Friday, April 20, 2012

Digitizing Ancient Texts; Instructions from Rome; and Same Old Same Old

The colorful notion that Pope Pius XII and Adolph Hitler conspired to smuggle Nazis out of Germany is as durable as movie version of Dracula, and it's in the news again. Same old, same old, except this time it's a Harvard professor weaving the tale.

Meanwhile, in the real world, folks are digitizing 1,500,000 pages of data in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano/Vatican Secret Archives; and the Diocese of Cleveland is re-opening closed parishes, after getting instructions from Rome.
  1. 85 Kilometers of Shelving
  2. The Catholic Church: That's How it Works
  3. Return of the Nazi Pope - or - NAZI-CATHOLIC CONSPIRACY! Was Elvis Involved?
Here's my take on the news:

1. 85 Kilometers of Shelving

"Fourth Centenary of Vatican Secret Archives: 85 KM of Documents"
VIS (Vatican Information Services (April 18, 2012)

"The Vatican Secret Archives, where all the documentation relating to the Holy See is conserved and catalogued, are this year celebrating their fourth centenary. Among the initiatives organised to mark the occasion is a congress entitled 'Religiosa Archivorum Custodia', which began yesterday in the Vatican and is examining the history of the archives, their cultural importance and the results of the most recent research.

"Due perhaps to an erroneous interpretation of the name (the word 'secret' is to be understood in its Latin definition of 'private'), the archives have always been surrounded by an aura of mystery. They were established by Pope Paul V in 1611 and originally contained the manuscripts from the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-1085) which had survived the Avignon schism. Speaking on Vatican Radio Msgr. Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, explained that they 'contain centuries and centuries of catalogued letters sent or received by Popes, documents of the Apostolic Camera, diplomatic papers from the various nuncios and diplomatic missions, as well as documents from Councils and Synods, etc. The archives were originally contained in 400 metres of shelf space, now they cover 85 kilometres'...."
I sometimes feel like criticizing folks at the Holy See, for not recognizing that the rest of us aren't always as familiar with Latin, etymology, and history, as they are. But that may be partly because my native language is Germanic.

We use a derivative of the Latin alphabet, quite a few words in English derive from Latin: and that's almost another topic.

The point is that in my language, "secret" usually means "covert," more or less. Which also means "a flock of coots." And that is is another topic.

Couple 'secret=covert' with Henry VIII's cultural legacy of anti-Catholicism, and "Vatican Secret Archives" can sound downright sinister.

But that's me, and my native culture's heritage. As a practicing Catholic, I have to remember that everybody's my neighbor. (August 5, 2011) Besides, "Secret Archive" is a very straightforward translation of the name into English. (November 12, 2010

Digitizing 1,500,000 Pages of Ancient Texts

"Ancient texts: Vatican, Bodleian Libraries digitize repositories"
Evelyn Laeschke, News, Gemini (April 12, 2012)

"1.5 million pages of ancient texts archived in the Vatican and Bodleian Libraries, the main research library of the University of Oxford and one of the oldest libraries in Europe, will be digitized. A new four year project between the Bodleian Libraries and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) aims to open up the repositories and make a selection of their remarkable treasures freely available to researchers and the general public worldwide.

" 'Transforming these ancient texts and images into digital form helps transcend the limitations of time and space which have in the past restricted access to knowledge,' said Sarah Thomas, Bodleian's Librarian. 'Scholars will be able to interrogate these documents in fresh approaches as a result of their online availability.'..."
Dictionary time again. "Interrogate," in this context, means "pose a series of questions to." (Princeton's WordNet) Which sounds funny, until you realize that interrogation means, among other things, "formal systematic questioning." (Princeton's WordNet) That sort of 'interrogating' is what we do routinely when we use Google.

I've been using's already-massive online repository for years. I'm looking forward to using the new-and-improved digital archive at the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Four years, for an American, is a long time: but I think it'll be worth the wait.

Besides, I'm in no big rush to get at the Archives. For one thing, I'm still finding new-to-me material in the rest of the Vatican's website. For another, the only language I'm really comfortable with is contemporary English: the sort that's been used for the last six centuries. Having access to text is one thing. Being able to read it is something else.

2. The Catholic Church: That's How it Works

The Diocese of Cleveland's bishop decided to downsize the diocese in 2001. The current bishop was carrying out that plan, when Rome said that he should re-open the closed parishes. He could have appealed, but decided not to. This CNA/EWTN News article says he wanted to avoid a long wrangle, and reduce tension. That's not quite the way he put it, but you get the idea.

