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Righteous Gentile: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis

Posted on 01/29/2006 6:49:33 PM PST by Coleus

"I thank Ronald Rychlak for picking up this challenge. We are all in his debt. He has made an enormous contribution to the healing of relations among Catholics and Jews, and to the possibility of discussing important parts of our mutual past in a factual and discriminating way." - Michael Novak

Forward by Michael Novak

Ron Rychlak's Hitler, the War, and the Pope blew me away by its lawyerly orderliness. It was just the book I had needed for many years and had not had. I had not even imagined that a hook that good could be written.

What had happened, I later learned, is that a colleague of his got him thinking about the accusations against Pius XII at a time when Rychlak actually knew little about the facts. As a well-known attorney who had studied civil rights cases in Mississippi, and as a teacher of courses in evidence, criminal law, and trial practice at the University of Mississippi, Rychlak determined to get the best possible statements he could concerning the charges against Pius XII. Then he would research the facts on which they were based, and then the wider circle of facts that actually constituted the full picture. Finally, he would lay out the prosecutors' case and then the case for the defense, against the backdrop of the wider history.

This was exactly what I had been looking for. I remember my own studies in Rome during the last two years of the papacy of Pius XII, October of 1956 to October of 1958. Pius XII was at that time honored all sides for his courage in World War II, his resistance to Mussolini and the Nazis, the wisdom with which he had conducted Vatican policy, and his protection of the Jews and other unforgettably abused minorities.

Still, in all the fires of youthful zeal, I was prepared to admit, when the great controversy was aroused by Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy in 1963, that perhaps Pius XII might have cut his difficult decisions too close to the lines laid down by prudence, and not far enough over toward the edge of courage and self-sacrificing witness. Having a clear idea of just how small the territory of the Vatican is, and how totally dependent it is for electricity, water, sanitation, and workforce on the surrounding city of Rome (and thus on the Government of Italy), I sympathized with the dilemma that faced Pius XII. Yet I also could see how much glory would now attach to the Catholic Church if, somehow, the pope had been able to make some dramatically courageous, confrontational act. I wasn't very clear on what that act could or should have been, or on its probable consequences. (Would the whole Vatican have been firebombed? Or rudely thrown open for vandalization?) In my judgment I was torn, and I longed to know more.

The early books I read, by Guenter Lewy and Saul Friedlander, seemed to me insufficiently sensitive to the range of considerations Pius XII was responsible for thinking about. They made their own harsh judgment too easily. They had too low an opinion of the moral quality of Pius XII the man, and perhaps of the Catholic Church as an institution, to deserve full credence. But were their facts right? And what were they overlooking?

Professor Rychlak's lawyerly tome, read in this context, was a breath of fresh air. I had meanwhile read Owen Chadwick's presentation of the autobiographical account of the British ambassador to the Vatican during the War years, who was virtually forced by events to take an apartment inside the Vatican. Now with Professor Rychlak's volume also at hand, I felt I was getting a rounded view of what it was like inside the Vatican at that time, and of the great network of actions that radiated outwards from there.

But then, after Rychlak came a whole deluge of books mostly, but not entirely, by "progressive" Catholics opposed to Pope John Paul II — attacking Pius XII on this or that ground. Most took no account of Rychlak, motivated by their own passions as they were. They were in some ways diversions, and yet each assault had to be answered on its own ground. With the full picture that Rychlak possessed, and with new documents and sources being turned up almost every month, virtually all of them favorable to Pius XII, an examination of those attacks by Rychlak, dealing with them one by one, would only serve to fill in the general picture with more material and in more vivid detail. Indeed, the attacks would in some ways flush elements of the situation into fuller light than they had before been bathed in.

Over dinner, therefore, or perhaps later over the phone, I suggested to Professor Rychlak that he put together the rebuttals to each of these attacks that he had already been asked to prepare, and to make a whole new work to go alongside his earlier one. In that way, persons like myself, trying to reach a decision on the whole situation, would have at hand not only the general picture, but also specific answers, in great detail, to specific new accusations.

As it happens, one of those heavily criticized earlier by Rychlak, John Cornwell, has in the meantime significantly recanted some of the extreme charges he had earlier made, and Rychlak had unmasked. In general, it appears that the argument seems to be swinging back into Pius XII's favor. The memoirs of many ambassadors to the Vatican, American chaplains (especially rabbis) who went into Italy during the war, and survivors of those events in various walks of life are still becoming available month by month. The admiration for and gratitude to Pius XII extended at that time keeps growing in its dimensions.

Some witnesses in a position to know say that if Oskar Schindler is honored for saving almost two thousand Jews, and Raoul Wallenberg for saving tens of thousands, then all the more should Pius XII be honored for saving hundreds of thousands. No one during that whole era did more than he, and few at higher risk and with greater stakes. But I should allow Professor Rychlak, who knows far more about these historical matters than I, to sort them out and recount them in his own voice.

