Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Benedict XV and the Calamity of 1914

By Peter E. Chojnowski, Ph.D.

Ma! Questa è una calamità (Oh. This is a calamity!). This sotto voce statement by Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val to one of his Cardinal-Elector colleagues at the announcement of the election, to the supreme pontificate, of Giacomo Della Chiesa, Cardinal-Archbishop of Bologna, was echoed throughout many corners of the tumultuous European scene of September 3, 1914. The Cardinal-Electors had met to elect a successor to the great initiator of the anti-Modernist crusade, Pope St. Pius X. Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val, Secretary of State to Pius X and his closest collaborator and confidant, first had confirmed for him his own fate on account of the election of Pope Benedict XV, when the Cardinal-Elector to whom he had whispered his dismay, responded, “Per Vostra Eminenza, evidentemente lo è” (For your Eminence, it clearly is!). Seeing one of the leaders of the “loyal opposition” to the policies of the pontificate of Pope St. Pius X elected to the Chair of Peter was not easy for the Spanish Cardinal who was immediately, upon the election of Benedict, demoted to the rank of archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica. The choice of office was more then tinged with irony, since it was to exactly this position which Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro had been exiled at the beginning of the reign of St. Pius X. Della Chiesa was obviously an “opposition” candidate to the curial Pius X party, he was, however, seen to be more moderate in his “anti-integralism.” He was the “Rampolla candidate,” his heir in fact. That the long-time secretary and collaborator of Cardinal Rampolla, should make 80 changes in the Vatican hierarchy on the very evening of the day on which he was elected, clearly indicated to all that a new regime was in charge of the Holy See. According to John Pollard, Benedict XV did not choose the name “Pius,” on account of the fact that he wished to keep his distance from the previous pontificate. Benedict, himself, would later claim that his choice of name was due to his respect for the founder of the monastic order and his search for peace. According to the diary of Cardinal Piffl, as published in C. Zizola’s book Il Conclave: Storia e segreto (Rome, 1993), Cardinal Della Chiesa was elected on the 10th ballot, on the third day of voting, September 3, 1914. Having been in contention throughout, his final challenger, after the 7 votes of Cardinal Merry Del Val had been slowly reduced to zero, was a Benedictine Cardinal known for his extraordinary piety, Cardinal Serafini. According to this now published report, the Benedictine Cardinal was the final choice of those 18 cardinals, amongst who were Merry Del Val, Billot, Del Lai, and Agliardi, who wished a continuation of the policies of Pope St. Pius X, especially with regard to his treatment of the Modernist crisis and his position on relations with the Third French Republic. Cardinal Serafini lost to Cardinal Della Chiesa on the 10th ballot with a final vote of 18 to 38. According to the most recent biography of Pope Benedict XV published in English, Merry Del Val did not believe that Della Chiesa was worthy of the cardinalate. This much is proved by the failure to raise him to the rank for 7 years after he became Archbishop of Bologna, one of the archiepiscopal sees invariably entitled to the honor. Prior to the conclave, the Imperial Austrian government had, also, warned the Cardinals of the Habsburg Monarchy not to vote for Della Chiesa due to his being the protégé of Cardinal Rampolla, the recently deceased Cardinal and Secretary of State of Pope Leo XIII, whose own election to the papacy had been so abruptly vetoed by Emperor Franz Josef, thus allowing for the election of Cardinal Sarto, Pope St. Pius X. According to the diary of Cardinal Piffl, the Austro-Hungarian cardinals, as a block, supported Cardinal Della Chiesa from the beginning of the voting until his actual election. This went in the face of the attempt by Cardinal Hartmann of Cologne to dissuade the Cardinal-Electors of Germany and Austria-Hungary from supporting Della Chiesa on the grounds that his election would be an insult to the memory of Pius X, he was a man of “a violent character,” and, above all, he was a supporter of Rampolla’s policies which had been anti-German and pro-French.
