Fri 31st Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 31st Oct 2014 at 11:50am

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

The Pope Pius XII debate in London promises to be compelling and educational

The debate about Pope Pius XII in London this month will be an education.

By on Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pope Pius XII pictured in May 1957 (AP)

Pope Pius XII pictured in May 1957 (AP)

As evidence continues to mount purporting to show the “Pius Wars” moving in favour of the wartime pontiff and his record in saving Jewish lives during World War II, a forthcoming London debate promises to be timely, compelling and, above all, educational.

Hosted by Intelligence Squared, a popular and unique forum of “Oxford-Style” debates, four leading debaters will meet at the Royal Institution on November 14th to debate the motion “’Hitler’s Pope’: Pius XII did too little to save the Jews from the Holocaust”.

Speaking for the motion will be two well-known British personalities: John Julius Norwich, the accomplished historian and author of “The Popes: A History”. In the book, Mr Norwich draws on the work of John Cornwell, author of “Hitler’s Pope”, to describe Pius as “the odiously anti-Semitic Pius XII to whom the beloved Pope John XXIII came as such a welcome contrast.”

He will be joined by Geoffrey Robertson QC, a United Nations human rights lawyer and author of “The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse.” Mr Robertson, an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church, gained notoriety in the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in 2010 when he drew up plans for the Pope’s arrest and trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Speaking against the motion will be two respected American historians, both masters in the history of Pius XII and his record in saving Jewish lives during World War Two. William Doino is a writer specializing in religion, history and politics who has written numerous articles on the subject, and contributed to an extensive work published in 2010 called “The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII.”

He will be joined by Ronald Rychlak, professor of law at the University of Mississippi and author of “Hitler, the War, and the Pope.” Mr Rychlak has also co-authored with a former Romanian intelligence chief a forthcoming book called “Disinformation” which promises to disclose evidence of how the KGB led a campaign to frame Pius as a Nazi sympathizer. Earlier this year, he shared some of his findings which can be read here.

As is usual with these debates, the audience will have a chance to vote either for or against the motion, both at the beginning and again at the end of the debate, thereby giving an idea of which side proved the most convincing.

The debate will begin at 7.15pm November 14th at the Royal Institution, 21 Albemarle Street, London,W1S 4BS. Tickets are £25 and can be purchased online at

  • nytor

    “Mr Norwich”

    John Julius Norwich is in fact Viscount Norwich.

  • Romulus

    Rychlak will make a meal of the amateur windbag Norwich, and **** him out before breakfast.  I trust that isn’t too earthy for this site.

  • Kevin

    I am not sure how educational it is to have a pope perennially defamed.

  • Nat_ons

    Sadly, Catholicism in Britain still lacks any presentably masterful voice able to defend – let alone explain – the orthodox faith. So that it has no trustworthy mind capable of presenting the truth about that most egregiously defamed man of God, the truly Venerable Pius XII, is no surprise .. yet it is remains lamentable. It is also, perhaps, something to thank the good Lord for that Britain (and Ireland, of course) also has no sufficiently agile intellect hostile to catholicism, orthodoxy, the church, Pius XII etc (and God, naturally enough) to take advantage of this dearth of intellect among Catholics (or at very least competent Catholic Action).

    Not that intellect, understanding or wisdom are prized much today (even among Catholics) – for the BBC, the chitteratti, the In-Set, et al, it is pleasing the picked crowd, a buffing up of the veneer of liberalism, and promoting the image of our glorious today alone that really matters.

    I trust this will not be yet another public venue for open humiliation of Roman Catholics – deemed from the start a menace to society, and fired solely with rhetorical hatreds .. setting aside all truth; I suspect it is intended to be so (even after Benedict XVI’s amazing visit).

    With the feeble Geoffrey Robertson QC and John Julian Norwich on the panel it would seem the result is already assumed by many to be in favour of condemnation .. and any complex truths from William Doino and Ronald Rychlak irrelevant. 

  • Togold

    The trouble is that all the stuff about Pope Pius and the jewish holocaust has been around so long that academic debates are unlikely to erode the by now permanent question mark over his Papacy

  • Mark

    As a person of Jewish descent, I can say that many Jews are guilty of ingratitude for the 800 thousand Jews that Pope Pius helped save. The cause of this is the resentment that many Jews feel for the fact that Catholicism called for the conversion of the Jewish people. This resentment even influenced Vatican II which ignored that Catholic tradition and invented a new double covenant idea that both Israel and Christianity have concurrent covenants. This was done for political expedience and unfortunately demonstrates the lack of spine of Catholic leadership.

