Exposing the Myth of Pius XII's 'Silence'
When John Cornwell's tract Hitler's Pope hit bookstores last October, he could not have hoped for 'a better reception. Both Vanity Fair and London's Sunday Times had already published long excerpts from it, and reviewers everywhere rushed to embrace it. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The 'Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, and Time, among other journals, all blindly endorsed Cornwell's allegations, without even a hint suggesting that they might be untrue. Soon, Cornwell found himself a guest on talk shows throughout America, and even achieved the dream of every would-be author: He was the subject of a flattering profile on 60 Minutes.
Unknown to Cornwell, however, is that at the very time he was being toasted for writing Hitler's Pope, another, far more credible, book was quietly being completed, after years of intensive research, by a conscientious Catholic scholar. His name is Ronald J. Rychlak and his new book Hitler, the War, and the Pope will forever change the way the world views Pope Pius XII.
A professor of law and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Mississippi Law School, Rychlak is the ideal man to uncover the truth about Pius XII; For Rychlak is a nationally recognized expert in the evaluation of evidence who has appeared as a legal commentator on 20/20, and who authored the book Real and Demonstrative Evidence, Theory and Applications now used as a textbook in law schools throughout America. Rychlak thus knows -- as most journalists and historians do not -- how to weigh evidence, how to sift truth from falsehood, and how to spot bogus claims wrapped in sensationalism designed to conceal their lack of evidence.
The first and most striking aspect of Rychlak's book is its comprehensive nature. Hitler, the War, and the Pope runs to nearly 500 pages and contains over 2,000 footnotes -- based on primary and archival sources. It draws heavily on the authoritative 11-volume Acts and Documents of the Holy See During the Second World War (1965-1981). The latter work, edited by the late Fr. Robert Graham, S.J., and three other Jesuit scholars, collects over 5,000 documents, among them: the Pope's wartime addresses and encyclicals; letters, instructions, and exhortations he sent to his bishops, nuncios, and religious; vital exchanges between the Holy See and the wartime governments; repeated protests the Holy See lodged with the Nazis against their inhuman conduct; Pius XII's fearless support of the anti-Nazi underground (including details on his involvement in a plot to overthrow Hitler); the extraordinary assistance the Pope and his representatives provided the victims of the Nazis, above all the European Jews, who became the principal -- though by no means the only -- targets of the Nazis; and the wartime correspondence between the Vatican and the leading Jewish organizations throughout the world -- notable for the latter's effusive thanks and praise for Pope Pius XII.
But there is more. Professor Rychlak's book contains a 30-page epilogue demolishing John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope, which alone makes the book priceless. Rychlak, who spent time in Rome examining the very same documents Cornwell did, shows how Cornwell, at crucial points in his narrative, uses selective and out-of-context quotations, gets facts wrong, dates wrong, numbers wrong, and completely ignores evidence that flatly contradicts him.
Particularly revealing is Rychlak's examination of the sworn depositions regarding Pacelli's proposed canonization. Far from containing "explosively critical matter" (to quote Cornwell), these transcripts provide nothing but the highest praise for Pacelli's conduct and character. (In a related chart, Rychlak lists all of Cornwell's 30 citations from these depositions, then shows that the actual testimony relating to those citations directly contradicts what Cornwell implies.)
Even more damaging to Cornwell's credibility is the fact, hammered home by Rychlak, that one of Cornwell's chief sources for Hitler's Pope is an obscure author who was condemned by the Italian Supreme Court for defaming Pope Pius XII! Moreover, asserts Rychlak, if anyone is omitting crucial documents relating to the Holocaust, it is not the Vatican (as Cornwell asserts) but John Cornwell himself. "On pages 259, 281 and 376-377 of Hitler's Pope," writes Rychlak, "Cornwell refers to a memorandum from Gerhard Riegner [of the World Jewish Congress] for transmission to the Holy See, dated March 18, 1942. It described Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, and Cornwell leaves the impression that the Vatican failed to take any action. Cornwell fails, however, to note the letter of thanks that Riegner sent on April 8, 1942" -- a letter Rychlak extensively quotes, crushing Cornwell's allegation.
The book is so impressive and convincing that it carries endorsements from a Who's Who of Catholic luminaries: theologian Avery Dulles, philosopher Michael Novak, historian John Jay Hughes, and Princeton scholar Robert George. It even contains a laudatory foreword by the late John Cardinal O'Connor -- a remarkable event, considering that the cardinal was gravely ill at the time he wrote it, but thought the book so important that he insisted on contributing a foreword to it before his recent death.
