Hitler's Pope? A Judgment Historically Unsustainable

Author: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.

Hitler's Pope? A Judgment Historically Unsustainable

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
Secretary of State

A look past exploitative polemics to the greatness of the man Eugenio Pacelli, Secretary of State and Roman Pontiff

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., Secretary of State, on Thursday, 6 November [2008], opened in Rome, at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Congress "the Inheritance of the Magisterium of Pius XII", organized on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Eugenio Pacelli. We publish here almost the entire speech of the Cardinal, translated from Italian.

Born in Rome on the 2 March 1876, into a family of minor Pontifical aristocracy, and ordained a priest on the 2 April 1899, the young Pacelli entered into the service of the Holy See in 1901, at the close of the Pontificate of Leo XIII, where he began a glorious Vocation that would carry him to the summit of Pontifical diplomacy even before the outbreak of World War I.

Chosen by Cardinal Pietro Gasparri as Secretary to the Commission for the Editing of the Code of Canon Law in 1904. and entering the following year into the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, he was then appointed Undersecretary by Pius X in 1911, Adjunct Secretary in 1912 and Secretary in 1914, on the very eve of the conflict.

In these increasingly responsible roles Mons. Pacelli was particularly concerned with the break of diplomatic relations with France, and was then protagonist, in two difficult missions during the catastrophic war, in repeated but useless attempts at mediation on behalf of the Holy See, which for more than 40 years, as has been carefully studied and documented, had been ever more active — "on the frontiers of peace".

In 1917 Mons. Pacelli was named Papal Nuncio to Munich by Benedict XV, who on 13 May of that year, in the Sistine Chapel personally consecrated him a Bishop. In this role, and as the only Papal representative on German territory, he met the Kaiser, with the aim of discovering the real intentions of Germany.

The meeting with Wilhelm II was solemn but inconclusive, and was at once described by the Papal diplomat in a clear report to the Secretary of State, who had been Gasparri since 1914. "Brought into the presence of the Kaiser... I laid out before him as I had been instructed to do, the anxious concern of the Holy Father regarding the continuation of the war, the growth of hatred, and the accumulation of material and moral ruin that represent the suicide of a civil Europe and cause the regression of many centuries of humanity's progress.... His Majesty listened to me with respectful and grave attention. I should say, however, in all frankness, that in his way of fixedly staring at his interlocutor, in his voice, in his gestures, he seemed to me (I couldn't say whether it is his nature, or whether it is the consequence of three long years of war), in a tense state, and not quite normal.

"He replied that Germany had not provoked this war, but that it had been obliged to defend itself against the destructive intentions of England, whose belligerent strength (and at this point the Emperor struck the air with his fist), must be crushed". Five years later, a different and less credible version of this meeting set down by the now dethroned sovereign in his memoirs was refuted by the Holy See.

The Papal representative also approached the disastrous situation of the country with what has been described as "diplomacy of assistance" of which Pacelli was a protagonist in the much wider field of humanitarian activity carried out by the Holy See ever since 1915 in favour of prisoners of war. Witness of the disintegration subsequent to the conflict, the Nuncio to Munich, who had also been named Nuncio to Berlin in 1920, while Pius XI was elected by the Conclave of 1922, saw clearly the dangers of the new situation, which grew from the collapse of the empire of Wilhelm, from the responsibilities of the victorious powers towards Germany, from the challenge of the communist revolution, from the risks of a possible military alliance between Russia and Germany, both hostile to Western countries, from the growth of German nationalism even among Catholics, in spite of its Protestant roots, and from the spreading of Hitler's Movement.

For these reasons Archbishop Pacelli supported the Weimar Republic, the collaboration between the Catholic Zentrum and the socialists and the unity of the State of the country, and worked towards conciliatory concordats achieving the signing of these with Bavaria in 1924 and with Prussia in 1929, and concluding the concordat with Baden and with the Reich.

Negotiations between the Nuncio to Berlin and the Soviet emissaries, on the other hand, which began in 1924 and lasted more than three years, and sought to secure conditions that would ensure the survival of the Catholic Church, came to nothing.

On the 16 December 1929, Pius XI created his representative in Berlin Cardinal, and Pacelli left the city, receiving recognition, even from the "hostile press", as highlighted in a report of his gifts and merits sent from the Nunciature to the Vatican.

A few weeks later, Pope Ratti appointed the new Cardinal his Secretary of State, with a brief document dated 7 February 1930, entirely composed by himself and written in his own hand. This document is on display in the very interesting exhibition in the Charlemagne Wing in St. Peter's Square by the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, to commemorate Pacelli the man and his Pontificate, on the both anniversary of his death, an exhibition which I had the pleasure of inaugurating two days ago.

