A holy, brave, maligned pope

MAN OF PEACE: POPE PIUS XII. By Margherita Marchione (Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Blvd., Mahway, N.J. 07430, 2004), xi + 79 pp. PB $9.95.

This is an abridged edition of Sr. Margherita Marchione’s Shepherd Souls: a pictorial life of Pope Pius XII. Her written defenses of Pope Pius XII began in 1977. This is her fifth volume in response to the attacks leveled against Pius XII that he did not do all he could to defend the Jews in Nazi and Fascist Germany.

There is nothing new in this slim volume of 76 pages, but its brevity emphasizes Pius’ role as a man of peace who hated war and genocide. What emerges is a figure at once elegant, reassuring, and imperturbable. He was spontaneously humorous, eloquent, and quick to respond to a challenge.

He was ordained in 1899 and was elected Pope at the age of 63 in 1939, and lived 19 years as the Holy Father. His rise in rank and prestige was meteoric.

Martin Bormann echoed his master Hitler in declaring that Nazism intended to break with Christianity and to substitute a man made ideology and a new faith. In 1937 Pope Pius XI published the encyclical, Mit brennender Sorg, prepared by Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII, in which he condemned anti-Semitism, and was recognized by the Nazis as the supreme insult to the “New Germany.”

Soon after his election, the new Supreme Pontiff issued a call for a peace conference of European leaders. After conferring with the German Cardinals Pius issued his first encyclical Summi Pontificatus. In it he condemned totalitarian states that rejected the natural law and posited “The Primacy of Christ” as the foundation of human society. His effort to prevent the war came to naught on September 1, 1939 when Nazi tanks crossed the Polish boarder. The Pope collaborated efforts to overthrow Hitler, and when the Nazis occupied Rome in September 1943, the Holy Father began his efforts to save as many Jews as possible. When the allies bombed Rome, he spearheaded the offer to bring order as civil authorities fled, personally giving the Last Rites to the dying.

Beginning in 1963, with the publication of Rolf Hochuth’s play, “The Deputy,” the accusations began that Pius refused to condemn the holocaust in spite of his intimate knowledge of Jewish suffering. If Pius had the publicly condemned Nazism, he would have to condemn Fascism and Communism. He was a prisoner of Germans and Italians. Documents show Pius XII’s constant, untiring steps and appeals on behalf of Jews before and during the war. The chorus from Jews that this Pope had done all he could to alleviate the lot of the Jews cresecnded. Pius publicly and personally did not openly condemn Nazism because German and Austrian bishops dissuaded him from taking any public action lest their Catholic people suffer. Four Jesuits were chosen by Pius VI to investigate the Vatican archives on this issue. Between 1965 and 1981 their combined scholarship established the falsehood of Hochhuth’s specific allegations. Fr. Robert Lieber, S.J., had been Pius’s private secretary for 30 years; he disclosed the personal letters of Pius to the German bishops. Discretion and prudence explained his public silence. He had instructed his representatives in Nazi-occupied lands and in Vichy France to act prudently on this matter. In fact Hitler planned to murder Pius. The defamers of Pope Pius ignore or misinterpret the massive evidence exonerating the Pope for his “silence.”

For 19 years this noble Roman led the Papacy on a crusade for peace. He was hailed as a peacemaker and conciliator. His Christmas message concluded with these words: “Peace is a ‘good’ so precious, so desirable and so desired, that every effort to defend it, even at the cost of sacrificing one’s own aspirations, is a ‘good’ well spent.”

This shortened version of the author’s previous works on Pius will remove all doubt about Pope Pius XII’s desire and work for peace as well as his adamantine defense of, and help to, world Jewry. The attacks on Pope Pius XII are really an attack on the Catholic Church, an increasingly common phenomenon that is part of the virulent secularized culture.

Gerard G. Steckler, S.J.
Waldport, Oregon

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