Sunday, March 28, 2010

Michael Marrus: Pius XII canonization painted in shades of grey

Politics is at play in the so-called “Pius wars,” the debate surrounding Pope Pius XII’s likely canonization, says renowned Jewish studies scholar Michael Marrus.

This article was originally published in the Toronto Catholic Register. It is well worth the read.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Documents to and from the German Nunciature 1933 go online

With the opening of the Vatican Secret Archives - Germany up to 1939, thousands of documents etc were made available for historians and people with an interest in the era. It has been something of a disappointment that so few have taken up this opportunity to examine this significant collection.

Indeed, my own work in the area revealed just how accommodating the ASV are. I did all my research work online via emails. The ASV staff were unfailingly helpful and speedy. All I needed to do was supply a file number and they would copy it and send it. The last "swag" of documents arrived on a CD.

Early this year, another major collection of documents drawn from the ASV went online. The reports of Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo from Germany 1930 to 1939 were edited by Professor Thomas Brechenmacher, Potsdam University. The online
edition was a project of the German Historical Institute in Rome in cooperation with the Commission for Contemporary History in Bonn and the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. At present only the files for 1933 are available. Brechenmacher hopes to have the remaining years' files added in due course.

I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Brechenmacher last year in Jerusalem at the Yad Vashem symposium on Latest Research on Pius XII. He delivered a very interesting paper on the Berlin Nunciature.

The search engine allows the reader access to all the reports sent by Orsenigo to Rome and responses made by Cardinal Secretary of State,Eugenio Pacelli and other members of the Curia. Each document is fully labelled, with its reference number, cross referencing information and notes.

For those whose German is a little rusty (!), Google's translation bar can be used to help.

I have read my way through most of the documents and look forward to the addition of files for 1934 and beyond.

Professor Brechenmacher and his team have rendered us a great service.

Actes et Documents goes online.

In the early hours of the morning (Eastern Australian time) a message arrived in my inbox notifying me of the latest addition to the Vatican webpage. On 12 February 2010 it was announced that the entire 12 volumes of Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale [Acts and Documents of the Holy See relative to the Second World War]would be scanned and made available online.

I have had a look at Volume 2 - Letters of Pius XII to the German Bishops. What you will see is Volume 2 in PDF format. It is good that ADSS are now readily available. I believe it is a greatly underused resource.

In summary:

Volumes 1, 4, 5, 7 and 11 contain documents about the Vatican and the prosecution of the war in Europe and later, the global conflict.

Volumes 6, 8, 9 and 10 are devoted to the work of the Holy See and the victims of the war, including the Jews of Europe.

Volume 2 contains a selection of the letters of Pius XII to the bishops of Germany. Some of the letters of the German bishops to Pius are found throughout the other volumes or in independent references.

Volume 3 is divided into two parts that deal with the Vatican, Poland and the Baltic States – ‘the East’.

There is a detailed introduction and index (in French) in each volume.

I am in the process of reading my way through the entire ADSS and making my own tables and notes as I go. Over the last 18 months I have made my through Volumes 1-4 and am about half-way through Volume 5. I have read much of the volumes on the victims of the war, but had not read very much in the other volumes. It is prooving to be a fascinating exercise. It is helping put many aspects of Pius into a much richer context. One of the "drawbacks" is the ready drifting off on tangents to follow up interesting footnotes, references and other things that catch my eye.

Anyone who wants to study Pius XII seriously, must read ADSS. It will be a tough task, but one that will give as close an insight to the working of the Vatican between 1939-1945 until the ASV open the rest of the files for the period.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Frank Coppa: Pius XII Cautious Diplomacy

Professor Coppa kindly gave me permission to publish his essay on this blog. The essay was originally published in The Tablet, the journal for the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Queens, New York, 24 February 2010.

Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, born March 2, 1876, ordained a priest April 2, 1899, elected pope March 2, 1939, and died October 9, 1958, has emerged as the most controversial pope of the twentieth century and his pontificate one of the most turbulent in recent memory.

