Matt Swaim and I will discuss another topic of Church History this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show, this one in the not so distant past: The case of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. We'll be live after the 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central news break and you could listen live here if there's no EWTN affiliate carrying the show in your area.
From my article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, on which this series is based:
In the modern era, of course, the great historical attack against the Catholic Church comes from the supposed silence and inaction of Pope Pius XII, standing by while Jews were tortured and murdered during the Nazi Holocaust. The supreme irony about this historical canard is that after World War II, Pope Pius XII was hailed by survivors of the Holocaust and the first leaders of Israel, like Golda Meir, as a great “righteous Gentile.” He was lauded for his efforts to protect the Jewish people in Italy (in Rome especially), and throughout the period leading up to and during the war, his consistent call for peace. Yet, because of a play, a work of dramatic fiction presented in the early 1960s, Pope Pius XII posthumously became the target of attack because he supposedly did not denounce the Nazi regime, at least not in the terms that some now wanted him to use then. The title of the play is “The Deputy,” by Rolf Hochhuth. Once it appeared on the stage, the pope’s reputation changed dramatically. He became known as “Hitler’s Pope” (from the title of John Cornwell’s 1999 book).
Here are a few facts to present against the view that the Catholic Church or Pope Pius XII was silent in the face of Nazi atrocities:
~Pope Pius XII spoke out clearly against the entire Nazi campaign of invasion of sovereign lands, like Czechoslovakia and Poland.
~He spoke out against the extermination of Jews directly in his Christmas message of December 1942, and The New York Times praised him for it.
~Pope Pius XII took many actions to defend Jews:
~~He issued false documents, including baptismal documents, so that Jewish refugees could emigrate;
~~He worked with other governments to obtain visas (but not the United States of America or Great Britain, which would not allow immigration of Jewish refugees);
~~He opened Castel Gandolfo, as well as convents and monasteries throughout Rome and Vatican City, for Jewish Italians to take refuge.
And then there is the deeper issue of the danger that Jews, as well as Catholic and Protestant converts from Judaism, would face if he had directly and pointedly attacked Nazi policies toward their “race.” The International Red Cross knew at the time, just as Pope Pius XII did, that such statements would lead to reprisals. The bishop in Holland learned this by experience. Hitler’s agents warned the Archbishop of Utrecht not to speak out against the deportation of Dutch Jews, and when he did, the Nazis rounded up Catholic converts from Judaism, sending them to the death camps. These included the Carmelite nun, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (previously known as Edith Stein) who died at Auschwitz.
Finally, since this attack is aimed at the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, it’s important to remember the pope is infallible only when teaching on matters of faith and morals. The Church has never taught that the pope is impeccable, unable to err in practical matters and actions.
Please let me know if you have suggestions of other topics to cover in this series, which started in January this year.