- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Cross Vs. The Swastika

In the Purgatorio, when Dante reaches Eden at the top of the Mountain of Purgatory, he completes his purification by both drinking from a river that makes him forget his sins, and from another river that makes the memories of the good he did in life stronger. In that sense, I appreciate this George Weigel review [1] of a new book [2] by the Catholic priest Father George Rutler, who has collected stories of World War II’s spiritual combat, including those of Christians acting bravely. We so often hear about the failures of Christians in that time of severe trial, but we don’t hear frequently enough about those who did the right thing in the face of mortal danger. Here’s Weigel:

Thus when Greek Orthodox Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens ordered his people to hide persecuted Jews, SS commander Jürgen Stroop threatened to shoot the archbishop. Rutler finishes the tale by recounting a striking example of episcopal sangfroid: “The archbishop replied by recalling the lynching of Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople by the Turks in 1821: ‘According to the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged, not shot. Please respect our tradition.’” The archbishop, happily, lived until 1949; Stroop was hanged after the war for his role in liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto.

Then there was Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier, archbishop of Lyons and Primate of the Gauls, who “threatened to excommunicate anyone who bought property unjustly seized from Jewish families and instructed Catholics to hide the children of Jews who were in French concentration camps or who had been deported to Germany.”

Gerlier was not alone in his bold defiance of the Nazis and their French collaborators. When Bishop Felix Roeder of Beauvais failed to dissuade the local authorities from genocide by argument, he took, as Fr. Rutler neatly puts it, “another course.” The Germans had ordered Beauvais’s Jews to register at town hall. “On the strength of his claim to have had a distant Jewish ancestor, the bishop formally processed through the streets to register his own name, wearing full pontifical vestments and preceded by an acolyte carrying the cross.”

Stunning! What an image!

By the way, I am sorry to have heard from two lay Catholic friends in New York that Cardinal Dolan reassigned Father Rutler from the Church of Our Saviour, where he had built a tremendous parish ministry. I am told that Fr. Rutler’s legacy is being dismantled by the new pastor. Any clarification you New York Catholic readers could offer on this disturbing news would be much appreciated.

35 Comments (Open | Close)

35 Comments To "The Cross Vs. The Swastika"

#1 Comment By Richard Johnson On November 13, 2013 @ 9:47 am

Deacon Greg posted this back in June. [3]

#2 Comment By GeorgeB On November 13, 2013 @ 9:53 am

Brief summary and good comments:


#3 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 13, 2013 @ 10:08 am

I would like to add another to the list, a man whose courage and compassion made my very existence possible.

[5], Archbishop of Zagreb during the Nazi puppet government Ustaše, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 13, 2013 @ 10:34 am

There are thankfully among the majority ranks of “RINOS” – the righteous in name only – those brave souls willing to actually emulate Christ.

[NFR: How bizarre that you would read this account and think of the Republican Party. — RD]

#5 Comment By CK On November 13, 2013 @ 10:40 am

Well, perhaps this is a good and important development for Hells’ Kitchen and St. Michael’s.

#6 Comment By The Wet One On November 13, 2013 @ 11:01 am

It is good to hear about heroes.

Tell me more.

#7 Comment By CK On November 13, 2013 @ 11:07 am

“I am told that Fr. Rutler’s legacy is being dismantled by the new pastor.”

Here are some indications:

From the Church of Our Savior website announcing the new female “pastoral associate for lay ecclesial ministries” and praising the Pope Francis America interview:


“Kathleen has an impressive background. A parishioner of Holy Family Church (East 47th Street) since 1997, she served as a member of the Parish Council with emphasis on the Liturgy and Spirituality Committee. She holds a Master’s Degree as an early childhood special educator and is a licensed massage therapist. Kathleen and her husband, John, have been married for over four decades and have two children and two grandchildren. Kathleen has completed three years of training in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) in various hospital settings in NYC and will begin her next year of CPE at VA Medical Center this October. Most recently, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Theology with a concentration in Spiritual Direction.”

The new pastoral associate has long been a parishoner of a church that calls itself “The United Nations Parish.” Click here for a view of a Spirit of the Council parish.


