Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Another Benedict

Benedict XV

During the First World War, the then pope, Benedict XV, adhered to a policy of impartiality. He preached peace. He was elected on the eve of the First World War. His first encyclical called for peace (Ad Beatissimi (November 1914)). His efforts for peace continued throughout the war.

Both sides of the conflict reviled him.

The French Prime Minister Clemenceau condemned Benedict as "le pape Boche", while the German General Ludendorff condemned him as "the French Pope".

The then Italian Government, under Sonnino, conspired against him

He was often humilated during the course of the War. However he continued on his path.

For example, in late June/early July 1915, the Pope gave an interview to a French journalist, M.Laudet of La Liberté. He was asked questions about alleged German atrocities in Belgium and in France and the very recent sinking of the Lusitania.

He had to endure severe criticism for not entering into the controversy by making critical comments

The contemporary excerpts from The Times below indicate some of the heat which he faced.

Again when in 1917 the Pope attempted to put out feelers to attempt a peace initiative, he endured invective and personal criticism as a result of the Gerlach Affair in June 1917.

Monsignor Rudolf Gerlach was a Bavarian priest and "private chamberlain and confidant of Pope Benedict XV." He was also "a conduit for covert German subsidies" to anti-interventionist newspapers during the period before Italy entered World War I.

Since Monsignor Gerlach was German, he was to be expelled from Italy when the latter entered the war. Instead, the Monsignor received a ceremonial appointment from the Pope. Gerlach then promised to remain on the grounds of the Vatican whenever he was not undertaking a papal mission. As a member of the Pope’s staff, the Italian authorities allowed Gerlach to remain in Italy.

Following some very bloody sabotage attacks on the Italian Navy, Allied counter intelligence took steps to obtain the names of spies operating in Italy. Such a list was obtained from the Austrian Embassy in Switzerland. One of those named was Monsignor Gerlach. The Monsignor was part of a spy ring operating in Rome.

Rather strangely he was arrested by the Italian police and taken to the Swiss border and released into Switzerland.

He was exiled and tried in abstentia by a closed military court. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence which would begin if he was ever found again on Italian soil.

Some of the press reports from The Times are below.

However Benedict XV went on to make his famous Peace Initiative later that year.

It would appear that being subject to intense personal criticism and personal humiliation is still part of the job description of Pontiff.

Whatever one`s views of the removal of the excommunication of Williamson and one`s views about the Society of Pope Pius X, we should pray for the Pope in this difficult period. Benedict XVI is no anti-Semite.