenient to blur the difference. Such attempts to implicate Christianity and the Church in his persecution of the Jews were vehemently and publicly rejected by Pope Pius XI, who agreed with those German bishops who warned that Nazi racism was in conflict with Catholic teaching.3
In June 1938, the eighty-one year old Achille Ratti, who had served as Pope Pius XI since 1922*, exasperated by the “exaggerated nationalism,” racism and violation of human rights of Nazi Germany, secretly commissioned an encyclical condemning these moral evils. Quickly drawn up by three Jesuit priests, and translated into Latin by another, it was presented to Vladimir Ledochowski, the General of their Order at the end of September 1938. 4 Pius XI died the evening of 9-10 February 1939. The draft of the encyclical denouncing racism, together with the address Pius XI planned to present to the Italian bishops on 11 February, the tenth anniversary of the Lateran Accords, were found on the desk of the deceased Pope. 5 Did the condemnations of racism and anti-Semitism in Humani Generis Unitas reflect the thought of Pius XI? Why was this crucial document shelved? Finally published,6 though not as an official papal document, this long-hidden “encyclical” serves as a prism which sheds light on the broader position and public posture of Pius XI on anti-Semitism and human rights, the focus of the present essay. A second, though not a secondary aim, of this essay is to bring Pius XI's long-hidden “encyclical” to public attention.
Although the Vatican Archives remain closed for the period following the Pontificate of Benedict XV (1914-1922), the Holy See has selectively published some of the documents relating to the Second World War.7 Surprisingly, the projected encyclical was not included in these published volumes.8 Furthermore, the Vatican file on this “encyclical,” whose existence Father Robert Graham, S.J. personally confirmed to me during the course of a symposium on “Vatican Diplomacy,” 9 remains inaccessible. Likewise closed is the correspondence between Fathers Ledochowski, S.J. and Gustav Gundlach, S.J., who along with La Farge was one of the chief authors of the projected encyclical.10 However, the other encyclicals and discourses of Pius XI (1922-1939) have been published. The acts of the Holy See appear in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.11 The newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the daily authoritative voice of the Holy See, is available for this period as well as the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, which enjoyed a close though autonomous relationship with the Holy See. Finally, the surfacing and private publication of the anti-racist “hidden encyclical” which Pius XI commissioned, but did not live to publish, sheds additional light on Pius XI's response to racism and the persecution of the Jews.12
Achille Ratti, the Archbishop of Milan who became Pope in 1922, and who followed the Roman adage that “governments pass away, documents stay,” preferred concordats negotiated by the Vatican to concessions attained by political parties. Ratti was “impulsive and irascible,” quick to anger and ready to respond to provocation without necessarily weighing all the consequences, at once volatile and confrontational.13 It was Pius XI, a student of Hebrew, who was responsible for the three major encyclicals launched against the totalitarian regimes which threatened Christianity: Non abbiamo bisogno of 1931 against the abuses of Fascist Italy, Mit brennender sorge of 1937 against those of Nazi Germany, and Divini redemptoris likewise of 1937, against the evils of atheistic communism.14 Under his leadership the Vatican and Civiltà Cattolica questioned the integral nationalism of the Action Francaise, which rejected the Christian emphasis on the religious over the political.15 Pius XI was likewise disappointed by the language of the Anti-Semitic Reverend Coughlin, in the United States. During the course of 1938, eight months before his death and fifteen months before the outbreak of World War II, Pope Pius XI, who had emerged as a powerful moral voice against Nazism, commissioned a fourth encyclical which was to denounce racism and the persecution of the Jews, while issuing an explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism.16
Pius XI was not only the “Pope of Concordats” but also the “Pope of Catholic Action” (lay organizations under Episcopal control) and, by means of the former, sought to protect and assure the security of the latter. Thus he assumed a combative stance when the totalitarian states did not abide by their commitments. From the first, he denounced racism. In September, the Pope emphasized that “Christian charity extends to all men whatsoever without distinction of race....” 17 At the end of the year, the Holy See pleaded on behalf of the persecuted and neglected Armenians.18 In 1923 he urged the faithful to pray for those who had suffered and died during the war, regardless of nationality, class, or party. 19 In 1926 Pius XI did not hesitate to condemn Charles Maurras' allegedly Catholic, royalist, racist, and reactionary Action Française, which made a mockery of Christian teaching and was hardly distinguishable from fascism.20
Pius XI negotiated with the Italian Fascists and in February 1929, after three years of difficult talks, concluded an agreement with Mussolini's Italy.21 The Pope was delighted that God had been restored to Italy, and Italy returned to God.22 However, the agreement did not eliminate all tension between Fascism and the Church, and the Vatican resented the Duce's attempt to separate the concordat from the treaty. This interpretation was resisted by Cardinal Gasparri, the papal secretary of state.23 At the same time, the Vatican contested the bellicose emphasis in Fascist education, asserting that the state must not train its youth to be warriors.24 Shortly thereafter, on December 31, 1929, the Pope issued the encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, On the Christian Education of Youth.25 Relations between Mussolini's Italy and the Vatican were often strained.26 The Pope was especially sensitive to Fascist infringement on Catholic Action groups. This led to his encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno of June 1931, denouncing Fascist attempts to dominate all organizations. Pius XI was not prepared to forfeit the younger generation to the regime.27
