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DOC 8/29/2008 2:42:12 PM

Between Morality and Diplomacy: The

Vatican’s “Silence” During the Holocaust

On 12 June 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the French
Ambassador to the Holy See, François Charles-Roux, regretting the
impartial reaction of Pius XII to the aggressive demands imposed upon
Catholic Poland by the Nazis, observed that “the Holy See can perform
its activity in two ways, either through diplomacy or by asserting the
principles which stand against the theories now in fashion.”1 Rejecting
the notion that “might makes right” this Frenchman favored a policy
based on ethical principles. Pius XII agreed in principle with him. “The
Pope at times cannot remain silent. Governments only consider
political and military issues, intentionally disregarding moral and legal
issues in which, on the other hand, the Pope is primarily interested and
cannot ignore,” Pius XII told the Italian ambassador Dino Alfieri on 13
May 1940. Quoting Saint Catherine of Sienna’s critique of papal
policies in the fourteenth century, this pope believed her admonition
was equally applicable to him and that “God would subject him to the
most stringent judgment if he did not react to evil or did not do what
he thought was his duty.” Referring to the European situation of 1940,
Pius asked “How could the Pope, in the present circumstances, be
guilty of such a serious omission as that of remaining a disinterested
spectator of such heinous acts, while the entire world was waiting for
his word?”2

•FRANK J. COPPA (B.A., Brooklyn College; M.A., Ph.D., Catholic University of America)
is professor of history and director of doctoral studies in modern world history, St. John’s
University, and associate editor of the New Catholic Encyclopedia. He is author of The
Papacy, the Jews, and the Holocaust, The Modern Papacy, and The Papacy Confronts the
Modern World, and has edited and contributed to Controversial Concordats: The Vatican’s
Relations with Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler and the two-volume Great Popes Through
History, among others. Special interests include modern European, modern Italian, and
papal history. He has a special interest in biography and is the author of a series of
biographies including those of Giovanni Giolitti, Camillo di Cavour, Pope Pius IX, and
Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli, among others. He also serves as series editor for Peter Lang’s
“Studies in Modern European History.”

1. Records and Documents of the Holy See Relating to the Second World War: The Holy
See and the War in Europe (RDHSWW ), ed. Pierre Blett et al. Trans. Gerard Noel
(Cleveland, Ohio: Corpus Books, 1968), 169.
2. Ibid., 423.


A series of observers including the Swiss playwright Rolf Hochhuth

and the German political philosopher Hannah Arendt subsequently
posed the same question. The first brought the issue to the fore and
the second concluded that more was expected of the “Vicar of Christ”
than a simple political figure.3 Referring to “the atrocities taking place
in Poland,” Pius XII confessed he wanted to “utter words of fire against
such action,”4 but held his tongue and did not publicly and clearly
denounce either Communism or Nazism during the Second World
War. Some both within and outside the church condemned this
“silence.” The Jesuit priest Gustav Gundlach, who helped draft Pius
XI’s encyclical against anti-Semitism, complained that the “ethical”
course pursued by Pius XI (Achille Ratti) was abandoned in favor of
the more “expedient” one of Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli).5 Others have
been even more critical accusing Pius XII of being anti-Semitic as well
as pro-Nazi, with one writer branding him “Hitler’s Pope.”
These accusations have been countered by a series of devoted
followers of Pius XII and apologetic authors who have depicted this
pope as an Architect for Peace and Angelic Shepherd, defending his
person and policies while condemning his Defamation and decrying his
Greatness Dishonored.6 Monsignor Giovanni Montini, later Pope Paul
VI, offered an explanation of sorts for the papal position early on:
“From a moral stance the Vatican could only be in favor of good against
evil, and of the law against force,” he proclaimed, but added that from
a political viewpoint “it could only be an impartial witness to the war.”7
Others branded the Vatican attempt to separate politics and morality as
Machiavellian. These diametrically opposed evaluations have ignited a
controversy that has already lasted longer than Pius XII’s pontificate
(1939-1958), provoking what has been termed “The Pius War.”8 An
objective historical account of this pope’s role during the Holocaust is
long overdue in order to separate fact from fiction, and counter the
polemical accusatory and apologetic “studies,” which continue to
clutter the field.

3. See Gerhard Besier with the collaboration of Francesca Piombo, The Holy See and
Hitler’s Germany, trans. W.R. Ward (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2007), viii.
4. RDHSWW, 423.
5. Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, L’encyclique cachée de Pie XI (Paris:
Editions La Découverte, 1995, 122, 126, 129.
6. See Sister Margherita Marchione, Pius XII: Architect for Peace (2000); Jan Olav Smit,
Angelic Shepherd: The Life of Pope Pius XII (1950); Ralph McInerny, The Defamation of
Pope Pius XII (2001); and Father Michael O’Carrol, Pius XII: Greatness Dishonored—A
Documented Study (1980) among dozens of such apologetic works.
7. Italo Garzia, “Pope Pius XII, Italy and the Second World War,” in Papal Diplomacy in
the Modern Age, ed. Peter C. Kent and John F. Pollard (London: Praeger, 1994), 127.
8. See John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New York: Viking,
1999), and Joseph Bottum and David G. Dalin, eds., The Pius War (New York: Lexington
Books, 2004).


Despite the excuses of his defenders and accusations of his

denigrators, Pius XII recognized the moral dimension of his wartime
discretion and the ethical dilemma inherent in his diplomatic
neutrality. Privately he apparently expressed doubts about his
conciliatory approach.9 Nonetheless, he did not utter “words of fire” in
condemnation of Nazi abuses admitting as much as early as 1940,
fearing his denunciation would make things worse.10 Critics contrast
this cautious conduct to his vocal crusade against Stalin’s Soviet Union
in the postwar period when he disdained silence. “Can, may the Pope
be silent?,” Pius asked the assembled crowd in St. Peter's Square in
February 1949 adding “Can you imagine a successor to Peter who
would bow to such demands?” The crowd shouted an unequivocal
“No!”11 There followed a decree of 1 July 1949, (Responsa ad dubia de
communismo) excommunicating those who supported communism, a
condemnation never before launched against adherents of Nazism or
Fascism.12 Some assumed this reflected the pope’s view that
Bolshevism posed a greater threat than Nazism, ignoring that the
condemnation of Communism followed the end of the war, while
during its course Pius had been “silent” about Bolshevik atrocities as
well as those of the Nazis. Though it was illogical to discount the
differences between the wartime period and the postwar one, the stark
contrast between Pius XII’s conduct during the Second World War and
the Cold War contributed to the call for a re-evaluation of this pontiff.
The reassessment occurred gradually. For more than a decade,
Pius XII did not suffer the consequences of what some later deemed
his “sin of omission” since the genocide was largely ignored by most
states and statesmen at that time. Consequently, from the collapse of
Nazi Germany until 1963, there was considerable praise and little open
criticism of Pius XII’s public neutrality during the course of World War
II. In fact, at his death in 1958, Jews joined Catholics in praising this
pope’s wartime efforts on behalf of the persecuted. This positive
evaluation was challenged as the magnitude of Hitler’s genocide
became manifest by the early 1960s and this pope’s indirect criticism
and limited actions were weighed against the grave crimes perpetrated.
The increased questioning, but still latent critique, of papal policy, was
given broad exposure by Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” (1963), which
provided a dramatic if less than objective presentation of Pius XII’s
behavior and role during the genocide, now deemed a central feature