Unlike Cornwell's tract, which isolates Pius and absurdly has him controlling every major event of the 20th century, Rychlak's volume does just the reverse. By opening his text with a sociopolitical examination of the late 19th and early 20th century, he shows how the world was plagued with racism, nationalism, and militarism long before Eugenio Pacelli even reached the age of consent -- let alone became a priest, papal diplomat, and ultimately Pope Pius XII. Pacelli had nothing to do with the evils he was born into but he did, as Rychlak brilliantly demonstrates, combat them at every stage of his life.
The moral and religious principles, which guided Eugenio Pacelli, were instilled in him as a young child, owing to a devout and caring family. The Catholic universalism Eugenio learned from his parents was expressed in his broad circle of childhood friends -- regardless of race or religion -- encompassing Jews. But because Cornwell attempted to portray Pacelli as an anti-Semite, he conspicuously failed to mention his Jewish friends. "Instead," writes Professor Rychlak, "[Cornwell] tells an incorrect story about the young boy's teacher. According to Cornwell, the headmaster of Eugenio's school 'was in the habit of making speeches from his high desk about the hard-heartedness of the Jews.' Cornwell cites for this proposition N. Padallero, Portrait of Pius XII, the English translation. Had, however, Cornwell gone to the original Italian version of this work, he would have found that the true quotation about young Pacelli's headmaster was that he scolded 'not against hard-hearted Jews, but against block-headed pupils.' An error in translation completely changed the meaning of the whole incident."
This is not the only place where Rychlak rescues the honor and integrity of Eugenio Pacelli. At one point, Cornwell goes so far as to suggest that Pacelli was an anti-black racist, whereas Rychlak proves how he was an outspoken champion of blacks (upon being elected Pope, he immediately elevated numerous African priests to the episcopacy, and explicitly condemned segregation). At another point, Cornwell accuses Pacelli of delivering a speech in Hungary that was a thinly veiled attack upon the Jews, when in fact the speech -- quoted in full by Rychlak -- was actually an attack upon the Nazis, and inspired eminent Jewish historian Jeno Levai to later write his famous book Pius XII Was Not Silent (London: Sands and Co., 1968).
Cornwell also claims that Pacelli, right before he became Pope, drafted an encyclical letter condemning anti-Semitism but then suppressed it after his election. Why Pacelli, or anyone else, would spend months carefully crafting an encyclical only to bury, it is not explained by Cornwell. In any event, Professor Rychlak proves that there is absolutely no evidence that Pacelli ever wrote, suppressed, or even saw this proposed encyclical. More important, as Rychlak documents, Pacelli had already been instrumental in issuing two earlier Vatican condemnations of anti-Semitism --in 1916 and 1928 -- both of which Cornwell conspicuously ignores.
Rychlak is especially strong on the years leading up to Pacelli's election as Pope, when Cardinal Pacelli, as Vatican secretary of state, worked hand-in-hand with his Predecessor, Pope Pius XI, in combating the evils of Nazism. On October 11, 1930 -- over two years before Hitler seized power in Germany -- the Vatican issued a statement, which declared: "Belonging to the National Socialist Party of Hitler is irreconcilable with the Catholic conscience." In 1934, after the first Nazi massacre in Germany, Cardinal Pacelli published three articles proclaiming that National Socialism better deserved the name "National Terrorism" and that like all movements which resort to terrorism, it sprang from a gang rather than a party. In an open letter dated March 12, 1935 to Cardinal Schulte of Cologne, Pacelli attacked the Nazis as "false prophets with the pride of Lucifer" and "bearers of a new faith and a new gospel" who were attempting to create a "mendacious antimony between faithfulness to the Church and to the Fatherland." In April of the same year, Cardinal Pacelli delivered an address before a quarter of a million people at Lourdes, where he excoriated Nazis for being "possessed by the superstition of race and blood" and declared that, "the Church does not consent to form a compact with them at any price." Describing the speech, The New York Times of April 29, 1935 headlined its story: "Nazis Warned at Lourdes."
In 1936 and 1937, Vatican Radio repeatedly asked its listeners to pray for the persecuted Jews in Germany, and called upon people of goodwill to assist their emigration. On September 6, 1938, Pope Pius XI made his famous declaration that "anti-Semitism is inadmissible; spiritually, we are all Semites" -- a dictum that Cardinal Pacelli repeated in a public address in Rome. And immediately after Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" (November 9, 1938) -- when bands of Nazi thugs looted and burned German Jewish property -- L'Osservatore Romano not only gave these attacks front-page attention, but even cited dispatches from the Jewish Havas news agency decrying their violence.
