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Will the ‘Hitler’s pope’ slur be put to rest?

A new book re-evaluates Pius XII and the Holocaust

By on Monday, 11 February 2013

Mideast Israel Wartime Pope

Some good news at last for the Catholic Church in the pages of yesterday’s Observer, no less, reporting on the forthcoming publication of a book by Gordon Thomas, entitled The Pope’s Jews, which will, it is hoped, lead to a re-evaluation of the role of Pope Pius XII in the Holocaust. 

Until the publication of Ralph Hochhuth’s 1963 play The Representative, Pius XII’s reputation as a friend and protector of the Jews stood high. But it is important to remember that the play is a polemic and a drama, not history. I have not read John Cornwell’ s now famous book, Hitler’s Pope, but that certainly carried on the work of the play, and the criticisms of Cornwell’s approach are well known. But even though many scholars have taken Cornwell to task, the implication of the title – which is quite brilliantly defamatory – has stuck.

To complain that the media has misrepresented the Catholic Church, is, to some at least, to show signs of persecution mania. But, if the media does misrepresent the figure of Pius XII, surely all, not just Catholics, ought to be disturbed by this. History should not be manipulated; it is perilous to let it be so; it was the manipulation of history, among other things, that made the Holocaust possible. One of Hitler’s favourite claims was that the Bolshevik revolution was led by Jews. Yes, there were Jews who were Bolsheviks (though to what extent they were at all Jewish is debatable) but to claim that the Bolshevik revolution was some sort of Jewish plot is simply laughable. As laughable as claiming that Pacelli was Hitler’s Pope – or at least it would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. It is equally absurd and dangerous, to deny the Holocaust ever happened – which is why in some countries Holocaust denial is quite rightly illegal.

This new book claims to examine hitherto neglected primary sources, and that is greatly to be welcomed. The relationship between Catholics and Jews before the Second World War is surely best to be discovered via the ephemera of the period, and careful plodding through leaflets, newspapers, sermons, devotional manuals, holy pictures and parish newsletters. It would be here that one would have to look for a culture of anti-Semitism woven into Catholic daily life. I have spoken to people who were young in the 1930’s and asked them if they remember ever hearing Jews referred to, for example, as “Christ-killers” in Catholic discourse, and have always drawn a blank. If Pius XII had been anti-Jewish, that would have made him stand out dramatically from the milieu that produced him. In fact, in 1930’s Italy, despite the racial laws introduced by Mussolini, there were very few convinced anti-Semites, even among the Italian fascists.

Oddly, though he is accused of being a Nazi sympathiser, no one ever seemingly accuses Pius XII of being a fascist sympathiser. Yes, he did business with Mussolini, but the Vatican kept its distance from the regime, had several notable conflicts with it, and did nothing to prop it up when it tottered. Nor did the Vatican intervene to save the Italian monarchy after the War, something they might well have tried to do. Cardinal Schuster of Milan tried to save Mussolini’s life in the closing weeks of the War, but sadly failed to do so. He acted, not as a fascist sympathiser, but as a humanitarian.

The concept of Hitler’s Pope is not simply a slur against Pius XII, it is a slur directed at the Church and indeed all Catholics. But it is something that all who care about history and historical method should find outrageous.

  • teigitur

    Most people of good faith have long since known tha Pius was not “Hitlers Pope”. Fabricated by the many enemies of the Church, and delighted the media.


  • Christopher Murray

    No . There are too many anti Christs.

  • Peter

    “The concept of Hitler’s Pope is not simply a slur against Pius XII, it is a slur directed at the Church and indeed all Catholics.”

    Pope Pius has been targeted because he spoke the truth.

    In 1951 he addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in response to the discovery that the universe had a beginning:

    “It would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial “Fiat lux” uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation”

    It is only now, 60 years later, that physicists are beginning to understand the implications of quantum mechanics which is leading them to the realisation that the universe did indeed begin from nothing.

    Pope Pius’ words, strictly consistent with historical Catholic doctrine, were certainly prophetic which can only be attributed to an enlightenment supernaturally enforced by faith.

    No wonder there is so much hatred against him and the Church in general.

  • Kevin

    “which is quite brilliantly defamatory”

    …and he’s dead anyway, so, “Have at it!”, cry the ne’er-do-wells.

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    The slur will continue. The whole of the West have bought into the paradigm that WWII was a good, moral and necessary conflict. As long as this lie persists so will the slur.

