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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  • Posted by: - Apr. 27, 2007 4:09 AM ET USA

    The WWs highlight the modern political irrelevance of the Church. German Catholics gladly marched in droves into Belgium & Poland. Allies bombed civilians against the protests of the papacy, etc. Few prelates heroically resisted- Crdls. von Galen, Mindszenty, etc. but all in all a lame showing. Same today: the Pope fulminates, secularists scoff, bishops flap in the political wind. Most Catholics follow their 'consciences' and ignore the Church. The papacy influences now, as then: poorly.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 19, 2007 11:00 PM ET USA

    If anyone thinks Popes Pius XI and XII were "silent" during the Shoah and WW2, they are idiots. Just because the popes were not screaming at the Nazis from the rooftops does not mean they were silent because, in their case, "silent" really was a cover for covert action to save Jews from extermination. P11 and P12 were superb popes who did all they could to save Jews which is more than I can say for FDR who refused his generals' advice to bomb the rail lines to the death camps.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 19, 2007 2:27 PM ET USA

    Pius XII saved 860,000 Jews from the Nazis. He used his personal wealth to rescue Jews. Pius XII condemned Naazi ideology time and time again-even published in the New York Times. He chose his words carefully when he opposed the Nazis so as not to cause bloody reprisals against the faithful. Those who complain about Pius XII should look to their own people for failing to aid refugees from the horror of persecution. Pius saved nearly half of those who survived.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 19, 2007 12:13 PM ET USA

    Thank you Diogenes! I'm sending this article to everyone I know, especially my children. I'm sick and tired of defending a Pope who should not need defending! This cartoon definitively puts an end to anti-Pius XII speculations.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 19, 2007 9:39 AM ET USA

    Humpty Dumpty, You're exactly right. So why is Pius XII "Venerable" and the Great Pius XI not even considered for beatification, let alone canonization?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 19, 2007 6:42 AM ET USA

    It was Pius XI who, 70 years ago, condemned Naziism for its persecution of German Catholics and the German Catholic Church, in violation of Pacelli's Concordat with Hitler in 1933. Pacelli, on becoming Pius XII, supressed Pius XI last Encyclical which condemned Hitler's treatment of Jews. "Mixed legacy" is the proper term for Pius XII's Pontificate.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 18, 2007 6:29 PM ET USA

    Di, as you wrote this the AP was doing its best to hatchet Pope Benedict with every slimy turn of phrase in their hatchet-job reporter's manual. (See the News Byte entry just below the current OTR.) Of course, the only thing they really have to complain about is that he hasn't buckled to the progressivists. And then there's Bill Clinton's assessment of JPII's reign as being a "mixed legacy". Is there a pattern emerging here?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 18, 2007 4:49 PM ET USA

    An excellent piece. My only slight cavil is with the reasoning at the end - that the Nazi 'rank-and-file' recognised him because he was such a staunch opponent of their policies. While the latter is true, isn't it also possible that his 13 years as Papal or Apostolic Nuncio in Germany, only ending on his appointment as Secretary of State in 1930, was a bigger factor?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 18, 2007 11:44 AM ET USA

    This piece needs to be circulated, first among Catholics who have scant knowledge of history, which today might well be the vast majority especially if they were educated, so-called, after 1970 or so. If Catholics have no understanding of Church and world history, can we expect others to grasp the actual heroism of Pope Pies XII in relation to his protection of Jewish people during perilous times? It's too easy to walk past a Barnes and Noble and see the latest screed against His Holiness.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 18, 2007 9:58 AM ET USA

    Strike three!