This Pope was also dismayed by developments across the Atlantic where the anti-Semitic radio priest Reverend Charles Coughlin found a wide audience in the United States. As early as 1930 the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Pietro Fumasoni-Biondi, attempted to curb the unruly cleric, but found that he was protected by his superior, Bishop Michael Gallagher of Detroit. In 1935 Fumasoni-Biondi's successor as Apostolic Delegate, Amleto Cicognani, proved no more successful in moderating the tone and message of the radio priest. The Vatican likewise failed to have the American bishops issue some statement distancing the hierarchy from him. When the American bishops refused to do so, papal authority was invoked. In September 1936 the Osservatore Romano denied Coughlin's claim that he had the approval of the Holy See. Furthermore, it was widely believed that the refusal to make Detroit into an archdiocese and the selection of Edward Mooney as Gallagher's successor as Bishop of Detroit, reflected Pius XI's dissatisfaction with Gallagher's refusal to “silence” Coughlin.28
During the pontificate of Pius XI the Vatican proved even less receptive to the program of the Nazis in Germany. As early as 1928 Pius XI had condemned anti-Semitism, when the Holy Office with his approval, suppressed the Friends of Israel.29 The decree of suppression contains one of the most explicit condemnations of anti-Semitism.30 In Germany the Bishop of Mainz charged that the Nazis wished to establish a new trinity of blood, people, and state, alerting Catholics they could not belong to such a party. Six bishops of the Cologne church province in March 1931 deemed the errors of National Socialism similar to those of the Action Française condemned by Pius XI, while the three bishops of the Paderborn province ruled that membership in the Party was impermissible for Catholics.31 Civiltà Cattolica, loyal to the Pope, warned the faithful of Nazi as well as Soviet subversion.32 Hitler, appreciating the influence of the Catholic Church, sent Hermann Goering to Rome in May 1931, but Pius XI did not receive him.
The Vatican under Pius XI had serious reservations about the Nazi movement, so ecclesiastical circles received the news of Hitler's appointment on 30 January 1933 with considerable misgiving. With customary caution the Vatican avoided any public statement.33 In mid-March 1933, it simply took note of the fact that the Fuehrer had assumed police powers following his electoral victory. 34 The Catholic Center Party voted with the majority in the Reichstag in providing the two-thirds vote necessary to pass the Enabling Act, which made the dictatorship possible. The Nazis, rather than Rome, assumed the initiative in proposing an agreement between Church and State. Hitler hoped to bind the Church to the Reich.35 In the Spring of 1933, Franz von Papen, vice-chancellor and prominent Catholic politician, visited Rome and suggested the Accord.36 Pius XI was not enthusiastic.
The Vatican reconsidered its position following Nazi harassment of the organizational church.37 Scandalized by the regime's dismantling of Catholic unions, Civiltà Cattolica branded the Nazi system “totalitarianism in action.” 38 Pius XI, determined to preserve Catholic youth organizations in Germany, which by 1933 had a million and a half members, and to assure the faithful religious and educational freedom, sanctioned negotiations for a concordat.39 Some charged that the Vatican, lured by the prospect of guarantees for its schools and other institutions, secured the concordat by sacrificing the Center Party, which had fought the Kulturkampf. In fact, Pius XI did not believe that Catholic political action anywhere should serve as the primary means of defending church interests. On the contrary, he believed that political Catholicism undermined the Church's influence with the faithful. Furthermore, it was clear from the beginning of July that Hitler did not need the concordat to remove the clergy from politics.40
Ratification of the concordat in September 1933 did not imply that the Vatican sympathized with Hitler's regime.41 Father Enrico Rossi, S.J., director of the principal review of the Jesuits from 1905 to 1931, and a member of its editorial board thereafter, in the columns of Civiltà Cattolica emphatically denied that the accord legitimized or approved of the Nazi government.42 On the contrary, the Papal Secretary of State confessed to the English charge that the Holy See deplored the anti-Semitism of the German government, its violations of human rights, and the virtual reign of terror it had imposed upon the nation. The Vatican agreed to the accord because it appeared the sole means of preventing the destruction of the Catholic Church and its lay organizations in Germany. 43
The Pope was outraged that the Berlin government almost immediately violated both the letter and the spirit of the agreement, and complained that affairs in the Reich caused him the greatest consternation.44 He rejected the Nazi contention that the Jewish question was an internal racial issue rather than a religious one.45 Like La Farge, who had established himself as an authority on race, the Pope deemed racism immoral and sinful.46 Antagonized by the neo-paganism of the regime, Pius promised a group of visiting German students that he would do all within his means to defend their Catholic faith.47 It is a theme which John Paul II has followed, terming anti-Semitism “totally unjustifiable and absolutely condemnable,” as well as a pagan refutation of the essence of Christian doctrine.48 Pius XI perceived Nazism as a new form of idolatry, from which sprang a series of crimes.49 Among other things, this Pope deplored the Reich's sterilization law, which directly opposed the doctrines expressed by his encyclical on Christian Marriage in 1930.50 Contemporaries were convinced that the Church of Pius XI was the sole institution effectively championing human rights while resisting the Nazification of Germany. 51
