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The Winter of John Cornwell's Discontent

Sister Margherita Marchione on Anti-John Paul II Book

NEW YORK, DEC. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - In 1999 British journalist John Cornwell published an attack on Pope Pius XII. More recently he shifted his focus onto the current Holy Father.

For a perspective on this new attack, we turned to Sister Margherita Marchione, an expert on Pius XII. A retired professor of languages at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, she is a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini.

Q: You are an expert on the life and papacy of Pius XII which is evident in many of your writings such as your most recent "Man of Peace: Pope Pius XII," published earlier this year. Were you surprised to find that Cornwell had transferred his attack onto our current Pontiff?

Sister Margherita: Not at all. British journalist John Cornwell's new book belongs in the same category as [the book] "Hitler's Pope." Cornwell unjustly defamed the memory of Pope Pius XII and is now attacking Pope John Paul II and his papacy.

I experienced John Cornwell's animosity and bitterness when we exchanged words on TV and radio during his "Hitler's Pope" book tour in the U.S.A. I was so disturbed by the lack of truthfulness that I included a description of these encounters in my memoirs, "The Fighting Nun: My Story."

Just as there was a reaction to Cornwell's rantings against Pius XII, I am sure there will be a definite outcry against "The Pope in Winter: The Dark Face of John Paul II's Papacy."

Most historians and fair-minded people now regard "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII" as biased, and recently Damien Thompson's critique in London's Daily Telegraph denounced Cornwell's latest book, "The Pope In Winter," as "a hatchet job," and called him a "sensationalist hack."

Q: Cornwell proposes himself as an authority on the papacy and matters inside the Vatican. What can you tell us about his credentials and credibility on Church teaching?

Sister Margherita: Cornwell's claims in connection with his research in the Vatican Archives were refuted in the Osservatore Romano, on October 13, 1999. It is clear that Cornwell, a British journalist, is not an expert in Vatican diplomacy, the Holocaust and, I dare say, in theology.

Q: Would you describe for us Cornwell's interpretation of ecclesiology in contrast to the ecclesiology consistently laid out by the Church councils?

Sister Margherita: Cornwell's objective is to destroy the papacy and the Church as we know it.

He attempts to contrast the "progressives" and "traditionalists," pitting them in an all-out war. In promoting "Hitler's Pope," he wrote in Vanity Fair, page 192: "A future titanic struggle between the progressives and the traditionalists is in prospect, with the potential for a cataclysmic schism, especially in North America." But neither Pius XII nor John Paul II are the reactionary traditionalists depicted by Cornwell.

Among his many encyclicals, Pope Pius XII wrote "Mediator Dei" in 1947, and set the stage for the full blossoming of the renewal of Catholic worship. He took a first significant step in liturgical reform, in 1956, with the complete revision of the Holy Week services of the Latin Church.

Pius XII's encyclical on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, "Mystici Corporis Christi," June 29, 1943, opened the way for a new Catholic approach, to a theology grounded in the insights of both Scripture scholars and theologians.

It is interesting to note that Pius XII is the Pope who consecrated John Paul II a bishop. Speaking to a group of Jewish leaders, Pope John Paul II stated that documents "reveal ever more clearly and convincingly how deeply Pius XII felt the tragedy of the Jewish people, and how hard and effectively he worked to assist them." His Holiness called for "genuine brotherhood" between Christians and Jews.

On the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Pius XII's pontificate, John Paul II stated: "We cannot forget the contribution he made to the theological preparation for the Second Vatican Council, especially by his teachings on the Church, by the first liturgical reforms, by the new impetus he gave to biblical studies and by his great attention to the problems of the contemporary world."

Q: John Paul II has dedicated his entire pontificate to the Mother of God. Cornwell sees him, however, as being indifferent to the sufferings of women. How has the Pope's devotion to Mary influenced his view of women? In what ways has John Paul II demonstrated his concern for women during his pontificate?

Sister Margherita: Neither Pius XII nor John Paul II have been indifferent to the sufferings of women. Their writings in defense of women's rights are numerous. Pius XII was a modern-day leader.

In the book "Papal Teachings" one ...

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