9. Paul L. Murphy with Rene Arlington, La Popessa (New York: Warner Books, 1983),
10. Records and Documents of the Holy See Relating to the Second World War, 423.
11. Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), LXI, 1949, 74.
12. Sandro Magister, La politica vaticana e l'Italia, 1943-1978 (Rome: Reuniti, 1979), 132-
33; G. Alberigo, “La Condanna della colabarzione dei Cattolici con i partiti communisti
(1949),” in Concilium, 1975, n. 7, 145-58.


of the Second World War.13 This play, translated into more than
twenty languages, reached a wide audience and depicted Pius as a
calculating figure preoccupied by narrow clerical interests to the
detriment of the Nazi victims. Denigrators of this pope found
ammunition in the drama for their campaign against Pius XII’s
“silence,” while his defenders noted its historical inaccuracies and
failure to acknowledge this pope’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of the
The charges launched by Hochhuth’s play engendered a
controversy re-ignited during the projected beatification of Pius XII
alongside John XXIII, at the turn of the century. Following the first
eruption, Pope Paul VI, hoping to quell the criticism of the pope he
had loyally served, allowed four Jesuits access to the closed Vatican
archives for the Second World War—which led to the publication of
the eleven volume Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs a` la
seconde guerre mondiale (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana,
1965-81).14 Their publication, as well as the passage of time, saw the
storm over Pius XII’s “silence” temporarily subside—but not end. It
dramatically resumed at the turn of the century during the discussion
of the beatification of Pius XII, rekindling the controversy. Since a
number of others had been equally, if not more silent than Pius XII,
and provided less assistance to the persecuted Jews than he did, the
condemnation of the pope provided a convenient means of avoiding
individual and collective responsibility and therefore not readily
abandoned. Some hoped that the availability of additional sources
would resolve this psychological, ideological and polemical debate.
New memoirs such as those of Harold Tittmann, Jr., assistant to
Myron C. Taylor, Roosevelt’s personal representative to Pius XII, have
been published,15 providing valuable insights into this pope’s thought
and actions. Other important documents have surfaced, including the
belated appearance and publication of the encyclical commissioned by
Pius XI in 1938 against racism,16 along with the disclosure of a secret

13. My interest in the Holocaust, then simply known as the Nazi genocide, predates the
presentation and publication of Hochhuth’s play. It was originally stimulated by my study of
German history under Hans Rosenberg at Brooklyn College. Subsequently, it was nourished
by John K. Zeender at the Catholic University of America.
14. The Vatican Archives for the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-58) otherwise remain
closed. During a meeting with the Prefect, Sergio Pagano, on 13 January 2004, the Prefect,
who contributed an essay on Pius V to the two volume Great Popes in History (Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003) which I edited, confided that it would take another twenty
years to arrange the papers of Pius XII’s pontificate before opening them for scholarly
15. Harold H. Tittmann, III, ed., Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an
American Diplomat During World War II (New York: Image Books, 2004).
16. The text of the encyclical was “lost” for years. As late as 1991, Father Robert
Graham—one of the Jesuits granted access to the papers of Pius XI and Pius XII—told me
during an international conference on Papal diplomacy (1991)—that he had not seen the


agreement made in 1938 by Vatican officials without Pius XI’s

knowledge, promising not to interfere with Fascism’s anti-Semitism. In
addition, the contentious and ongoing debate has played a part in
opening the files of the Vatican Information Service in the Vatican
Archives,17 and access to them has been facilitated by the publication
of a two volume work.18 The papal assistance provided the victims of
the conflict has been dubbed a “crusade of charity,” by defenders of
Pius XII, who posit he was far from an inactive spectator during the
The dispute also led to the early access to some of the papers of
Pius XI and notes of his secretary of state from 1930 to 1939, Eugenio
Pacelli—who later became Pope Pius XII.20 The recently opened
Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari/Stati Ecclesiastici files provide insights
into general Vatican policy during these troubled times and the later
months of Pius XI’s pontificate, with a number of fascicoli of the
Germania files tracing the deteriorating relations between Pius XI’s
Vatican and Nazi Germany. Valuable information can also be gleaned
from the files of the Munich and Berlin Nunciatures from 1922 to
1939,21 as well as the opening of the Cardinal Faulhaber Archive in the
Archiepiscopal Archive of Munich and Freising. 22 Together, these
papers help reveal the attitudes of Pius XI, the Curia, and Pacelli
towards the anti-Semitism of the Fascist regimes, shedding new light
on the role of each for the Vatican’s response to the totalitarian
Among other things, these sources reveal that Pacelli did not
originate the conciliatory policy towards Nazi Germany he later
pursued—though this is virtual dogma in much of the historiography.

text in the Vatican archives. I had almost lost hope of ever seeing the text when Prof. Robert
Hecht, of the City University, completing a biography of John La Farge, wrote me asking if I
wanted to see the galleys of this encyclical. The galleys of the encyclical had been prepared
for publication in The Catholic Mind in 1973—but somehow never appeared. Subsequently
they were found by Hecht in the offices of the Journal America. Subsequently another
version of this encyclical was published by Georges Passelecq and B. Suchecky,
L’Encyclique Cacheé de Pie XI: Une occasion manquée de l’Église face a` l’antisémitisme
(Paris, 1995). Trans. By Steven Rendall and published as The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI
(New York, 1997).
17. Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV), Ufficio Informazioni Vaticano (Prigionieri di guerra,
18. Inter Arma Caritas: Uffizio Informazioni Vaticano per I prigionieri di guerra istituito
da Pio XII (Vatican City: Archivio Segreto Vaticano, 2004).
19. Sister Margherita Marchione, Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs (1939-1945)
(New York: Paulist Press, 2006).
20. The documents in the Nunziatura d'Italia include the correspondence between the
Vatican and the Italian government on Mussolini’s racial laws and pronouncements as well
as the Vatican’s efforts on behalf of individual, primarily converted Jews.
21. A good part of this file has been put on 95 reels of microfilm and can be found in the
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
22. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, ix.


