Manfred and Anne Lehmann Foundation

Sainthood for Pope Pius XII?

The press has begun to lay the groundwork for the consideration of sainthood(an honor reserved for Catholics showing extraordinary martyrdom(for a Pope who is still very much in everyone's memory: Pope Pius XII, the Holocaust Pope! Time Magazine, for example, reported that he is being considered for sainthood, despite the fact that "one Jewish leader says no"(referring to Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. This statement can easily be used for anti-Semitic purposes, as if to say that only Jews are hostile to Pius XII, whereas the rest of the world would welcome his sainthood with open arms. It also implies that only "one Jewish leader" is opposed to him, not the whole Jewish people.

Before these distortions of history become the accepted norm—considering the all-powerful influence of the media on the unthinking, uneducated masses—I find it necessary to review the whole sordid chapter of the Vatican's role in the Holocaust. The severe criticism of Pius XII did not come only from "one Jewish leader," but even from a Catholic historian who was given full access to the Vatican archives (which are still closed to us!). When one studies the facts presented by Father John Morley, an objective observer must ask himself: What kind of martyrdom did Pius II exhibit during the Holocaust that would entitle him to sainthood? If he is declared a saint, shouldn't all the other saints of the past feel uncomfortable, since respect for sainthood would thereby be considerably lessened?

Certainly, the memory of our own six million martyrs would be desecrated if Pius XII, who might have saved a good part of them from death, is declared a saint!

It would be truly astonishing if the current Vatican, after claiming that under the Second Vatican Council its attitude to Jews has changed, would again identify itself with the questionable attitude of Pius XII. I therefore place before my readers an article featured almost four years ago in the Algemeiner Journal (November 3, 1989), entitled "The Vatican and the Holocaust": It is timely to look at the historic record—through the eyes of a Catholic historian who had access to highly sensitive diplomatic material inside the Vatican archives.

Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews During the Holocaust, 1939-1943, written by Father John F. Morley, a member of the Ecumenical Commission of the Archdiocese of Newark, is based on the Vatican's own diplomatic records, to which he had access. He explains the time span covered by his book as follows: "The first date chosen, 1939, marked the beginning of the papacy of Pius XII, as well as the outbreak of the War. The study ceased at the end of 1943 because the Vatican records, published to the present, extend only to that date, and also because the majority of Jews of Europe had already been killed by then." In other words, Father Morley concentrates on the actions and motivations of Pope Pius XII, yet stops short of the worst crescendo of the barbaric Nazi Final Solution, which took place in 1944 and early 1945. Unfortunately, his conclusions about the first four years of the Pius XII era are grim enough to leave no doubt about the Vatican's attitude during the most tragic of all the Holocaust years.

Father Morley gives us an important insight into the pyramid of the Vatican's global organization, which consisted of the Pope, his Secretary of State, and the Nuncios. He goes through country after country under Nazi domination, reviewing the contacts between this organization and the local rulers, who, with the full knowledge of the Vatican, carried out the extermination of millions of Jews.

The two countries which prided themselves as true Catholic States, where the Pope's word was law, were Slovakia and Croatia. Here, more than anywhere else, strong condemnation of the anti-Jewish measures could have been expected. Here the Pope could easily have resorted to ecclesiastic remedies, in the form of sanctions and excommunications of those involved in these crimes. Yet, despite unceasing appeals for intervention, the Pope chose to use diplomacy here as everywhere else, instead of ecclesiastic sanctions. The diplomatic tack he chose was one of utter prudence and reserve, always guided, as Father Morley states repeatedly, by an ardent desire to do nothing which might annoy Germany, a country where Pius XII had been Nuncio for 17 years prior to 1939.

Father Morley explains this by pointing to "the autocratic tendencies of Pius XII, and his total interest in Germany." A characteristic epistle from the Pope, dated April 30, 1943, addressed to the Bishop of Berlin, reads: "Our paternal love and solicitude are greater today toward non-Aryan or semi-Aryan Catholics, children of the Church like the others, when their outward existence is collapsing and they are going through mortal distress. Unhappily, in the present circumstances, we cannot over them effective help other than through our prayers."

This message was the basis of the famous Hochhut play The Deputy, with its devastating criticism of the Holocaust Pope.

The astounding feature of this and other communications is that the Pope basically showed some degree of concern only for baptized Jews, for whom he had to demonstrate the same love as for born Catholics.

For example, according to Father Morley, in Slovakia, a country then ruled by Dr. Tiso, a Catholic Bishop, the Vatican's charge d'affaires, Burzio, limited his concern to those Jews who had been baptized.

In Rumania, the efforts of Cassulo, the Papal Nuncio, "on behalf of the Jews, concerned almost exclusively those who had been baptized as Catholic."

The Nuncio in Germany, Orsenigo, when told about the new anti-Jewish laws, expressed worry not about the Jews themselves, but about their Catholic spouses in cases of mixed marriage. A Vatican-hatched scheme to save 300 "non-Aryans" by arranging Brazilian visas for them was only intended for baptized Jews. The scheme never materialized.

