Charles Lewis, July 6, 2012
RV: This rewording constitutes a minor diplomatic victory for the
RV: There was a clear and consistent criticism of his policies, and especially of his diplomatic style and choices, beginning as early as 1939 and continuing through the war years and beyond. It’s important to stress that some of the strongest and most consistent criticism came from within the Catholic world. The lines of the debate have remained fairly constant over the years but intensified after The Deputy. There was the feeling that Pius as the Vicar of Christ was expected to raise his voice in protest. Even after the war, there were Catholics who wanted him to say something explicitly about what had happened to the Jews. The matter always comes back to the nagging doubts about what felt to many like excessive papal caution in the face of unspeakable atrocities.
RV: It was not so much misguided, as only partly informed, especially considering that when he died in 1958 the historical understanding about the Holocaust was in its early stages. It’s a matter of record that in the months after the war Jewish delegations went to
RV: The problem arises from the tendency to think of Pius XII the way he was presented in The Deputy — as “less a person than an institution.” Thinking of Pius XII that way works only if your intention is to render the man a myth, which can never correspond to the more complex reality of a man who struggled, often unsuccessfully, to reconcile his very human attributes and foibles with the demands of leading a global community whose self-ascribed nature and mission were not of this world. When we approach Pius XII as a person, we find a man of considerable talent, intelligence and imagination, who nonetheless often could not free himself from the norms and conventions of his upbringing and clerical training to grasp fully how the times in which he was living required an extraordinary courage and originality.
RV: There are things about him that are so admirable, but other things at the end of the day that leave me ambivalent. There was an intelligence, an unmistakable spirituality, a keen mind at work. At the same time, he could be very narrow-minded and unyielding. [In terms of the Holocaust during and after] he could be excessively diplomatic rather than evangelical in his criticism. After the war he didn’t appear to want to come to terms with what happened and did not want broach the important question of the role of historical Christian anti-Semitism in leading to the Holocaust.
RV: Much of what we say about Pius and the Jews has to be inferred. There is nothing I recall seeing in the way of a letter or an encyclical or speech that tells us much about what he thought about Jews and Judaism. He was a man of his times. He would have had an appreciation of the Jewish roots of Christianity and a great love of the biblical heritage of Judaism. But there would have been a certain measure of ambivalence, especially of Jews in the social and economic life of European societies. I don’t think he had any special appreciation of sense of duty toward contemporary Jews or Judaism. But he was not indifferent to Jewish suffering. He would have seen the suffering Jews as akin to the suffering of many others who were suffering as a result of destructive modern ideologies, including communism.
RV: I think he saw Nazism as a kind of heresy. He saw the nationalism and the racial theories incompatible with Christian teaching.
RV: That’s the nagging question. There was always this vague allusion to people who were targeted for no reason other than their ethnicity. After the war, for instance, he spoke directly about the persecuted clergy of
RV: There are some exaggerated claims made by certain defenders that Pius XII helped to rescued tens if not hundreds of thousands of European Jews, albeit indirectly through the work of papal institutions or other Catholic organizations and religious orders. These claims are not tenable in my view, nor especially instructive, since they would credit the pope with efforts that took place often without his specific knowledge, approval or encouragement This is not to say that his general policy, as well as the work of certain Vatican-related institutions in Rome itself with the Pope’s approval, did not help to save lives. Clearly, Pius XII knew of and approved of initiatives by his representatives or other Catholic individuals and institutions in