It remains only for me to thank him for picking up the challenge that a colleague long ago laid down at his feet, for investing enormous labor in it, and for delivering himself so cheerfully of so much good work. We are all in your debt, Ronald Rychlak. You have made an enormous contribution to the healing of relations among Catholics and Jews, and to the possibility of discussing important parts of our mutual past in a factual and discriminating way.

— 1 —

Due Process

Do you want peace? Do justice, and you will have peace.
Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII

From the end of World War II until long after his death, Pope Pius XII was well respected for his leadership during the war and for Catholic efforts to protect those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. At the liberation of Rome, at the end of the war, and again it Pius XII's death, tributes poured in from all around the globe. Jewish leaders in particular offered thanks for what the Church had done to help during this horrific era. The achievement was all the more amazing because it was well understood that Catholics themselves were, as Reader's Digest described it: "Nazi Scapegoat Number 2."1

This perception began to change in 1963 when German playwright Rolf Hochhuth wrote a play entitled The Deputy (Der Stellvertreter).2 It was a scathing indictment of Pius XII's alleged indifference to Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Not only did this pope lack Christian charity, but as depicted by Hochhuth he lacked even simple human decency. Although the play was fictional, Hochhuth appended a text to the play in which he argued that his depiction was justified by the historical record.3

The Deputy spawned a great deal of writing about the role of the Church and the papacy during World War II.4 Pope Paul VI, who strongly defended Pius XII,5 in 1964 asked a team of three Jesuit historians, Pierre Blet, SJ, Burkhart Schneider, SJ, and Angelo Martini, SJ, to conduct research in closed Vatican archives and publish relevant documents from the war years.6 A few years later, the three Jesuits were joined by a fourth, Robert A. Graham, SJ. The project was completed in 1981 with the publication of the eleventh and final volume of the Actes et Documents du Saint Siege relatifs a la seconde guerre mondiale (ADSS)7

Publication of these documents seemed to quell the controversy. They clearly showed that the Vatican and the Catholic Church in general were involved in efforts to rescue Jewish and other victims from the Nazis. They also showed that Pope Pius XII was strongly anti-Nazi and that he was concerned about all of the victims. As one early commentator noted, the importance of the ADSS collection "is fully evident only when one compares it with the facile hypotheses on which some journalist-historians have feverishly constructed certain publications. Fr. Blet and his confreres have allowed the discussion to begin again on sure foundations; they have done their work in such a way that what was only a pastime for journalists may now become the object of serious historical research"8 It was called "a model of meticulous editorship."9 Very little was written about this controversy from 1981 until the release of John Cornwell's book, Hitler's Pope, in 1999.

Cornwell's Pius was not anti-Semitic, nor was he attracted to Hitler's ideology. The theme of Hitler's Pope was that Pius XII, from the earliest days of his priesthood, wanted to establish a strong papacy. This caused him to pull authority away from the German Catholics who might have blocked Hitler from coming to power. It also, according to Cornwell, caused him not to be as concerned as he should have been about Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews.

Since 1999, there have been numerous hooks and articles critical of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church. Authors including Garry Wills,10 James Carroll,11 Susan Zuccotti,12 Michael Phayer,13 Daniel Goldhagen,14 David Kertzer,15 and Robert Wistrich16 have written highly critical books. Cornwell even came back with a second book touching on the topic.17 Robert Katz, author of two books critical of Pius XII back in the 1960s, has authored a new book that largely combines his earlier complaints.18 At least two older books critical of the pope have reportedly been scheduled for re-release,19 and Rolf Hochhuth's play, The Deputy, was filmed and released as a motion picture entitled Amen.20 There have also been some more nuanced books21 and several that support Catholic efforts during that era.22 Articles, of course, have been written on both sides of the debate.

This flurry of attention has resulted in several new allegations, many of which are inconsistent with the charges raised by other critics. One book charges that Pius helped Nazis escape to South America. Another book dismisses that, but raises the charge that he was too concerned about centralization of papal power. The next book rejects those charges, but raises new claims. Along the way, Pope Pius XI — traditionally presented by the critics as a strong opponent of the Nazis as opposed to the more complacent Pius XII — has come under heavy (though inconsistent) criticism. The German Catholic hierarchy has also been strongly criticized. The argument eventually reached beyond the Catholic Church and challenged the very foundation of Christianity — the New Testament itself.23 As Rabbi David Dalin has noted, many of the critics are not honestly seeking the truth; they are instead distorting the truth in order to influence the future of the Catholic Church.24

Legal Analysis and History

Some papal critics have bemoaned the role that non-historians play in this debate,25 though one has the impression that they are not that upset with the role played by playwright Rolf Hochhuth or journalist John Cornwell. It is completely appropriate, however, for attorneys to be involved in historical debates like this. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, the path of law is experience.26 In a way, lawyers are professional historians.