I think this article gives a pretty good look at how the Catholic Church works.
"Cleveland bishop to reopen 12 closed parishes"
CNA/EWTN News (April 18, 2012)

"Following a ruling from the Vatican, Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland has announced he will reopen 12 parishes closed in 2009 and 2010, a move he says will stretch the diocese's resources.

" 'I now say, it's time for peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland. More than ever, this is a time for all Catholics to come together with God's help and strive to strengthen our diocesan church's serving the pastoral and spiritual needs of all the faithful,' Bishop Lennon said at an April 17 news conference at Cleveland's Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist....
Bishop Lennon apparently asked the Vatican to review his decision because some folks in the diocese had written to Rome, complaining about the closings. This isn't 'democracy in action,' it's how the Church operates.

Why Cleveland Catholics Can't Fire Their Bishop

Folks in the Cleveland diocese can't fire the bishop, any more that folks in a parish can fire their priest. Bishops and priests are assigned by the hierarchy. At the parish level, in my experience, we get priests who are a pretty good 'fit' with the community. And we keep them until they're re-assigned.

As I've said before, the Catholic Church isn't a democracy.1 If it was, I probably wouldn't have bothered to become Catholic. And that's another topic.

Market-Driven, No: Responsive, Yes

But 'not a democracy' doesn't mean 'clueless.' I could, if I wanted to, complain about the color of statues in Our Lady of Angels, the parish church down the street, and send it to the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota: with a copy to Rome. That's about as close to a 'market-driven' ministry as the Catholic Church gets: for which I'm grateful. I don't want a church where the income of ministers depends on giving the faithful what's popular.

Back to that hypothetical tiff over statues.

If I was the only sorehead in the parish, the letters would probably be read, filed: and that would be an end to it. If a significant number of folks in this parish sent in similar complaints, my guess is that the bishop would make an effort to find out what the problem was. And if he didn't, he'd quite possibly end up asking Rome to investigate.

That's a trivial - and hypothetical - example. Closing parishes is anything but trivial. Now, back to that article.
"...The decision to close the parishes came as part of a comprehensive reconfiguration plan announced in March 2009. The plan intended to address population shifts, financial hardship for many parishes, and fewer priests....

"...The reopened parishes must continually demonstrate that they have the active membership and the financial resources to sustain themselves, the bishop said....

"There are 710,000 Catholics in the 174 parishes of the Diocese of Cleveland"
My parish is in the Diocese of Saint Cloud, Minnesota. We've got roughly as many parishes in the diocese as Cleveland, but a lot fewer Catholics. My guess is that we're spread out a bit more than the Cleveland area.
"...The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Cloud encompasses 16 central Minnesota counties, including 135 parishes with a combined Catholic population of 150,000...."
("Press Releases for the Diocese of Saint Cloud," Diocese of St. Cloud (release dated August 23, 2010))
We've had parishes close in this area, too: and I don't expect them to get reopened. My hope is that we can keep the current parishes open. Happily, roads are pretty good in this part of the world: so it's possible for a priest to celebrate mass in one town, drive to the next, and keep two parishes running. Convenient, no: possible, yes.

I sympathize with Catholics in Cleveland. It's rough when a home parish closes, and uncertainty about what's coming next is rough, too.

3. Return of the Nazi Pope - or - NAZI-CATHOLIC CONSPIRACY! Was Elvis Involved?

I've used this quote before:
"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen, Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix, via Wikiquote)

Facts, Assumptions, and Harvard

During and immediately after World War II, quite a few folks wanted to get out of Germany. Some of them didn't have all their papers. Some of them didn't want to stick around for a thorough background check: possibly because they were about two jumps ahead of the Gestapo.

Some Catholics helped refugees get out of Germany. Some of the Catholics were priests. And some of the refugees were Nazis.

Those are the facts.

Urban legends2 that the Pope conspired with Adolph Hitler to evacuate the Third Reich? It'd make a nifty premise for an over-the-top alternative-history novel: but it simply did not happen.

But a Harvard professor says it did, so: and he's got botched research to 'prove' it. (April 17, 2012)
"Claims of papal help for Nazi war criminals 'verifiably false' "
CNA/EWTN News, (April 16, 2012)

"A Harvard professor's claim that Vatican leadership intentionally helped Nazi war criminals escape to South America after World War II relies on erroneous sources and misinterprets events, argues Catholic author Ronald J. Rychlak.

