Lying About the Historical Record


I would note that none of the following comments are directed at my blogging colleague Joe Hargrave for whom I have the greatest respect.  Joe is a first rate writer and an original thinker.  He and I disagree about the morality of lying under all circumstances, but that is not the issue that is being addressed in this post.

A controversy has arisen regarding the morality of the Lila Rose and Live Action brilliant sting operations against Planned Parenthood with some Catholic bloggers condemning these operations citing Catholic teaching against lying.  I disagree with them and believe that the sting operations are completely compatible with Church teaching and praxis, however that is not the issue I am concerned about in regard to this post.

A side controversy has developed recently regarding Pius XII since many people, including myself, have raised deceptions countenanced by Pius XII in World War II to save Jewish lives as an example where the Vicar of Christ approved lies in an attempt to save the lives of the innocent.  Now the proper response to this fact of history to those who hold that the Church teaches that all lies are immoral is to deal with it honestly.  One could argue that the actions of a Pope do not alter Church teaching.  That of course is a hard argument to make to a Catholic audience.  The easier, albeit dishonest path, is to attempt to pretend that what occurred simply did not occur.  The attempt to do that is beginning currently.

In a post at the Paulist site Busted Halo, Dawn Eden and William Doino, Jr., who has written in defense of Pius XII and who really should know better,  cites a biography of Pope John XXIII written by Peter and Margaret Hebblethwaithe for the contention that when  Pope John XXIII was papal nuncio in Turkey during World War II he did not, as popularly thought, issue fake baptismal certificates for Jews.  Go here to read the post and go here to read the passage in the book.

This passage in the post by Mr. Doino deserves careful reading:

Others have argued that the Church would sanction, or did sanction, lying to Nazis who sought to find and kill Jews. But this claim too has no foundation in the Catechism’s teachings, neither is it true of the actions of the Church during World War II — which did save hundreds of thousands of Jews , but not through faking baptismal certificates, as has been claimed.

This passage, to be blunt, is a masterpiece of deception.  Note how it shifts the general argument from whether the Church did sanction lying, to “refuting” the statement by claiming that the Church did not fake baptismal certificates.  The faking baptismal certifcates is further narrowed down to the single case of Archbishop Roncalli.  Bravo!  I make my living by engaging in litigation and I have rarely seen a better example of the art of seeming to refute an argument while in actuality not doing so.

The historical facts which the cited passage does its best to ignore are as follows:

1.  Issuing fake baptismal certicates to Jews was a widespread practice throughout occupied Europe by Catholic clergy during World War II.  Archbishop Roncalli issued thousands of what were called “baptismal certificates of convenience” to priests.

2.  The Church in World War II engaged in a massive campaign of deception to save Jewish lives:  in addition to fake “baptismal certificates” this included disguising Jews as monks, nuns, brothers, sisters and priests, outright lying to Nazi authorities hunting for Jews, forged  travel documents for Jews, forged certificates of Aryan ancestry, forged birth certicates, falsifying school records to identify Jewish kids as Catholic students, etc.

3.  Pius XII encouraged this campaign, as members of the clergy attested time and again after the war.

4.  A good source for information on the deception campaign waged by Catholic clergy, as well as lay Catholics, on behalf of Jews is  Martin Gilbert’s The Righteous.

One of the most distressing aspects of the Catholic blogosphere for me over the years is the efforts by some commenters to “win” current debates in the Church by attempts to falsify the historical record.  Leave the historical record alone!  Debate what you wish, but manipulating the historical record in order to “win” a current debate does a disservice to the Church.

More to explorer


  1. Thanks for the reminder of the Polish Angel Stacy. Another member of the exclusive group I call “Con Artists for God”:

    “Irena Sendler, who wore a star armband as a sign of her solidarity to Jews, began smuggling children out in an ambulance. She recruited at least one person from each of the ten centers of the Social Welfare Department. With their help, she issued hundreds of false documents with forged signatures. Irena Sendler successfully smuggled almost 2,500 Jewish children to safety and gave them temporary new identities.

    Some children were taken out in gunnysacks or body bags. Some were buried inside loads of goods. A mechanic took a baby out in his toolbox. Some kids were carried out in potato sacks, others were placed in coffins, some entered a church in the Ghetto which had two entrances. One entrance opened into the Ghetto, the other opened into the Aryan side of Warsaw. They entered the church as Jews and exited as Christians. “`Can you guarantee they will live?'” Irena later recalled the distraught parents asking. But she could only guarantee they would die if they stayed. “In my dreams,” she said, “I still hear the cries when they left their parents.”

    Irena Sendler accomplished her incredible deeds with the active assistance of the church. “I sent most of the children to religious establishments,” she recalled. “I knew I could count on the Sisters.” Irena also had a remarkable record of cooperation when placing the youngsters: “No one ever refused to take a child from me,” she said. The children were given false identities and placed in homes, orphanages and convents. Irena Sendler carefully noted, in coded form, the childrens original names and their new identities. She kept the only record of their true identities in jars buried beneath an apple tree in a neighbor’s back yard, across the street from German barracks, hoping she could someday dig up the jars, locate the children and inform them of their past.”

