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Pius XII, concordat negotiator and Holocaust pope

This is a gateway to more than a dozen online articles about the the connections between Hitler, Pius XII and the concordat. “Intended as a shield for the church, the [concordat] lent Hitler international credibility, criminalised Catholic political activity [the Catholic Centrum Party], and demoralised bishops and priests who opposed Nazi rule.” Cardinal Faulhaber called the concordat a “handshake with the papacy”.

 Pius XII has been accused of silence over not only the mass murder of the Jews during WWII in Germany, but also of the less well-known Holocaust of Orthodox Serbs in wartime Croatia. In both countries the Vatican formed tacit strategic alliances with brutal fascist governments and the reason appears to have been the same: the grand aim of ending the Great Schism and converting the Orthodox to Catholicism. During WWII Pavelic's murderous regime in Croatia converted to Catholicism almost all the Orthodox Serbs left within its borders. And Hitler's plan to invade the Soviet Union offered a much greater opportunity to spread Catholicism. 

There can be no doubt that Pius knew of the massacres and forced conversions of the Serbs by early in 1942. [1] He had his own personal representative in Croatia, Msgr. Ramiro Marcone, who kept him informed. He also received reports from Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac who had been headed the government's Office of Religious Affairs, set up to handle the conversion of Serbs to Catholicism. Each Catholic diocese published weekly reports of new conversions. And in May 1944 Stepinac boasted of the conversion of a total of 244,000 Orthodox Serbs in a letter to the Vatican. [2] 

It has also been suggested that the presence of an Eastern or Greek Rite church in Croatia was a factor in the Vatican's toleration of the Holocaust there. For although the Roman Rite was practiced by the majority, there was also a Croatian Rite which was one of the 22 hybrid Eastern Churches. These Catholic churches acknowledge the pope, but retain an Orthodox liturgy. If Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union had succeeded, the various Eastern Rite churches could have been an attractive vehicle for converting the Orthodox. [3]

The other Holocaust that Pius was privy to was the mass murder of Jews by Hitler. Pius was known in Italy as “the German pope” (il papa Tedesco) and there were good reasons for his eagerness to stay on the good side of Hitler. The forced conversion of  Pius was known in Italy as “the German pope” (il papa Tedesco) and there were good reasons for his eagerness to stay on the good side of Hitler. If the German offensive against the Soviet Union had been successful, this would have opened up a huge Orthodox country to Catholic conversion attempts. Pius believed in being prepared. Already ten years before the outbreak of WWII the Pope had set up programmes to train clerics for missionary work in the USSR. [4]

“Holocaust scholars, who consider Pius, with his worldwide network of diplomats and clergy, to be among the first world leaders to have grasped the scope of the Jewish persecution, have asked why he did not condemn it publicly.” [3] Even in 1943, two days after the German troops rounded up the Jews of Rome and sent them to their death, the Pope expressed his satisfaction at the "correctness" of their behaviour. After all, they had caused no damage to the Vatican.... [5]

To try to quell the doubts, in the 1990s the Vatican granted access to many documents concerning Pius to the Catholic scholar, John Cornwell, who hoped initially to be able to clear the pope's name. However, as he read more and more, he went into what he has described as “moral shock”. The resulting book was very different from what the Vatican had expected. The best short account of what Cornwell found is this interview. [6]

Next the Vatican tried to use other scholars to get Pius rehabilitated. In 1999 an International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission was granted access to a limited selection of the documents concerning Pius XII and the Holocaust. The following year they issued a fascinating report, requesting proper access. [7] This the Vatican would not allow, even though they have permitted the cleric in charge of getting Pius canonised to examine “about 100,000 pages” in documents and correspondence. “I had absolute access to every strip of paper that is in the Vatican archives,” said Fr. Gumpel. [8]

However, the game of peek-a-boo with the closed archives continues. In 2012 with much fanfare the Vatican carefully selected 7 of the two million documents from Pius XI's 1939-1945 papacy and displayed them to “prove“ that Pius IX helped the Jews. [9] This, of course, is not the way historical scholarship is conducted. It's the preponderance of the evidence that counts and this evidence must be carefully evaluated in the context of all other relevant evidence that can be obtained. Keeping the wartime archives closed amounts to stonewalling.

