(Note: this continues the series of articles by Paul Likoudis which I am publishing each Thursday.)
Der Wanderer at 140....
BENEDICT XV’s PEACE PROPOSAL
PUT WANDERER EDITOR AT RISK
by Paul Likoudis
eighth in a series
When Pope Benedict XV issued his Peace Proposal in August 1917, calling for an end to the war that had turned Europe into a “slaughter house” – a proposal rejected by the Allies (England, France and the United States), as well as by Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons and most of the American hierarchy – Der Wanderer’s editor Joseph Matt supported it.
But as he explained to his readers in an October 17, 1917 editorial, he did so at the risk of being branded a traitor, for the U.S. Government’s laws regulating German-language publications could have made it a crime to support the Pope’s initiative.
In that editorial, Matt informed his readers that the Trading With The Enemy Act, passed on October 3, 1917 “prohibits the printing, publishing and circulating ‘in any foreign language of any news item, editorial or other printed matter respecting the government of the United States, or any nation engaged with the present war, its politics, international relations, the state or conduct of the war, or any matter relating thereto,’ unless the printer and publisher either secures a permit issued by the President or has filed before mailing his publication on the form of a proposal unless an English translation of the entire article containing such matter’ [has been filed] with the local postmaster.
“The modus operandi of the new law is somewhat in doubt, conflicting reports having been sent out from Washington by the news magnates. We have complied with the law as far as we have been able to ascertain its requirements. This necessitated, not a change of the policy of our paper, but a reduction of the amount of reading matter pertaining to the war. Moreover, we had to be extremely careful not to say anything that might be construed as transgressing the stringent provisions and restrictions of the law. For instance a strict application of the law would forbid even discussing in the German language the Holy Father's peace proposal, unless an English translation is filed with the postmaster.”
The Pope’s Peace Proposal – the 90th anniversary of which passed unremarked upon on August 1st – urged the substitution of the rule of law for arms – “institutions of arbitration” in lieu of armies – freedom of the seas, no recriminations or reparations but mutual forgiveness, and
the resolution of territorial disputes, such as in the Balkans, between France and Germany and Austria and Italy, in a spirit of “equity and justice.”
Pope Benedict, the diminutive Genovan aristocrat who became known as “the Pope of Peace,” was elected to the Throne of Peter in September 1914; he has been described as “an overture to the reigns of Pius XI and Pius XII” because of the course of genuine neutrality amidst conflicts and “service to humanity” he set for future papal diplomacy.
POPE: TAKE NO SIDES
As Archbishop of Bologna when the war broke out, he reportedly said: “I should regret if
any of my clergy should take sides in this conflict. It is desirable that we pray for the cessation of the war without dictating to Almighty God in what way it should end.”
Five days after his election, he told the cardinals his number one cause was peace in Europe, and he issued his first encyclical two months later, on November 1, 1914, calling for an end to the war. In early December, he appealed for a “Truce of God” for Christmas. In 1915 he made another appeal for a total armistice.
On August 15, 1917, the Holy Father sent a letter to James Cardinal Gibbons, urging him to “exert influence” over President Woodrow Wilson and persuade him to accept the Proposal. Gibbons ignored the request, just as he earlier had rejected the Pontiff’s appeal to urge a boycott of any nation that had universal conscription.
Gibbons, in fact, along with the other U.S. archbishops, had pledged Wilson the “truest patriotic fervor and zeal.” In an August 18 letter to Wilson, Gibbons wrote: “Moved to the very depths of our hearts by the stirring appeal of the President of the United States and by the action of our national Congress, we accept wholeheartedly and unreservedly the decree of that legislative authority proclaiming this country to be in a state of war.”
“We stand ready,” Gibbons assured Wilson, “we and all the flock committed to our keeping, to cooperate in every way possible with our President and our national government, to the end that the great and holy cause of liberty may triumph, and that our beloved country may emerge from this hour of test stronger and nobler than ever. Our people, as ever, will rise as one man to serve the nation.”
ORIGINS OF THE
Two months later, the U.S. bishops founded the National Catholic War Council to mobilize the Catholic citizenry for “war work.”
Just as World War I changed America, the National Catholic War Council changed the Catholic Church in the United States. As Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan explained in the 2004 Erasmus Lecture to the Institute on Religion and Public Life, titled, “The Conciliar Tradition of the American Hierarchy”, Wilson’s war caused a “dramatic transition in the style of American hierarchical collegiality....
