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The Usefulness of Daniel Goldhagen

His new book attacking Pope Pius XII is filled with factual errors, providing an opportunity for other anti-Catholic writers to claim the middle ground.

12:00 AM, Oct 23, 2002 • By J. BOTTUM
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IF YOU HAVEN'T been able to read all the writing about Pius XII, the Catholic Church, and the Holocaust, you needn't feel too bad. Not even scholars in the field have been able to keep up. By my count, there have been at least fourteen books on the subject in the last three years, with the threat of more to come.

Some of these run contrary to type. The very liberal Catholic Justus George Lawler, for instance, constructs a witty and learned defense against Pius's attackers in his recent "Popes and Politics." But mostly the books keep to their origins. John Cornwell detests John Paul II and contemporary Catholicism, so his book "Hitler's Pope" is an unrelenting bash at Pius and the Church during World War II. Ralph McInerny is a conservative Catholic philosopher and mystery writer, so his "The Defamation of Pius XII" is a ceaseless defense. Garry Wills wants major reform in the Church today, so his "Papal Sin" extends the attack to include the entire history of Catholicism. James Carroll has extolled fashionable leftist causes since back in the days when he embarrassed his Air Force general father by preaching against the Vietnam War to a congregation of military officers, and guess which side Carroll's book "Constantine's Sword" comes down on?

Into this flood of (mostly Catholic) works for and against Pius XII, there will shortly splash Daniel Goldhagen's new book, "A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair." David Dalin--who wrote a major essay on the Pius books in the February 26, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard--will soon review the book in our pages, but it's worth pointing out beforehand just how useful Goldhagen's book will be to Pius's detractors.

That's not because the book is right, of course. It is filled with so many simple errors of fact that it's positively embarrassing to read. These errors of fact combine to create a set of historical theses about the Nazis and the Catholic Church so tendentious that not even Pius XII's most determined belittlers have dared to assert them. And, in Goldhagen's final chapters, the bad historical theses unite to form a complete anti-Catholicism the likes of which we haven't seen since the elderly H.G. Wells decided Catholicism was the root of all evil and wrote a book whose marvelous title shows the true flavor of curmudgeonly nuttiness: "Crux Ansata: An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church (An Author's Frank Convictions about the Meddling Policies of the Church from its First Tie-up with the Emperor Constantine to its Present Alliance with the Nazi-Fascist-Shinto Axis)."

But Goldhagen's "Frank Convictions about the Meddling Policies"--I'm sorry; I mean Goldhagen's "A Moral Reckoning"--will nonetheless prove a useful book, not despite its errors, but because of them. This is a great opportunity for those who've written previous books against Pius XII. The reviews of Susan Zuccotti's "Under His Very Windows," for instance, were quite negative, accusing her of slanting the evidence to support her prejudged anti-Pius thesis. But now Goldhagen offers her a chance to claim middle-of-the-road credentials. "How can you say I'm an extremely prejudiced opponent of Pius?" Zuccotti can ask. "Daniel Goldhagen is the prejudiced extreme; I'm a moderate." For Garry Wills, James Carroll, and John Cornwell--all under considerable attack for their anti-Catholic Catholicism--no gift could be more timely. A prediction for the coming weeks: All these authors will review Goldhagen's book, and all of them will trash it--while using it along precisely the lines I suggest. Poor Danny Goldhagen. He's going to be beat up one side and down the other; his natural opponents attacking him and his natural allies joining in.

STILL, you can't say he doesn't deserve it. For reviewers looking for obvious errors with which to get their negative reviews ginned up, I offer the following, just a small sampling of mistakes found in a first skimming of the book.