A) Le Pape Bosche: The French Reaction

“Whose he?” was the response of a perplexed Cardinal Gibbons when he arrived in Rome in September 1914 and found out that Cardinal Giacomo Della Chiesa had been elected pope by a conclave that had met and finished its business before his arrival by boat from America. Such confusion as to the person of the newly elected Pope Benedict XV did not exist on the part of the governments and the intellectual segments of Europe. The victory of Della Chiesa was clearly seen as a return to the policies of Pope Leo XIII and Cardinal Mariano Rampolla. An example of these policies would be the ralliement, in which Pope and Cardinal had urged French Catholics to abandon their fight for a restoration of the ancient Catholic French Monarchy and to try, instead, to leaven the loaf of the French democracy. Since Cardinal Della Chiesa had, for a generation, been the confidante and protégé of Cardinal Rampolla, the French republican government and press were initially elated by news of his election. This elation was further augmented by a prophecy made by a 17th century seer named Johannes of Strassburg. Here we must remember that by September 1st, one of the days on which the conclave met, General von Moltke, the German commander of the Western Front, had been within miles of Paris. It was in this situation that a Frenchman, who dabbled in the occult, remembered reading a 17th century prophecy about a “Pope Benedictus” whose pontificate was to occur during an especially violent war. After searching his library, the occultist discovered the prophecy in his library and it was, subsequently, published in the French press. This prophecy, appearing, as it did, at the moment when The Third French Republic appeared to be doomed, created a sensation throughout the Entente countries. The prophecy, as published in the French press in September 1914, reads as follows: “Pope Benedictus, having cursed the antichrist, will proclaim that those who combat him will be in a state of grace, and, if killed, will go right to heaven like martyrs. The bull that will proclaim these things will reverberate far and wide; it will revive courage and it will cause the death of the ally of the antichrist. One will know the antichrist by various signs. He will bear in his arms an eagle, and an eagle will be found in those of his acolyte, the other bad monarch. The latter, however, is a Christian and will die in consequence of the malediction of Pope Benedictus who will be elected at the close of the reign of antichrist.” In France, this prophecy built up morale inestimably. It seemed to place the divine sanction upon the French interpretation of the war. In French eyes, the German emperor Wilhelm II was the antichrist. According to the prophecy the Kaiser would not live long. Verification for this particular interpretation was found in the fact that both the German and the Austrian imperial coats of arms bore an eagle. The prophecy spoke of a Christian and a non-Christian emperor. Franz Josef of Austria was a Catholic and Wilhelm was a Protestant. In France, with an anti-Catholic Masonic government but with a nominally Catholic population, the invasion and the government propaganda had invested all evil in the person of Kaiser Wilhelm. Since all atrocities or reported atrocities were attributed to the person of the Kaiser, the French simply did not consider him to be a Christian.
Even though the first consistorial address, given to his cardinals two days after his coronation, repeated the constant theme of his predecessor, Pope St. Pius X, that the war itself was a great evil to be swiftly ended, the French hope that the first “bull” or encyclical of Pope Benedict XV would “cause the death of the ally of the antichrist.”
B) Ad Beatissimi and the Disappearing Prayer Cards
In such a psychological and geo-political environment, it is not surprising that the Pope’s first encyclical, the one that was meant to chart the path for his entire pontificate, was greeted with sighs of disappointment and, even, vindictive resentment. The French and British press and civilian population, as opposed to their governments, assumed that the German invasion of and alleged atrocities in Belgium was clear proof that the Germans were the unjust aggressors, who should be excoriated by the Pope. Instead of this, Ad Beatissimi extended his hand to all the combatant nations, repeating the prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me” (Jn. 17:11). The Pope remarks how disappointing was the sharp disparity between his kindly thoughts and the world carnage at the time. Rather than cite the German army’s passage through neutral Belgium as worthy of condemnation, the Pope cited four main causes of the conflict, which he describes as an “unparalleled scourge, “a carnage that is without example,” “this monstrous spectacle,” and “a horrible plague.” The four causes he mentions are: 1) the lack of mutual love among men; 2) disregard for authority; 3) unjust quarrels between various classes; and 4) unbridled cupidity for perishable things.