In fact, this was earlier advocated by the pragmatic and powerful Pietro
Gasparri, whose crucial role in establishing this conciliatory course has
been largely overlooked. The cardinal, who served as secretary of state
under Benedict XV (1914-22) and Pius XI (1922-1930), codified the
canon law, and was largely responsible for the Lateran Accords of 1929,
which led to the creation of Vatican City, could not be ignored even
when out of office. When Hitler ascended to power, Gasparri, drawing
on his previous pronouncements, provided advice on how the Holy See
should respond to Nazism. His suggestions codified what he had
proposed since the 1920s, and urged the papacy to refrain from
condemning Hitler’s party so long as it did not wage war on the Holy
See or the hierarchy in Germany.23 Pacelli shared the practical
approach of his patron, mentor, and guide as did a majority in the
secretariat of state. Pius XI did not, and during the 1920s had clashed
with Gasparri on this and other matters. Apparently Pius XI retained
Gasparri as secretary of state because of his crucial role in the
negotiations for a concordat with Mussolini’s Italy, but forced him to
resign following their successful conclusion.24 He chose the younger,
less assertive Eugenio Pacelli to succeed as secretary of state, knowing
he had been out of the country for more than a decade and did not
have the support structure in the curia to challenge the pope and
pursue an independent course as Gasparri had.
Nonetheless, Pacelli shared more of Gasparri’s views than those of
the pope. He differed from Pius XI in style as well as substance, in
physical features—Papa Ratti was athletic while Pacelli was frail—as
well as temperament and personality. While the pope was spontaneous,
outgoing, and outspoken, his secretary of state was studied, aloof, and
cautious in speech as well as action. The pope, unlike Pacelli, was
decisive, stubborn, and prone to reach decisions on his own.25 Not
surprisingly, the two soon disagreed on a number of issues, reflecting
not only differences in personality, but the divisions prevailing in the
curia and Vatican circles. Although both opposed Nazi anti-Semitism,
recognizing Nazi mania for racial purity violated Christian principles
and Catholicism’s universal ministry,26 they increasingly differed on
how to respond.
Despite the anti-Judaism prevalent in church circles, which the

23. “Pietro Gasperri’s Memorandum of June 1933,” ASV, Archivio della Nunziatura
Apostolica in Monaco, pos. 396, fasc. 7, ff. 75-76, cited in Peter Godman, Hitler and the
Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives that Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church
(New York: Free Press, 2004), 6-7.
24. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 70; 227, n. 247.
25. Ibid., 52.
26. Gene Bernardini, “The Origins and Development of Racial Antisemitism in Fascist
Italy,” Journal of Modern History 49, n. 3 (1977): 434; John S. Conway, “The Vatican,
Germany and the Holocaust,” in Papal Diplomacy in the Modern Age, eds. Kent and
Pollard, 106.


Holy See often tolerated if it did not sanction,27 Pius XI early-on

rejected Gasparri’s advice not to combat Nazism and its principles
unless they attacked the Holy See. The pope, instead, felt the need to
assume a public opposition to racism, denouncing it in the first year of
his pontificate by emphasizing that “Christian charity extends to all
men whatsoever without distinction of race. . . .”28 Later he censured
Charles Maurras’s anti-Semitic Action Francaise,29 and in 1928,
condemned anti-Semitism when the Holy Office suppressed the
Friends of Israel.30 In 1929, Pius XI concluded an agreement with
Mussolini's Italy,31 but then anti-Semitism had not been adopted by
the regime. In fact, knowing of the Pontiff’s visceral reaction to anti-
Semitism, the Duce warned the Fuehrer in April 1933 not to fall prey
to its allure.32 Hitler did not heed Mussolini’s advice, while proclaiming
his desire to establish a cordial relationship with the Holy See.33 In
fact, the initiative for a Reich concordat, which Eugenio Pacelli had
sought and failed to obtain from the Weimar Republic during his
tenure as nuncio there (1920-30), came from Nazi Germany when the
Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen visited Rome in April 1933 and
suggested an accord.34 Von Papen, like Pacelli and Gasparri, sought to
establish a legal basis for the rights of the Catholic Church in the Third
Reich.35 The secretary of state immediately seconded the proposal that

27. In this regard see Frank J. Coppa, The Papacy, the Jews, and the Holocaust
(Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006), and Thomas
Brechenmacher, Der Vatikan und die Juden (Munich: Verlag/Beck, 2005).
28. Cum Tertio, 17 September 1922, Principles for Peace: Selections from Papal
Documents from Leo XIII to Pius XII, 329.
29. Consistorial Allocution of 20 December 1926, Discorsi di Pio XI, ed. Domenico
Bertetto (Turin: Societa` Editrice Internazionale, 1959), I: 647.
30. Decretum De Conosciatione Vulgo, “Amici Israel” Abolenda, 25 March 1928, Acta
Apostolicae Sedis, XX, 103-04; Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, The Hidden
Encyclical of Pius XI (New York: Harcourt-Brace, 1998), 144.
31. The Lateran Accords included three parts: a conciliation treaty, which terminated the
Roman Question and established Vatican City as an inviolable papal territory; a concordat,
which regulated church-state relations in Italy; and a financial convention to provide
compensation for papal territory annexed during unification. The texts can be found in Nino
Trapodi's I Patti lateranese e il fascismo (Bologna: Cappelli, 1960), 267-79. For an analysis
of the documents, see Ernesto Rossi, Il Manganello e l’aspersorio (Florence: Parenti, 1958),
32. Nuncio in Berlin Reports on Mussolini’s advice to Hitler, Orsenigo to Pacelli, April
1923, Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV), Segreteria di Stato (SS), Affari Ecclesiastici
Straordinari (AES), Germania, posizioni 641-43, fascicolo 158.
33. Orsenigo to Pacelli, 24 March 1933, ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizioni 641-43,
fascicolo 157.
34. “Cronaca Contemporanea,” 7-20 April 1933, Civiltà Cattolica, anno 84 (1933), II: 301;
John Jay Hughes, “The Pope's Pact with Hitler: Betrayal or Self-Defense?,” Journal of
Church and State 17 (Winter 1975): 64; Klaus Scholder, The Churches and the Third Reich.
II—The Year of Disillusionment: 1934 Barmen and Rome (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress
Press, 1988), 1.
35. Franz von Papen, Memoirs, trans. Brian Connell (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.,


promised to fulfill a goal Gasparri had long envisioned and Pacelli had
pursued since 1919.36 Any written agreement, Pacelli believed, would
provide a better basis for even a temporary coexistence with the Nazi
regime.37 The pope remained skeptical. Suspicious of the Nazis and
distressed by their “pagan philosophy,” Pius XI offered a less
enthusiastic response. He suspected that Hitler sought international
legitimacy and political leverage rather than reconciliation with
The pope reconsidered signing a concordat with the Reich at the
behest of Pacelli who stressed its importance in protecting the faithful
in the Reich.38 Scandalized by the dismantling of some Catholic social
and political groups,39 the pope feared that other church organizations
and activities might also be targeted. Determined to preserve Catholic
youth groups and safeguard the church in the Reich, Pius XI
reluctantly sanctioned negotiations.40 Nonetheless, the pope was less
than happy with the rapid conclusion of the concordat creating a
certain tension between himself and his secretary of state.41 The papal
secretary of state, aware of the pope’s ambivalence, confessed that the
Holy See deplored the anti-Semitism of the German government, its
violations of human rights, and its reign of terror. It signed the accord,
he explained, because it appeared to be the sole means of preventing
the destruction of the Catholic Church and its lay organizations in
Germany.42 On paper, the agreement provided broad concessions to
the Holy See, with more than two-thirds of its thirty-three articles
offering it assurances.43 An additional protocol guaranteed the right of
the church to collect funds in the Reich.44 Pacelli, largely responsible
for its successful conclusion was congratulated for his achievement by
his predecessor and mentor, Cardinal Gasparri.45 For Pacelli, its