Although page 190 of Hitler's Pope mentions in passing that Cardinal Pacelli "controlled" L'Osservatore Romano, John Cornwell does not describe, in any significant detail, what that courageous Catholic publication said about Hitler and Nazism. Rychlak's book does. Here, the testimony of Joseph Dineen, one of the earliest and best biographers of Pacelli, is of paramount importance. "The voices of the Pope [Pius XI] and Pacelli -- the Vatican -- had been as loud in protest as that of the democracies and the rest of the civilized nations" writes Dineen of the 1930s.
"The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, had been forthright and downright in its denunciation of Hitler for his excesses against the Jews, his sterilization law, his restrictions upon the freedom of speech and assembly and freedom of religious worship. This little newspaper, published within the Vatican state, was one of the few remaining in Europe that dared to criticize Hitler or Mussolini. Even the French press had become respectable toward Hitler, and in Poland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, newspapers were silent on Hitler. His name did not appear in Lithuania. But the Vatican newspaper fulminated and poured its criticism upon his head, even while he was in Italy. The newspaper had been just as persistent in its attacks upon Mussolini."
L'Osservatore Romano was heavily censored inside Nazi Germany, and Catholics caught reading it were subject to beatings and imprisonment -- if not worse. But the Catholic resistance inside Nazi Germany continued to circulate it so that the voice of truth might be heard.
Writing in 1939, Dineen, an eyewitness to these events, concludes: "There are 25,000,000 Catholics in Germany and Austria, among them men of science and industry, commerce and diplomacy, men in the army and in the Church. They constitute the real danger to the Nazi program and regime. Hitler has tried desperately to gag the Vatican and to silence it in Germany, but he might as well have tried to cap Vesuvius" (Pius XII: Pope of Peace, New York: Robert M. McBride and Company, 1939, pp. 198-202).
The Vatican First Broke The News
But the most recurrent charge made against Eugenio Pacelli, after he became Pope Pius XII, is that of wartime silence. This is the theme of Hitler's Pope. At no time, Cornwell claims -- from the outset of the war to its conclusion -- did the Holy See ever clearly and explicitly condemn Hitler, Nazism, and the Final Solution, or even mention the word "Jew." Professor Rychlak demolishes these charges. In fact, from the very moment World War II began -- with the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 -- both Vatican Radio and L'Osservatore Romano reported and condemned Hitler's barbarous crimes every single day -- and did not cease reporting and condemning them until the last shot was fired in 1945. Anyone familiar with the prodigious research of attorney Robert L. Mauro on this issue -- documenting how it was the Vatican which first broke the news on Nazi atrocities -- knows how The New York Times reported the issue in the first few months of the war. To quote Mauro (whose hard work Rychlak builds upon):
"World War II began with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939. The New York Times reported that Hitler immediately imposed a news blackout on the Nazi invasion and war activities. This news blackout was broken by the Vatican, according to the Times. The Times gave massive coverage in its articles to the Vatican's disclosures of Nazi atrocities against Jews and non-Jews in Poland" (cf. "1940 New York Times Articles Refute Hitler's Pope" The Wanderer, October 7, 1999, p. 8).
Ignoring these well-documented reports, Cornwell writes that after the war began, "throughout September, as Pacelli [Pius XII] pondered the appalling news from Poland, with its population of 35 million mainly Catholic souls, he remained silent" (Hitler's Pope, p. 232). The reality, as Professor Rychlak documents, is that Pacelli excoriated Nazism repeatedly in September of 1939, flatly disproving Cornwell's allegation. On September 1, the very day World War II began, Pius XII sent a public telegram to the Pax Romana Congress in Washington, D.C., expressing his horror over the outbreak of war, and endorsed the congress' "new crusade of prayer for peace" -- at the very moment Nazi propagandists were celebrating their ruthless militarism.
On September 14, in a major address to the new Belgian ambassador, Pius XII solemnly condemned the Nazi invasion of Poland as "an immeasurable catastrophe!" and declared "of this new war, which already shakes the soil of Europe, and particularly that of a Catholic nation, no human prevision can calculate the frightful potential of carnage which it bears within itself, nor what its extension and its successive complications will be," In the same speech Pius pleaded "that civilian populations will be preserved from all direct military operations; that, in the occupied territories, the life, property, honor, and religious sentiments of the inhabitant will be respected; that the prisoners of war will be treated humanely and that they will be able, without any hindrance, to receive the comforts of religion." The speech ended with a demand that "the use of asphyxiating and poison gases will be excluded."
This last statement -- never mentioned by Cornwell -- was not only a repudiation of the poison gas used during World War I, but an emphatic warning to the world that these gases could be employed for even more deadly means -- as indeed they were, a short time later, at the Nazi extermination camps.