  • Parasum

    Those who defend his record attribute to him alone, far too often, the saving of 700,000 or 800,000 or 860,000 (the figures vary) Jews, and say next to nothing about those who were immediately instrumental in saving those lives – which is very unfair to them. How far is the action taken by a man’s subordinates attributable to him – whether for good, or evil ?

    If what his subordinates do is attributable to him, how that not make the pro-Nazi sympathies of Mgr. Alois Hudal attributable to him ? Mgr. Hudal was responsible for the “rat-line” that enabled many fugitive Nazis to escape their deserts by going to S. America. To call the Pope “pro-Nazi”, would be absurd and unjust – but the activities of a pro-Nazi ecclesiastic in the Pontifical household do put a question mark against the argument that the Pope can be given the credit for what his subordinates did. Quite likely he can, to some extent – but how, by that logic, does he not attract the discredit for what some of his subordinates did. The subject of the Pope & the War seems to divide people into camps,
    and this is not helpful to the study of history – people are either
    uncritically favourable, or uncritically destructive.

    The discussion about Pope Pius XII should be conducted with as much absence of partisan feeling or prepossession as if he were as remote from today as Hammurabi of Babylon, who though a firmly historical figure is unlikely to stir passions today.

    The argument that the Pope was (relatively) silent in order to avoid bringing even greater suffering  to those oppressed by the Nazis seems never to be tested by the Pope’s post-war re-action to the plight of the Church in China. If it was possible for him to write like this in 1954, after the Maoist take-over, when he knew the Church had already suffered persecution:

    “3. However – as we
    wrote to you – “you are opposing with a firm will all forms of
    insidious attack, whether subtle, hidden, or masked under a false
    appearance of truth” (Ibid., p. 155). We know that these words of
    Our previous Apostolic Letter were not able to reach you. So We
    willingly repeat them for you by means of this Encyclical. We know too,
    to Our great mental comfort, that you have persevered in your firm and
    holy resolve, and that no force has succeeded in separating you from the
    unity of the Church. For this We heartily congratulate you and give you
    deserved praise.

    4. But as We must be solicitous for the eternal
    salvation of each person, We cannot hide the sadness and affliction of
    Our soul in learning that, although the great majority of Catholics have
    remained steadfast in the Faith, still there are some in your midst
    who, either deceived in their good faith, or overcome by fear, or misled
    by new and false doctrines, have adhered, even recently, to dangerous
    movements being promoted by the enemies of all religion, especially of
    the religion divinely revealed by Jesus Christ.”
    - what happens to the argument that he did not wish to cause trouble for those he was seeking to help ? There is a difficulty here, & to ignore it does not resolve it, or vindicate him. If he could criticise the Maoists – why could he not criticise the Nazis ?

    What exactly is meant by “Jew” ? Does the figure include those who were baptised – or only those who were Jewish by both race & religion ? If someone of Jewish extraction is a Christian, even if only on paper, it is hard to see how such a person is different in kind from a Christian of Greek, Irish or Sudanese extraction. And it is possible to be a Jew & and a subject of a non-Jewish state:  Rabbi Zolli was not Jewish or Italian, but both. Is someone of partly Gentile stock a Jew ? If people have different criteria for Jewishness, one person’s 860,000 Jews may be another’s much lower (or higher) figure. These distinctions may seem absurd, but they affect the meaning of statements like “The Pope saved 860,000 Jews”. If we are going to talk about the Pope’s activity, we need to agree on the meaning our words

  • DPierre

    Doino and Rychlak will literally mop the floor with Norwich and Robertson. 

    Doino and Rychlak know more about the Pius XII issue than anybody. I hope this will be videotaped for posterity.

  • Adam

    So two proper historians against a “popular” historian and a lawyer. Hmm. 

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Speaking as one of his born subjects, he does not represent me in his strange opinion of Pius’ discreet and capable handling of the Nazi plague.

  • Benedict Carter

    Cornwell’s odious book has been absolutely destroyed by Dr. Peter Grumpel. Grumpel’s meticulous work shows Cornwell’s wicked set of myths for what they are (lies and deliberate planting of falsehoods) and can be found online easily enough. 