1954), 278.
36. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 56.
37. Karol Jozef Gajewski, “Nazi Persecution of the Church,” Inside the Vatican, November
1999, 51.
38. Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-1939: Confidential Reports of the British Minister to the
Holy See, 250; “Concordat of the Holy See and Germany,” Catholic World 137 (August
39. “Cronaca Contemporanea,” 23 June-6 July 1933; Civiltà Cattolica, anno 84 (1933), III:
40. Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-1939: Confidential Reports of the British Minister to the
Holy See, 250.
41. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 71.
42. Mr. Kirkpatrick (the Vatican) to Sir R. Vansittart, 19 August 1933, Documents on
British Foreign Policy, n. 342, 524-25; L'Osservatore Romano, 11-12 September 1933;
“Cronaca Contemporanea,” 7-26 September 1933, Civiltà Cattolica, anno 84 (1933), IV: 89.
43. Italian translation of Reich Concordat of July 1933, ASV, SS, AES, Germania,
posizione 645, fascicolo 157.
44. Addenda to article XIII, ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizione 645, fascicolo164.
45. Gasparri to Pacelli, 24 July 1933, ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizione 645, fascicolo


preservation took priority for over two decades, a preoccupation not

shared by the pope.
Pius XI increasingly believed that the Nazis could not be trusted to
adhere to any agreement. Troubled by their neo-pagan policies, Pius
XI rejected their contention that the Jewish question was an internal
racial issue rather than a religious one.46 He also rejected Hitler’s
conviction that his restrictions on the “pernicious” Jews worked for the
benefit of the church as well as the state.47 Like the Jesuit John La
Farge, the pope deemed racism immoral and sinful,48 and rejected
Gasparri’s advice that barring Nazi attack on the Holy See or the
German hierarchy, the Holy See should remain silent. Pius XI
believed racism presented a frontal challenge to ecclesiastical teaching
and felt a moral obligation to say so, promising a group of visiting
German students he would do all within his means to defend the
faith.49 His motto “Christ’s Peace in Christ’s Kingdom” revealed his
conviction that the church had to interject morality in world affairs and
he pursued an interventionist course. This encouraged a series of
individuals, including Edith Stein, to invoke his assistance against the
Nazi persecution.50 He responded to their pleas by calling upon the
Nuncio in Germany to intervene on behalf of the Jewish victims, and it
was at his prodding that the bishops of Germany issued a proclamation
pronouncing that “God gave his only son for the salvation of all of
Pius XI’s vocal opposition to Nazism’s racial policies was widely
known in Europe and abroad. As early as September 1933, The Jewish
Chronicle of London applauded his stance, while so many others
remained silent:
The Pope, having received reports of the persistence of anti-Semitic persecution in
Germany, has publicly expressed his disapproval of the movement. He stated that these
persecutions are a poor testimony to the civilization of a great people. He recorded the
fact that Jesus Christ, the Madonna, the apostles, the prophets and many saints were all
were of the Hebrew race, and that the Bible is a Hebrew creation. The Aryan races, he
declared, had no claim to superiority over the Semites.52

46. Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-1939: Confidential Reports of the British Minister to the
Holy See, 253-54; Camille M. Cianfarra, The War and the Vatican (London: Oates and
Washbourne, 1945), 96; Documents on German Foreign Policy, (DGFP) Series C, vol. IV,
47. ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizioni 641-43.
48. Robert A. Hecht, An Unordinary Man: A life of Father John La Farge, S.J. (Lanham,
Md.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996), 103, 107.
49. Speeches of 4 April 1934 and 29 April 1934 in Discorsi di Pio XI, III, 90-93, 114-15.
50. Edith Stein to Pius XI, 12 April 1933 ASV, SS, AES, Germania, Posizione 643,
51. Cesare Orsenigo to Pacelli, 11 April 1933, ASV, SS, AES, Germania, Posizione 643,
fasicolo 158, nn. 6953-6594.
52. The Jewish Chronicle of London, 1 September 1933, found in ASV, SS, AES,


Despite repeated papal protests, both anti-Semitism and

persecution of the church in Germany continued throughout most of
1934, to the pope’s dismay. Pius XI repeatedly expressed his strong
dissatisfaction to the German ambassador, Diego von Bergen.
Assessing the pope’s anger, Bergen warned his government that he
might take drastic action.53 In fact, Pius XI, still nourishing reservations
about the Reich concordat,54 considered terminating it, but his
secretary of state and his followers in the curia, who feared the adverse
impact upon millions of German Catholics, restrained him. Pacelli,
Cesare Orsenigo, his successor as Nuncio in Berlin, and the German
bishops all concurred with Gasparri, that the concordat served as a
shield for the Catholic Church in Germany,55 and Pacelli frankly
acknowledged his role in its retention.
Yes, Pius XI was so indignant about what was happening in Germany that he once said
to me,” How can the Holy See continue to keep a Nuncio there? It conflicts with our
honor” The Holy Father feared that the world would not understand how we could
continue diplomatic relations with a regime which treated the Church in such a
manner. So I replied to him,” Your Holiness, what good would that do us? If we
withdraw the Nuncio how can we maintain contact with the German bishops?”56
For the moment the pope let Pacelli and the conciliatory faction in
the curia prevail, but his future actions indicate their pragmatic
arguments based on Gasparri’s contentions failed to convince him, and
he found it difficult to contain his opposition. Alfred Rosenberg’s racist
Myth of the Twentieth Century, heralded by the Nazis was placed on
the Index of Prohibited Books alongside Ernst Bergmann's German
National Church, revealing Rome’s continued campaign against racism.
Rejecting the call for discreet diplomatic protests, Pius XI sent over
thirty angry notes denouncing Nazi policies between 1933 and 1936.
The papal opposition to Nazi racism was echoed in the columns of the
Civilta’ Cattolica, which concurred with the pope that Nazi racism
conflicted with the faith.57 Nazi philosophy and policies led Pius XI to
alter his stance on Anschluss between Germany and Austria, which he
now opposed, and he was scandalized by the abortive Nazi coup of
1934 in Austria.58 The Osservatore Romano branded National

Germania, Posizione 643, 2574/33.