In other words, within the first two weeks of the war, Pius XII both anticipated and condemned in principle the means which the Nazis used to carry out their genocidal killings. Consequently, every time the Nazis gassed an innocent Jew, every time they gassed an innocent Pole, every time they gassed a Gypsy or a Russian or a disabled human being, they were flagrantly violating Pius XII's speech of September 14, 1939 -- not to mention the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill," which the Church had always preached.
In order to drive this point home, with special reference to Germany, Pius XII delivered yet another public address -- on September 26--to a group of German pilgrims, whom he counseled against political fanaticism. Far from being a glorious expression of German nationalism, he declared, the war was in fact "a terrible scourge of God" and urged the German clergy not only to resist it but to repent: "The priest must now, more than ever before, be above all political and national feelings. He must console, comfort, help, exhort to prayer and penance, and must himself do penance. Pray that God may shorten the misery of war and restore peace, peace in honor, in justice, in reconciliation and agreement for all participants, a peace that will again grant the Catholic Church in your beloved fatherland happier days and greater freedom."
And on September 30, Pius XII addressed a group of Polish pilgrims, in which he branded the Nazis as "the enemies of God" and declared:
"Before our eyes pass as a vision frightened crowds and, in black desperation, a multitude of refugees and wanderers -- all those who no longer have a country or a home. There rise toward us the agonized sobs of mothers and wives, who weep for dear ones fallen on the field of battle. We hear the desolate lament of so many of the old and infirm, who too often are left deprived of every assistance; the cries of children who have lost their parents; the cries of the wounded in battle who are dying -- not all of whom were soldiers. All of their sufferings, miseries, and mourning we make ours."
Coming at a time when the Nazi forces were overrunning Poland and slaughtering its citizens, Pius XII's words were a stunning indictment of Hitler's war crimes, and, as Rychlak demonstrates, provoked condemnation of them throughout the world. Soon thereafter, Pius XII published his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, which broadcast to the world, in the most formal and official way, the Holy See's militant opposition to the war. To his everlasting shame, Cornwell tries to diminish the impact of this great encyclical, calling it "a tardy production" and speaks of its "failure to clearly denounce Nazi Germany." But as Rychlak documents, the encyclical was released in October of 1939 -- just weeks after Hitler's invasion of Poland -- and its publication was accelerated precisely to respond promptly to this appalling act of aggression.
Moreover, far from being "replete with early papal rhetoric that could only soften the tough things he had need of saying," as Cornwell says of Summi Pontificatus, the encyclical, as Rychlak proves, is as blistering a condemnation of Nazism as can be imagined -- and was recognized as such at the time. "Pope Condemns Nazi Theory" blared the headline of Britain's Daily Telegraph on October 28, 1939. The Times of London of the same day was no less explicit: "New Idolatry Condemned." The New York Times not only gave the encyclical front-page coverage, but headlined it in gigantic block letters: "Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism; Urges Restoring of Poland," followed by a story by Herbert Mathews which read:
"Racism, the violation of treaties, recourse to arms, the forcible transfer of populations, the destruction of Poland -- these and many principles dear to fascism are condemned. Against these are placed the ideals of Christianity whereby the individual is the end and the state the means, 'the rights peculiar to the family' are respected, the individual conscience is 'sacred and inviolable,' and nations live in 'the unity of a supranational society.' It is Germany that stands condemned above any country or any movement in this encyclical -- the Germany of Hitler and National Socialism" (The New York Times, October 28, 1939).
Professor Rychlak also emphasizes that in Summi Pontificatus Pius XII not only publicly defended his Jewish brethren -- explicitly using the word "Jew" -- but did so in the context of condemning racism by quoting St. Paul. In paragraph 48 of the encyclical, the Pope declared that the Church must remain open to all:
"The spirit, the teaching, and the work of the Church can never be other than that which the Apostle of the Gentiles preached: 'putting on the new man . . . who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him that created him. Where there is neither Gentile, nor Jew circumcision, nor uncircumcision, barbarian, nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all and in all' (Col. 3:10-11)" (emphasis added).
"The equating of Gentiles and Jews," writes Professor Rychlak, constituted a "clear rejection of Hitler's fundamental ideology." But this was just the opening salvo of Pius XII's war of words against the Third Reich. On page after page, Rychlak documents the Vatican's precise, explicit, and well-publicized condemnations of Nazism during the war, forever burying the myth of papal "silence." Rychlak shows how Pius XII's language was trenchant and always solemn: The Pope frequently invoked "the wrath of God," "the curse of God," and "God's vengeance" on the Nazi persecutors. Indeed, Pius XII was so outspoken, explains Rychlak, that he often had to restrain himself, lest his fiery words provoke savage Nazi reprisals. And when Pius finally confronted the Nazis in person, he did not back down one inch.