    These links will educate anyone who does not yet know that Pius XII is in reality the greatest of all the “righteous gentiles” – but we will wait a long time before Hollywood ever recognizes this second-greatest Pope of the 20th Century. 

    The essential online link is

    Others are:

    and many other links add to this material.

    The villification of this great man commenced in the 1960′s and is now known to have been a deliberate KGB plot, using the playwright Rolf Hochhuth as its tool. It was then picked up by the left, secular Jews hostile to the Church and “Catholic” liberals in whose interest it was (and is) to denigrate the pre-Vatican II Church.

    On the day of Pius XII’s death in 1958, Golda Meir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, cabled the following message of condolence to the Vatican: “We share in the grief of humanity…When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims.  The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict.  We mourn a great servant of peace.”  

    Before beginning a concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Leonard Bernstein called for a minute of silence “for the passing of a very great man, Pope Pius XII.” Similar sentiments were expressed in the many tributes and eulogies for Pius by numerous rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, as well as by most of the Israeli press, several of whose readers suggested in open letters that a “Pope Pius XII Forest” be planted in the hills of Judea “in order to perpetuate fittingly the humane services rendered by the late pontiff to European Jewry.” During and for close to two decades after World War II, Jewish praise and gratitude for Pius XII’s efforts on behalf of European Jewry were virtually unanimous.  Indeed, as Pinchas Lapide has so aptly stated: “No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews.”

  • Benedict Carter

    Pre and post-Hochhuth Jewish quotes on Pope Pius XII:

    “The repeated interventions of the Holy Father on behalf of Jewish Communities in Europe has evoked the profoundest sentiments of appreciation and gratitude from Jews throughout the world.

    Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig, Political director of the World Jewish Congress. Written February 18 1944 in a letter to Msgr. Amleto Cicognani, the apostolic delegate in Washington, D.C.

    “In the most difficult hours of which we Jews of Romania have passed through, the generous assistance of the Holy See…was decisive and salutary. 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.”

    Rabbi Alexander Safran, chief rabbi of Romania note to Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, Papal Nuncio to Romania, April 7 1944.

    “The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the very foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.”

    Rabbi Isaac Herzog, chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine, March 1945.

    “The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and in as far as they could save Christians…. Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims, had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.”

    Dr. Raffaele Cantoni, director of the Italian Jewish Assistance Committee, American Jewish Yearbook 1944-1945, 233.

    “What the Vatican did will be indelibly and eternally engraved in our hearts. Priests and even high prelates did things that will forever be an honor to Catholicism.”

    Israel [Zolli], former Chief Rabbi of Rome, 1948.

    “If the pope had spoken out, Hitler would probably have massacred more than six million Jews and perhaps ten times ten million Catholics, if he had the power to do so.”

    Rabbi Marcus Melchior, Holocaust survivor and Chief Rabbi of Denmark, 1950.

    “More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror when it seemed that for us there was no longer an escape.”

    Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, 1951.

    “We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. In a generation affected by wars and discords, he upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”

    Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister, message of condolence to the Vatican, sent 1958.

    “With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history.”

    Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, message of condolence to the Vatican, sent 1958.

    “In relation to the insane behavior of the Nazis, from overlords to self-styled cogs like Eichmann, he [Pius XII] did everything humanly possible to save lives and alleviate suffering among the Jews; that a formal statement would have provoked the Nazis to brutal retaliation, and would substantially have thwarted further Catholic action on behalf of Jews.”

    Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in Rome. Written in his book A Question of Judgment (1963) (written in response to Hochhuth’s play).

    “The papal nuncio and the bishops intervened again and again on the instructions of the pope, and that as a result of these labors in the autumn and winter of 1944, there was practically no Catholic Church institution in Budapest where persecuted Jews did not find refuge.”

    Jewish historian Jeno Levai, Hungarian Jewry and the Papacy: Pius XII Did Not Remain Silent (1965).

    “Pius XI had good reason to make Pacelli (the future Pius XII) the architect of his anti-Nazi policy. Of the forty-four speeches which the Nuncio Pacelli had made on German soil between 1917 and 1929, at least forty contained attacks on Nazism or condemnations of Hitler’s doctrines. Pacelli, who never met the Führer, called it ‘neo-Paganism.’”

