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The Selling of a Myth

by Ronald J. Rychlak

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    An authority on Pope Pius XII examines John Cornwell's attacks on Pius XII.
  • Larger Work:
    Inside the Vatican
  • Pages: XIV-XIX
  • Publisher & Date:
    Urbi et Orbi Communications, October 1999

An authority on Pope Pius XII and Professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law examines John Cornwell's attacks on Pope Pius XII. Rychlak has just finished a new book, Hitler, the War, and the Pope. which will be published by Genesis Press in June 2000

Within the next few months, several new books on Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), supreme shepherd of the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, will be released. The least judicious and most inflammatory among these almost surely will be the one receiving the most prepublication media hype—a book with a made-for-Hollywood title: Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. The author is British novelist and journalist John Cornwell, who described the book and why he wrote it in the October issue of the glossy monthly. Vanity Fair.

Mr. Cornwell claims a heated conversation with students about Pius XII, made him want to defend Pius "for a younger generation." He tells us he came from a Catholic family where Pius XII's "evident holiness," "saintliness," and "innocence" was conveyed by his portrait prominently displayed in his home. So, Vatican officials, convinced he was on the Pope's side, threw open the Vatican's archives to his supposedly sympathetic eye.

After studying Pius's personal papers and even sworn depositions relating to his possible canonization, however, Cornwell says he was in a "state of moral shock." He had discovered a completely new Pius, he says, a man no one else knew, a man who was "anti-Jewish," a "hypocrite" culpably silent during World War II, and "an ideal Pope for the Nazis' Final Solution."

Much of what Cornwell claims to be true, however, is not supported by the facts. His claim to be a Catholic writer favorably disposed to Pius and anxious to defend him does not accord with attitudes he expressed in his previous books and in publicity releases. In 1989 Cornwell described himself as a "lapsed Catholic for more than 20 years."

The Washington Post of December 24, 1989, spoke of him as an ex-seminarian "at the English College in Rome" familiar with "the Vatican terrain," who "has long since left the seminary and the Catholic faith, and thus writes with that astringent, cool, jaundiced view of the Vatican that only ex-Catholics familiar with Rome seem to have mastered." In his semi-autobiographical Hiding Place of God (1991), he does not portray himself as a young man intensely loyal to Catholicism, never mind loyal to Pius. He instead depicts himself as an agnostic who would like to believe, as someone who lost his faith in the seminary, where he harshly cajoled his fellow seminarians to discard their own loyalties. His chief longing seems to have been to find "an affectionate companion" who could help a young man "wracked with sexual torment."

When in Rome to work on his 1989 book, A Thief in the Night, he was shocked to be invited to a papal Mass. To the well-meaning man issuing the invitation, he said: "Mass? But I don't go to communion." As late as 1993, in fact, Cornwell was describing himself as an agnostic and former Catholic.

Now, when claiming to be a Catholic could strengthen his attack on Pius by showing he had no ill-will against his quarry, he has suddenly become the "Catholic scholar." It is not pleasant to question someone's Catholic faith, but Cornwell has certainly presented himself as something other than a loyal Catholic or defender of the papacy when it served his purposes to do so.

Cornwell's books all demonstrate his curious fascination with priestly subjects who have unattractive physical characteristics, and this is carried to a sadistic extreme in the case of Pius.

He is not satisfied to present Pius as an "emaciated, large-eyed demigod" he has to follow him to his casket where he almost gloats over the dead Pius's corpse as he tells us Pius's decomposing body has a stench that makes people ill!

Cornwell knows no limits in his attempt to vilify the dead Pope. The writer begins by saying he started his "research" with nothing but the highest regard for Pius XII and ends up violating common decency by mocking a dead man's corpse.

Cornwell is agenda driven: the Vatican must be ridiculed in every possible way, and the easiest way is to join the anti-Pius smear campaign.

