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Setting the record straight: Just who ignored the Holocaust?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 14, 2009

 The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has come in for some richly deserved criticism in recent months, publishing articles that have ranged from the inane (tributes to Michael Jackson and Easy Rider) to the damaging (a claim that Barack Obama is not pro-abortion). Still let's give credit where credit is due, and the latest attention-grabbing headline from L'Osservatore deserves applause.

For many years now, critics of the Vatican have claimed that Pope Pius XII was silent in the face of the Holocaust. The criticism is unjustified; it ignores the ample evidence that the wartime Pontiff made great efforts, and took substantial personal risks, to save Jewish people from extermination. 

But if you are inclined to think that Pope Pius XII should have been more outspoken in his condemnation of Nazi racial policies, you really should be prepared to compare the Pope's statements with those of other world leaders. And since many of the calumnious accusations at the late Pontiff have come from the US, it's fair to ask the question that L'Osservatore now finally raises: Were American diplomats any more outspoken than their Vatican counterparts?

The answer, unfortunately, is No. 

Unlike Pope Pius XII, American policy-makers from President Roosevelt on down through the ranks of the State Department were not facing personal threats from the Nazis; Hitler had not ordered up plans for them to be assassinated or kidnapped, as he apparently had with Pius XII. The Pope had to weigh the reality that when he spoke out against the Nazis, that regime would retaliate against both Catholics and Jews living in Europe under the control of the Third Reich. American leaders had no such concerns; their country was already at war with Germany, and bellicose statements were entirely appropriate.

Yet even in time of war, and even with clear evidence of what was happening in the concentration camps, the US government chose not to tell the world about the Holocaust. Nor were American leaders alone in their silence. If there's any reason to criticize Pope Pius XII on this score, there's far more reason to criticize Roosevelt and Churchill. And while we're at it, there's equal reason to criticize the New York Times, whose editors had their own evidence about the Holocaust, and sat on the story. Kudos to  L'Osservatore Romano for printing a pointed reminder about people who live in glass houses.

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