53. Guenter Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (New York: McGraw-Hill,
1964), 126.
54. Desmond O’ Grady, “Pius XI—complex and imperious,” National Catholic Reporter,
15 December 1972, 15.
55. ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizione 644, fascicolo 161
56. Anthony Rhodes, The Vatican in an Age of Dictators, 1922-1945 (New York: Holt,
Rhinehart, and Winston, 1973), 228-29.
57. E. Rosa, “Ricorsi di Barbarie nella civilta` contemporanea,” Civiltà Cattolica, anno 87
(1936), III: 356.
58. Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-1939: Confidential Reports of the British Minister to the
Holy See, 274-79; Charles Pichon, The Vatican and its Role in World Affairs, trans. Jean
Misrahi (New York: Dutton and Co., 1950), 147.


Socialism national terrorism.59 At the close of 1935, the pope’s

consistorial allocution deplored the sad events in the Reich.60
Ignoring the curia’s call for caution, Pius XI refused to remain a
silent spectator of Nazi policies in violation of church teachings and
basic human rights, repeatedly revealing his displeasure to the German
ambassador. In turn, Diego von Bergen reported that Pacelli was upset
by the pope's outbursts and sought to moderate his opposition, though
he was not prepared to contradict the pope.61 The secretary of state’s
inability to restrain the strong-willed pope distressed those in the
Vatican who opposed the combative papal course.62 The persistent
attacks on church doctrines aroused Pius XI to speak out despite the
countervailing sentiments of his secretary of state. Upon receiving a
congratulatory telegram from the Führer in 1936, on the anniversary of
his coronation, Pius XI responded with one protesting developments in
the Reich.63 In March 1937, his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge,64
denounced the paganism and idolatry of race and blood preached by
the totalitarian Nazi regime, cataloguing the articles of faith trampled
upon by the Nazis.65 Although drafted in part by Pacelli, this was at the
behest of Pius XI. To further arouse the Nazis, in May 1937, when
Cardinal George Mundelein of Chicago made what some regarded as
insulting references to the Führer, Pius XI refused to reprimand him,
but praised him instead.66
Following the papal lead, in June 1937, Civiltà Cattolica proclaimed
that the church condemned all forms of anti-Semitism, rejecting any
identification between it and clerical anti-Judaism.67 Distressed by the
prospect of a break in relations with the Reich, Pacelli offered to go to
Berlin to negotiate a settlement early in 1938, but the Pontiff rejected
his proposal,68 just as he had earlier vetoed Göring’s request to meet
with his secretary of state.69 Some suspected that these restraints

59. Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-1939, 274-79; François Charles-Roux, Huit ans au

Vatican (Paris: Flammarion, 1947), 98.
60. Orsenigo to Pacelli, 20 December 1935, ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizioni 693-94,
fascicolo 264, n. 15, 543.
61. Documents on Germany Foreign Policy, Series C, IV, n. 482; Rhodes, 199.
62. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 71.
63. ASV, SS, AES, Germania, posizioni 693-94, fascicolo 264.
64. The encyclical “With Burning Anxiety” can be found in ASV, SS, AES, Germania,
posizione 719 fascicoli 312-21. For English versions of Mit brennender Sorge of 14 March
1937, see The Papal Encyclicals, 1958-1981, III, 525-35, and Principles for Peace:
Selections from Papal Documents from Leo XIII to Pius XII, 498-510. The original version
can also be found in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, XXIX, 145-67, followed by an Italian version,
65. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, XXIX 182, 185-86.
66. DGFP, series D, I, nn. 665-69.
67. “La questione giudaica e l’apostalto cattolico,” La Civilta` Cattolica, 23 June 1937.
68. DGFP, series D, I, nn. 667, 678, 703, 714.
69. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 91.


placed on Pacelli reflected the pope’s determination to curb Pacelli’s

conciliation toward the Nazis that contrasted with his own combative
As Pacelli feared, relations between the Vatican and Berlin steadily
deteriorated in 1938, as Pius condemned the racism of the Reich.70 In
April 1938, relations became even worse when the Sacred Congre-
gation of Seminaries, presided over by the pope, condemned Nazi
Germany’s racism as pernicious.71 In July, Pius XI further aroused
Berlin when he announced the absolute incompatibility between Nazi
nationalism and Catholicism.72 Scandalized by the policies of the
Reich, Pius deplored the extension of Nazi anti-Semitism to Catholic
Austria following the Anschluss of 1938, and bluntly said so.73 Not
surprisingly, he repudiated the Austrian Cardinal Theodor Innitzer
who applauded the absorption of Austria by Germany, summoned him
to Rome, and constrained the cardinal to issue a retraction.74
Meanwhile, the specter of racism loomed closer to home as Pius
learned of Fascist Italy’s determination to emulate Nazi anti-Semitism.
Pius XI expressed his displeasure during the course of the Führer’s
visit to Rome in May 1938 by leaving for Castel Gandolfo, closing the
Vatican Museum, which Hitler had hoped to visit, and not inviting
German officials into Vatican City. From Castel Gandolfo, he lamented
the exposition of a cross not of Christ in Rome,75 and decided to issue
an encyclical condemning racism, knowing this would alarm his
secretary of state, part of the curia, and many of the German bishops.
The task was delicate and difficult, for the secretariat of state still clung
to Gasparri’s program favoring conciliation rather than confrontation.
Unquestionably, publication of an encyclical critical of Nazi and Fascist
racist policies would have stirred up the Axis dictators and likely
torpedoed the concordats of 1929 and 1933, as Gasparri had warned
and Pacelli feared.
The pope, who felt obligated as Vicar of Christ to issue a strong and
public condemnation of racism, suspected that Pacelli and his allies in
the curia would attempt to undermine the endeavor and questioned
Pacelli’s willingness to balance ethical concerns with practical
considerations. While he was nuncio in Germany, before the accession
of Hitler, Pacelli concurred with Pius XI that Joseph Mayer’s volume

70. Address of 21 August 1938 in Principles for Peace: Selections from Papal Documents
from Leo XIII to Pius XII, 545.
71. “Cronaca Contemporanea,” Civiltà Cattolica, 9-22 June 1938.
72. Discorsi di Pio XI, III, 770.
73. Charles-Roux, Huit ans au Vatican, 52.
74. Ibid., 122-23; Nathaniel Micklem, National Socialism and the Roman Catholic Church
(London: Oxford University Press, 1939), 206-07, 96, 99; Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-
1939: Confidential Reports of the British Minister to the Holy See, 392.
75. Cianfarra, The War and the Vatican, 122; Anglo-Vatican Relations 1914-1939:
Confidential Reports of the British Minister to the Holy See, 389-94.