The Papal document is of such interest that it is worth quoting it in its entirety: "Your Eminence, since We have considered it necessary to accede (as We have done today, and not without great sadness) to the requests of Cardinal Pietro Gasparri that we should accept his resignation as Our Secretary of State, We have, coram Domino, decided to call and to name, as with this Our Chirograph We call and nominate, you, Your Eminence, to the succession, which is certainly neither easy nor light, to that high and delicate office. We are moved to this nomination above all by your spirit of piety and prayer, from which we draw full and certain trust, as it cannot but secure you an abundance of divine aid, and also for the qualities and gifts with which the good Lord has enriched you, and which you, in all the offices entrusted to you until now, especially in the Nunciature to Bavaria and to Germany, have shown that you know how to use to the Glory of the divine Giver and in the service of his Church. I bless you with all My heart".

So began the last decisive stage of the journey of Pacelli before that very short Conclave which, nine years later, On 2 March 1939, on the day of his 63rd birthday, was to elect him Pope, the first Roman and the first Secretary of State for more than two centuries to be so elected.

The period during which the Cardinal was the prime collaborator of Pius XI, studied in depth for the first time by a scholar of the stature of Fr. Pierre Blet, whom I should like to greet here, was one of the most difficult and tragic of the 20th century.

The international context was extremely difficult, both due to the world economic crisis and the mounting tide of totalitarianism that seemed about to submerge Europe. At the same time, the "Roman Question" having been finally resolved with the Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See — the Church of Rome began to take on more visibly that universal vision which is part of her vocation and which would be strongly underlined and developed during the Pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII, preparing the way for the Second Vatican Council and their successors in the second half of the century.

In this work the action of the Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli, aided by collaborators of the first order, was fundamental. Notable among these were the two very different but complementary personalities of Domenico Tardini and Giovanni Battista Montini, in 1937 named respectively Secretary for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs and Substitute at the Secretariat of State, and then confirmed by Pacelli when he was elected Pope, until they both became, at the end of 1952, Pro-secretaries of State.

Pacelli came to head the Secretariat of State as an exceptionally prepared ecclesiastic who immediately made an impression on the diplomats to the Holy See.

This is how the French Ambassador to the Vatican, Francois Charles-Roux, writing about 15 years later, remembered him. "He was a perfect negotiator, conscientious, persevering in making sure that the essential parts of the Vatican's point of view prevailed, but at the same time conciliating, balanced, impartial, and scrupulously fair. He knew how to be intransigent and forceful when he had to be, how to give a refusal or make a complaint without wounding sensibilities.

"His customary way recalls the words of a French diplomat and statesman, Choiseul: true finesse is the truth, expressed sometimes with force, but always with grace".

The Holy See was immediately able to make use of these qualities in the dark years that preceded the Second World War. It. is not possible to dwell here on a period fraught with events which are also so complex from the historical point of view, but to describe the activity of the Apostolic See, the actions of the Pope and the works of his Secretary of State, it will be enough to mention a few well known facts, which have not always been interpreted in their historical context and which have sometimes been misrepresented.

In Italy, notwithstanding the Conciliation, polemics and tensions between the Holy See and the fascist regime multiplied until the crisis of 1931 when the head of the Government, Mussolini, gave orders that the Catholic youth associations be dissolved.

Pius XI reacted with energy, and had published the famous Encyclical, "Non abbiamo bisogno" (We do not need — On Catholic Action in Italy), strongly polemic against the Government's decision. So much so that in order to circulate it outside Italy, for fear that its publication within the country would be impeded, Mons. Montini was given the task of taking the text incognito to the Nunciature of Munich and of Bern.

"There has been an attempt" — began the Pope in the text which was written in Italian — "to deal a death blow to all that was and always will be most dear to Our heart as Father and Shepherd of souls".

The crisis was overcome but tensions arose several times in the following years in a country where the only press with a truly free voice was the newspaper of the Pope, as Piero Calamandrei, a lay representative, would later remind the constituent assembly: "Because at a certain moment, in the years of the greatest oppression, we realised that the only newspaper where one could find some note of freedom, of our freedom, of the freedom common to all free men, was L'Osservatore Romano; because we found that whoever bought L'Osservatore Romano was liable to he beaten; because a free voice was found in the Acta Diurna (Daily Events) of our friend Gonella".

