Friday, January 14, 2011

ADSS 11 Document 333 Pius XII and Churchill

On Wednesday 23 August 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had an audience with Pius XII.  The notes prepared for the audience were prepared by members of the Secretariat of State, in particular Monsignor Domenico Tardini.  Preparations had been underway since late July 1944 and most likely had gone ahead without significant involvement from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, who was seriously ill with a fatal heart condition. (He died on 22.08.1944 in Naples.) 

Topics prepared for discussion covered a wide range of issues: 

Part One covered Italy:  The current situation in Italy with an appeal for the preservation of the monarchy; Italian prisoners of war held in Britain, Egypt, Palestine and in the USA; the danger of communism in Italy; concerns about education; the status of the Lateran Agreements; respect for the religious sensitivities of Catholic Italy.

Part Two dealt with Germany, Poland, Spain, Communism and, curiously, Palestine. 

The notes prepared on Palestine are very interesting.  At the end of the document there is a note from Tardini written in March 1949 where is wrote that he remembered the audience well, but said that not all the topics were discussed.  He wrote: .  I well remember that the Holy Father did not speak on all the topics with Churchill.  But I do not know which were omitted. It seems to me that the arguments concerning foreign countries were treated, but those about Italy were left out.
It is not clear if Palestine was regarded as a "foreign country" or not.

What the historian learns from reading the section on Palestine is the wariness with which the Vatican still regarded the idea of the creation of a Jewish state.  The notes are unambiguous - the Vatican was opposed to what it described as "Jewish dominion in Palestine". 

From ADSS 11.333:


1. The Holy See has always been opposed to Jewish dominion in Palestine. Pope Benedict XV laboured efficaciously so that Palestine might not become a Jewish State. In fact:

a) from the historical point of view it would be an error to wish to bring peoples back to territories where they had been... 2000 years ago;

b) from the geographical point of view it would be impossible to gather all the Jews into an area so restricted as Palestine;

c) from the religious (the most important) point of view, Palestine is a Holy Land not only for the Jews, but to a far greater extent for all Christians, and especially for Catholics. To give it to the Jews would be to offend all Christians and infringe upon their rights.

2. It is, however, to be noted:
a) that, naturally, the Holy See has nothing against the constitution of a home for Jews elsewhere;

b) that under the present circumstances the Holy See does not advance any objections to the continual dispatching of Jews to Palestine at the present time, as that is justified by the dangers to which Jews are exposed in various countries.

Quite apart from traditional Christian Judeophobia, something Pius held to and can be found clearly in the 1943 encyclicals, Divino afflante spiritu and Mystici corporis, the last part of 2 (b) is astounding.  In August 1944, the pope had known of the mass killing of the Jews for over two years - for almost the same amount of time that Churchill had also known (although I believe Churchill had known for longer).  The blandness of the phrase "the dangers to which Jews are exposed" is staggering.  Rome had been free of fascism and the Germans for over two months; there was no danger in speaking plainly.  On 25 June 1944 Pius had written to Admiral Horthy appealing for an end to the transportation of Hungarian Jews.(ADSS 10.243)

We are being beseeched in various quarters to do everything in our power in order that, in this noble and chivalrous nation, the sufferings, already so heavy, endured by a large number of unfortunate people, because of their nationality or race, may not be extended and aggravated. As our Father's heart cannot remain insensitive to these pressing supplications by virtue of our ministry of charity which embraces all men, we address Your Highness personally, appealing to your noble sentiments in full confidence that you will do everything in your power that so many unfortunate people may be spared other afflictions and other sorrows.

The only large number of people suffering in Hungary in the summer of 1944 were the Jews. Pius' inability to speak clearly and name the victims, when there was no diplomatic or political reason preventing him is one of the major areas that historians are working on.  I hope the archives can shed light on this.  It is also one of the areas where Pacelli's defenders tend to spend a lot of time creating a series of mental gymnastics to try and defend what they believe was a defensible position.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Paul. It is indeed staggering that the Vatican would use that vague and pusillanimous language to refer to the extermination of the Jews. Just like it was mind-boggling that Pope Pius XII's only public utterance in reference to the "Final Solution" was an equally vague and pusillanimous "hundreds of thousands who, without personal guilt, are doomed to death or to a progressive deterioration of their condition, sometimes for no other reason than their nationality or descent.” Hundreds of thousands? Progressive deterioration of their condition?

    Vatican attitudes toward the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Mandatory Palestine are equally problematic. That ADSS gem you posted is troubling. I have similar quotes and comments in my article "To Recognize or Not to Recognize Israel: That is the Question." ( Many people fail to recognize in the callousness and attitudes toward Israel emanating from the Vatican a continuation of the ancient Catholic attitudes toward Jews.


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