The persecution of the Church in Germany continued throughout most of 1934, and in October the Pope received the German ambassador, Diego von Bergen, to whom he complained of developments in the Reich. Pius XI was particularly disturbed by the Nazi attempts on Catholic youth organizations. On this issue, as on others, the Pope proved unwilling to compromise.52 Bergen warned his government that without some moderating influence, the prospect increased that “the Pope will take disastrous decisions.” 53 His analysis proved accurate. Pius XI, who had misgivings about concluding the concordat with Nazi Germany in the first place,54 considered renouncing it, but was restrained by his Secretary of State since 1930, Pacelli, who feared this would aggravate the position of millions of German Catholics. However, when the Fuehrer asked Alfred Rosenberg, author of the anti-Christian and racist Myth of the Twentieth Century, to provide philosophical instruction for Party members, the Vatican responded by placing his book on the Index librorum prohibitorum. The inclusion of Ernst Bergmann's German National Church on the Index revealed that Rome sought not only to denounce one man's work but all racist religious thought.55
Pius XI's opposition to the Nazi doctrine of blood and race was reflected in the critical articles which appeared in Osservatore Romano and Civiltà Cattolica. One of the few articles in Civiltà Cattolica, which focused directly on the Jewish question, claimed that the Church had always opposed persecution.56 Meanwhile, L'Osservatore warned that a new Kulturkampf was not a future prospect but a present reality. 57 This sentiment was echoed by the German Bishops, who met at Fulda in 1936, and issued a pastoral reaffirming the Church's hostility to neo-paganism and sterilization.58 Father Rosa charged that while Hitler condemned Stalin's Russia, Nazism elaborated a theory of racism in conflict with the faith. Rosa complained that by developing an immoral racist ideology, Nazism was in fundamental conflict with the doctrines of the Church.59
The triumph of Nazism in Germany and the elaboration of its anticlerical and anti-Semitic policies led Pius XI to reconsider his attitude towards Anschluss between Germany and Austria. The Holy See had earlier favored unification, fearing that the Austria constituted in 1919 would not prove viable.60 Rome changed its position when it witnessed the policies pursued by Hitler's Germany. As early as June 1933, Civiltà Cattolica warned that the Vienna government had to protect itself not only from the onslaught of Bolshevism, but from the subversion of the Austrian Nazis, supported by their brethren in the Reich. Civilta Cattolica praised those in the truncated Habsburg State who wished to preserve an Austria, which has as its symbol the Cross of God, and no other. Pius XI championed an independent Austria, for which he expressed his love. In June 1933, Rome concluded a concordat with Austria's Dollfuss regime.61
Pius XI was scandalized by the abortive Nazi coup of 1934 in Austria. His outrage was reflected in a series of articles in the Vatican journal which condemned the murder of Dollfuss, charging that the Nazis were transferring to Vienna the savage methods they employed in Munich and Berlin. The daily of the Holy See suggested that National Socialism might more appropriately be dubbed national terrorism, branding the assassination an act of defiance against Europe and the civilized world. On the other hand, the voice of the Vatican praised Mussolini for dispatching troops to the frontier, and preserving Austrian independence in the face of Nazi terror and aggression.62
Pius XI believed the dignity of the Holy See required him to denounce the German outrages, confident that the Church would survive the persecution.63 Father Rosa, S.J., reflecting the thought of Pius XI, acknowledged the danger of international communism, but insisted that the Nazi reaction was no less destructive of Christian values.64 While Nazi strategy differed from the Bolshevist, the Italian Jesuit wrote, its neo-pagan opposition to Catholic civilization was as insidious as atheistic Communism.65 Nazism represented the German Socialist reaction against Soviet internationalism and it shared Communism's hatred of Christianity and the Catholic Church, declared another article in the Jesuit journal.66 In turn, Himmler linked the Jesuits with the Bolsheviks and the Jews.67 The Pope concurred with Rosa's anti-Nazi assessment.68 As a result he won even the hearts of the atheistic French for his onslaughts against racism and the Nazi worship of the state. By 1937-1938, Pius XI was perceived as one of the world leaders in defending human rights, against both Fascism and Nazism.69
Pius XI resented the Nazi actions against the institutional Church and the Nazi laws which violated its teachings and basic human rights, complaining to the German ambassador that he was “deeply grieved and gravely displeased.” Diego Von Bergen reported that Pacelli was upset by the Pope's outburst and sought to pacify the German government, but was not prepared to contradict his chief.70 Following the remilitarization of the Rhineland, Pius XI confided to the French ambassador, “If you [French] had called forward 200,000 men you would have done an immense service to the entire world.” 71 The continued attacks on the Church, its clergy, and its doctrines led Pius XI to speak out despite the restraining influence of his Secretary of State. In March 1937, he issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge.