A good lawyer must discover all verifiable facts, analyze the credibility of witnesses, develop a theory of the case that accounts for all of the evidence, and then determine how best to proceed. In many cases, the attorney will end up making a presentation to an impartial judge or jury. In other cases, the lawyer will advise the client to settle or plea bargain. Part of being a good lawyer is knowing when to fight and when to settle. That is why a lawyer must know the weaknesses of his own case better than anyone else. He also knows when he has a strong case.

When a lawyer presents a case in court, there are set procedures designed to test the evidence and assure a fair result. Evidence must be established as authentic; exhibits must be more probative than prejudicial; witnesses are subjected to cross-examination; hearsay evidence is usually excluded; and the credibility of anyone who testifies is subject to question. The procedures are fixed, and everything is designed to help the court reach a just result. This is a very logical way to analyze history as well: lay out the evidence; subject it to cross examination; and then (but only then) argue a theory that accounts for the facts. In fact, that is the only way to get to the truth of a matter.

One recent book critical of Pope Pius XII, contains several presumptions — "it can be assumed;" "it is logical to conclude;" "in all likelihood" — at several crucial points early in the manuscript.27 Any author permitted to introduce assumptions and suppositions into a basic accounting of the facts can take an argument anywhere and prove almost anything. That is why courts do not permit argument until all of the evidence has been introduced.

In American courts, criminal defendants are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. Even in civil trials, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that the defendant more likely than not is responsible. In other words, the defendant is presumed to be not liable or not responsible.

Related to the presumption of innocence is the Fifth Amendment right of criminal defendants to remain silent at trial. They need not introduce any evidence at all. The burden of proof on all issues is on the prosecution. Moreover, in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unfortunately, too many critics make assumptions regarding papal motivations and actions, without granting any benefit of the doubt to the accused. Too often, once charges are made, they are taken as having been established unless they are rebutted. In other words, the burden of proof is put on the defense.28 Of course, this can be a very difficult situation, especially when the defense is asked to disprove a negative or to address ever-changing charges.29

As a lawyer prepares for a trial, he or she knows precisely what the charges are, what the standards are, and what the rules regarding evidence will be. A last minute change that would force the defendant to address different issues is prohibited as an unconstitutional "variance."30 When it comes to Pope Pius XII, however, the goal posts are always shifting.

The difficult thing about answering every shifting charge is that it unfairly puts one in a consistently defensive position. Every lawyer knows that if enough charges are made ("a shotgun approach"), eventually the defendant will begin to look defensive. If he is seen as defensive, the jury tends to believe there is something to the charges, even if there is no evidence to support them. Thus, a prosecutor may raise many charges with the ultimate hope of forcing the defendant into a bad light in front of the jury. Unfortunately, this regularly happens with Pope Pius XII, and it taints the analysis. It is not the way to get to the truth.

In law, there are rules designed to assure the reliability of evidence. There are, of course, some sources upon which everyone can agree. These are called almanac type facts. A newspaper can be cited for historical matters. It is a secondary source, but there is no obvious reason to doubt it. It is usually admissible because it is normally considered reliable.31 Other evidence and witnesses are tested through the practice of cross-examination.

A witness's testimony is reliable (or not) depending primarily upon his or her basis of knowledge and veracity.32 By "basis of knowledge," we mean how the witness knows what he has testified about. Historians give citations of their sources in order to establish the basis of their knowledge. Later scholars can then come along and check on the earlier work. When the citation is of a secondary source, it may be necessary to work back through several earlier sources to determine whether the claim is valid.

Too many stories about Pius XII have not been properly traced back to the original source to test the basis of knowledge. For instance, in his book Constantine's Sword, James Carroll shows an unreasonable eagerness to accept and readily advance a supposed death-bed condemnation of Pius XII by Pope John XXIII.33 No eyewitness has ever come forward to support that story. "The Postulator of John XIII's Cause for Canonization, Fr. Luca De Rosa, OFM, states that the story is ‘absolutely untrue.' He adds that Pope John was, in fact, ‘full of admiration and devotion' for Pius XII."34 Archbishop Loris Capovilla, formerly private secretary to Pope John, also categorically denies that Pope John ever said any such thing, calling it "a lie."35

Throughout his life, John praised Pius. Before he was made pope, John was offered thanks for his wartime efforts to save Jewish refugees. He replied: "In all these painful matters I have referred to the Holy See and simply carried out [Pius XII's] orders: first and foremost to save human lives."36 When Pius died, the future John XXIII said that he had been like a "public fountain" pouring forth good waters at which all the world, great and lowly, could profitably drink.37 John's staff had a photograph of Pius published with a prayer on the back asking for his canonization as a saint. The prayer called Pius "a fearless defender of the Faith, a courageous struggler for justice and peace... a shining model of charity and of every virtue."38 A million of these prayer Lauds were soon in circulation, and John XXIII (who prayed monthly before the tomb of Pius XII) said in an audience that surely one day Pius would be raised to the Catholic altars.39

