WASHINGTON (Dec. 10)
A papal encyclical attacking racism and anti-Semitism ordered by Pope Pius XI in June, 1938, might have prevented the Nazis from carrying out their planned extermination of Jews, it was disclosed in the National Catholic Reporter due for publication Dec. 16. According to the copyrighted lay-edited Reporter, the Pope commissioned the American Jesuit editor and scholar, the Rev. John LaFarge, to write this encyclical 15 months before the outbreak of World War II. But, the Reporter notes, it is not clear whether the Pope ever saw the completed draft before his death in Feb. 1939.
According to Gordon Zahn, a Catholic scholar who has written extensively on the German church under Hitler and who was asked by the Catholic Reporter to analyze the encyclical and speculate on the effect it might have had, the publication “could have had important long-term results.” Nazi anti-Semitic practices might not have been stopped, Zahn noted, “but they may not have escalated to the stage of planned extermination; more important, Catholics in countries soon to be occupied might have been less ready to cooperate when the time came.”
The draft of the papal encyclical, according to Marjorie Hyer, a staff writer of the Washington Post who reported on the contents of the Catholic Reporter’s disclosure, has been discovered in a Jesuit seminary in New York City. The document, “The Unity of the Human Race,” was completed by Father LaFarge, but the Catholic Reporter stated that there is “the possibility that the finished manuscript was withheld from Pope Pius XI for political reasons by La Farge’s Jesuit superior general, Father Wlodimir Ledochowski, who was also a Polish Count.”
WITHHELD ENCYCLICAL FROM POPE
According to papers left behind by LaFarge, now stored in the Jesuit Seminary in Woodstock, N.Y., Father Ledochowski received the manuscript from Father LaFarge for transmission to the Pope but held it for more than a month and then gave it to an unidentified “Jesuit censor.”
A German Jesuit scholar, the Rev. Gustave Gundlach, who worked with Father LaFarge in Rome on the encyclical draft, expressed distrust of Father Ledochowski “because he felt his extreme anti-Communism blinded him to the dangers of Nazism.” Thomas Bresith, one-time Jesuit candidate for ordination who discovered the material about the encyclical while studying Father LaFarge’s papers, told the Catholic Reporter that Father Ledochowski feared that publication of the encyclical would prompt a Soviet invasion of Poland leading to the downfall of Western religion.
Father Ledochowski reportedly received the encyclical manuscript late Sept. 1939. Some six weeks later–the night known as “Crystal Night” of Nov. 9-10–Nazis pillaged and looted synagogues and Jewish businesses and arrested thousands of Jews throughout Germany. It was the beginning of the planned extermination of Jews by the Nazi regime. According to the Catholic Reporter, the virtual silence of the churches following that event “showed Hitler that he could get away with using Jews as scapegoats.”