As such, it is probably fair to say that the new pastor represents a dismantling and not a continuity of Fr. Rutler’s work. Is this a microcosm of a dismantling and not a continuity of Pope Benedict’s work?

#8 Comment By CK On November 13, 2013 @ 11:18 am

More from the new Church of Our Savior:

“For this purpose, I am announcing a renewal of all the lay ecclesial ministries within our three parish churches: Eucharistic ministers, lectors, ushers/greeters, catechists, altar servers, and visitors to the sick and homebound.”

This is interesting because this is all code for a liberal rather than an orthopraxis view of the liturgy. I know Fr. Rutler made limited use of “extraordinary ministers of the eucharist” (they’re not “eucharistic ministers”). I’m not sure if he restricted altar service to males, but wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see how Mass attendance at the Church of Our Savior will change with these welcoming and open reforms.

#9 Comment By Jason Morehead On November 13, 2013 @ 11:47 am

This post reminded me of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ninth Day which, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. Here’s a review:


#10 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 13, 2013 @ 11:56 am

This is what comes of having SS Generals with no wit. Stroop should have responded, “And in our tradition we shoot people who hide Jews. Now, shall we toss a coin and see which tradition will be followed?”

To lose a battle of wits with an Archbishop. No wonder they lost the war.

#11 Comment By M_Young On November 13, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

I thought the Stepinac canonization was controversial, with some Jewish groups objecting.

#12 Comment By M_Young On November 13, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

And to be clear, Stepinac wasn’t martyred by the Nazis, but by Tito’s anti-nationalist communists.

#13 Comment By Jason C. On November 13, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

It’s hard when it happens but, in an age where four out of five priests really aren’t worth a darn, it’s generally good for priests to be reassigned. It prohibits that cult of personality good priests can sometimes (knowingly or unknowingly) create. “Oh, I don’t like Fr [X], I cain’t understand him, but now Fr [Y], he’s always so good, I just love Fr [Y]’s Masses!” Then when the “good” priest leaves, a lot of people just stop going to church.

#14 Comment By Bernie On November 13, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

Wet One,

This is especially for you, since you asked for more. It is the story of the death of St. Maximillion Kolbe in WW II at Auscwitz.


#15 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 13, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

I’m in awe of their heroism. But didn’t they just do what all Christians in Europe at that time were called to do? That is, to pick up the cross and follow Christ? I see that as, at the very least, refusing any cooperation with murder, even at the risk of your own life and your family’s life. Of course I don’t expect Catholics to agree with me on that; my understanding is based on theologians like Hauerwas and Yoder. But Christians who followed Christ at that time were the exception, not the rule.

I don’t know which way the current story-telling is leaning, but the balance is crucial (forgive the pun). When telling stories like this, it’s important to tell that most Christians, including Catholics, cooperated with evil in the massacres of Jews, Serbs, etc. From what I’ve read, the Catholic Church played a leading role in the massacres of Orthodox Christians, mostly Serbian. And on the other hand, when telling the story of evils committed by Catholics, as Catholics, in WWII, it’s important to tell stories of Catholics like these who picked up the cross.

#16 Comment By Michael Guarino On November 13, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see [10]) seems to be a good example of Christian heroism during WWII, from the protestant side. There were a number of reformed theologians who opposed Nazi rule in Germany, but he stands out because he was actually murdered in a concentration camp.

#17 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 13, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

M_Young: the link I posted provides some details to your queries, with further links to articles and such. It describes the controversy around JPII’s assertion that Stepinac was martyred. Yad Vashem’s Righteous list snafu was in large part bureaucratic and political, also further described under the link.

I have an entirely personal and biased view of my family history as the child of a Croatian Jew and Montenegran chetnik. Stepinac was egregiously compromised on every front during the Ustaše regime, and a rare voice of dissent during Tito’s reign. I can respect those who criticized him even while disagreeing with them on key points.

An example of my personal bias: the mostly Serbian military opposition to Tito’s partisans were blanket-convicted — in absentia or posthumously — of being war criminals, then given an equally specious blanket amnesty after Tito consolidated his power. They, too, were accused of collaborating with the Nazis; my father told stories of giving them made-up intelligence in exchange for food and ammunition. Shrug.

