Saturday, March 5, 2011

Did Pius XII Lie to Save Jews? - William Doino

This article by the well-known Pius apologist, William Doino, is a skillful piece of writing.  However, there are issues that cause me some concern.  Linking questions related to papal non/activity during the Holocaust to current American socio-political arguments to do with abortion is not good history.  I find his argument flawed because of a lack of reference either to what is already in the public domain, particularly in ADSS, as well as a lack of context to do with the development of the understanding of the development of German policy and action towards the Jews.  My comments appear in red throughout the text.

Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good

Did Pius XII Lie to Save Jews?

by William Doino Jr.

February 22, 2011

A historian looks at how one man sought to serve both truth and love.

The recent vote by the House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood was a major victory for the pro-life movement, even as the Senate and White House remain hostile territory for the unborn. Although momentum to defund had already been building, the now-famous “sting” videos from Live Action—which purport to show Planed Parenthood employees aiding an actor posing as a sex trafficker—fueled support for the House measure. The debate that has ensued about the morality (as distinct from effectiveness) of the undercover videos, which many believe involve direct lying, has produced serious reflection within the pro-life community. Christopher Tollefsen, Christopher Kaczor and Robert George have already made important contributions, as have Hadley Arkes and Gerard Bradley. Dawn Eden and I have also weighed in.

A historical error has emerged in this debate that should be put to rest now, once and for all. Many have argued against a moral absolute against lying by citing Pope Pius XII’s personal role in rescuing Jews, which allegedly involved lying, as an example of a moral authority lying for a greater good. This supposedly supports their claim that we are permitted to lie today—whatever the natural law may say—if the reasons are grave enough. Many believe fighting today’s abortion Holocaust is that grave.

But a careful review of Pius XII’s record during the War reveals such claims to be mistaken. Pius XII did rescue countless Jews and resist Nazism—in often harrowing situations—but never once authorized a lie, or adopted an end-justifies-the-means mentality to do so.

This is one of the linchpins of the apologist thesis, namely that Pius XII was active in rescue.  While it is clear that Pius had knowledge of rescue operations, mostly in Italy after 1943, there is no clear evidence that he was aware of rescue operations outside Italy.  Sr Margherita Marchione agrees with the argument that he would not have wanted to have details lest he put the rescuers in jeopardy.  Pius preferred to let others act.  Would he have stopped these actions? No.  Did he initiate the actions?  No.  Did he support the actions? Yes.  Did he speak clearly on behalf of the victims?  In a very general, non-specific way, yes.

If we care about good philosophy and good theology—as we should—we should also care about good history, particularly when it is invoked to justify controversial behavior today. It is particularly ironic that Pius XII—who for so long has been misrepresented by critics of the papacy—is now being misrepresented by some of his ardent defenders. We do the wartime pope no favor, much less advance the cause for truth, when we invoke him to justify lying.

"Critics of the papacy" is a spurious polemical comment.  Who is implied by this?  What are they critical of?

In vigorously opposing Nazism, and encouraging Catholics to act against it, Pius XII adopted a multi-pronged strategy based on truth, wisdom, courage, and charity. Given the gravity of the situation, he could have easily resorted to unjust methods, including outright lies, to wage this fight. That he did not do so—but still managed to save an extraordinary number of lives—is a testament to the power of truth, and the need to uphold it, even in “extreme” situations.

This paragraph strikes me as a very generalised assertion.  It has been the consistent claim of most historians that herein lies the chief problem about Pius and his reactions towards the unfolding of German intentions towards the Jews as the war progressed.  At no time did the pope make an unambiguous declaration condemning the murder of the Jews.  I am also concerned at the generalised sweep of the statement about the pope's "multi-pronged strategy".  The "strategy" such as it was, and I am not certain that there was a coherent program in place throughout much of the war years (a cursory read of ADSS points to variety of strategic reactions over the years), evolved in many directions according to many criteria.  I am also uncomfortable with the assertion that the pope "stuck by his guns" , "even in 'extreme' situations".  Thomas Aquinas makes it clear that there is a moral imperative to resist evil, based on the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, using prudence, that makes the saving of life a priority no matter what.  The means to be used must be proportionate to the evil faced.  That is classic Catholic moral theology.  In other words, one must do what one can.

A brief review of Pius XII’s wartime record bears this out.

