Monday, July 18, 2011

William Doino, Jews and Pius XII. More of the same.

William Doino is a well-known apologist for Pius XII who has written extensively on the subject for some years.  He is co-author of The Pius Wars (2004), along with Joseph Bottum and David Dalin.  The book is an anthology of works designed to disprove the critics of Pius XII.  It is a book that works on the premise that those who criticise Pius XII do so from less than honest motives, are historically limited and are driven by anti-Catholic agendas. 

In this latest article, journalist Marianne Medlin, declares that William Doino, "an expert on Pius XII" has discovered evidence of considerable Jewish support for Pius XII during World War Two.  One of the things that struck me immediately was the American-centred focus of the article.  Most of the news references come from US media sources.  Medlin records many comments from Doino but none, bar a few, are supported with any references or evidence.  This weakens her article and reduces it to a collection of unsupported sentences.  None of this helps historians or the historical process.

My comments appear in red.


An expert on Pope Pius XII says new discoveries show that the Jewish community strongly supported the pontiff for his stand against anti-Semitism and support for Jewish rights during World War II.

Researcher William Doino outlined evidence that he says makes it clear the late Pope “wanted to break down walls of anti-Jewish prejudice, not erect them.”

At no point in this article is this claim addressed beyond a bald statement.  Definitions are not made clear and the language belongs in the post-1960s civil rights era.  I would agree that Pius did not endorse prejudice against Jews, but to claim he wanted to "break down walls" is taking things a bit far.  There is no evidence that he objected to the anti-Jewish rants of Civilita Cattolica, which, as Secretary of State to Pius XI, he at least tacitly approved.  The Pope or his Secretary of State gave the final fiat  for the editorial content of the journal.  There is no way that Cardinal Pacelli could not have known of the Judeophobia written in Civilta.  There is also, no evidence that Pacelli protested the enactment of the 1938 Race Laws in Italy or, as Pius XII, asked for their repeal after the September 1943 armistice or June 1944 Liberation.

Doino shared his his findings exclusively with CNA, pointing to magazine articles from the 1930s that feature Jewish American veterans lauding Pius XII for his deep respect for the Jewish community and their customs.

In April of 1939, just one month after Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope, the U.S. Jewish Veteran magazine called the new Pope's leadership “a source of great satisfaction to Jews.”

Eugenio Pacelli was elected on 6 March 1939.  The paragraph above is dated April 1939.  Surely Doino had more examples than this?  The Jewish Veterans lauded Pius' election; why wouldn't they?  Pius XI and Pacelli had shown themselves staunch anti-Nazis and had a record of considerable opposition to Nazism.  However, if you go looking for public support for the Jews of Germany, named as either "Jews" or "non-Aryans", to use the official language of the 1930s-1940s, you will be hard pressed to find anything.  What is found are general references to victims of persecutions.

“Pope Pius XII is known as a staunch friend of Jews,” the veterans wrote, noting the success of his election despite the attempts by anti-Semitic Fascists to prevent it.

This shows more a lack of understanding on the part of the veterans than anything else.  Farinacci may have ranted and raved, but he had no influence on the election of the pope.  The last known secular interference in a papal conclave was the Austrian intervention during the 1903 election.

The March 1939 issue of the magazine also expressed the community's “fervent hope” that Pius XII would “have a long and successful reign; that he will fill the spiritual vacuum left by the decease of his predecessor, and that he too will be sanctified by the love of his fellow men.”

Doino, who has contributed extensively to an anthology titled “The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII” (Lexington Books), said it has long been documented that Pius XII strongly opposed Fascism and Nazism and “abhorred anti-Semitism.”

All true.  This has been public knowledge for decades.

However, he said, “research in the last decade has revealed more.”

“Pacelli not only opposed racism and totalitarianism, but showed an express sympathy for the Jewish faith and practice.”

One example of this is how the late Pope made it a point to have kosher food prepared for Jewish guests at the Vatican “way back in the 1930s, when Catholic-Jewish relations were not nearly as developed as they are today.”

It is the word "one" that causes concern.  I have come across no reference to the pope providing kosher food to Jewish guests at the Vatican.  Apart from the well-known custom that the pope ate alone, both Medlin and, seemingly, Doino, appear not to understand what is required for the preparation of kosher food.  So unless the guests ate uncut, unpeeled fruit, served on pre-sealed disposable paper plates and drank water from pre-sealed paper cups, eating with the pope would have been difficult.