Nowhere was there any indication that those who fought against the Germanic Powers were to be considered martyrs. Moreover, the resentment felt by the French was intensified on account of the implied condemnation of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” as French Republicanism articulated these. In the tracing the causes of the on-going conflict, Benedict states, “Paradoxically human brotherhood had never been preached more than it is preached today.” Furthermore, he points out that this type of secular “preaching” is vain because it is divorced from the Gospel. The secularist humanitarian approach is bound to end in failure. What has been the fruit of the leftist revolutionary drive for universal brotherhood, “Race hatreds are becoming almost a frenzy.” Benedict’s attachment to Cardinal Rampolla and his practical involvement in the policy of accommodation with the revolutionary government of France, did not pose an obstacle to his clear statement that it is man’s emancipation of himself from God, a disregard for authority (by this, he apparently means his own authority as Supreme Pontiff), the “unbridled spirit of independence joined with pride…which has permeated everywhere, not sparing the family or even the sanctuary,” which have caused the present societal disaster. Ultimately, “let princes and rulers of the people bear this in mind and bethink themselves whether it be wise and salutary that public authority should divorce itself from the holy religion of Jesus Christ, in which it may find so powerful a support.”
The bitterness occasioned by Benedict’s peace-advocating encyclical knew no bounds. From an English writer, we hear, “It is really difficult to believe that this was actually written in the year 1914; it sounds like the utterance of an elderly gentlewoman of about the year 1830.”
That Benedict was truly impartial and desirous of an immediate cessation of the hostilities cannot be called into question. Such a position, because it did not endorse the “obviously correct” French position, was certainly understood to be an indication of Benedict’s preference for the Central Powers of monarchial German and Austria. Georges Clemenceau, famous for his attempt to ban the Mass in France in the early years of the 20th century, expressed this view when he referred to Benedict derogatorily as le pape boche (i.e., the German pope).
We see the consequences of this reaction in the “incident of the missing prayer cards.” In 1915 the Pope, in an attempt to use the spiritual swords of prayer and trust in Divine Providence and Mercy, ordered that a prayer be circulated throughout the countries then engaged in combat. The prayer read in part, “Dismayed by the horrors of a war which is bringing ruin to peoples and nations, we turn, O Jesus, to Thy most loving Heart as to our last hope.” This prayer, printed on the back of a card which had the Pope’s picture on the front, was to be recited on the day appointed and for all of the days that the war continued. Seeing this as a subversion of the belligerent status of the Republic, French police, acting under secret orders, suddenly seized all the packets of the cards carrying the prayer. After mysteriously disappearing, the prayer cards reappeared the next day, just as mysteriously as they had disappeared. The obvious intent of the prayer did not prevent the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Amette, from mounting the pulpits at Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame on the Sunday after the prayer’s release and “interpreting” it to mean, that the Pope had a “victorious peace” in mind for France.
C) Moltke’s Assault: The Failure of the Short War
A generation after the events of World War I, Fr. Luigi Sturzo, well-known papal intimate and founder of the Italian Catholic Popular Party, in evaluating the decisions taken by Pope Benedict during the war as regards the “impartial stance” of the papacy, stated, “Benedict XV wanted to make of the Vatican not a judge of the morality of the war, but the Good Samaritan binding up the wounds, and reserving for itself, if opportunity arose, the role of peacemaker. We believe that Benedict’s act [i.e., his impartial stance] was a prudent one, the only one possible for a pope in the conditions in which he found himself. The problem of the justice of the war, rising from the depths of the human conscience, showed the ripening of the unprecedented moral crisis with insufficient means for resolving it….One of the reasons for this crisis came from the fact that the theologians and canonists of the 19th century had not brought the theory of the right of war up to date [emphasis mine].”
In the later summer of 1914, the moral claims of the various belligerent nations, whatever their respective validity, were not going to put an end to the conflict. Rather, there was a real chance that the month long forward advance of the Kaiser Wilhem’s armies, under General von Moltke, would swiftly bring a resolution to the conflict. Could it be that the conflict that would last almost 4 ½ years resulting in 9 million battlefield deaths could have been ended in a month with Christendom still standing?
From what is known now about the outbreak, the early progress, and even, what ended up being the final stage of the conflict, it appears as if the formative initiatives lie with the Germans. Aspects of the war that would justify this judgment are, the support given to the Austrians in their desire to discipline the Serbs, the tactical superiority of the German Army that almost lead to the September 1914 collapse of the Third French Republic, Moltke’s withdrawal from Paris, the U-boat campaign, Germany’s de facto defeat of Russia on the Eastern Front in 1917, Ludendorff’s shipping of Lenin to Russia from his exile in Switzerland, the failure of Ludendorff’s ill-conceived spring offensive in 1918, and, finally, the German general’s morale deflating call for an armistice in August of 1918.