In March of 1940, Pius XII had a frigid and confrontational meeting with Joachim von Ribbentrop, German's foreign minister, at which the Pope opened an enormous ledger on his desk and, in his perfect German, began to recite a catalog of atrocities inflicted by the Nazis in Poland, listing the date, place, and exact details of each crime. Chief among these atrocities was the Nazi persecution of the Jews, which Pius XII specifically raised. Reporting on the meeting, headlines from The New York Times (March 14, 1940) said it all: "Pope Is Emphatic About Just Peace: Jews' Rights Defended," followed by a story which read:
"Twice in two days Pope Pius has gone out of his way to speak of the necessity for justice as well as peace, and Vatican circles take this as an emphasis of his stern demand to Joachim von Ribbentrop, German foreign minister, that Germany right the injustices she has done before there can be peace. . . It was also learned today for the first time that the Pontiff, in the burning words he spoke to Herr von Ribbentrop about religious persecution, also came to the defense of the Jews in Germany and Poland" (emphasis added).
In Hitler's Pope, Cornwell briefly mentions this meeting (pp. 238-239) but -- unlike Rychlak -- fails to describe its confrontational nature, and nowhere mentions Pius XII’s vigorous defense of the persecuted Jews. Nor does Cornwell mention the Vatican’s other salient wartime statements, whereas Rychlak meticulously documents them. In September 1940, after the notorious Bishop Rarkowski -- a renegade pro-Nazi prelate -- published a statement celebrating the first anniversary of the war, Vatican Radio immediately replied: "If the army bishop has read or heard what the Head of his Church has repeatedly and unequivocally said about the injustice done in Poland, he must be aware of the discrepancy between his position and that of the Holy See. Many Catholics do not at all share the political and historical viewpoint of the army bishop, but are convinced that Hitler's war unfortunately is not a just war and that God's blessing therefore cannot be upon it" (emphasis added).
On October 15, 1940, Vatican Radio denounced "the immoral principles of Nazism" and on March 30, 1941 explicitly condemned "the wickedness of Hitler." In that same broadcast of March 30, the Vatican directed its words to the Catholic resistance inside Nazi Germany:
"The threat of a national religion is looming increasingly over all religious life. This national religion is based solely on the Fuhrer's will, and is the only one wanted by him. In the countries, which have been incorporated into the Reich, as for instance in Slovakia, a national church has been formed. These tendencies have been forced to the extreme in Alsace, Austria, and in Sudeten Germany. These countries are to be made an example for the spiritual structure of the others. What we demand is that Catholic Germany wakes up and sees clearly the pagan tendencies which are spreading everywhere."
In the summer of 1942, after France's Catholic bishops publicly condemned the Nazi persecution and deportation of Jews, Pius XII not only had these protests reprinted in L'Osservatore Romano, but ordered Vatican Radio to broadcast the most powerful of them (by Cardinal Saliege) twice -- and make comments on it for six consecutive days. Note that all these Vatican condemnations of Nazism and Hitler's Final Solution came before Pius XII's famous 1942 Christmas address, which Cornwell falsely claims was the only time the Pope spoke on the Holocaust.
As for the Christmas address itself -- which defended "those hundreds of thousands of persons who, by the sole fact of their nationality or race, have been doomed to death by a progressive extinction" -- Rychlak proves, contrary to Cornwell's assertions, that the address was welcomed by the Allies, and enraged both Mussolini and Hitler. In fact, the Nazis retaliated by condemning Pius XII as "a mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals" and by circulating ten million copies of a pamphlet condemning Pius XII for being a "pro-Jewish Pope" -- two facts which Cornwell conspicuously fails to mention. So important was the 1942 Christmas address that L'Osservatore Romano was still publishing interpretive articles on it six months later, at which point Pius XII condemned the Holocaust yet again.
On June 2, 1943, in a major allocution to the College of Cardinals, the Pope pleaded on behalf of war-torn Poland, and spoke openly of "the anxious supplications of all those who, because of their nationality or their race, are overwhelmed by the greatest trials and most acute distress, and at times even destined, without any personal fault, to measures of extermination" L'Osservatore Romano published the text of this address the same day, Vatican Radio broadcast it, but "the Germans and Italians were so astonished that they suppressed this section from all their reports of what the Pope had said" (The Tablet of London, June 12, 1943, p. 282). Cornwell's book goes a step further: He suppresses the entire speech itself. That's right -- nowhere in Hitler's Pope, a book of 430 pages, is there any mention of, much less quotations from Pope Pius XII's June 2, 1943 address -- the most important he delivered during World War II, and the one in which he most powerfully and explicitly condemned the extermination of the Jews.
