The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 564-565
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Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust. By Justus George Lawler. (New York: Continuum Publishing Group. 2002. Pp. 252. $24.95.)
This is a disappointing book. With all of the controversy over Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, one would have hoped for a more critical and readable work. Instead, it is off-putting in tone and smugly self-deprecating ("A Little Book"). If it was intended for scholars, it lacks the documentation and citations necessary for the author to make his point. If it was intended for the general reader, it is so labyrinthine in its arguments, so filled with classical allusions and French and German phrases, along with nineteenth-century poetic wanderings, that it must leave that reader wondering just exactly what Lawler is saying. A good—even a fair—copy editor would have done wonders for this book.
The first part of the book is an attack on both the "consecrators" and "denigrators" of Pius. He dismisses (and rightly so) Ralph McInerny (The Defamation of Pius XII) and Margherita Marchione (Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace), both consecrators, for their unhistorical and apologetic stance. He takes on two denigrators, Michael Phayer (The Catholic Church and the Holocaust) and Susan Zuccotti (Under His Very Windows), both reputable historians; he scores some valid points against them, but again, the lack of specific citations weakens his arguments. The controversy over Pius is word-specific and needs all the citations an author can provide.
Lawler's primary targets, however, are Gary Wills (Papal Sin) and James Carroll (Constantine's Sword). Wills is certainly careless in citing errors of fact, and Lawler correctly points out that both Wills and Carroll rely on the known papal detractors, especially on the near-universally discredited Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell, but Lawler treats both with such contemptuous disdain that his criticism becomes a scornful screed. Lawler makes too many useless comparisons (Wills's brilliant analysis of Lincoln compared with his carping criticism of Pius), and he cites so much trivia that his book becomes a diatribe rather than a useful analysis.
The second part of the book is the author's program for Church reform, and thus is not a subject for historical analysis. [End Page 564]
Readers may wish to look at the symposium on the book published in the U.S. Catholic Historian (Vol. 20, No. 2 [Spring, 2002]), but there they will find Lawler no clearer than in his book.
Saint Louis University