On Passion Sunday, March 14, 1937, this encyclical was read from the Catholic pulpits in Germany. “With deep anxiety and increasing dismay,” Pius wrote, he had witnessed the “progressive oppression of the faithful.” 73 Denouncing the racism of the regime, the Pope catalogued the articles of faith trampled upon by the Nazis. Without mincing words, he insisted that “the believer had an inalienable right to profess his faith and follow its dictates.” He concluded by urging the clergy to unmask and refute Nazism's errors whatever their form or disguise.74 Pius XI wanted this encyclical published in Spain, where he feared the emergence of a growing Nazi influence and the prospect of a fascism dominated by pagan and statist ideologies. Franco, fearing a deterioration of relations with his German “allies,” did not have the encyclical immediately published, despite the protestations of the papal secretary of state that Nazi racism was as bad as atheistic communism. This contributed to Pius XI's first major rift with Franco over German issues.75
Following this encyclical, the western democracies newly appreciated the Pope whom they had earlier supposed to be in Mussolini's pocket.76 Berlin, on the other hand, was incensed, with the Hitler government terming the encyclical a “call to battle against the Reich.” Pius was increasingly obsessed with the Nazi menace. In June 1937 he presided over a special meeting of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs to discuss the dilemma.77 By the end of 1937 he deplored anti-Christian developments in Germany no less than those in the Soviet Union.78 When Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago referred to Hitler as “an Austrian paperhanger, and a poor one at that,” and the German government protested to the Vatican, Pius XI refused to rebuke the Cardinal. On the contrary, Pius expressed his admiration of Mundelein. If Pius XI sometimes lacked prudence, he never succumbed to moral inertia. By this time, Nazism seems to have displaced Communism as Pius XI's major concern.79
Relations between the Vatican and the Reich deteriorated during the course of 1938, as Pius condemned the nationalism championed by the Hitler regime as a veritable curse.80 La Farge, who had the opportunity to examine the private correspondence between Secretary of State Pacelli and the Nazi government, reported that things were far worse than either the Vatican or Berlin acknowledged.81 In April 1938 the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries, of which Pius XI was the Prefect, condemned the pernicious racism championed by Nazi Germany. 82 The Catholic press deemed it a virtual encyclical against racism! 83 In July, Pius XI stressed the absolute incompatibility between this nationalism and Catholicism, charging the former opposed the spirit of the creed and violated the teachings of the faith.84 He deplored its extension to Austria following the Anschluss of 1938, which saddened him both as Pontiff and as an Italian.85
The Vatican viewed the Nazi takeover of Austria as a disaster of the first order for human rights. Not surprisingly, Pius XI repudiated the praise of Cardinal Innitzer and the Austrian bishops who rejoiced at the union of Germany and Austria, obviously seeking an accommodation with the Nazis.86 In April, Osservatore Romano made it clear that the bishop's statement did not have the Vatican's support, while Gustav Gundlach on Vatican Radio denounced their pro-Nazi pastoral letter as inspired by a false political Catholicism. Cardinal Innitzer was summoned to Rome and lectured by an angry Pope. 87 Following the Nazi occupation of Austria the Pope's language was sufficiently strong to satisfy Vatican critics who wanted it to denounce aggression and racialism.88
The Pope's public denunciation of racialism and perverted nationalism worried his Secretary of State. Pacelli, more than anyone else, prevented a complete break with the Nazi regime.89 Nonetheless, Pius XI was displeased by Mussolini's Italy's close relationship to Hitler's Germany, and by the unfortunate consequences he foresaw would inevitably result.90 Confronted by German agitation in Czechoslovakia, Osservatore Romano reported that the racial intolerance there could not be compared to the anti-Semitic policies pursued in “some other states.” During the May 1938 visit of the Fuehrer to Rome, Pius left for Castel Gandolfo, and gave orders to close the Vatican Museum which Hitler had hoped to visit, and he refused to allow any member of the German official party into Vatican City. The Romans followed the Pope's example, showing themselves less than gracious to the Nazi visitors. “The Italians hardly hide their hostility to the Germans,” wrote Shire in his diary. “They watch them walk by and then spit contemptuously.” 91 From Castel Gandolfo, Pius XI lamented that it was “both out of place and untimely to hoist in Rome the emblem of a cross that is not the cross of Christ.” The Pope was distressed by the glorification in Rome of the “cross that was the enemy of Christianity.” 92 He resolved to take some step to denounce Nazi policies.