Nor does Cornwell mention, as Rychlak does, what Vatican Radio declared in that same month of June, 1943: "He who makes a distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God's commands" (cited in the American Jewish Yearbook 1943-1944, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, p. 292).
The fact that in 1943, Pius XII also ordered his German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, to personally protest the Nazi persecution of the Jews in a face-to-face meeting with Hitler -- and that Orsenigo did so, provoking Hitler into a wild rage-- does not merit any attention in Hitler's Pope, any more than the 300 other protests Orsenigo made, on Vatican instructions, against Nazi atrocities.
"Free Submission Of Intellect And Will"
Cornwell does, however, give extraordinary attention to Carlo Falconi's notorious tract. The Silence of Pius XII (1965) -- without mentioning that the book is based upon totally discredited documents given Falconi by postwar Communist propagandists. "Falconi's random and selective use of this material falls far short of even the most rudimentary standards of scholarship and objectivity" wrote historian John Jay Hughes in a devastating review of the book for The Jewish Quarterly Review (July 1972, pp. 80-85). Undaunted by these facts, Cornwell proceeds to repeat virtually every one of Falconi's allegations, even devoting an entire chapter of Hitler's Pope to Pius XII's supposed collaboration with fascists in Catholic Croatia.
According to Cornwell, Pius XII turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by certain Croatian extremists against Jews, Gypsies, and Orthodox Serbs, many of whom were forcibly converted at the point of a gun. Rychlak replies: "There is no credible evidence that the Pope or the Vatican behaved inappropriately." In fact, the Vatican expressly repudiated forcible conversions in a memorandum, dated January 25, 1942, from the Vatican Secretariat of State to the Legation of Yugoslavia to the Holy See (addressing conversions in Croatia). Furthermore, Pius XII not only publicly condemned these forced conversions, but did so in one of the highest forms of papal teaching -- an encyclical letter -- issuing Mystici Corporis Christi on June 29, 1943, during the very height of the brutalities against the Serbs. In paragraph 103 of that encyclical, the Pope declared:
"The 'faith without which it is impossible to please God' is a wholly free submission of intellect and will. Therefore, whenever it happens, despite the invariable teaching of the Apostolic See, that anyone against his will is compelled to embrace the Catholic faith, our sense of duty demands that we condemn the act" (emphasis added).
As Rychlak notes, the same encyclical explicitly defended and praised the Jewish people (paragraph 110) and also declared: "Our paternal love embraces all peoples, whatever their nationality or race."
On June 21, 1943, Vatican Radio broadcast in German a long text on the rights of Jews under natural law, and a few days later broadcast to Germany a defense of Yugoslav Jews: "Every man bears the stamp of God."
On July 28, 1943, Vatican Radio further reported on the Pope's denunciation of totalitarianism and support for constitutional democracy: "The life and activities of all must be protected against arbitrary human action. This means that no man has any right on the life and freedom of other men. Authority cannot be at the service of any arbitrary power. Herein lies the essential differences between tyranny and true usefulness. The Pope condemns those who dare to place the fortunes of whole nations in the hands of one man alone, a man who as such is the prey of passions, errors, and dreams" (emphasis added).
The meaning of these words was lost on no one -- least of all their intended targets: Hitler and Mussolini.
On October 29, 1943, the Jewish Chronicle of London recorded the well-publicized protests Pius XII had launched against the Nazi roundup of Roman Jews earlier that month: "The Vatican has made strong representations to the German government and the German high command in Italy against the persecutions of Jews in Nazi-occupied Italy." The following week, Rabbi Moriss Lazaron of Baltimore's Hebrew Congregation expressed the appreciation of American Jewry: "The Pope has condemned anti-Semitism and all its works. Bishops of the Church have appeared in the streets of Antwerp, Brussels, The Hague, and Paris with the Shield of David on their arms. Humble priests have joined with Protestant ministers in protecting Jews at the risk of their own lives. Indeed, many priests and ministers have been jailed and not a few killed in their effort to protect Jews" (The Catholic Review, Baltimore, November 5, 1943).
On February 9, 1944, The New York Times ran two successive stories on the Vatican's heroic actions during the German occupation of Rome. The first, "Vatican Repeats Pledge of Haven," reads: "The Vatican Radio, commenting on the fascist raid on St. Paul's Basilica last Thursday in which 64 Italian officers and Jews who had received sanctuary there were arrested, said tonight that the Church would never yield in offering charity to everyone." The second, entitled "Pope Lodges Strong Protest," comments: "Pope Pius XII has protested energetically against a German interpretation of a clause in the Vatican's Lateran Treaty with Italy, fearing that it may foreshadow further German searches in Rome."