John even considered taking the name "Pius XIII" and one of the first things that he did upon becoming Pope was to have a photo of Pius XII put on his desk.40 In his first Christmas broadcast to the world after his election, John paid the high honor of saying that Pius XII's doctrinal and pastoral teaching "assure a place in posterity for the name of Pius XII. Even apart from any official declaration, which would be premature, the triple title of ‘Most excellent Doctor, Light of Holy Church, Lover of the divine law' evokes the sacred memory of this pontiff in whom our times were blessed indeed."41 Yet Constantine's Sword is at least the third publication in which Carroll has advanced the fabricated death-bed story, and he did so twice in the book.

Similarly, the claim that Pius was worried about putting Germans into a conflict of conscience if he were to condemn Nazism traces back to a highly suspect source.43 Also, many critics are all too quick to accept Robert Katz's claim that Pius knew of the March 1944 massacre before it took place. But the "evidence" for this is really nothing more than pure speculation.44

Unlike witnesses at trial, historians do not usually put their credibility at issue. They do not "testify" the way a witness does at trial. Thus, the second prong of the reliability test — veracity — is not usually a concern. Where Pius XII is concerned, however, perhaps because it is so serious and so personal, some writers have crossed the line and become witnesses. At such a time, the author's credibility becomes a legitimate matter of concern.

John Cornwell interjected himself into this story by reporting that when he started his work on Hitler's Pope he was convinced of Pius XII's holiness. He went on to claim that due to previous writings that caused the Vatican to look favorably upon him, he was given special access to secret archives. He further reported that he was left in a state of moral shock by what he found in those archives. Having thereby made himself not just a reporter, but an actual witness to this story, he put his credibility at issue.

Evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible or even irrelevant can become admissible for the limited purpose of seeing how it reflects on the witness's credibility.45 For instance, Cornwell's twenty years as a lapsed Catholic, during which time he wrote very hostile books against the Catholic faith, were never mentioned in the promotional literature for Hitler's Pope. In Breaking Faith, however, he admitted that he was aware of the relevance of this information: "there is a world of difference between an authentic believing Catholic, writing critically from within, and a ‘Catholic bashing' apostate who lies about being a Catholic in order to solicit an unwarranted hearing from the faithful." Of course, in Hitler's Pope, he played up his status as an "authentic believing Catholic, writing critically from within;" and that is why it was fair to question his credibility on this issue, as I did in Hitler, the War, and the Pope.

One might contrast this valid examination of an author's credibility with the way some critics have dismissed certain Jewish witnesses who praised Pius XII. Rabbi Zolli, the chief rabbi of Rome, who held Pius XII in great esteem, is impeached simply because he became a Catholic. Golda Meir, Nahum Goldmann, and A.L. Eastman, each of whom lavished praise on Pius, are said to have lied in order to garner international good will for Israel. This is pure speculation.46 It is reminiscent of the unfair cross examination tactics that defense attorneys used to use against victims of sexual assault.47 Laws now prohibit that practice in rape trials. It is just as unfair in this case.

One final comment on cross examination is that we obviously cannot cross examine people who are no longer with us. In such cases, courts have special rules that sometimes admit testimony even though it would otherwise constitute inadmissible hearsay. One important factor is the consistency of the evidence. Can it be corroborated? In the Pius XII controversy, the following witnesses have given evidence to the effect that Pope Pius XII asked Catholics to come to the aid of Jews: Righteous Gentiles Cardinal Pietro Palazzini and Tibor Baranski; rescuers John Patrick Carroll-Abbing and Fr. Marie-Benoit; Americans Cardinal Francis Spellman and Archbishop Fulton Sheen; Deputy Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert Kempner; Popes John XXIII and Paul VI; Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem; Elio Toaff, who would later become Chief Rabbi of Rome; Joseph Hertz, the Grand Rabbi of the British Empire; Miroslav Freiberger, the Grand Rabbi of Zagreb; Israel Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome during the war; and Chief Rabbi Alexander Safran of Bucharest. There are also numerous other named and unnamed bishops, priests, nuns, rabbis, laypersons, victims, and rescuers. No defendant in history has had such an impressive array of witnesses.

With only a few exceptions, a defendant in a criminal case cannot be convicted of a crime unless he has committed a specific bad act (ac tus reus) while exhibiting a certain degree of mental culpability (mensrea). If Mary accidentally harms Susanna, Mary might owe reparations to Susanna, but it is probably not going to be a crime. Similarly, if Mary tries to do something bad but fails, she is not guilty of the crime that she tried to commit (though she may be guilty of a lesser crime such as attempt). In other words, we do not find people guilty easily, and we do not normally convict people who have good intentions.