on The Legal Sterilization of the Mentally Ill (1928), contained a

number of “erroneous theses” that violated Catholic doctrine.
However, citing political considerations, he cautioned the Holy See
against the condemnation of a lecturer at a state university. This did
not prevent Pius XI from issuing the encyclical Casti connubii (1930),
which condemned and rejected sterilization. 76
Later, as secretary of state, Pacelli made frequent and fervent
efforts to prevent a diplomatic rupture with the fascist regimes as
Gasparri had counseled, calling for a more diplomatic, less
confrontational approach toward the dictators. The pope under-
standably concluded he could not rely on his secretary of state to draft
an encyclical that endangered reconciliation. This led the pope to
bypass the secretariat of state and seek an outsider to draft the
document. He selected the American Jesuit John La Farge whose
opposition to racism he shared, as well as his conclusion that the
church could not remain silent in its presence. We now know that on
22 June 1938, the secretary of state left the papal chamber as Father
La Farge arrived, and was not included in the pope's discussion with
this Jesuit when the “encyclical,” against racism and anti-Semitism was
commissioned.77 Pacelli was not briefed on the scope of the meeting
then or later.78 In fact, soon after becoming pope he confessed he
knew nothing about the projected encyclical prior to the death of Pius
Convinced of his responsibility to alert the faithful to the evil of
racism, the pope commissioned an encyclical demonstrating its
incompatibility with Catholicism.80 Pius XI outlined the topic, its
treatment, and its underlying principles for La Farge.81 “Simply say
what you would say to the entire world if you were pope,” Pius
confided to him.82 Aware that Pacelli was not alone in his opposition to
such a pronouncement, Pius XI swore La Farge to secrecy.83 He had
perforce to alert the head of his order, Father Vladimir Ledochowski.
Informed of the papal desire to have the encyclical as soon as possible,
Ledochowski suggested that La Farge recruit two fellow Jesuits, the

76. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 65.

77. John La Farge, The Manner is Ordinary (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company,
1954), 272; Robert A. Hecht, An Unordinary Man: A Life of Father John La Farge, S.J.
(Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996), 114.
78. La Farge had been sent by the editor of America to the International Eucharistic
Congress at Budapest in April, and on his way back stopped in Rome. La Farge, S.J. The
Manner is Ordinary, 253-72.
79. Passelecq and Suchecky, L’encyclique cachée de Pie XI, 124-26.
80. Jim Castelli, “Unpublished Encyclical attacked antisemitism,” National Catholic
Reporter, 15 December 1972, 8.
81. “Jesuit Says Pius XI asked for draft,” National Catholic Reporter, 22 December 1972,
82. Hecht, An Unordinary Man, 115.
83. La Farge, S.J., The Manner is Ordinary, 273.


Frenchman Gustave Desbuquois and the German Gustav Gundlach to

assist him in the urgent task.
Meanwhile, the pope continued his personal campaign against
racism and the regimes that espoused it, invoking a spiritual defense of
human rights. Firmly rejecting the insinuation that Mussolini’s anti-
Semitism was inspired by clerical anti-Judaism,84 he denounced Italy’s
Aryan Manifesto of 14 July 1938 as a “true form of apostasy” and urged
Catholics to combat it, initiating a chorus of opposition to the racism of
the totalitarian regimes.85 At the end of July, during an audience to the
students of the Propaganda Fide, the pope praised their universal
mission in opposition to the racism infecting so many states, reminding
the students that humanity consisted of one great, universal family—
the theme of the encyclical he had secretly commissioned. 86 During
the last two years of his pontificate, Pius XI publicly characterized
racism as a heresy and totalitarian tendency in violation of natural law
as well as the Christian creed. He anxiously awaited the arrival of the
encyclical against anti-Semitism, which he perceived as the capstone in
his crusade against Nazi and Fascist racism.
Responding to the papal sense of urgency, the three Jesuits
collaborated from July to mid-September; in late September, following
protocol, they placed their draft entitled Humani Generis Unitas (The
Unity of the Human Race) in the hands of Father Ledochowski, for
transmission to Pius XI. Perhaps most disconcerting to those who
counseled moderation, the encyclical called for overt and sustained
ecclesiastical action against racism. “It is the task and duty of the
Church, the dignity and responsibility of the Chief Shepherd and of his
brother Shepherds whom the Holy Ghost has placed to rule the
Church of God, that they should point out to mankind the true course
to be followed, the eternal divine order in the changing circumstances
of the times.”87 It was a mandate directed not only against the Nazis
and Fascists, but also against those in the church who counseled a
cautious silence to preserve good relations with the fascist regimes.
Understandably, the latter group would have found the tone and
message of Humani Generis Unitas confrontational and potentially
dangerous for the church’s future in the Reich. This prompted
Ledochowski to assign a fourth Jesuit to tone down the draft without
informing the authors or the pope of his action. When the three
authors received no papal confirmation or reaction to their draft,
Gundlach wrote La Farge, who had returned to the United States, that
he suspected “an attempt to sabotage . . . for tactical and diplomatic

84. Bernardini, Journal of Modern History 49, no. 3 (1977): 434-35.

85. La Civiltà Cattolica, 29 July 1938; Cianfarra, The War and the Vatican, 133-34.
86. Agli Alunni del Collegio di “Propaganda Fede,” 28 July 1938, Discorsi di Pio XI, III:
87. Galleys of La Farge’s copy of the encyclical Humani Generis Unitas, 38b, para. 154;
Passelecq and Suchecky, L’encyclique cachée de Pie XI, 296.


reasons the mission entrusted to you by [the Pope].”88 Gundlach

attributed this delay to the bloc in the Vatican who feared that
disastrous consequences would follow a break with Fascist Italy and
Nazi Germany.89Although he did not mention Pacelli’s name in his
warning letter, the secretary of state clearly belonged to that bloc.
In light of Pius XI’s poor health, visible decline, and approaching
death, the current dedicated to the pragmatism of Gasparri, invoked
the election of a more conciliatory successor who would heal the
growing rift with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Apparently, this bloc
was also responsible for the largely unknown secret agreement of 16
August 1938, concluded with Fascist Italy, without the pope’s
knowledge. According to Father Angelo Martini, granted access to
these Vatican documents, the “pact” provided that in return for Fascist
toleration of Catholic Action groups and activities, the Vatican
promised not to interfere with Fascist Italy’s Jewish policy, leaving the
issue entirely in the hands of the regime.90 To date, no source has
emerged implicating Pacelli in this “plot,” which reflected the secretary
of state’s desire for reconciliation. Nor has any evidence emerged
indicating that Pius XI had any inkling of this secret understanding that
clearly violated the papal position. Indeed, it is inconceivable that the
outspoken pope would have adhered to such an agreement that
violated his convictions—and he did not.
In early September, Pius XI proclaimed that the Vicar of Christ
could not remain silent in the face of grave errors and the violation of
human rights.91 Without mincing words, he insisted that Italy’s racist
legislation represented an attack on the church’s teachings.92 “No, it’s
not possible for we Christians to participate in anti-Semitism,” the
pope told a group of visiting Belgians on 6 September 1938;
“Spiritually, we are Semites.”93 The following month, he again
condemned the policies of the Reich denouncing the accusations it
launched against the church as blatant lies.94 In early November 1938,
when Mussolini published a decree forbidding marriage between
Italian Aryans and persons of “another race,” Pius complained both to
the King and Mussolini of this violation of the Concordat,95 making his
displeasure public in his Christmas allocution.96 The pope wished to

