One hundred two years ago this week, the shots were fired that began World War One. Gavrilo Princip, the nineteen-year-old Serbian who fired the fatal shots at Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, may have been the slug, but the Vatican was the gunpowder.
Modern historians blame the war not on the Church but on the ultimatum Austria issued to Serbia a month later – a modern day analogy might be if an American politician were killed by a Mexican, and the U.S. responded by demanding that Mexico destroy all organized crime within their borders AND allow the American Army in to oversee the destruction. Of course Serbia refused Austria-Hungary’s demand to send in their own forces – just as Austria-Hungary knew they would – and war was declared.
It's easy to paint Princip as a hotheaded anarchist, or a Serbian freedom fighter. Often overlooked, however, is that four days before the assassination the Catholic Church signed a concordat between the Vatican and (largely Orthodox) Serbia. The concordat recognized Serbia as an independent country. It provided the Catholic minority in Serbia with their own legal standing rather than their continuing under the auspices of Catholic Austria. The concordat spelled out that control of the Catholic clergy in Serbia would move out from under the government in Austria – not to the control of the Serbian government, but to Rome. In essence it made Catholics in Serbia an independent enclave. It gave greater rights to Catholics living in Serbia – something a Serbian Orthodox like Princip would have hated. The fact that the figure he saw as his archenemy - Archduke Ferdinand - was Catholic, cannot be ignored.
The concordat was hammered out by a priest/lawyer soon-to-be-Cardinal named Pacelli. Some years later Pacelli would also be instrumental in working out a Concordat legitimizing Hitler’s government in the build-up to WWII. Later still he would be Pope Pius XII, who famously did, well, pretty much nothing as millions of Jews, Roma, Poles and Jehovah’s Witnesses were tortured and slaughtered across Europe. He’s now being considered for sainthood.
Meanwhile back in the Balkans: Eastern Orthodox Russia had to back Eastern Orthodox Serbia against Catholic Austria. Russia brought in their allies France and Italy. Austria roped in their Catholic partner Germany, and it became a World War.
Why did Pacelli start this fire? He didn’t do it on his own. He was working under the direction of Pope Pius X.
Pope Pius X missed the good old days when the Church ruled all of Europe. Germany had been the Vatican’s enforcer in Europe prior to the Reformation. By the end of the 1800s,
“Austria-Hungary alone remained entirely submissive,”
Paris shows how the Church gradually, step by step, regained influence in Germany, intent on using that country as their secular arm “in order to annihilate the influence of Orthodox Russia in the Balkans.”
The Catholic Church wholeheartedly supported the arms build-up in pre-WWI Germany. Paris quotes Adrienne Dansette’s work “Fate of French Catholicism” in which he stated that in early 1914 Germany’s Cardinal Faulhaber declared that in effect,
"God was German."
The Bavarian ambassador to the Vatican wrote to his government on July 26, 1914:
"The Pope approves of Austria's harsh treatment of Serbia. He has no great opinion of the armies of Russia and France in the event of a war against Germany. The [Vatican] Secretary of State does not see when Austria could make war if she does not decide to do so now."
"During the conversation I had two days ago with the [Vatican] Secretary of State he spoke spontaneously of the great problems and questions now agitating Europe. It would be impossible to detect in His Eminence's words any spirit whatever of indulgence and conciliation… [He] expressed, in an indirect way, the hope that the Monarchy would go to the limit. Certainly, added the Cardinal, it was too bad that Serbia had not been humiliated very much sooner, for then it might have been done without putting into play, as today, such immense possibilities. This declaration also corresponds to the Pope's way of thinking, for, in the course of recent years His Holiness has often expressed regret that Austro-Hungary has failed to 'chastise' her dangerous Danubian neighbor.”
Catholic Germany and Austria lost WWI. Thanks to Pacelli’s support for Hitler, they came back for round two in WWII. An attempt at Round Three came about in 1991 when Pope John Paul II became the first to recognize Croatia as an independent [Catholic] state, leading to a war with Orthodox Serbs that killed over 100,000 in the next two years.
A drop in the bucket compared to the deaths of 17 million in WWI and 60 million in WWII, but it’s not about the number. The Church is directly responsible for all those deaths.
Good thing the Church doesn’t get involved in politics today, isn’t it?
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