the bad guy

By Diogenes (articles) | Apr 18, 2007

Once again, the legacy of Pope Pius XII has become a subject of public controversy, this time because of the display at Israel's Yad Vashem Museum that makes him out to be culpably non-committal toward Nazis and Nazism. The evidence that Eugenio Pacelli, later Pius XII, was consistently anti-Nazi is overwhelming (see the bibliography at the RFC site, for starters), but of course lots of folks have excellent personal or political reasons to want a discredited papacy -- a morally discredited papacy, capisce? -- and there are few swifter routes to moral bankruptcy than collaboration with Nazism.

Those who make a critical study of the past understand that conflicting historical evidence is like contrary testimony in a courtroom, which must be sifted not only according to its intrinsic probability, but on the basis of the intentions, especially the covert intentions, of the source. One needs to ask in each case what motives conflicting witnesses may have had to lie, or exaggerate, or make tactical omissions -- and in what direction. In brief, who stands to gain and who stands to lose by each outcome? Thus, while there's no denying that the Church is interested in the good reputation of her popes, it's equally obvious that anti-Catholics score a propaganda boon when the hierarchy is blackened. But here's the rub: not all anti-Catholics hate the Church for the same reason, and what is an abomination to the Sadducees is a boast for the Pharisees, and vice-versa. And that gives us some leverage for deciding who's telling the truth.

The cartoon above appeared in the July 22, 1937 edition of Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the Nazi SS, on the occasion of the visit of the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli, to France. It portrays Pacelli snuggling up to a Jewess who is holding a copy of L'Humanité, the organ of the French Communist Party, whose headline reads Christenverfolgung in Deutschland, "Persecution of Christians in Germany." They are standing in a laboratory tagged as The Poison-Kitchen of the Popular Front, and the flask and retort are labeled "Atrocious Lies" and "Anti-Nazi." The cartoon is titled "The Cardinal's Excursion to France," and the caption reads, "She may not be a beauty, but she sure can cook!"

The point of the cartoon is to suggest that the Vatican was in league with the Marxists to subvert Nazism by spreading lies about it. The absurdity of the suggestion does not concern us. What is key is the fact that, not only did the Nazis despise Pacelli, but they despised him precisely as anti-Nazi, to the extent that they portrayed him as unscrupulously anti-Nazi -- as well as philo-Semitic and soft on Communists. Far from the figure of "Hitler's Pope" in embryo, Pacelli was a demonic adversary in the eyes of the SS.

But the truly dispositive clue might easily be missed by its obviousness: Pacelli is simply identified by the cartoonist as "Pacelli," not as the Vatican's Secretary of State. Consider what that means. How many lay Catholics, today, presented with a caricature of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, could identify him as the Vatican Secretary of State? How many German soldiers could do so? How likely is it, today, that a diplomatic visit made by a Vatican Secretary of State to a country not one's own would register with a soldier on active duty in peacetime?

The conclusion is inescapable: not only was Pacelli anti-Nazi, he was so recognizably vexatious to the Nazi cause that, even though he was a mere churchman in the supreme age of Realpolitik, his surname itself sufficed to identify and damn him to the Nazi rank-and-file. Put in the balance of critical historical judgment, thousands of pages of essays, analysis, and diplomatic correspondence don't outweigh that single flimsy cartoon.

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