  • zhouff

    Absolutely true, teigitur!
    I said in a previous post (relating to the newly discovered remains of King Richard III) that, before Pope Pius XII became pope, he sounded the alarm bells about Nazism and its twisted rhetoric!
    One of my heroes, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, and his trusted group of Escape Line members would not have been able to function effectively to outwit the Nazis without Pope Pius XII – nor would the many family homes, monasteries and convents who risked their own lives hiding Jewish families, Allied soldiers and others from Nazi terror.
    I have read different books and articles about Hugh O’Flaherty and Pius XII.
    Of course there were those who let the side down during the war - the so-called Rat Lines – which helped the evil-doers escape to South America. They do not speak for the RC Church, the Church distanced themselves from them – but does that give people the right to slander, libel and abuse us?
    But what makes me giggle is that so-called educated people who dominate any electronic or printed mouthpiece who tend to swallow untruths and spout them out to those who arrogantly and willingly swallow without reading the ingredients first!
    Will the Vatican get a public apology for all the untruths about Pius XII? Or the venomous abuse levelled at Pope Benedict XVI since he became pope?
    We’d have along wait ahead of us.

  • Carmel

    “I have not read John Cornwell’s famous book.”   This is a familiar circumstance for those who believe that his book is fundamentally libelous.     If Fr Lucie-Smith were to read the said book, he would discover that the title Hitler’s Pope does not indicate that Pius XII was a Nazi or Hitler sympathiser, but an unintentional ideal church man for Hitler’s purposes.   There are many potential meanings for the the label:   people tend to project onto it their own fears and anxieties.  Father Lucie Smith  would find that Cornwell gives extensive space to Pius’s good works during the war,  that Cornwell was the first to report Hitler’s plan to kidnap the Pope, and the first to give proper prominence to Pius’s part in the plot to kill Hitler.  .   The narrative centre of gravity, however,  is  1933 when he negotiated a concordat with Hitler that traded Catholic political and social action for educational benefits,  at  a time when Hitler was depriving Jews of those same benefits.  Pius moreover  encouraged the Catholic Centre Party to vote for Hitler’s enabling bill that gave him dictatorial power,  following which he insisted that the party should disband itself.     Pius, on behalf of the Church took benefits from Hitler while remaining aloof from his ideology.    In Germany this was known as the mitlaufer circumstance:  the fellow traveller.  The consequence was to demoralise Catholic resistance, to scandalise the young, and to give credit to Hitler at home and abroad.   None of this, as Cornwell emphasises was intentional.  These charges have been disputed by scholars, and the debate continues.  But the issues raised by Cornwell have nothing to do with whether Pius gave the nod to religious houses to admit Jews and others escaping from Nazi oppression.  Nevertheless there is a danger that Pius will be credited with the courageous acts of others.  This may enhance his reputation for a while; sufficient to get him through beatification;  but it may all backfire one day to the discredit of the Church.  

  • LocutusOP

    Not unusually, I agree with most of what you wrote, but I take offence at:
    “It is equally absurd and dangerous, to deny the Holocaust ever happened –
    which is why in some countries Holocaust denial is quite rightly

    Nobody has ever put forth a convincing argument (as far as I know) as to why it  should be illegal to deny the Holocaust ever happened. It is simply stated as some sort of truism.

    Secondly, the idea of making any narrative of history illegal should worry most freedom-loving people. Besides which, if the state is going to regulate which parts of history we must believe, then it would make more sense if it applied this idea to all of history and not just a particular period – otherwise the state gets a free pass at manipulating history and public conscience – an idea which I’m sure you’ll agree is irrational.

    I’ll therefore assert that it can never be right to imprison people for denying historical narratives – false or true-, and challenge you to take this approach as well.

  • Cjkeeffe

    No because the media wants to blame someone. They do not care about the truth. I am thankful for the work of Gary Krupp and Laphias Piphas (spelling) great Jews who know the truth. But it is easier to blame Pius then blame ourselves for not listenting to Pius at the time. Furtehr those who speak for orghainsation i.e. the ADL in teh USA should be asked to say why they have turned againt their forbears who spoke highly of Pius what new evidence do they have.
    I pray for the day when Pius is canonised. That will be teh day of teh final defeat of Hitler’s war against Jews and other miniorities.

  • Parasum

    Answer to the headline: it depends.

