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The Search for the Documents
In December 1972 and January 1973 a series of articles in the National Catholic Reporter (Kansas City, Missouri) raised for the first time the issue of an "unpublished encyclical of Pius XI attacking anti-Semitism." Jim Castelli, the periodical's associate editor, had unearthed most of the information relating to this case through meticulous and prudent investigation.
In June 1938, Castelli reported, Pope Pius XI had entrusted an American Jesuit at Fordham University, Father John LaFarge, S.J., with the drafting of preliminary documents for an encyclical condemning racism and anti-Semitism. Surprised, and a bit overwhelmed, LaFarge asked for assistance, and Gustav Gundlach, S.J., a German Jesuit, and Gustave Desbuquois, S.J., a French Jesuit nominated by the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Father Wladimir Ledochowski, S.J., were appointed as his collaborators. A second German Jesuit, Father Heinrich Bacht, S.J., joined them in order to translate their draft into Latin. The four men worked together in Paris throughout the summer, and toward the end of December, LaFarge went to Rome to give Ledochowski not one but three versions of the draft that had been asked for: three texts, then, written respectively in French, English, and German, one of which, at least, was titled Humani Generis Unitas, "The Unity of the Human Race."
And then ... nothing. Pius XI died in February 1939, Cardinal Pacelli succeeded him in March under the name of Pius XII, and the Second World War began in September with the invasion of Poland--without the encyclical's having seen the light of day.
What happened? Jim Castelli offered no definitive answer to that question. But basing his views on the correspondence between LaFarge and Gundlach after LaFarge's return to the United States, he speculated that the superior general of the Jesuits must have deliberately delayed the transmission of the documents as too obviously contradicting his strategic choices, which were more anti-communist than anti-Nazi. When these documents reached Pius XI--if they ever did--the old pope Ratti was already too near his end to be able to transform them into an encyclical. As for Pius XII, who does seem to have been aware of the documents commissioned by his predecessor, he was said to have simply decided to bury them in the "silence of the archives."
How did the National Catholic Reporter manage to break open such a delicate case? On what documentation were its revelations based? "Microfilmed copies of the encyclical and related documents," Castelli explained, had been given to his newspaper by a former Jesuit, Thomas Breslin, who as a seminarian had discovered them in 1967 while cataloguing the papers of John LaFarge. These papers, which had long been kept at the head offices of the Catholic weekly America, had been passed to St. Ignatius of Loyola Seminary in Westchester County, New York, where Breslin was studying philosophy. The closure of the seminary in 1969 interrupted Breslin's work, and the LaFarge papers moved to Woodstock College in Manhattan, where cataloguing was not pursued further for lack of an archivist.
In the course of his investigation, Castelli had taken care to confirm, by means of various independent witnesses, the existence of this documentation. According to the memoirs of Father Walter Abbott, S.J., who had become friends with LaFarge in New York, LaFarge had never said a word about this project to any of his colleagues at Fordham. Shortly before his death in 1963, when persistently questioned on the subject by a former student of Father Gundlach's, he finally admitted, within community confidentiality, that he had taken part in this enterprise, but gave no further details. Abbott added that he had found the English and French copies of the encyclical among LaFarge's papers on the day of LaFarge's death. Another witness, Father Heinrich Bacht, S.J., the translator chosen to prepare a Latin version of the draft encyclical, and in 1972 the last surviving participant in the project, said that "Gundlach wrote the larger part of the draft, whereas LaFarge wrote most of the key sections on racism and anti-Semitism." Finally, the documentation was also attested to in an unqualified manner by Father Robert Graham, S.J., a coworker with LaFarge at America for twenty years and, in 1972, the co-director of the section of the Vatican archives devoted to the Second World War.
The National Catholic Reporter quoted in toto only paragraphs 126 to 130 of the draft encyclical itself, that is, solely the conclusions on racism in general. The paragraphs on anti-Semitism received only succinct mention.