In October of that same year, 1931, another Encyclical, the Nova impendet, was published, on the gravity of the economic crisis and the growing arms race. This followed the other great social document which recalled that of Leo XIII, the Encyclical Quadragesimoanno, published in May.

The next year the serious social situation was once more the theme of Caritate Christi compulsi, followed, again in 1932 by the Acerba animi, on the anti-Catholic persecution in Mexico, which broke off relations with the Holy See. But the crisis also flared up in Spain, where the newly proclaimed Republic implemented a policy in strong opposition to the Church, with measures that in 1933 provoked firm protests from the Holy See, leading to the Encyclical Letter Dilectissima Nobis, for the "grave offence, not only against religion and the Church, but also against those declared principles of civil liberties on which the new Spanish regime claims to be founded. And let it not be thought" — continues the Papal document — "that our words are inspired by any feelings of aversion towards the new form of government or towards other purely political changes that have recently taken place in Spain.

"It is well known to all, in fact, that the Catholic Church, in no way tied to one kind of government rather than another, as long as the rights of God and of Christian conscience are safeguarded, finds no difficulty in reaching agreement with various civil institutions, be they monarchical or republican, aristocratic or democratic. Clear proof of this can be seen, taking into consideration only recent events, in the numerous concordats and accords concluded in these last years, and the diplomatic relationships formed between the Holy See and diverse States in which, after the last Great War, monarchical governments have been replaced by republican ones".

As in fact the Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli repeated, regarding Church's stance towards public powers: "Two thousand years of experience prevents her from exaggerating the importance of questions relating to the forms of the State and to the structures she conditions". And a further proof of the moderation and realism of the Church of Rome during the tragedy that three years later was to precipitate into the Spanish civil war, was the position of the Holy See and of Pius XI himself, for many months notoriously against the insurgency led by General Franco.

Among the Concordats signed by the Holy See, obviously the one signed with the Reich stands out. It was signed in 1933 but in a situation completely different from that which Pacelli had left three years before as a result of the growing consensus towards Nazism. The attitude of the Holy See and the majority of German Bishops, unlike that of many Catholics and the great majority of Protestants, was negative, even if the initial opposition of the episcopate had to take into account the rising power of Hitler and the consensus towards the new regime.

To remind ourselves of just one statistic, no less than 11,000 Catholic priests (almost half the German clergy) "suffered punitive measures, motivated either politically or religiously, under the Nazi regime", often ending up in concentration camps.

Among the consequences of the Concordat was the elimination of the Catholic party (the Zentrum) from the political scene but the contrasts between the Catholic Church and Nazism became sharper, in spite of the growing worry about the strengthening of communist totalitarianism and in spite of traditional Catholic anti-Judaism — with the passing of the anti-Semitic legislation and the dispositions for obligatory sterilization, against which the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, in particular, spoke out strongly as early as 1934.

Opposition to Nazism became clear, and in 1936 a collective letter from the episcopate asked the Pope for an Encyclical. Pius XI called the three German Cardinals (Adolf Bertram, Michael von Faulhaber and Karl Joseph Schulte) and the two Bishops most opposed to the regime, von Galen and Konrad von Preysing to Rome. With the determining help of Cardinal Pacelli and his most faithful German collaborators (Mons. Ludwig Kaas and the Jesuits Robert Leiber and Augustin Bea) they drew up the Mit brennender Sorge ("with deep concern"), the Encyclical which in 1937 condemned the pagan and racist ideology now affirmed in the German Reich, and which a few days later was followed by those against atheistic communism, (Divini redemptoris) and on the bloody persecutions of the Masonic laicism against Mexican Catholics (Firmissimam constantiam).

The relationship between Pius XI and his Secretary of State still has to he fully investigated. This can be done with time and the progressive study of Vatican archives, which as regards the Papacy of Pope Ratti, that is up to the beginning of 1939, have been completely open now for two years, though little studied by scholars.

The esteem in which the Pontiff held Pacelli is well known, ever since the latter's creation as Cardinal, on which occasion the Pope pronounced the evangelical phrase (Jn: 2 6) , which was later interpreted as a premonition, medius vestrum stat quem vos non scitis (There is one among you whom you do not recognize). This esteem continued to grow, and led Pius XI, in an unprecedented innovation, to send his Secretary of State repeatedly on international missions.

So in 1934 Cardinal Pacelli crossed the Atlantic — as another future Pope, the young Mastai Ferretti, had done more than a century before — on the diplomatic mission that would take him to Chile. The Secretary of State and Papal Legate was thus in Buenos Aires for the International Eucharistic Congress, and during the long journey visited first Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, and then Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Barcelona, returning to the Vatican at the beginning of 1935.

