With the beatification of Pope Pius XII under way, there has been a lot of heated public opinion shared about him recently, including Richard Dawkins referring to him as ‘Pope Nazi’ during a speech in Australia.
Was Pope Pius XII a Nazi? No. But, he also wasn’t the hero apologists have been trying to make him out to be.
When it comes down to it, when Pius XII was faced with the greatest human atrocity of the recent age, he left a few hints in a speech or two, but, for the most part, kept his mouth shut. No heroic acts, no great deeds. Nothing to show him to be anything more than just another frail human being put into an uncomfortable situation. Should we expect anything more? Well, atheists shouldn’t, but Catholics are under the process of making him a saint, an act that only diminishes the reputation of anyone that already holds that title.
Critics of Pius XII often point to Catholic antisemitic beliefs that undoubtedly attributed to Hitler’s Jewish hatred. These beliefs did start early in the Christian churches. You might say that picking on Jews is a Christian tradition:
“You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”
-1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
The anti-Semitic tone in early Christianity cannot be ignored. And the Catholic church’s failure to rise above it until the Vatican II, specifically in the Nostra Aetate, in the 1960’s cannot be ignored either. This council was called after Pius XII’s death, by his successor, John XXIII. So, for 17 years after WWII ended and the Nazis were out of power, 13 of those under Pius XII, the Church continued to sit idle on antisemitism.
The prima facie evidence defenders of Pope Pius XII point to was a speech he gave on Xmas of 1942, in which, at the end, he made this statement about the situation with the Jews:
“”Humanity owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline””
Pretty vague. The speech was 45 minutes long, and, even though the situation in the heavily Catholic Germany was undeniable, he did not mention the Jews by name, as many claim. And, as far as I’m concerned, the speech really counts as nothing. And I’m not trying to just dismiss the speech, I’m trying to be even handed. The current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, is currently addressing the issue of pedophilia in the Catholic Church in a letter. Putting these two injustices side by side, I think it can be said that Ratzinger is doing more than Pius XII did for the Jews in WWII. In the case of the current pope, the topic is at least the primary focus of the entire letter. And I believe that it is plain to see that for all extents, writing a speech or a letter is the equivalent of not doing anything. It may communicate intentions, but it needs to be followed by some kind of action.
There is, of course, one other claim made in defense of Pius XII: the claims that he moved “secretly” to save thousands of Jews.
“Pope Pius XII worked courageously, secretly and silently to help save Jews targeted by the Nazis’ “criminal plan … to eliminate them from the face of the earth,” said Pope Benedict XVI.”
“we discovered that secretly he saved more Jews than all of the world’s religious and political leaders combined.”
I’m afraid that without some sort of proof (it’s been 70 years, it’s ok to release information now), this sounds a bit too much like single handedly killing thousands of men with the jawbone of an ass.
So, Pope Pius XII: not exactly guilty, but definitely not anyone to be proud of. A bit of a lily-livered coward, in fact, that accommodated the Nazis to a high degree to protect his own interests. I refer to him as the Vichy-Pope.
But, is this any different than any other pope of the modern era?
Why expect any action from the office of the Pope? Sure, during the glory days of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope’s chair was an office of great power. But, once the holy dictator was kicked off his throne, the world is free to see the office for what it is: head administrator. The office holds no power outside the church, even though it is still given a token nod every once in a while (mostly to cash in on those juicy Catholic votes).
Perhaps the office could be used for more, but it’s probably best that it isn’t. Unless the man holding the office has outside training of some sort, their is no reason to suspect that any clergy in any church has any expertise, authority, or knowledge of the world just because they know the Bible. After all, I would not expect an expert on the Iliad to be able to perform marriage counseling; nor would I expect an expert in the folk tales of ancient Ireland to be given guidance in world politics.
The office of Pope is meaningless to anyone not in the organization, why do we even expect enough out of them to even criticize them?