Friday, October 15, 2010

Was the Vatican Soft on Nazism? An Exclusive Report on Some Intriguing New Evidence

It's the dream of every blogger to come up with something resembling a scoop, since we’re usually relegated to commenting on other people's news-gathering. But today, my Cool Hot Centrists, I have for you what amounts to something of a news flash. It will mainly engage persons interested in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century, the relationship of the RCC to the Nazis, the history of the Third Reich – and, of contemporary interest, the current campaign to declare Pope Pius XII a saint. It centers on a fascinating photograph recently discovered by an attorney looking for something else entirely, and his subsequent investigation into what he found.

Let me declare my interest. The attorney is Stephen H. Galebach, lately of Medford, Massachusetts. Steve was my college roommate for three years at Yale and a good friend in all the years since. He contacted me when he discovered this photo and asked me to comment critically on an essay he had written about it. I did so, extensively, and corresponded with Steve on my concerns with his text. I have sent him a few items I found online that relate to his research. His questions – and conclusions -- are entirely his own.

Galebach has discovered a photograph of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Luis Copello, that purports (I use this cautionary verb for reasons I’ll get to) to show him blessing a Nazi flag during the Eucharistic Congress held in Buenos Aires in 1934.   The photo appeared in a Nazi newspaper in 1935. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933.  Archbishop Copello was elevated to Cardinal in 1935.  Here is the link to Galebach's preliminary disclosure of this picture and his research into it.  I believe there will be more to come in scholarly publications.

Here is the photo:

Caption:  "An Archbishop Blesses the Swastika Banner"

You can examine a larger version by clicking on the image.

Galebach believes that the photograph may raise important questions about the attitude of one Eugenio Pacelli toward German National Socialism. At the time, Eugenio Pacelli was the Vatican Secretary of State. He was present in Buenos Aires at the Eucharistic Congress, the guest of Archbishop Copello, when this photo was allegedly taken.

That same Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII. Pius XII's attitude toward the Nazis is the subject of vast and bitter controversy into which I do not propose to delve. More importantly to Galebach’s inquiry, Pius XII is currently going through the Vatican's process to determine whether he should be declared a saint.

Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII

Now . . . my headline up there is a bit of a tease.  Galebach's initial disclosure on his website is not nearly so sensational, but instead reproduces the photograph and poses ten questions, to which he appends some (but by no means all) of the research he has conducted to date, modestly acknowledging that further research is needed. He saves to last this question: “How, in the final analysis, does this evidence reflect on Eugenio Pacelli [the future Pius XII] and the pope of the time, Pius XI?” To this question he appends no additional information or speculation.

Galebach is not anti-Catholic. Quite the opposite. He is an adult convert to Roman Catholicism who takes his devotion with utter seriousness. He served with prize-winning distinction in the Marine Corps (I personally witnessed Kingman Brewster, Jr., Yale's rather liberal President at the time, wincingly present Steve with something his roommates (Chuck Casper, Alan Ringel, and I) called the Grunt of the Year award for his Officer Candidate School achievements at Quantico). After Yale and the Marines he went to Harvard Law School and was an editor on the Harvard Law Review. He served as a policy advisor in the Reagan White House and Department of Justice and has been in private practice since then. Nor is Galebach a fundamentalist crazy – he discovered the photograph in question in the course of handling World War II restitution claims for American descendants of the Czech "shoe king" Jan Bata who was attacked in the Nazi press as a Jew.  He has written extensively on the abortion issue, and has proposed creative approaches to the prosecution of RCC pedophile priests. And, lest his Roman Catholic bona fides remain in doubt, he and his lovely wife Diane have ten children. QED.

My friend, Steve Galebach

(I am not Catholic and have no interest in whether Pius XII is declared a saint.  I have studied the history of the Third Reich but know almost nothing about the scholarship over whether the Vatican closed its eyes to Nazi atrocities.)

