February 6, 2016


Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler | By Mark Riebling (Francis Phillips | Feb 4 2016, MercatorNet)

Pius XII's position was clear. As a world-famous spiritual leader he yearned for peace and an end to the War; knowing the crimes committed against the Jews and others by the Nazis (as they were reported to him by his nuncios around Europe), he felt certain that Germany was in the hands of "diabolical powers"; as the head of Vatican City, a neutral state following the Lateran Treaty of 1929, he was keen to broker peace, if he could, between the warring elements in Europe; and he knew that brave Germans, including Jesuit priests such as Rupert Mayer and Alfred Delp, were part of secret, un-coordinated (and finally doomed) efforts to overthrow Hitler.

But he did not bless the would-be assassins or know their actual plans. As a man who had worked as a papal diplomat for most of his priestly life, he understood acutely the thin line dividing diplomacy, a legitimate enterprise, from secret political plotting, an illegitimate activity for a person in his role, and he stayed firmly on the right side of the line. Riebling implicitly acknowledges this in his interview with Fr Peter Gumpel SJ, postulator for Pius' cause for sainthood. Gumpel is quoted as saying, "One has to be very careful when speaking about direct involvement or direct influence because it is not the place of the Vatican to meddle so much in the affairs of foreign states...Their way is very discreet...They act more prudently."

Having thus qualified what Riebling means by the ambiguous phrase of his sub-title, "The Pope's secret war against Hitler", I can now endorse it as a first-class spy thriller, dealing not with fiction but with historical facts. At the very least, his book demolishes the infamous slur that Pius XII was "Hitler's Pope". As well as this, it shows the huge obstacles faced by the German resistance as it agonised over how to get rid of Hitler. Protestant members of the Abwehr, the German intelligence division which harboured many covert anti-Nazis, including Dietrich von Bonhoeffer, and which lay behind the army officers' July Plot of 1944, had initial scruples about assassinating an unarmed man and contravening their military oath of allegiance.

Catholics, such as Josef Muller, had no such qualms. They had studied St Thomas Aquinas and Catholic teaching on tyrannicide - the death must improve conditions, the tyrant must be the primary instigator of evil policies and all peaceful means must have been explored - and their consciences were clear.

Posted by at February 6, 2016 9:36 AM