88. Frederick Brown, “The Hidden Encyclical,” The New Republic, 15 April 1996, 30.
89. Giovanni Miccoli, “Santa Sede e Chiesa Italiana di Fronte alle Leggi Antiebraiche del
1938,” Studi Storici anno 29, n. 4 (October-December 1988): 881.
90. Angelo Martini, “L’Ultima battaglia di Pio XI,” in Studi sulla questione romana e la
conciliazione (Rome: Cinque Lune, 1963), 186-87.
91. Ad Insegnanti di Azione Cattolica, 6 September 1938, Discorsi di Pio XI, III, 796.
92. The New York Times, 8 September 1938.
93. Passelecq and Suchecky, L’encyclique cachée de Pie XI, 180.
94. L’Osservatore Romano, 22 October 1938.
95. Ibid., 14-15 November 1938.
96. Con grande, 24 December 1938, Principles for Peace: Selections from Papal


do more, but his failing health made it difficult as his schedule and
audiences were severely curtailed,97 much to the relief of those who
opposed his abrupt manner, confrontational style, and collision course
with the dictatorships.
Despite his deteriorating physical condition, the pope hoped to
issue the encyclical he commissioned while he still had the energy to
overcome the expected opposition to the pronouncement. Pius
wondered about the delay, but only after La Farge wrote him did he
learn that the encyclical had been written and submitted—but kept
from him. Infuriated, Pius demanded its immediate delivery even
though he was on the verge of dying.98Apparently the Vatican received
the document on 21 January 1939, but it is not certain if the pope saw
it before his death on 9-10 February.99 Most likely he did not. The
draft of the encyclical, as well as the address that Pius XI planned to
present to the Italian bishops on the tenth anniversary of the Lateran
Accords, were found on the desk of the deceased pope.100 We do not
know when they were put there, but they subsequently disappeared.
The conclave of March 1939, which opened as Europe was on the
brink of another war, sought a peacemaker and mediator in contrast to
the last pope. Thus, on the third ballot of a short one-day conclave, the
conciliatory majority quickly elected Pacelli, the most talented disciple
of Gasparri, who, like his mentor, favored conciliation rather than
confrontation vis à vis the Nazis regime, to succeed Pius XI. The new
pope did not disappoint them, and was seen to rely on two instruments
for governing relations between church and state: canon law and
diplomacy.101 Some complained that he allowed the latter to prevail
over the former. The record reveals that Pacelli, who became Pope
Pius XII on 2 March 1939, immediately opened a diplomatic initiative
to improve relations with the Nazi state, receiving the German
Ambassador on 5 March, before all others. Another of his first actions
was to assemble the German Cardinals—Faulhaber from Munich,
Bertram from Breslau, Schulte from Cologne and Innitzer from
Vienna—together, presenting his intention to send a personal letter to
Hitler announcing his accession, and did so on 5 March, making Hitler
the first head of state informed of his election. He also ordered the
editors of the Osservatore Romano to cease their criticism of events in

Documents from Leo XIII to Pius XII , 549-51; Papal Pronouncements. A Guide: 1740-
1978, II, 114; The New York Times, 25 December 1938.
97. Desmond O’Grady, “Pius XI—complex and imperious,” National Catholic Reporter,
15 December 1972, 15.
98. Passelecq and Suchecky, L’encyclique cachée de Pie XI, 116, 119, 138.
99. “Jesuit Says Pius XI asked for draft,” National Catholic Reporter, 22 December 1972,
100. Castelli, National Catholic Reporter, 15 December 1972, 13-14.
101. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 9-10.


Nazi Germany.102 Subsequently, in an audience of 23 April 1939,

speaking to a group of German pilgrims, Pius XII avoided the
condemnations of his predecessor, instead substituting protestations of
sympathy for Germany, whose people and culture he admired, and
among whom he found his own penchant for precision and
Pius XII openly expressed his pro-German proclivities, reflected in
the fact that his housekeeper, private secretary, and confessor all hailed
from the Reich. “We have always loved Germany, where We were able
to spend many years of Our life, and We love Germany even more
today,” he told a group of German pilgrims,103 virtually ignoring the
racist policies, belligerent stance, and aggressive ambitions of Hitler’s
Germany. The new pope took other steps to effect reconciliation with
the dictatorial regimes. Not surprisingly, he decided to shelve both his
predecessor’s encyclical against racism and critique of Fascist Italy,
confiding to the Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano his
intention to pursue a more conciliatory policy towards the Reich.104 He
also assured the German Ambassador Diego von Bergen that friendly
relations would be restored between the Reich and the Vatican.105 In
fact, the ambassador immediately sensed a relaxation of the tension
that had accelerated during the last year of the pontificate of Pius XI,
and his visit with the new pope on 5 March 1939 represented the first
in a series of steps leading to détente.106 The German Ambassador
applauded the new path Pius XII pursued, delighted by his
abandonment of his predecessor’s confrontational policy.107 Critics
such as Hochhuth complained that this pope’s “predilection for
everything German” led him to overlook the evil of the Nazi regime to
the detriment of the German people and the Holy See’s moral
authority. 108
Whatever the pope’s motivation, the Nazis appreciated the fact that
he did not protest their virtual annexation of Bohemia and Moravia in
mid-March 1939. Even when Nazi Germany repudiated its pact with
Poland on 24 August 1939, threatening the peace of Europe, Pius

102. Robert S. Wistrich, Hitler and the Holocaust (New York: Modern Library Edition,
2001), 137.
103. George O. Kent, “Pope Pius XII and Germany: Some Aspects of German-Vatican
Relations, 1933-1943,” American Historical Review 70 (October 1964): 65.
104. Galeazzo Ciano, The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943, ed. Hugh Gibson (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1946), 45-47.
105. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, IV, n. 482, I, n. 667; The New York
Times, 16 July 1939.
106. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series D, nn. 473, 475.
107. William M. Harrigan, “Pius XII’s Efforts to Effect a Detente in German-Vatican
Relations, 1939-1940,” The Catholic Historical Review 49, n. 2 (July 1963): 184.
108. Patricia Marx Ellsberg, “An Interview with Rolf Hochhuth,” in The Papacy and
Totalitarianism between The Two World Wars, ed. Charles F. Delzell (New York: John
Wiley and Sons, 1974), 115.


