April 23rd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

Euthanasia: Application of the lesson from cultural history (Part 2)

SPECIAL FEATURE Defence White Paper: Being defenceless invites attack

CANBERRA OBSERVED Banking inquiry suddenly top of Labor's agenda

EDITORIAL Turnbull's school funding plan will help Shorten

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA embeds sexualisation of children in schools

FEMINISM AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Time is ripe to counter the bad-mouthing with truth

SEX EDUCATION "Gender identity" puts vulnerable kids in danger: Pediatricians

THE GENDER AGENDA When schools make Christian kids feel like the enemy

BRITISH POLITICS Corbyn: eccentric, yes; harmless, not so much

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Dear LGBTQs, Christians want for you what you want


MUSIC Jazz: from common tongue to cliquey dialect

CINEMA The bleak dawn of justice: Batman v Superman

BOOK REVIEW Pius XII acts sub rosa

BOOK REVIEW Meet the new userers


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Pius XII acts sub rosa

News Weekly, April 23, 2016


CHURCH OF SPIES: The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler

by Mark Riebling

(Basic Books, New York)
Hardcover: 384 pages
ISBN 9780465022298
Price: AUD$44.90


Reviewed by Terri M. Kelleher


“In April 1945, the Nazis tried to break the man they called “the best agent of the Vatican Intelligence in Germany.” (p1, Prologue)

The Gestapo believed that the big-eared, unprepossessing Bavarian labour lawyer, nicknamed “Joey Ox”, had been involved in a plot to kill Hitler using the spy service of the Catholic clergy. And they weren’t wrong. In fact there were three attempts to kill Hitler, the unfortunate failure of each one escalating the odds that the plotters would be found and face the ultimate punishment.

Church of Spies, by young American author Mark Riebling, is a real thriller – real because the events described actually happened – and thrilling because of the suspense, as the price for being involved in those events was, for most of the players, a very unpleasant death at the hands of the SS.

The subtitle of the book is “The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler”. But for this reviewer Joey Ox, or Josef Muller, was the hero. He was in the thick of the action, the go-between whom Pope Pius XII trusted completely and whom Pius arranged to negotiate terms of peace between Germany and the Allies.

It has been charged against Pope Pius XII that he did not continue to speak out against Hitler and the Nazis after his predecessor Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety), resulted in Hitler ramping up persecution of the Church, and his own 1939 encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (Darkness over the Earth), in which he condemned racism and that the world judged an attack on Nazi Germany. But even before Summi Pontificatus was published, Pius had made a decision that in word he would publicly show moderation towards the “satanic” forces of Nazism while in action he had already chosen to help kill Adolf Hitler. The reader can decide whether she prefers words to action; but this reviewer is of the opinion that actions speak louder than words.

It was understood that no peace that would preserve Germany could be reached without getting rid of Hitler. He would never compromise to stop the fighting and appalling loss of life. Catholic ethics strictly limit political violence, but Pius was of the view that the conditions for a morally licit elimination of the dictator existed: “First, the conspirators intended to secure an honourable peace under a strong but anti-Nazi government, so Hitler’s removal would not mean chaos or more Nazism under Goring or Himmler. Second, Hitler could only be removed by violence, because he had abolished the democratic process through which he claimed power.” (p61)

Hitler was the prime instigator of atrocities and there was sufficient reason to believe that those atrocities would end with the tyrant’s life.

Pius’ decision stunned many in Vatican circles who later learned of it. “Never in all history,” pronounced one ecclesiastical historian, “had a pope engaged so delicately in a conspiracy to overthrow a tyrant by force.” (p62) And a U.S. intelligence officer described it as “one of the most astounding events in the modern history of the papacy”.

Pius’ action was to facilitate the plot to kill Hitler. Others were to carry it out. Josef Muller, though not an official Vatican agent, carried vital reports and intelligence from Germany to Rome. The plotters asked the pope not to publicly protest against the Nazis as it would make German Catholics even more suspect than they already were and would therefore restrict their freedom to act in their work of resistance.

Joey Ox was an intrepid man. A Jesuit priest said of him: “He did a lot of dangerous things …. He was flying this tiny little sports plane from Germany into Italy, bringing over these documents … to somebody who would take them to Pacelli (Pope Pius) …”

Without Pius’ secret mediation the German military resistance to Hitler would not have had access to British and U.S. intelligence to discuss a just peace to end the war. Pius was instrumental in that process. And although none of the three attempts to kill Hitler succeeded, they would not have got so close without Pius’ ensuring the flow of information needed for the planning.

Of course other names stand out too in this account of a truly terrifying and murderous time in European history. Count Claus Von Stauffenberg planted the bomb in the second attempt on Hitler’s life. The account, on pages 191 to 196 is almost too difficult to read knowing that it failed and the courageous Count paid with his life.

Fr Alfred Delp, another who knew of the assassination plot, paid with his life, hanged from a coil of piano wire. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged and Hans and Sophie Scholl, Munich University students who had opposed the Nazis, were guillotined. All met heroic and holy deaths and are mentioned in the book, and as part of the story of Pius’ clandestine facilitation of German resistance to the Nazis.

But Josef Muller is a man who stands out in this whole tale of intrigue. Muller was taken by the SS in April 1943. By April 1945 his wife Maria had stopped receiving letters from him and, on inquiring after him, was told: “We have deleted the name of Josef Muller. One may no longer mention that name. Muller is a dead man.”

To find out what happened to Joey Ox, you will have to read Church of Spies.

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