Castelli concluded his vast investigation by remarking, in an accompanying editorial, that "the story of this encyclical draft means that the question of the Vatican's failure to denounce anti-Semitism at the proper time in the prewar period involved not an oversight, but a conscious refusal to work with a document outlined by a pope himself," and that this inevitably raised "many questions about the internal workings of the Vatican during World War II." Moreover, "an earlier, hard-hitting statement on racism might have meant that we would have less racially motivated strife in the U.S. today."
In a long scholarly article, Gordon Zahn, a specialist on the social encyclicals, judged the rediscovered encyclical "perhaps the strongest Catholic statement on this moral evil" of anti-Semitism. As such, "it resurrects the 'Hochhuth problem' in a new context, for now it is no longer a matter of Pius XII's failure to protest the systematic elimination of the Jews, but rather his apparent refusal to go along with the intention of his revered predecessor and sponsor. Add to this the fact that Pius XI would have protested early in the Nazi program while Pius XII maintained public silence long after it had escalated into the full horror of the Final Solution, and what once seemed a needless attack upon the memory of a beloved leader becomes a very real problem calling for serious study and reflection."
In addition, Zahn writes, "the newly 'discovered' encyclical adds a new dimension to the problem: It suggests that Pius XII, though no anti-Semite himself, did not share his predecessor's intensity of opposition to that moral evil and, as a consequence, did not place it as high in the order of priority in making his policy calculations as Piux XI probably would have. This, in turn, might reflect a personality difference between the two, Pius XII being less inclined to take a controversial stand and distancing himself from what he may have regarded as rash impulsiveness on the part of the other."
The Vatican's Clarification
The information published by the National Catholic Reporter immediately attracted the attention of several leading periodicals, but did not unleash a wave of polemics comparable to the one that had accompanied the production of Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy a dozen years earlier. Did this moderate response result from the celerity with which the Vatican reacted?
On 5 April 1973 the Osservatore romano published a clarification signed by one of the officials of the Vatican archives, Father Burkhart Schneider. Seizing the opportunity afforded by the publication of a new volume in the vast corpus entitled Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to the Second World War, Father Schneider explained, under the title "An Encyclical Manque," that in this new volume, which also included documents belonging to the end of Pius XI's pontificate, "a document is lacking which has recently attracted the attention of the international press. The latter has repeatedly asserted that there has been discovered in the United States an unpublished encyclical of Pius XI on racism whose publication would have had immeasurable consequences at the time. In fact, during the summer of 1938, the Jesuit Fathers Desbuquois, Gundlach, and LaFarge began composing, in Paris, on the pope's orders, a document that would have set forth Christian doctrine on the unity of the human race (the title was to be Unitas Humani Generis), in opposition to all racist ideologies. The result was a work of more than 100 very dense pages written in a speculative, theoretical, and laborious style that more resembled Gundlach's manner of thinking than LaFarge's. Three versions exist (French, English, and German), which are not always coherent or identical with each other. These texts, transmitted to Pius XI by the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, W. Ledochowski, at the end of 1938 or the beginning of 1939, cannot be considered a true pontifical document, but at most the draft, requiring many revisions and redevelopments, of a future encyclical. The concrete situation at the time, the health of the pontiff, who died a few weeks later, and his wish to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Concordat (the Conciliazione), caused the texts prepared, along with many others on different themes, to end up in the silence of the archives. Part of their content can easily be discovered in Pius XII's documents, beginning with the encyclical Summi Pontificatus, and this is explained by the fact that Pius XII later made use of the services of Father Gundlach for documents, speeches and messages devoted to social and political problems. Since it is therefore a private work, even though it is preparatory to a possible document of the Holy See, it has not been taken into consideration for the present edition."
Was this clarification judged sufficient? It seems, in any event, to have put a stop to this first effort to publicly exhume the documents in question. One thing had nevertheless been learned: the Vatican archives preserved many documentary traces of this case.
