Magazine article The Spectator

This Papal Visit Is a Good Time to Reprieve Pius XII

Magazine article The Spectator

This Papal Visit Is a Good Time to Reprieve Pius XII

Article excerpt

Simon Caldwell says that the wartime Pope was no Nazi sympathiser: on the contrary, he was a thorn in Hitler's side and a protector of persecuted Jews

The Pope has done an impressive PR job this week, trying once and for all to scotch the suspicion that he and his Church are antiSemitic. 'Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world, ' he said as he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

'This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found.' President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu watched approvingly as Benedict XVI laid a wreath on a stone covering the ashes of people killed in the Holocaust.

Operation 'White Robe', as Israeli security named the papal visit, was proving a success.

But if Catholics and Jews are to bury the hatchet for good (and, as the Pope says, religious types should really stick together in these secular times) there's another ghost that must be laid to rest - that of Pope Pius XII, the wartime Pope, so often and so wrongly accused of being 'Hitler's Pope'.

It's such a widely held conviction that Pius was anti-Semitic that there's even an exhibit of him at Yad Vashem (one the Pope chose not to visit), suggesting that he was at the very least a coward. 'When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the Pope did not intervene', says an inscription.

It's time the truth was told. And the truth is that Pius was a good man who worked hard to save as many Jewish lives as he could; and that when the Vatican opens its secret archive in 2013, Pius's reputation will be restored. As the distinguished historian Sir Martin Gilbert says, the Yad Vashem exhibit amounts to a 'dangerous' misrepresentation of the actions of a pope who should be considered a righteous gentile.

The false narrative of Pius XII as a Nazi sympathiser was started by The Deputy, a fictional play by Rolf Hochhuth that appeared in 1963, five years after Pius's death. The Deputy was a critical success and spawned a succession of polemical works, which seemed to prop each other up - like drunks on their way home from the pub. The most notorious is Hitler's Pope, the 1999 bestseller by the British author John Cornwell, and the most recent is last year's Pius XII: The Hound of Hitler by Gerard Noel. But before you take any of these seriously, remember that Cornwell has wisely distanced himself from the conclusions of his own book, saying he now finds it 'impossible to judge Pius'.

So what did Pius XII do in the war? Is it true he stood idly by? The first criticism of him is that he didn't sign the Allied condemnation of the persecution of the Jews of 17 December 1942 - the year the Final Solution was implemented. But how could he? He was not an ally, he was neutral. But he was not neutral in the face of evil, and a week later he used his Christmas message to denounce the horror of 'the hundreds of thousands who. . . solely because of their nation or race have been condemned to death or progressive extinction'.

This infuriated the Nazis. They already despised Pius because he had shown himself to be hostile to their ideology when he was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State in the 1930s. But now the Reich Security Main Office, the SS department responsible for the deportation of the Jews, noted that 'in a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist new European order. . . and makes himself the mouthpiece of Jewish war criminals'.

So as far as the Nazis were concerned, Pius was no silent pope. …

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