Doino said that the Jewish Veteran articles are not unique and that many other Jewish publications offered comparable praise for Pius XII “before and during his papacy, and especially after his death.”


In July of 1944, shortly after the liberation of Rome, the American Jewish Congress publicly praised the Vatican for providing kosher food for Jews who were being sheltered in Catholic institutions during the German occupation of Rome.

This may have been possible in a few instances, but highly unlikely.  And given the food situation in Rome under the German occupation, it would have been near impossible to observe kashrut.  The rabbis have always taught that the first responsibility of those under duress or persecution is the preservation of life.  Everything else is secondary.  The classic example of caring for someone in need is the ruling that it is permissible to feed pork to a woman in labour on Yom Kippur. (Babylonian Talmud, 82a Yoma) It is an exaggeration, and it is meant to be, but it conveys the point.  The preservation of life is the first duty.

Doino said that these findings should not surprise people since then-Cardinal Pacelli had intervened to block an anti-kosher law in Poland in 1938.

Had the legislation passed, it would have forbidden Jewish ritual practices, and constituted a “true persecution for Jews,” Pope Pius wrote at the time.

The document cited is a memorandum from Cardinal Pacelli to Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, Prefect for the Congregation for the Eastern Churches dated 21.05.1938.  Tisserant had asked Pacelli to seek the the intervention of Archbishop Filippo Cortesi (1876-1947), nuncio to Poland 1936-1947 to try and prevent the passing of a law before the Polish parliament that would ban the ritual killing of animals according to Jewish law. Pacelli informs Tisserant that he has done as requested.

In summary:  Pacelli passed on a request from Tisserant to Cortesi.  Nothing more.  This cannot be described as a defence of Jewish religious practice because it was not.

The document is freely available at Pave The Way. (You need to register - at no charge - for access to the documents).

“If you examine Pacelli’s life, you’ll find early friendships with Jewish schoolmates; an appreciation for Jewish theology; support for the Jewish community in America, when he visited in 1936; sympathy for the Jewish people in the Holy Land, and an openness toward their yearning for a Jewish state – long before Israel was established; and an affirmation of both Jews and Judaism,” Doino said.

Supporting documents are needed for these claims.

Later in 1941, “just as the anti-Semitic persecutions were entering their worst phase,” Doino said, a Jewish refugee visited the Vatican and begged the Pope to intervene for his persecuted brethren who had been shipwrecked and imprisoned on a Fascist-controlled island.

Not only did Pius XII promise the young man his support, but said before a large audience that he was just as worthy as every other human being, and encouraged him to “always be proud to be a Jew.”

“The refugee was so moved by this encounter that he later wrote an unforgettable first-person narrative about it for the Palestine Post,” Doino recounted.

Later that same year, Pius XII published his first encyclical, “Summi Pontificatus,” which “condemned the evils of racism and totalitarianism, and similarly stressed the unity of mankind, expressing solidarity with non-Catholics as well,” the expert recalled.

Summi Pontificatus was published in October 1939, not 1941.  The story of the young man presented at a papal audience is a touching scene that points to the Pope's compassion when confronted with a situation over which he had some control.  Who, after all, was going to interrupt a papal audience?  However, it is an isolated incident with no record of follow-up for the young man concerned.  Nor is there any other record of any similar event.

Doino's research surfaces just after the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Mordechai Lewy, aroused controversy in Israel and abroad by praising Pius XII for helping save Jews during the Holocaust.

In the wake of criticism from Jewish groups, the ambassador said on June 27 – days after his positive comments about the pontiff – that his words were historically “premature.”

However, Doino expressed support for Ambassador Lewy and welcomed his remarks as an occasion for renewed dialogue on the issue.

He also said that he is looking forward to the public release of the Vatican’s remaining wartime archives.

Doino referenced “significant leads and discoveries” from “at least half a dozen top-flight Pius XII specialists who are engaged in historical research revealing Pius XII’s active support for the Jewish community, both before and after he became Pope.”

I am curious to know who these "top-flight" specialists are.

“The idea that he was a self-enclosed Catholic leader, insensitive to Jewish concerns, is pure myth – an image that is thankfully being reversed by modern scholarship,” he said.

No.  I disagree with the last statement.  It is not based on any evidence, certainly none presented in this article.  Either Medlin has misquoted Doino, or Doino makes assertions that are simply not supported by any credible scholar.

If Marianne Medlin wishes to contribute to the debate on Pius XII I suggest she consult historians not apologists.

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