"Perhaps this is not the right moment"
One of the present authors, Georges Passelecq, a monk at the Benedictine abbey of Maredsous in Belgium, learned of the articles in the National Catholic Reporter shortly after they appeared, and decided to undertake his own investigation. As secretary since 1969 of the Belgian National Catholic Commission on Relations with the Jewish World, he had reason to believe that his hope of achieving his goal was not wholly chimerical. His first reaction was to write, on 11 October 1974, to Father Robert Graham, in Rome:
Reverend Father, Some time ago Father Roger Braun, S.J., who edits the journal Rencontre--Chretiens et Juifs in Paris, and myself were trying to collect some documentation concerning the encyclical on racism that was to be published by Pius XI, but which his rather sudden death caused to be placed among the papers of the Vatican. Recently Father Braun, who is not in good health, asked me again to pursue this matter, and he suggested I write to you, for he says that he learned from you yourself that you possess a certain number of interesting documents on this important question. Might I be permitted to appeal to you, and ask whether these documents could possibly be made available to us, with a view to the eventual publication in Rencontre of an article on this subject? If necessary, I would be willing to travel to Rome. I know something about the question. Through American publications, I have already collected a good deal of information, particularly concerning Father LaFarge (whom I met personally in New York in 1950, if I remember correctly). I would be extremely thankful for anything you could do to help us in this area, and I beg you to consider me, Reverend Father, your fraternally devoted and grateful, Georges PasselecqHere is Father Graham's reply, dated Rome, 21 October:
Dear Reverend Father, I have received your letter of 11 October and I hasten to tell you that I do not have the text of the encyclical Generis Humani Unitas. Around 1959, I sent a photocopy to Action populaire in care of Father Bosc, asking his advice concerning the possibility of publishing it. The reply was that as a provisional document, it was not of interest as a whole, although certain parts might be publishable. Then I heard nothing more. Nothing, that is, until Father Edward Stanton, a Jesuit in Boston, went to work. He had written a doctoral dissertation (1972) in Ottawa, Canada. To my shame, I cannot give you its title, or tell you whether the dissertation was brought out by a publishing house. In any case, I have not seen the final text.[...] The documentation of which Father Braun speaks [...] consists of my own notes taken in New York after my conversations with him or others that I received from Father Abbott (who is in this house, but is gone on vacation). At a certain time I wrote up an account of these, but it remains unfinished. It is no more than an account, and not a discussion. I inform you that just before his death Father LaFarge--a great soul to whom I owe a great deal--had sent an article on racism to the New Catholic Encyclopedia. For that purpose he had dug the old "encyclical" out of his closet. I wonder what value ought to be attached to the document, which was intended for the pope, to be sure, but which represents in itself only what Father LaFarge and Father Gundlach (and perhaps Father Desbuquois) thought at the time. The German Jesuits here believe they can discern Gundlach's hand everywhere in the document, a possibility I do not exclude, even though the pope's mandate was entrusted to Father LaFarge. In order to prepare a document for Pius XI they would have had to consult, of course, the many statements on racism made by the pope during the preceding months and years.--Why don't you write a study on these documents? Could you let me know if I can help you in any other way? For I am eager that my master and benefactor "Uncle John" be duly recognized as a person who was early on sensitive to the needs of our time. I am currently rereading some Catholic works on the Church and the Jews. I find it curious that no one mentions the audience Pius XII granted Jules Isaac, which nevertheless had one consequence about which Isaac said he was very happy. It had to do with nongenuflection during Holy Week. Today this amounts to little, no doubt. But then it was all the greater a gesture because it was the first. May God bless you in your apostolic love! I beg you, Reverend Father, to accept my respectful good wishes.Since Father Graham's reply seemed evasive, Passelecq asked Father Ambroise Watelet, O.S.B., also a Benedictine at Maredsous, who was then rector of the St. Anselm Pontifical College in Rome, to try again. It was no use. On 18 September 1976, Father Watelet wrote Passelecq from Rome:
