Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #161

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Hey folks, I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas Season and that 2011 brings all of you many blessings.

Because of the holidays, and because of illness in the family – my wife, 4 kids, and I have all had either the flu, strep throat, or sinus infection, or a combination of one or more of those – it’s been a few weeks since I’ve gotten a newsletter out. But, I’m hoping to get back on a more regular schedule starting this week.


This week will involve a first for the newsletter – a guest writer. Many of you have probably heard all of the yapping from the media and from anti-Catholics about Pope Pius XII being “Hitler’s Pope” or that he did little to nothing to help the Jews during World War II and other such garbage.

Well, our guest writer has something to say about that. Professor Ron Rychlak has written not one, but two, books on the subject and he has kindly consented to write something for this humble little newsletter. His text is below, but before we get to that, I just want to mention the titles of his books. They are: 1) Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews From the Nazis, and 2) Hitler, the War, and the Pope.

I highly recommend both of them for anyone who wants to be able to share the truth with folks about what really happened regarding the Pope, the Catholic Church, and the Nazis during World War II.


Eugenio Pacelli – Pope Pius XII
Ronald J. Rychlak

Pope Pius XII, the Church’s 262nd Pope, is probably best known today by the moniker originally bestowed upon him in post World War II Soviet propaganda: Hitler’s Pope. Perhaps no other world/religious leader has ever been subject of such a successful disinformation campaign. During and after the war, Pius was known as a champion of the Jews and other victims. That reputation continued through his life and for several years thereafter. Only after a renewed Soviet propaganda campaign in the 1960s did his reputation change. With the facts now available to us, it is time to restore the true picture.   

The future Pius XII was born in Rome on March 2, 1876, as Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli. Young Eugenio was accepted into a prestigious seminary in Rome, the Capranica.  He excelled in all of his studies, particularly languages; he became fluent in Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Aramaic.  He also took classes at another great seminary, the Gregoriana.  His demanding schedule caused him to develop a hacking cough, and the family doctor warned that he was on the brink of tuberculosis.  That nearly ended Eugenio’s study, but he had been noticed by Pope Leo XIII who permitted young Pacelli to live at home while completing his courses.  He was ordained on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1899. 

Pope Leo XIII had a program for training exceptional young clerics to serve in the Vatican diplomatic service, and two years after Pacelli was ordained, Pietro Cardinal Gasparri invited him into this program.  Leo died in 1903, but the next year, the new Pope Pius X named Pacelli a monsignor and assigned him to a team that was charged with codifying Church canon law.  For the next decade and a half, Pacelli served as a research aide in the office of the Congregation of Ecclesiastical Affairs.  He also served as the Pope’s Minutante, editing and correcting the Pope’s speeches and minutes, and as a personal envoy from the Pope to the Austrian Emperor.

In 1914, Pius X named Cardinal Gasparri the new Vatican Secretary of State, and Pacelli was promoted to the post Gasparri vacated, Secretary of the Congregation of Ecclesiastical Affairs.  Pope Pius X died later this same year and was replaced by Pope Benedict XV.  When World War I broke out, Pacelli and Gasparri were charged with maintaining liaison with the hierarchies on both sides of the conflict, answering appeals for aid from all over Europe, and organizing a war relief program. 

In the summer of 1917, Benedict consecrated Pacelli as bishop in a special ceremony in the Sistine Chapel and at the same time elevated him to the rank of Archbishop.  Pacelli was then sent off to Munich as the papal representative to Bavaria.  He presented the Pope’s peace plan to German leaders and worked to alleviate suffering by distributing food and clothing to the impoverished.  He has been credited with helping 65,000 prisoners of war return home.  In 1920 he was appointed an Apostolic Nuncio, and he eventually established two nunciatures, one in Munich and one in Berlin.

In 1929, Pacelli was recalled to Rome and elevated to the cardinalate.  Early the next year he was made Cardinal Secretary of State.  Working with Pope Pius XI, Pacelli opposed the expansion of nationalistic politics, particularly in Italy and Germany.  In 1933 he negotiated on behalf of the Vatican for an agreement with Germany (the Concordat). While Hitler immediately used this agreement for propaganda purposes, it ended up being instrumental in protecting Catholics and the Catholic Church from the Nazis. By the 1940s, Hitler vowed to obliterate it.

As Secretary of State, Pacelli also made trips on behalf of the Pope to France, Hungary, the United States, and Buenos Ares. On his trip to the United States he became friends with President Franklin Roosevelt and the two coordinated efforts during the later war.  In France, Pacelli made speeches against the racist “blood cult” that had swept across Germany. The Nazi press openly mocked him.  In Hungary, Pacelli’s words were twisted by the Fascist press so that his condemnation of Nazism appeared to be a condemnation of the Jews. (The Nazis later did the same thing with Vatican Radio broadcasts.)

