t the risk of being disowned by my fellow orthodox Catholic friends, I picked up a copy of Rolf Hochhuth’s infamous play The Deputy a couple of weeks ago at a used book store. It was no great revelation to me; I’ve read it before, and I bought it on this occasion as a research aid for a writing project that you may or may not ever hear about again. It went on the bookshelf, between The Complete Works of Ayn Rand and How to Become a Libertarian in Six Easy Steps.
As a work of fiction likely to be taken as fact by readers and viewers, The Deputy is little more than a slanderous piece of Communist propaganda, deliberately promoted to tarnish the reputation of Pius XII through lie and innuendo. And over the decades since it was published in the early ‘60s, it has indeed gone a long way to smear a man who, in the immediate aftermath of WW2, had been praised by Jews and Christians alike for his efforts to save Jewish lives while in a delicate position. Evidence has since been uncovered linking Hochhuth with East German intelligence, and it’s likely that the whole thing was part of an orchestrated plot to undermine the Church.
It’s also not that well-written; far too polemical and strident, not to mention the slander I mentioned earlier (which, I guess, means I shouldn’t have to mention it again). As a play, though, at least in written form, it has some intriguing qualities. For one thing, Hochhuth’s prose stage instructions go on and on, sometimes for pages. They’re obviously meant to be more than just directions; indeed, they provide background and commentary in such depth that they become an integral part of the story. If you’re attending it as a performance without having the book in front of you, there’ll be so much left out that you won’t really receive the full impact.* With some judicious editing, it would be reminiscent of a book I enjoyed quite a bit, Michael Herr’s Walter Winchell – a prose novel written in the form of a screenplay, complete with descriptions of fade-ins and fade-outs, camera cuts, and the like.
*Of course, there are many who’d argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If there’s one redeeming factor in my purchase, aside from the research aspect (which has already borne fruit), it’s that I bought it second-hand, which means that neither Hochhuth, his publisher, nor anyone else connected with The Deputy made any money off of me. Had I been forced to pay full price, I probably would have had to make a trip to the confessional.
There is, however, one thing I’d like to note in favor of The Deputy, although it has nothing to do with the book itself. It came to me as I was driving in this morning, pondering the Christian persecution that seems to be in America’s immediate future. Oh, I don’t necessarily mean a persecution on the scale of the Holocaust; it’s more subtle and insidious than that. It’s the persecution occurring when an individual refuses to conform to the new social order and realize that religion is best kept hidden away in a dark corner, not to be brought out into polite company. You’re OK if you want to cling to your superstitions, just don’t do it where you can be seen, or in a way that might influence public policy.
It might not be as pronounced as wearing a yellow Star of David, at least not at first. But when you’re queried at work about political beliefs that have nothing to do with your job, when you can be forced to step down from a job or sell a company because of contributions you’ve made to various organizations, when the government can try to force companies to fund insurance coverage for acts that violate their own religious beliefs – well, you fill in the blanks.
Which leads me back to The Deputy. Hochhuth’s claim is that Pius allowed political and financial considerations to prevent him from taking a stronger stance against Nazi persecution of the Jews. And for all of his preaching, there’s no doubt that Hochhuth’s words (if they’re sincere and not simply a propaganda tool) show a great deal of compassion for the plight of the Jews during WW2. If he really means what he says, if his fictional Fr. Riccardo (based, supposedly, on St. Maximillian Kolbe) really exemplifies, in his contempt for Pius, a desire to empty himself out for those being persecuted, then one can at least begin to understand the depth of abandonment that the Jews must have felt back then. To have the entire world abandon you, turn its back on you and ignore what’s being done to you, and then to have the man who carries the greatest amount of moral authority remain silent* - well, that truly speaks to the dark night of the soul.
*To be clear once again: despite Hochhuth’s claim that the play was “ein christliches trauerspiel,” that is, a Christian tragedy, I believe it to be a smear job backed by the KGB, with no intent of sincerity. However, as Caiaphas discovered (John 11:50), anyone can be an inadvertent prophet, no matter how much the thought might horrify them.
And so, as we enter the once and future persecution, I will put that hat on and look toward Rome and its bishop. Can you see what is happening here, or are your eyes only on the refugees and the dissenters? Do you feel the pain that so many are feeling, the choices that are having to be made, the sense of despair that rises, or are you more interested in kissing babies and playing the role of the kindly, benign father? Are you prepared to confront a powerful government of an increasingly post-Christian nation that wants to marginalize Christianity and its beliefs in the name of progress and majority rule? Are you ready to speak out for those who have no voice, to show the truth to a world that prefers not to see?
Are you aware of how high the stakes are, of how immigration and social justice and wealth redistribution and all the rest are of no consequence without this basic freedom?
In other words, are you ready to interfere?
Or, like Hochhuth’s fictional Pius, are you all-too willing to allow worldly considerations to influence you to look the other way?
Originally published July 21, 2014