The Vatican has kept Pius' postwar documents under lock and key. In 1997 it ignored the call of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to open its archives to "clarify its role" in the organised mass escape of Nazi criminals after World War II. Until his death in 1958 Pius XII closely controlled the Vatican. In fact, he even left the number two position of Cardinal Secretary of State vacant, so that he could more directly oversee the Vatican's postwar policies. As Cardinal Secretary of State Pius was directly is involved in everything from finances and the appointment of bishops to diplomatic relations.

It was during this period when Pius was both pope and deputy pope that the Vatican "rat line" was used to smuggle war criminals out of Europe. A researcher from the Centre found "that 22 Vatican committees were set up to help various Nazis escape to Latin America and the Middle East. The committees were headed by Archbishop Hudal of the Vatican, and most of the war criminals got to Latin America on Vatican documents given by these committees, which got them a Red Cross passport." [10]

The Vatican has a long tradition of rewriting history, which includes bolstering its claims to temporal power through a forged document called but the Donation of Constantine. (See Pope’s claim to temporal power based on 8th-c forgery) A new way to revise history was successfully tried out before pope's visit to Israel in 2009. The Vatican demanded the removal of the condemnation of Pius XII's inaction on the wall of Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. A former Israeli ambassador and a historian objected to the Vatican's attempt to subject historical truth to political blackmail: " 'unless you cancel those phrases I don't come'. Let us be serious. History has need of proof, of documents, which the church would be well to show to the world." [11] However, in the end the Vatican got its way.

“Questionable scholarship”

Where politics don't afford it leverage, the Vatican uses other means to try to whitewash the Holocaust record of Pius XII. It tries to bury serious scholarship under a flurry or media announcements and popular books. Unable to control the real scholars, the Vatican has used apologists, such as the well-funded Pave the Way Foundation to promote Pius IX’s cause for sainthood which issues a stream of press releases. [12] These are breathless announcements claiming to have “discovered”, “uncovered” or “unearthed” some new document showing the Pope's love for the Jews. The latest is the "discovery" by the journalist (not historian) Gordon Thomas, that the well-known efforts by many Catholic institutions to help the Jews were actually orchestrated by the Pope. He tries to brush aside the obvious question:

Asked why the Vatican had not made the new material available until now or, where stories were known, disseminated them more widely,Thomas said: "The church thinks across centuries. If there's a dispute for 50 years, so what?" [13]

However, as Prof. Edward Kessler politely put it, “The Vatican will not achieve credibility on the question of Pius XII’s wartime record by relying solely on the work of defenders of Pius XII, some of whom engage in questionable research”. [14] The Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, a Catholic priest who is a founding member of the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a professor of social ethics at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, put it more strongly. The Vatican, he said, was “discrediting itself by associating itself with this kind of questionable scholarship.” [15]

Now the Vatican appears to be trying to sidestep the evidence completely by drawing a distinction between the Pope’s private piety and the morality of his actions. It asserts that the decree on his “heroic virtues” [16] was issued “because he is a model for Christian life, not because of the historical decisions he made”. [17] This manoeuvre was allowing the Vatican to stall on making accessible the wartime documents on him no sooner than 2014 [18] and now that has been shoved off to 2015 at the earliest. [19] Not only is the evidence still withheld, the present pope is also claiming that Pius XII's ostensible help to the Jews was “in a hidden and discreet way”. [20] In other words, secret actions purportedly described by secret evidence....

In February 2010 the Vatican announced with great fanfare that it would be posting online some documents about Pius XII that had been “previously published” (!) [120 The next month, however, a group of prominent Catholic historians sent a letter to the Pope to “implore” him to delay the beatification proceedings until the archives had been properly opened. [21] With great delicacy they asserted that, regarding the Church’s long tradition of antisemitism, [22] “it is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy”....

