“This Christmas,” the Times wrote, “more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent. “No Christmas sermon reaches a larger congregation than the message Pope Pius XII addresses to a war-torn world at this season.” The Times understood what the pope said, whom and what he condemned, even if the proper names were not pronounced. The Times wrote,
“But just because the Pope speaks to and in some sense for all the peoples at war, the clear stand he takes on the fundamental issues of the conflict has greater weight and authority. When a leader bound impartially to nations on both sides condemns as heresy the new form of national state which subordinates everything to itself; when he declares that whoever wants peace must protect against ‘arbitrary attacks’ the ‘juridical safety of individuals’; when he assails violent occupation of territory, the exile and persecution of human beings for no reason other than race or political opinion; when he says that people must fight for a just and decent peace, a ‘total peace’--the ‘impartial’ judgement is like a verdict in a high court of justice.” The editor ends, echoing the pope’s words that these new states “must refuse that the state should make of individuals a herd of whom the state disposes as if they were lifeless things.” (N.Y. Times, December 25, 1942, p. 16, 2)
Both Hitler and Stalin blamed the pope and the Catholic Church as responsible for the war and for the sufferings of millions, including Jews and Catholics. These accusations were repeated by both Nazis and Communists during the remaining years of the war in an attempt to weaken the loyalty of the peoples of Europe to Pius XII and to the Roman Catholic Church. This is the origin of the numerous unfounded accusations, the “silence” of Pius XII, as reported by the Times, which are repeated even today.
Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.—Time Magazine, December 23, 1940.
Robert P. George
Tonight (Sunday, September 4, 2016) at 9:00 Eastern time, the National Geographic Channel will air an important docudrama on the efforts of Pope Pius XII to bring down Hitler and to protect Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution.
For more than a decade after WWII it was widely understood that the Pope was a determined enemy of Hitler and the Nazis. He was praised by many who had distinguished themselves in opposing Hitler and rescuing victims, as well as by Israeli and other Jewish leaders (such as Prime Minister Golda Meir). Then, beginning with a play called “The Deputy” by the German leftist Rolf Hochhuth in 1963-64, memory of Pius’s anti-Nazi attitude and activities began to be erased. Communists in East Germany, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere, together with others on the left in Europe, relentlessly attacked Pius as “silent” about the Holocaust and unconcerned about its victims. Remarkably, no new information about Pius had been revealed. And yet, many people of goodwill uncritically accepted the revisionist picture of the wartime pontiff.
To grasp how this happened, it is important to understand the hatred of the European left for religion in general, Christianity in particular, and the Catholic Church most especially. The defamation of Pius XII, even to the absurd point of depicting him as “Hitler’s Pope,” served the cause of undermining the credibility and authority of Christianity and the Catholic Church in post-War Europe. (The Vatican itself over many decades did not help by its policy of only very slowly releasing archival material. As war-time archival material has come out, however, it has served only to burnish Pius’s reputation, not blacken it.)
By the time I was growing up, the campaign of vilification against Pius XII was already well advanced and largely successful. I heard much against him and very little in defense of him, even from Catholic priests (who mostly, in my experience, said nothing about the topic). I became interested in the topic only after growing up and marrying into a Jewish family. Perhaps because of my familial connections, I’m sensitive even to the slightest hint of anti-Semitism and have no tolerance whatever for it, especially among my fellow Catholics. And, alas, there have been anti-Semitic Catholics, including some important Church officials. So once I became interested in the question of Pius XII’s attitudes and activities during the war, I wanted to know the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I read various pro- and anti-Pius books and articles and came to see that those who had generously praised him after the war and even expressed gratitude to him for his work in support of Hitler’s Jewish and other victims had been right in the first place. He had not been Hitler’s Pope. He had in fact been Hitler’s determined enemy. Under dangerous conditions, he had activated the institutions of the Church wherever he could against Hitler and in defense of victims and searched for ways to undermine him–including supporting a plot to assassinate him–in Germany. Hitler hated Pius and wanted rid of him. And he had good reason–Pius was anti-Nazi and anti-racist through and through.
In this evening’s broadcast, Pius’s critics are given opportunities to make their claims against him. But they are overwhelmed by the sheer weight of evidence of his anti-Nazism and efforts on behalf of victims. It is worth watching. Through the work of Rabbi David Dalin, Professor Ronald Rychlak, Gary Krupp, William Doino, and many other researchers and writers, we now know an enormous amount about what Pius XII actually did and said during the dark era of Nazi domination of Europe. The narrative constructed by Hochhuth and others, and sold to the public, has crumbled. It will take awhile for people generally to take this on board, but it is already happening. Tonight’s broadcast will help the process along.