When it comes to Pope Pius XII, things get all turned around. He is usually accused of inaction, not of a bad act. (We have some crimes like this — failing to pay income taxes or to care for a child — but they are rare and only apply when there is a legal duty to act.) More troubling is the issue of the mens rea (intent).

The evidence that we already have, from the Actes et Documents collection,48 shows that the pope did not have a guilty mind. He tried to intervene frequently, he encouraged others who took action, and he supported rescue efforts. Was he right in the course he selected? Could he have done more? Would a different approach have worked better with the Nazis? These are fair questions for historians to ask. Too often, however, critics do more than ask whether the pope made the correct decision. They suggest that he did not care about the victims, that he was anti-Semitic, or that he was "Hitler's Pope." Without evidence, they attribute to him evil intentions. In doing this, they violate the norms of historical analysis; they cease writing history and instead engage in character assassination.49 These ad hominem attacks against the pope simply turn up the heat and not the light.

When the Catholic-Jewish study group went to Rome in October 2000, they met with Fr. Peter Gumpel, SJ, the relator (independent, investigating judge) of Pius XII's cause for canonization. When he reviewed their preliminary report, he said: "Didn't you people, I mean if I may ask you, feel that the Vatican had tried to do what it can? This is a completely different question, whether they succeeded in doing everything. But, I miss a little bit the question here of appreciation of what the Vatican did." Fr. Gumpel was correct.

Pope Pius XII and the Vatican might not have been totally successful. Maybe they should have tried different things, but the evidence that we already have from the archives shows that no prosecutor could prove a guilty mind regarding the Vatican's efforts for the victims. If this were a court of law, there would be enough evidence already, regardless of whatever might exist in the sealed archives, to have the charges dismissed. That is what Fr. Gumpel meant when he told the Catholic-Jewish study group that he did not think that it was necessary to open these archives in order to reach a judgment about Pope Pius XII.

Similarly, at trial the defendant has the right to assert legal claims like self-defense, necessity, defense of others, and choice of evils.50 If he were on trial, Pius would certainly be able to avail himself of doctrines like this. He had reason to be concerned that if he provoked Hitler to a greater degree it might cause others to suffer Nazi retaliation.

The common refrain here is that retaliation would have been less than the harm that was suffered, or that some Catholics would have uttered, but things would have improved for many more Jews. Of course there is no way of knowing what would have happened, but in a utilitarian sense, these rejoinders might make a point. The problem is that Catholic teaching — regardless of any other factor — does not permit decisions like this to be made on utilitarian grounds.

Many know that the Catholic Church prohibits abortion. Few may be aware of the hypothetical situation of a mother who finds her life threatened if she carries the baby to term. Abortion is still prohibited in this situation. One life is not to be sacrificed, even to save another.51 Failure to understand this aspect of Catholic doctrine has caused some confusion about the Vatican's position in World War II.52

The point here is simply that had Pius taken a more openly confrontational approach to the Nazis, he probably would have caused the death of different innocents. That would have been in violation of Catholic doctrine. Pius once stated that martyrdom cannot be imposed on a person, but must be freely accepted. His decision not to impose it on others is quite in keeping with Catholic teaching.

History does not demand the finality that is necessary in law. As such, things are never solved "once and for all" when it comes to historical analysis. One must ask, however, whether it is fair to refuse, in Pius XII's case, to apply the rules that we would apply in the case of any living person who was accused of similarly serious crimes.

The New Evidence

No allegation brought forth in recent years changes the true picture of Pope Pius XII. In fact, the new information brought to my attention since the publication of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000) includes the following:

