I won’t dwell on this for long, but though I’d call to your attention this new article in The Atlantic about the behavior of the Catholic Church during World War II. It concentrates, though, on the story of how two Jewish children whose parents died in Auschwitz were forcibly baptized by the Church, which, under canon law, then refused to return the children to their Jewish relatives.
The story of the complicity of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII (“Hitler’s Pope”) with the Nazi regime is well known; I believe Hitchens referred to it often. If you don’t know about it, there’s a 1999 article in The Atlantic that gives the sordid details, and many other places to read about it on the Internet (here’s another). The Church did very little to help the Jews during the war, and deliberately refrained from denouncing the Hitler regime and the Holocaust, even when Jews were being ferried to the camps from right outside the Vatican.
The article above, though, is more about a specific incident: a pair of Jewish boys who were in effect kidnapped by the church after their parents were taken to Auschwitz, baptized as Catholics, and then kept and hidden by the Church despite the boys’ relatives demanding, after the war, that they be returned to their relatives.
In short, Anni and Fritz Finaly, Austrian Jews, fled to Vichy France during the war, hoping to leave Europe but not making it out. Knowing that their family would likely be rounded up by the Gestapo, the Finalys put their two boys, Robert and Gérald, in the hands of a friend, who promised to look out for them. In 1944 the parents were taken to Auschwitz and disappeared. The friend then put the two boys, aged 3 and 4, in a convent in Grenoble, asking the nuns to hide them. Instead, the nuns put them in a municipal nursery school under the guardianship of the school’s director, Antoinette Brun.
The trouble then began. Brun had the children baptized as Catholics in 1948, meaning that, under canon law, the children were considered Catholics and could not be given back to their Jewish relatives. By then the relatives were doing everything they could to get the boys back, and the Church did everything it could to prevent that. The local authorities cooperated with the Church, though turning the boys over was simply the right thing to do.
The article goes on at length about the Church’s machinations, in cooperation with priests and nuns, to hide the boys. The only possible reason is that ridiculous church law arguing that Jewish kids baptized as Catholics, even though they didn’t assent to baptism, couldn’t be returned to the family. After all, you can’t let good baptized Catholics back into the hands of Christ-killers. (This policy, says the article, is still in force—see Canon 868: “An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents.”)
The Pope and his minions fought for years against the boys’ relatives, finally giving up in 1953 when the boys were surrendered to their aunt and flew to Tel Aviv.
What shocked me about all this was the Catholic law, as well as the ruthlessness with which the Church fought against common decency just to keep two Jewish boys out of the hands of their relatives so they could be counted as prizes for the Church. It’s inhumane; but of course when has the Church been humane towards children?
And the canon law allowing that is still in force, though it couldn’t be used today without a huge outcry. This, of course, is only one small part of the anti-Semitism of the Vatican, which didn’t absolve Jews of killing Jesus until 1965. (You’d think that they’d go easier on the Jews since the death of Jesus was a vital part of God’s plan!)