Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In the last month, I have had two people, one Jew, one Catholic tell me how horrible a man Pope Pius XII was. The Catholic told me that if Pius XII is canonized, he'll leave the Church! The current rewriting of history concerning this "pious" soul is truly astounding and makes one wonder about political and religious agendas at work.
There is no doubt in my mind that Christians since day one have harbored anti-Semitic prejudice that has led to the great suffering of Jews. The Holocaust and Christian complicity in it must be examined and if Christianity in any way had any thing to do with how Jews have been mistreated and murdered, then there must be repentance and yes, justice. However, it is also possible that there is anti-Catholicism at work with the current campaign to malign Pope Pius XII. After all, anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in our current culture. Hopefully, though, this anti-Catholicism will not lead to the types of things that Jews experienced through anti-Semitic prejudice.But you never know how the wind will shift!

The following article is noteworthy:

Much-maligned pontiff
By Dimitri Cavalli
Tags: Israel news

Some things never go away. The controversy over Pope Pius XII's actions during World War II was recently reignited when Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree affirming that his predecessor displayed "heroic virtues" during his lifetime. When the pope visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on Sunday, Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome's Jewish community, told him: "The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done."

This was not the first time the wartime pope, who is now a step closer to beatification, has been accused of keeping silent during the Holocaust, of doing little or nothing to help the Jews, and even of collaborating with the Nazis. To what extent, if any, does the evidence back up these allegations, which have been repeated since the early 1960s?

On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, instructed the papal nuncio in Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies.
On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an encyclical, entitled "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Anxiety"), that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church. The encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits on March 21, 1937.

Although many Vatican critics today dismiss the encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German foreign ministry, wrote that the "encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the state, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace."

Both Great Britain and France should have interpreted the document as a warning that they should not trust Adolf Hitler or try to appease him.

After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased with the new pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: "Midday with the Fuehrer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as pope."

During the war, the pope was far from silent: In numerous speeches and encyclicals, he championed human rights for all people and called on the belligerent nations to respect the rights of all civilians and prisoners of war. Unlike many of the pope's latter-day detractors, the Nazis understood him very well. After studying Pius XII's 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security Office concluded: "In a manner never known before the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order ... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." (Pick up any book that criticizes Pius XII, and you won't find any mention of this important report.)

In early 1940, the pope acted as an intermediary between a group of German generals who wanted to overthrow Hitler and the British government. Although the conspiracy never went forward, Pius XII kept in close contact with the German resistance and heard about two other plots against Hitler. In the fall of 1941, through diplomatic channels, the pope agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that America's Catholics could support the president's plans to extend military aid to the Soviet Union after it was invaded by the Nazis. On behalf of the Vatican, John T. McNicholas, the archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered a well-publicized address that explained that the extension of assistance to the Soviets could be morally justified because it helped the Russian people, who were the innocent victims of German aggression.

Throughout the war, the pope's deputies frequently ordered the Vatican's diplomatic representatives in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered Jews. Up until Pius XII's death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews ... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."

The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him - that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews - with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation.

Dimitri Cavalli is an editor and writer in New York City. He is working on books on both Pope Pius XII and Joe McCarthy, the late manager of the New York Yankees.


Gabriel Wilensky said...

Pope Benedict claims the “The Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way” during the Holocaust. How does he know this? Is there any evidence he has access to the rest of the world doesn’t? If so, given the controversy surrounding the role of the Vatican and of Pope Pius XII during the murder of six million Jews, the last and most devastating step in a long history of antisemitism fostered by the Church for centuries, it behooves the Church to release any information as soon as possible. Yet, about 50 years ago when the controversy about Pope Pius began the Holy See released eleven volumes of documents with the purpose of “exonerating” the wartime pope from any wrongdoing, including that of inaction. It stands to reason these must have been the best documents showing the Vatican’s “hidden and discreet” work to save Jews. Yet, almost none of it showed the Holy See or the pope had done that. The Vatican’s public efforts are of course well-known, and they show no clear action on behalf of the hounded Jews of Europe, including those of Rome. Now Pope Benedict wants to raise Pope Pius to the sainthood for his “heroic virtues”. Even though it’s the Church’s prerogative to canonize whoever they wish, canonizing Pope Pius XII before the Vatican Secret Archives covering the WWII period are opened to independent researchers is a misguided effort that can turn into a public relations disaster for the Catholic Church.

