Following recent comments by two of the World’s most outspoken atheists, manicstreetpreacher thinks a reassessment of the silent Pope is in order.
I have a morbid fascination with the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII. I confess that the only full-length biography I have read is John Cornwell’s controversial Hitler’s Pope, which has been so heavily criticised that even the author no longer stands by all of its claims.
I am currently researching and writing an epic post about the role of the Church and religion in the rise of fascism (so epic, that it might have to be an entire book!), and I really need to read a more sympathetic account of Pacelli. I have read Sacred Causes by Christian historian Michael Burleigh which references a few Pius defenders such as Mississippi law professor Ronald Rychlak and Rabbi David Dalin.
The best defence anyone has been able to advance is that Pacelli’s scope for action was severely limited. Hindsight is the cheapest form of wisdom. Perhaps Pius XII would have inspired a mass uprising against the forces of darkness that had overwhelmed Europe by publically opposing Hitler. By the same token, his actions could have backfired with the consequences for Europe’s population better left imagined than described.
Here is Richard Dawkins referring to Pius XII as “Pope… Nazi” at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Australia earlier this month while commenting on the Vatican’s procedure of canonising saints.
The press widely construed Dawkins as referring to the current holder of St Peter’s keys, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. While growing up in Germany, Ratzinger was drafted into the Hitler Youth along with practically all other German boys when he was too young to understand the full implications of what he was being ordered to do. Even the most virulent opponent of the Vatican would be punching below the belt to take this as evidence that Ratzinger supported Nazism. Although the next photo is hardly something you want left on your Facebook profile.
In fact, Dawkins was referencing Pius XII, the man who while the Vatican’s Secretary of State concluded concordats with practically every fascist regime in Europe, including the 1929 Lateran Pact with Benito Mussolini of Italy and the 1933 Reichskonkordat with Adolf Hitler’s German Wehrmacht Republic. These treaties, which incidentally were the first agreements signed respectively by both dictators upon taking power, guaranteed the Church’s total withdrawal from politics, embodied by the dissolution of the German Catholic Centre Party, a source of effective opposition to National Socialism, in return for control of state education and other ameliorations.
As if that wasn’t enough, Pius XII notoriously remained silence in public about the Holocaust, despite constant and reliable intelligence of the atrocities committed against the Jews. This was only one in a whole litany of sins for which atonement was begged by the former pontiff, John Paul II, during a papacy largely defined by repeated requests for forgiveness.
Perhaps sceptics are being too hard on Pacelli. Perhaps they are using him as a pawn in their private war against the parties of God. Perhaps his back really was up against a wall. Perhaps public condemnation of Hitler would have been foolhardy and lead only to Nazi aggression being redirected towards Catholics. Perhaps he achieved more by remaining silent in public and while waging a “secret war” against the Führer. The figures I’ve read for the number of Jews that the Vatican saved during the War range from half a million to 800,000. I am quite prepared to accept the higher figure.
But while the Pope’s rural retreat of Castel Gandolfo and indeed the Vatican itself was used to hide Jews escaping the German occupation of Rome in 1943, the same “safe houses” were used to harbour escaping Nazi war criminals, not least of who was Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the “Final Solution”. After the war Eichmann, along with many other Nazi war criminals, was spirited away to South America on an illegally acquired Red Cross humanitarian passport via a “Ratline”, before finally being kidnapped by Mossad agents in Argentina, standing trial in Israel and executed for crimes against humanity in 1962.
It is not proven that Pacelli had personal knowledge of the Ratlines, their chief architect being Austrian Bishop Alois Hudal, author of the Hitler-fawning tract, The Foundations of National Socialism. But since Pacelli clearly turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the death camps during the war, it is not unreasonable to draw negative inferences.
The Vatican could always exonerate Pacelli once and for all by releasing the wartime documents from their archives which would prove the Pontiff’s defence, surely? So far, they have declined to do this, making the utterly lame excuse that the copious documents have not yet been properly catalogued.
Ratzinger’s recent drive to canonise Pius XII has been discouraged by the Church’s own theologians as likely to cause grave damage to relations between the Catholic Church and Jews and that he had become a de facto “symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism”.
As long as Pope Pius XII allowed Hitler to remain a Catholic, the Pope supported his actions, period, and end of story. There was no conspiracy, just failed responsibility, and lack of action. David Dalin’s book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope demonstrates very little except to try and defend the ridiculous.
That is about as reasonable and balanced an assessment as I have read from a sceptic. The verdict of biologist and blogger P Z Myers was worded somewhat more strongly…
Oh, and Pope Pius XII really was a sniveling rat bastard who should have been held accountable for contributing to the evil perpetrated against the Jews.
The Pius Wars will not cease until the day Daniel Dennett’s dream of the Vatican being converted into the “International Museum of Roman Catholicism” becomes a reality.
Tags: 2010 Global Atheist Convention, Adolf Eichmann, Australia, benedict xvi, Benito Mussolini, Bishop Alois Hudal, Catholic Centre Party, Concordat, David Dalin, Eugenio Pacelli, Final Solution, germany, hitler, Hitler Youth, Hitler’s Pope, holocaust, holy see, John Cornwell, Joseph Ratzinger, Lateran Pact, Melbourne, Michael Burleigh, Mossad, nazi, p z myers, Pius XII, pope, Rat Line, Ratline, Reichskonkordat, richard dawkins, Ronald Rychlak, Sacred Causes, The Foundations of National Socialism, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, The War and the Pope, vatican