    Catholics tend to hear only one side of  the story: Michael Carroll’s”Greatness Dishonoured”, Rabbi Dalin, Margherita Marchione, Ronald Rychlak, Pinchas Lapide, Robert Graham S.J., & other sources and authors favourable to the Pope. They don’t hear what can reasonably said in criticism of his record. And next to nothing is said about any topic about the Pope & the Jews. His pontificate lasted 19 years – not the six devoted to WW2. The witness of his life to his character cannot be confined to his stint as Secretary of State & as Pope, until 1945. That he was praised by the media proves nothing – & if the media are not to be attended to when they are critical of the Church, maybe their praise is equally worthless. A wiser generation of Catholics knew such things; today’s seems to have forgotten it. STM that those who hear only the favourable side need to hear the other as well. It is not made by  such well-hated authors as Goldhagen & Cornwell alone. As for Cornwell – people criticise his blunders: but how they answer what is not blundering ? “Cornwell bad” is not a defence of the Pope – it’s an evasion. 

    To interpret the evidence about Pius XII only in the most favourable possible, is not only not worthy of people who claim to want the truth to be known, not only is it a propagandistic rather than historical-minded approach; it is not going to convince anyone the the man is a Saint. The character of a genuine Saint can weather all the criticisms, however searching, that come its way; it can stand every test. If the evidence is rigged so that Catholics hear only the best possible account of a reputed Saint, that suggests that, after all, the cause of the reputed Saint can’t stand up to really searching cross-examination. There is no good at all in recognising as Saints those who are not really Saints – to do so would be a sin against the Church, & a lie. FWIW, to talk about authors as being “anti-Pius”, as some
    Catholics do, misses the point entirely. Good history-writing  requires
    intellectual honesty & refusal to indulge in propaganda, among other
    virtues. To treat it as a form of partisanship is the very reverse of
    these. To make an attitude to that or any other Pope’s reputation into a
    test of partisan loyalty, is a disgrace to Catholicism.

    Catholics claim again, and again, and again, non-stop, to be zealous for the truth. If that claim is not a load of humbug, this zeal for the truth must extend to accepting the whole truth about a reputed Saint – & not just the convenient or useful or favourable truths in favour of that person’s beatification or canonisation. Popes are not exempt from this – they in particular need to have their causes examined without fear ot favour, regardless of whether the result is favourable to their reputation or not. If Pius XII is a Saint – fine. If he not a Saint: that is also fine. His cause would not be the first one to fail. If he is really fit for canonisation, & if Divine Providence desires his canonisation, that will happen sooner or later. Plenty of causes have taken, and are taking, centuries – there is no reason why this one should not.

  • Parasum

    “No wonder there is so much hatred against him and the Church in general.”

    ## Why does the Church have this weird victim-complex ?  This psychological used to be irritating beyond words – now it’s become a fascinating instance of warped psychology. It must have some cause – Churches don’t become psychologically sick for no reason.  

    Is it not just remotely conceivable that the CC has earned some of the distaste it arouses ? That may be an utterly loopy idea, but maybe – just maybe – there might be something in it. Just a guess.

  • Parasum

    As to the “rat-line”: if Monsignor Hudal was behind this, and if it is true that he helped Nazis to escape from Europe, & if the Pope knew this, or even suspected it: why was Mgr. Hudal not  called to account for this ?

    Can people not see that the statements – if both are true – that:

    1) A Vatican Mgr. helped perpetrators of one of the greatest acts of mass murder to escape being tried for their crimes

    2) The Catholic Church of which he was a priest, is the Immaculate & Sinless Bride of Christ, and is both uniquely holy & the sacrament of Christ’s Presence in the world

    - are statements that do not go together ? Jesus Christ is many things (someone made a list – it’s huge), but one thing out of many He certainly is not, and cannot be: He is not a Nazi. If the Church does the works of the Devil, it shows itself to be the Church of the Devil – not the Church of Christ. 

    So when a priest (a Vatican monsignor, at that), someone who is (allegedly) an alter Christus, an “other Christ”, helps Nazis to escape punishment for their crimes, this is an unbearable contradiction. That he was not arrested & tired & punished, implies one evil after another about the Church – “Helping Nazis ? Hey, cool it, man – why the fuss” ? To blazes with Christian ethics: let’s help murderers instead, the poor lambs. What the Pope knew has to be made known, all of it – the Church cannot give the impression of honouring aiders and abettors of those who are guilty of truly Oscar-winning evil. Or didn’t the CC in 1945 know that mass murder was wrong ?

    The fact of this episode makes an honest & full account about it absolutely necessary. The Church cannot expect people to regard it as anything but a criminal conspiracy, if it does not tell the truth about such episodes, and the whole truth. Lies & half-truths are not good enough. If the Vatican behaves like a “den of robbers”, it can blame no-one but itself it is mistaken for one. If the Church claims to be Holy, it cannot expect to get off uncriticised when it displays morals that would make a Mafioso blush.

