John Cornwell: Hitler's Pope, The Secret History of Pope Pius XII, Viking, 1999.
In a devastating indictment based on indisputable documentary evidence, Cornwell's brilliant study reveals the antipathy of Pius XII to Jews and how he refused to denounce Hitler by name. He had, moreover, a scheme to impose his own personal ultra-authoritarian stamp on the Roman Catholic Church, and found Hitler a useful ally. In short: "He was the ideal Pope for Hitler’s unspeakable plan. He was Hitler’s pawn. He was Hitler’s Pope."
Immediately following his ordination as Bishop in 1917, Pacelli left Rome for Germany, where he was to remain for the next 13 years. Despite its Protestant majority, Germany had one of the largest Roman Catholic populations of any country. The historic autonomy of the Church of Rome in Germany was enshrined in ancient concordats between the Vatican and the German regional states. Pacelli's purpose, Cornwell points out, was to bring all the local treaties in line with the new Code of Canon Law and papal absolutism mentioned in Part 3. His "principal task in Germany was now nothing less than the imposition, through the 1917 Code of Canon Law, of supreme papal authority over the Catholic bishops, clergy and faithful".
To that end he set out to renegotiate existing concordats with the German regional states, hoping ultimately for a concordat with the German nation itself, one that would solidify Vatican authority. Over the heads of the German bishops, Pacelli secretly reached a deal with Hitler that authorised the papacy to impose the new church law on German Roman Catholics and granted generous privileges to Roman Catholic schools and the clergy. In exchange, Pacelli collaborated in the withdrawal of Roman Catholics from social and political action in Germany.
Such was the fateful background to what followed the rise of Adolf Hitler. Cornwell writes:
"The acquiescence of the German people in the face of Nazism cannot be understood in its entirety without taking into account the long path, beginning as early as 1920, to the Reich Concordat of 1933; and Pacelli's crucial role in it; and Hitler's reasons for signing it. The negotiations were conducted exclusively by Pacelli on behalf of the Pope over the heads of the faithful, the clergy, and the German bishops. […] The Reichskonkordat effectively removed the German Catholic Church – which had successfully rolled back Bismarck's Kulturkampf, and which had opposed the rise of Nazism, generally barring party members from receiving holy communion into 1933 – from any continued role of opposition to Hitler. More than that, as Hitler told his cabinet on July 14, it established a context that would be "especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry. […] This was the reality of the moral abyss into which Pacelli, the future Pontiff, had led the once great and proud German Catholic Church."
That Church, on the insistence of Rome, now fell silent. It was a terrible defeat for the Jews. As Hitler himself boasted in a cabinet meeting on July 14, 1933, Pacelli's guarantee of non-intervention left the régime free to resolve the Jewish question. "Hitler expressed the opinion that one should only consider it as a great achievement. The concordat gave Germany an opportunity and created an area of trust that was particularly significant in the developing struggle against international Jewry."
This Papal endorsement of Nazism, in Germany and abroad, helped to seal the fate of Europe. Cornwell shows how Pacelli, from his early forties, had already nourished a suspicion and contempt of Jews for political reasons; but the repeated references to the Jewishness of these individuals, amid the catalogue of stereotypical scorn and revulsion, betrays a confirmed Anti-Semitism.
In January 1937, Pius XI issued an encyclical written under Pacelli's direction: Mit Brennender Sorge (With Deep Anxiety). It denounced the alleged persecution of Roman Catholics in Germany, but included no condemnation of Anti-Semitism. National Socialism and Hitler were not even mentioned by name. Worse still, between Pacelli's election to Pope on March 2, 1939, and his 'coronation' he held a meeting with the German cardinals, he sent a letter of good wishes publicly affirming Hitler and beginning "To the illustrious Herr Adolf Hitler".
After Hitler's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the new Pope baffled the Allies by declining to condemn Germany. His first public statement, the encyclical known in the English world as Darkness over the Earth, was full of Papal rhetoric and equivocations.
Another more immediate indication of Pacelli's moral dislocation occurred before the liberation of Rome, when he was the sole Italian authority in the city. On October 16, 1943, while Pacelli was the sole Italian authority in the city, SS troops entered the Roman ghetto area at dawn and rounded up more than 1,000 Jews, imprisoning them in the very shadow of the Vatican. While such scenes had been enacted throughout Europe in the previous two years, the difference was that Pacelli refused to denounce the event and even refused to sign a letter of protest drafted by German occupation officials.
The Jews of Rome were deported on October 18. When Harold Tittmann, the American ambassador, visited Pacelli that day, he found him "not inclined to lift a finger for the Jewish deportees, who were now travelling in cattle trucks to the Austrian border". Within five days, some 1,060 of the deportees had been gassed at Auschwitz and Birkenau.
These charges against Pius XII have been familiar ever since Rolf Hochhuth’s play The Deputy of 1963, which linked the words "Pope Pius XII" and "silence" to the tragedy of the Jewish Holocaust.
As Cornwell summarises it: "He had not done enough to save the Jews from the death camps."
To be continued…