Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pope Pius XII and The Holocaust

Hitler's Pope
The cover of Hitler's Pope, showing Nuncio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) leaving the residence of President Hindenburg in 1927

The relations between Pope Pius XII and Judaism have long been controversial, with some scholars arguing that he kept silent during the Holocaust, while others have argued that he saved thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Much of the controversy surrounding Pius XII derives from an inscription at Yad Vashem stating that his record was controversial because he negotiated a concordat with the Nazis, maintained Vatican neutrality during the war and took no initiatives to save Jews.

In 1999, John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope criticized Pius for not doing enough, or speaking out enough, against the Holocaust. Cornwell argued that Pius's entire career as the nuncio to Germany, cardinal secretary of state, and pope was characterized by a desire to increase and centralize the power of the Papacy, and that he subordinated opposition to the Nazis to that goal. He further argues that Pius was anti-Semitic and that this stance prevented him from caring about the European Jews.

Cornwell traces early anti-Semitic tendencies in Pius XII and points to his collaboration with fascist leaders as starting with the concordat with Mussolini known as the Lateran Treaty and followed by the concordat with Hitler known as the Reichskonkordat.

However, five years after the publication of Hitler's Pope, Cornwell stated: "I would now argue, in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler's Pope, that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by Germany".

The author has been praised for attempting to bring into the open the debate on the Catholic Church's relationship with the Nazis, but also accused of making unsubstantiated claims and ignoring positive evidence.

Most recently, Rabbi David Dalin's The Myth of Hitler's Pope argues that critics of Pius are liberal Catholics and ex-Catholics who "exploit the tragedy of the Jewish people during the Holocaust to foster their own political agenda of forcing changes on the Catholic Church today" and that Pius XII was actually responsible for saving the lives of many thousands of Jews. And to his opinion, Yad Vashem should honor Pope Pius XII as a "Righteous Gentile", and documents that Pius was praised by all the leading Jews of his day for his role in saving more Jews than Oskar Schindler.

In 1999, in an attempt to address some of this controversy, a group of three Catholic and three Jewish scholars was appointed by the Holy See. Disagreements between members resulted in a discontinuation of the Commission in 2001 on friendly terms.

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)

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