A few months later the Cardinal was at Lourdes, where in the concluding homily of his journey, he contrasted the redemption of Christ with the "flag of the social revolution", with the "false conception of the world and of life", and with the "superstition of blood or race": a condemnation of the "idolatry of race" which in these very clear terms would be on Cardinal Pacelli's lips two years later when he was again sent to France by the Pope, first to Lisieux to consecrate the Basilica, and then to Paris where he met representatives of the government formed by the Popular Front.

In 1938 another International Eucharistic Congress took the Secretary of State to Hungary, where he reaffirmed the traditional principle of the extraneousness of the Church to determining forms of government, and above all denounced the arms race, "which has become the principle activity of humanity of the 20th century", warning that the "destructive furore" of new conflicts would surpass "the most terrifying experiences we have known in the past".

Perhaps Pacelli's most important journey, however, was the long private visit he made to the United States in the autumn of 1936, travelling thousands of miles by air, as he had done in Germany, a further testimony to his modernity. On this journey the Cardinal met approximately 80 Bishops, and also the most important political leaders among them the newly re-elected Roosevelt.

On his return to the Vatican the Pope presented him with his portrait with a dedication in his hand, "to our very dear Cardinal, Eugenio Pacelli, Transatlantic and Pan-American, happily returned". Only a few days before, Pius XI had surprised Mons. Tardini, by praising his Secretary of State who was still travelling and calmly concluding: "He will be a good Pope". This prediction came true less than three years later, when the War was already at the gates.

In an attempt to avoid it, the new Pope, who had taken the name of Pius XII, tried a last appeal, written with the help of the Substitute Montini and pronounced a week before the troops of the Reich invaded Poland: "A heavy hour tolls again for the great human family; an hour of tremendous deliberations, which Our heart cannot ignore, and Our spiritual Authority must not ignore, that authority which comes to Us from God, to lead men's souls in the ways of justice and peace....

"We, armed with nothing other than the word of Truth, above public rivalry and passion, speak to you in the Name of God, from whom every fatherhood in Heaven and on Earth takes its name.... It is with the strength of reason, and not with the strength of arms, that justice makes its way. Empires not founded on Justice are not blessed by God. Politics emancipated from morals betrays the very people who have desired it so. The danger is imminent, but there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace. All may be lost with war. Let men begin again to understand themselves.... We supplicate them by the blood of Christ, whose victorious strength in the world was the meekness of His life and death. And in supplicating them, We feel and We know that we have with us all those who are just in their hearts; all those who are hungry and thirsty for Justice — all those who already suffer every pain through the evils of life....

"And with Us is the soul of this old Europe, which was built with faith and the Christian spirit. With Us is the whole of humanity, which seeks justice, bread, freedom, not iron which kills and destroys".

Pope Pacelli's appeal was in vain, as was the denunciation of his inaugural Encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, published in the first autumn of the war, which condemned "the forgetting of that law of human solidarity and charity, which is dictated and imposed both by the community of origin and by equality of the rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong, and by the sacrifice for redemption offered to us by Jesus Christ", forcibly upholding that "unity of humankind" which was at the centre, and in the title, of the last Encyclical projected by his Predecessor, with which Pius XII is sometimes compared without any real foundation.

There was therefore no "hidden encyclical", nor was the last Discourse of Pius XI for the 10th anniversary of the Conciliation, which John XXIII had published 20 years later in 1959; in L'Osservatore Romano, censured by the Cardinal Camerlengo Pacelli.

The condemnation of the Summi Pontificutus was aimed at the "conception which assigns unlimited authority to the State", which is defined in the Encyclical as "a pernicious error", both for "the internal life of the nation", and for the relations between peoples, because it destroys supranational social unity, removes the foundation and value of the rights of peoples, opens the way to violations of the rights of others, and renders difficult pacific understanding and co-existence".

And lastly there was the very strong denunciation of the "hour of darkness", when "the spirit of violence and discord pours upon mankind a bloody cup of nameless pain", with the warning that "the people, overcome by the tragic vortex of war, are still perhaps only at the 'beginning of the sufferings' (Mt 24:8), but that already in many families death and desolation, misery and lamentation, reign.

"The blood of innumerable human beings, including non-combatants, raises a harrowing cry particularly over a beloved country like Poland, which for its faithfulness towards the Church, for its merits in defence of Christian civilization, written in indelible letters in the annals of its history, has a right to the human and brotherly fellow sympathy of the world".