  1. Giovanni Palatucci, named by Yad Vashem as a "Righteous Gentile" is credited with having saved five thousand Jewish lives. He did this in close collaboration with his uncle, Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, bishop of Campagna, a small town near Salerno, where the largest internment camp in southern Italy was located. In 1940, Bishop Palatucci received two letters from the Vatican. The first one, sent to the bishop on October 2, 1940, said that Pope Pius XII agreed to grant to him the sum of 3,000 lire. This letter was signed by Cardinal Maglione, Pius XII's secretary of state, and it stated: "This sum is preferably to be used to help those who suffer for reason of race" (questo denaro e preferibilmente destinato a chi soffre per ragioni di razza). In the second letter, the future Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, then an official in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, notified Bishop Palatucci that Pope Pius XII had granted him the sum of 10,000 lire "to distribute in support of the interned Jews" (da distribuirsi in sussidi agli ebrei internati).53
  2. On April 4, 1933, the Holy See sent a letter, signed by Secretary of State Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, informing Monsignor Cesare Orsenigo, the nuncio in Germany, that requests had come to the pope for his "intervention against the danger of anti-Semitic excesses in Germany."54 The letter continues: "Given that it is part of the traditions of the Holy See to carry out its mission of universal peace and charity toward all men, regardless of the social or religious condition to which they belong, by offering, if necessary, its charitable offices, the Holy Father asks your Excellency to see if and how it is possible to be involved in the desired way."55
  3. In 1923, Nuncio Pacelli wrote to the Holy See to report that a militant group ("followers of Hitler and Ludendorff") were persecuting Catholics and Jews.56 He referred to this group (not yet known as Nazis) as "right-wing radicals." He also praised the "learned and zealous" Cardinal Archbishop Michael Faulhaber of Munich who was attacked because he "had denounced the persecutions against the Jews."57
  4. Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the world's renowned historians, in his book, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust, offered praise to Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church. In a subsequent interview he said: "I hope that my book can restore, in a way, on the foundation of historical fact, the true and wonderful achievements of Catholics in helping Jews during the war" He also suggested that thanks are due to Pius for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives saved by the Catholic Church under his leadership.58
  5. The German resistance was in regular contact with the Vatican.59 In 1945, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a Protestant member of the German resistance, wrote a memorandum to U.S. General William ("Wild Bill") Donovan, in which Schlabrendorff reported that resistance member Joseph Muller, a Catholic lawyer who coordinated efforts between the German resistance and the Vatican,"had orders from the Catholic Church to negotiate with representatives of the Protestant Church in order to harmonize their measures in the struggle against Hitler."60 In fact, on February 15, 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's close friend and co-resister Eberhard Bethge wrote to him of having had an audience with the pope. He reported that the pope looked "older than I expected from the pictures;" and added that he (Bethge) "wasn't able to make any more visits."61 In a collection of letters, Bethge explained that this oblique reference related to meetings with Pope Pius XII's close assistant Monsignor Robert Leiber and Monsignor Johannes Schonhoffer "who had been let in on the conspiracy."62
  6. Adolf Eichmann's memoirs confirm that following the notorious roundup of October 16, 1943, the Vatican "vigorously protested the arrest of Jews, requesting the interruption of such action."63
  7. Catholic nuns who immigrated to the U.S. in 1942 on a boat with seven hundred Jewish people report that a letter in the pope's own hand allowed them and the Jews safe passage.64
  8. Edith Stein's 1933 letter to Pope Pius XI has been released, and the deep respect that she had for his 1937 encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety) has been discovered.65
  9. A collection of letters from Rabbi Steven Wise, America's leading spokesman for the Jewish cause during World War II, reveals that he was critical of numerous organizations and individuals who did not seem sufficiently concerned about the plight of the Jews in Germany. He was, however, generally positive toward the Catholic Church, was very impressed with Pius XI, and wrote in 1942 that it seems that Pius XII "follows the high example set by his saintly predecessor."66
  10. Righteous Gentile Tibor Baranski not only credits Pius XII for support and direct instruction, but reports that Swedish diplomat and rescuer Raoul Wallenberg (also a Righteous Gentile) knew of Pius XII 's support and that Catholic officials, at the direction of Pius, worked closely with Wallenberg.67 In fact, a memo from U.S. representative Harrold Tittmann, dated June 4, 1945, reports on a meeting he had with Joseph Muller, the Vatican's main contact with the resistance in Germany: "Dr. Muller said that during the war his anti-Nazi organization in Germany had always been very insistent that the pope should refrain from making any public statement singling out the Nazis and specifically condemning them and had recommended that the pope's remarks should be confined to generalities only."68
  11. At their annual meeting in November 1942, the U.S. Bishops released a statement which said: "We feel a deep sense of revulsion against the cruel indignities heaped upon Jews in conquered countries and upon defenseless peoples not of our faith.... Deeply moved by the arrest and maltreatment of the Jews, we cannot stifle the cry of conscience. In the name of humanity and Christian principles, our voice is raised."69