“It is accurate to say that the overwhelming concern of the American bishops until 1917 was the internal, pastoral matters of the Church. They did not see themselves as prophetic voices
challenging society or culture, and were certainly scrupulous about ever giving the impression of ‘meddling’ in national or political affairs. More or less, up until the First World War, the bishops viewed their national role as the one defined by [Archbishop] John Carroll: to provide structure, organization, cohesion, and discipline to internal Catholic life in America. They saw themselves as pastors dealing with ad intra issues: marriage and family, religious education, training and uprightness of the clergy, the question of new dioceses and the nomination of occupants for those sees, the proper celebration of the sacraments, and warning their flocks of dangers to the faith posed by this unique new American setting, especially rampant immorality, mixed-marriages, alcohol, religious indifference, and avarice....
“The American conciliar tradition would be dramatically expanded with World War I, and the main protagonist was the Paulist editor of the Catholic World, John Burke, who had long
argued for a national outlook and sense of unity among the country’s Catholics. Douglas Slawson, the historian of the formative years of the bishops’ conference, points out that the hierarchy was eager to show its enthusiastic support for the war effort. With the approval of the unofficial primate, Cardinal Gibbons, the Paulist invited Catholic leaders to Washington in August, 1917, to discuss Catholic support of the war, and the turnout was impressive. The conclusion of this meeting was that a National Catholic War Council (NCWC) was
formed, which was approved by and placed under the direction of the nation’s archbishops at their November, 1917 meeting. Its duties: to promote Catholic participation in the war,
through chaplains, literature, and care for the morale of the troops” – and to establish Boy Scout troops in every parish, as well as parish fund drives to support the war effort.
(As an aside, the National Catholic War Council became the National Catholic Welfare Conference in 1919, with Fr. Burke as its first general secretary, overseeing five departments:
education, social action, laity, press, and missions. As Archbishop Doyle subsequently pointed out in his address, two years later Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell and Brooklyn Bishop Charles McDonald of Brooklyn, “protested to the Holy See that the new NCWC smacked of Gallicanism, and encroached upon the independence of the diocesan bishop. Rome, especially Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, O’Connell’s old friend, gave them a favorable hearing, and the Consistorial Congregation (the predecessor of today’s Congregation for Bishops) suddenly suppressed the NCWC!” – a suppression reversed by Pope Pius XI after intensive lobbying by the U.S. bishops.)
CATHOLIC’S POINT OF VIEW
German-American Catholics’ sympathies, writes Notre Dame historian Philip Gleason, were “overwhelmingly” on the side of their families in Central Europe, but once war was declared, they supported the war and tried to prove they were “loyal Americans.”
“But loyalty not withstanding,” he adds, “it was difficult for German-Americans to regard the nation’s course of action as anything but a mistake – a mistake to which it had been led by a pro-Allied administration seduced by British propaganda and pressured by munitions makers and Wall Street bankers who had staked their fortunes on an Allied victory.
“In stressing the role of propaganda, the munitions trade and Wall Street, the German-Americans anticipated the later ‘revisionist’ analysis of America’s entry into the war....To many German-Americans, as to the revisionists, the war seemed a great national blunder in which the people were duped and democracy perverted.....”
Dr. Gleason’s analysis certainly applies to the editor of Der Wanderer, Joseph Matt.
NO “WORLD-WIDE REPUBLIC”
After Wilson declared War on April 6, Joseph Matt wrote an April 12 editorial, under the heading, “Vom Weltkrieg,” (War News), in which he observed:
“....But every argument against the war itself, every critical analysis of the breakdown of the previous policy of neutrality, everything that could be said about the century-old friendship with Germany and the contributions of German-Americans were like so much whistling in the wind. Senators and Representatives had made up their mind before the debate began. Especially noteworthy was the fact that in the Senate virtually every Senator who delivered a long speech in one way or the other referred to the concept of the world-wide republic [P.L.’s emphasis], which Wilson had broached in his own speech, even some of those who had taken a position against going to war. Senator Hitchcock declared: ‘Through this war we will help free, liberal, and democratic peoples to get rid of Germany, the last refuge of autocracy and militarism.’ Senator Lodge: ‘In my opinion this war is a war against barbarism, not against a barbarism flowing from anarchy as we know it from the Dark Ages, but rather against an organized barbarism.’ Senator Tillman spoke about ‘the Kaiser and his slavish underlings’ and about ‘autocracy and all its vile brood.’ [Der Wanderer quotes Tillman in the original English.]