Public Statements

The first thing Pius XII did to help rescue Jews was to rally public opinion against the Nazis. At the beginning of his pontificate, in the Fall of 1939—barely six months into his reign—Pius XII put the finishing touches on Summi Pontificatus, his first encyclical, on the unity of human society. The Nazis had recently invaded Poland, and the fires of war were raging. People needed a voice to address the ensuing catastrophe, and to call the world back to sanity. They got it. “Pope Flays Dictatorships,” blared the Chicago Tribune. Time magazine called Summi “extraordinary,” and specifically noted how Pius went beyond the usual papal reserve, making his sympathy for the Allies clear: “Devout Catholic that he is, he knew which side he was for, and, unlike his predecessors during [World] War I, said so.” An above-the-fold, front-page headline in the New York Times (October 28, 1939) declared, “Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism; Urges Restoring of Poland,” followed by a story which read: “It is Germany that stands condemned above any country or any movement in this encyclical—the Germany of Hitler and National Socialism.”

Accurate as far as it goes.  Pius condemned, in very general terms, all acts of violence against civilians and prisoners of war.  He made no mention of the source of the violence - German aggression against Poland, and made no particular mention of anything or anyone else, except for a cry for Poland.  Yes, the West and the Nazis read it as a condemnation of German terror against Poland, but the overall tone of the encyclical was a broad sweeping articulation of Catholic teaching on justice and the evils of war.  It's tone was muted because it did not name the cause of the injustice.  Heydrich, gave permission for the encyclical to be distributed in Poland only after "Germany" replaced "Poland" so that it looked as though the pope mourned German "suffering".

A major theme of Summi Pontificatus is the Church’s devotion to truth, and the need to proclaim it. “We owe no greater debt to Our office and to our time,” announced Pius, “than to testify to the truth with Apostolic firmness.” The pope quoted the words of Christ: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, hearest My voice” (John 18:37).

As war continued, and Hitler increased his madness, Pius used truth as a major weapon to combat Nazism. He authorized the Jesuits at Vatican Radio to expose Nazi atrocities (which they did, often quite explicitly), personally confronted Germany’s Foreign Minister on the Reich’s crimes against Jews, condemned racial mass murder in his Christmas addresses and allocutions to the College of Cardinals (provoking the Nazis to denounce him as a “mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals”), and constantly warned the belligerents about the accepted rules of warfare, which were under the judgment of God:

Above all, remember that upon the manner in which you deal with those whom the fortunes of War place in your hand may depend the blessing or curse of God upon your own Fatherland. (Easter address, 1941)

However, when the Germans complained that Vatican Radio was violating neutrality and made threats against it, Pius reigned it in.  The once loud voice of relatively clear reporting, was muted and rendered far less effective.
 The impact of these public statements was profound. Pietro Cardinal Palazzini, honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile, wrote: “Amidst the clash of arms, a voice could be heard—the voice of Pius XII.” The Irish priest-rescuer, Msgr. John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, testified:

The diplomatic corps and I would frequently listen to the Pope’s addresses over Vatican radio, imploring us to protect the innocent, to feed the hungry, to shelter the endangered, to fight and resist the evils all around us. We shivered when we listened to him. His voice was always calm and precise and it vitalized Catholic rescuers everywhere. (Inside the Vatican, August-September, 2001)

Father Michel Riquet, an ex-inmate of Dachau, spoke for many rescuers when he declared:

Throughout those years of horror, when we listened to Radio Vatican and to the Pope’s messages, we felt in communion with the Pope, in helping persecuted Jews and in fighting against Nazi violence.

The German Occupation of Rome and Castel Gandolfo

The most dangerous period for the Vatican and its surrounding populace, especially Jews, occurred during the German occupation of Rome (September 1943-June 1944). On October 15-16, 1943, the Nazis raided Rome’s Jewish community, with the intent of deporting all 8,000 of them. Alerted to the crime, Pius XII protested to the German ambassador—“in the name of humanity, and Christian charity”—and also to General Rainer Stahel, the Commanding German Officer, on whom the Holy See had some influence. The latter protest worked: Stahel convinced his superiors in Berlin to call off the raid on military grounds. As a result, the vast majority of Rome’s Jewish population—some 7,000 people—avoided the round-up, though danger remained: the Nazis could still strike at any moment.