    In 2002, I was granted access to the archives that house the papers of Francis Cardinal Spellman, one of the signatories of the statement. Based upon information contained therein, it seems certain that the statement was made in cooperation with Pope Pius XII, whom the bishops cited three times. In a letter to the bishops and archbishops, written at this very time, Pius expressed his satisfaction with their "constant and understanding collaboration."70
  12. During a 1937 meeting with Alfred W. Klieforth, then U.S. consul general in Cologne, Germany, Pacelli "opposed unilaterally every compromise with National Socialism. He regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person. He did not believe Hitler capable of moderation, in spite of appearances, and he fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand.71
  13. In April 1938, Cardinal Pacelli gave to Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, then U.S. ambassador to Britain, a report to be forwarded to President Roosevelt. In that report, Pacelli made clear that the Nazi program struck at the "fundamental principle of the freedom of the practice of religion;" and indicated the emergence of a new Nazi Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church. He told Kennedy that any political compromise with the Nazi regime was "out of the question."72
  14. In 1939, on the day after his coronation, Pius held a series of meetings with Ambassador Kennedy. Afterwards, Kennedy wrote to his superiors at the U.S. Department of State indicating that the new Pope held a "subconscious prejudice that has arisen from his belief that Nazism and Fascism are pro-pagan, and as pro-pagan, they strike at the roots of religion." Pius was greatly disturbed by the "trend of the times." Nevertheless, Kennedy deemed it prudent to keep these opinions private, and he urged the pope to enter into negotiations with the Reich. The Pope's final remark was: "The Church can only do so much, but what it can do, it will."73
  15. During the war years, Pope Pius XII frequently confided in the Jesuit Father Giacomo Martegani, director of La Civilta Cattolica, who kept a diary of their conversations. The diary shows that the pope was aware of and approved of the Church's efforts to help Jews threatened with deportation from Rome.74 In the fall of 1943, when the Nazis were expelling Roman Jews to death camps, Father Martegani recorded that Pius told him that"he has looked into the well-being of the Jews."75 Some weeks later, after a number of Nazi raids on church properties that harbored Jews, Father Martegani noted that the pope" no longer trusted in the safety of the ecclesiastical refugees." The Pope told him that it was important not to push the Nazis to the point where they undertook a generalized shakedown of religious houses in the city.
  16. In March 2004, St. Bonaventure University awarded a medal to Don Aldo Brunacci, an Italian Catholic priest from Assisi. The award was presented at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and was given in recognition of Fr. Brunacci's having helped to save more than two hundred Jews during World War II. On March 31, 2004, National Public Radio broadcast an interview with him. Through a translator, Fr. Brunacci said: "In September 1943, the bishop of Assisi received a very classified letter from the secretary of state of the Vatican asking the bishop to organize help to take care of all the refugees, especially the Jews." Fr. Brunacci added that Pope Pius XII "did unbelievable things to save Jews. And as a matter of fact, there recently was published a list of church organizations, religious communities, who saved Jews during those years. Just only in Rome there were thousands.76
  17. In 2004, the posthumous memoirs of Harold H. Tittmann Jr. were published.77 These memoirs from the assistant to Myron C. Taylor (President Roosevelt's personal representative to the Holy See) reveal the high esteem that both Taylor and Tittmann had for Pius XII and the pope's wartime record. Tittmann affirms that Pius XII"detested the Nazi ideology and everything it stood for," and he praises the papal diplomacy: "The Holy Father chose the better path... and thereby saved many lives."78 Tittmann also wrote:"There were no signs that the pope was pro-Fascist or pro-Nazi. In fact, the opposite seemed more the case."79
  18. In his 2004 book, The Pontiff in Winter, John Cornwell admits that Hitler's Pope lacked balance. He now reports that "in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler's Pope," Pope Pius XII had so little scope of action" that it is impossible to judge his motives "while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans."80 The Economist reported that he was"chastened" by the experience.

All of this only serves to confirm the positive evaluation of Pope Pius XII that was set forth in Hitler, the War, and the Pope.81


Perhaps the most important recent development in understanding Pope Pius XII is the completion of the thirty-nine-year study into his life that was undertaken by historians for the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.82 This report, which fills six volumes,83 includes 1,420 pages on his life (Vita Documentata); almost one thousand pages of sworn testimony transcripts given by ninety-eight witnesses (Sumniarium);84 a three-hundred-page synthetic exposition of his virtues of faith, hope, charity, and prudence (Informatio); and a three-hundred-page appendix addressing specific issues in the life of Pius XII, including his work vis-a-vis the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.85 Cumulatively, these documents are known as the Positio.86

The importance of the Positio comes not from the evidence that it reviews, but from the analysis of that evidence. It sets forth a compelling case that Pius XII lived a life of heroic virtue.87 As for the charges raised by a slew of papal critics, the Positio concludes that they are part of a campaign to denigrate his personality and his work.88

The evidence that it reviews is essentially the same evidence that has been available to all researchers in this area. The difference is that with papal critics, Pius XII is asked to stand in judgment before a tribunal with no judge, no clearly defined rules of evidence, no universally accepted precedents, no process for assuring a fair jury, no presumption of innocence, and numerous prosecutors — each charging him with different and often inconsistent acts of malfeasance. There is no way that an accused can obtain a fair hearing under such circumstances.

In contrast to the various papal critics, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has a history of' looking into the lives of important people. It uses reasonable standards of general applicability and tries to apply them fairly. All charges and claims on both sides of the issue are explored,89 and true scholars take as much time as is necessary to reach the right conclusion. In a forum such as that, the charges against Pope Pius XII are easily refuted.