With regard to the general German attitude at the beginning of the conflict in August 1914, we can say that for those “in the know” there was anxiety and consternation, whereas amongst the common people there was great enthusiasm. Writing in 1945, the famous Liberal German historian Friedrich Meinecke wrote in his Die deutsche Katastrophe, “To all who experienced it, the exaltation [Erhebung) of the August days of 1914 belongs among the most unforgettable memories of the highest sort…All the divisions within [the] German people…melted away suddenly in the face of the common danger.” This was the mood which persisted, amongst the population of average Germans, throughout the first months of the war, with trains leaving for the Front decorated with flowers, and with crowds gathering the stock exchange to celebrate the great victory against the Russian Army at Tannenberg. The naïve enthusiasm was not at all shared, however, by the German military and political elite who were not as ignorant of Germany’s geo-political situation. Bethmann, the German premier, was pessimistic. The Kaiser was more melancholic yet. Motke, the commander of the Western Front and the man in charge of implementation of the Schlieffen Plan was literally on the brink of a nervous breakdown when the German offensive was launched.
As it turned out, the first months of the war more than justified the German consternation.
As T.E. Lawrence memorably said, referring to the armies of all of the combatant nations, “the men were often gallant fighters, but their generals as often gave away in stupidity what they had gained in ignorance.” The fundamental misapprehensions which marked the first half of World War I, was reflected in two facts, the generals planned for a short war – and, therefore, terribly damaged their chances of fighting a long one – along with, failing to account, in their military strategy and tactics, for the rapid advancement in technology that had occurred since the 1890s.
According to British historian Norman Stone, all of the initial offensives, whether German, French, Russian or Austrian, came to a bad end on account of the generals’ reliance upon four factors: 1) cavalry; 2) enormous masses of infantry; 3) bombardments by shrapnel; and 4) the tactics of massed bayonet attack. It should also be mentioned that the Russian, French, and Belgian reliance upon fortresses, which were an obvious target for very heavy guns and resulted in the “pinning down” of the defensive forces, were partially responsible for the early defeats and retreats of the French, the Belgian, and Russian armies. For example, the French found that the only way of defending their armed fortress at Verdun in 1916 was to give it up and defend the fortress from a line of trenches outside, which the enemy could not spot so easily. As a result of German shelling, the Belgian fortresses collapsed resulting in the German occupation of Brussels, a mere two days after the death of Pope St. Pius X in Rome.
A 1914 war that began with cavalry-charges, individual heroism, and grand maneuvering, only eventually discovered the completely out-of-date character of such warfare. Cavalry charges were the first casualty of this war. Horses charging could, in the old days, have moved faster than guns could fire. The quick-firing revolution in artillery in the 1890s put an end to that. In 1914, a well-aimed rifle could knock out a horse a mile away. Moreover, the standard tactic, with regard to infantry, was a simple and unintelligent one: to bunch infantry together and move them forward as fast as possible. None of the main armies thought up anything else. The idea was to create a Napoleonic “lozenge,” the great square-shaped formations that Napoleon had employed. The Machine gun made this an insane policy. Rifle fire was far faster than it had been in Napoleonic days. An infantry attack could be broken up 2 or 3 miles off by well-aimed guns and in less than 2 miles by badly aimed guns. The French offensive into Alsace broke down with 500,000 casualties in a few days after August 15, 1914.