    Pinchas E. Lapide, former Israeli diplomat and Orthodox Jewish Rabbi in Three Popes and the Jews (New York: Hawthorn, 1967) p. 118.

    “The Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000, Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.”

    Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (1967).

    “No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews. Upon his death in 1958, several suggested in open letters that a Pope Pius XII forest of 860,000 trees be planted on the hills of Judea in order to fittingly honor the memory of the late Pontiff because the Catholic Church under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving the lives of as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.”

    Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (1967).

    “I told [Pope Pius XII] that my first duty was to thank him, and through him the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews…. We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Church.”

    Moshe Sharett (who later became Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister)

    “Pius XII did not make his protest heard when the Roman Jews were carried away right under his nose.”

    Amos Luzzatto, president of Union of Italian Jewish Communities. (September 28, 1998).

    “Hitler distrusted the Holy See because it hid Jews. The Germans considered the Pope as an enemy.”

    Jewish historian Richard Breitman, professor at American University in Washington, D.C. Statement made in Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” on June 29, 2000.

    “My judgment cannot but be positive. Pope Pacelli was the only one who intervened to impede the deportation of Jews on 16 October 1943, and he did very much to hide and save thousands of us. It was no small matter that he ordered the opening of cloistered convents. Without him, many of our own would not be alive.” 

    Michael Tagliacozzo, Jewish historian and staff member at Beth Lohame Haghettaot (Center of Studies on the Shoah and Resistance). Beth Lohame Haghettaot in western Galilee in Israel is one of the world’s largest museums and centers of documentation on the Holocaust.

    “The Talmud teaches that ‘whosoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved a whole world.’ More than any other twentieth-century leader, Pius XII fulfilled this Talmudic dictum, when the fate of European Jewry was at stake. No other pope had been so widely praised by Jews — and they were not mistaken. Their gratitude, as well as that of the entire generation of Holocaust survivors, testifies that Pius XII was, genuinely and profoundly, a righteous gentile.”

    Rabbi David G. Dalin, Ph.D. “Pius XII and the Jews.” Weekly Standard vol. 6 no. 23 (February 26 2001).

    “During the Nazi occupation of Rome, three thousand Jews found refuge at one time at the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Amazingly, Castel Gandolfo is never mentioned or discussed in the anti-papal writings of many of the pope’s critics. Yet at no other site in Nazi-occupied Europe were as many Jews saved and sheltered for as long a period as at Castel Gandolfo during the Nazi occupation of Rome. Kosher food was provided for the Jews hidden there, where, as George Weigel has noted, Jewish children were born in the private apartments of Pius XII, which became a temporary obstetrical ward.”

    Rabbi David G. Dalin, Ph.D., July 29, 2005 interview with Dr. Thomas E. Woods.

  • Benedict Carter

    Pius XII was personally and intimately involved with the work done daily for the 800,000 Jews saved by the Vatican during the War.

  • Guest007

    I have no interest in this debate, it is just another platform for people to try and attack and mock our faith rather than have an honest open mind about things and an intellectually sound conversation.

    “the audience will have a chance to vote either for or against the
    motion, both at the beginning and again at the end of the debate,
    thereby giving an idea of which side proved the most convincing.”

    …the BBC have done this tactic before and trust me when I say it will be a bias in favour of the claim “the Pope did not do enough”

    Dont posh it up, you do not need an “Oxford style” debate to know this area of history. Ive had this conversation with many people and you can easily get people to understand this if you know your facts and put them across effectively.

    But it still makes me laugh that people still think the Pope out of all people did not do enough to save Jews.To me its a form of anti-catholic false propaganda just like some people say the inquisition was a blood bath committed by the church……absolute total nonsense! Interestingly both these false claims arose from here in the Protestant UK and not elsewhere.

    It’s nice to know those critics as non Catholics put the Pope on such a high pedestool in terms of being able to be “a superman to the rescue like character.”

    Fact: Pope Pious saved over 800 thousand Jews during his time as Pope why is this not acknowledged??

    It was mainly through the religious orders this was done, Jewish children especially were smuggled out of the concentration camps. There are many films which were produced during the 60′s and even before which illustrate this. Have you watched The Cardinal (1963)?? Conspiracy of Hearts (1960)???

    Even in Israel theres an educational institute which was known for saying he didnt do enough recently removed that statement.

    What did the British/Americans and other European allies do to save Jews????

