Tornielli’s Pius Passion; Quinn’s Family Offensive

Catholics Journalists Rallying the Faithful

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, OCT. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Our modern media age has given us much to be skeptical about. Poorly informed scandal-mongering often seems to rule the day, and we tend to view journalists with a jaundiced eye, particularly in what often passes for Catholic journalism in the secular press, where the norm seems to be an ill-concealed and anti-magisterial position.

In the space of one week I met two remarkable Catholic journalists, one based in Ireland and one in Italy. These two men not only provide intelligent reporting and commentary on Church news, but have pursued their vocations to make lasting contributions to Catholic culture.
Andrea Tornielli hails from Venice and has been covering Vatican news for the Italian daily Il Giornale for 11 years. Surprisingly, he has avoided cynicism and maintained a refreshing buoyancy that many journalists quickly lose.

But beyond his well-informed coverage of everything from papal trips to the latest questions in the Italian bishops’ conference, Tornielli has taken an interest in the case of Pope Pius XII, producing four books on the man Eugenio Pacelli, who reigned as Pontiff from 1939 to 1958.

The 1998 Berlin commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Kristallnacht sparked Tornielli’s interest in Pius XII. The Night of Broken Glass took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938, and opened the era of Jewish persecutions in Germany.

On that occasion in 1998, Yisreal Meir Lau, then chief rabbi of Israel, asked during his impassioned speech the damning question: “Pius XII, where were you? Why were you silent during the Kristallnacht?” Two Italian newspapers the next day ran that as their headline, with the subhead “The Shameful Silence of Pius XII.”

The evident problem with this, Tornielli pointed out, was that Pius XII was not elected until March 1939, four months after the Kristallnacht. This event vividly demonstrated to the Italian journalist that when it came to Pius XII, anything goes. “The black legend around him had become so great that anything negative, including lies, would get newspaper space,” wrote Tornielli.

Andrea spent several years investigating documents, records and Vatican archives working with Italian history professor Matteo Napolitano to learn more about this much-maligned Pope.

Tornielli came out swinging in 2001 with the 400-page book “Pio XII. Papa degli ebrei” (Pius XII: The Pope of the Jews), tackling the origins of the blackening of Pius XII’s name. This was followed by “Il Papa che salvò gli Ebrei” (The Pope Who Saved the Jews), written with Napolitano.

Tornielli points out that after World War II the state of Israel officially recognized Pope Pius XII’s efforts to help the Jews, and that unheard-of honors were accorded to the Pope before and after his death.

“The Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel,” Andrea observed, “which refused to play Wagner, considering him Hitler’s inspirational composer, asked permission to perform before Pope Pius XII. How can one imagine that they would go and play for ‘Hitler’s Pope’!”

Tornielli noted that a dark cloud gathered over Pius XII during the turbulent years of the Cold War as well as during the progressive movements of the late 1960s.

Yet this new anti-Pius wave was not caused by the discovery of new information regarding his papacy. In fact, no new documents had come to light since the encomium of the 1950s. And in those years, Andrea points out, “everyone knew what the Pope had said, and more importantly what he had done, during World War II.”

Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” debuted in the Proletarian Theater of Berlin in 1962. Tornielli describes it as “written by a mediocre playwright, seven hours long and intended to purge the German conscience for having democratically elected Hitler.”

Despite its tediousness, the play was staged in Paris and London within the year, and the world learned to condemn Pius XII for “his silence.”

Tornielli points out that “The Deputy” was actively sponsored by the Soviet Union, which was intensely hostile to the Church. At the same time, many Catholic progressives saw the defamation of Pius XII as a way to divide the old Church regime from the “new Church” they expected to emerge from the Second Vatican Council.

Once Tornielli realized this, he studied the life of Pius XII even more closely, producing two more books, the most recent published this year, a 661-page biography of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII. This work includes unpublished material from the Pacelli family archives.

Tornielli’s book illustrates the continuity of the Church through the period from the first to the second half of the 20th century, as well as the extraordinary modernity of Pope Pius XII.

The journalist observed that “television has affected a great deal of how we perceive John XXIII and Pius XII.” Little footage of Pius XII exists, but John XXIII was elected in the age of television. “When John XXIII brought Christmas gifts to the sick children at Bambino Gesù hospital, the televised event moved the world,” he wrote.