    I have written about her at the link below:

    People like her make you proud to be human.

  2. I agree. There’s one thing to say that what clerics did to protect Jews(deliberately deceive/lie) was wrong. Nothing wrong in saying that clerics (even Popes) sin. Its another to say they didn’t when they did. That’s perhaps not a lie if they truly believe that no false documents etc. were provided. But at least by some sources, it is in fact true that deceptions were carried out.

    Also agree about Irena Sendler. Great woman who was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Of course the true liar Al Gore won.

  3. Mr. McClarey, please corrrect your assertion that BustedHalo is “my site.” It is run by the Paulists. Prior to my recent article, I last contributed to it one year ago.

    Thank you for calling attention to William Doino’s and my article. Mr. Doino is currently writing an op-ed, for which he has consulted Msgr. Peter Gumpel S.J. of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which refutes the claims you cite that the Holy See authorized or in any way condoned lying in its efforts to save Jews and others during the Second World War. Until that article appears, I would refer you to Mark Shea’s blog entry today, which addresses the “false baptismal certificate” canard.

  4. O sage moral theologians,

    “Evil is as evil does.”

    Here is a rhetorical question. Does refusal (actually paying $$$ millions in legal fees not to) to provide medical records, college transcripts, or original birth certificate render President Obama a liar?

    I want to know what he is hiding. I could not care less where he was born.

  5. “Thank you for calling attention to William Doino’s and my article. Mr. Doino is currently writing an op-ed, for which he has consulted Msgr. Peter Gumpel S.J. of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which refutes the claims you cite that the Holy See authorized or in any way condoned lying in its efforts to save Jews and others during the Second World War. Until that article appears, I would refer you to Mark Shea’s blog entry today, which addresses the “false baptismal certificate” canard.”

    He can consult with the Archangel Gabriel Ms. Eden and it will not change the historical facts. Why you and Mr. Doino are contorting yourselves into pretzels to deny the historical record is beyond me.

  6. A small example of a deception used against the Nazis that Pius XII certainly knew about:

    “In his memoirs, the then Chief Rabbi Zolli of Rome writes that he was sent to the Vatican, where arrangements had already been made to receive him as an ‘engineer’ called to survey a construction problem so that the Gestapo on watch at the Vatican would not bar his entry. He was met by the Vatican treasurer and secretary of state, who told him that the Holy Father himself had given orders for the deficit to be filled with gold vessels taken from the Treasury.” In Joseph Lichten’s monograph defending Pius XII. This was in regard to the incident in which the Gestapo caused the Jews of Rome to post a ransom in gold.

  7. The Raol Wallenberg Center believes that ”baptism of convenience” certificates were issued by Roncalli. Don’t know what these are and if they constitute true lies.

  8. Just to retract one thing regarding my earlier post–my choice of the word “canard” was unfortunate and inflammatory, as it implies a deliberate choice to mislead. Mr. McClarey, I am not in any way suggesting you are deliberately publishing misleading facts. William’s and my point is that the Holy See’s work to save Jews and others during the Second World War did not include lying, and that the specific claim of faking baptismal certificates has been proven untrue. I recommend that you and others interested in the topic read Mr. Doino’s article when it appears.

  9. May one presume that all those who are so certain about the sinfulness of the sting action at Planned Unparenthood will appear at the time of judgement; along with those who are certain of their knowledge that false baptismal certificates were not provided to Jews.

    Much as I am no fan of the current condition of the Society of Jesus, the actions of their members during the Elizabethan persecution, as well as the discussions of the 17th Century Fr. Escobar [whom Pascal erroneously attacked] should weigh heavily in this discussion. Plain common sense, and the common opinion of mankind, is also on the side of the perps, teste GKC.

  10. More on Archbishop Roncalli and the baptismal certificates from the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation:

    “2) The Saving of Jews Through Baptismal Certificates
    According to historian, Peter Hebblethwaite, author of the book, ”John XXIII, Pope of the Council”, 1985, the idea of trying to save Jews through baptismal certificates was conceived by Nuncio Roncalli and it was Archbishop Rotta who applied it.

    a) Ted Szulc, in ”The Secret Alliance: The Extraordinary Story of the Rescue of the Jews Since World War II”, Pan, London 1991, pg. 54, affirms that ”in the few months since Hirschman’s meeting with the Apostolic Delegate, thousands of Jews were baptized in the anti-aerial shelters of Budapest and therefore saved from death.”

    b) Arthur Morse in ”While Six Million Died” makes a reference to the issuance of thousands of baptismal certificates that helped save the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

    c) Historian, Giancarlo Zizola, author of ”L’utopia di Papa Giovanni”, Cittadella, Assissi, 1973, pg. 109, estimates that the baptismal certificates saved the lives of some 24,000 Jews. The information is attributed to Monsignor Loris F. Capovilla, Monsignor Roncalli’s Secretary in Venice and later in Rome.”

