Standing Firm on Pius XII

Joseph Susanka of Inside Catholic posted about an account of Pope Benedict’s speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Apparently, some Jews are upset that the Pope did not ‘apologize’ for the Church’s alleged complacency and indifference during the Holocaust. They also wanted the Pope to apologize on behalf of Germany, as a German.

These expectations, demands, and the outrage that follows when they are not met, are preposterous. Most of it revolves around the ‘Pius Wars’, claims that Pope Pius XII was either indifferent to, or worse, complicit in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. The historical record reveals the falsehood of this claim. How is it that in 1943 the following statement could appear in TIME magazine?

But no matter what critics might say, it is scarcely deniable that the Church Apostolic, through the encyclicals and other papal pronouncements, has been fighting against totalitarianism more knowingly, devoutly and authoritatively, and for a longer time, than any other organized power.

Pope Pius XII not only resisted Nazism, but also played an instrumental role in saving the lives of thousands of Jews from the Nazis. Because of the efforts of the Vatican, 80% of Italy’s Jews escaped death at the hands of the Nazis. Rabbi David G. Dailn in ‘The Myth of Hitler’s Pope‘ estimates (on the basis of what other Jewish scholars have attested) that Pius may have been responsible for saving the lives of up to 860,000 Jews -more than any other institution on the planet.

As he documents, many of the world’s Jewish political leaders, and indeed most people throughout the world, regarded Pius as a savior of Jews. For instance, in February 1945 Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Palestine stated:

“The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the very foundations of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.” (emphasis added by me)

And they didn’t forget – until a malicious and factually incorrect work of fiction, a play called ‘The Deputy’ by Rolf Hochhuth written in 1963, painted a different picture. Then everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, not only forgot, but remembered differently. For reasons I won’t speculate on here, unsubstantiated claims in a work of fiction were soon presented uncritically (and shamefully) as fact and a good Pope, who did more than most would have done given the circumstances he faced, became an object of shame and scorn. All of the good done by the Vatican, during the war, for Jews, and against the Nazis, was tossed down the Orwellian memory hole.

Pope Benedict’s recent remarks, furthermore, were sensitive and heart-felt enough. He ‘stopped short’ of an apology, as the article says, because he remained faithful to the historical truth. Pope Benedict has already expressed admiration for Pius XII. In a 2008 speech he said of him,

One understands, then, that wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favour either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church. In the proceedings of your convention you have also drawn attention to his many interventions, made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews. This courageous and paternal dedication was recognized and appreciated during and after the terrible world conflict by Jewish communities and individuals who showed their gratitude for what the Pope had done for them.

We Catholics can be proud of what the Church accomplished during the war. Getting to the bottom of it does require, thanks to official attempts at obfuscation through ridicule and hysteria, a bit of digging and searching. I truly hope that neither Benedict or his successors ever waver in defending Pius XII.

11 Responses to Standing Firm on Pius XII

  1. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Pius XII was a true hero-pope. From the earliest days of the Nazi movement he regarded it as a deadly enemy of the Church. He always worked feverishly against it. The historical record is clear and it has always been clear. The calumnies against this very great man are a crime not only against him and the Church, but also against History. Here is a good article on the support that Pius gave the heroic anti-Nazi Bishop Clemons August Von Galen, the Lion of Munster.

    The anti-Nazi efforts of this Pope are legion and I will detail some of them in future posts.

    Thank you for posting this Joe, I was thinking of doing something like this myself, and I was delighted to see your post this morning!

  2. We Catholics can be proud of what the Church accomplished during the war. Getting to the bottom of it does require, thanks to official attempts at obfuscation through ridicule and hysteria, a bit of digging and searching

    To that end, a helpful website:

    Pope Pius XII and the Jews

  3. Michael says:

    Didn’t Jesus say something about people uttering insults and spreading lies because of His name? Didn’t he say that they were truly blessed and their reward in Heaven would be great? Am I misremembering?

    All kidding aside, surely we can look at this as more circumstantial evidence that Pius XII is truly a saint.

  4. Tito Edwards says:

    It’s a travesty that Pope Pius XII hasn’t made a saint at all. The calumnies emanating from people such as Abe Foxman of the ADL are hideous to say the least.

  5. For reasons I won’t speculate on here, unsubstantiated claims in a work of fiction were soon presented uncritically (and shamefully) as fact

    And people wonder why the DaVinci code is so problematic…

  6. Tito Edwards says:

    Michael D.,

    How about adding an icon to your WordPress ID?


  7. foxfier says:

    “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.”

    I can see why a “Nazi Pope” story would be so popular– there’s a LOT of folks who are angry atheists, or have problems with authority, and the Pope is kinda the gold standard for Faith and Authority; there are folks who like to use outrage at safe targets– hard to get safer than the Pope. There’s also the kinda thrill some folks get from hearing that someone who’s supposed to be great and good isn’t. (honestly, I don’t get that last one, I just see it)

    If only a Rabbi who had family saved by PXII would demand an apology from the folks demanding an apology!

  8. e. says:

    People have remarkably short memories.

    When it proves convenient, amnesia becomes an immediate necessity.

    Most especially notorious is this notion concerning Pius XII as the infamous “Hitler’s Pope”, even when distinguished historical figures like former Israeli Prime Ministers, Golda Meir & Mosha Sharett, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog and even eminent scientist, Albert Einstein himself lavished praise on the man for his heroic actions during WWII, which consequently saved several Jews from certain extermination.

    The mainstream media including MSNBC and especially The Jerusalem Post have generated articles that would paint the man as nothing more than an evil fiend.

    Take this one, for example:


    I’ve got a terrible confession to make – I don’t want to go to heaven. It’s not that I don’t relish rewards in the afterlife. It’s just that if Pope Pius XII is there, especially if exalted to saintly status by courtesy of his current Vatican successor, then in the immortal words of Huck Finn: “I can’t see no advantage in going where” the former Eugenio Pacelli purportedly went. Like Huck, I’d rather be where Tom Sawyer ends up, because with Tom there’s never any pious pretension of infallibility.

    But in Pius’s case sanctimonious affectation enveloped profound immorality – like failing to advise staunch Catholics in Germany, Poland and elsewhere in Europe that it’s not nice to condemn people to extermination merely because they were born to Jewish parents. Characteristically Pius and his adherents proffered handy excuses – prime among them that Pius’s expedient “neutrality” saved his church from Nazi retribution (even if said church worships an altruistic self-sacrificing Christ).

    SOURCE: Another Tack: Pius’s pious pretension

  9. Joe Hargrave says:

    Hey, its great to see that we’re all on the same page on this 🙂

  10. e. says:

    Matters as grave as these concerning the Faith deserve such solidarity — even if it means forming an alliance in amity amongst the most unlikely of allies. =P

  11. Joe Hargrave says:

    Hey Christopher B,

    That is one excellent website. I have it bookmarked for the next time I need to write something like this 🙂

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