Why this canonisation industry for Pius XII?

The question that arises is: why should the Vatican try so hard to overcome the opposition to putting Pius XII on the road to sainthood? There appears to be a pattern of shoving questionable figures on the path to sainthood, even though there's no shortage of Catholics whose goodness is undisputed.

● The Columbian priest Rafael García-Herreros is to be beatified, a major step on the road to sainthood. This is despite the fact that his public support in 1992 for the drug king, Pablo Escobar, at the time earned him a rebuke from the head of the Colombian bishops. [23] That this same body has now announced that he is to be beatified has been explained as a Vatican attempt to “bury” the priest's record by making him a saint. [24]
● A similar motive has been alleged for the canonisation of Josemaría Escrivá, who founded Opus Dei and promoted clerical fascism. (At one point over half of Generalissimo Franco's ministers were members of Opus Dei.) Yet he has now been effectively immunised against any criticism from within the Church, since once someone has been declared a saint, any Catholic who disputes his saintliness can be punished by the pope. [25]
● Also pronouncing “Blessed” in a formal beatification by the Pope was Archbishop Stepinac, a Churchman convicted as a war criminal for complicity in the Croatian Holocaust.

Is sainthood regarded by the Vatican as an effective form of whitewash? Otherwise, it's hard to understand the strenuous attempts to canonise Pius XII. No campaign was needed to promote sainthood for “The Good Pope”, John XXIII.

Notes 

Online articles for further reading (newest listed first) 

  Saul Friedlander, “How a Pope Helped Mussolini Rise to Power: And tried to stop him before it was too late”, New Republic, 2014-03-08. This is a review of David Kertzer's The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, 2014.
 

  Carl Savich, “The Vatican Role in the Ustasha Genocide in the Independent State of Croatia”, Serbianna, 11 November 2011. Drawing on solid sources, Savich concludes that

not only did the Vatican deny and ignore [the genocide in Croatia during WWII], but took an active part to hide and suppress it and to protect the perpetrators from prosecution and justice.  
 

  Sergio I. Minerbi, The silence was deafening”, Haaretz, 3 September 2010. Prof Minerbi has been ambassador for Israel and published a dozen books, among them The Vatican and Zionism (1990). This is a very astute article. 

[...] Cardinal Bertram had published, on March 28, 1933, a proclamation by the German bishops about Nazism that had the effect of retracting their earlier statement regarding the irreconcilability of National Socialism and Catholicism.

So the condemnation of Nazism was lifted, with “nothing given in return” by the Nazis, according to Wolf. [...] Wolf thinks that Pacelli could have “dictated hard conditions for those concessions”, and that he could have demanded the signature of a concordat, with all the guarantees that would have provided for Catholic institutions in Germany.

Not long after, a concordat was signed, on July 20, 1933, giving “Hitler's government its first agreement under international law and a not inconsiderable foreign policy success.”  Read more
 

  Gregory S. Paul,Why Making Pope Pius XII a Saint is a Very Bad Idea”, OpEdNews, 20 April 2010.

The replacement of the German monarchy after the Great War by democracy appalled the churches, Catholic as well as Protestant. They were bought off when the Weimer constitution directed about a tenth of income tax revenues to the church that a given taxpayer belonged to. The objections by the Mother Church suddenly lessened as Germany became a cash cow for Rome. Since Catholics made up a third of the population their institution got about a third of the income, amounting to about a billion per year in current dollars (still running, the system currently delivers about six billion per annum). Read more
 

  Julia Gorin, Mass grave of history: Vatican's WWII identity crisis”, The Jerusalem Post, 22 February 2010. This essay by an expert on the Balkans presents a wider perspective than is usual.

