Blaming the Wartime Pope
KENNETH L. WOODWARD
During the second world war, Pope Pius XII was lauded for his singular efforts to halt the carnage, writes Newsweek’s Kenneth Woodward. And for years after, he was praised for the church's efforts in saving an estimated 700,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps — mainly by issuing false baptismal certificates to Jews, disguising some in cassocks and hiding others in cloistered monasteries and convents. Recently, however, a neat bit of revisionist history is now blaming the wartime pope for failing to stop the Holocaust from the
The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas....
He is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.
- Editorial, The New York Times, Dec. 25, 1941
A full exploration of Pope Pius's conduct is needed....
It now falls to John Paul and his successors to take the next step toward full acceptance of the Vatican's failure
to stand squarely against the evil that swept across Europe.
- Editorial, The New York Times, March 18, 1998
How the times — and the Times — do change. During the second world war, Pope Pius XII was lauded for his singular efforts to halt the carnage. And for years after, he was praised for the church's efforts in saving an estimated 700,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps — mainly by issuing false baptismal certificates to Jews, disguising some in cassocks and hiding others in cloistered monasteries and convents. But last week, after the
Something shameful is going on. That Pius XII was silent in the face of the Holocaust; that he did little to help the Jews; that he was in fact pro-German if not pro-Nazi; that underneath it all he was anti-Semitic — all are monstrous calumnies that now seem to pass for accepted wisdom. Most of these accusations can be traced to a single originating source: “The Deputy,” Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play that created an image of Pius as moral coward. That Golda Meir, later a prime minister of
In fact, Pius XII was neither silent nor inactive. As the
The Nazis understood the pope only too well. “His speech is one long attack on everything we stand for,” declared the Gestapo. “Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews. He is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”
In February 1942, Protestant and Catholic leaders of Nazi-occupied
The pope's crime — if that is what it is — is that he chose the role of diplomatic peacemaker rather than martyr for the cause. Both the Allies and the Axis powers pressured him to take their side. It was clear, as the Times reported and the Nazis complained, that Pius XII stood for Western freedoms. But the pope refused to sign an Allied condemnation of Nazi atrocities against the Jews (and Christians) if he could not also condemn the slaughter of Jews and other religious believers by Stalin, then an ally of the
It is also naive to complain — as The New York Times did last week — that Pius XII “did not encourage Catholics to defy Nazi orders." He could hardly direct others to court certain death and remain politically neutral himself. Moreover, in the Roman Catholic Church that kind of pastoral leadership rests with the local bishops. Rightly, the hierarchies of
No one person, Hitler excepted, was responsible for the Holocaust. And no one person, Pius XII included, could have prevented it. In choosing diplomacy over protest Pius XII had his priorities straight. It's time to lay off this pope.
Woodward, Kenneth L. “Blaming the Wartime Pope.” Newsweek (March 30, 1998): 35.
Reprinted by permission of Newsweek.
Kenneth L. Woodward writes for Newsweek
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