For reasons one can surmise, but of which one cannot be certain, Pius XI planned to issue a major encyclical condemning the racism and anti-Semitism of Hitler's Germany without involving his Secretary of State. We do know that Pacelli was not included in the Pope's discussion with La Farge when he commissioned the “encyclical,” even though he had been with Pius XI moments before.93 Furthermore, Gundlach, who was at Rome at the time of the accession of Pius XII in March 1939, was convinced that the new Pope was not informed of their project. Indeed he reported that one of their Jesuit friends had asked the new Pope about the project, and Pius XII indicated he knew nothing about it, but promised to consult with Ledochowski on the matter.94 His ignorance is not surprising in light of the fact that Pius XI demanded the strictest secrecy during the course of the project he deemed of the utmost importance.95 Perhaps the Pope recognized that Pacelli would oppose the project? He had good reason to suppose so, considering his Secretary of State's attempts to prevent a diplomatic rupture with Nazi Germany. On the other hand, Pius XI might not have wanted to implicate his likely successor in a project that might not succeed? If Pacelli participated in the breach, it would tie his hands in seeking a rapprochement with the Reich. Whatever the reason, Pacelli was excluded from this important encounter that resulted in Pius XI commissioning La Farge to draft the anti-racist encyclical.
On May 2, 1938, the very day John La Farge disembarked at Plymouth, Hitler began an official seven-day visit to Rome, marking a decisive turn in Fascist Italy's policy on the race issue to the consternation of Pope Pius XI. Shortly thereafter, a Nazi commission ventured to Milan to assist the Italians in drafting their racist legislation. As Anti-Semitism spread from Nazi-Germany to Fascist Italy, Pius XI grew increasingly alarmed, disturbing the last period of his pontificate. 96 In June 1938, the Pope asked to see the American Jesuit John La Farge, descended from Breton nobility on his father's side, and from Benjamin Franklin on his mother's side, and the author of numerous books and articles dealing with questions of racism. The day the Pope summoned Father John La Farge to discuss this sensitive issue, Pacelli left the papal chamber just as the Jesuit arrived.97
Pius XI had read and liked La Farge's Interracial Justice, which had been published in 1937.98 In this work, La Farge denounced the notion of “pure race” as a myth which could not serve as a practical basis for human relationships, and an idea the Church could not tolerate. La Farge reminded his readers that the teachings of Christ proclaimed the moral unity of the human race, and His Church offered all of mankind salvation. Furthermore, since the doctrine of human rights was based upon the spiritual nature of man, these could not be taken away by law, social custom or mores. To deny these human rights was immoral. He added that Christian social philosophy looked upon the deliberate fostering of racial prejudices as a sin. Consequently, it could not be ignored by the faith. La Farge posited that the universal Church, which represented a living union of all mankind, had to combat race prejudice, which destroyed the Creator's intended relationship of the individual to the rest of humanity.99 Pius XI approved of La Farge's ideas which reflected his own thought.100 In June 1937 Civiltà Cattolica,which occasionally issued anti-Jewish pronouncements, proclaimed that the Church condemned all forms of anti-Semitism.101
To La Farge's surprise, Pius XI asked him to draft an encyclical he could soon deliver to the universal Church, demonstrating the incompatibility of Catholicism and racism . The Pope, who deemed the enterprise of the utmost importance, swore La Farge to secrecy.102 Perhaps he was belatedly responding to the earlier plea made to him by Dr. Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, later known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who urged the Pontiff to issue an encyclical on Nazi anti-Semitism and the Jewish question.103 At any rate, the Pope was determined to continue his condemnation of racism, and by extension those regimes that flaunted it. Like La Farge, the Pope saw the need for a spiritual and moral treatment of the defense of human rights.104 Pius XI knew what he wanted to say, outlining the topic and its method of treatment, while discussing its underlying principles with La Farge.105 “Simply say what you would say to the entire world if you were Pope,” Pius confided to La Farge.106 It was a mandate that La Farge could not shirk. On July 3, 1938, La Farge dispatched a memorandum to Father Joseph Murphy, assistant to the New York Provincial, describing his meeting of June 22, 1938 with Pius. He noted that the Pope had placed him under secrecy and enjoined him to write the text of the encyclical on what he considered “the most burning issue of the day.” According to La Farge's memo, Pius XI told him that God had sent La Farge to him, for he had been looking for someone to write on the topic. The Pope acknowledged that he should have spoken to Father Vladimir Ledochowski, the Polish General of the Jesuits, before assigning La Farge the responsibility, but added, “I imagine it will be all right.” To this, La Farge added, in his memo, “After all, a Pope is Pope.” 107 When he informed Ledochowski of the Pope's desire to have the encyclical in his hands quickly, the latter suggested that he collaborate with two other Jesuits: the Frenchman Gustave Desbuquois of Action Populaire, a social action center in Paris, and the German Gustav Gundlach, a social theorist and professor at the Gregorian University in Rome. The three, who shared a commitment to Catholic social action, worked feverishly during the summer of 1938 to prepare a draft, and in late September placed this encyclical entitled Humani Generis Unitas (The Unity of the Human Race) in the hands of Ledochowski for transmission to the Pope. Gundlach, however, suspected the intentions of the virulently anti-Bolshevik General, whose hatred of communism allegedly made him overlook the Nazi reign of terror.108