It is hard to believe that anyone at the Holy See could have closely read anything Cornwell wrote and believe he would defend anyone loyal to the Vatican. Take, for example, his 1993 novel. Strange Gods. This is the fictional story of Father Nicholas Mullen, a Jesuit priest in his late forties, who owns a Rover 2300, keeps a mistress on whom he lavishes caviar and champagne, goes on golfing holidays in Barbados, and is given to bouts of manic depression. He supports his lifestyle by absolving a wealthy Catholic benefactor from fleshly sins. Although unhappy with his emotional, sexual and spiritual lot, Fr. Mullen lacks the moral courage to do anything about it. London's Independent called the priest "a cut-out model of a sexually tortured Catholic." Driven by fear and desperation, he deserts his pregnant mistress in favor of a dangerous, immoral venture in an obscure part of Latin America.

There, he encounters Father Christian O'Rourke, an Irish Jesuit whose fanatical attempts to indoctrinate natives into the One True Faith are by turns comical and sinister. Ultimately, Mullen returns to England, his faith transformed into what one reviewer called "a soggy Christian humanism."

The most dubious by far of Cornwell's claims concerns the accuracy of his scholarship. Consider just a few of the assertions he makes in his brief Vanity Fair essay.

Number 1: He asserts that the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge had no explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism, and that its anti-Nazi message was largely overshadowed.

Cornwell gets the name of the encyclical wrong, gives far too little credit to Pacelli, and partially misinterprets the encyclical. Mit brennender Sorge is properly translated "With burning concern," not "With deep concern," as Cornwell translates it. Since Pacelli was the best informed Vatican official on German matters, Pius XI asked him to draft the document. In fact, Pacelli changed the title from Mit grosser Sorge (With much concern) to the more strident Mit brennender Sorge.

The encyclical condemned the persecution of the Church in Germany and the Neo-paganism of Nazi theories. It stated that: "Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community—however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things—whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds."

Because this is a powerful attack on the all-powerful state organized around racial theories, it is an implicit defense of Jews and all racial minorities. In totally rejecting Nazism, the encyclical belittles Nazi theory and its persecution of German citizens: "None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are "as a drop in a bucket" (Isaiah XI, 15).

No one who heard the Pontifical document read in church could have any illusion about the courageous stand the Church was making against the Nazis. The Nazis themselves understood it. An internal Nazi memorandum of March 23, 1937 said the encyclical was: "almost a call to do battle against the Reich government." All available copies were confiscated. German printers who had made copies were arrested and the presses were seized. Those convicted of distributing the encyclical were arrested, and the Church-affiliated publications which ran the encyclical were banned.

Mit brennender Sorge was released in 1937. Once the war had begun, Nazi reprisals against people increased, especially in occupied areas. Few "captives" wanted more statements. Poland, in fact, is an instructive case. Polish leaders exiled in London encouraged more aggressive statements, but those left behind in Poland urged caution. Pius responded by encouraging local bishops and others to do what they could to help, based upon their understanding of the local situation.

Number 2: Cornwell criticizes Pius for negotiating the 1933 Concordat (Treaty) between Germany and the Vatican. Pacelli can hardly be criticized for negotiating. Pius XI believed in making such agreements and Hitler demanded that the Church negotiate, "or else."

Under Pius XI the Church made agreements with 21 countries all over Europe. Hitler, who never intended to keep any promises, suddenly saw he could make some political gains by appearing to accept all of the Church's long-standing demands. Moreover, Hitler's negotiator, former Chancellor Franz von Papen, made it quite clear that if the Church rejected the Fuhrer's offer. Hitler would simply publish his own terms and blame the Pope for having rejected a very favorable treaty.

Pacelli told Ivone Kirkpatrick, British Ambassador to the Vatican, that the treaty in no way constituted approval of Nazism. In fact, he expressed "disgust and abhorrence" for Hitler's reign of terror. "I had to choose between an agreement on their lines" he said on August 11, 1933, "and the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in the Reich."

Kirkpatrick reported to the British Foreign Office August 19, 1933: Pacelli "made no effort to conceal his disgust at the proceedings of Hitler's Government. The Vatican usually professes to see both sides of any political question, but on this occasion there was no word of palliation or excuse.... Cardinal Pacelli equally deplored the action of the German Government at home, their persecution of Jews.... their reign of terror to which the whole nation was subjected.... A pistol, he said, had been pointed at his head and he had no alternative...."

Number 3: Cornwell declares that Pius caused the downfall of the main Catholic political party in Germany.

