Our readersSeptember 15, 2003


I found Robert A. Krieg’s highlighting of the ambiguity of The Vatican Concordat With Hitler’s Reich (9/1), a very interesting and important consideration. I find it all the more ambiguous because Pius XI was certainly not a pope whose principal aim was the preservation of ecclesiastical structures and religious activists to the neglect of social justice. Six years before he signed the concordat with Hitler, he had condemned the ultra-right French political movement Action Française, whose aim was to destroy the French Republic and restore the monarchy, at least for a time. The anticlerical laws aimed at the French Catholic Church in the early 1900’s would have given Pius XI a good excuse to use politics in the service of religion; for the monarchy, or an authoritarian government like that of Napoleon, always accorded a privileged position to the church. But Pius XI condemned the movement because it used religion in the service of politics. At the end of his life Pius XI asked the American Jesuit apostle of interracial justice, John LaFarge, S.J., to prepare an encyclical on the Jews and anti-Semitism. He died before it was made public, and Pius XII never saw fit to promulgate it.

Mr. Krieg points out clearly that the ecclesiology of the time was dominated by the conception of the church as a perfect society, the protection of whose institution and organization was the principal duty of the hierarchy. The French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, who, to his profound regret, had let himself be duped into an ambiguous and distant relationship with Action Française by his conservative and traditional spiritual directors (Dom Delatte, O.S.B., Father Clerissac, O.P., Father Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., and others) came to realize and to admit his naïveté, and supported the pope’s condemnation of the movement. He was never forgiven for this by the powerful members of the traditional ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In his last book, On the Church of Christ: The Person of the Church and Its Personnel, Maritain maintained that the person of the churchwhich Krieg identifies as mystery or sacrament, as people of God, as the body of Christ, as collegial community and as servantthis church is indefectibly holy; but, Maritain added, its personnel is not. It is composed of fallible, imperfect men, who, as Mr. Krieg mentions, all too often placed protecting the institution and its reputation above its mission to proclaim the truthor defend the victims of sexual abuse. Recently a French scholar of Jacques Maritain wrote to me that the present tendency of Catholic neoconservatives (like Michael Novak, George Weigel, Deal Hudson and others) to use religion to promote certain political programs of the present American administration on economic justice, war and sexuality strikes him as a kind of maurrassisme américain, and I think he’s right.

Bernard Doering
South Bend, Ind.

Protecting Marriage

To protect marriage, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said the bishops probably would approve adding to the U.S. Constitution the Defense of Marriage Act amendment, which states that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

If the bishops do come out in support of DOMA, will they also state marriage is to be for a lifetime and support changes in the laws to make divorce harder? Will passing DOMA make spousal abuse, child abuse, adultery and divorce disappear? How is it that two men or two women wanting to make a civil commitment to each other are a threat to a man and woman wanting to get married, especially in the church?

Perhaps the real threat to marriage is unrealistic societal and religious pressures on individuals to get married and have children whether or not they want it or are ready for it. Marriage has many enemies, but gays and lesbians who want civil recognition of their relationship are not necessarily among them.

Steven Payne
Lake Forest, Calif.


Thanks to Robert A. Krieg for his valuable article, The Vatican Concordat With Hitler’s Reich (9/1). I agree that the Vatican, fearful that the negotiating window would soon close, was primarily concerned to ensure the survival of the sacramental system and to gain guarantees about Catholic education.

I have several critical observations. First, can we be so sure that Catholic opposition to the new regime was choked off by the concordat? One senses rather that the hierarchy, and the Center Party as well, were very worried about losing their people en masse to enthusiasm for Germany’s renewal.

Second, the ecclesiological inferences that Mr. Krieg wants to draw from Catholic self-preoccupation may be theologically valid but historically anachronistic. German Catholicism was still burdened by its minority self-consciousness. Catholic support for the Weimar Republic and its denominational pluralism came less from a love of democracy and of human rights for their own sake, and more from the pragmatic conviction that the Republic offered the most advantageous environment for Catholic flourishing. Today we rightly regret the church’s timidity in speaking for all the persecuted. But we should try to see more clearly what a momentous identity change that would have entailedan unlikely development in any circumstance, and particularly so given the brutality and rapidity of the Nazi totalitarian takeover.

Third, the Rev. John Jay Hughes’s article actually defends the Vatican concordat, although one would not know this from Mr. Krieg’s quotation of it.

Michael Hollerich
St. Paul, Minn.

Does Not Compute

The statement in Signs of the Times (8/4), that Massachusetts Attorney General Reilly said the figure of at least 789 children victimized by 237 priests and 13 other church workers in the archdiocese came directly from archdiocesan records, indicates that Reilly did not read his own report carefully.

He appears to have relied on the executive summary. This states that according to the archdiocese’s own files 789 victims have complained of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and that the evidence also reveals that 250 church workers stand accused of acts of rape and sexual assault of children. The problem is that these statements are not consistent with what is in the body of the report.

The report’s text reveals that the number of 237 priests was compiled from four disparate sources: documents produced by the archdiocese, documents filed in civil suits on behalf of alleged victims, media reports and documents created by organizations representing victims of clergy sexual abuse. The conclusion that priests in the archdiocese had sexually abused at least 789 children between 1940 and today also was ultimately compiled from a review of archdiocesan records as well as court records and information provided by groups representing victims of clergy abuse.

In assessing the quantitative magnitude of the archdiocesan administration’s failure to deal adequately with clergy sexual abuse, it is important to distinguish allegations of abuse brought to the archdiocesan administration from allegations it may not have known about. The attorney general’s objective was to present an official public record of what occurred, but a close reading of the report indicates that this objective remains to be realized.

Francis M. McLaughlin
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

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