In the summer of 1944, after Rome had been liberated from the German occupation, Pius XII, fearing for the fate of Jewish prisoners still in Nazi-fascist hands in northern Italy and Germany itself, made one of his most fervent pleas for tolerance: "For centuries, Jews have been unjustly treated and despised. It is time they were treated with justice and humanity. God wills it and the Church wills it. St. Paul tells us that the Jews are our brothers. They should be welcomed as friends" (from Eugenio Pacelli: Pope of Peace by Oscar Halecki, New York: Creative Age Press, p. 340).
This profound statement is nowhere mentioned in Hitler's Pope, but is symbolic of Pope Pius XII's spirit throughout the war, and caps Professor Rychlak's meticulous recitation of Pius XII's magnificent wartime addresses.
The evidence, which Professor Rychlak marshals in defense of Pope Pius XII, vindicates what another highly qualified lawyer, Robert M.W. Kempner, wrote years ago. Responding to the charge that Pius XII never made an energetic protest against Hitler's "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem," and that is how the catastrophe came to reach the proportions it did, Kempner -- who served as deputy chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, and was thus in a unique position to know -- declared: "Both the premise and the conclusion drawn from it are equally untenable. The archives of the Vatican, of the diocesan authorities, and of Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry contain a whole series of protests -- direct and indirect, diplomatic and public, secret and open" (from the prologue to Pius XII Was Not Silent by Jeno Levai, London: Sands and Co., 1968, p.x).
The Pope's Words Motivated Them
It is an undeniable fact -- documented at length by Rychlak -- that the words and protests of Pope Pius XII had a dramatic effect upon Catholics during the war. Every time the bishops of a particular country issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism and the Nazi persecutions, they cited the words of Pope Pius XII as their motivation for speaking out.
In their study of Vatican Radio, The Voice of the Vatican, French historians Francois and Renee Bedarida noted with respect to the English author Robert Speaight, who had devoted a monograph to the Vatican's broadcasts, "the satisfaction of a Catholic in a Protestant country in being able to affirm, at least in the battle against Nazism, that the Vatican was on the side of the Allies" (Revue de l'Histoire de l'Eglise de France, 64 [July-December 1978] p. 224-25).
Fr. Michel Riquet, S.J., whose credentials are those of an ex-inmate of Dachau and the rescuer of six Jewish lives, wrote in Figaro on January 4, 1964: "Pius XII has spoken; Pius XII has condemned; Pius XII has acted . . . throughout those years of horror, when we listened to Radio Vatican and to the Pope's messages, we felt in communion with the Pope, in helping persecuted Jews and in fighting against Nazi violence."
In his wartime memoirs, Henri Cardinal de Lubac recounts how the French Resistance secretly distributed the anti-Nazi editorials of L'Osservatore Romano, and listened each day to Vatican Radio's broadcasts:
"Remembering the teaching of Pius XII against totalitarianism and fearing the insidious contamination of the Nazi leprosy for the French soul, finding again in the words of Pius XII everything that would extend that teaching and form the legitimate basis for spiritual resistance, not feeling bound by any diplomatic behavior on the part of the Holy See that would imply in any way an approval of the regime's principles, those Catholics participated in movements aimed at liberation not only of their country but of humanity itself" (Christian Resistance to Anti-Semitism: Memoirs From 1940--1944, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, p. 143).
These testimonies prove that a central allegation of John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope--that Pius XII’s alleged "silence" lulled the consciences of millions of Catholics--is false. It was precisely Pope Pius XII’s outspoken condemnations of Nazism that inspired millions of Catholics to resist and even die in the struggle against Hitler.
But Pope Pius XII did not simply motivate others by speaking out against Nazism and the Final Solution -- as important as that was -- he backed up his words with personal action. As soon as the war broke out, Pius XII established the Pontifical Relief Commission and the Vatican Information Office, which rescued, protected, fed, and clothed millions of desperate refugees in a multitude of countries. They also provided crucial information to missing and separated families, whom they tried to locate and reunite. In 1940, Pius XII sent out a pastoral letter entitled Opere et Caritate (By Work and Love), ordering his bishops to resist Nazism and do everything in their power to protect its intended victims. This was followed by an unending series of papal-inspired instructions and exhortations to the various nuncios and diplomatic representatives the Holy See was in constant contact with in all the countries affected by the war, especially Italy (the Pope's own homeland).
A Generous And Chosen Soul
And it is on the subject of Italy, examining the German occupation of Rome (September 1943-June 1944), that Professor Rychlak's analytical powers shine brightest. For unlike Cornwell, who grossly misrepresents Pius XII's activities during the occupation, Professor Rychlak expertly cites and interprets the primary documents, which survive from that period, proving beyond doubt that Pius XII engaged in "the greatest Christian rescue program in the history of Catholicism."