Doino needs to read some serious scholarship on this episode.  He has skewed the facts.  Pius and Maglione did all they could to keep the Vatican out of any public action.  ADSS records Maglione's conversation with the German ambassador, Ernst von Weisacker, and whatever you may wish to describe it as, protest it is not. (See ADSS 9.368)  The rescue of the Rome Jews was a result of many actors, of which the Vatican was one.  Most Jews survived because of the actions of good people who did what they believed was the right thing.  That many attributed the rescue to a direct order of the pope says more about traditional Catholic use of authority to persuade others, than the existence of a papal order.  See Michael Phayer, Susan Zuccotti, Owen Chadwick, Robert Katz and my own work on this.
 In his book, But for the Grace of God, Msgr Carroll-Abbing, who was on the scene at a convent, records what happened next: “Almost immediately word came from the Vatican that, because of the emergency, nuns would be allowed to give hospitality in their convents to Jewish men as well as their families. Soon after, a document arrived from Cardinal Maglione, Secretary of State of Pius XII, to be affixed to the front door, stating that the convent was under the protection of the Holy See and could not be entered without its consent. The Vatican had been able to have it countersigned by General Stahel”—the same officer they had successfully employed to call off the original raid. Similar placards were hung on many other papal-controlled buildings, which grateful Jews flooded into.

This is another example of skewing the evidence.  Yes, "papal property" documents were placed on properties throughout Rome, but there is no written evidence that these came on the express orders of the pope.  Does that mean that the pope would have opposed them?  No - but without concrete evidence that sets out clearly the process, it is probably wiser to leave the assertion of a papal order alone.  At the moment there is no evidence apart from hearsay of the order existing.  It remains one of the weak links in the apologist camp.

Michael Tagliacozzo, the leading authority on Rome’s wartime Jewish community, and himself a survivor of the Nazi raid, said of Pius: “He did very much to help and save thousands of us.”

This is a bald statement.  Evidence please.

In doing so Pius never lied, but what about those instances where good nuns or priests, sheltering Jews, were directly confronted by Nazi or local fascists, demanding to know the whereabouts of Jews? What could they do if the Gestapo knocked on their doors? Did not Pius XII approve of lying in those circumstances?

Because Pius had gotten Stahel to recognize Vatican institutions as extra-territorial, many of these knock-on-the-door “what if” scenarios never, thankfully, happened—the hiding places proved largely successful. But it is undeniable that some religious were nonetheless threatened by Nazi and collaborating Italian fascists, who took it upon themselves to look for Jews, demanding answers from suspected sympathizers—so again, did not the Pope sanction lying then?

The only responsible answer—according to the best available evidence—is that Pius XII never pronounced upon the issue. Pius laid down Christian principles; he did not get into the specifics of rescue activity, leaving that to the discretion of the rescuers, trusting in God. In the many first-hand testimonies from those who worked with Pius to save Jews, as well as recovered diaries from rescuers, we find the Pope exhorting the faithful to help and protect persecuted Jews, and issuing directives to that effect, but nowhere do we find Pius XII granting permission to knowingly lie, or resist the Church’s enemies by any means necessary.

This is the point that historians have found so vexing.  Because Pius did not name the Jews as a victim group in clear terms, it is difficult to accept that he did speak out unambiguously.  It is one thing to say that the Pope spoke out, it is quite another to say that he spoke out with any lack of clarity.

What can be said is that, when the Italian Fascist police actually did violate a Catholic institution—the Basilica of St. Paul, in February 1944—seizing dozens of refuges, including Jews, who had taken sanctuary there, the Vatican fiercely protested, and issued a ringing condemnation. Vatican Radio referred to the “hospitality granted to the arrested persons,” and declared: “It is not a paradox, nor is it absurd that the church is for everybody and for nobody. Charity is above human constitutions. On this point the priest can never yield. It is the demarcation line between good and evil. Men of honest views will permit us to continue with it.” (“Vatican Repeats Pledge of Haven,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 1944; emphasis added)

Here it is important to make the distinction between the players.  Italian fascist police raided St Paul outside the Walls, not the Germans.  Stahel and the other German leaders made a "gentlemens' agreement" to keep out of church owned properties, even though it is most likely they knew Jews and anti-fascists were in hiding there.  The Italian fascist police were also meant to respect Vatican extra-territoriality.  The raid on St Paul's was a violation of the Lateran Pact and gave the Vatican the diplomatic "no holds barred" opportunity to denounce it forcefully and with ambiguity.  No one could argue with that.  ADSS has more than a few documents on this event with much of the material focused on who gave the order for the raid. (ADSS 11.23-8, 30, 32, 33, 35-6, 50, 54).  The Germans made several vehement denials, which in this case, I suspect was the truth.  The Italian fascists claimed they made the raid on orders from the Gestapo to hunt for Jews and deserters (ADSS 11.35).  This was probably not completely true.
 If people want to argue that priests and nuns had a right and duty to lie during the German Occupation, in the hope of saving lives, they can do so (though they should expect counter-arguments, e.g., that one could remain silent, or speak in an indirect, but non-revealing way that was not lying; and that lying itself would hardly guarantee safety: it could backfire, if discovered, and actually lead the Nazis to expand their targets with reprisals). What they should not do is go beyond the evidence and claim that Pius XII gave Catholics an official “right to lie” in special circumstances. He offered passionate support for those suffering, through moral means, but did not violate Catholic teaching, or recommend others do wrong.

