a picture worth 0 words

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 23, 2009

You’ve probably seen the picture hundreds of times. On the cover of John Cornwell’s book, Hitler’s Pope, the photo seems to show Pope Pius XII in full regalia. We are led to believe that he is leaving Hitler’s headquarters, and the uniformed men flanking him are Nazi soldiers. The overall impression is indeed damaging.

The Hermeneutic of Continuity blog has thoroughly fisked that photo. It turns out:

  • The picture was taken in 1927—long before the Nazis took power. The soldiers are troops of the Weimar Republic.
  • The man in the center of the picture is indeed future Pope Pius XII. But at the time he was not Pope, nor the Vatican Secretary of State (which he would later be), nor even a cardinal; he was Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli, the papal nuncio in Germany.
  • Archbishop Pacelli was visiting German President Hindenburg, not Hitler (who would not come to power for 6 more years). That’s something papal nuncios do; they visit heads of state. But in fact this was not a formal visit but a social event: a birthday party.
  • The man saluting the archbishop is not a soldier, but his chauffeur.
  • So how does this photo show that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope?” It doesn’t.

Which is probably just as well, because the author of the book, John Cornwell himself, has conceded after further research that the description of Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer is inaccurate. Possibly as inaccurate as the impression created by that famous photo. But probably not. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 24, 2018 5:28 AM ET USA

    I suppose that a system of morality that includes "nods and winks," "shades of gray," "situational circumstances" that allow God to condone or even demand morally evil acts, a system like this can be expected to harbor all manner of criminal elements at all levels. When the USCCB and the Vatican conclude in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that "there is nothing to see here," then immoral behavior will continue until it is finally checked by the secular authority.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Feb. 23, 2018 10:32 PM ET USA

    The Pope and his aides and cohorts have made a mess of the Papacy and are making a mess of Church doctrines affecting the faithful. Pray the good Lord will turn things around. The Church is suffering as predicted but pray and most importantly stay faithful. Don't run away like so many did when the abuse scandals hit. Jesus protect your Church and faithful.

  • Posted by: MatJohn - Feb. 23, 2018 9:29 PM ET USA

    Allen's comment on Francis, as he calls him, is hardly ground-breaking insight. Lawler's arsenal of material on CC and the pope is second to none. Our Holy Father is a perfect example of the Peter Principle. Jesuit, si. Il Papa, no!

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Feb. 22, 2018 10:30 PM ET USA

    The kids have kept this wild hunks-and-heresy party going on for long enough. When are the grownups coming back to Rome to clean up the mess?

  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Dec. 29, 2009 11:02 PM ET USA

    It struck me how susceptible we have become to propaganda and covert influence despite the internet. Al Qaida is a master propagandist organization - our soldiers get into a fight in Afghanistan, casualties result, and instantly the stories about civilian deaths ensue. It's called information operations these days. Once can see the media, eager for any attention at all, immediately glomming on to Catholic stories in much the same way. Pity we give them so much fodder. Peace of Christ to all!

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Dec. 29, 2009 5:40 PM ET USA

    I used to be disturbed by that picture and the allegations, until I read Ronald Rychlak's book "Hitler, the War, and the Pope" which thoroughly demolished the lies against Pius XII. I am ecstatic that B XVI did not take his marching orders from B'nai Brith (the arrogant pseudo-magisterium) and declared him Venerable. May he be canonized soon!

  • Posted by: - Dec. 26, 2009 9:01 PM ET USA

    Thanks for this post...I needed clarification on this! I remember some years ago, seeing that book on the bookstore "history" shelf, it left me thinking. I completely forgot to find out the truth behind the matter, but I must say, I never forgot the impact the photo/title made on me. Thanks Phil!

  • Posted by: Top8305 - Dec. 26, 2009 1:56 PM ET USA

    Propaganda as taught by Josef Goebbels (sic)