Revered by some, he has been reviled by others. A familiar figure for many of the Second World War generation, and one of the most written about popes, he remains one of the least known. During his papacy and its immediate aftermath he was noted for his asceticism, saintly persona, and for his efforts on behalf of the stricken during the Second World War. Jews as well as Catholics praised him during the Holocaust and following his death including: Golda Meir, the Israeli Foreign Minister, the Jewish German scientist Albert Einstein, and the chief Rabbi of Rome Israel Zolli, who converted to Catholicism and took the Christian name Eugenio, in his honor. Jewish voices called for him to be recognized as a: 'Righteous Gentile' while Jewish-American publications such as The American Israelite and The Jewish Advocate praised Pius XII for his humanitarian campaign.

This positive image was challenged following the presentation of Rolf Hochhuth’s play “Der Stellvertreter” “The Deputy: A Christian Tragedy” (1963). This drama blended fact and fiction and denounced the alleged papal “inaction” and “silence,” in the face of the genocide allegedly motivated by anti-Semitism, narrow clerical concerns and the Vatican’s financial interests. One author John Cornwell has branded him Hitler’s Pope. Subsequently Cornwell in another book: Pontiff in Winter admitted he erred in ascribing evil motives to Pius in his earlier work. He admitted that he now found it impossible to judge the wartime Pontiff's motivation.

In response to Cornwell earlier accusations Rabbi David G. Dalin published: The Myth of Hitler's Pope. The critique of the wartime pope was deemed a defamation by the many defenders of Pius XII whom argue that he was not indifferent, anti-Semitic or silent and whose quiet diplomacy did more than most other political figures to assist the victims of Hitler’s racism, paranoia, and rage. Over the past five decades there has been a continuing debate and considerable controversy about this pope, his pontificate, and the dissension regarding his response to the Holocaust dubbed The Pius War. Much of the conflict centers upon the issue of his “silence” during the genocide, this pope’s motivation, and the charge of indifference and inactivity as the Jews were brutalized.

Unfortunately many of the combatants in the “Pius War” tend to ignore sources that contradict their preconceived convictions and their conclusions are more ideological than historical. A series of sources reveal that in his encyclicals, addresses and talks this pope condemned many of the principles espoused by the fascist regimes. His Christmas message of December 1942, for example, expressed concern for those "who without fault on their part, sometimes only because of race or nationality, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline.” Some deemed this too little, too late but what he said was more than most governments and statesmen had said. The New York Times praised his effort and deemed his a lonely voice crying in the silence of the continent.

Clearly, Pius was not silent, though he was reluctant to say more publicly or to loudly protest the Nazi crimes culminating in the Holocaust, fearing the repercussions for both Catholics and Jews. Pius thus proved circumspect and cautious in his response to the abuses of the totalitarian regimes including Hitler’s Reich and Stalin’s Soviet Union during the course of the Second World War.

Apparently Pius XII believed that a clear and concise indictment of Nazi crimes against both Christians and Jews would not have prevented the enraged Fuehrer from continuing his brutal campaign, but would have encouraged him to launch an attack upon the church in Germany. He also feared that if a breach occurred between the Vatican and the Reich patriotic German Catholics would leave the church. It was a risk and responsibility the new pope was reluctant to assume and he was strongly discouraged by Vatican circles from doing so. That his cautious approach was not dictated by anti-Semitism is demonstrated both by his encyclicals and his failure to publicly denounce the Nazi invasion of either Catholic Poland or Catholic France. Likewise his public silence when confronted with news of the Nazi persecution of Catholic clergy and the Reich’s anti-Catholic policy of sterilization of the mentally handicapped and disabled.

Painfully aware of the papacy’s limited influence upon the course of events, during the course of the Second World War, Pope Pius the Twelfth continued his policy of détente with Nazi Germany to avoid becoming the target of this dangerous regime. Poland was partitioned by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the East, and France partially occupied in the West and the Vatican condemned neither. Despite Nazi abuses the church remained impartial by denouncing the principles of totalitarianism but remaining politically neutral. However, this cautious approach and lack of public protest did not mean papal inactivity for Pius quietly provided assistance to the Jews of Europe and encouraged Catholic religious to rescue Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime. Permission was granted to hide them in ecclesiastical institutions, including Vatican properties, to shelter and feed them-- which one author has deemed a “Crusade of Charity. His recourse to diplomatic measures rather than specific moral condemnations to achieve these objectives was deemed the triumph of diplomacy over morality by some—the triumph of common sense by others.

