In a significant finding, the British Broadcasting Corporation has conceded that in their main evening news bulletin, seen by millions, it falsely described the Church as being ‘silent’ in the face of Nazism and that it has not reported correctly on the Church’s opposition to Hitler.
The finding was made by the BBC’s internal watchdog after Father Leo
Chamberlain and I jointly lodged a complaint. Chamberlain, a
Benedictine, is a historian and former headmaster of Ampleforth College.
The broadcast was made last July during a visit to Auschwitz by Pope
Francis. The reporter stated as fact that, “Silence was the response of
the Catholic Church when Nazi Germany demonized Jewish people and then
attempted to eradicate Jews from Europe.”
After several unsuccessful attempts to seek a correction, we felt
that we had no choice but to make a formal complaint to the Editorial
Complaints Unit (ECU). We presented a dossier of material - all of it
publically available to any reporter.
Having studied this, the ECU said that, in their judgment, the news
report had not given “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.”
Ironically, part of the BBC report came from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s
cell at Auschwitz. St. Maximilian, was executed after taking the
place of another prisoner. He had been arrested for publishing a
denunciation of the Nazis in his magazine, Knight, which had a circulation of around one million people.
Hardly silence, then.
Nor was silence the response of the 6,066 Poles (overwhelmingly
Catholic) who have been officially recognized in Israel as “Righteous
Among the Nations,” for their role in saving the lives of Polish Jews.
One charitable interpretation of the Auschwitz report was that it was
a sloppy, lazy, throw-away remark - indicative of the sort of religious
illiteracy that can cause so much offense; and part of a blurring
between the straightforward reporting of news and the desire to add some
melodrama to spice it up. Don’t let facts or truth spoil a good story.
Less charitably, the BBC report may be seen as simply the latest example of a long-running attempt to rewrite history.
To put this falsification right, the BBC should now commission a
documentary examining where the rewriting of history had its genesis.
They should start with The Deputy, published in 1963, by the
German writer Rolf Hochhuth, which set out to trash the reputation of
Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church.
As Chamberlain points out, Hochhuth was an unknown figure from East
Germany who was increasingly seen as an instrument of KGB
disinformation. The umbrella tip murder in London of a Soviet dissident;
the poisoning of Litvinenko with polonium; the attempted assassination
of St. John Paul II by a Bulgarian agent working for the KGB; and the
increasingly accepted revelations in 1978 of General Ion Pacepa,
Romanian Securitate and defector, are hardly the stuff of paranoid
Pacepa stated that reports suggest General Ivan Agayants, Chief of
the KGB’s disinformation department, created the outline for the book
characterizing the pope as a Nazi sympathizer.
The Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, authorized Operation Seat 12 as a
Cold War disinformation campaign designed to discredit the moral
authority of the Vatican.
Of Pius XII, Operation Seat 12 said, “Dead men
cannot defend themselves.”
The Cold War may be over, but fortunately, careful and objective
research does provide plenty of evidence in the case for the defense.
Dr. John Frain, an academic, and one-time constituent of mine, provided a meticulous account in his book “The Cross And The Third Reich - Catholic Resistance In The Nazi Era,” for which I wrote the introduction.
Here are the stories of Erich Klausner, the General Secretary of
Germany’s Catholic Action, who was shot dead; Adelbert Prost, Director
of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, also murdered; Fritz Gerlich, a
Catholic journalist murdered at Dachau (known as “the Priests’ Camp”
because 2,670 priests from around 20 countries were held there: 600 died
at Dachau and another 325 died during “transport of invalids.”
We are reminded of the arrest of Catholic politicians, the
suppression of Catholic political activity, the confiscation of church
property and the suppression of over 200 Catholic publications.
In 1931 there were around 21,000 Catholic priests in Germany and over
8,000 of them, one third, clashed with the Reich and several hundred
were eliminated by the Reich.
As Frain once said to me: “how can any of these facts ever be made to sound like complicity?”
Page after page of his book refutes the libel that the Church was silent, docile or indifferent when confronted with Nazism.
Of the cottage industry of detractors which has grown up around Pius
XII, recall that it was Rabbi David Dalin who describes such books
as “Best sellers made out of bad history.”
Dalin says that, “The truth about Pius XII must be restored.”
Pinchas Lapide, an historian and Israeli consul, said 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.”
After the War, Pius was thanked by survivors of the Holocaust, and
tributes included one from Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, and
Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Rome’s Chief Rabbi, Israel Zolli,
became a Catholic and took the Pope’s name as a tribute to him.
At the time of his death, in 1958, Golda Meir said, “When fearful
martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of
the Pope was raised for the victims.”
The Jewish Chronicle recorded: “Confronted by the monstrous cruelties
of Nazism, Fascism and Communism, he repeatedly proclaimed the virtues
of humanity and compassion…many hundreds of fugitive Jews found
sanctuary in the Vatican by the Nazis. Such actions will always be
One of the most telling refutations of Vatican indifference to the
rise of Nazism and the appalling events of the Holocaust came from
Albert Einstein, who had escaped from Nazi Germany. In 1940 he
said: “only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s
campaign for suppressing the truth…I am forced thus to confess that what
I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”
Some may not be able to bring themselves to Einstein’s conclusion,
but they - and especially the BBC and other broadcasters - should at
least examine the whole story, rather than endlessly repeat the one they
may wish to be true.
The BBC has always seen itself as an upholder of truth. The report
that it has now judged to have been false came from the very place where
Maximillian Kolbe was executed. He had written that, “No one in the
world can change truth, and beyond the hecatombs of the extermination
camps, of what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are
defeated in our innermost personal selves.”
In this “post-truth” era, perhaps every broadcaster and reporter should have Kolbe’s words placed above their desks.