On March 2, 1939, Pacelli became first Secretary of State to be elected Pope since Clement IX in 1667.  He crusaded for peace before and throughout WWII, and he forcefully denounced the extermination of peoples on account of race. The New York Times praised him as a “lonely voice” crying from the silence of Europe and said that he pointed his finger right at Hitlerism.  Through the Pontifical Aid Commission, he operated a vast program of relief for all victims of the war. When Hitler occupied Rome in September 1943, Pius opened Vatican City to Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. 

It is commonly estimated that the Church under Pius saved more than half a million Jewish refugees during the war. With his encouragement, a vast underground of priests, religious, and laity throughout Italy and the rest of Europe served as a covert organization dedicated to protecting Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Nazis.

When evaluating Pius XII’s actions during the war, many people ask why he did not speak out more directly against the Nazis. Recently opened archives show that the Vatican leadership worked very hard to strike the right balance of making its position clear (with Vatican Radio, its newspaper, and personal directives to Catholic leaders and organizations) without provoking Nazi retaliation. Certainly, during the war, leaders on both sides of the war knew where he stood.  (In 1940, Pius cooperated with an attempted anti-Hitler coup, and he also sent the Allies advance information about German troop movements.)

The Pope was influenced by several episodes, including one involving a statement that he had smuggled into occupied Poland. The archbishop wrote back a note of gratitude but declined to have the papal message read publicly because of the retaliation it was certain to provoke against innocent people. As such, Pius let local bishops assess the situation and act or speak as was most appropriate in that locality. Many bishops, notably the future Pope John XXIII, took advantage of the 1933 Concordat by distributing false baptismal certificates and asserting the right to protect these “new Catholics.” The American bishops, who had a free press and did not put their clergy or lay people at risk by speaking out, made a particularly strong statement in late 1942. Pius thanked them for their collaboration. 

The end of the war saw Pius XII hailed as "the inspired moral prophet of victory," and he enjoyed near-universal acclaim for aiding European Jews through diplomatic initiatives, thinly veiled public pronouncements, and the unprecedented continent-wide network of sanctuary.  With the end of hostilities, the Pope concentrated on trying to help people recover from the ravages of war.  Papal money was sent to every war-torn nation and distributed without regard to race, creed, or nationality.

Throughout the war, Pius had feared that a Soviet victory would mean that Eastern Europe would fall to Communism, and after the Allies’ victory much of it did.  The Soviets established several satellite state governments that were beholden to (if not dominated by) Moscow.  Pius actively worked to limit the Communist influence in Western Europe, especially in Italy.
Until failing health forced him to restrict his activities, Pius XII was extraordinarily accessible.  He celebrated more public masses and held more private audiences than any of his recent predecessors had, and each week he held a special audience just for newlyweds.  He also used television and radio to reach out directly to the people.  

In December 1954, Pius fell seriously ill, and his physicians feared for his life, but he recovered his strength and returned to work.  During this illness, Pius reported an apparition of the Lord.  After this, the crowds drawn to him grew even larger. 
During his pontificate, Pius expanded and internationalized the Church by creating 57 new bishoprics, 45 of them in America and Asia.  He also caused the percentage of non-Italians in the College of Cardinals to rise above 50 percent, paving the way for the eventual election of a non-Italian Pope.  He replaced colonial bishops with native hierarchies, approved the "Dialogue Mass," and relaxed communion fasting rules. In 1950, he issued an ex cathedra proclamation defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.

In December 1949, shortly after the formation of the World Council of Churches, Pius formally recognized the ecumenical movement and permitted Catholic scholars to dialogue with non-Catholics on matters of faith.  That same year the Holy Office issued a decree, with papal approval, stating that actual incorporation into the Catholic Church was not necessary for salvation.  He also encouraged Catholic nuns to study theology, scripture, and psychology.  His work encouraged his successor, Pope John XXIII, to convene Vatican II. As others have concluded, without Pacelli Vatican II would have been unthinkable.

During his lifetime, Pius XII’s opposition to Hitler was well known.  Nazis condemned him, Jews thanked him, and rescuers cited him as their inspiration.  At the time of his death, Israeli representative to the United Nations and future Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, said: “During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims.”  Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress, said: “With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods of their entire history.”  Rabbi Elio Toaff, who would later become Chief Rabbi of Rome, said:  “More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror, when it seemed that there was no hope left for us.”  More recently, however, some writers have raised questions about how actively he opposed the Nazis.   