In light of this complete confusion, it might come as a surprise that the “Great War,” that left 9 million dead and lasted 4 ¼ years, could have ended within a month’s time. By September 1, 1914, the Germans were poised to take Paris. They had crossed the rivers Somme and Marne. Paris experienced a mass exodus. This began even before the first bombardment of the city on August 30th. Approximately 700,000 civilians appear to have fled Paris; this number includes the entire government and civil service, who fled to the safety of Bordeaux. This phenomenon caused the British military wit, Esner to remark, “the French are splendid but they cannot bear more than a certain amount of strain.” It was, however, in this superior position where the misapprehensions of the necessary accompaniments of modern warfare manifested their history-determining consequences. Finding themselves on the outskirts of Paris, the Germans could not obtain supplies on account of their 47 lorries having broken down in Belgium. The railway was not working and there was no telegraph that could convey the field position to Moltke. This led him to order a general withdrawal after receiving alarmist reports from his personal representative on the front, Hentsch. On September 11th, the German army withdrew, settling into the trench system and pattern of warfare that was to be fixed in place for the next 3 years. The war would have ended quickly if the German army had the technology, which was available to it in 1940 during the Second World War.
D) Benedict’s Fight for Italian Neutrality and the Gerlach Affair
On August 2, 1916, the harbor of Taranto, that city and port in SE Italy on the arch of the Italian boot, was as peaceful as at any time in its history. As the fishermen tended to their nets and the sailors and deckhands to their chores, the warship Leonardo da Vinci sat in the harbor. Suddenly there was a powerful explosion. Billows of black greasy smoke and the hissing sound of metal hitting the lapping water, testified to the fact that something awful had happened to the Leonardo. Within moments the ship, like a wounded beast, fell over on her side. 300 of the 500 crew members tumbled into the green sea. Less than 60 emerged still alive. After the initial shock had passed and the popular vilification of the Germanic enemy was well underway, investigators discovered some interesting facts. For instance, a roll call disclosed that the ship’s key officers and stokers had not been on board during the time of the explosion. Since the ship was about to embark on a sea mission, those men should have been on board supervising the final preparations. Do we fell a bit naïve when we ask, “Why weren’t they?” That something was afoot is also indicated by a very similar event that occurred in September 1915. That time it was the Italian ship Benedetto Brin, which was also at anchor off Brindisi, and which had likewise exploded in its harbor and had sunk. Its officers and stokers too had, coincidentally, been absent on a variety of “legitimate errands” at the moment of the blast.
In the Vatican, a few hours after the explosion but before the news had “officially” reached Rome from Taranto, a 30-year-old Bavarian cleric, Monsignor Rudolf Gerlach was overheard commenting to an acquaintance, “Well, a few hours ago, Italy paid the price of her treachery to Germany.” The treachery that Msgr. Gerlach was speaking of was Italy’s renunciation of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary that was meant to stabilize the Italian Kingdom after the risorgimento of 1860-1870 [this was the process of unification of Italian nations and territories that were historically separate politically from one another. The culmination of this process was the seizure of Rome from the Papacy in 1870]. That there should have been such obvious pro-German sentiment on the part of a Bavarian Vatican monsignor was not taken as unusual. In fact, the French and British clerics and diplomats who were working with or near the Vatican knew that there were strong pro-Central Powers feelings amongst the Catholic clergy both at the Vatican and throughout Italy, this was echoed in the ranks of Italian Catholic journalists.
It, really, should not be considered surprising that the Central Powers of Germany and Austria should have more influence and friends in the Vatican during World War I than the Entente Powers of Britain and France. Anglican Britain and Masonic France had no diplomatic representation to the Holy See, while the German Empire had 2 ambassadors, one from Prussia and one from Bavaria, and Austria was represented by Prince Schönberg, scion of a prestigious family that had served Church and State for centuries.
Even while maintaining his genuine desire for an immediate cessation of hostilities, no matter the losses and gains on either side, and his belief that the only possible stance for the Holy See in the dreadful politico-military situation was one of neutrality, there can be no doubt but that in the year 1915 there was a confluence of interests on the part of Pope Benedict XV and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Both wanted to keep Italy out of the war that had by then engulfed most of the rest of Europe. Their respective motivations for wanting this were, of course, different.
Even though Italy had been for 30 years a member of the Triple Alliance, the Kingdom had remained on the sidelines when war broke out in 1914. It seems as if the support of Italy depended upon which side was the higher bidder. In 1915, Italian military support was understood to be of utmost importance by the Powers who sought to break the stalemate along the uninterrupted lines of heavily fortified entrenchments, which had developed on the Western Front.
