Lying About the Historical Record
I would note that none of the following comments are directed at my blogging colleague Joe Hargrave for whom I have the greatest respect. Joe is a first rate writer and an original thinker. He and I disagree about the morality of lying under all circumstances, but that is not the issue that is being addressed in this post.
A controversy has arisen regarding the morality of the Lila Rose and Live Action brilliant sting operations against Planned Parenthood with some Catholic bloggers condemning these operations citing Catholic teaching against lying. I disagree with them and believe that the sting operations are completely compatible with Church teaching and praxis, however that is not the issue I am concerned about in regard to this post.
A side controversy has developed recently regarding Pius XII since many people, including myself, have raised deceptions countenanced by Pius XII in World War II to save Jewish lives as an example where the Vicar of Christ approved lies in an attempt to save the lives of the innocent. Now the proper response to this fact of history to those who hold that the Church teaches that all lies are immoral is to deal with it honestly. One could argue that the actions of a Pope do not alter Church teaching. That of course is a hard argument to make to a Catholic audience. The easier, albeit dishonest path, is to attempt to pretend that what occurred simply did not occur. The attempt to do that is beginning currently.
In a post at the Paulist site Busted Halo, Dawn Eden and William Doino, Jr., who has written in defense of Pius XII and who really should know better, cites a biography of Pope John XXIII written by Peter and Margaret Hebblethwaithe for the contention that when Pope John XXIII was papal nuncio in Turkey during World War II he did not, as popularly thought, issue fake baptismal certificates for Jews. Go here to read the post and go here to read the passage in the book.
This passage in the post by Mr. Doino deserves careful reading:
Others have argued that the Church would sanction, or did sanction, lying to Nazis who sought to find and kill Jews. But this claim too has no foundation in the Catechism’s teachings, neither is it true of the actions of the Church during World War II — which did save hundreds of thousands of Jews , but not through faking baptismal certificates, as has been claimed.
This passage, to be blunt, is a masterpiece of deception. Note how it shifts the general argument from whether the Church did sanction lying, to “refuting” the statement by claiming that the Church did not fake baptismal certificates. The faking baptismal certifcates is further narrowed down to the single case of Archbishop Roncalli. Bravo! I make my living by engaging in litigation and I have rarely seen a better example of the art of seeming to refute an argument while in actuality not doing so.
The historical facts which the cited passage does its best to ignore are as follows:
1. Issuing fake baptismal certicates to Jews was a widespread practice throughout occupied Europe by Catholic clergy during World War II. Archbishop Roncalli issued thousands of what were called “baptismal certificates of convenience” to priests.
2. The Church in World War II engaged in a massive campaign of deception to save Jewish lives: in addition to fake “baptismal certificates” this included disguising Jews as monks, nuns, brothers, sisters and priests, outright lying to Nazi authorities hunting for Jews, forged travel documents for Jews, forged certificates of Aryan ancestry, forged birth certicates, falsifying school records to identify Jewish kids as Catholic students, etc.
3. Pius XII encouraged this campaign, as members of the clergy attested time and again after the war.
4. A good source for information on the deception campaign waged by Catholic clergy, as well as lay Catholics, on behalf of Jews is Martin Gilbert’s The Righteous.
One of the most distressing aspects of the Catholic blogosphere for me over the years is the efforts by some commenters to “win” current debates in the Church by attempts to falsify the historical record. Leave the historical record alone! Debate what you wish, but manipulating the historical record in order to “win” a current debate does a disservice to the Church.