This is unfair and inaccurate. The Catholic Center Party in Germany had been seriously weakened (and almost eliminated) by March 1933. It had actually collapsed before the signing of the concordat. When Secretary of State Pacelli heard that the party had disbanded, he said: "Too bad that it happened at this moment. Of course the party couldn't have held out much longer. But if it only had put off its dissolution at least until after the conclusion of the concordat, the simple fact of its existence would have still been useful in the negotiations," Certainly he cannot be blamed for the party's downfall.

It is true that as part of the Concordat Pope Pius XI agreed to remove the Church from party politics. He had followed this same course in other negotiations, most notably with Italy in 1929 (before Pacelli had returned to Rome), with the signing of the Lateran Treaty that ended difficulties that had begun in 1870. Pius XI felt that Catholic interests were best protected with lay organizations such as Catholic Action.

Number 4: Cornwell blames Pacelli for drawing up a new code of canon law in his early years which asserted papal authority over all Catholics and dictated Church withdrawal from politics.

Actually, in 1903 the young Pacelli was assigned by Pope Pius X to a team charged with codifying Church canon law. For the next decade and a half, he served as a research aide in the office of the Congregation of Ecclesiastical Affairs, and in the library, helping with the project. This project, though greatly needed by the Church, was not Pacelli's brainchild. He was nothing more than a promising young diplomat at the time.

Number 5: Cornwell calls Pius XII a hypocrite for accepting praise following the war.

There seems to be no limit to Cornwell's distortions. Pius was praised by those who had actually been saved by his good offices and by people who had clear evidence of such beneficial actions by him. In 1945, the Chief Rabbi of Romania, Dr. Alexander Safran, expressed the gratitude of the Jewish community for the Vatican's help and support for prisoners in the concentration camps. Grand Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem sent a message to Msgr. Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII), expressing thanks for actions taken by Pius XII and the Holy See on behalf of Jewish people.

The National Jewish Welfare Board wrote to Pius: "From the bottom of our hearts we send to you. Holy Father of the Church, the assurance of our unforgetting gratitude for your noble expression of religious brotherhood and love."

Pinchas E. Lapide, the Israeli consul in Italy, wrote: "The Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives during the war than all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations put together. Its record stands in startling contrast to the achievements of the International Red Cross and the Western Democracies...."

The Protestant publication, Christian Century, wrote about Pius, in an editorial, that "it is to be regretted that no equally impressive Church statesmanship, no equally commanding message, has as yet come to this post-war world from any other authoritative body or leadership."

Said Indiana Congressman Samuel B. Pettengill: "I am far from being a Roman Catholic, but it sometimes seems to me that the present Pope is the most sane and sagacious leader on the stage of action at this time."

In 1947, King Gustav V of Sweden honored Pius XII with the annual Prince Carl medal, given to the person who has done the most outstanding work in the field of charity. The citation said it was for his "tireless work in relieving the misery of the war victims."

Maurice Edelman, President of the Anglo-Jewish Association, visited Pius XII to thank him for his help. According to Edelman, papal intervention "was responsible during the war for saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews."

Later, a Holocaust ceremony was held in Rome to honor those who had cared for Jewish children during the war. The President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, offered his thanks and said: "This manifestation would not be complete today if we would not renew our thanks to the Supreme Pontiff for his paternal solicitude during the entire Nazi occupation. He arranged for Jews to reside in the extraterritorial buildings of the Vatican, endeavored to have the harsh racial measures mitigated, sent entire Jewish families to convents where priests and nuns, notwithstanding the danger, assisted them." The crowd then gave the Pope a standing ovation.

In 1955, when Italy celebrated the 10th anniversary of its liberation, Italian Jewry proclaimed April 17 as "The Day of Gratitude." Thousands of Jewish people went to the Vatican to express their thanks for the Pope's wartime solicitude. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra even gave a special performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony in the Papal Consistory Hall as an expression of gratitude for the Catholic Church's assistance in defying the Nazis. Before the celebration, a delegation approached Archbishop Montini, the director of Vatican rescue services who later became Pope Paul VI, to determine whether he would accept an award for his work on behalf of Jews during the war. He was extremely gratified and visibly touched by their words, but he declined the honor: "All I did was my duty," he said. "And besides I only acted upon orders from the Holy Father. Nobody deserves a medal for that." Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII), made a similar statement when he was complemented for his efforts to save Jewish lives: "In all these painful matters I have referred to the Holy See and simply carried out the Pope's orders: first and foremost to save Jewish lives."