For Pope Benedict XV, there were two reasons why it was essential that Italy remain out of the war, she might be on the losing side and she might be on the winning side. The Pope and his Secretary of State, Pietro Gasparri – another protégé of Cardinal Rampolla, doubted the capacity of the Italian State to survive the political and economic tribulations of a major war. Defeat might undermine the legitimacy of the regime, create civil unrest, and ignite the flames of social revolution with consequences for Italy and the Catholic Church that no one could predict. On the other hand, an Italian victory over Austria might fatally weaken the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the principle Catholic Power in Central Europe and the traditional bastion against the encroachments of Russian Orthodoxy and Pan-Slavism.
In these prudent desires, a very dark character countered the Pope and the Cardinal. Sidney Sonnino, foreign minister of Italy, would prove to be Benedict XV’s greatest opponent throughout the course of the war. This Anglo-Italian would almost single-handedly check the Pope’s desire to keep his beloved Italy out of the war, bring the war to an end quickly through a universal armistice, and give the Papacy a voice at the “green-tables” of the Peace Conference after the war was brought to an end. The primary way in which Sonnino accomplished this anti-papal agenda was by his signing of the Treaty of London in April 1915. The nature of this treaty, which brought Italy into the war and ensured that it would not end until Italy had received all that she wanted of Austrian territory, was kept secret until the “pacifist” Communist regime of Lenin released the details of the Treaty in late 1917. Not only did this treaty promise Italian entrance into the war on the side of Britain and France, but also Clause 15 ensured that both hesitant Britain and less hesitant France would support the absolute exclusion of the Pope from the Peace Conference that would occur after the war.
During the late winter and early spring of 1915, both the German Empire and the Pope were attempting to influence the Italian cabinet to maintain its status of non-belligerency, while also seeking to satisfy the Italian War Party by trying to cajole Austria into making the necessary territorial concessions. Austria, fearing that concessions in a time of war would mean the disintegration of her multi-ethnic empire, stalled. The Italian government, already secretly committed to the Entente, had a declaration of war pushed through cabinet and parliament by the persistent and focused Sonnino.
When Msgr. Gerlach was overheard gloating over the Italian naval disaster, he was a man of some 28 years, having worked as first chamberlain and guardaroba (keeper of the wardrobe) of the Holy Father for less than a year. In fact, it is surmised that the first time Gerlach met the Giacomo Della Chiesa was when the then prefect of the Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics met the Archbishop of Bologna at the central station at Rome, a few days before Della Chiesa was, belatedly, to receive the red had from the hands of Pope St. Pius X. This debonair and sophisticated cleric, on this occasion and perhaps when Cardinal Della Chiesa came to Rome in August 1914 for the conclave that would elect him as pope, appears to have impressed the future Benedict XV greatly since it was generally taken as a shock when it was announced, on the evening of Benedict’s election, that the young Fr. Gerlach had been appointed by the new Pope “Secret Chamberlain on active duty to His Holiness.” There were only 4 such chamberlains, always serving the pope in pairs, who would appear flanking the Holy Father whenever he would make a public appearance. They would also act as personal servants during the pope’s private audiences and during his daily working hours. At his coronation on September 6, Monsignor Gerlach had been one of the chamberlains, who accompanied the Holy Father from his private apartments to the Sedia gestatoria [portable throne], by which he would be taken to his enthronement. It was obvious to all that the Pope had a special affection for the German, which made Gerlach’s ultimate betrayal of the Pope’s confidence all the more tragic. The young Msgr. Gerlach’s fine posture and erect carriage, along with his flawless manners, gave rise to the rumor that he had been a long-standing cavalry officer. That there were grave suspicions concerning Gerlach cannot be doubted since we know that during his term at the prestigious Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy there were disturbing rumors about his character and the sincerity of his vocation. A probationary appointment to the nunciature to Bavaria had been quietly set aside when the nuncio, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Andrea Früwirth, refused to have the young priest on his staff.
When Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary in May of 1915, all Germans and Austrians were ordered to leave Italy. Msgr. Gerlach asked the Pope if he could stay. Due to the reliance of the shy and awkward Pope on the outgoing and suave Monsignor, Benedict was all too willing to take advantage of the Law of Guarantees of 1871, in which the Italian government had promised absolute noninterference with the personnel of the papal household. The Holy Father simply asked Gerlach to submit to the same “voluntary imprisonment” in the precincts of the Vatican that he, and all the popes since 1870, had submitted to.
