Archive for the ‘Pius XII’ Category

Pius XII and the Jews:

January 20, 2009

Was Pius XII pro-Nazi? There has been an accusation that the Pope Pius XII has not done much for the Jews during the Holocaust or that he was a friend of Hitler.

The Dominican Yves Congar, later to become Cardinal, notes in his diary of the Vatican Council the confidences of a witness of the times, his brother Dominican Rosaire Gagnebet. After the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine, the Pope debated “with anguish” as to whether he should denounce the fact: “But all the convents, all the religious houses of Rome were full of refugees, communists, Jews, democrats and anti-Fascists, ex-generals, etc. Pius XII had even suspended the rules for the cloister. If Pius XII had made a public protest, there would have been searches in all these houses and catastrophe would have ensued“.

The Pontiff, therefore, chose diplomatic protest. Faced with the threat of deportation he communicated to the Archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Luigi Lavitrano, that he would receive “all powers in his place” and to the German Ambassador he affirmed without hesitation: “you will arrest “Monsignor Pacelli, but not the Pope!”. The assistance provided by Pius XII for the persecuted—among them many Jews, in Rome, in Italy and in many other countries—was immense and is constantly being documented, also by authoritative historians and intellectuals who are far from being defenders of the Papacy, such as Ernesto Galli della Loggia, Arrigo Levi and Piero Melograni. New facts and documents are continually emerging from this past that never passes.

This documentation renders justice to what Pope Pacelli and his Church did in the face of the criminal persecution of the Jews, and should impose the re-writing of a large number of history books, and the relegation to oblivion of the defamatory legend of a Nazi-phile Pontiff. This reputation, which was born in the years of world conflict, culminated in 1963 with the representation of the play Der Stellvertreter (The Vicar) by Rolf Hochhuth, and was proposed again in 2002 in Constantin Costa-Gavras’ film Amen.

In Italy in 1965 the historian Giovanni Spadolini had already denounced the fact that this had been an orchestrated campaign, when he spoke of “systematic attacks by the communist world which did not fail to find some complicity or some compliance in Catholic hearts too — or at least in some Catholics, not unknown, even in Italy“.

Forty years later a whole dossier in which the heads of the Third Reich are shown to have considered Pope Pacelli an enemy has confirmed this: a Nazi dossier consisting of unpublished documents which had fallen into the hands of the leaders of the secret services of communist Germany, and which had naturally remained hidden until they were revealed by La Repubblica“, a daily newspaper that could certainly not be described as “Pro Pacelli“.

A long and important interview with Paolo Mieli, historian and editor of the Corriere della Sera, published in L’Osservatore Romano (History will render justice to Pope Pius XII, L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 October 2008, p. 7) summarized the historiographical case constituted by the debate about Pius XII on the 50th anniversary of his death. It is a highly significant text in which Mieli, among other things, declares he is convinced that in time historians will render justice to Pope Pacelli: “Sincerely, the Jewish blood that runs through my veins” he added, “makes me prefer a Pope who helps my fellow Jews to survive, rather than one who puts on a show(ibid., p. 26). And it is worth rereading his conclusive judgment on Pius XII: “He may have been the most important Pope of the 20th century. He was certainly tormented by doubts. On the matter of silence, as I have said, he questioned himself. But this is exactly what gives me a sense of his greatness.

One thing struck me. Once the war was over, if Pius XII had had a guilty conscience, he would have bragged of his work to save the Jews. But he never did this. He never said a word. He could have. He could have had it written about, had it said. He didn’t do it. For me, this is a proof of the quality of his character. He was not a Pope who felt the need to defend himself. Regarding judgment about Pius XII, I must say that there remains in my heart what Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer of German origin and the second prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial, wrote in 1964: ‘Any propagandist statement of position by the Church against the government of Hitler would not only have been premeditated suicide, but would have accelerated the killing of a much greater number of Jews and priests’.

I conclude: for 20 years the judgments about Pius XII were unanimous. In my opinion, therefore, there is something that doesn’t add up about the offensive against them. And anyone who ventures to study him with intellectual honesty must start from precisely this point. From these figures that don’t add up(ibid.).

Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have with one accord defended the memory of Pius XII from the historical point of view, his actions during the Second World War and in the face of the terrifying tragedy of the Shoah. To this we should add the honour paid by the Popes to the memory of the six million victims of the Shoah, and the undoubted desire to proceed along the way of peace, reconciliation and religious debate with Judaism, as Paul VI did in the time of the Second Vatican Council and during the rest of his Pontificate, as John Paul II constantly and tenaciously preached, and as Benedict XVI has repeated on many occasions, and particularly this year during his Visit to the United States, Australia, and above all in France.

As is well known, the cause of the canonization of Pope Pacelli is under way, a religious matter which commands the respect of everyone, and which is specifically the competence of the Holy See. In 1965 Paul VI, announcing in Council the opening of the causes for Pius XII and John XXIII, set forth the reasons: “In this way the desire which has been expressed by innumerable voices in regard to both, will be met; in this way the wealth of their spiritual heritage will be assured to history; in this way it will be certain that no motive, other than the reverence for holy truth and thus the glory of God and the building of His Church, shall reconstruct their authentic and dear figures for our veneration and that of the generations to come“.

Benedict XVI, in his turn, celebrating in memory of Pius XII in St Peter’s, exhorted the congregation to pray, “that the cause for beatification shall proceed happily”. This is an exhortation that I willingly embrace, and in which I join, remembering and celebrating a Roman Pontiff who was great, and to the knowledge of whom this convention will certainly contribute greatly.