Hitler's Pope : The Secret History of Pius XII, Paperback

Hitler's Pope : The Secret History of Pius XII Paperback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Backed by a wealth of new research, John Cornwell tells for the first time the story of the World War II career of Eugenio Pacelli, the man who was Pope Pius XII, arguably the most dangerous churchman in modern history.

In the first decade of the century, as a brilliant young Vatican lawyer, Pacelli helped shape a new ideology of unprecedented papal power in Germany.

In 1933 Hitler became his negotiating partner, an agreement was arranged that granted religious and financial payments to the Catholic Church in exchange for their withdrawal from social and political privilege, ensuring the rise of Nazism.




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A reasonably persuasive case for the involvement (and/or tacit complicity) of Pius XII with the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.

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The beatification process has begun to make Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) a saint. Aside from whatever we might think about how saints are created by the church as an institution, I suspect everyone would agree that any saint should have a reasonably spotless reputation. <br/><br/>John Henry Newman, a famous British convert to Catholicism in the eighteenth century, once wrote that “It is not good for a Pope to live twenty years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.” The papacy alters a man’s consciousness. He becomes a solitary individual. Paul VI recognized this solitude and penned a note to himself that described this loneliness and power, “assume every responsibility for guiding others, even when it seems illogical and perhaps absurd. And to suffer alone. . . Me and God.” <br/><br/>Cornwell, aware of the rumors surrounding Pius’s actions during WWII with regard to the Jewish problem in Germany, decided to do the definitive research into these accusations. He was given unprecedented access to Vatican files. He was sure that Pius would be vindicated. What he discovered surprised and saddened him. The secret files revealed a man obsessed with power who maneuvered with Hitler and the German Catholic Church in such a way that helped to bring Hitler to power. It’s important to remember that the papacy as we know it today is very different from that which preceded the nineteenth century. It is an invention. Prior to the rise of almost instant world-wide communication, power was distributed through great councils and a hierarchy that left much discretion to local control. It was “more a final court of appeal than a uniquely initiating autocracy.” <br/><br/>Pacelli played a key role in strengthening the central authority of the papacy. This was in part a reaction to the oppression the Catholic Church had suffered at the hands of the state in the early nineteenth century. There was also a struggle between those who urged more central authority for the pope and those who were anxious to decentralize and distribute more authority to the bishops. The centralists won at the First Vatican Council of 1870 when the pope was declared “infallible” in matters of faith and morals and the undisputed leader of the church. Pacelli, as a Vatican lawyer, played a substantial role in redrafting the Church’s laws in such a way as to grant future popes “unchallenged domination.” The Code of Canon Law was initiated in 1917 and distributed to Catholic clergy. Pacelli received special dispensation to study at home for his seminary training. Ostensibly, this was because of his nervous stomach’s inability to handle seminary food. Whatever the case, the influence of his mother remained very strong. <br/><br/>Following his ordination, he began work on his doctorate, studying with the Jesuits. This was at the time of the Dreyfus trials in France, and— despite his subsequent pardon and evidence of innocence—Jesuit publications continued to warn of the dangers of Jews: “wherever Jews had been granted citizenship the outcome had been the ruination of Christians.” Anti-Semitism had a long history in the Catholic Church, and it was the sixteenth century pope Paul IV who instituted the ghetto and required Jews to wear a distinctive yellow badge. <br/><br/>In the 1920s, Germany had one of the largest — and best-educated — Catholic populations in the world. As papal nuncio, it was Pacelli’s role to create a pact between the German state and the Church, a pact resisted by Protestants and many Catholics who believed his vision was too authoritarian. Pacelli remained pro-German all his life. He failed to publicly condemn any of the mass killings the Germans had begun. Even the slaughter of Catholic priests in Poland and the handicapped under the euthanasia program were never condemned. Cornwell shows that Pacelli was Hitler’s best ally. Despite appeals from many, including some top German commanders in Italy, he refused to condemn Hitler’s acts, self-righteously concluding that Hitler was preferable to Stalin since Hitler was willing to pay lip service to Christianity. In return, Pius XII received full control of the Church in Germany. Cornwell documents how Pacelli had been fully informed of the “persecution unleashed against the Jews at the very point when he was to enter into substantive negotiations for a concordat with its perpetrators.” Hitler even justified the concordat by suggesting that it would be “especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry.” <br/><br/>It is unclear whether Pacelli understood the wider implications of his diplomatic maneuvers that led to Hitler’s supremacy, but he supported Hitler to the very end, sending Hitler his personal congratulations following the unsuccessful bomb assassination attempt in 1939. His failure to condemn the persecution of the Jews rendered Hitler invaluable aid. Cornwell’s ultimate judgment of Pacelli is that his life was a “fatal combination of high spiritual aspirations in conflict with soaring ambitions for power and control. . . not a portrait of evil but of fatal moral dislocation – a separation of authority from Christian love. The consequences of that rupture were collusion with tyranny and ultimately violence.” <br/><br/>Anti-Semitism alone does not explain Pacelli’s silence, although clearly he regarded the Jews as a contemporary as well as ancient enemy of his church. He placed papal power and the accumulation of even more power to the papacy as the highest value. Cornwell answers in the affirmative to the question he poses, “Was there something in the modern ideology of papal power that encouraged the Holy See to acquiesce in the face of Hitler’s evil, rather than oppose it?” <br/><br/>The move to beatify Pius XII should come to a screeching halt. The sanctification of someone whose moral authority has been documented to be considerably less than holy would render the entire concept of sainthood as meaningless if not foolish – if it isn’t already. If Pius were to be beatified, his policies would be confirmed, “endorsing the modern ideology of papal power and justifying Pacelli’s wartime record.”

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