Lest anyone question Rychlak's assertion, one need only quote the chief rabbi of Rome, Elia Toaff, who, upon learning of Pius XII's death, said:
"More than any other people, the Italian Jews had experienced the great pity and supreme generosity of the Pontiff during the unhappy years of persecution and terror, when it seemed to them that they had no way of escape. His Jewish compatriots will everlastingly remember with gratitude the papal ruling to open the doors of convents and parish houses to them. The Jewish community is in mourning for the death of Pope Pius XII, and with sincere sentiments it raises its prayers to the Lord that He may grant His generous and chosen soul every beatitude" (The Tablet of London, October 25, 1958, p. 371).
By meticulously documenting Pius XII's rescue efforts, from unimpeachable archival sources, Rychlak demolishes the claim -- made by Cornwell and others -- that those who rescued Jews always acted on their own initiative, without any prompting from the Vatican. Indeed, if there is one fact, which Hitler, the War, and the Pope proves, it is that these Catholic rescuers acted under the direct orders of and worked in close coordination with Pope Pius XII. We know this is true because the Catholic rescuers themselves, in oral and written testimonies, have stated this.
Pope John XXIII spoke for them all when he explained the motivation for his lifesaving efforts as an apostolic delegate in Istanbul during the war: "For 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" (Pius XII: Greatness Dishonored by Michael O'Carroll, Dublin: Laetare Press, 1980, p. 21).
How many Jews were actually saved by the Catholic Church under the direction of Pope Pius XII will never be known with precision, but Professor Rychlak, in an interview with The Wanderer, asserts that the number "is scarcely less than 1 million. In his 1967 book Three Popes and the Jews, Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide wrote that 'the Catholic Church under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.' It was a good estimate at the time, but since then new evidence has come forth, which has forced historians to increase the number of Jews rescued.
"For example, the most critical parts of the 11-volume Acts and Documents of the Holy See During the Second World War have been published since Lapide's book appeared. Volumes 6, 8, 9, and 10 -- which average 600-700 pages each -- are devoted to the Holy See's communications with regard to the 'victims of the war' above all, Europe's persecuted Jews. My own estimate of 1 million Jews rescued is based upon these volumes, as well as a great deal of other new archival material, and I am prepared to defend it against any one of Pope Pius XII's detractors."
Cardinal O'Connor's Tribute
Not only Catholics, but especially Jews, should forever be grateful to Professor Rychlak for spending so much time -- and brandishing so much intellectual courage -- in publishing this book. And so it is especially fitting that the late Cardinal O' Connor -- a man who was a unifying force among Catholics and Jews -- should pay the finest tribute to Professor Rychlak in his foreword:
"I lived through the Second World War. I lived through the Holocaust. . . I take tremendous consolation in the fact that there were virtuous men and women who were as lights in that darkness, men and women who did all within their power to fight evil and to protect the innocent. In particular, I am consoled by the heroic virtue of Pope Pius XII, upon whom was placed the cross of shepherding the Church in those most difficult of days.
"I am indebted to Professor Ronald J. Rychlak for his book, Hitler, the War, and the Pope. In his well-crafted pages, he tells us the story of Eugenio Pacelli, a saintly priest, a skilled diplomat, and a consummate churchman, who was elected Pope only months before Hitler's invasion of Poland. The darkness was settling upon Europe, even as the papal tiara was placed upon his head. As the war began and escalated and as Hitler's atrocities against the Jewish people began to be known, Pope Pius XII did all within his power to negotiate peace and to save as many Jewish people as he could. As the war ended, the voices of a free world from the United States to Europe to Israel sang the praises of Pope Pius XII.
"Yet, a half-century later, Hitler haunts us still. His so-called Final Solution and his ghastly brutality still piques our consciences. Recently, a plethora of books and articles have been published in an effort to cast light on the darkness that was Hitlerism. It comes as no surprise, then, that one whose stature loomed as large as that of Pope Pius XII should come under close scrutiny. Therefore, Professor Rychlak's book comes at a most opportune time.
"I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia: 'A patient pursuit of facts, and a cautious combination and comparison of them, is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker, if he wished to attain sure knowledge.' Professor Rychlak has subjected himself to this drudgery of detail by patiently pursuing the facts. With due caution, he has combined and compared them for us so that we might attain knowledge of the part played by Pope Pius XII when darkness fell all around him. The portrait that emerges is one of an extraordinary pastor facing extremely vexing circumstances, of a holy man vying against an evil man, of a human being trying to save the lives of other human beings, of a light shining in the darkness." © The Wanderer, 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733.
© The Wanderer, 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733.
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