  • Parasum

    “Laphias Piphas”

    ## Pinchas Lapide is probably the man you are thinking of. FWIW, Pinchas, Pinkus, & Phinehas are forms of the same name.  (There is a place called Raphia in the books of Maccabees)

  • Parasum

    “The whole of the West have bought into the paradigm that WWII was a good, moral and necessary conflict.”

    ## So presumably there should have been a universal Hitlerocracy, and the entire, not the unfinished, extermination of the Jewish people. No thanks. WW2 is one war that can be called just – if not in all respects, at least by and large. 

  • ThePharmacistofLanceArmstrong

    Your logic is a justification for the on-going wars in the Middle-East and Mesopotamia. Simply call someone another “Hitler” and the bombs start to drop. It’s no coincidence that some of the worst theology at Vatican II emerged from occupied, conquered and demoralised Germany plus the American John Courtney Murray with his links to the Kennedys and the CIA. This is the WWII generation who believed the rubbish emanating from Hollywood and the political science faculties of Western universities. War is a racket and its first victim is truth.

  • Peter

    “Is it not just remotely conceivable that the CC has earned some of the distaste it arouses ?”

    It is plainly obvious that the Church has aroused distate.

    And the reason is crystal clear.

    Church doctrine is the truth, and the Church has taught that truth in history despite constant opposition from scientists and philosophers on one side, and pagans and gnostics on the other.

    That truth is only now emerging as being vindicated by scientific discovery.

    This is ruffling many feathers and upsetting many apple carts.

    No you idea is not loopy, it is spot on.

    The Church has acquired many enemies for being right.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    For what it is worth, a piece of personal testimony. Some years ago, I met the late Professor Abraham Wasserstein. He had been living in Berlin in the late thirties and managed to get a tourist ticket to Italy. When I met him, many years later, he was Professor of Greek in the Hebrew University.

    He was a vehement defender of Pius XII to whom he said he owed his life and so did any other Jews. “I will never hear any criticism of him.”  Thus is the sorts of detail  in which the BBC and the left never seem to have been interested.

  • Irene

    To me, the most disturbing thing is that not only some, but most- I repeat- most- catholics have been and still are, unaware of the outstanding heroism of Pope Pius XII nad that he actually, according to many highly esteemed and respected historians, among them some jewish historians and rabbis,saved, directly r indirectlly, around 850.000 jews! It seems grave matter to me, as a convert to the Church, not to be informed on this. Or, worse still, to deliberately chose to remain in a state of complete ignorance. Worst of all: in a state of silently having accepted the terriblle lies without even the slightest effort to look into the truth. 
    This silent and cowardly accepting of the lies and distortions from “cradle catholics” has to me been a great source of enormous sadness and disappointment.
    No wonder our great pope Benedict XVI -NO WORDS COULD SUFFICE TO EXPRESS MY DEEPEST GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION FOR HIM! –  has proclaimed a Year of Faith.Also, the Holy Ftaher’s words, in an intervew with p. Seewald, are constantly ringing in my ears: that teh Church ought not to consider
    “quantity” as the most crucial thing, but instead focus on “quality”.


  • Kerriblu

    Oh, dear! *sigh!*

    As the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI tweeted recently, ‘We are all sinners.’ That is why we have confession. Christ has already paid the price for those sins when he was crucified on the cross.

    Were these Rat Liners misguided or downright evil? Only God knows.

    There have been – and still are – bad apples in the Roman Catholic Church, religious and secular, as we have discovered painfully of late.

    The actions of these few have made many suffer. 

    You are falling into the trap of highlighting the bad apples in the RC Church with your remarks, rather than the vast majority of Roman Catholics who risked their lives to save their fellow human beings.

    Even the secular press made much of Pope Benedict XVI’s membership of the Hitler Youth – which, like many people who boast that they have joined a gym, he avoided turning up for the most part. In fact, he and his family stood up to the Nazis and suffered because of it. One of his own cousins, who had Down’s Syndrome, was murdered in the gas chambers.

    These facts don’t make it to what should be a good documentary, Parasum – only the very things you have written, which must be acknowledged and not brushed away…

    … but the good, heroic deeds by Roman Catholics must be acknowledged and not brushed away either.

  • Ronk

     “he negotiated a concordat with Hitler that traded Catholic political and
    social action for educational benefits,  at  a time when Hitler was
    depriving Jews of those same benefits.  Pius moreover  encouraged the
    Catholic Centre Party to vote for Hitler’s enabling bill that gave him
    dictatorial power,  following which he insisted that the party should
    disband itself.     Pius, on behalf of the Church took benefits from

    These preposterous accusations are not only “disputed” they are totally without foundation. Cornwell himself backed down from them when asked for evidence.