|Sister Margherita Marchione
Catalyst, June 1998
With the issuance of the Vatican document, “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” voices adversely judging Pope Pius XII’s alleged “silence” have increased. Some writers are igniting flames of hatred by claiming that the Catholic Church is responsible for the Holocaust. The evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary.
Through public discourses, appeals to governments, and secret diplomacy, Pope Pius XII was engaged more than any individuals or agencies combined in the effort to curb the war and rebuild the peace; and in alleviating the sufferings of Jews and other refugees during the Holocaust.
Except to the extent that he did, how could Pope Pius XII have prevented a world power, with military domination over a continent, from murdering the civilians it defined as its enemies? Would Adolf Hitler, an apostate Catholic who despised Christianity for its Jewish origins, have obeyed a directive from the Vatican? The undeniable historic realities persuasively say “No.” In fact, they point to certain disastrous retaliatory reaction, with awesome responsibility upon the Pope, which was fortunately avoided.
It is doubtful that even the most flaming papal protest would have slowed the Holocaust. What is certain is that such a protest would have risked the lives of countless Jews hidden in Church institutions. Could things possibly have bee made any worse? Of course. And, in this fickle world, Pope Pius XII would have been blamed for it.
The Vatican is accused of complicity because it entered into the Concordat with the Nazis in 1933. Actually the Concordat was suggested by Hitler. The record indicates that at the time Pius XI was faced with entering into an agreement defining the rights of the Church (which the Nazis shortly thereafter violated), or the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in Germany.
The Concordat was not a political document, nor did the Catholic Church thereby compromise its principles against racial persecution and genocide as set forth in the encyclical, “Mit Brennender Sorge” issued in 1937. As Secretary of State, the future Pope Pius XII played an important part in drafting the document. In fact, upon its publication, the Nazi press carried vulgar cartoons and claims that “Pius XI was half Jewish and Cardinal Pacelli was all Jewish.” Two months before that anti-semitic horrors of Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), Pius XI stated: “Anti-Semitism is inadmissible; spiritually we are all Semites.” (Pius XII: Greatest Dishonoured, 1980, p.45)
The day after Cardinal Pacelli’s election to the Papacy, the Nazi newspaper Berliner Morgenpost (March 3, 1939) stated its position clearly: “The election of Cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.”
With the start of the war in September 1939, Pius XII pleaded that “in occupied territory the lives, the property, the honor, the religious convictions of the inhabitants will be respected.” The following month he issued “Summi Pontificatus,” the encyclical condemning radicalism.
In his 1939 Christmas message to the Cardinals, Pius XII referred to the invasion of Poland and related events: “We have been forced to witness a series of acts which are irreconcilable, both with the practices of international law, and with the principles of natural right based on the elementary feelings of humanity; acts which demonstrate in what chaotic and vicious circles we are now living….
“We find premeditated aggression against a small work-loving, peaceful people on the pretext of a threat which never existed nor was possible. We find atrocities and illicit use of means of destruction against old men, women and children. We also find contempt for freedom and for human life, from which originate acts which cry to God for vengeance.” (The Tablet of London, December 30, 1939, p. 748)
On January 27, 1940, Vatican Radio proclaimed to the world the dreadful cruelties marked with uncivilized tyranny that the Nazis were inflicting on the Jewish and Catholic Poles. The German ambassador protested while the Nazis jammed the broadcasts.
Among the ninety-three Papal communications to German bishops in World War II, a letter from Pius XII to Bishop von Preysing of Berlin is dated April 30, 1943: “It was for us a great consolation to learn that Catholics, in particular those of your Berlin diocese, have shown such charity towards the sufferings of the Jews. We express our paternal gratitude and profound sympathy for Monsignor Lichtenberg, who asked to share the lot of the Jews in the concentration camps
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