The controversy over the canonization of Pope Pius XII concerns whether he spoke out enough against the slaughter of Jews during World War II. But that question is a red herring when trying to grasp the big picture of the Vatican’s role during the war.

The real question is whether the Vatican supported the world order, or at least aspects of it, that the Third Reich promised to bring, a world order in which dead Jews were collateral damage - which Pius indeed regretted. The answer can be found in a region of Europe that is generally ignored despite being the nexus of world wars: the Balkans.

Catholic Church, looking for a bulwark against communism, supported what became genocidal regime of Nazi satellite Croatia. Read more
  


Joseph Loconte, The Decade of Appeasement, The Daily Standard, 7 February 2008. [Dr. Loconte is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.]

Germany’s Catholic Centre Party, backed by the Vatican, swiftly supported unrestricted powers for Hitler and the suspension of the Weimar Constitution. The editor of the Catholic journal Augsburger Postzeitung summarized the mood: “The positive attitude of the German Catholics to the new state is no longer impeded by religious scruples.” The same might be said of the Holy See, which in April received Nazi leaders Franz von Papen and Hermann Goring with full honours. Within months Pope Pius XI signed a Concordat with Hitler. Intended as a shield for the church, the agreement lent Hitler international credibility, criminalized Catholic political activity, and demoralized bishops and priests who opposed Nazi rule.  Read more
 

 Saul Friedländer, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945 (2007). [ Prof. Friedländer is a Holocaust survivor, Pulitzer Prize winner and professor of history at UCLA. This book follows The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (1997). A Cambridge historian writing in the New York Times says of  Friedländer “His judgments are scrupulous and levelheaded. And he treats the historical controversies that have raged around so many of the topics he covers with untiring fair-mindedness”.] Two online book reviews – excerpts and links below:

 From a review by Dr. Steven Welch:

Pope Pius XII comes in for heavy criticism for his "selective appeasement" of the Nazis. While the Pope sought in some cases to raise objections to Nazi measures, his concern did not extend to the mass murder perpetrated against the Jews.  Read more

 From a review by Prof. Jeffrey Herf:

The overwhelming majority of Catholic Church leaders who had previously denounced the Nazi murders of the mentally ill and physically handicapped said nothing about the deportations of Jews from Germany. Friedländer concludes that between 1939 and 1945 the vast majority of church officials remained silent. They made clear and ugly distinctions between a tiny minority of Jews who converted to Christianity and the vast majority who did not.  Read more
 

Gregory S. Paul, The great scandal: Christianity’s role in the rise of the Nazis: part 1, part 2 and part 3, Free Inquiry, Volume 23, Number 4, October-December 2003.
[Gregory S. Paul is a palaeontologist whose interest in evolution prompted him to look at whether there was any link between the religiosity of a society and how well that society functioned. The full study can be found in an academic journal from an American Jesuit University.]

[…] Having failed in repeated attempts to negotiate the ardently desired concordat with a sceptical Weimar democracy, [the Vatican and] leading Catholics saw their chance to get what they had been seeking from an agreeable member of the church—that is, Hitler—at an historical moment when he and fascism in general were regarded as a natural ally by many Catholic leaders. Negotiations were initiated by both sides, modelled on the mutually advantageous 1929 concordat between Mussolini and the Vatican. […]

Evidence indicates that the Vatican was pleased to negotiate away all traces of the [Catholic Central Party], for which it had no more use, save as a bargaining chip. In this the Holy See treated [the German Catholic Party] no differently than it had the Italian Catholic party, which it negotiated away in the Concordat with Mussolini
 

  H. Brand, The Silence of the Vatican and the Plight of the Jews, New Politics, vol. 8, no. 2 (new series), whole no. 30, Winter 2001. [H. Brand describes himself as a “sometime lay teacher of Jewish history”].