    …and your planning on pinning the entire blame of the holocaust on the Pope why are the allied forces not criticised for “not doing enough” if I may put it??

    Realistically ask yourself also: What could Pius have done against Hitler??….march his Swiss Guards into Berlin?? Send in the inquisition?? *chuckles*

    Even if Hitler was excommunicated it would not have stopped him from commiting the atrocities he did.

    The Church even back then did not have the political power and influence it once had for many centuries regarding keeping leaders across Europe in line.

    The very first people the Nazis eradicated before the Jews were who they
    considered disabled people…the nazis were the ones who
    introduced the practice of eugenics.

    Some say Hitler was a Catholic…he was raised one yes but his actions do not reflect what his religious beliefs ought to be…the Nazis burned religious books, Hitler wanted to eradicate religion completely and wanted to control and have people adopt the Pagan worship of the German Fatherland instead of god….that is simply pure evil and not what the Church teaches…neither is the gassing of innocent men, women and children on a mass genocidal level…Jews wernt the only ones killed so were Catholics and homosexuals. Often they were tagged so thay they could be identified from everyone else.

    Pious was no Nazi sympathizer..during that period you as a german citizen/priest etcc living at that time had to be careful with what you said..if you spoke out against the regime you were killed..even priests were conscripted into the german army.

    Our current Holy Father served under the Nazi Youth…every German child was put into had no choice…honestly would you have said no to it during that period???

    Its so easy for us living in historically democratically countries such as the UK and USA which have had no authoritarian right or left wing governments/dictators to criticise such events in history.

    …try imagining yourself living under such a regime whether it be under the Nazis or the Soviets and put everything into context..try imagining if you were living under constant fear and how you lived your life was virtually dictated to you (which the they did very well).

    It’s so easy to criticise history but honestly what would you have done??

    I often draw a parallel between those priests who were conscripted into the German army and those priests who were aware of children being abused which led to some of it being covered up…both said they were “simply following orders”…which one do you think has a stronger case/which one could have made a difference more easily?? I know which one it is.

  • Jeannine2

    Much more information about Pope Pius’s contribution in saving the Jewish people has come to light since the early 1960s. This debate will be worthwhile to see since I’m sure the pro-Pius camp will share this information to the public.

  • Romulus

     I have heard a famous European prelate refer to the two covenant theory as settled doctrine, but am not aware that it is advanced in the documents of Vatican II.  Indeed, my reading of Dominus Iesus /i> precludes it.

  • Benedict Carter

    JP II unfortunately said some stupid things in this regard, and he was far from alone.

  • JabbaPapa

    As is usual with these debates, the audience will have a chance to vote
    either for or against the motion, both at the beginning and again at the
    end of the debate, thereby giving an idea of which side proved the most

    Ludicrous — quite apart from the fact that it’s revolting that the authors of some blatantly anti-historical attacks against Catholicism are even being treated seriously in the first place, the anti-Catholic bias that the audience is most likely to be steeped in makes nonsense of the whole proceeding.

    Historical reality is not determined by “BBC audience consensus”.

  • JabbaPapa

    This resentment even influenced Vatican II which ignored that Catholic
    tradition and invented a new double covenant idea that both Israel and
    Christianity have concurrent covenants

    Nope — the teaching is that there is only one covenant, that the Jews also participate in, albeit in a very imperfect manner, because they deny the Christ. Which, despite a certain number of variations in the interpretation of this doctrine over the Millennia, is the constant teaching of the Church. (my own presentation of it is just such a variation, for example)

    The official position of the Church on this question is that we do not understand the relationship in God’s Mind between the promises of salvation provided to the Jews and those provided by the Christ to all of the nations, including Israel.

    But there are not two covenants, there is only one.

  • amfortas

    I’m not sure it will be educational. Surely it will be a torture to sit through, hearing lots of anti-Catholic nonsense from John Julius Norwich – who has the most tedious literary style – and the self-righteous Geoffrey Robinson.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Geoffrey Robertson QC in a debate???

    I’ve read it all now.

    Go and wipe the floor with him, John Julius Norwich!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    The only Irishman whose name is amongst the Righteous Amongst the Gentiles is Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, Vatican official, priest, humanitarian.

    Read all you can about this man and those who were in his group.

    By the time all debate has finished and ‘black myths’ about Pope Pius XII are blown out of the water once and for all, there will be something of a rainforest at Yad Vashem.