There is a general consensus that Pius XII confronted innumerable challenges during the course of his troubled pontificate including: the destructive Second World War, the abuses of the Fascist, Nazi, and Soviet regimes, and the Holocaust. Disagreement and debate flows from conflicting interpretation of his responses to these challenges. Praised by some for his tact and diplomacy, he has been denounced by others for his relative public silence during the Holocaust. In 1965 Pope Paul VI proposed that Pope Pius XII be considered for sainthood—at the same time that the controversy over his alleged silence was at its peak. Bestowing sainthood often has political implications and consequences, and this has been the case with the cause of Pius XII. In fact, the controversy surrounding Pius XII intensified following the proposal for his beatification alongside that of John XXIII at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Some believe the outcry against Pius XII contributed to the postponement of his beatification in 2000, as Pius IX was beatified along with John XXIII. The debate on Pius XII beatification and response to the Holocaust continues as well as the impact of his cautious diplomacy upon his moral mission.

Frank J. Coppa, Professor of History and Director of the university's Doctoral program in Modern World History, has research and teaching interests in Italian and European history. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from from the Catholic University of America, and is the author of a series of biographies including those on Giovanni Giolitti, Camillo di Cavour, Pope Pius IX and Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli, among others. More recently, he has published the fifth and final volume in the Longman History of the Papacy--The Modern Papacy (1998) and in 1999 served as the editor-in-chief and contributor to Encyclopedia of the Vatican and Papacy and Controversial Concordats: The Vatican's Relations with Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler. He has reviewed all the popes for the Encyclopedia Brittanica's on-line references to the papacy and all the popes from the Renaissance through Gregory XVI for the new edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. He is currently editing a volume entitled Notable Popes and writing a volume on The Papacy Confronts the Modern World World in the Anvil series. Professor Coppa is a member of the Parish of St Finbar, Brooklyn, NY.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Some nuances on reponsibility ...

Dear Thomas,

Thanks for letting me know that my old Amazon profile was still floating around in cyber-space! I think it has been there since 2001 or 2002. I can assure you that my position has moved since then. I think it fair to say that genuine research work must always be open to the possibility that things may well often change. Now in 2010, my opinion of Pius XII is far more nuanced.

From an historian's perspective, which is how I look at Pacelli's papacy (most of the time!) I agree with much of what you write. Yes, he was in a terrible position - damned if he did, and damned if he didn't. However, he was not just "another leader", he was the visible head of the Catholic Church and as such, carried an enormous resposibility for the entire Church.

In 1939 he made it clear in his first encyclical that he would speak the truth without fear or favour, but I believe that while he did speak the truth, he did so in the arcane language of "Old School" diplomacy; a language understood by an ever shrinking group. Certainly, the Nazis were not interested in "Old School" diplomacy. On this point, Jesuit historian, Charles Gallagher has written an interesting article: “Personal, Private Views” in America 2003, 189.5, 8-10. In it he outlines Pacelli's modus operandi and demonstrates that his training and manner precluded any public expression of revulsion towards people that privately he found to be repugnant.

Another aspect of the question of the Pope's responsibility lies within the Vatican curia and its agencies. To suggest that Pius carries the moral burden of Catholic action or inaction during the Holocaust is simply unfair and unrealistic. However, he was at the centre of an organisation where he held supreme executive authority and, as can be seen from the published record in Actes et Documents, he played an intimate role in many decisions - of all degrees of importance - the helped shape Rome's reponses to the ever-growing reports of mass murders etc. The documents show us a very well-informed Pope working with a competent team: Cardinal Maglione, Monsignors Montini and Tardini along with other members of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (Vatican Foreign Office if you like) and other congregations. And while it is true to say that hindsight is a valuable thing, even from the published record we see that Rome had a fairly clear picture of what was happening across Europe, as well as the rest of the world. The Vatican was very well informed.