After the Concordat between the Nazi regime and the Holy See had been concluded in the summer of 1933, Cardinal Faulhaber sent a handwritten note to Hitler, stating:
“What the old parliaments and parties did not accomplish in 60 years, your statesmanlike foresight has achieved in six months. For Germany’s prestige in East and West . . . this handshake with the papacy, the greatest moral power in the history of the world, is a feat of immeasurable blessing.”  Read more

 

Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965, Indiana University Press, 2000. [Michael Phayer is Professor of History at Marquette University.] Three short online book reviews – excerpts and links below:

 From a review by Robert A. Krieg, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame in Theology Today Jan 2002:

His thesis is that Pius XII privately helped Jews only to the extent that his efforts did not jeopardize two major priorities in his foreign policy. First, judging that the Church’s primary enemy was not Nazism but Communism, the pope wanted to maintain good ties with Germans and their government so that he could work with them to resist the spread of Communism into Europe. Second, concerned to protect Rome from destruction during the war, he did not want to say anything that might bring down the Luftwaffe’s bombs upon Vatican City. Concentrating his account on two historical eras (1939-1945 and 1945-1965), Phayer treats Pius XII’s words, actions, and influence on the Church in relation to the Holocaust.
Phayer's argument in support of his thesis is convincing.  Read more

 From a review by Stanley Hoffmann, Professor of Government at Harvard University, in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2001:

A comprehensive and deeply disturbing volume. Phayer describes in detail Pope Pius XII’s preference for quiet diplomacy with Hitler and his regime, his anxiety about the Catholic Church's fate, his solicitude for Germany’s Catholics, and his conviction that communism posed a greater threat than did Nazism. Pius not only failed to make public his knowledge of Nazi atrocities against Poles or the Croat massacres of Serbs and Jews; when Rome's Jews were sent to Auschwitz in 1944, he focused only on protecting the city from Allied bombings and a possible communist insurgency. And Pius was no exception – many church authorities also failed to speak out.  Read more

 From a review in Publishers Weekly:

Phayer makes an important addition to the literature of Holocaust studies: he provides evidence that Pope Pius XII (who reigned over the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958) knew in early 1942 what was happening to Europe's Jews (and to non-Jews in Croatia and Poland), yet he remained silent. The pope, he argues, was a Germanophile who had been schooled as a diplomat: treaties (particularly one he’d drafted between Germany and Rome in 1933) and the Communist threat were his main priorities. Protection of Vatican City from Allied or Axis bombs was another.  Read more


 James Carroll, The Holocaust and the Catholic Church”, The Atlantic, October 1999

[He discusses how Cardinal Pacelli, the futrue Pius XII, spent more than a decade developing] the a new Code of Canon Law, [finally promulgated in 1917] which would give the Pope unprecedented power over every aspect of Church life. [...] Canon 218 defines the Pope’s authority as “the supreme and most complete jurisdiction throughout the Church, both in matters of faith and morals and in those that affect discipline and Church government throughout the world.”

In Europe, where the structures of Church and State were traditionally intermingled, with much overlap of political and religious authority (those schools, the appointment of those bishops), the implementation of this new Code of Canon Law required the cooperation of governments, which led to Pacelli’s next assignment. The task of negotiating treaties—concordats—that recognized the freshly claimed prerogatives of the papacy fell to him. Read more


John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. This is a PDF of the full text of Cornwell’s (also available on many other sites). An abridged version was published in Vanity Fair, October 1999. There is also a CBC video interview from 1999: John Cornwell on Hitler's Pope

[John Cornwell is a British journalist, science historian, religious affairs commentator and devoted Roman Catholic who once studied for the priesthood. He originally set out to write an exoneration of Pius XII and was therefore granted exclusive access to restricted Vatican and Jesuit archives. His scholarship is unimpeachable, making it necessary to oppose his conclusions by other means: an American nun once tried to throttle him on live TV.]