My dear Father, I have just had an hourlong interview with the charming Father Graham, S.J. I set forth your considerations. He immediately told me that he feared you had arrived too late; in fact, a certain Father Nota, a Dutch Jesuit, published at the beginning of the year a study on this business of the draft encyclical. You will find this study in the Internationale Katholische Zeitschrift, no. 2, 1976. Father Nota had access to a German text of the draft encyclical, and gave an analytical summary of it. Father Graham has already indicated in his letter of 21 October 1974 that a photocopy of the French text must be at the offices of Action populaire in Paris (Father Bosc); Graham himself no longer has the text. He emphasized two points: 1. This draft encyclical, which Pius XI personally entrusted to Father LaFarge (to the surprise of Father General Ledochowski), was no more than a first draft which does not necessarily represent Pius XI's thought. The document reached the Vatican, but did Pius XI see it? 2. The draft encyclical is not primarily concerned with the Jews, but rather with the general problem of racism. That said, there is a dossier on this matter in the Vatican archives, but it is still in the secret part of the archives, and thus not accessible through the ordinary avenues. Father Graham added that the central ideas in the encyclical were adopted by Pius XII, who published the document Summi Pontificatus in October 1939. Father LaFarge's ideas--as Father Graham wrote to you--were expressed in his article on racism in the New Catholic Encyclopedia. A final consideration: Father Graham thinks that so far as this draft encyclical is concerned, the Vatican would probably not wish to draw attention to the publications on the Jews at this moment of tension in the Near East. In conclusion, Father Graham advises you first to look into Father Nota's recent article; you will see whether there is still anything new and interesting to say. He himself does not think he can help you very much; it might be worthwhile to contact Father Nota in Holland and Father Bosc in Paris. He did not tell me that it would be impossible to gain access to the dossier in the Vatican archives, but perhaps this is not the right moment. I can inquire if you wish. There you have, dear Father Georges, the information I have been able to collect for you. Let me know if you want to know more.Father Graham's "advice" was sufficiently imperative that Passelecq pursued the matter no further. He nevertheless resumed his research thirteen years later, after meeting Bernard Suchecky. In the course of their correspondence, avenues of approach to the problem appeared that circumvented the Vatican archives, which were apparently inaccessible: for example, the archives of the Jesuits at Action populaire in Paris; and the documentation that was probably in the possession of Father Nota, the author of the article mentioned by Father Watelet--and, of course, the microfilm that the National Catholic Reporter said it had acquired.
"God be praised that this draft remained only a draft!"
It was in July 1987, in a doubly polemical context--the dispute concerning the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, and the beatification of Edith Stein in April 1987--that, looking through various files preserved at the library of the American Jewish Committee in New York, Bernard Suchecky learned about the article by Father Johannes Nota.
Titled "Edith Stein and the Draft for an Encyclical Opposing Racism and Anti-Semitism," this article had appeared in 1975 in the Freiburger Rundbrief, a German periodical on Judeo-Christian relations. In it Father Nota, a Dutch Jesuit who devoted his life to studying and teaching the thought of Edith Stein, discussed the unsuccessful efforts made in 1933 by German philosophers to obtain an audience with Pius XI in order to persuade him to publish an encyclical condemning anti-Semitism. Edith Stein is quoted by Father Nota: "... my efforts in Rome led me to conclude that because of the large number of visitors (during the holy year 1933), I could not obtain a private audience. I could be given only a 'little audience' (that is, as part of a small group). This was useless to me. I therefore gave up my trip and transmitted my request in writing. I know that my letter was sealed when it was given to the Holy Father; some time later, I even received his blessing on me and those near me. But nothing more came of it. Is it impossible that he often thought of this letter afterward? My fears with regard to the future of German Catholics were gradually confirmed in the course of the following years."