This is a moral furphy.  When faced with life-threatening danger, I doubt any moral theologian is going to quibble as to the utterances made to save a life.  If telling a lie can secure the life of a person faced with probable suffering and death, the moral balance will support the telling the lie.

Underscoring that fact is one of Pius XII’s most personal efforts: during the German occupation, he opened up his own summer residence at Castel Gandolfo—a huge estate—to anyone who needed protection: over 10,000 people were cared for there, receiving life-saving aid from the Pope’s assistants. In the summer of 1944, just weeks after Rome’s liberation, the Palestine Post published a remarkable story about the gratitude of those who had received Pius XII’s protection. Reporting from Vatican City, the paper’s correspondent wrote:

Several thousand refugees, largely Jews, during the weekend left the Papal Palace at Castel Gandolfo—the Pope’s summer residence near Marino—after enjoying safety there during the recent terror. Besides Jews, persons of all political creeds who had been endangered were given sanctuary at the Palace. Before leaving, the refugees conveyed their gratitude to the Pope through his majordomo.

No lies or controversies here: just pure human emotion, and sincere thanks, for Pius XII’s charitable endeavors.

No argument here.  However, the opening of Castelgandolfo was an action that was repeated across Italy by good people from all walks of life.  The pope did what he believed was the right thing, as did many others.

False Baptismal Certificates?

One of the things people point to, as an example of where Pius XII allegedly authorized lying, is the Church’s issuance of false baptismal certificates, and other forged documents, to Jews during the War. Some of these claims (particularly regarding Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII), are dubious or remain unconfirmed, and people often confuse alleged baptismal certificates with entrance visas, immigration certificates and Vatican “Letters of Protection” —all above-board documents. But where there is hard evidence regarding false baptismal certificates, we have to make a key distinction, between the official Magisterium of the Church, and the actions of individual Catholics, who may or may not be in conformity with it. (The Magisterium has always emphasized the need for conversions to be authentic, a fact repeated by Pius XII in his wartime encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi [1943]).

It is certainly true that Pius XII urged and encouraged Catholics (especially his diplomats) to save Jews; but there is no persuasive evidence that shows Pius XII ever personally authorized his representatives, or anyone else, to lie or forge baptismal certificates (I have discussed this at length with the Jesuits in charge of Pius XII’s cause in Rome, and they concur).

I am puzzled by this.  If the distribution of baptismal certificates, a practice that had been used in various parts of Europe for some time, saved lives - how is this a moral problem?  The Nuncio to Hungary, Angelo Rotta, gave out thousands of baptismal certificates to Jews, trying to save their lives.  In the same way Raoul Wallenburg handed out thousands of Swedish visas and passports to Jews in order to save their lives.  Does it matter if the Jews who received wither baptismal certificates or Swedish visas intended to convert or emigrate?  I think not.

That said, there were prominent Catholic rescuers who—out of doubtless good motives and intentions—forged baptismal certificates, which may or may not have helped in a given instance; but these specific acts were not authorized by Pius XII, even though he certainly encouraged them to save Jews by other means.

The best example is Pius XII’s friendship and support for Father Pierre Marie-Benoit. An extraordinary Capuchin, who has rightly been honored by Yad Vashem, Benoit worked day and night rescuing Jews, first in France, and then in Rome , during the occupation. Among his activities were forging identity cards and baptismal certificates. The Vatican admired and shared Fr. Benoit’s concern for persecuted Jews, and in fact assisted him in many ways. But, as we know from the Holy See’s wartime archives, Actes et Documents (Volume 9, document 433), the Vatican “repeatedly warned” Fr. Benoit about the falsification of documents in Rome, for both moral and practical reasons: it was arousing the suspicion of the occupying authorities, who were on the verge of stepping in and shutting down his whole operation. Fortunately, the Vatican protected Father Benoit behind the scenes, while counseling him on the best strategy to rescue Jews. Some critics of Pius XII have actually tried to use his prudential strategies against Pius himself, driving a wedge between him and Benoit. Not only do Benoit’s various writings deny that allegation, but—as Ralph Stewart notes in his study of the occupation—after the War, Benoit “spoke in glowing terms of the Holy Father. In fact, on the occasion of the centenary of Eugenio Pacelli’s [Pius XII’s] birth, he sent a report which praised the various undertaking of the pope on behalf of Jews.”

