Conspiracies & Catholicism: Hitler’s Pope

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Frank - window

It’s a slander, and not just misleading but so opposite of reality I don’t understand how it caught ground. See you next month.

….alright, I know I’ve done that gag before, but some topics are just ridiculous. I do them, because being absurd to those who have some familiarity with the subject is no guard against a claim being believed by those who are less familiar, but I think it’s important to make it clear that it’s not because it’s such a strong argument that it deserves respect as a brilliant display of reasoning. Let me explain why it’s unbelievable:

The Story

The guy whose behavior during the Nazi occupation converted the chief rabbi of Rome to Catholicism was working with the Nazis? The guy who was supposedly so silent and passive, at best, did enough that EWTN found a dozen paged of quotes from contemporary Jewish sources that were favorable to his behavior? A Pope who is defended from such accusations by a Jewish historian (formerly of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America) who not only debunks the claims, but describes Pius XII as the greatest friend to Jews of the 20th century? The man who, at his death, got this official condolence from Golda Meir, Israel’s delegate to the UN: When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”

This man gets described as “Hitler’s Pope”?

Ah, such is the power of a well-crafted story, even if that craft is used for evil ends.

I’ll start at the beginning: it was a KGB plot. (I told you this was ridiculous– I can’t help it if the USSR lived down to bad 80s movies.)

Objectively, the idea of attacking the reputation of the Pope, any Pope, makes sense– the point of the plot was to destroy the moral authority of the Catholic Church, which was a threat to Soviet interests. Getting people to believe he was either a Nazi or worked with them was a double-tap, since it both tarred the entire Church with the sins of an atheist, totalitarian group that was intrinsically counter to the most elemental of our binding teachings, but in the same stroke it weakened the Church’s ability to fight the Soviet empire when they pursued similar goals or used the same methods. The tactic both erased the popular memory of Catholics being targeted with the Jews, and strengthened the ability of the evil empire to continue to act against Catholic opposition.

Short version of how it worked: they pushed a “based on a true story” play– ‘The Deputy’ by Rolf Hochhuth– that represented the attack they wanted to make on the then-recently dead man using documents obtained under false pretenses from the Vatican archives.

You can read the story from the guy who did the obtaining, if you’d like– he defected to the US in the late 70s. It had just enough truth to it, and just enough support, to get the flavor of fact with the sweet lure of ‘I know something secret.’ (The same appeal as any other conspiracy theory.) The bones of the story have since been boiled, reused, repackaged and simplified so they go even further than the original, in which Playwright Rolf Hochhuth criticized the pontiff for his (alleged) silence, but even he admitted that, on the level of action, Pius XII generously aided the Jews to the best of his ability. (Quote from The Jewish Virtual Library’s Holocaust section article, The Controversy over the Alleged Silence of Pope Pius XII in World War II.)

The Truth

What did the Pope actually do?

  • Long before his election, while serving as a papal nuncio to Germany, the vast majority of his public speeches included open attacks on the Nazis.
  • Called Hitler’s carefully crafted ideology “neo-Paganism.”
  • Was part this: Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth.– editorial by Albert Einstein, 1940, Time Magazine, describing what he saw among those who claim to revere the truth, when the Nazis moved to silence truth.
  • Time Magazine again mentioned the Church’s behavior, in 1943, describing it this way But no matter what critics might say, it is scarcely deniable that the Church Apostolic, through the encyclicals and other papal pronouncements, has been fighting against totalitarianism more knowingly, devoutly and authoritatively, and for a longer time, than any other organized power.
  • Also before Pacelli became Pius XII, helped draft an encyclical on “the Church and the German Reich” that resulted in the Nazis calling Pope Pius XI “half-Jewish” and then-Cardinal Pacelli “all-Jewish.”
  • The Fascists in both Italy and Germany opposed his election openly, because he was so hostile to their political means and ends.
    In 1940, in an open audience, responded to the Nazi representative sent to threaten him out of continuing to oppose Germany by reading out a list of German atrocities in Poland, in detail, in German.
  • Promoted the tactic of providing “baptismal certificates of convenience” to disguise Jews as Catholics.
  • Ordered religious buildings to shelter the persecuted, even if it drew persecution on themselves.
  • Released covenants and monasteries from the strict rules about admitting non-members
  • Took personal responsibility for the care of the children of those deported from Italy.
  • Saved 80% of Italy’s Jewish population; Rabbi David Dalin wrote a book about it several years ago, and brought attention to three thousand Jews that were protected at Castel Gandolfo.
  • Wrote a letter the bishop of Berlin, praising those Catholics who had aided the Jews, risking themselves, and singling out Monsignor Lichtenberg for paternal gratitude and discussing tactics, even alluding to how the open declaration by the Dutch bishops in support of their Jews had resulted in massive deportations to Auschwitz. (Letter of Pius XII of 30th April, 1943 to the Bischop of Berlin, Graf von Preysing, published in “Documentation catholique” of 2nd February, 1964; does not seem to be available on line, and would presumably be in German)

Bullet-points without links are from Jimmy Akin’s How Pius XII Protected Jews; I have tried to put them in roughly chronological order, but it is very loose and most of it overlaps.

In short: the story of “Hitler’s Pope” is not just a lie, it’s deliberately malicious slander that is unsupported by history.

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10 thoughts on “Conspiracies & Catholicism: Hitler’s Pope”

  1. Pingback: Conspiracies & Catholicism: Pope Corn - Catholic Stand : Catholic Stand

  2. A side comment on the KGB. Thay had a warped misuderstanding of Rome because they had previously made the Russian Orthodox Church subservient to the Soviet state. Whe they found they could not manipulate the Pope they resorted to the usual disinformation tactics they are so well known for. Please note that Putin retains this skill.

  3. Pingback: Some Trads Walk Into A Gay Bar - BigPulpit.com

  4. Thank you for this important essay. We not only have “low-information” citizens to help educate, but also DIS information that needs to be corrected.
    I appreciate the connection to the words of Einstein. The effrontery of the request that JP2 apologize indicates the great divisions in Jewish society today, who must also deal with low information and dis-information.

  5. Pingback: In Defense of Pius XII | The American Catholic

  6. SnowCherryBlossoms

    What a wonderful essay!! I really enjoyed reading and learning from this. I knew the accusation against Pope Pius XII were a bunch of bunk, but I did not know about the German Nazi..wow!! Thank you 🙂

    1. I had heard about some of the documents related to the character assassination becoming public, but I had no idea there was quite so much against it. I thought it was just a useful lie to someone, not a massively backwards slander.

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