Hitler's Pope?

DONALD DEVINE

After Pope John Paul II’s successful journey to the Holy Land — including nearly unanimous praise from the Jewish community, many are questioning whether it is worth the firestorm to declare Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, a saint.

Pope Pius XII

From columns in newspapers to a new book titled Hitler’s Pope, the line is that Pius did not do enough to save Jews from the Holocaust and, therefore, that his imminent canonization would be provocative and unjust.

The problem is that the campaign against Pacelli is a defamation. Assuming the other criteria for sainthood are met, not to proceed is to be complicit. The record is clear. With Adolf Hitler not even chancellor until 1933, on March 28, 1928, Pius XI proclaimed: “Moved by Christian charity, the Holy See is obligated to protect the Jewish people against unjust vexations and, just as it reprobates all rancor and conflicts between peoples, it particularly condemns unreservedly hatred against the people once chosen by God; the hatred that goes by the name of anti-Semitism.” Two years later, with Cardinal Pacelli promoted to secretary of state, on Oct. 11, 1930, his official Vatican newspaper quoted his office saying “belonging to the National Socialist Party of Hitler is irreconcilable with Catholic conscience.”

In 1937, Pius XI issued an encyclical condemning racism and, when asked who was responsible, replied: “Thank him [pointing to his secretary of state], he has done everything.”

Pacelli had read Hitler’s Mein Kampf as early as 1925 and told fellow diplomats that Hitler was “obsessed” and a “new manifestation” of the Anti-Christ. As papal nuncio in Germany, he drove policy on the Nazis, criticizing them 40 times before 1929. As secretary, he did sign an agreement with Hitler’s Germany in 1933 but told the British he had to do so or it would mean the “virtual elimination of the Catholic Church” in Germany. Using it in 1934, he was able to protest the Nazis’ closing some 200 Catholic publications, taking over Church schools and forcing Catholics to join the Hitler Youth. He also lodged 60 protests of Jewish cases.

In 1935, he explained to 325,000 Lourdes pilgrims that the “church will never come to terms with Nazis as long as they persist in their racial philosophy.” Throughout 1936 and thereafter, his Vatican Radio broadcast against these racial laws. Following the encyclical, on Jan. 9, 1939, Pacelli told the world’s archbishops that their governments should accept Jews trying to escape Germany, and the next day sent the same order to the American cardinals. By March, he was pope.

His first encyclical defines human nature as “neither gentile nor Jew,” but universal. On Oct. 28, 1939, the New York Times explained it as: “Pope condemns dictators, treaty violators, racism.” Its Jan. 23, 1940, leading item was, “Vatican denounces atrocities in Poland; Germans called even worse than Russians.” On March 11, 1940, Pius confronted German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, which the Times headlined three days later as, “Pope is emphatic about just peace: Jewish rights defended.” After the fall of France in 1940, Pius sent a secret letter telling bishops to help those suffering from racism, reminding them racism is “incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

In its Dec. 25, 1941, editorial, the New York Times applauded the pope for placing “himself squarely against Hitlerism,” upset that “the voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas.”

In the face of this overwhelming record, how is it possible so many believe the opposite? Except for Nazi and communist propaganda, the sources are one play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, and John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope. Despite the fact that 12 volumes of unrefuted material were produced by four Jesuit historians rebutting the play, the literary set loved it. They preferred the art to the facts and ignored that Mr. Hochhuth was in the Hitler Youth, trained in its virulent anti-clericalism.

Mr. Cornwell said he was convinced of the pope’s innocence before he searched “long-buried Vatican files,” when his eyes were opened. In fact, he did not see any archival documents dated after 1922 — before Hitler had any political significance whatsoever. He admitted in 1989 that he was a “lapsed Catholic for more than 20 years,” and an ex-seminarian who enjoyed testing the faith of his fellow students.

The charge against Pius XII is slander against a good man and nothing more. After the “final solution” leaked out, the New York Times headlined, on Aug. 6, 1942: “Pope is said to plead for Jews listed for removal from France.” It was Israeli consul to Italy Rabbi Pinchas Lapide who researched Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and reported that Pope Pius XII led efforts to save 860,000 Jews, “more than all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations put together.” What motivates those who take the Times as holy writ and ignore these facts?

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Devine, Donald. “Hitler’s Pope?” Washington Times (April 30, 2000).

Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.

THE AUTHOR

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

Copyright © 2000 Washington Times