Was Pope Pius XII a Nazi?

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?

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8 Comments on “Was Pope Pius XII a Nazi?”

  1. Pope Pius XII was not jusy a priest: he was the leader of a giant transnational organization with reach in all the theatres of war and with relative freedom of speech. He was the self-avowed moral authority for hundreds of millions of people, and as such he could and should have done a lot more than he did. The Catholic Church had the ears and hearts of many millions of Catholics worldwide, including those members of the SS, the police battallions and the German Army who were guilty of the most heinous crimes. There is no record of the Church making an injunction to Catholics to refrain from persecution and killing Jews. Period. There is no record of field priests telling the men who came back from an “Aktion” literally with the blood of dozens of Jews on their uniforms that what they had done that day was illegal, that it was a crime and a mortal sin. No injunction to refrain from doing the same the following day. No excommunications, or even a threat of excommunication. No one should be surprised if these soldiers and policemen, who had the motto “God with us” engraved on their belt buckles, went on killing given this implicit “green light” from their religious authorities. And no one should be surprised about this silence given the silence of Pope Pius XII.

    Gabriel Wilensky

    Six Million Crucifixions:
    How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust
    Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sixmillionbook
    Become a Fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SixMillionCrucifixions

  2. Gabriel is dead on target.

    Pius knew exactly what was happening to the Jews of Europe, he never raised his voice above a whisper. He never defrocked or excommunicated a SINGLE Nazi, or Catholic clergy who served the Reich, and many did.

    It is often proffered that Pius saw the nazis as simply fulfilling what the Jews long deserved.

    So why not make the damnable piece of human flotsam a saint? Catholics have been rewriting history and denyings their own attrocities for centuries. This is just one more.

  3. Ps: Universal…you said in your 1st sentence “beautification”, I took it as a typo and assumed you meant “beatification”…a step toward sainthood.
    Did I make a mistake in that assumption?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    See http://books.google.com/books?id=mJN8Bqvp30cC&printsec=frontcover&dq=gabriel+wilensky&hl=en&ei=6PbgS_m2OoKclgfa0tDqCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    A check of Mr. (not Dr.) Wilensky’s footnotes show heavy reliance on secondary sources, including Daniel Goldhagen and James Carroll, who also rely on secondary sources.

    You won’t find many authors cited who challenge any of Mr. Wilensky’s preconceived views or much in the way of archival material or too many sources in other languages.

    This isn’t a serious book, and Mr. Wilensky (who actually works in the computer industry) is not a serious author.

    In fact, his publisher, QWERTY Publishers, appears to be a vanity press he set up. How come its Web site offers only one book, his own? See http://www.qwertypublishers.com/qwerty/Our_Books.html

    • Defending character assassination with more character assassination? Funny. People usually use that sort of tactic to distract from the issue at hand; get people to try to defend individuals rather than facts. Well, if you have some facts to share (that you did not get from secondary sources, of course), you may post them. Personally, I would like to know the nature of Pius’ “secret” methods of saving Jews.

  5. francineraymonde Says:

    Researcher thinks Pius XII went undercover to save Jews
    By David Kerr

    Rome, Italy, Nov 4, 2011 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Jewish New Yorker who has made it his life’s work to clear the name of Pope Pius XII of being anti-Semitic believes the wartime pontiff actually went undercover to save the lives of Jews in Rome.
    Gary Krupp came across the evidence in a letter from a Jewish woman whose family was rescued thanks to direct Vatican intervention.
    “It is an unusual letter, written by a woman who is alive today in northern Italy, who said she was with her mother, her uncle, and a few other relatives in an audience with Pius XII in 1947.” Next to Pope Pius during the meeting was his Assistant Secretary of State, Monsignor Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI.
    “Her uncle immediately looks at the Pope and he says, ‘You were dressed as a Franciscan,’ and looked at Montini who was standing next to him, ‘and you as a regular priest. You took me out of the ghetto into the Vatican.’ Montini immediately said, ‘Silence, do not ever repeat that story.’”
    Krupp believes the claim to be true because the personality of the wartime Pope was such that he “needed to see things with his own eyes.”