In trying to find this letter of Edith Stein's, Father Nota had learned for the first time of Humani Generis Unitas: "As early as 1968, Father Robert Graham, S.J., told me how, while he was doing research for the publication of documents in the Vatican archives, he had found a draft encyclical against racism and anti-Semitism." Subsequently, the articles in the National Catholic Reporter complemented his information and strengthened his desire to learn more. But, Nota writes, "At first, it was extraordinarily difficult to obtain the whole text; the National Catholic Reporter had published only a few extracts from Father John LaFarge's draft. Letters sent to Rome, Paris, Germany, and North America generally elicited a few friendly words, but not the text. They did not have the text, my correspondents said, but they advised me to look in ... where the text was in fact, but it had to remain secret, etc. I nevertheless learned that four versions existed: in English, French, German, and Latin. Fathers Gundlach, LaFarge, and Desbuquois had apparently worked in concert.
"Finally, I received the English version from Father Edward Stanton, S.J., of Boston College--who had just completed a doctoral thesis, as yet unpublished, on Father LaFarge. [...] My efforts to find the other versions have unfortunately been unsuccessful, even though Dr. Johannes Schwarte--who was getting ready to publish his doctoral thesis on Father Gustav Gundlach--was also of enormous help to me. But his 'hands were tied' ... He nonetheless gave me a precious bit of information: 'Up to the passages on racism and anti-Semitism, [the two versions] are on the whole identical.'"
Having obtained the English version, Father Nota proceeded to analyze it. He found the part concerning the unity of the human race "very good," and the one on racism in general "excellent." But the sections on the Jews and anti-Semitism seemed to him so mediocre--the all-too-traditional theology used in them led to positions he described as "deplorable"--that he exclaimed: "If one puts these sentences back into the context of the racist legislation adopted in Germany at that period, one can say today: God be praised that this draft remained only a draft!"
Upon learning of this article and, shortly afterward, of the National Catholic Reporter's investigation, Suchecky began to question American specialists in Judeo-Catholic relations, both Jewish and Christian, academics and non-academics. At that time, he obtained two kinds of replies. Either a lapidary "Never heard of it!" or "It's like the Loch Ness monster. Every time the Church is embarrassed by the `silence of Pius XII,' someone tries to play it down by resorting to this story about the encyclical. The 'good' Pius XI was going to speak out but he didn't have time; the 'unfortunate' Pius XII thought it preferable to do as much as he could to save Jews, but silently. However, no one has ever been able to produce these documents...."
Nevertheless, the Nota and National Catholic Reporter articles were sufficiently precise for Suchecky to find this story about an encyclical credible, and he in turn set out in search of Humani Generis Unitas. First he contacted the editors of National Catholic Reporter. They assured him that the paper's archives contained nothing on this subject, and that the microfilm Jim Castelli had acquired in 1972 "could not be located." A similar approach to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., which has held the LaFarge papers since the closure of Woodstock College in the 1970s, proved equally fruitless, as is shown by this letter from Nicholas B. Scheetz, manuscripts librarian at Georgetown University, dated 21 August 1987:
Dear Mr. Suchecky, Thank you for your letter of 7 August concerning an unpublished encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Unitas Humani Generis, preserved in the papers of Reverend John LaFarge, S.J. I have looked through the two catalogues of the LaFarge papers without finding the slightest reference to the encyclical. I have also checked the cartons that are supposed to contain these materials, unfortunately without success. Moreover, I have asked the person who catalogued the LaFarge collection whether he remembered having seen such materials while he was doing the cataloguing. Alas, he does not remember anything. He added that some time ago, in response to a request similar to yours, he had thoroughly searched this collection without positive results. It therefore seems to me that I can state that the materials you are looking for are not in the LaFarge papers stored at Georgetown. The newspaper article that you sent me dates from 15 December 1972, well before the LaFarge papers were entrusted to us. It is possible that we did not receive everything; it is even possible that the documents relative to the encyclical were never put back in the archives after they were microfilmed for the National Catholic Reporter. I think the best thing to do would be to write to Mr. Jim Castelli, the author of the article, to see if he still has the microfilm. If that is the case, or if you find the missing materials, could you inform me? I would very much like to put copies of these documents back into our LaFarge archives. In any case, I am truly sorry not to be able to provide you with the documents you desire. With my best wishes for the success of your project...The next logical step was to locate Father Nota, since he had stated in his article that he possessed at least the English version of the encyclical draft. After some research, Suchecky learned that Father Nota was living in Thorold, Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls. Unannounced, Suchecky visited him on 29 October 1987. The old Dutch Jesuit told him that he could do no more than what had been done for him--that is, he could let Suchecky see a fragment of the English version of Humani Generis Unitas that he had earlier obtained from Father Edward Stanton. The fragment in question, about fifteen typed pages, contained paragraphs 131 to 152 of the document, which dealt specifically with the Jews and anti-Semitism. Suchecky thus had a first piece of the document.