#18 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 13, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

Aaron, that constructive story has been told and is being told. It has a significant place at the National Holocaust Museum, and contains the second chapter in my personal-family story out of that time and place. To wit: Catholic Italian farmers and townsfolk, with the (not always) direct participation of clergy, all in disobediance to the “policy of non-intervention”. My mother’s family owed its survival to the people in and around Asti.

#19 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 13, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

Two more comments, then I’ll stop snowing the thread. 😀

M_Young, Stepinac was beatified, and canonization is not a synonym at all. I’ll leave the details to any Catholic who wishes to explain that.

The Catholic/Orthodox divide in the Balkans was a valid descriptor of the violent animosity between the central-Europe assimilated southern Slavs and the Asia Minor Assimilated southern Slavs, and by no means definitional of it. Take the Hatfields and McCoys, blow it up by several magnitudes and centuries, and you get the idea. 🙁

#20 Comment By Ottaviani On November 13, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

And of course, there is a long string of degrees after her name — likely in pastoral this or pastoral that — in an attempt to establish some sort of authority. You will never find anyone with a more self-important clericalist view of themselves than a “lay pastoral minister.”

#21 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 13, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

@Michael, if you’re interested in Bonhoeffer you might like this talk by Stanley Hauerwas, [11].” Bonhoeffer was sharply critical of American Christianity and theology, as some of the quotes here show; Bonhoeffer’s criticisms have been echoed by Rod Dreher in this blog.

#22 Comment By hetzer On November 13, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

@Aaron Gross – “When telling stories like this, it’s important to tell that most Christians, including Catholics, cooperated with evil in the massacres of Jews, Serbs, etc.”

What do you mean by this? Most Serbs were Christian, at least nominally. Did they cooperate with their own massacre? Similarly with the Poles, mostly Catholics, who suffered greatly alongside their Jewish neighbors.

Did you mean that most of the perpetrators of those massacres were nominally Christian, or that the responsible states were comprised mostly of (again, at least nominal) Christians?

#23 Comment By The Wet One On November 13, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

Thanks for that Bernie!

Much appreciated.

#24 Comment By mrscracker On November 13, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

Jason Morehead says:

November 13, 2013 at 11:47 am

This post reminded me of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ninth Day which, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. Here’s a review:…”
I checked that one out of the library a while back.Incredibly good movie.Thanks for mentioning it.

#25 Comment By Dennis TUCHLER On November 13, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

Two cases, against thousands of others. One famous Luteran minister who turned against the Nazis and is a hero to many, did nothing until the Nazis came for Lutherans with “Jewish blood”. The cardinal archbishop of Vienna was an enthusiastic Nazi, and the German, Polish, Austrian, French, etc, Christian clergy did what was expected — nothing, in the face of exclusion, ghettoization and deportations to generally expected death.

#26 Comment By Pinkjohn On November 13, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

Perhaps not too relevant to this thread, except that I was jogged by the reference to Fr. Rutler, but I am still trying catch my breath while reading a lot of Catholic trads’ alarm about Pope Francis and the trends he seems to have unleashed. They were always criticizing liberals and reformers for not being respectful enough to the papacy or the individual popes in the persons of JPII and Benedict. But those who are not busy parsing Francis’ words to find that he isn’t really overturning much in the way of tradition (yet, perhaps)are raising alarms about his lack of respect for orthodoxy and tradition, some even shouting heresy. I’m not taking satisfaction in the irony (or not much) but I’m pretty astounded by how things have changed. The acceptable ways of dissenting or publicly disagreeing have really expanded, no matter which side we’re talking about. I’ll look forward to see how mildly heterodox scholars and theologians are treated, and what the CDF takes up as its business under this Pope.

#27 Comment By JonF On November 13, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

There’s also the record of the Bulgarian Church preventing the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the camps– a policy that the Archbishop denounced from the cathedral steps in Sofia (the government had padlocked the church on him). Since Bulgaria was an ally not conquered territory, the Nazis had rather little ability to force the issue, and Bulgaria ended the war with a larger Jewish population than when the war began.

#28 Comment By Michael Guarino On November 13, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

@Aaron Gross,
Thanks for the video. It was a nice listen. I am casually familiar with Boenhoffer, but perhaps not familiar enough. I certainly agree with his diagnosis of American politics. He stresses the importance of fairness in American politics, but there is also a strong need to be nice or sensitive (especially with identity issues). Both impulses trample many attempts to seek truth, especially when the truth is uncomfortable or alienating.

