November 27, 2004


The Unsilent Pope: a review of Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II. By Harold H. Tittmann, Jr. (William Doino, Jr. and Joseph Bottum, First Things)

Given Tittmann’s importance in the debate about the papacy during the war, these memoirs may be the most important document to be published on Pius XII in over twenty years. And they prove to be, far from an indictment, an overwhelming defense of the Pope and the Catholic Church. [...]

There are at least half a dozen major revelations in this memoir. Perhaps the most interesting comes when Tittmann relates his discussions with Joseph Mueller, the anti-Nazi Bavarian lawyer who served as a middle-man between Pius and the German resistance. “Dr. Mueller 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,” Tittmann writes. To have this testimony from a leading member of the anti-Nazi resistance means that Pius XII’s conduct during the war was not due solely to his personal instincts but also to the explicit advice of the anti-Nazi resistance.

Other revelations include the Vatican’s maintenance of “special accounts in New York banks” operated by Archbishop Spellman, as well as a “personal and secret account” for Pius XII (“about which Spellman knew nothing”), which the Pope “used exclusively for charitable purposes” during the war. Pius revealed the accounts to Tittmann in a “strictly confidential” meeting, after Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing American assets of hostile European countries. How much of this papal money was distributed to those persecuted by the Nazis is unknown, but Tittmann at least strengthens the testimony of Fr. Robert Leiber, Pius’ longtime aide, who told Look magazine in 1966: “The Pope sided very unequivocally with the Jews at the time. He spent his entire private fortune on their behalf.”

Tittmann provides, as well, new details of the Vatican’s anxiety over written documents that might expose the Pope’s anti-Nazi activities and collaboration with the Allies. “It was only rarely that records were kept by the Vatican officials of conversations the Pope had with his intimate collaborators or even with important visitors from the outside, such as ministers, ambassadors, or private individuals offering information or suggestions,” Tittmann writes. When the German occupation of Rome began on September 10, 1943, Nazi surveillance increased dramatically, and Pius’ secretary of state, Cardinal Maglione, quickly recommended that any compromising documents be destroyed. Tittmann notes: “At a meeting on September 14, the Allied diplomats decided to follow the cardinal’s advice by destroying all documents that might possibly be of use to the enemy. Osborne [British minister to the Holy See] and I had already finished our burning, and the others completed theirs without exception by September 23, when I reported to the State Department.” As a result, even the many official diplomatic documents which survive the war years represent merely a fraction of Pius XII’s activities. [...]

Discussing the charge that Pius went easy on Nazism because of his fears of Soviet communism, Tittmann insists that the Pope “detested the Nazi ideology and everything it stood for,” and he describes in fresh detail Pius’ intervention for an extension of America’s lend-lease policy to Russia, persuading the American Catholic hierarchy to soften its stand against the Soviet Union in order to serve a greater, and more immediate, cause—the defeat of Nazi Germany. “Thus Pius XII himself had joined the President,” Tittmann says, “in admitting that Hitlerism was an enemy of the Church more dangerous than Stalinism and that the only way to overcome the former was an Allied victory, even if this meant assistance from Soviet Russia.”

Although a strong admirer of President Roosevelt, Tittmann does not flinch from criticizing the Allies’ carpet-bombing of Italian cities and religious institutions (including the attack on Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope was sheltering thousands of refugees). Tittmann also reveals how Roosevelt, anxious to secure American Catholic support for the lend-lease program to Russia and eager for the Pope to intervene for him with the American bishops, wrote Pius a letter claiming that “churches in Russia are open”—and asserting his putative belief that there was “a real possibility that Russia may, as a result of the present conflict, recognize freedom of religion.” Obviously embarrassed by this, Tittmann quotes another State Department official who had been stationed in Moscow as saying “he could not understand how such a letter as the President’s could ever have been written in the first place in view of all the contrary information that was on file in the State Department.”

One wishes he'd not listened to FDR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 27, 2004 6:23 AM

Scholarship and truth won't matter anymore than they matter for the Inquisition, as you point out elsewhere. The anti-Catholic bigots have set their sights on Pius and they shall not be denied by anything as trifling as history. It's the same old trick--pretend the Church was united and all-powerful and had, not only the certain foresight to know what would happen, but also the capacity to easily defeat the Nazis, if not to prevent their rise altogether. I agree that from that perspective, they have some answering to do. The trouble is that perspective is mindless nonsense.

One of the sub-plots here is the ongoing shift in blame for the Holocaust from the perpetrators to those who presumably didn't do enough to stop it. This started around the seventies, but it has now reached such a fever pitch that I truly believe many are now relatively unmoved by, and uninteretsed in, the monsters that did it. They are saving their spleens for the ones guilty of sins of ommission. It isn't that such questions shouldn't be asked, but that no reasonable or accurate answers will come out of such a politicized showdown.

It is a little like trying to face-up to and address past injustices meted out to native peoples. That is a noble and necessary exercise, but once the political pros take over, the genie is out of the bottle and it's open season on all things Western and Christian.