Gabriel Wilensky
Six Million Crucifixions:
How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust
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Robert Kumpel said...

I cannot speak for the entire Catholic Church, but it seems that our previous pope, John Paul II, has apologized all over himself for every shortcoming committed by persons within the Church, including mistreatment of Jews.

As a product of the Catholic schools, the first few years of which were "pre-Vatican II" I cannot recall any priest, nun or lay teacher feeding us negative information or opinions about the Jews. Quite the opposite, the biggest sin that was always pinned on Hitler was his treatment of the Jewish race. We were taught that the Jews were God's chosen people.

Because of the nature of my father's business, I grew up around a lot of Jewish people and I was (and am) very comfortable with them. I certainly cannot remember an anti-semitic remark ever coming from my parents' lips. Again, quite the opposite, my father often praised some of his Jewish associates for having more integrity than many of the Catholics that he knew.

And the Jewish people I knew? I cannot recall ever hearing them complain about the Catholic Church's complicity in the Holocaust.

Of course, this is just my testimony, easily dismissed as anecdotal at best.

So, I'm probably wasting my time when I suggest reading The Myth of Hitler's Pope by Rabbi David Dalin, a book that strongly refutes this tired canard about Pius XII. I have no doubt that his detractors can explain away Dalin's arguments. It's also probably pointless to remind readers of the conversion of Rome's Chief Rabbi, Israel Zolli, who converted to the Catholic Church after the war and took Pope Pius' first name, Eugene, as his own.

No, I'll just remind Mr. Wilensky and the other readers that successful public relations are critical for secular organizations, but is not the primary concern of the Catholic Church.

I'll also apologize once again to Mr. Wilensky and others who share his conviction on behalf of the shortcomings of the Catholic Church. I hope one day you will find it in your heart to forgive us and our Church.

Finally, I ask, if the eventual opening of the Vatican's secret archives ever prove, to your satisfaction, that Pius XII was not complicit with Hitler, will YOU apologize to the Church?

I'm not holding my breath.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

From Fr. Allan McDonald: I am no expert on Pope Pius XII and therefore cannot defend or accuse him. It does strike me odd though, that Mr. Wilensky, while rightly decrying anti-Semitic sentiment of many Christians, but also atheists and godless secularist such as Adolph Hitler in the murder of over six million Jews never mentions the six million others who were slaughtered for their ethnic origin or mental and physical disabilities or sexual orientation. Most of these six million others were Christians, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants. Why would Pope Pius XII be silent about them? Was he anti-Christian? Or did he really have an antipathy toward human suffering and murder no matter who? These are the questions that I fee are answered by the author of the article I pasted on the blog. Mr.Cavalli seems to answer in a positive light what Pius XII actually did. The author also acknowledges the other six million who died, whom we should never forget either! From the author's last sentence:

The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him - that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews - with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation.

Dimitri Cavalli

Robert Kumpel said...

One more thing, Mr. Wilensky: I just noticed you are a resident of my home town, San Diego. Having grown up there, I can confidently say that except for a few fringe nutcases living in the "boonies", I cannot recall any anti-semitic strongholds in our beloved city.

On several occasions, I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Morris Casuto, President of San Diego's Anti-Defamation League, speak and I even had a chance to interview him once for a story I had published in The Reader. You might be surprised (as I was when I interviewed him) to find that when he was a child, even though he was Jewish, he sang in a choir at a Catholic Church. I guess no one had taught him to hate Pope Pius XII.

Henry Edwards said...

"However, it is also possible that there is anti-Catholicism at work with the current campaign to malign Pope Pius XII."

Wow! For a big-time understatement, Fr. McDonald, you will never top this one, however this fine blog endures.