||Rabbi David Dalin signs a copy of his book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope following his talk at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison April 7. (Catholic Herald photos/Kat Wagner)
MADISON -- At the most recent St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture held at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center April 7, renowned Jewish-American author Rabbi David G. Dalin confronted the myths and legends surrounding the papacy of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.
The lecture, which in its focus on illuminating a historical controversy fulfilled the goal of the semi-annual lecture series to help Catholics learn more about Catholic faith tradition, drew a relatively sparse crowd. A question-and-answer session that followed the 45-minute talk, however, revealed attendees of all ages eager to understand the many aspects of both the history of the anti-Pope-Pius-XII stance and its impact on Catholic-Jewish relations.
Against a tide of critics
Rabbi Dalin, a world-renowned historian on matters of Jewish concern, has written and edited books on American Jewish history and politics and Jewish-Christian relations. He is currently a professor of history and politics at Ave Maria University, in Florida.
Throughout the talk, Rabbi Dalin frequently referenced several of his books, including his recent The Myth of Hitler’s Pope — so much so that at one point an attendee stood and gave her book to him so that he could read a passage in full. The book, heavily annotated with 20 of its 200 pages dedicated to citations, is a direct rebuttal to books by papal critics on Pope Pius XII’s closeness with the Nazi Regime and Hitler.
Rabbi Dalin argued that not only were many of the books based on reaction to a fictional anti-papal work from the 1960s called The Deputy, but he also called into question the motives of their authors and publishers. Several of the more well known authors are lapsed Catholics or liberal Catholics, two of whom are former Jesuit seminarians and one a former Catholic priest. He suspects, he said, that their motives were to damage the credibility of the papal seat.
“It they could undermine and damage the credibility of one pope,” he said, “they could undermine another pope that they detested as much — Pope John Paul II.”
In actuality, Pope Pius XII, who Rabbi Dalin called “a righteous gentile,” publically snubbed Adolf Hitler and was the subject of a kidnapping plan that would prevent the pope’s intervention with foreign leaders. Far closer to the head of the Nazi Regime was a different cleric, the Islamic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, he said.
In early years, the pope was revered for his intervention in the war, which included saving the lives of Jews in the Vatican and more than 3,000 Jews at Castel Gandalfo, but in recent years many myths have developed.
“As it says in the Talmud, ‘The slanderous tongue kills three: the slandered, the slanderer, and the one who listens to the slander,’” Fr. Steve Smith, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Madison, said during his introduction of the rabbi. “Some of the facts people know about this pope are simply scandalous.”
Not all of Rabbi Dalin’s talk painted a rosy picture of the late pope. In the question-and-answer session, in response to a challenge by one attendee that the pope should have excommunicated Hitler and any other followers who had been baptized Catholic, the rabbi admitted that no world leader did enough during the holocaust.
“You can’t really talk about heroes” when millions of Jews and Catholics lost their lives, the rabbi said. “But Pius XII was a great friend of the Jews at a time in history when Jews needed friends the most.”
Along with Winston Churchill, Rabbi Dalin argued, the pope was one of the two greatest moral heroes of the Holocaust.
Rabbi Dalin also admitted that, until the Vatican Archives unseals the records of Pope Pius XII after the 50 years since his death is complete, there will be no way to know for certain the true extent to the pope’s involvement.
Still, there are lessons to be taken from the pope’s legacy and of the events surrounding World War II.
“Maybe the lesson (of the Holocaust) was there were a lot of good people who, for different reasons didn’t speak up or stand up against Hitler in Europe and the United States,” Rabbi Dalin said. “Sometimes it’s politically incorrect to say there’s evil in the world, but there is. There has to be more moral courage to stand up against it.”
The St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series, which is made possible with the help of a generous benefactor, brings internationally recognized speakers to the Diocese of Madison approximately twice each year.