While the three collaborators had met the Pope's deadline for the issuance of a condemnation of racism, delay ensued once the document left their hands. Ledochowski did not transmit it immediately to the Pope, but to a fellow Jesuit, Enrico Rosa. Father Rosa, who was gravely ill and dying, scrutinized it slowly and shared it with others, but apparently not the Pope. Gundlach warned La Farge in mid October 1938 that his intention not to let their work pass through other hands had been thwarted, and his loyalty and obedience to Ledochowski had not been reciprocated. Indeed, the angry German Jesuit suggested that La Farge's loyalty to the General had been at the expense of his loyalty to the Pope, who had commissioned the encyclical.109 “An outsider might well see in all this an attempt to sabotage by dilatoriness and for tactical and diplomatic reasons the mission entrusted to you by [the Pope],” Gundlach wrote La Farge, who had returned to the United States.110 He was not far from the mark, for Father Heinrich Bacht, the German Jesuit and last person to work on the encylical translating it into Latin, reported that Ledochowski found the La Farge draft “too strong and provoking.” The General agreed with Pacelli that it would be unwise to have a head-on confrontation with the Hitler government and commissioned Rosa to tone down the encyclical.111
The long encyclical which defended human rights condemned racism and anti-Semitism as reprehensible, and “did not permit the Catholic to remain silent in the presence of racism.” 112 Before the onset of the horrors of the “final solution,” the encyclical written for Pius XI noted that the struggle for racial purity “ends by being uniquely the struggle against the Jews.” 113 Fully aware that Pius XI deplored anti-Semitism in both Italy and Germany, the authors reported that such persecution had been censured by the Holy See in the past. “As a result of such a persecution, millions of persons are deprived of the most elementary rights and privileges of citizens in the very land of their birth,” the encyclical continued.114 Indeed, the authors warned that this anti-Semitism served as an excuse for attacking the sacred Person of the Savior Himself, degenerating into a war against Christianity. 115 The encyclical focused on the evil of racism. “It is the task and duty of the Church, the dignity and responsibility of the Chief Shepherd and of his brother Shepherds, whom the Holy Ghost has placed to rule the Church of God, that they should point out to mankind the true course to be followed, the eternal divine order in the changing circumstances of the times.” 116 “The Redemption opened the doors of salvation to the entire human race,” the encyclical continued, “it established a universal Kingdom, in which there would be no distinction of Jew or Gentile, Greek or barbarian.” 117
Pius XI continued to espouse the sentiments of the “encyclical” he had authorized and inspired, upset by the racist and anti-Semitic policies which Fascist Italy adopted as it moved closer to Nazi Germany. Pius XI formally denounced “the whole spirit of the doctrine that is opposed to the faith of Christ.” 118 Indeed, the Pope branded the Fascist Aryan Manifesto of July 14, 1938 a “true form of apostasy,” urging Catholic groups to combat it, and initiating a chorus of opposition to the racism of the totalitarian regimes.119 During an audience to a group of missionary Sisters, Pius XI, in the presence of his Secretary of State Pacelli, denounced the racism of this exaggerated nationalism and made reference to the encyclical he was having prepared on this issue.120 While Pius XI condemned this racism as contrary to the universality of the faith, Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster denounced it as a global danger.121 At the end of July, during an audience to the students of the Propaganda Fede, the Pope praised their universal mission at a time when there was so much talk of racism and separatist nationalism. In the mind of Pius, the two were interrelated.122 He harped on the universality of the Catholic Church, denouncing racism while reminding the students that humanity consisted of one great, universal family. This was precisely the theme of his unreleased encyclical. He regretted that Italy had felt the need to imitate the German example in espousing a form of racism contrary to the beliefs and teachings of the Church.123 Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and foreign minister, described the Pope's speech as violently anti-racist.124
Although the Italian Foreign Office denied the papal charge that Italian racism was copied from Germany, the Pope persisted in this belief. The Pope complained that the Italian press censured his attack on racism, while it included Nazi commentary. Pius XI had his nuncio to Italy, Monsignor Borgongini Duca, denounce Italy's racist legislation.125 Pius XI preferred the Latin terms gens Italica, and to speak of peoples rather than races, not because he shunned things German but because he considered the Latin terms more civil and less barbaric. Human dignity, he repeated, rested in a unified humanity.126 Such papal statements guided the authors of the projected encyclical, and, not surprisingly, similar statements found their way into Humani Generis Unitas.