Posted by: Peter B at November 27, 2004 8:26 AM

The question isn't whtether Pius XII was pro-Nazi (he wasn't), the question whether he was anti-Nazi enough. Had he been more of a Christian and less of a diplomat he would have boldy preached against Hitler - even at the cost of persecution of the Church (which had survived persecuitions in the past only to become stronger) or even martyrdom (death comes to everyone, what matters to the Christian is how he lives).

In either case, the Church was making a Faustian bargain with the Nazis, trying to walk a tight rope whose terminus was destruction of the Church. You see, had he won, Hitler would have destroyed the Catholic Church.

Hitler had every intention of destroying the Christian faith and replacing it with Nazism when the time was ripe. His accommodations with the Roman Catholic Church and German Protestant churches were purely tactical. For a more in depth look at this issue see the OSS post war report on Nazism and the churches at run by Rutgers University. For a shorter version, see pages 477-478 of Weinberg's "A World at Arms".

So, as Winston Churchill said, if appeasement is based on the hope that the "crocodile will eat you last", Pius XII was just another appeaser.

Posted by: Daniel Duffy at November 27, 2004 9:40 AM

Did Duffy even read what OJ posted?

If he did, what about this sounds like appeasement?

The fact is the Church was on record since the 1937 papal encyclical MIT BRENNENDER SORGE as being unequivocally opposed to Nazism.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 27, 2004 12:16 PM

Mr. Duffy - Catholic morality does not encourage martyrdom, merely points out that when fidelity to Christ requires it, we should accept it. In this case, fidelity to Christ required that the Pope secure as many lives as he could. That required avoiding unproductive provocations of the Nazis.

Posted by: pj at November 27, 2004 12:43 PM

Since Pius helped organize the murder of the Jews in Yugoslavia, he is not among those who failed to work against it strongly enough but among those who did it.

The German resistance was mythical. Whether Pius understood that must remain an open question.

However, when tens of millions of people were fighting to destroy Naziism, the force of the argument to remain silent and work for a diplomatic answer is nugatory.

A clear statement to Christians to defend the Jews could have been made without mentioning naziism, and no moral question was more immediate for most European Catholics at the time. The pope's silence condemns him.

(Lest any raised up in English law object to that, recall Orrin's statement today about different legal systems. The Church used silence to condemn, so cannot object when it is turned against itself.)

Mit brenneder sorge is not a statement against naziism but against anticatholicism. Not the same thing.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 27, 2004 2:06 PM


Honestly, there are days I think you believe none of us know how to read .

Posted by: Peter B at November 27, 2004 2:33 PM


Jews consider him a righteous person:

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2004 3:16 PM


You have explained why the Church refused to appease him--they knew an enemy when they saw one.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2004 3:44 PM


With the exception of FDR and the New Dealers.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2004 3:45 PM

Every day, Peter.

I'd not rely on Wikipedia for anything, but the first thing it says on your link to it was that Mit brennender was directed at anticatholic actions.

The Church was in a difficult position at the time. It had allied with fascists in Spain, so its credibility with antifascists of any stripe was close to nil.

For reasons I cannot pretend to understand, it chose to pussyfoot. Tens of millions of people chose otherwise.

Is it any wonder that present-day Europeans consider the Church irrelevant?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 28, 2004 7:28 PM

You're right, Harry. It's absolutely disgusting that he wasn't sending papal encyclicals to the Protestant churches complaining about anti-Protestant actions. I'm sure that would have cheered them immensely and given them a real boost.

Posted by: Peter B at November 28, 2004 8:57 PM

Nazism was nothing like Spanish nor Italoian fascism. Franco saved Jews.

Posted by: oj at November 28, 2004 9:31 PM

Did Pius XII do enough? No
Did Pius XII do everything he believed himself capible of doing? Yes
Who gets to give Pius XII the only "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" that matters? God

IMHO Pius XII was a masterful politician, skilful leader and faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Dave W. at November 28, 2004 11:57 PM

Well, Peter, if you aspire to world moral leadership, you cast your net a lit farther out.

Anyhow, it was no secret that tens of millions of people were working hard to overthrow Hitler. That we can even have a discussion about whether Pius did 'enough' proves that he did not.

I contend further that he assisted the Nazis and, specifically, engineered the murder of about 300,000 Jews in south Slavia.

In any case, by his silence, he destroyed any credibility that the Church may have carried into the '40s.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 30, 2004 2:34 AM

Harry's like our own Wayback Machine. Notrhing guarantees a glimpse into the mind of a 40s New Dealer, his head stuffed with canards, than Harry using the phrase "I contend"--forthwith you're off to a land where Capitalism failed, The New Deal worked, Stalin was a pal, the Church is evil, and secularisam the wave of the future....

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 8:47 AM

And Pavelic murdered 300,000 Jews with the help of Pius.

Or are you a Holocaust denier?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 30, 2004 10:42 PM

No, a bigot denier. Your hatred of Catholics doesn't make Pius guilty of anything.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 11:37 PM