The serious controversy surrounding Pius XII’s wartime leadership began in 1963, with the publication and production of a play entitled The Deputy.  It presented Pius as an unprincipled politician, possessed of an aristocratic coolness and eyes that had an “icy glow.”  While there had long been suspicions, only recently was it established that the play was produced as part of a KGB disinformation campaign to discredit the Catholic Church. 

In 2007, Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking Soviet bloc officer ever to defect to the West, revealed the plan and his part in it. The order came from Moscow at a time of particular hostility toward the Church. After the war, new Communist regimes had convicted many religious leaders (including leading Catholic bishops in Croatia, Hungary, and Poland) in show trials on the charge of collaboration with the Nazis. By 1960, some of these charades were being exposed, most notably by Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty, who had escaped imprisonment in 1956 and wrote his memoirs.

Virtually every person who had a significant role in seeing The Deputy published and produced – from the German producer who took orders from the German Communist Party, to the translator who sat on the Spanish Communist Party’s leadership panel, to the American publisher who considered Communism to be his religion – had close ties to the Communist Party, and many had ties to the KGB or its predecessor. They made sure that the play was published, produced, and promoted with an eye toward discrediting not just Pius, but the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. A side benefit – from the anti-Semitic Soviet perspective – was that this effort helped separate Jews from one of their recent close allies.  

The Deputy is a seven-hour play, with Pius XII as the central, stationary figure.  The Pope is not developed as a tragic figure, since he is neither tragically indecisive nor torn by his alternatives.  Not only does this Pius lack Christian charity, but also simple human decency.   The Soviets so overplayed their hand that even critics of Pius have called the characterization of Pacelli “so wide of the mark as to be ludicrous.” Nevertheless, with the Soviet propaganda machine behind it, the play reshaped Pius XII’s reputation so that it is now an axiom of popular culture that he was, at the very least, guilty of criminal cowardice and insensitivity in the face of the Holocaust.

Immediately after The Deputy premiered Church officials responded, as did Protestant and Jewish leaders (there were strong currents of anti-Semitism in the play). Jeno Levai, the leading scholar of the Jewish extermination in Hungary observed that it was a “particularly regrettable irony that the one person in all of occupied Europe who did more than anyone else to halt the dreadful crime and alleviate its consequences is today made the scapegoat for the failures of others.” The Pope’s statements, tributes from Jewish victims, news accounts from the time, testimony of those who knew him, and Nazi anger directed at him clearly show where the Pope stood. 

In his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (Darkness over the Earth), released just weeks after the outbreak of war, Pius condemned the “Godless State” and deplored “the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong.”  His reference to an “ever-increasing host of Christ’s enemies” was a clear swipe at both Germany and the Soviet Union.  He went on to condemn racists, dictators, and treaty violators (all terms which applied to Hitler and Stalin).  Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo, wrote: “This Encyclical is directed exclusively against Germany, both in ideology and in regard to the German-Polish dispute; How dangerous it is for our foreign relations as well as our domestic affairs is beyond dispute.” Allies dropped 80,000 copies of it behind enemy lines as propaganda.

In his 1942 Christmas statement, Pius spoke of the need for mankind to make “a solemn vow never to rest until valiant souls of every people and every nation of the earth arise in their legions, resolved to bring society and to devote themselves to the services of the human person and of a divinely ennobled human society.”  Mankind owed this vow to all victims of the war, including “the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.”  One Nazi report stated:  “The Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order…. His speech is one long attack on everything we stand for…  [He] makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”

After the liberation of Rome, Pius declared: “For centuries, [Jews] have been most unjustly treated and despised.  It is time they were treated with justice and humanity.  God wills it and the Church wills it.  St. Paul tells us that the Jews are our brothers.  Instead of being treated as strangers they should be welcomed as friends.”  In an allocution to the sacred College on June 2, 1945, which was also broadcast on Vatican Radio, Pius noted the death of about 2,000 Catholic priests at Dachau and described National Socialism as “the arrogant apostasy from Jesus Christ, the denial of His doctrine and of His work of redemption, the cult of violence, the idolatry of race and blood, the overflow of human liberty and dignity.”

Father Robert Leiber, Pius XII’s private secretary and personal confidant during the war explained: “The Pope sided very unequivocally with the Jews at the time.  He spent his entire private fortune on their behalf…. Pius spent what he inherited himself, as a Pacelli, from his family.”  At the time, no one doubted his allegiance. Rescuer John Patrick Carroll-Abbing wrote: "Never, in those tragic days, could I have foreseen, even in my wildest imaginings, that the man who, more than any other, had tried to alleviate human suffering, had spent himself day by day in his unceasing efforts for peace, would – twenty-years later – be made the scapegoat for men trying to free themselves from their own responsibilities and from the collective guilt that obviously weighs so heavily upon them."

