The Magazine

Pius the Good

The brief for a much-maligned pope.

Jun 12, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 37 • By WILLIAM DOINO JR.
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Klieforth's son, Alexander, has recently confirmed the secret meetings and his father's testimony: "What was divulged was critical, sensitive information, because, among other things, it proved that the pope-to-be was anti-Nazi and hated Hitler. Cardinal Pacelli thought the whole Nazi ideology an abomination because it persecuted the Jews and it persecuted the Church."

Pacelli's abhorrence of anti-Semitism was seen a year earlier, during a visit to America, when he publicly snubbed the notorious anti-Semitic radio priest Charles Coughlin--choosing, instead, to meet with Jewish leaders. Shortly thereafter Coughlin mysteriously vanished from the airwaves and, as Dalin notes, he always blamed Pacelli for his fate.

World War II began only months after Pacelli became pope in March 1939, and his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, is a searing condemnation of racism and totalitarianism. The new pope immediately made contacts with the anti-Nazi Resistance and actually approved a plot to assassinate Hitler. In his allocutions and famous Christmas addresses, Pius defended minorities and sharply condemned the persecution of people based upon their race. He ordered his nuncios to intervene for Jews and vigorously protest their deportation. Pius XII also authorized Vatican Radio to publicly condemn Nazi atrocities--which it did, often quite explicitly, citing Jews by name. Despite ongoing Nazi reprisals, Vatican Radio continued to broadcast defiant words like this, reported in the New York Times on June 27, 1943: "He who makes a distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God's commands."

During the German occupation of Rome, from September 1943 to June 1944, Pius XII--contrary to his detractors--made several energetic protests against the Nazi seizure of Rome's Jews, and took decisive action to protect them. Thanks to Pius and his subordinates, three quarters of them did survive, and Italy, as a whole, had a far higher survival rate of Jews than most other Nazi-occupied countries.

Pius's reaction to the Nazi round-up of Rome's Jews is at the heart of the campaign against him, and in The Myth of Hitler's Pope, Dalin is emphatic, demolishing the attack with hard facts and firsthand testimonies. Pius's anti-Nazi activities so enraged Hitler that he planned to kidnap the pope, eliminating him as an obstacle to global domination. During his pontificate, Pius was as strong an opponent of evil as John Paul II was in time: For good reason John Paul called Pius XII "a great pope."

In a 1943 cover story, Time declared, "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. . . . Moreover, it insists on the dignity of the individual whom God created, in his own image, and for a decade has vigorously protested against the cruel persecution of the Jews as a violation of God's Tabernacle."

Dalin makes three major criticisms of Pius's detractors. He maintains that many of those who assail Pius are not really interested in the history of the Jews, or the tragedy of the Holocaust, but merely want to exploit them for their own ideological agendas. As Dalin notes, the Hitler's pope myth has proven quite useful to dissident Catholics who disagree with Catholic teaching. If they can prove that the Vatican was complicit in the Holocaust, then they can weaken papal influence on every issue today, and advance their own agendas.

Dalin also accuses the anti-Pius ideologues of framing him with tainted documents--a mistranslated 1919 letter about revolutionary Jews in Munich, for instance, a phony postwar memo about the Catholic view of baptized Jewish children (fraudulently presented as a "Vatican instruction")--while omitting exculpatory evidence. That very nearly all Pius's detractors ignore his heroic actions at Castel Gandolfo--the papal summer residence, which took in thousands of desperate people, including many Jews, upon Pius's direct orders--underscores this point.