December 22, 2004


For God's sake (The Economist, Dec 9th 2004)

JOHN CORNWELL, author of a new life of Pope John Paul II, would have made a fine devil's advocate when the pope's name is one day advanced for sainthood. Unfortunately, he will not be chosen, for John Paul II himself, some two decades ago, scrapped the custom of having a devout Catholic question the virtues of a candidate for beatification or canonisation. The old job of devil's advocate is now, in effect, performed by committee.

Devil's advocates were supposed to be fair-minded, and in the past Mr Cornwell, a prolific writer on Catholic matters, has at times been anything but. As he admits, “Hitler's Pope” (1999), his biography of Pope Pius XII, lacked balance. “I would now argue,” he says, “in the light of the debates and evidence following ‘Hitler's Pope', that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.”

Chastened by this experience, Mr Cornwell is now a better biographer.

All well and good in so far as it goes, which isn't nearly far enough, but what of all the credulous bigots who take it as gospel that Pius was some kind of crypto-Nazi thanks to the kind of bilge Mr. Cornwell and others peddled?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 22, 2004 2:52 PM

Oh, please.

Cornwell's argument was not that Pius was some sort of crypto-Nazi but that he was in bed with German militarists from before World War I.

Which he was. Way back in 1916, he collaborated with Ludendorff on a plot to scupper the Allies.

It's documented in "Germany from Defeat to Conquest" by Knight-Patterson, as well as (less thoroughly) in Cornwell.

In addition, whatever restraints Pius faced when Rome was occupied by some variety or other of fascists, how did that force him to rescue the Pavelic murderers after Rome was liberated?

And however restricted his ability to maneuver, it was the pope's responsibility to his people to give them some clear moral guidance about what to do under the terrible pressures they were under.

He never did.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 22, 2004 8:54 PM

Speaking of credulous bigots misled by Cornwell's lies....

N.B.--Gotta get your Protocols straight--the slander is that he worked with Ludendorf in 1914:

And, of course, here's what the NY Times had to say about his "silence":

"The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. ... He is about the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all."
-December 25th, 1941

Posted by: oj at December 22, 2004 11:08 PM

You're the one who claims Pacelli was an opponent of Naziism, though you cannot provide any examples of what he did to oppose it.

Had he done anything, it could only have been with words.

You believe that German Christians who opposed Hitler were unable to act even though they controlled the second-most powerful army in the world. If they couldn't, still less could Pacelli have.

It was no secret who was opposing the Hitlerites between 1939-45. That anyone, even a bigot, can even raise the question proves that Pacelli was not among them.

His 'silence during the war' was voluntary. As Cornwell said in 'Hitler's Pope,' he chose to stay in Rome because he felt an obligation to the Romans.

That was weak at the time and almost seems sinister today, but it was not unique.

The king of Norway chose to flee, the queen of the Netherlands chose to stay.

Pacelli, if he had valued his job as moral leader, could have fled to free territory and shepherded his flock.

He did not. That's a fact.

We do not need to understand his motive, but he had a history which is suggestive.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 23, 2004 2:52 PM


One notes with hilarity the idea of a shepherd who flees and leaves his flock to the wolves of Applied Darwinism--what a perfect illustration of your individualism that you think that's what he should have done. Instead he stayed, saved Jews, worked and spoke against the Nazis, etc.:

"The controversy also motivated additional research, and new material now seems to arrive every week. As far as I can tell, all this recent information tells in favor of Pius XII. A recently discovered 1923 letter to the Vatican from Eugenio Pacelli, then nuncio to Germany, for instance, denounces Hitlers putsch and warns against his anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. A document from April 1933, just months after Hitler obtained power, reveals how Pacelli (then secretary of state) ordered the new German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, to protest Nazi actions.

Meanwhile, newly examined diplomatic documents show that in 1937 Cardinal Pacelli warned A. W. Klieforth, the American consul to Berlin, that Hitler was an untrustworthy scoundrel and fundamentally wicked person, to quote Klieforth, who also wrote that Pacelli did not believe Hitler capable of moderation, and . . . fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand. This was matched with the discovery of Pacellis anti-Nazi report, written the following year for President Roosevelt and filed with Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, which declared that the Church regarded compromise with the Third Reich as out of the question.

Archives from American espionage agencies have recently confirmed Pius XIIs active involvement in plots to overthrow Hitler. A pair of newly found letters, written in 1940 on the letterhead of the Vaticans Secretariat of State, give Pius XIIs orders that financial assistance be sent to Campagna for the explicit purpose of assisting interned Jews suffering from Mussolinis racial policies. And the Israeli government has finally released Adolf Eichmanns diaries, portions of which confirm the Vaticans obstruction of the Nazis roundup of Romes Jews.

Theres more, a regular flow of new material. Intercepts of Nazi communications released from the United States National Archives include such passages as Vatican has apparently for a long time been assisting many Jews to escape, in a Nazi dispatch from Rome to Berlin on October 26, 1943, ten days after the Germanys Roman roundup. New oral testimony from such Catholic rescuers as Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, Sister Mathilda Spielmann, Father Giacomo Martegani, and Don Aldo Brunacci insists that Pius XII gave them explicit orders and direct assistance to help persecuted Jews in Italy. The posthumous publication this year of Harold Tittmanns memoir, Inside the Vatican of Pius XII, is particularly interesting, for in it the American diplomat reveals, for the first time, that Pius XIIs wartime conduct drew upon advice from the German resistance. "

"The twentieth century has been marked by genocides on an monstrous scale. One of the most terrible was the Holocaust wrought by Nazi Germany, which killed an estimated six million European Jews and almost as many other victims.