And Pius XII continued, "The duty of Christian love, which is the fundamental pivot of the Kingdom of Christ, is not an empty word, but a living reality. An enormous field opens up to Christian charity in all its forms. We have every faith that all Our sons, especially those who are not tried by the scourge of the War, will remember, in imitation of the divine Samaritan, all those who, victims of the War, have the right to pity and succour".

Prefigured thus in the first Encyclical of Pope Pacelli were not only the horrors of war, but also the enormous work of charity that the Church was to set in motion towards all, without distinction, in the years of the conflict. Proof this is to be found, among others, in the collection, instituted at the wish of Pius XII immediately after the beginning of the conflict.

The collection of three and a half million documents in the Vatican Information Office regarding prisoners of war resource of the Vatican Archives that covers the years up to 1947, which is completely open, but nevertheless hardly used.

It seems in fact that it is enough to open up an archive, an opening possibly demanded with great clamour, for its documents to be totally disregarded: evidently history interests many only insofar as it can be used as a weapon. As should he well known, the archives of the Holy See up to the beginning of 1939, are entirely open, while for the period of the War and of the Shoah, their contents were largely anticipated in the 12 volumes of the Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, published by will of Paul VI in 1965.

This imposing documentation — added to an endless quantity in national and private archives, to numerous testimonies and to the historical reconstruction of the period — is today showing that the polemics about the so-called silence of Pius XII, accused of insensibility or even of connivance in respect to the Shoah, has been instrumentalized, as is clearly indicated by its origins which already during the War were rooted in Soviet propaganda, then decanted into Cold War Soviet propaganda and finally re-launched by its supporters.

As a diplomat of Benedict XV, Pacelli had already taken pains, in 1915, to condemn the anti-Semitic violence which had exploded in Poland, while in the l930s, as Secretary of State of Pius XI, he put a stop to the anti-Jewish propaganda in the radio broadcasts of an American Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin.

After his experience in Germany, the Cardinal was very well acquainted with Nazism and its insane ideology, and many times between 1937 and 1939 had put the British and Americans on their guard against the danger represented by the Third Reich. But there was more: between the autumn of 1939 and the spring of 1940 the Pontiff, taking a decision without precedent; supported the attempt of some German military circles in contact with the British to overturn the regime of Hitler. The attempt, however soon failed. And after the German attack on the Soviet Union Pius XII refused to ally himself or the Catholic Church with what was presented as a crusade against communism, but instead made great efforts to overcome the opposition of many American Catholics towards an alliance with the Soviets, even though his judgment and that of his closest collaborators on communism remained always radically negative.

The representation of Pius XII as indifferent to the fate of the victims of Nazism — the Poles and above all the Jews and as nothing less than "Hitler's Pope", is historically unsustainable even more than it is outrageous, just as the image of a Pontiff under the domination of the Americans and "Chaplain of the West", which was diffused and constantly sustained by the Soviets and their supporters in the European democracies during the Cold War, is without any historical foundation.

Before the horrors of the War and that which would later be known as the Shoah, Pope Pacelli did not remain neutral or indifferent, and what was then and still is described as silence was instead a conscious and painful choice, based on a clear moral and religious judgment. Very many voices, some from outside the Catholic Church, have recognised and do recognise this. For example in 1940 Albert Einstein wrote in Time magazine: "Only the Church has dared to oppose Hitler's campaign to suppress the truth. I have never had any special interest in the Church before today, but now I feel great admiration and affection for her, because only the Church has had the courage and the constant strength to stand on the side of intellectual truth and moral freedom".

The Dominican Yves Congar, later to become Cardinal, notes in his diary of the Vatican Council the confidences of a witness of the times, his brother Dominican Rosaire Gagnebet. After the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine, the Pope debated "with anguish" as to whether he should denounce the fact: "But all the convents, all the religious houses of Rome were full of refugees, communists, Jews, democrats and anti-Fascists, ex-generals, etc. Pius XII had even suspended the rules for the cloister. If Pius XII had made a public protest, there would have been searches in all these houses and catastrophe would have ensued".

The Pontiff therefore chose diplomatic protest. Faced with the threat of deportation he communicated to the Archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Luigi Lavitrano, that he would receive "all powers in his place" and to the German Ambassador he affirmed without hesitation: you will arrest "Monsignor Pacelli, but not the Pope!". The assistance provided by Pius XII for the persecuted — among them many Jews, in Rome, in Italy and in many other countries — was immense and is constantly being documented, also by authoritative historians and intellectuals who are far from being defenders of the Papacy, such as Ernesto Galli della Loggia, Arrigo Levi and Piero Melograni. New facts and documents are continually emerging from this past that never passes.