" 'The combination of sloppy work and over-the-top charges provides a textbook example of how a verifiably false account can be reported as fact in the mainstream media,' Rychlak said in the April 2012 issue of the Catholic League's newsletter The Catalyst.

"Rychlak, the associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Mississippi, has authored two books on Pope Pius XII's actions during World War II. He critiqued Harvard Divinity School professor Kevin Madigan's essay 'How the Catholic Church Sheltered War Criminals,' published in the December 2011 issue of the neoconservative magazine Commentary.

"Madigan contended that the Pontifical Aid Commission supplied 'crucial aid in sheltering Nazi war criminals.' The commission, he claimed, viewed itself as 'a sort of papal mercy program for National Socialists and Fascists.'

"Madigan's essay indicated that this support took place with the whole-hearted support of Pius XII...."
I put a copy of the CNA/EWTN News article at the end of Tuesday's post.

I don't doubt that the Harvard professor is sincere. I'm also drearily familiar with the sort of nonsense he's pushing. What impresses me is that he thought he could get away with such shoddy scholarship, in something that was likely to fall into non-Harvard hands.

On the other hand, maybe it's hard to remember the difference between assumptions and facts, if everybody around shares those assumptions - and gets irate if anybody questions them. If everybody in the office really believed that Elvis3 was alive: well, you get the idea.

What Folks Know, That Just Ain't So

"...'Madigan would have us believe that the Church knowingly sent Nazi officials to safety,' he said. 'It is, however, inconceivable that the Nazis revealed their background to reputable Church officials. It is even less likely that any such information would have reached the Vatican. The logistics of the massive relocation programs simply made it impossible to investigate most individuals who sought help.'

"Part of the controversy centers on Bishop Alois Hudal, a Nazi-sympathizing rector of the German-speaking seminary college of Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome.

" 'It has long been known that Hudal and a Croatian priest named Krunoslav Draganovi? helped some former Nazis escape from Europe. Madigan, however, says that they were part of ‘a sort of papal mercy program for National Socialists and Fascists',' Rychlak said. 'That is far from the truth.'

"Bishop Hudal was not on friendly terms with the Vatican leadership, Rychlak explained.

"The bishop's memoir said that the assistance he gave to fleeing Nazis was done without the Pope's knowledge. He authored a book 'critical of the hard line that Vatican diplomats took with the Germans,' Rychlak reported....

"...'Madigan should have done his homework before spreading these malicious charges,' Rychlak said."
I'd prefer that Ivy League professors be less sloppy when fudging research. But unswerving allegiance to goofy notions about the Catholic Church has, like Harvard, been part of America for a long, long, time.

(From Thomas Nast Portfolio, Ohio State University, used w/o permission.)
"The American River Ganges, a cartoon by Thomas Nast showing bishops attacking public schools, with connivance of Boss Tweed. Harper's Weekly, September 30, 1871." (Wikipedia)
Related posts:

1 I was born in America, and started voting when I turned 18. I like living in a 'constitution-based federal republic with a strong democratic tradition.' ("United States," CIA World Factbook (last updated (April 11, 2012)) But I know that what Americans call "democracy" isn't the only practical form of government. I think what matters at least as much is the 'moral character' of a country's leaders and citizens. I'm not talking about zipper issues: "morality" in this context means knowing what ethical standards are, having some, and acting as if they matter. I've been over this before:2 Urban legends are "just plausible enough to be believed:"
"Definition: An apocryphal, secondhand story told as true and just plausible enough to be believed, about some horrific, embarrassing, ironic, or exasperating series of events that supposedly happened to a real person...."
(David Emery,
Depending on a person's assumptions, "Just plausible enough to be believed" could include the idea that Elvis Presley bought gas at the corner convenience store; the Dalai Lama is really Jack the Ripper, or that the Pope conspired with Adolph Hitler. (Dalai Lama?! I really don't think so, but we don't know what 'Jack the Ripper' looked like: and 'plausibility' is in the mind of the individual.)

3 A really quick review of Elvis Presley: for the benefit of folks who were born since, what? 1990? Elvis was born on January 8, 1935. He became a very popular American singer, and stayed that way for decades. He died on August 16, 1977. For a few decades after that, folks kept thinking they saw Elvis: at least, that's what it said on the covers of supermarket tabloids. The popularity of Elvis sightings may be on the wane now. I don't remember when I stopped noticing "ELVIS" routinely on my way to the grocery checkout.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.