  11. “I used the phrase valid and otherwise regarding the official papers Father Weber’s organization procured for Jews. The cloak-and-dagger story of the false documents supplied to Jews by the Church all over Europe and the Near East is not yet fully known; nor, if it were, could it be told, for there are countless numbers of Jews whose peaceful enjoyment of their new citizenship today still depends on the apparent validity of these papers. The Vatican both initiated and lent its support to a remarkable variety of secret manufacturing enterprises — like that of Father Marie-Benoit in France and later in Italy — as well as exerted pressure on Allied and neutral governments to grant entry or at least transit to Jews in danger of their lives. Jewish refugees in France holding Paraguayan passports in 1943 and 1944 approached the Vatican for help, fearing that recognition of their papers would be withdrawn by that South American government; through the apostolic delegate in Paraguay, the Pope obtained assurances that the passports would continue to be valid. The Vatican interceded with the Germans to allow Jews in Bergen Belsen who held South American passports to receive packages of food and clothing. Endless other examples could be cited, but perhaps the most extraordinary part of this particular rescue mission is what Ira Hirschmann has called Operation Baptism.

    Archbishop Cassulo’s 1941 protest in Romania was in answer to a state ruling that a change of religious status by a Jew did not alter his legal status as a member of that persecuted “race”. For the authorities had become suspicious, as did those in the Balkans, Hungary, and elsewhere later, of the number of Jewish “converts” to Catholicism. Until such a ruling was made in a Nazi-controlled country, however, a Jew who could prove himself a member of the Catholic Church could usually use the evidence of that membership-a baptismal certificate as a safe-conduct paper to leave the country. No records have been published regarding who conceived the idea or how it was implemented, but the existence of the false baptismal certificates, and they number in the thousands, is a fact. It is also a fact that the Vatican was well aware of the plan, and that members of resistance groups, apostolic nuncios, nuns, representatives of Jewish aid groups based in the Allied countries, and untold numbers of ordinary citizens risked their welfare if not their lives to promote the ingenious scheme. By mid-1944, when only the Jews of Budapest had been temporarily spared in blood-soaked Hungary, another beloved Catholic figure had thrown his weight to the wheel, increasing the distribution of the baptismal certificates many times over; this was Pius XII’s close friend and successor, Archbishop Roncalli, the late Pope John XXIII.”

  12. According to Dawn Eden,

    Others have argued that the Church would sanction, or did sanction, lying to Nazis who sought to find and kill Jews. But this claim too has no foundation in the Catechism’s teachings…

    I think that these people are out of their minds. Plain and simple. Nothing more can be said.

  13. Once again we see the irritating Catholic nitpickers cast aspertions on the good faith of others who try to do some good. These people are better off starting a commune of their own. I simply cannot understand how these people expect a Catholic hiding a Jew to answer to the Gestapo. Perhaps if they were in warime Europe they would have exposed the Jew, instead of heaven forbid, besmirch their precious souls. It is for fools like these, that Jesus gave the saying “the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath”.

  14. Well said Ivan. People who make the type of argument that Mr. Doino and Ms. Eden make depict Pius XII as an idiot or a monster. “Well, I’ll order that Jews be hidden in churches, monasteries and convents, but of course if the Nazis inquire they must not be lied to!” Fortunately Pius XII was neither as the historical record clearly shows. Making an argument that is unsupported by the historical record is a truly foolish thing to do in the age of the internet.

  15. Anyone have a copy of a “fake” baptismal cert. issued by anyone during WW2? Are you all so quick to believe that Pius XII and Bishop Roncalli would lie about baptism?

    The “fake” baptism story has more to it. First – many Jews were actually baptised validly. Many accepted baptism out of fear and hence were considered conditionally baptised. Many allowed themselves to be “conditionally baptised” because they may or may not have accepted Christ but they certainly wanted to get away from the Nazis. To non-Catholic writers this is called “fake” but we ought not make the same mistake.

  16. Mother Matylda Getter, Mother Superior of the Family of Mary in Poland, routinely issued fake baptismal certificates to Jewish kids during the war to save their lives.

    The issuance of fake baptismal certificates by the Church was not a rare event during the War, however it was only one element of a massive deception campaign engaged in by the Church to save innocent lives.

  17. Dawn Eden wrote:

    “the specific claim of faking baptismal certificates has been proven untrue”

    This overstates the case. All Doino says is that the claim remains (in his opinion) unconfirmed. That is not the same as proving something is false–particularly when so many people have testified to having issued or received false or temporary baptismal certificates.

    If your strongest source is Hebblethwaite, an open dissenter to Catholic teaching, then I’d say your case is not very strong at all. Mgr. Gumpel is going to know better–but then again, Sr. Margherita Marchione, also involved in Pius XII’s canonization process, has claimed the opposite–that he did indeed sanction the issuing of false baptismal certificates.

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