This documentation renders justice to what Pope Pacelli and his Church did in the face of the criminal persecution of the Jews, and should impose the re-writing of a large number of history books, and the relegation to oblivion of the defamatory legend of a Nazi-phile Pontiff. This reputation, which was born in the years of world conflict, culminated in 1963 with the representation of the play Der Stellvertreter (The Vicar) by Rolf Hochhuth, and was proposed again in 2002 in Constantin Costa-Gavras' film Amen.

In Italy in 1965 the historian Giovanni Spadolini had already denounced the fact that this had been an orchestrated campaign, when he spoke of "systematic attacks by the communist world which did not fail to find some complicity or some compliance in Catholic hearts too — or at least in some Catholics, not unknown, even in Italy".

Forty years later a whole dossier in which the heads of the Third Reich are shown to have considered Pope Pacelli an enemy has confirmed this: a Nazi dossier consisting of unpublished documents which had fallen into the hands of the leaders of the secret services of communist Germany, and which had naturally remained hidden until they were revealed by "La Republica", a daily newspaper that could certainly not he described as "Pro Pacelli".

A long and important interview with Paolo Mieli, historian and editor of the Corriere della Sera, published in L'Osservatore Romano (History will render justice to Pope Pius XII, L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 October 2008, p. 7) summarized the historiographical case constituted by the debate about Pius XII on the 50th anniversary of his death. It is a highly significant text in which Mieli, among other things, declares he is convinced that in time historians will render justice to Pope Pacelli; "Sincerely, the Jewish blood that runs through my veins" he added, "makes me prefer a Pope who helps my fellow Jews to survive, rather than one who puts on a show" (ibid., p. 26). And it is worth rereading his conclusive judgment on Pius XII: "He may have been the most. important Pope of the 20th century. He was certainly tormented by doubts. On the matter of silence, as I have said, he questioned himself. But this is exactly what gives me a sense of his greatness.

"One thing struck me. Once the war was over, if Pius XII had had a guilty conscience, he would have bragged of his work to save the Jews. But he never did this. He never said a word. He could have. He could have had it written about, had it said. He didn't do it. For me, this is a proof of the quality of his character. He was not a Pope who felt the need to defend himself. Regarding judgment about Pius XII, I must say that there remains in my heart what Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer of German origin and the second prosecutors at the Nuremberg trial, wrote in 1964: 'Any propagandist statement of position by the Church against the government. of Hitler would not only have been premeditated suicide, but would have accelerated the killing of a much greater number of Jews and priests'.

"I conclude: for 20 years the judgments about Pius XII were unanimous. In my opinion, therefore, there is something that doesn't add up about the offensive against them. And anyone who ventures to study him with intellectual honesty must start. from precisely this point. From these figures that don't add up" (ibid.).

Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have with one accord defended the memory of Pius XII from the historical point of view, his actions during the Second World War and in the face of the terrifying tragedy of the Shoah. To this we should add the honour paid by the Popes to the memory of the six million victims of the Shoah, and the undoubted desire to proceed along the way of peace, reconciliation and religious debate with Judaism, as Paul VI did in the time of the Second Vatican Council and during the rest of his Pontificate, as John Paul II constantly and tenaciously preached, and as Benedict XVI has repeated on many occasions, and particularly this year during his Visit to the United States, Australia, and above all in France.

As is well known, the cause of the canonization of Pope Pacelli is under way, a religious matter which commands the respect of everyone, and which is specifically the competence of the Holy See. In 1965 Paul VI, announcing in Council the opening of the causes for Pius XII and John XXIII, set forth the reasons: "In this way the desire which has been expressed by innumerable voices in regard to both, will be met; in this way the wealth of their spiritual heritage will be assured to history; in this way it will be certain that no motive, other than the reverence for holy truth and thus the glory of God and the building of His Church, shall reconstruct their authentic and dear figures for our veneration and that of the generations to come".

Benedict XVI, in his turn, celebrating in memory of' Pius XII in St. Peter's, exhorted the congregation to pray, "that the cause for beatification shall proceed happily". This is an exhortation that I willingly embrace, and in which I join, remembering and celebrating a Roman Pontiff who was great, and to the knowledge of whom this convention will certainly contribute greatly.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 November 2008, page 11

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