||Pope Pius XII writes one of his wartime Christmas radio messages using a typewriter at the Vatican in this undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy of Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
MADISON -- In December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI moved Pope Pius XII a step closer to sainthood. The process had been delayed for 40 years. Pius XII is now declared “venerable,” indicating that he lived a life of extraordinary holiness and heroic virtue.
Jewish groups had asked that the process be delayed until the 16 million files collected during Pius’ 1939-1958 pontificate were open to historians. The Vatican says that the files will not be ready until 2014.
“We are saddened and disappointed that the pontiff would feel compelled to fast-track Pope Pius at a point where the issue of the record, the history, and the coming to a judgment, is still wide open,” said Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and the director of the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League.
Jewish groups have argued that Pius XII did not speak out against Hitler openly and offer support to Jewish people. The Vatican maintains that, fearing that any direct intervention may have worsened the situation for both Catholics and Jews, the pope worked behind the scenes during the war.False accusations
In 2005, a photo of Pius XII was placed at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum near Jerusalem. The photo shows the pope-to-be as Archbishop Pacelli, then Vatican ambassador to Germany, exiting the presidential palace in Berlin in 1927. German soldiers, wearing their familiar helmets of World War II, stand guard at the palace entrance.
The impression from the picture for many is that the then-ambassador was leaving a meeting with Hitler. In fact, Hitler did not become chancellor of Germany until 1933.
In 1927 the Weimar Republic, a liberal democracy, governed Germany. Posted at Yad Vahem with this picture was a sign stating that Pope Pius shelved a letter against anti-Semitism, did nothing to protest the mass murder of Jews, refused to sign a 1942 Allied condemnation of the massacre of Jews, and failed to intervene when Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz.
Register for lecture
The St. Thérèse of Lisieux lecture by Rabbi David Dalin on Thursday, April 7, at 7 p.m. at the Bishop O’Connor Center, Madison, is free and open to the public. Reception will follow.
People coming are asked to register on the diocesan Web site at www.madisondiocese.org
Praise from Jewish notables
Present-day criticism of Pius XII stands in stark contrast to the praises paid to him by Jewish politicians and notables immediately following his death.
Albert Einstein, who fled Nazism, praised the courage and persistence of the Catholic Church in standing for intellectual truth and moral freedom when the European universities and newspaper editors did not.
Upon the pope’s death in 1958, Israeli foreign minister and Milwaukee-native Golda Meir sent the following message to the Vatican: “We share in the grief of humanity. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”
Slandered in writings
What happened since 1958 that radically changed the Jewish impression of Pope Pius XII? The answer is the slander that began in 1963 when Rolf Hochhuth wrote The Deputy, a play that portrayed the Pope as a cowardly Nazi collaborator who turned his back on the fate of the Jews. While this play is fictional and without any historical evidence, a sensational reaction followed in the press and in academia.
In 1999, John Cornwell wrote Hitler’s Pope. It became an immediate bestseller. Cornwell suggests that there never would have been a Holocaust without the consent of Pius XII, posited as both a follower and a supporter of Hitler. Later, critiqued by scholars, Cornwell backed off his claims.
In 2002, Daniel Goldhagen wrote A Moral Reckoning: the Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. This followed his earlier book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Many other similarly hateful works have been produced, most of which have been warmly received in certain circles.
None of these works offer the truth, however. The books are full of errors of fact, misrepresentations of history, and ignorance of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Catholic scholars have countered this calumny. They are largely dismissed as apologists for Pius XII.
Rabbi-scholar writes book
Now a Jewish rabbi-scholar has produced a learned critique. Rabbi David G. Dalin wrote The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis (Regnery, 2005).
Rabbi Dalin will be in Madison on Thursday, April 7, to present the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center at 7 p.m. Everyone is graciously invited to attend.
In his book Rabbi Dalin cites Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide’s estimate that Pius XII saved at least 700,000 Jews — perhaps as many as 860,000 Jews. Catholic industrialist Oskar Schindler, of Schindler’s List fame, has deserved the great acclaim he has received for saving the lives of 1,200 Polish Jews. These numbers pale in comparison to those lives saved by Pope Pius XII. Some 3,000 Jews were hidden at Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence. Only 1,015 of Rome’s 6,800 Jews were deported to concentration camps.
Why didn’t Pope Pius XII speak out directly and condemn Hitler and even excommunicate him and his cronies? The answer is that this would have been counterproductive. It would have incited Hitler and led to the killing of even more Jews and Catholics. What could be worse than the slaughter of six million Jews? One answer is seven million and hundreds of thousands of others.
This is only a thumbnail sketch of Rabbi Dalin’s important work. All are welcome to hear his full presentation on April 7.
Fr. D. Stephen Smith, pastor of Christ the King Parish in McFarland, is Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Madison.