German foreign secretary Joachim von Ribbentrop testified at Nuremberg that he had a “whole desk full of protests” from Rome, many of which dealt with the treatment of the Jews.  The Vatican, in fact, worked with the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, as the defendants faced charges stemming from their persecution of the Catholic Church. “Wild Bill” Donovan’s files from the prosecution team were put online by Rutgers University. They clearly show that the Catholic Church was a victim of Nazi persecution, not a co-perpetrator.

Beyond mere words, Pius also undertook actions on behalf of the victims of Nazi terror.  The survival rates for Jews in Catholic countries were almost invariably higher than for Jews who found themselves under Nazi occupation elsewhere.  During the war, in virtually every occupied nation, Catholic buildings were put into use as shelters for refugees.  Church officials freely distributed false Baptismal certificates that could be used to avoid deportation.  Numerous protests and objections were filed with the Axis governments.

Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer home, was used to shelter thousands of refugees during the war.  A wartime US intelligence document reported that the “bombardment of Castel Gandolfo resulted in the injury of about 1,000 people and the death of about 300 more.  The highness of the figures is due to the fact that the area was crammed with refugees.”  No one but Pope Pius XII had authority to open these building to outsiders.  In fact, his personal bedroom was converted to a nursery and birthing area, and about 40 babies were born there during the war.

The 1943-1944 American Jewish Yearbook reported that Pius XII “took an unequivocal stand against the oppression of Jews throughout Europe.”  The head of the Italian Jewish Assistance Committee, Dr. Raffael Cantoni, who subsequently became the President of the Union of all Italian Jewish communities reported: “The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and in as far as they could save Christians…. Six millions of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims, had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.”

In 1945, the Chief Rabbi of Romania, Dr. Alexander Safran, expressed the gratitude of the Jewish community for the Vatican’s help and support for prisoners in the concentration camps.  Grand Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem wrote:
"I well know that His Holiness the Pope is opposed from the depths of his noble soul to all persecution and especially to the persecution… which the Nazis inflict unremittingly on the Jewish people…. I take this opportunity to express… my sincere thanks as well as my deep appreciation… of the invaluable help given by the Catholic Church to the Jewish people in its affliction."  After the war, Rabbi Herzog visited the Vatican to thank Pius and the Holy See for “manifold acts of charity” on behalf of the Jews.

Critics of Pope Pius XII often resort to shallow caricatures depicting Pius as cold, aloof, and sometimes evil.  This caricature, of course, is ridiculously off of the mark. Monsignor Hugh Montgomery, an English priest who knew Pope Pius XII well, wrote of him: “It must seem absurd to anyone who knew ‘Papa Pacelli’ at all to hear him described as ‘cold.’  He had a boyish eagerness of manner which was most attractive and a radiant smile.” That personality served him well for the 22 years prior to becoming Pope that he spent as an international diplomat in service to the Holy See.

Until failing health forced him to restrict his activities, he was extraordinarily accessible.  He celebrated more public masses and held more private audiences than any of his recent predecessors had, and each week he held a special audience just for newlyweds.  He shifted the time of certain services, to permit more people to attend.  He also used television and radio to reach out directly to the people.  As the New York Times reported, he “exchanged views with more laymen of different creeds and nationalities than any pontiff of modern time.”  Because of all this, he was known as the “least stuffy” of Popes.

Pius died in 1958. The play that so affected his reputation was first produced in 1963. In 1965, Pope Paul VI proposed that "his great model," Pius XII, be considered for sainthood.  For over 40 years, top Vatican scholars studied his life. Even before Pacepa’s revelations about the Soviet plot, they concluded that the allegations against him were part of a false campaign to denigrate his memory. Those who repeat the allegations are either misinformed, or they are intentionally misusing the history of the Holocaust to support a political cause (precisely like the Soviets did).

Pope Benedict XVI has called Pius “one of the great righteous men [who] saved more Jews than anyone else.” He also declared his predecessor “venerable.” The cause of Pius XII’s sainthood is still progressing.  If he is eventually canonized, it will reflect a victory of truth both in his battles with Nazism and in the Church’s struggles with the Soviets. 

In Conclusion

I’m hoping to get a response in the next day or two to my first round salvo in the debate I’m engaged in with a person from the Church of Christ about whether or not Peter was the first Pope. If I do, then I will continue with that debate in next week’s issue.

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Apologetics for the Masses