In France, when the Vichy Government informed the Vatican's Assistant Secretary of State, Giovanni Montini (who later became Pope Paul VI), about the new anti-Jewish laws, the latter only expressed concern that the laws might obstruct mixed marriages.

In the case of Poland, Morley documents dispatch after dispatch, received during 1942 at the Vatican, detailing all the atrocities and extermination schemes of the Nazis. The Pope was probably better informed of the inferno going on in Poland at that time than anyone else outside of Nazi Germany. Yet his only reaction to the avalanche of telegrams sent to him by Jewish leaders in all parts of the free world was to ask his Nuncios to "answer orally that the Holy See is doing what it can."

The Pope hid behind general, complicated phrases, which could not be clearly identified, and therefore could not upset anyone. Even after the Allies had liberated Italy, President Roosevelt's envoy, Harold H. Tittmann, expressed his exasperation with the Pope in his report of a meeting with him: "The Holy See was unable to publicly denounce particular atrocities, but it had frequently condemned atrocities in general. He said that he thought that it was plain to everyone that he was referring to the Poles, Jews and hostages when he declared that hundreds of thousands of persons had been killed or tortured through no fault of their own, sometimes only because of their race or nationality."

While the Pope professed to be unable to do more than to pray, Father Morley does not excuse his inaction, since there were innumerable opportunities for the Pope to critically influence Germany's policies. For example, when 1,259 Jews were deported from Rome, the German Ambassador watched nervously for the Pope's reaction. In a dispatch to Berlin, he congratulated himself that the only feeble reaction had been a visit by the Vatican Secretary of State, Maglione, who uttered some noncommittal words on the subject of the deportation, but was keen on keeping even those words off the record, ending his conversation: "If you think it more opportune not to mention our conversation, so be it."

While the Pope again and again said that he left it up to the Bishops to react to local excesses by the Nazis, he carefully orchestrated an attitude of reserve through his Secretary of State. The only time he personally showed great indignation is repeated several times in Father Morley's book: On March 24, 1942, the Vatican received a communication from the Chief Rabbi of Budapest, according to which "the Germans were planning on sending several thousand Slovak Jewish girls as prostitutes for their front-line soldiers in Russia. The Pope himself was so disturbed at this news that he instructed Maglione to protest to Sidor (the Slovak Minister to the Holy See) and to attempt to dissuade his Government from allowing such a horror." The Pope also ordered Burzio, his charge d'affaires in Bratislava, to do likewise. This incident offers amazing insight into the psychological make-up of Pius XII: evidently his libido was more active than his sense of indignation in the face of mass murder.

Contrary to Pope John Paul II's recent statement, Father Morley's condemnation of the Pope and the Holy See for its failure during the Holocaust is unequivocal: "It must be concluded that Vatican diplomacy failed the Jews during the Holocaust by not doing all that was possible for it to do on their behalf. It also failed itself, because in neglecting the needs of the Jews, and pursuing a goal of reserve rather than humanitarian concern, it betrayed the ideals that it had set for itself. The Nuncios, the Secretary of State, and most of all, the Pope, share the responsibility for this dual failure." We must, however, delve further into the perplexing attitude of the Vatican during the Holocaust to find its true, basic motivations, so that we may draw some conclusions from this history. It is simply not enough to blame the omissions of the Vatican on Pope Pius XII's personal pro-German bias. There were, as I have found, two basic motivations, fully documented by Father Morley, both of which are still very much alive today: 1) theological anti-Semitism, and 2) theological anti-Zionism.

Father Morley describes the Vatican's anti-Jewish attitude as follows: "[Some of the Nuncios] felt that certain aspects of the anti-Jewish legislation would be beneficial in minimizing Jewish influence in countries where it was considered harmful to Christian society. Such an opinion. . . has an historical echo in the age-old Christian view of the Jews as 'the witness people.' According to this theory, the Jews rejected and killed Jesus, and by so doing, incurred the anger of G-d. Because they were deicidists, the Jews were destined by G-d to suffer. One aspect of their suffering was to be their low status in Christian society, with all kinds of legislation to that effect. It was thought that this servile posture would serve as a testimony to Jewish inferiority and Christian superiority in the mind of G-d."

The Nuncios were "not reluctant to use moral and physical pressures and threats to attempt to convince the Jews of the veracity and superiority of Christianity." That is why they accepted the baptism of Jews, even under the force of threat and deportation, and concentrated whatever efforts they cared to exert on behalf of such converts.

When it comes to theological anti-Zionism, the material offered by Father Morley is simply amazing. Archbishop Angelo Roncalli—later known as the "Good Pope John XXIII"—as well as Secretary of State Maglione and his principal assistant, Mgr. Domenico Tardini, are all quoted as warning against any steps which may encourage Jews to found, after the war, a Jewish state in Palestine: "Palestine is by this time more sacred for Catholics than. . . for Jews."

Morley explains their attitude further: "If Palestine were to become predominantly Jewish, then Catholic piety would be offended and Catholics would be understandably anxious as to whether they could continue to peacefully enjoy their historic rights over the holy places."

