Accusations Against Pope Pius XII

During Lent I read a couple of books on the relation of Pope Pius XII to Hitler. One, Hitler’s Pope by John Cornwell severely criticizes Pius XII. The other, Ronald J. Rychlak’s Hitler, The War and The Pope takes a more dispassionate approach. Rychlak wrote about the same time as Cornwell, but added an epilogue in which he examines Cornwell’s accusations, e.g. that the pope:

--Was a secret anti-Semite.

--Made a cynical concordat with Serbia that triggered World War I.

--Feared communism so much he overlooked Nazi atrocities.

--Was so intent on signing the Reich Concordat he facilitated Hitler’s rise to power.

--Suppressed the Catholic Center Party in Germany.

--Quelled Catholic resistance to Nazism.

--Refused to support the Allies against Hitler.

--Kept silent when by speaking out he could have saved European Jews.

--Allowed Nazis to send Roman Jews to concentration camps.

--Supported the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia.

These are only a few of the charges Cornwell makes in Hitler’s Pope. If you read his book, I encourage you to also read Rychlak and form your own judgment. I will limit myself to three observations:

First, Cornwell presents a “comic book” approach to Church history. He starts with an exposition of Modernism. On one side are the good guys – the sincere seekers of truth struggling to bring an archaic church into the modern world. On the other, the bad guys – intransigent bureaucrats trying, by vicious methods, to impose central control. He gives no indication they may have had valid concerns. Nor does he seem aware how "modernists" shipwrecked nineteenth century Protestantism. He uses the good guy – bad guy framework to explain not only Pius XII, but his predecessors and successors right up to Pope John Paul II.

Second, Cornwell represents himself as a practicing Catholic who originally intended to write a defense of Pius XII, but then discovered hidden documents causing him to fall into a “state of moral shock.” However, as Rychlak shows, Cornwell’s earlier writings show a quite different picture, including many hostile comments not only toward the Church, but specifically against Pius XII and his “silence on Nazi atrocities.”* I remember reading his previous book, Thief in the Night. While it discounts the theory that someone assassinated Pope John Paul I, it is filled with sneering comments about the various priests he interviewed. I chocked it up to his being an ex-seminarian. However, in the present book the sarcasm is relentless. An example – he concludes his account of the 1950 canonization of St. Maria Gorretti with this statement:

In stark contrast with Pacelli’s expectation for moral behavior in those guilty of participating in the mass killing of Jews during the war, he did not hesitate to counsel martyrdom for those whose sexual morality was being challenged.” (p.346)

As in the above sentence, it was often hard to figure out what Cornwell was saying – apart from distaste for the church’s moral teachings and the “hypocrisy” of her leaders. Which bring me to my third observation: The church Cornwell lobbies for already exists. If you want a church with lay control, no central authority, no uncomfortable teachings on divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, no serious concern about doctrine, you do not have to engage in the “titanic struggle” Cornwell describes at the end of his book. There’s an Episcopal church waiting for you on the corner. Heck, Seattle’s Episcopal Cathedral chose an open homosexual as dean. What more do you want? **

I’m not trying to dump on the Episcopalians. We have our own problems, not least what to do with open dissenters like John Cornwell. But wouldn’t it be simpler – and much less hypocritical – for them to join a church already congenial to their views?


*The quote comes from a London Sunday Times interview five years before he wrote Hitler’s Pope. In Thief in the Night (1989), Cornwell referred to Pius XII as "an emaciated, large-eyed demigod" and "totally remote from experience, and yet all-powerful - a Roman emperor." Hardly the characterization one would expect from a neutral observer. Unfortunately for Cornwell, many on-record comments belie his claim to objectivity.

**According to St. Mark's website they are “a church of astonishing theological breadth. But it is not breadth in a lax, lazy, anything-goes sense. The Anglican Church, when truest to its own theological traditions, views the mind not as a potential instrument of the Devil but as a gift of God. And it takes seriously the idea of the community of faith as a context within which people from different backgrounds and with varying perspectives can openly share their experiences of God, can attend to one another in a spirit of love, and can thereby gain insights that may help every member of the community to move somewhat closer to God's truth.” Could John Cornwell ask for anything more?


Footnote (January 2004): To many people's surprise, Cornwell has written a follow up study called Hitler's Scientists. As you might imagine, critics have not received it as enthusiastically as the accusations against the pope. Still, the book does show how science and medicine can be subverted and utilized for evil purposes. In comparison to the general public, a higher percentage of scientists and physicians joined the Nazi party. Their presence gave legitimacy to Nazism - as it does today to abortion, in vitro fertilization, euthanasia, cloning, stem cell research, chemical birth control, etc.


From Michael Medved:

It is ironic that sixty years after the Holocaust – with anti-Semitism virulent among Islamic fundamentalists and growing rapidly among secular Europeans – the liberal media in the West has tried to blame Pope Pius XII (and even the Catholic Church as a whole) for anti-Semitism. Was Pope Pius XII secretly in league with Adolf Hitler? No, says Rabbi David G. Dalin, in his revealing new book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. In fact, as Pope Pius XII worked to save Jews from the Nazis, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, became Hitler’s staunch ally and a promoter of the Holocaust, with a legacy that feeds radical Islam today. In this shocking and thoroughly documented book, Rabbi Dalin explodes the myth of Hitler’s pope and condemns the myth-makers for not only rewriting history, but also for denying the testimony of Holocaust survivors, hijacking the Holocaust for unseemly political ends, and ignoring the real threat to the Jewish people.

What Jewish People Said About Pius XII

Historian Refutes Claims of "Hitler's Pope"

Mit Brennender Sorge Encyclical on the Church and the German Reich March 14, 1937

Not Hitler's Pope Articles on the subject of Pope Pius XII during WWII

Letter to Brill's Content Was Pius XII Hitler's Pope?

Forgotten Holocaust

Nazi Policy and the Catholic Church by KAROL JOZEF GAJEWSKI

The Pope Pius XII Controversy A Review-Article By Kenneth D. Whitehead (New)

Germaine Greer on Birth Control

A Pro-Choice Argument

God's Weak Ones

Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)

Show Truth to America
(Demonstration at Seattle University, September 27, 2003)
Warning: Contains Graphic Images