“The vote on the war resolution came on Wednesday in the Senate. Senators Gronna, La Follette, Lane, Norris, Stone and Bardaman voted against the resolution. In the House there were 50 votes against the resolution, among them Miss Rankin, the first woman to be elected to Congress as well as four representatives from Minnesota: Van Dyke, Davis, Knutson and Lundeen..
“It was already Friday morning (Good Friday) when the House began its roll call. Shortly after noon President Wilson signed the resolution, which placed our country among the enemies of Germany in the terrible world war.”
Two weeks later, Matt editorialized under the same “Vom Weltkrieg,” a page one editorial that appeared throughout the war:
“All humanity yearns for peace. Exceptions are those who enrich themselves through price gouging and the manufacture of armaments, Peace! rings out from the discussions in the press and in the parliaments and cabinets. Even in America, which in the eleventh hour has arrayed itself with its unbroken might at the side of exhausted, war-weary peoples, the cries for peace arise from a million hearts. It may be that sooner or later cries for peace will be considered acts of treason so that some voices for peace will then be silenced. For the time being, though, in spite of a zealously cultivated jingoistic mentality, the cries for peace are very much alive. This is evident in the moderate enthusiasm fostered in the military recruitment officers; this is evident in the notably tepid desire for war among the common people; this is evident in the Congress where fiery patriotic speeches end with the hope that the war will be over before we have to send our soldiers to Europe....”
The August 23 issue of Der Wanderer contained the full text of Pope Benedict’s Peace Proposal, along with an editorial:
“A week of excitement and expectancy has gone by since it has become known that the papal peace proposal has been communicated to the belligerents. The heart of everyone who really longs for peace, who still is moved by the suffering and the sacrifice of their fellow human beings, who wants to see an end to this terrible waste of time and blood among the peoples of the earth and a renewal of the sense of brotherhood among all people has beat faster and stronger. These people experienced the warning of the father of Christendom as the warm ray of the spring sun, which warns the outer ring of ice at the arrival of resurrection in nature. They tenaciously cling to the hope that the hour has come where the armor which has the whole world in its clutches will be smashed, where there will be a great sigh of relief for humanity suffering under its intolerable burdens....
“Among the allies, however, many hold the view only the complete destruction of the enemy will satisfy us. . If one holds this position then it is hardly to be expected that the papal proposal will be examined ‘in the spirit of good will and serious attention’....”
“THE WHOLE WORLD
IS TIRED OF WAR”
An August 30 editorial by Matt bemoaned the poor reception of the Holy Father’s appeal:
“It looks as though there will be no morning to follow the night of terror which weighs down the peoples. A ray of hope lightened up the gloom, when two weeks ago the report about the Peace Proposal of the Pope circulated. Breathing a sigh of relief the war-weary people listened and millions of eyes, which had forgotten how to weep, shone with a hopeful sheen. Everyone who is open to the truth knows, of course, that the world is tired of war and that in more than one of the belligerents the yearning for peace is kept in check only through the severest repressive measures. More than one of the warring nations runs the risk of repeating the turmoil in Russia..
“Initial dispatches from Washington gave reason for hope that President Wilson in spite of the boorish statements of allied diplomats and the war-mongering press was lending strong support to the Pope and in union with him would restore peace to humanity and lay the foundation for reconciliation among the peoples. This was a critical historical moment which was going to decide the fate of hundreds of thousands, of millions, of entire peoples as President Wilson reached his decision how to respond to the papal peace proposal. The peoples waited full of expectancy. And President Wilson pondered and made his decision-and his response to the invitation of the pope was negative.
“On Tuesday his weighty response was made public. He was clear and decisive in his determination to keep Germany from emerging as a victor in the war, unclear and vague in presenting his conditions for peace. He made no comment on any of the specific proposals of the pope. .
“Wilson characterized the Pope's position as one of defending the status quo, the restoration of the pre-war political situation. But this war is being fought, he said, to free peoples of the world from the danger of German militarism. This is the work of an unscrupulous regime which is bent on world domination. This power is not the German people. It is the reckless ruler of the German people. Wilson says it is the task of the allies to see to it that the fate of the rest of the world is not left to the caprices of its will.
“President Wilson seems to hold tenaciously to the position outlined in his war message to Congress of almost five months ago: No peace as long as there remains a Hohenzoller at the helm of the German people.....”
Joseph Matt, clearly, saw through Wilson’s cant.
Next week: Joseph Matt describes for his readers, in detail, the difficulties of publishing Der Wanderer under the strict press censorship rules of the Wilson regime.
Another “thank you” is in order to Fr. John Kulas, OSB of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Mn., for translating Joseph Matt’s editorials from the original German.