On the occasion of Suchecky's visit, Father Nota gave him a few examples of the "extraordinary difficulties," as he had called them in his article, which he confronted when he tried to obtain the entire document. Following is one such example, and one not without importance for the research undertaken by the authors of the present work. It is a letter from Father Lamalle, S.J., dated Rome, 30 July 1973, asserting that nothing on this subject exists in the general archives of the Jesuits in Rome:
Dear Father Nota, Pax Christi. Father Bumpel transmits to me with warm recommendation a twofold request from you: 1) the text of the encyclical planned but not published by Pius XI, Humani Generis Unitas, against racism, included in part in Pius XII's encyclical Summi Pontificatus; 2) the confirmation or disconfirmation of the claim that Father Ledochowski tried to delay publication in order to avoid further irritating the German government. I greatly regret that I cannot directly satisfy you in this twofold request. First, because the text of this planned encyclical is certainly not in our archives. I believe I know them well enough to be able to say that. Second, as for the correspondence registered between Father Ledochowski and the Holy See, there is nothing on this subject. This negative result is in my opinion completely normal. I knew Father Ledochowski well, and I worked for him on several occasions and with him during this period. I always noted his extreme concern not to leave behind writings that might be compromising in the event of persecution, perquisition, etc., especially when it was not a matter of things directly concerning the Society (in matters that concerned us directly, registration might become necessary). Of the little we had, the traces disappeared during the war, when the presence of hostile authorities in Italy and in Rome led us to fear that our papers would be seized. I remember having seen in recent years an article in which this "suppressed" encyclical of Pius XI was mentioned, in some journal, La Civilta cattolica or another. But since it is a subject outside my professional specialty, I kept no notes. You would have a better chance of finding it by addressing yourself to one of the priests involved in publishing Pius XII's documents: Father Burkhart Schneider (Universita Gregoriana, Piazza della Pilotta, 4, 00817 Roma), Father Angelo Martini, or Father Robert Graham (both at La Civilta cattolica, Via di Porta Pinciana 1, 00187 Roma). [...] sincerely yours in [X.sup.0], Edmond Lamalle, S.J. N.B.: The limit of accessibility of the documents in our archives, without very special authorization, is the year 1900. But this time, the question does not even arise: deest materia.Deest materia. In other words, these materials are not in the Roman archives of the Society of Jesus. Two Doctoral Theses and a Microfilm
Toward the end of the summer of 1987, Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, who had met in Brussels a year earlier, decided to join forces in order to pursue their search for these documents. Between November 1987 and January 1988, they obtained without excessive difficulties the doctoral theses by Edward Stanton and Johannes Schwarte mentioned by Father Nota in his article.
Edward Stanton's 1972 dissertation, "John LaFarge's Understanding of the Unifying Mission of the Church, Especially in the Area of Race Relations," is based almost exclusively on LaFarge's numerous publications. Only the section devoted to Humani Generis Unitas is based on archival documents. But while Stanton mentions that he "was able to obtain from the LaFarge dossier a French version and two English texts" of the draft encyclical, he does not explain where these dossiers were stored or how he was able to gain access to them.
Table of Contents
|Introduction: Fumbling toward Justice||ix|
|I. The Search for the Documents||1|
|II. The Commissioning of Humani Generis Unitas||24|
|III. The Composition of Humani Generis Unitas||41|
|IV. What Happened to the Draft?||67|
|V. A Few Supplementary Documents Concerning||93|
|Humani Generis Unitas. The Complete Text||169|