It was clear from the beginning that Gerlach had not scruples about violating the promises that he had made to Benedict. Soon he was openly seen on the streets of Rome, freely visiting houses and apartments. Members of the papal household became more suspicious of Gerlach when he decorated and furnished his rooms at the Vatican in renaissance splendor at an incredibly high cost. For driving the 4 or 5 miles of roadway inside the Vatican precincts, it seems as if Msgr. Gerlach needed a Lancia, one of the premier luxury automobiles of the day. Not long after the sinking of the Leonardo da Vinci, Gerlach’s name was linked with the case. In early 1917, Benedict was presented with proof of Gerlach’s complicity in a plan to destroy the entire Italian navy. Moreover, since early 1915, he had been the conduit for money coming from the Central Powers that was to be used to subsidize the various non-interventionist newspapers that were trying to keep the Italian Nation out of the war. It appears, also, that Gerlach’s work of espionage included regular communication with German, Austrian, and Italian personnel who were more than involved in the passing of information to the governments of the Central Powers.
After several years of refusing to acknowledge the validity of the questions that had risen concerning Gerlach’s political activity, Benedict XV had no choice but to turn Gerlach over to the Italian authorities. These authorities, not wanting the complications of putting a personal chamberlain of the Pope on trial for treason, courteously placed Msgr. Gerlach on a train for the Italian-Swiss border. When Msgr. Rudolf Gerlach crossed at Lugano, a major international situation between the Holy See and the Liberal Kingdom of Italy had been avoided. What the Gerlach Affair had gravely undermined was the official posture of neutrality that Benedict had taken upon becoming Supreme Pontiff. This would greatly complicate the attempt by the Pope in 1917 to bring about a general armistice. How can Le Pape Bosche be taken seriously when trying to act as international mediator when his neutrality had been so thrown into doubt due to the actions of his intimate subordinates?
E) Gerlach and a Carmelite’s Sacrifice
One of the German representatives that Msgr. Gerlach had been dealing with in Rome was Mathias Erzberger. Erzberger was leader of the Catholic Center Party in the German Parliament and one of the men charged with trying to keep Italy out of the Entente camp. He was a man of great piety, knowledge, and experience. In Rome, Erzberger met Gerlach frequently and eventually invited him to visit his family, both in Germany and during their vacations in Switzerland. The handsome and personable Gerlach, his wide knowledge of persons and places, his sparkling conversation, his ready wit, and his fine manners made of him a special favorite of the young 13-year-old daughter of Herr Erzberger, Maria. Msgr. Gerlach came to embody for Maria everything that a priest should be.
In 1917 or early 1918, when Gerlach had been forced to leave the Vatican, a guest at the Erzberger home, paying no attention to the children in the room, began talking about Msgr. Gerlach, mentioning how he had left the Vatican, given up the priestly life, and had attempted to marry a wealthy Dutch Protestant woman. The religious and hitherto sheltered ears of Maria overheard this. Shocked she raced from the room and for the rest of the evening through herself on her knees before a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Based upon that prayer and that event, Maria made a momentous decision. She resolved upon the heroic step of offering her life for the salvation of Rudolf Gerlach’s soul. She did this by entering the Carmelite convent at Echt, Holland. Maria suffered all the normal depravations of Carmelite life, and in addition, prolonged periods of physical illness and severe spiritual trials. Her separation from her beloved father was perhaps her greatest hardship. This was added to in 1921 when she found out that her father had been murdered in cold blood while on his way to Mass. When Maria died at the age of 35, a paper, which she had concealed under her brown scapular when she made her final vows, revealed that she had offered herself for the salvation of her father and Rudolf Gerlach.
On November 14, 1946, Rudolf Gerlach died after a painful and lingering illness. As death drew nearer to him, he had called a priest. Regaining the faith of his childhood, he died with the last sacraments, begging forgiveness from all those on whom his association had cast a shadow. The heart of an apostate cosmopolitan man of affairs, who had betrayed his Pope and priesthood so many years before, was broken and healed by a Heart greater than his own.