Secret Maneuvers and Plots

Pius XII did not sanction lying during the War, but he did engage in a whole host of often-ingenious ways to morally resist evil, through covert operations. (In his book, Fundamental Moral Attitudes, Dietrich von Hildebrand, a great anti-Nazi Catholic himself, differentiates between lawful methods of deception, and direct lies, which “no situation in the world can justify.”) The Vatican, for example, used diplomatic codes and encrypted message to conceal sensitive information from the Nazis, had many fruitful contacts with the underground in Rome, and—most spectacularly—Pius XII gave his approval to a plot to remove Hitler from power. Many are unaware of the latter, and might ask why a Vicar of Christ would ever engage in such a plot. (Is that Christian?) The answer is not difficult at all. Pius XII, in a just-war situation, was trying to put an end to Hitler’s monumental crimes, and tyrannicide—the killing of a tyrant—has long been recognized within orthodox Catholic theology as a morally legitimate act, as a last resort.

Of course, Pius XII did not endorse all the tactics of the anti-Nazi resistance, and sometimes strongly opposed them, if they went against Catholic doctrine. But as we see in our own time, one can wage vigorous war against evil, through conscientious means—for example, supporting the fight against al Qaeda without endorsing torture.


Contemporary pro-lifers who justify lying, in order to fight the radical evil of abortion, are engaged in a new form of situation ethics; and since many of them have enlisted Pius XII in their cause, it would be well to study what this now-Venerable pontiff actually said about moral absolutes—even in perilous situations—and the “new morality:”

Against the ‘ethics of situation,’ We set up three considerations, or maxims. The first: We grant that God wants, first and always, a right intention. But this is not enough. He also wants the good work. A second principle is that it is not permitted to do evil that good may result (Rom. 3:8). Now this new ethic, perhaps, without being aware of it, acts according to the principles that the end justifies the means. A Christian cannot be unaware of the fact that he must sacrifice everything, even his life, in order to save his soul. Of this we are reminded by all the martyrs. Martyrs are very numerous, even in our own time…. Maria Goretti, and thousands of others, men and women, whom the Church venerates—did they, in the face of the ‘situation’ in which they found themselves, uselessly or even mistakenly incur a bloody death? No, certainly not, and in their blood they are the most explicit witnesses to the truth against the ‘new morality.’ (“Moral Law and the New Morality,” April 18, 1952).

Today, also, we need to look for witnesses to truth, even as we do battle with the forces of darkness.

On the question of lying in general, let's take a look at what Aquinas has to say.  The Angelic Doctor affirms the scriptural precept found in the Ten Commandments, "You shall not bear false witness".  He explores what this means in the Summa Theologica  II:2, Question 110 Whether lying is always opposed to truth.  Aquinas argues that there are three things necessary to determine the moral character of lying.  Is the substance of the lie clearly false, ie is the material something other than truth? Does the person lie with the intention to lie, ie to deceive or manifest an untruth?  Does the person lie with full consent of their will. ie do they lie with no internal or external pressures? If the answer to all three parts is "yes", Aquinas argues there is no doubt a falsehood has been expressed.  In the following discussion Aquinas sets out conditions, contexts and circumstances whereby the extent of the lie is to be judged.  In the case of Pius XII "lies" expressed to an evil power, the Germans, in order to save life, is a vastly different situation to the Nazi's claiming that Jews were being "resettled" in the East in family camps.

I think Doino's linking the question of saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust to current issues related to abortion is false.  History is not well-served by such claims and only darkens issues that still need enlightenment.

The intentions of Pius XII toward the Jews of Europe throughout the years of the Holocaust will never be known with complete certainty.  What is known is that the pope was not insensitive to the awful reality confronting European Jewry and did act.  It is the extent of this action that has puzzled historians for decades.  The limited documentary evidence available is inconclusive.  It is hoped that the release of the archives for Pius XII's papacy will help shed light on the internal actions of the Vatican and the decisions made by the pope.

William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican and published an 80,000 word annotated bibliography on Pius XII in the anthology The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, edited by Joseph Bottum and David G. Dalin (Lexington Books, 2004), and has written about Pius for the Times of London, the Weekly Standard, First Things and America magazine.

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