In August 1938, when Pius XI visited the College of the Propaganda Fide, he warned the students to shun “exaggerated nationalism,” which he branded a real curse.128 It was a position strikingly similar to the one enunciated in the projected encyclical.129 These talks and their publication in Osservatore Romano 130 provoked criticism in Italy and Germany, while their press accused the Pope of polemicizing, and going beyond the realm of religion in discussing the relations between the races. The Nazis and Fascists now argued that the Jewish question was a racial and legal issue rather than a moral and religious one. The Pope responded in early September that he did not wish to provoke polemics, but could not remain silent in the face of grave errors and the violation of human rights.131 Italy's racist legislation represented an attack on the Church's teachings.132 “No, it's not possible for we Christians to participate in anti-Semitism,” the Pope told a group of visiting Belgians on September 6, 1938. “Spiritually, we are Semites.”133 While Pius XI did not personally denounce the barbarism of Kristallnacht in November 1938, a number of high Church figures did, including the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, the Primate of Belgium, and the Patriarch of Lisbon, repeating Pius XI's rejection of the doctrine of blood as contrary to Catholic dogma. On November 10, 1938, Mussolini published a decree forbidding marriage between Italian Aryans with persons of “another race.” Pius responded by writing both the King and Mussolini informing them that this represented a violation of the Concordat of the Lateran Accords.134 He made public his displeasure in his Christmas allocution, once again attacking the measure as a violation of the concordat.135 In light of the Vatican's campaign of increased opposition to totalitarian racism, the ground was paved for issuing La Farge's encyclical which echoed the Pope's sentiments, but no word arrived of its receipt by the Pope or projected release.136
There was little opportunity to explore the lack of response to their draft with the Pope, who was suffering from a combination of cardiac weakness and asthma, and whose schedule was closely controlled and severely curtailed, especially after his two heart attacks on Thursday, 25 November.137 Both in Rome and Berlin it was believed that Pius already had “one foot in the grave.”138 Even public audiences with diplomats were now limited to five minutes, because of his grave condition. Nonetheless, word leaked out that Pius XI remained incensed at the Nazis, and determined to continue to combat their pernicious doctrines. At the end of December when he met with the British Minister D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne he made it clear to him “that Nazi Germany has taken the place of Communism as the Church's most dangerous enemy.” In Paris, Eduard Herriot, President of the Chamber, praised the Pope's spiritual gallantry as protector of outraged weakness.139 Unfortunately, the authors of the encyclical did not have ready access to the pope's person. Given the hierarchical structure of the Church and the quasi-military discipline of their order, and their vows of obedience, an appeal to the Pope over the heads of their superior was no trivial matter. Nonetheless, Father Gundlach urged La Farge to write directly to Pius XI, who had charged him, and no one else, with the assignment of writing the encyclical. La Farge complied, informing his collaborator that he had followed his advice. Ledochowski transmitted the La Farge draft to Pius XI only after the American Jesuit had written the Pope on Gundlach's suggestion.140
Gundlach resented the obstruction surrounding their work. This German Jesuit wondered if their draft of the encyclical would be presented to the Pope while he still preserved the initiative and energy to release it. Father Walter Abbot reports that Pius XI received the document on January 21, 1939, but is not certain if the Pope saw or read it before his death on 9-10 February.141 Most likely he did not, even though the failing Pius XI was working on the draft of a speech to be presented to the bishops cataloging Fascist abuses. He died on February 10, 1939, before he could deliver it.142 The draft of this speech, later published by John XXIII, regretted developments in Italy and Germany while insisting on the unity of the human family.143 The draft of the La Farge encyclical was likewise found on Pius XI's desk after his death, together with an attached note from Monsignor Domenico Tardini, indicating that Pius XI wanted the encyclical without delay! 144 Mussolini was relieved to hear of Pius XI's death.145 Gundlach was not surprised when the draft of their encyclical condemning racism and anti-Semitism was returned to its authors with an indication that they might wish to publish it privately, but under their own names and only following its review by a censor. They chose not to do so, hoping that eventually Church officials would change their minds and publish 146 They never did, not during the course of the war, nor during the Holocaust or in the postwar period. La Farge dipped into it in the 1960's in drafting his article on “Racism” for the New Catholic Encyclopedia.
