The Text

Inside Cornwell's Hitler’s Pope, before the text, Cornwell presents a quotation from Thomas Merton, a well-known contemplative monk. As butchered by Cornwell, the quotation says:

“Pius XII and the Jews.... The whole thing is too sad and too serious for bitterness… a silence which is deeply and completely in complicity with all the forces which carry out oppression, injustice, aggression, war.”

This is a fairly shocking condemnation of the Pope from an esteemed Catholic thinker. If Merton had actually written this, it would indeed give one pause. Actually, however, this is not a true quotation. Cornwell manufactured it. 

The Context

Cornwell gave no citation, so his deception was hard to uncover. It was unmasked by Prof. Robert Gorman, who presented it at the October 2001 meeting of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. The full quotation, which was written by Merton in his personal journal [Dancing in the Water of Life, p. 84], is a complaint that he had been ordered not to publish his essay on nuclear war. The “silence” about which he complained was unrelated to Pius XII. The full context is given below.  Cornwell selected the phrases that I have set in red type, linked them with ellipses, and committed academic fraud.  If a student doctored a quotation this way in a paper handed in for one of my classes, I would fail him or her.  If I were a judge and a lawyer tried to pull a stunt like this, I would impose sanctions. 

“A grim insight into the stupor of the Church, in spite of all that has been attempted, all efforts to wake her up! It all falls into place. Pope Pius XII and the the Jews, the Church in South America, the treatment of Negroes in the U.S., the Catholics on the French right in the Algerian affair, the German Catholics under Hitler. “All this fits into one big picture and our contemplative recollection is not very impressive when it is seen only as another little piece fitted into the puzzle. The whole thing is too sad and too serious for bitterness. I have the impression that my education is beginning - only just beginning and that I have a lot more terrible things to learn before I can know the real meaning of hope.

There is no consolation, only futility, in the idea that one is a kind of martyr for a cause. I am not a martyr for anything, I am afraid. I wanted to act like a reasonable, civilized, responsible Christian of my time. I am not allowed to do this, and I am told I have renounced this – fine. In favor of what? In favor of a silence which is deeply and completely in complicity with all the forces that carry out oppression, injustice, exploitation, war. In other words silent complicity is presented as a “greater good” than honest, conscientious protest – it is supposed to be part of my vowed life, it is for the “Glory of God.” Certainly I refuse complicity. My silence itself is a protest and those who know me are aware of this fact. I have at least been able to write enough to make that clear. Also I cannot leave here in order to protest since the meaning of any protest depends on my staying here.”