    “He used to take the car out into bombed areas in Rome, and he certainly wasn’t afraid of that. I can see him going into the ghetto and seeing what was happening,” says Krupp.

    Krupp and his wife Meredith founded the Pave the Way Foundation in 2002 to “identify and eliminate the non-theological obstacles between religions.” In 2006 he was asked by both Jewish and Catholic leaders to investigate the “stumbling block” of Pope Pius XII’s wartime reputation. Krupp, a very optimistic 64-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., thought he had finally hit a wall.

    “We are Jewish. We grew up hating the name Pius XII,” he says. “We believed that he was anti-Semitic, we believed that he was a Nazi collaborator—all of the statements that have been made about him, we believed.”
    But when he started looking at the documents from the time, he was shocked. And “then it went from shock to anger. I was lied to,” says Krupp.
    “In Judaism, one of the most important character traits one must have is gratitude, this is very important, it is part of Jewish law. Ingratitude is one of the most terrible traits, and this was ingratitude as far as I was concerned.”
    Krupp now firmly agrees with the conclusions of Pinchas Lapide, the late Jewish historian and Israeli diplomat who said the direct actions of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican saved approximately 897,000 Jewish lives during the war. Pave the Way has over 46,000 pages of historical documentation supporting that proposition, which it has posted on its website along with numerous interviews with eye-witnesses and historians.
    “I believe that it is a moral responsibility, this has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church,” says Krupp, “it has only to do with the Jewish responsibility to come to recognize a man who actually acted to save a huge number of Jewish lives throughout the entire world while being surrounded by hostile forces, infiltrated by spies and under the threat of death.”
    Krupp explained that Pope Pius used the Holy See’s global network of embassies to help smuggle Jews out of occupied Europe. In one such instance, the Vatican secretly asked for visas to the Dominican Republic– 800 at a time – to aid Jewish rescue efforts. This one initiative alone is estimated to have saved over 11,000 Jewish lives between 1939 and 1945.
    Closer to home, the convents and monasteries of Rome—neutral territory during the war—were used as hiding places for Jews.

    Krupp speculates that the wartime actions of Pope Pius XII, whose birth name was Eugenio Pacelli, can be further understood in the light of his own personal history. His great boyhood friend was Guido Mendes who hailed from a well-known Jewish family in Rome. Together they learned the Hebrew language and shared Shabbat dinners on the Jewish Sabbath.
    Later, upon his election to the papacy in 1939, A.W. Klieforth, the American consul general in Cologne, sent a secret telegram to the U.S. Department of State explaining Pope Pius’s attitude towards Nazism in Germany.
    The new Pope “opposed unalterably every compromise with National Socialism,” Klieforth wrote, after a private chat with the pontiff in the Vatican. The two men had got to know each other during Archbishop Pacelli’s 12 years as nuncio in Germany.
    Pope Pius, explained Klieforth, “regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person,” and “did not believe Hitler capable of moderation.” Hence he “fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand.”
    Krupp describes the reputation of the wartime Pope as both glowing and intact until 1963, when German writer Rolf Hochhuth penned his play “The Deputy.” It portrayed Pope Pius as a hypocrite who remained silent about Jewish persecution.
    The Pave the Way website carries evidence from a former high-ranking KGB officer, Ion Mihai Pacepa, who claims that the tarnishing of the Pope’s reputation was a Soviet plot.
    Krupp explains how the communists wanted to “discredit the Pope after his death, to destroy the reputation of the Catholic Church and, more significantly to us, to isolate the Jews from the Catholics. It succeeded very well in all three areas.”
    But he also firmly believes that a fundamental revision of Pope Pius’s wartime record is now well underway. “The dam is cracking now, without question,” he says.
    Ironically, perhaps, Krupp says he meets more resistance when he speaks at Catholic parishes than in Jewish synagogues. “Many Jews,” he explains, “have been extremely grateful, saying, ‘I’m very happy to hear that. I never wanted to believe this about him,’ especially those of us who knew him, who were old enough to know him.”

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