In a 1955 interview Father Robert Graham, one of the chief defenders of Pius XII, acknowledged that this Pope decided not to publish Pius XI's antiracist and anti-Semitic encyclical, choosing to pursue a more diplomatic course.148 Unquestionably, the issuance of La Farge's encyclical, which would in part today be considered insensitive to Jews, with its references to the Jews' obstinate refusal to recognize Christ as redeemer and their “spiritual blindness,” 149 would have antagonized the Nazi regime, leading to a further deterioration of the Holy See's relations with it. Among other things, La Farge had Pius write that the Church had always censured persecution of the Jews, especially when such actions were allegedly undertaken under the mantle of Christianity.150 It referred to the decree of the Holy Office which Pius XI had authorized against persecution of the Jews.151 Thus Pius XI's “encyclical” denounced the Nazi course as misguided, harmful and in violation of human rights. While his successor shared this conviction, he was not prepared to say so publicly. Instead, following the death of Pius XI and the accession of Pius XII, the German Ambassador noted the relaxation of tensions between the Vatican and the Reich.152 The new Pope confessed to the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, that he intended to pursue a more conciliatory policy towards Germany than had his predecessor.153 His conciliatory course represented a departure from the strong-willed, often headstrong leadership of Pius XI when he was Pope.154
Pius XII quietly encouraged the rescue of tens of thousands of the persecuted, which Jewish leaders thanked him for at war's end.155 Nonetheless, Pius XII failed to publicly protest the systematic elimination of the Jews, refusing to follow the example of his revered predecessor, and maintaining a public silence.156 Had Pius XII seen fit to issue rather than shelve his predecessor's encyclical which stressed the unity of the human race and the incompatibility of racism and Christianity,157 might some of the millions exterminated have been spared?158 We shall never know. We do have anecdotal reports of the efficacy of the hierarchy speaking out. At the end of 1996 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recalled how his entire village in Nazi Germany “experienced a sense of liberation when Cardinal Clement von Galen of Munich broke the silence and publicly defended the mentally ill” who were likewise earmarked for extermination by Hitler's Reich.159 Writing in Stimmen der Zeit in 1946, the Jesuit Max Pribilla wrote “that only a boldly public outcry could have halted the atrocities.”160
While Pius XI was prepared to negotiate with the devil himself on behalf of the Church, he did not shy from public proclamations while assuming the offensive on behalf of the Church's creed and human rights. Pius XI did not hesitate to publicly condemn Nazi racism and planned to denounce its anti-Semitism as well, fully aware that this would anger and arouse Hitler's Germany, and possibly lead the Nazis to revoke the Concordat. During the course of the last two years of his pontificate, Pius XI had publicly characterized racism as scientifically unsound, a religious apostasy or heresy, and a totalitarian tendency in violation of natural law as well as the Christian creed.161 This position was admirably reflected in the encyclical he commissioned. “The theory and practice of [racism] which makes a distinction between the higher and lower races, ignores the bond of unity...,” the 1938 document warned. Indeed it added, “It is incredible that in view of these facts there are still people who maintain that the doctrine and practice of racism have nothing to do with Catholic teaching as to faith and morals and nothing to do with philosophy, but are a purely political affair.”162 On the basis of what he thought and said, and his willingness to confront the totalitarian regimes, one can only conclude that Pius XI would have issued the “encyclical” which so clearly reflected his stance on human rights and anti-Semitism, had he lived longer.
*Dr. Frank Coppa received his B. A. from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America. He is currently Professor of History at St. John's University, Director of the doctoral program in Modern World History and Chair of St. John's Symposium on Vatican Studies. He is the author of monographs and has published in numerous journals in the United States and Italy on various aspects of Liberal, Fascist, and post World War II Italy. His most recent publication is the fifth volume of the Longman History of the Papacy, “The Modern Papacy Since 1789”, which was published in the Fall of 1998.