You Believe in Forgiveness, Why Can't You Forgive the Church?

March 1998By James E. Tynen

James E. Tynen is an Assistant Director of Student Activities at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dear Simon,

I was saddened to learn of how angry you are with the Church. You say she didn’t do enough to stop the Holocaust or the Vietnam War, that she doesn’t do enough to stop racism and poverty and injustice, and that she breeds intolerance. Why, in the Civil War, she didn’t even condemn the slave-owning South.

Let’s start with World War II. You say Pope Pius XII failed to help the Jews who were rounded up by the Nazis. In fact, the Church did save thousands of Jews. A look at history suggests it is unlikely that the Church could have done more. Pius XII’s fear that loud protests would have brought retaliation from the Nazis was well founded. A protest by the Dutch bishops, for example, incited the Nazis to retaliate and kill many priests and nuns, including the Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (born Edith Stein). The Vatican was surrounded by a ruthless, evil power, yet still worked to save people.

For a reality check, compare the Vatican’s record to that of the neutral nations, or even that of the Allied powers. Confronting the evil of Nazism, mighty nations with strong armies failed to do much for a long time. In this real-life situation, considering its lack of secular power, the Vatican did a great deal.

Perhaps it could have done more. Perhaps the Pope should have welcomed martyrdom, although it seems unfair for us, the living, to ask that.

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