The procedures that are used in courtroom hearings cannot be made fully applicable to academic history. They can and should, however, inform the approach taken in analyzing the character of historical figures. This is especially true when one makes serious allegations about the intention, purpose, and desire of people who are no longer around to defend themselves. When that is done in this case, Pope Pius XII acquits himself quite well.

TOPICS: Catholic; General Discusssion; History; Judaism; Moral Issues; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics
KEYWORDS: catholicchurch; catholiclist; holocaust; jew; jewish; jews; piusxii; popepiusxii

1 posted on 01/29/2006 6:49:37 PM PST by Coleus
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To: Coleus

Interesting story on Pius XII, a maligned saint.

it recalls a sermon our priest gave on the occassion of "Christ the King" feast day, and the priest explained that it was a new feast day. Pius XII created it as a rebuke to the totalitarian leaders of the age, to tell them that God was Sovereign and God was the Highest Authority, not the totalitarian leaders.

It's easy to criticize a Pope, but also easy to forget that Hitler and Stalin would think nothing of taking thousands of priests and shipping them off to concentration camps if they posed a 'threat' to their totalitarian regimes.

2 posted on 01/29/2006 7:11:15 PM PST by WOSG
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To: NYer


3 posted on 01/30/2006 8:31:29 AM PST by Convert from ECUSA (Not a nickel, not a dime, stop sending my tax money to Hamastine!)
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To: 2ndMostConservativeBrdMember; afraidfortherepublic; Alas; al_c; american colleen; annalex; ...

4 posted on 02/07/2006 7:44:44 PM PST by Coleus (IMHO, The IVF procedure is immoral & kills many embryos/children and should be outlawed)
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To: Romulus
The importance of the Positio comes not from the evidence that it reviews, but from the analysis of that evidence. It sets forth a compelling case that Pius XII lived a life of heroic virtue.

Santo subito! ;-)

5 posted on 02/07/2006 8:16:57 PM PST by ELS (Vivat Benedictus XVI!)
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To: Coleus


6 posted on 06/02/2006 7:16:48 PM PDT by Dqban22
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taking thousands of priests and shipping them off to concentration camps if they posed a 'threat' to their totalitarian regimes.  >>

Vatican to begin review of Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. of Pennsylvania for sainthood
7 posted on 06/02/2006 7:59:44 PM PDT by Coleus (I Support Research using the Ethical, Effective and Moral use of stem cells: non-embryonic "adult")
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To: Coleus

Bless you for this post!

8 posted on 06/02/2006 8:00:56 PM PDT by Petronski (I just love that woman.)
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To: Convert from ECUSA


Israel Honors Pius XII

Israeli senior diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, Pinchas Lapide, with access to Yad Vashem’s archives, has stated in his book, “Three Popes and the Jews”, that “The Catholic Church relief and rescue program under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving the lives of as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi’s hands. That was more than all other Churches, religious institutions and international rescue organizations put together.” (17) The Israelis recognized the lives saved by planting a forest, in commemoration, of as many trees in the Negeb, SE of Jerusalem. This forest was shown to Pope Paul VI during his first state visit to Israel.

At the end of the War, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, Albert Einstein, and many other prominent Jewish leaders expressed their deep gratitude toward Pius XII and the Catholic Church. On the death of Pius XII (1958), Golda Meir, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave a heartfelt eulogy for the Pope before the UN Assembly.

In his scholar book, “The Last Three Popes and the Jews”, Lapide said that Pius XII was one of the few world leaders outside the Jewry itself who was quick to recognize the danger of Nazism. Lapide demonstrates convincingly the consistent and active protection provided to the Jews in Europe by the papacy. In Lapide’s words:

“When armed force ruled well-nigh omnipotent, and morality was at its lowest ebb, Pius XI commanded non of the former and could only appeal to the latter, in confronting with bare hands, the full might of evil.

A sounding protest, which might turn out to be self-thwarting-or quiet piecemeal rescue? Loud words- or prudent deeds? The dilemma must have been sheer agony, for whichever course he chose horrible consequences were inevitable. Unable to cure the sickness of an entire civilization, and unwilling to bear the brunt of Hitler’s fury, the Pope, unlike many far mightier than he, alleviated, relieved, appealed, petitioned-and saved as most efficient he could by his own lights.

Who, but a prophet or a martyr could have done much more?
The Talmud teaches us that ‘whoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved a whole world.’

If this is true-and it is as true as that of most Jewish of tenets, the sanctity of human life-then Pius XII deserves that forest in Judean hills, which kindly people of Israel proposed for him in October 1958. A memorial forest with 860,000 trees.” (Emphasis added. “Three Popes and the Jews.” pp.267-269)

9 posted on 12/19/2009 11:46:32 AM PST by Dqban22
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To: Dqban22

Bump for later.

10 posted on 12/19/2009 3:23:49 PM PST by Larry Lucido
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