The most amazing formulation of this antagonism is expressed by Maglione, the Vatican Secretary of State, the man who, more than anyone else under the Pope, was responsible for implementing a policy, year after year, of turning a deaf ear to Jewish suffering: "It is true that at one time Palestine was inhabited by Jews, but how can the principle of bringing back people to this land where they were until nineteen centuries ago, be historically accepted? It would not seem difficult, in case there is a desire to create a 'Jewish Home,' to find other territories which would be better suited for that purpose, while Palestine, under Jewish majority, would give rise to new and grave international problems, would displease Catholics throughout the entire world, would provoke justifiable protest of the Holy See, and would badly correspond to the charitable concern that the same Holy See has had and continues to have for the Jews."

Roncalli, the "Good Pope"(!), added that he "felt uneasy about the attempts of Jews to reach Palestine, as if they were trying to reconstruct a Jewish kingdom.... [It would not be] proper that the charitable activity of the Holy See should be used in this way to help in the realization of any messianic dream that the Jews might have."

In short, we deduce from Father Morley's elaborations that the Vatican's motivations during the War were, on the one hand, the belief that the Holocaust represented divine justice against the Jews, and, on the other, an attempt to prevent a Jewish State from being established in Palestine after the War.

Now, almost 50 years later, the same currents within the Vatican are apparent. They are well formulated by Brother Marcel-Jacques Dubois, O.P., a Dominican philosopher from France, now head of the Philosophy Department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Encyclopedia Judaica, Year Book 1974, p. 167). The Diaspora is considered to be a consequence of the crucifixion, a punishment for deicide, and Zionism must therefore be regarded as an arrogant presumption, in op- position to the will of G-d, Who has punished His people, condemning them to exile and wandering. Now that the Messiah has come, the Church—"Verus Israel"—has taken the place of the old Israel. "The Jewish people no longer have any reason to exist; so the Jews as a nation may now vanish and, in any case, have no right to occupy the historic land of Israel."

As horrifying as these conservative Catholic theses are, they become even more horrifying and tragic when one thinks back to the naive and unsuspecting Jewish leaders—from Geneva, London and New York—who sent petition after petition during the War to the Vatican, appealing to the supposed sense of humanity of the Church, never sensing that the Church's aims were directed in an entirely different direction.

One can also understand how, against the background of such negative attitudes to the Jewish people, the Catholic clergy must have woken up, with a sense of total theological shock, to find the Jewish people reborn, stronger than ever, and reestablished in that very State which the Church had written off forever for the Jews, and long ago had usurped for itself.

Against the background of such clear historic evidence, it is obvious that during the Holocaust the Vatican was motivated by its age-old animosity toward Judaism and by its long-standing goal of converting Jews to Christianity, coupled with a fear of the establishment of a Jewish State. Unfortunately, this anti-Jewish prejudice still surfaces from time to time, despite the good intentions of the Church to change its attitude to Jews under the encyclical "Nostra Aetate," initiated by Pope John XXIII.

We all remember the deliberate slight of Pope Paul VI, when, after a visit to Israel, he sent a thank you letter addressed to "Mr. Shazar, Tel Aviv," without using his Presidential title, or any mention of Israel or Jerusalem. (In contrast, when the predecessor of the current Pope, John Paul I, assumed office, he wrote a letter properly addressed to "President Ephraim Katzir, Jerusalem, Israel," which must have been very much against the liking of the Curia. A few days later, however, he was dead, having died under mysterious circumstances, which to this day have not been cleared up.)

The current Pope has again and again demonstrated his disregard for Jewish sensitivities by his repeated meetings with Kurt Waldheim and Yasir Arafat, his refusal to recognize Israel, his refusal to allow a discussion of the return of precious Hebrew manuscripts seized by the Church from Jewish communities, and by his inactivity during the recent Auschwitz crisis, etc. When he says he does not recognize Israel because her borders are not yet settled, he is obviously avoiding the true reason: the theological objections to a reborn Jewish State, as we have observed above. He did not even allow an American cardinal to visit Israel's President and Prime Minister during a visit there!

The benign and conciliatory voices of American cardinals in cities with large Jewish and Protestant populations can therefore not always be accepted as the genuine voice of the Vatican. For that voice, the words, actions and inactions of the Pope himself, and the Curia around him, must be watched. For example, when some Catholic bishops in the United States recently put forward a plan for "settlement" of the Arab-Israel problem, they claimed that they had the security of Israel in mind. But at the same time, the Pope in Rome declared himself in favor of a Palestinian State, which we all know would be a mortal peril to the survival of Israel.

Our only hope, however, is that younger elements inside the Vatican, who have a different philosophy from the Curia of old, may one day change the attitude of the Church to Jews and to Israel, in a spirit of appreciation and respect. But as to the Holocaust years, history has pronounced a negative judgement on Pope Pius XII, which no media blitz can eradicate or dilute: He was hardly saint material, from anyone's point of view.

 

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