At the time of his death, there was an outpouring of thanks for Pius's activity in World War II. Then Israeli representative to the United Nations and future Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, said on the floor of the United Nations, "During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims." Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress, said: "With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods of their entire history." Rabbi Elio Toaff, who would later become Chief Rabbi of Rome, said: "More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror, when it seemed that there was no hope left for us."

In New York, virtually every major rabbi offered praise for Pius ("an example for all religious leaders" and "man at his highest"). The Anti-Defamation League, the Synagogue Council of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, the American Jewish Congress, the New York Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the National Council of Jewish Women expressed sorrow at his passing and thanks for his good works. Israel sent an official delegation to his funeral, and many people in Israel wrote to newspapers suggesting that a forest in the Judean hills be established in his name.

In the face of Cornwell's mean-spirited vilification, it is interesting to recall the Pope's "last will and testament" — a document not intended for public viewing. There the Holy Father wrote: "I am aware of the failures, of the sins, committed during so long a pontificate and in so grave an epoch. Sufficient it is that my remains should be laid simply in a sacred place—the more obscure the better." He was laid to rest in the Sacred Grotto beneath the basilica, close to the tomb of St. Peter, near most of the 261 Popes who had preceded him.

Number 6: Cornwell reports that Pope Pius XI and Secretary of State Pacelli "were determined that no accommodation be reached with Communists anywhere in the world."

The truth is almost exactly the opposite. The Vatican most sought to secure concordats with nations where the Church had difficulties. The Vatican tried to obtain a concordat with the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s, and it did conclude one with the predominantly Socialist government of Prussia in 1929. Pius XI, in fact, assigned Pacelli to the task of attempting to secure the agreement with the Soviets. The Soviet leadership, however, had no interested in an accord with the Holy See, so agreement was impossible. The Church sought an agreement because Catholics were being severely persecuted in the Soviet Union.

Number 7: Cornwell argues that Pacelli failed to protest German anti-Semitism in the 1930s.

Between April 1, 1933 and June 1936, the Vatican filed more than 60 protests against the Nazis. One of the German officials at the Foreign Office complained that "the Nuncio used to come to me nearly every fortnight with a whole bundle of complaints." German foreign secretary Joachim von Ribbentrop testified at Nuremberg that he had a "whole desk full of protests" from Rome. The first protest, regarding the anti-Jewish boycott, and the ninth one, filed on September 9, 1933, asking for protection of Jews converted to Catholicism, were among the 45 which Hitler never bothered to answer.

Number 8: Cornwell dismisses Pope Pius XII's first encyclical by saying it is "full of papal rhetoric and equivocations."

In Summi Pontificatus (On the Unity of Human Society), released on October 20, 1939, Pius wrote of "a world in all too dire need of help and guidance... a world which, preoccupied with the worship of the ephemeral, has lost its way and spent its forces in a vain search after earthly ideals." He condemned the "Godless State" and deplored "the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong." His reference to an "ever-increasing host of Christ's enemies" was a clear swipe at both Germany and the Soviet Union. He went on to condemn racists, dictators, and treaty violators (all of which applied to Hitler).

Nazis did not think Summi Pontificatus "full of equivocations." They restricted its publication. Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo, said: "This Encyclical is directed exclusively against Germany, both in ideology and in regard to the German-Polish dispute. How dangerous it is for our foreign relations as well as our domestic affairs is beyond dispute." Goebbels wrote in his diary on October 28, 1939 that it was "very aggressive toward us, though covertly" A headline in the London Daily Telegraph on October 28 read: "Pope condemns Nazi theory." The American Israelite reported on the Pope's "denunciation of Nazism." In occupied Poland, Nazi police destroyed a monument to Pope Pius XI which had been on the Cathedral.

Cardinal Hlond wrote to offer his thanks to Pope Pius XII: "This official and solemn statement, together with the unforgettable paternal allocation of September 30, will be greatly treasured by Poles. It will also be, for the rising generation, a source of the great strength in the Faith and the traditional attachment to the Holy See, especially when it is seen in the light of the many and far-reaching works of relief that Your Holiness has initiated, and conducts with papal generosity on behalf of the Polish people, condemned even in their own country to extermination by misery, hunger and disease."