During this dark time, the Catholic Church was shepherded by Pope Pius XII, who proved himself an untiring foe of the Nazis, determined to save as many Jewish lives as he could. Yet today Pius XII gets almost no credit for his actions before or during the war. In fact, in stark contrast to the historical facts not to mention the historical record of praise from Piuss Jewish and Allied contemporaries and bitter condemnation from his Nazi opponents Pius XII is today regularly accused of silence and inaction in the fact of Nazism and the Holocaust.

Turning away from modern revisionist polemics to the historical record, we discover that, not only was Pius XII no friend of the Nazis, but that his opposition to them began years before the War, before he was elected to the papacy, when he was still Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State.

On April 28, 1935, four years before the War even started, Pacelli gave a speech that aroused the attention of the world press. Speaking to an audience of 250,000 pilgrims in Lourdes, France, the future Pius XII stated that the Nazis are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult. [1] It was talks like this, in addition to private remarks and numerous notes of protest that Pacelli sent to Berlin in his capacity as Vatican Secretary of State, that earned him a reputation as an enemy of the Nazi party.

The Germans were likewise displeased with the reigning pontiff, Pius XI, who showed himself to be a unrelenting opponent of the new German ideals even writing an entire encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (1937), to condemn them. When Pius XI died in 1939, the Nazis abhorred the prospect that Pacelli might be elected his successor.

Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith, writes: Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March of 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929 The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor. [2]

Former Israeli diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide states that Pius XI had good reason to make Pacelli 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 Hitlers doctrines Pacelli, who never met the Fhrer, called it neo-Paganism. [3]

A few weeks after Pacelli was elected pope, the German Reichs Chief Security Service issued a then-secret report on the new Pope. Rabbi Lapide provides an excerpt:

Pacelli has already made himself prominent by his attacks on National Socialism during his tenure as Cardinal Secretary of State, a fact which earned him the hearty approval of the Democratic States during the papal elections How much Pacelli is celebrated as an ally of the Democracies is especially emphasized in the French Press. [4]

Unfortunately, joy in the election of a strong pope who would continue Pius XIs defiance of the Nazis was darkened by the ominous political developments in Europe. War finally came on September 1, 1939, when German troops overran Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Early in 1940, Hitler made an attempt to prevent the new Pope from maintaining the anti-Nazi stance he had taken before his election. He sent his underling, Joachim von Ribbentrop, to try to dissuade Pius XII from following his predecessors policies. Von Ribbentrop, granted a formal audience on March 11, 1940, went into a lengthy harangue on the invincibility of the Third Reich, the inevitability of a Nazi victory, and the futility of papal alignment with the enemies of the Fhrer. Pius XII heard von Ribbentrop out politely and impassively. Then he opened an enormous ledger on his desk and, in his perfect German, began to recite a catalogue of the persecutions inflicted by the Third Reich in Poland, listing the date, place, and precise details of each crime. The audience was terminated; the Popes position was clearly unshakable. [5]

The Pope secretly worked to save as many Jewish lives as possible from the Nazis, whose extermination campaign began its most intense phase only after the War had started. It is here that the anti-Catholics try to make their hay: Pius XII is charged either with cowardly silence or with outright support of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews.

Much of the impetus to smear the Vatican regarding World War II came, appropriately enough, from a work of fiction a stage play called The Deputy, written after the War by a little-known German Protestant playwright named Rolf Hochhuth. "

Posted by: oj at December 23, 2004 3:35 PM

Sigh. Read the post.

Pacelli's mistake was not that he embraced Hitler but that he collaborated with German militarism.

That started when Hitler was just a corporal.

German militarists, many of them, despised Hitler. That did not, however, prevent them from working with him.

Same with the German Catholic hierarchy, many of whom were nobles and so also despised Hitler.

If he 'did as much as he could' to save Jews, that turned out not to be very much, didn't it?

I did not say that he should have fled to free territory to lead an open fight against Naziism. Just that he didn't.

That was his choice.

A frank and open moral statement would have clarified all, nu?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 23, 2004 3:46 PM

"collaborated with German militarism"? As even you point out that would have nothing to do with being favorably disposed to Nazism.

He saved nearly a million Jews, which seems pretty much or, at least, more than anyone else did.

I understood your point about fleeing--it's just an idea appropriate to a moral coward and not a shepherd of a flock.

His frank and open moral statements could not have been clearer.

By the way, is it accepted journalistic ethics to continue to use as a source someone who says they misled you because they had an axe to grind, as you do Cornwell?

Posted by: oj at December 23, 2004 4:08 PM

Funny how people, who are convinced that the Times got it completely wrong about Stalin's planned famines and genocide in the 20s through the 50s, treat an editorial page quote about Pius XII as if it were written by the Lord at Mt. Sinai on stone tablets.

Posted by: Bart at December 24, 2004 8:22 AM