#29 Comment By dominic1955 On November 13, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

“They were always criticizing liberals and reformers for not being respectful enough to the papacy or the individual popes in the persons of JPII and Benedict.”

Certainly some imprecise “trads” made it a show of ultramontanism, but the actual point was that liberals flaunt the teachings of the Magisterium (which is more than individual popes), not the personl opinions of bishops or popes.

The biggest problem when people “shake things up”, stylistically in the Catholic Church is that tradition is our big selling point.

“I’ll look forward to see how mildly heterodox scholars and theologians are treated, and what the CDF takes up as its business under this Pope.”

Well, he did (not that long ago) defrock and excommunicate Greg Reynolds, ex-priest. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. The CDF under Benedict and JP II were not like the good old Inquisition days…

#30 Comment By cecelia On November 13, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

My mom went to a hospital based nursing school run by Franciscan nuns during WWII (St. Mary’s Hoboken NJ for anyone from that area). Her room mate was a German Jew and psychiatrist ( a woman) whose husband – a German Jew who was also a Doctor lived in the interns residence – this unhappy separation occurred because they had no co-ed rooms in the hospital in those days. This couple had ended up at St. Mary’s because they had been hidden and then moved from one Franciscan convent to the next from Germany to Italy where they were able to somehow get to the US and were then sheltered by these Franciscan nuns at St. Mary’s.

Both eventually became licensed in the US and the husband became the chief of medicine at St Mary’s – a man of great charity who raised many millions of dollars for the hospital and other local causes.

#31 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 13, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

@hetzer, thanks for the correction. I don’t know what exactly I was trying to say, but obviously it’s wrong to say that “most” Christians cooperated with the massacre of the Serbs. Maybe I meant most Christians in Germany cooperated in the massacre of Jews (by supporting the regime), and most (?) Croatian Catholics supported the massacre of Serbs. I think the part about Germans is right, but I don’t even know if the part about Croatians is right. Bottom line, I just shouldn’t have used the word “most.”

#32 Comment By Bedarz Iliaci On November 14, 2013 @ 5:26 am

Were there Catholic chaplains in the WW2 Germany Army?

#33 Comment By Jeff Beranek On November 15, 2013 @ 10:33 am

@Franklin Evans: Your personal history re: Archbishop Stepinac is quite interesting. Are you familiar with Robert Kaplan’s ‘Balkan Ghosts’? If so, what did you think of his dicussion of Archbishop Stepanic?

#34 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

Jeff re Balkan Ghosts:

My siblings and cousins (children of my mother and her brother) have only recently embarked on a quest to tell that story in a disciplined fashion. A couple of weeks ago we met with a curator of acquisitions at the National Holocaust Musuem. The meeting was attended by a Croatian Jew (nine years younger than my mother) whose academic expertise is focused on that region and time.

Our family connection to Stepinac was the focus of the meeting. My grandfather was a dentist in Zagreb and Stepinac was one of his patients and apparently a personal friend as well. The curator and her (it should be noted: nearly all volunteer) staff will take several months to authenticate and clarify the documents — and my grandfather’s dental instruments! — and pictures we brought to the meeting. We also have to follow-up with the existing archives from Logor Jasenovac; on one listing we found listed as killed my grandfather and both of his children (oddly, not my grandmother), all of whom of course survived and came to the US.

I’me very grateful for the Kaplan recommendation, and it goes at the top of my next-to-read list. As with many of the stories, there is much to wade through and sometimes too much to determine an accurate picture. Be well.

#35 Comment By Percy Gryce On November 16, 2013 @ 2:58 am

When I was with the U.S. Army in Berlin (1987-90), mass was said at the chapel on Andrews Kaserne (one of the U.S. installations in Berlin and the site of a military academy from 1717-1919 and later the HQ of the Leibstandarte, Hitler’s bodyguard unit, and the 1st SS Panzer Division) by Fr. Richard Wagner, S.J., who was personally acquainted with Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., martyred by the Nazis in 1945. It’s renewing to have that kind of connection to the martyrs.