The Reich Concordat granted Pacelli the right to impose the new Code of Canon Law on Catholics in Germany and promised a number of measures favourable to Catholic education, including new schools. In exchange, Pacelli collaborated in the withdrawal of Catholics from political and social activity. […] Hitler insisted that his signature on the concordat would depend on the Centre Party’s voting for the Enabling Act, the legislation that was to give him dictatorial powers. […] Next, Hitler insisted on the “voluntary” disbanding of the Centre Party, the last truly parliamentary force in Germany. Again, Pacelli was the prime mover in this tragic Catholic surrender. […] In the political vacuum created by its surrender, Catholics in the millions joined the Nazi Party, believing that it had the support of the Pope.  Read more
 

Frank McLynnBooks: A pontiff stripped of his liesIndependent, 26 September 1999. 

John Cornwell is a Catholic writer who began this book with the intention of mounting a definitive defence of Pacelli and to that end was given access to documents in the Vatican Secret Archive never seen before. What he saw convinced Cornwell not only that his task as defender was impossible, but that the case against Pacelli was even graver than anyone had recalled.  
 

Guenther Lewy, Catholic political ideology: the union of theory and practice, Chapter 12 (the final one) of The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, 1964. (A few more quotes from this important book can be found by searching for Lewy here). [Guenter Lewy left his native Germany as a boy of fifteen in 1939 and is now Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts.]

 On the level of theory the Church has frequently affirmed her right and duty to confront all moral issues. Reformulating the old doctrine of the indirect temporal power of the Church ― the authority to pronounce upon the morality of political actions and relations that involve the spiritual or moral life of the believers.... These and like problems, Pius XII declared, are the province of the Church, the concern of “that authority established by God to see to a just order and to direct the consciences and actions of men along the path to their true and final destiny.” The Church has to fulfill this mission “in the front line, in the midst of the struggle that rages between truth and error, virtue and vice....”

The record of the Church, one regrets to conclude, does not bear out these grand aspirations. The policy of accommodation of the German episcopate, the subject of this study, provides but the most recent striking example of the Church's inability to transcend her institutional interests and to be a guardian of human morality. Read more

 

Alphabetical author index of works listed above by date:

Brand, H. "The Silence of the Vatican and the Plight of the Jews" , New Politics, vol. 8, no. 2 (new series), whole no. 30, Winter 2001. 

Carroll,  JamesThe Holocaust and the Catholic Church”, The Atlantic, October 1999.

Cornwell, John. "Hitler's Pope". The full text of Cornwell's abridged version of Hitler’s Pope, as published in Vanity Fair, October 1999. 

Friedländer, Saul. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945, excerpts from two online book reviews
○  Review by Dr. Steven Welch
○  Review by Prof. Jeffrey Herf 

Friedlander, Saul. “How a Pope Helped Mussolini Rise to Power: And tried to stop him before it was too late”, New Republic, 2014-03-08. This is a review of David Kertzer's The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, 2014.

Gorin, Julia . Mass grave of history: Vatican's WWII identity crisis”,  The Jerusalem Post, 22 February 2010.

Lewy, Guenther. "Catholic political ideology: the union of theory and practice" , Chapter 12 (the final one) of The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, 1964. 

Loconte, Joseph. "The Decade of Appeasement", The Daily Standard, 7 February 2008. 

McLynn, Frank. Books: A pontiff stripped of his lies, Independent, 26 September 1999.

Minerbi, Sergio I. The silence was deafening”, Haaretz, 3 September 2010.

Paul, Gregory S. The great scandal: Christianity’s role in the rise of the Nazis: Part 1 and Part 2, Free Inquiry, Volume 23, Number 4, October-December 2003

Paul, Gregory S. Why Making Pope Pius XII a Saint is a Very Bad Idea”, OpEdNews, 20 April 2010. 

Phayer, Michael. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, excerpts from three online book reviews
○  Review by Prof. Robert A. Krieg 
○  Review by Prof. Stanley Hoffmann
○  Review from Publisher’s Weekly

Savich, Carl. “The Vatican Role in the Ustasha Genocide in the Independent State of Croatia”, Serbianna, 11 November 2011.



  

 
 


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