So what to do with the information of the murder of Europe's Jews? Pius wrestled with this for a long time - summer 1941 up to the Christmas address in 1942 and then in the wake of the Rome aktion of October 1943 and so on. At this point I disagree with what you present as the view of Kilian McDonnel. I agree with McDonnel that Pius agonised over every word he spoke, but I contend that the pope knew how ineffective his words were. He knew the German government and its agencies took no notice of his speeches, diplomatic protests or appeals. He also knew that the German church would not bring forth martyrs in defence of their own faith, let alone the faith of another group. He knew the German bishops were divided in their approach to Nazism, but that they were generally united in support of the war effort after 1939. What was he to do?

From what I have read in the Actes et Documents there is very little evidence to support McDonnel's suggestion that the Pope feared German reprisals against Catholics if the pope spoke out against them or their policies. The Christmas Address of 1942 was interpretted by the Wilhelmstasse (German government district) "as an attack on everything National Socialism stands for" - but there were not anti-Catholic reprisals.

The Dutch bishops spoke out very clearly in the summer of 1942, citing Pius XII as their moral authority to speak, and the Nazis exacted a fearful revenge. But what was it the bishops said? They condemned the transporting of Jews "to the east" as contrary to Christian ethical teaching. They did what bishops were supposed to do. However, when you look at the German reaction it is clear that the "revenge" was simple: having taken the non-baptised Jews, they turned around and took the previously exempt baptised Jews, including Edith and, her oft unrecognised sister, Rosa Stein. No other Catholics were arrested (unless they were rounded up for the crimes of hiding Jews).

Let's keep the conversation going!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taking care with the Press on Pius

On 2 February 2010 the World Jewish Congress ran an article with the headline "Documents suggest Pope Pius XII more concerned about Soviets than Nazis" ( The substance of the article follows:

Two Italian researchers have found previously unknown correspondence about a meeting held in November 1944 between Pope Pius XII and the British ambassador to the Holy See, Francis D'Arcy Osborne. According to the papers, kept in the British National Archives in London, Osborne told the Catholic pontiff that the British government wanted him to issue a public appeal on behalf of the 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were being deported to the Nazi death camps at the time. However, Pius said that he was under pressure to condemn alleged abuses perpetrated by the Soviets against Catholic civilians in Poland and in the Baltic countries. Osborne reportedly told the pope that he had seen no evidence that the Russians had committed any such atrocities, and that even if they had, they could not be compared to the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis.

I wrote to the National Archives in Kew, London on the following day and asked for copies of the files.

On 6 February James Cronan, Diplomatic and Colonial Records Specialist, Advice and Records Knowledge replied with this response:

It is unfortunate that the Italian researchers do not cite any document references for this correspondence and none of the newspapers covering this story have seen fit to do so.

Material that has been available for some time is usually to be founded indexed in the printed 'Indexes to the Correspondence of the Foreign Office', the ones for 1944 were published by Kraus Thompson in 1972. The volumes are organised alphabetically by subject and person and I have looked at this on your behalf and searched under various headings including Italy, Rome, Vatican, Osborne Sir Francis d'Arcy and Pope Pius XII. None of the descriptions in the indexes to correspondence match up with what you are looking for.

Equally, there does not appear to be anything in either the New Years openings of documents accessioned by The National Archives or the monthly releases of documents that were formerly closed and have recently been released.

Under these circumstances, your best bet might first be to get into contact with the journalist concerned.

I have sent an email to the World Jewish Congress and am waiting for a response.

The point of this rather long comment lies in news from the UK Telegraph online edition today: Nazis planned to infiltrate Vatican with spies dressed as monks ( This arresting headline led into a rather cloak and dagger story by Nick Pisa, Telegraph journalist in Rome. Unfortunately, after a search through the National Archives website ( I could not find any reference remotely close to the news broken by Mr Pisa. I have written to the Archives and await their response.

What does all this have to do with the historic study of Pius XII? In short - a lot. Much of the public record of the Pope before and during the war was to be found in the newspapers of the day. The Times (London), The New York Times, not known for its pro-Catholic sentiments, The Sydney Morning Herald and hundreds of regional and local papers gave column space to what the Pope said. And as the war drew closer, and once it had begun, the gave him more.

