Can a moral person forge documents and thus, bear false witness for a good cause? The then and now late future Pope John XXIII shows how.
The choice of the name John XXIII by the newly elected Pope, the former Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, caused a stir among Church history scholars. The problem was that there already was a Pope John XXIII in the Middle Ages. But he was an anti-Pope. This, however, was in dispute among some circles with some alleging that the medieval John was duly elected. Thus, for hundreds of years no Pope had taken the name of John fearing perhaps that, one way or the other, they would be passing erroneous judgment on this controversy. It is said that Roncalli decided to end the controversy by becoming the 23rd John, thus affirming that the other John XXIII was not a valid Pope.
When I was a child, the just departed Pope John was viewed by many as a Saint.
I was, therefore, both scandalized and amused that this movie should portray him as a forger and a dissembler. He was involved in rescuing east European Jewish children from the Nazi holocaust by supplying them with Baptismal Certificates to "prove" that they were Catholics and therefore should be allowed to emigrate and issued passports by sympathetic members of the international diplomatic corps who were colleagues of Msgr. Angelo Roncalli, Papal Nuncio to Turkey. The foreign diplomats considered him (elected?) their "Dean."
About the moral question: In Acts, we read about Paul hiding in one of the jars laden on a donkey when he was being pursued by soldier agents of the Sanhedrin. When asked of his whereabouts, his companion answered: "He has not gone far" therefore leading the soldiers on a wild goose chase. Did Paul's disciple lie? He did not. Did he deceive the questioners? No. The soldiers deceived themselves.
I thought about this when I saw the movie but somehow I found that the position of St. Paul's companion did not exactly match that of Msgr. Roncalli. As Papal Nuncio, the latter signed documents which stated facts which he knew were not true. Not only that, he ordered their preparation.
The question is begged: Were the Nazis entitled to the truth? Were the immigration authorities of other countries concerned similarly entitled? (They would have turned back the children if they knew they were Jews.) The answer to both questions is : No. Did Msgr. Roncalli "bear false witness against thy (his) neighbor"? Again the answer is : No. Not that the Nazis were not Roncalli's neighbors but in the sense that he did not bear witness against them. It may even be said that he was performing an act of charity in their favor by depriving them of the opportunity to commit the heinous crime of murdering innocent children.
In my humble opinion, we could safely say that Angelo Roncalli or Pope John XXIII is not now burning in hell or even undergoing purgation for what he did to save Jewish children. Pope John Paul II obviously agrees for he has promoted our good Pope John from Venerable to Blessed.
By the way, Raymond Burr, delivered a very credible and "look alike" performance closely mimicking the mannerisms and almost hunchback stoop of the late Pope. To think that in movies, I often saw Burr as a bad guy "heavy" except of course on TV's Perry Mason where he was the hero.
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