Number 9: Cornwell claims that Pacelli drafted an encyclical for Pius XI, inserting anti-Semitic language.

This is the so-called "hidden encyclical," cited by many critics of Pius XII, but Cornwell presents a new twist. The traditional story (and the evidence suggests that it is little more than that) is that Pius XI was prepared to make a strong anti-Nazi statement, but he died too soon. His successor. Pius XII, then buried the draft.

One of the problems with this theory is that the original draft (which has been known about much longer than Cornwell suggests) contained statements which by today's standards would he considered anti-Semitic. Critics of Pius XII usually are reluctant to attribute such sentiments to Pius XI. Cornwell resolved this problem by accusing Pacelli of having written the original draft of the encyclical when he was secretary of state, then burying it when he was Pope. Thus. Cornwell can criticize Pius twice.

Number 10: Cornwell asserts that Pius ignored an emissary from President Roosevelt who urged him to condemn Nazi atrocities.

But Myron C. Taylor, who served as President Roosevelt's personal representative to the pontiff, had nothing but the highest praise for Pius XII after the war. He wrote that "the world was fortunate indeed to have had in its darkest hour the vitality of leadership of which the parallel endeavors [of Pius and Roosevelt] were a part — a leadership which placed these vital activities upon so high a moral, spiritual and humanitarian plane."

Number 11: Cornwell calls Pius XII's 1942 Christmas address "a paltry statement."

In light of the reaction around the world at the time of the statement, Cornwell's judgment seems totally uninformed. In his 1942 Christmas statement. Pope Pius XII urged all Catholics to give shelter wherever they could. He condemned totalitarian regimes and spoke of "the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction."

A Christmas Day editorial in the New York Times praised Pius XII for his moral leadership: "No Christmas sermon reaches a larger congregation than the message Pope Pius XII addresses to a war-torn world at this season. This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent. The Pulpit whence he speaks is more than ever like the Rock on which the Church was founded, a tiny island lashed and surrounded by a sea of war. In these circumstances, in any circumstances, indeed, no one would expect the Pope to speak as a political leader, or a war leader, or in any other role than that of a preacher ordained to stand above the battle, tied impartially, as he says, to all people and willing to collaborate in any new order which will bring a just peace."

To the Axis leaders, the Pope's Christmas message was not hard to decipher. The German ambassador to the Vatican complained that Pius had abandoned any pretense at neutrality and was "clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews." One German report stated: "In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order.... It is true, the Pope does not refer to the National Socialists in Germany by name, but his speech is one long attack on everything we stand for...God, he says, regards all people and races as worthy of the same consideration. Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews... he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews. and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminal." The German ambassador immediately warned the Pope that the Nazis would seek retaliation if the Vatican abandoned its neutral position. When he reported back to his superiors, the German ambassador stated: "Pacelli is no more sensible to threats than we are."

Number 12: Cornwell expresses the judgment that Pius XII "was patently, and by the proof of his own words. anti-Jewish."

Quite the opposite. The pattern of Pius's actions and his words prove he treated Jews as he treated Catholics. If "by his own words" Cornwell means the words he carefully excerpted from one letter, those words prove nothing. On the other hand, the years of close work by the Vatican and papal nuncios with Jewish groups belies any claim that the Pope discriminated against any race or religion. The head of Italian Jewry's wartime Jewish Assistance Committee, Dr. Raffael Cantoni, who subsequently became the President of the Union of all Italian Jewish communities, reported: "The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and in as far as they could save Christians.... Six millions of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims, had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII."

Even Pope Pius XII's most severe critic (up until Cornwell) acknowledged that he was personally involved in saving Jewish victims. Rolf Hochhuth's notorious play "The Deputy" has no imputation of anti-Semitism, because the playwright found no evidence that Pius was an anti-Semite.

If any restraint on the part of the Vatican were to be attributed to anti-Semitic attitudes on the part of the Pope, then one would expect to see the Church behave in a different manner when a similar situation involving Christians arose. By late in the war, most of the Jews in Poland had been eliminated, and Hitler was concentrating on other victims, the vast majority of whom were Catholic. The Pope did not behave differently in these cases than he had when the victims were primarily Jewish.