To the best of Galebach's ability to determine, no researcher – nobody at all – has ever noticed the existence of this photograph since its appearance in Germany in 1935. And here I must remark on the first important question raised by this photograph: Is it real? That is, is it a true representation of what it purports to be? Did the act it portrays take place? If so, then it is every bit as important as Galebach expects that it is, and it raises all of the other questions he presents. To his credit, the question of the photo’s authenticity is the first one he tackles.

Galebach found the photograph on page 5 of a microfilm version of a July 1935 issue of Der Stűrmer, the virulently anti-semitic Nazi newspaper published by the notorious Julius Streicher, eventually convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremburg and hanged in 1946.  (His hanging was botched -- he suffered considerably before he was finally dispatched.)   Any resemblance between Der Stűrmer and a real newspaper is probably limited to its use of newsprint. It contained mainly anti-Jewish propaganda, incredibly lurid, and by no means a reliable source for any kind of information. So the begged question is critical: Did it really publish a photograph accurately portraying a Roman Catholic archbishop blessing a Nazi flag at an international conference in 1934? 

Der Stűrmer; Julius Streicher

Many questions spring to mind;

--   Is that really Archbishop Copello?  (Probably.)
--   Was the image manipulated to create a false image?
--   Why was this 1934 photo not published until 1935 (to anyone's current knowledge)?
--   Why did the Nazis make no other use of this photo (to anyone's current knowledge)?
--   Why didn't the Vatican or any of its German representatives take any notice of the photo or the event it purports to show (to anyone's current knowledge)?
--   Why did it only appear on page 5 of Der Stűrmer?
--   Why have no scholars noticed this photograph or reported on the event it purports to show (to Galebach's current knowledge)?

Galebach is a private citizen. Although trained as a scholar at Yale, he has neither the time nor the resources to travel the world checking original sources or poring through German or Argentine libraries.  (He is fluent in German, but not Spanish; he relies on one of his accomplished sons for the latter.)  He is accordingly required to reason from negative evidence – other than the facial appearance of the photo itself, he is limited to arguing that there is no reason to believe that it is inauthentic. He presents a fair number of arguments against inauthenticity, and some of them are provocative and even persuasive, but in the end it will probably be left to full-time investigators to determine whether this photograph appearing in a notorious Nazi propaganda organ portrays an event that actually took place, and whether the accompanying text in Der Stűrmer (which Galebach details) describes it accurately. I should add that Galebach has not had access to original newsprint copies of Der Stűrmer, so the preliminary question is whether the primary source is accurately reproduced in the microfilm copy Galebach examined. For what it’s worth, I lean about 55% toward authenticity. If I were going to fake a picture like this, I don’t think I would have put a kid at the edge of the frame; that unusual image gives the thing just the slightest whiff of legitimacy.  (That the figure on the far right is a child is clearer on the larger versions of the photo.  On the other hand, the other officials Der Stűrmer reported to be present at the event are not shown.)  It’s the threshold question, and you can bet that when Galebach’s find becomes generally known, lots of historians with a stake in Roman Catholic and Third Reich history -- and Pius XII’s legacy -- will be looking into this topic with considerable verve.

The photo is of interest even if it is fake.  At a minimum, it demonstrates the Nazi Party's interest in demonstrating that its legitimacy, and maybe even its publicly-known goals, were endorsed by the Vatican.

If the consensus is that the photo is the goods, then look out. A ceremony of this significance taking place while Archbishop Copello was hosting the most influential of Vatican officials, Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, soon to become Pope Pius XII, during a Eucharistic Congress of enormous importance to Roman Catholics worldwide, will focus renewed attention on the question of Pius XII’s attitude toward the Third Reich during his papacy.   (Not to mention that of Pius XI, pope at the time of the photograph.)   And that, in turn, may influence the views of Roman Catholic churchmen on the current question before the house – is Pius XII a saint?

And folks, unless you know Steve Galebach – you read it here first.

Check out his site.  Here it is again.

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