But he adds, “When Pius XII went in 1943 to the Gregorian to visit 2,000 orphaned children and distributed gifts, no television camera was present.”

Tornielli’s work has uncovered documents recognizing Pius XII’s early understanding of the anti-Catholic nature of the nationalist parties, as well as refreshing details about his pontificate. He reported, “After John Paul II, Pius XII canonized more women than any other Pope, and percentagewise he actually canonized the most — at 54%.”

Pius XII also continued with the topic of liturgical reform and was open to the hypothesis of evolution, which he cited in his encyclical “Humani Generis.” He met and addressed all sorts of scientists from astrophysicists to plastic surgeons; reading and learning about their work to be able to discuss their work with them from a more informed position.

Last May 8, Pius XII received a proclamation of heroic virtue, the first step up the ladder of sainthood. I asked Tornielli whether he thought he would live to see Pope Pacelli canonized. He shrugged with a wry smile, “All we can do is pray.” And in Tornielli’s case, publish.

Knight of the Round Table

Last week I met with David Quinn, an Irish journalist who for years served as editor of the Irish Catholic, the principal Catholic paper in Ireland. He still contributes columns to both the Irish Catholic and the Independent, but he has turned his journalistic talents in other directions as well, using his quick wits to grapple with the many-headed hydra of anti-Catholicism.

Although he was baptized Catholic in his native Ireland, it took several years in Australia, working and meeting with the lively evangelical community, to reawaken his Catholic faith and convert him “from a nominal Catholic to a committed one.”

Returning to Ireland, Quinn started his career as a journalist in 1994, working for the Sunday Business Post, but as the sexual scandals involving Irish priests swelled into epic proportions, he noticed that not one word was said or written in defense of the Church.

As people used the scandals to promote the question of married priests or simply to bash the Church for any of its positions, no one was prepared to answer. Quinn, probably drawing from his experience among the evangelicals, pugnaciously stepped into the breach.

As the lone Catholic journalist willing to explain and defend the position of the magisterium, Quinn was soon invited to debate on a myriad of subjects from priestly celibacy to same-sex marriage to atheism.

With his clear presentation, good old-fashioned common sense and, well, truth on his side, Quinn has done much to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of the Church.

How does he prepare for the diversity of topics he is called on to debate? “I’m fortunate enough to work in my area of interest — current affairs — so my work reading is also pleasure reading,” he said.

But Quinn soon realized that playing defense to the volleys of attacks wasn’t enough. Catholics in Ireland needed a presence that would study, analyze and defend the institution of marriage and the family.

In 2006 he founded the Iona Institute, dedicated to the defense of marriage, which so far has produced important studies documenting the effects of divorce, single parenting and same-sex marriage. He adamantly insists that those who claim that all forms of “family” are essential equal, must bear the burden of proof.

“Children cannot be used as a social experiment,” Quinn protests. “One can’t just wait and see how the children of these arrangements will be affected; the advocates of alternative families must demonstrate their claims.”

The institute also encourages the practice of religion, which is regarded with disdain by most of the Irish intelligentsia. But Quinn argues that the exaggerated personal authority of the modern age has led to higher crime, drug abuse and suicide rates than ever before: “It is far more difficult to have a strong civil society without a certain level of religious practice.”

Quinn has also jousted his foes firsthand, debating with atheists such as Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling “The God Delusion,” and Christopher Hitchens, who has stooped so far as to denigrate Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. One senses that the chivalric spirit of the days of Knights of the Round Table may be slowly returning to the Isles.

“There has been a modest revival of Catholic apologists since I’ve started with the public debates,” Quinn admits. “Plenty of good people are covering bioethics and others have started to take an interest in defending the Catholic position on marriage.”

As the so-called Dark Age loomed after the fall of the Roman Empire, the papacy in Italy rallied the Christians while the Irish monks saved civilization. Andrea Tornielli and David Quinn remind us that we can still hope for great things from these two nations.



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  1. just installed reblog. I do not if it work in wordpress.com. Just testing

  2. RaiulBaztepo

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo




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