No one who was around the pontiff during the war has ever imputed any anti-Semitic attitudes to him. Father Leiber, Pope Pius XII's private secretary and personal confidant during the war years seems to have put this issue to rest with one brief statement: "The Pope sided very unequivocally with the Jews at the time. He spent his entire private fortune on their behalf... Pius spent what he inherited himself, as a Pacelli, from his family."

Perhaps the question of anti-Semitism affecting the Pope's war-time performance can best be answered by Jewish leaders who knew of his efforts during the war. Grand Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem wrote: "I well know that His Holiness the Pope is opposed from the depths of his noble soul to all persecution and especially to the persecution...which the Nazis inflict unremittingly on the Jewish people...."

Number 13: Cornwell makes another incredible claim when he writes: "When the Nazis invaded Rome in 1943 and moved to deport 1,000 Jews who lived near the Vatican, the German ambassador in Rome, fearing a backlash from the general Italian population, pleaded with the Pope to issue a public protest. He did not. And the Roman Jews were sent by cattle car to Auschwitz. Only 15 survived."

This is totally inaccurate. According to his own testimony, Baron Weizsacker, German ambassador to the Vatican during the war, did not plead with the Pope for a public condemnation. He did precisely the opposite.

He testified at the Nuremberg trial that he had informed the Holy See that any protest by the Pope would only make things worse on the Jews: "A 'flaming protest' by the Pope would not only have been unsuccessful in halting the machinery of destruction but might have caused a great deal of additional damage—to the thousands of Jews hidden in the Vatican and the monasteries, to the Mischlinge, the Church, the territorial integrity of the Vatican City, and—last but not least—to the Catholics in all of Germany-occupied Europe."

Weizsacker, in discussing the orderly exodus of the Germans from Rome, gave "chief credit to the ceaseless quiet activity of the Pope." He also referred to Hitler's plan to kidnap the Pope. He believed that Hitler was just waiting for the right opportunity to invade Vatican City and kidnap the Pope. He regularly cautioned Vatican officials not to provoke Berlin.

Albrecht von Kessel, Weizsacker's closest aide, explained, "All we could do... was to warn the Vatican, the Church, and the Pope himself against rash utterances and actions."

Eugene Fisher, an expert on Catholic-Jewish relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, calls Cornwell's latest claims "a rehash of old allegations, loaded with armchair psychologizing by someone who is neither a theologian nor a historian."

At best, there are two new factual allegations set forth by Cornwell, both of them relating to events in Munich during 1917-18. Given the way Cornwell has handled other evidence, one simply cannot accept his interpretation of these letters. In fact, putting these two documents in the context of his lifetime of work, the conclusion has to be that Pius was not affected by anti-Semitism.

In The Hiding Places of God (1993) Cornwell describes himself as a seminarian: "I took delight in attempting to undermine the beliefs of my fellow seminarians with what I regarded as clever arguments; I quarreled with the lecturers in class and flagrantly ignored the rules of the house" (p.24). Judging from his obvious bias in interpreting historical events and documents, his mistranslations, clear misstatements and careless scholarship, Cornwell's desire to undermine the faith of sincere Catholics has apparently become an all-consuming passion with him.

Efforts to smear Pope Pius XII have intensified in recent years. So far, at least, these efforts have been in vain.

No one knows the details of the secret maneuvers, acts and thoughts of the man who led the Catholic Church during these dark hours. We do, however, know enough to say that any allegation that he sympathized with Hitler or was callously indifferent to the plight of the Jews is so far out of character as to be factually invalid.

An accurate assessment of the Pope's intent and motivation requires that one look seriously at the entire period from the end of the First World War until the end of World War II. When that is done, it becomes clear that the world was indeed fortunate to have a man such as Eugenio Pacelli serving as the Bishop of Rome during this turbulent time. Cornwell's partisan presentation of the facts, along with his biased analysis, does not present an accurate picture.


Please see the website Hitler, the War, and the Pope for information about Ron Rychlak's new book on the subject.

© Inside the Vatican, Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, 3050 Gap Knob Road, New Hope, KY 40052, 800-789-9494.

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