However, what we read in the press coverage is what the editors wanted their readers to read. That is not to say that editors changed or falsified what the Pope said - I don't believe they did, with the exception of the Axis media - but emphasis was placed on particular points such as mention of refugees, civilian casualties and persecuted people. And here is the rub. Pius XII never mentioned Jews by name in any public broadcast or news release throughout the war. Even before the war, the word "Jew" rarely appeared. Does this "absence of evidence" point to "evidence of absence"; the answer is "no". What is does point to is the need to put comments into their context. What the editors did not have access to were the discussions within the Vatican over what to say, how to say "it" or even if it was wise to say "it".

In the Acts and Documents of the Holy See in Relation to the Second World War (ADSS, 1965-1981) we have traces of the highly charged atmosphere inside the Vatican during the second half of 1942 when the Brazilian ambassador began an appeal to Pius to make a clear and unambiguous statement condemning the murder of European Jews. It makes for very interesting reading. The Pope received dozens of appeals from the interned diplomats along with reports from outside Occupied Europe of a statement to be made by the United Nations. His Christmas Address of 1942 was the end result of a long, and I suspect, tortured process, that was published across the English speaking world. The Vatican Secret Archives may well reveal more details of the processes involved, but I suspect we, unlike the editors of the day, have most of the details.

I remain rather sceptical of news describing new material, but without details of how this material can be accessed. Newspapers commenting on Pius XII during the war must be read carefully. They are valuable resources, but they are not the only piece of evidence and need corroborative material to ascertain veracity.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On no! Another Pope Pius XII blog!

After a long time wondering whether I should or should not commit my thoughts to a blog on Pius XII I was finally prompted to do something after The New York Times published an article by journalist Paul Vitello on 7 March 2010 entitled "War Time Pope has a Huge Fan: Jewish Knight".

Vitello had interviewed me via telephone in mid-February for nearly an hour. The interview ranged far and wide on issues to do with Gary Krupp and Pave The Way, contemporary scholarship on Pope Pius XII and reactions to PTW claims that historians who held positions contrary to them were just not working hard enough or, worse, were ignoring information that did not sit with their particular world-views. Vitello listened as I set out what I believe to be the mainstream position of historians who work in this area. Regretfully, not much of the via media seemed to get into the article.

So this is where I start this blog.

The mainstream position on the question/s of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust is as follows:

1. Mainstream historians are not interested in either canonising or vilifying Pius XII. We are intrested in seeking and publishing the historical record based on evidence from as many sources as possible.

2. We are interested in seeking as complete a picture of the historical period using every available resource we can access.

3. Our work is of its nature, slow and time consuming. It has to be, lest we fall into the trap of simplistic and literalist interpretations.

4. We work collaboratively, exploring our different and particular interests, but always with a willingness to learn from each other.

5. None of us claims to have the entire picture - it is impossible at present because there is still so much material that has yet to be examined.

6. Based on what is currently available - Actes et Documents, the published documents of the German, British, French, Italian, and United States Foreign Offices, etc - the mainstream holds that Pope Pius XII was active in various ways to try and save the Jews of Europe, but that he did not speak clearly or unambiguously in condemning the murderof the Jews of Europe. There is much that still needs examining on both counts here.

7. The mainstream holds that Pius XII was concerned for the Jews of Europe, before and during the war, but was limited in terms of what he could do - not in terms of what he could say.

8. The post-war claim of Pinchas Lapide that Pius was responsible to saving 860,000 Jews is unsubstantiated either by Lapide himself or any credible historian.

9. The mainstream holds that all reports - positive and negative - must be examined within their various contexts and understood as being limited by a wide variety of factors. Therefore, articles published in The New York Times or testimonies by people such as Israel Zolli, Golda Meir etc cannot be read only at face value.

10. History is best served by careful and tested research that reports and records as many angles of the subject as possible. "Scrap book history" (the throwing together of a bundle of unanalysised documents, reports, testimonies and articles) is, in the end, unsatisfactory, pointless and risks the accusation of being apologetic or polemic. The mainstream seeks to write history, not polemic.