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Week of: April 29, 2001

McCarthy and Pius: Heroes or Villains?

by F.R. Duplantier

Two of the greatest heroes of the 20th Century are frequently portrayed as two of the greatest villains.

"McCarthyism" is a noxious term, so much so that any public figure accused of it becomes an instantaneous pariah. "McCarthyism" is also an ironic term, for two reasons. First, Senator Joseph McCarthy never engaged in any of the tactics associated with the term "McCarthyism." He did not make wild, unsubstantiated charges against hundreds of innocent people. He smeared no one. Second, the few dozen government employees that McCarthy did accuse of being Communists were just what he said they were. There was sufficient evidence then to warrant investigation of the figures he named. In the last four decades, the guilt of these person has been firmly established.

Former FBI Assistant Director Ray Wannall argues that McCarthy had good reason to be "especially concerned about the State Department. Not only had the department been infiltrated by such high- ranking officials as Alger Hiss," but thousands of government personnel "had been merged into the department from other agencies following World War II," without first being screened for Communist affiliations and other security risks. In 1948, two years before McCarthy leveled the charges that provoked a storm of simulated outrage, the House Committee on Un-American Activities reported that "there have been numerous Communist espionage rings at work in our executive agencies which have worked with and through the American Communist Party and its agents to relay to Russia vital information essential to our national defense and security."

A term even more noxious than "McCarthyism" is "anti-Semitism," and this too can be misapplied with evil effect. In his new book, The Defamation of Pius XII, author and scholar Ralph McInerny refutes the increasingly prevalent misrepresentation of the wartime pope as somehow negligent or even complicit in the Nazi persecution of the Jews, even though "he both condemned what he characterized as the extermination of peoples and announced it to the world. Again and again and again."

According to McInerny, "The identification and condemnation of Nazi atrocities continued throughout the war. It was accompanied by efforts to protect the innocent victims of a diabolical regime. The Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pius XII, is credited with saving nearly a million Jews from certain death during the war," he reports. "This is an achievement not even approached by other heroic efforts. It was gratefully acknowledged during and after the war by Jewish leaders who knew what the pope had done."

McInerny affirms that "Pius XII was a good and holy man. He was a heroic defender and protector of Jews during World War II. The evidence for this truth is massive, the testimonies are many, the facts are unchangeable," he insists. "The question is not whether Pius XII acted heroically during World War II and was instrumental in saving hundreds of thousands of Jews from Nazi extermination. The question is not whether libels and slanders against this good and holy man can be refuted. The overwhelming question that has to be addressed," McInerny suggests, "is this: Why is this good man being defamed?"


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