announced papal neutrality in his radio message that same day,109 and
adhered to it following the outbreak of war in September 1939.
Determined not to alienate Nazi Germany, Pius XII did not protest its
invasion of Catholic Poland or its horrific abuses therein.110 Instead,
the pope continued his neutral policy to the satisfaction of the more
moderate Nazis and led the German Foreign Minister Joachim von
Ribbentrop to declare “This is a real Pope.”111 Von Ribbentrop
concluded that “the Pope has always had his heart in Germany,”
claiming that he sought a lasting understanding with Hitler. Heinrich
Himmler likewise revealed his appreciation of Pius XII’s tact and
prudence.112 Ciano, too, concluded that Fascist Italy could get along
with this pope.113 The diplomats of the Axis were not overly troubled
by the veiled papal critique of totalitarianism and apparently
appreciated his 1939 message to Hitler expressing his “deep
satisfaction” that the Führer had escaped an assassination attempt.114
Cardinals Faulhaber and Bertram dispatched similar messages. While
some saw these messages as pro-forma, others perceived them as
troubling and unfortunate.
It is true that Pius XII’s first encyclical of 20 October 1939 rejected
the claims of absolute state authority propounded by the totalitarian
powers, but his denunciation was general rather than specific and
difficult to decipher. He also expressed disapproval of the “calculated
act of aggression against a small, industrious, and peaceful nation,”115
without naming either the aggressor or aggrieved. Consequently, he
could later assure German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop that the
small nation he had referred to was Finland, the victim of Soviet
aggression.116 These ambiguous statements represented an apparent
compromise between the Vatican’s need to take a moral stance on the
basis of its religious principles and its determination not to jeopardize
its political neutrality. In mid-May 1940, Undersecretary of State
Domenico Tardini drafted a condemnation of the German invasion of
Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg, but the pope refused to release it.
Instead he chose to dispatch less-threatening and potentially less-

109. Radio Plea in Principles for Peace: Selections from Papal Documents from Leo XIII
to Pius XII, ed. Harry C. Koenig, 584.
110. Charles-Roux, Huit ans au Vatican, 343.
111. Actes et documents du Saint Siège (ADSS) relatifs a` la seconde guerre mondiale
(Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965), I: 387.
112. Records and Documents of the Holy See Relating to the Second World War, I: 166,
113. Charles F. Delzell, “Pius XII, Italy, and the Outbreak of War,” Journal of
Contemporary History II, 4 (October 1967): 141.
114. José M. Sánchez, “The Enigma of Pope Pius XII,” America, 14 September 1996, 19.
115. Allocution of December 242, 1939, in Principles for Peace: Selections from Papal
Documents from Leo XIII to Pius XII, ed. Harry C. Koenig, 634.
116. Hansjakob Stehle, Eastern Politics of the Vatican, 1917-1979. Trans. Sandra Smith
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1981), 197.


dangerous messages of sympathy to their rulers, in order to preserve

his impartiality. 117
Legal as well as political factors influenced his decision. Both his
advocates as well as his antagonists have largely overlooked the legal
constraints motivating his actions. “With regard to the sovereignty
pertaining to it in the field of international relations,” Article 24 of the
February 1929 Lateran Treaty with Fascist Italy proclaimed, “the Holy
See declares that it wishes to remain and will remain extraneous to all
temporal disputes between nations. . . .”118 Apparently this was seen as
a mandate by the legally-minded pope who did not wish to provide a
pretext for a Fascist incursion into Vatican City. On the other hand,
Article 24 had not restrained Pius XI, who focused on its last sentence
which read that the Holy See nonetheless “reserves the right in every
case to exercise its moral and spiritual power.”119
Some in the curia proved much less willing to confront the
dictatorial regimes, deeming even the papal expressions of sympathy to
the monarchs of the invaded states provocative and dangerous. Father
Gustav Gundlach appreciated the difficult position of Pius XII,
surrounded by a faction in the Vatican and Curia who called for caution
and “silence.” He wrote La Farge on 30 May 1940:
His [Pius XII’s] three telegrams are well-known; they were good and beneficent. But
now the . . . opportunists and idolaters of success are back, and they are exhorting him
to remain silent. Here come those who, never learning anything, say: the dictator, after
having imposed a victorious peace, will reign with good will and wisdom, and will come
to terms with the Church. These eternal stupidities have already done so much damage
and caused so much confusion among Catholics in all countries! Everything we know
concretely about the dictator’s intentions points to the contrary: he wants to destroy
Christianity and the Church, or at least let them die out! All the same, the Holy Father
has to reckon with the possibility that the dictator will win, for millions and millions of
Catholics live in his future empire, in G[ermany] itself, in Czech territory, in Poland, in
Austria, in Switzerland[?], in Belgium, in Holland, and also in Denmark and Norway,
not to mention the flourishing missions in the Congo.120
Others, disappointed by the timidity of the papal response proved
less understanding and urged Pius XII to follow the example of Pius XI
by publicly denouncing the Nazi abuses and exercising the Holy See’s
“moral and spiritual power.” Silence, they insisted, caused confusion
and consternation among the faithful.121 Even Sister Pasqualina, the

117. Carlo Felice Casula, Domenico Tardini (1888-1961), L’Azione della Santa Sede nella
cris fra le due guerre (Rome: Edizioni Studium, 1989), 163; Principles for Peace: Selections
from Papal Documents from Leo XIII to Pius XII, ed. Harry C. Koenig, 668-69.
118. “Treaty between the Holy See and Italy,” 11 February 1929, in Shepard B. Clough
and Salvatore Saladino, A History of Modern Italy: Documents, Readings & Commentary
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), 477.
119. Ibid.
120. Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI, trans.
Steven Rendall (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997), 91.
121. Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, I, n. 501.


pope’s housekeeper, cook, and closest thing to a confidant, claims she

advised Pius XII to take a stronger stance against Nazi inhumanities.
“The Holy See must aid the Jewish people to the best of our ability,” he
supposedly responded, “But everything we do must be done with
caution. Otherwise the Church and the Jews themselves will suffer
great retaliation.”122 Others rejected this explanation. “I am afraid
history will reproach the Holy See for following the policy of
convenience for itself, and not much more,” lamented Cardinal
Eugene Tisserant, in June 1940, decades before Hochhuth’s play
condemned the silence of Pius XII during the Nazi genocide.
Tisserant added that this policy of overlooking such evil was “extremely
sad, above all for those who lived under Pius XI.”123 The French
Ambassador to the Vatican, François Charles-Roux, shared Tisserant’s
disappointment with Pius XII’s failure to pursue the more courageous
actions of his predecessor.124 So did Hochhuth who later regretted that
“on the very eve of the Second World War Pius XI, who was a very
brave and very resolute man, should have died.125
Political prudence, inculcated and reinforced by the teachings of
Gasparri, rather than any pro-Nazi sentiment motivated Pius XII.
Under his guidance the Vatican adhered to a public neutrality that the
pope secretly violated at the end of 1939, by informing the British of a
possible military overthrow of the Hitler regime if they could be
assured a moderate peace. Later, in May 1940, his Vatican once again
showed its pro-Western sentiments by informing the Allies of the
imminent invasion of Belgium, Holland, and France.126 Publicly,
however, Pius refused to alter his impartial stance even though he
received repeated reports of Nazi crimes against humanity in 1940 and
1941, and a series of sources within and outside the church alerted him
to the genocide of the Jews. In May of 1942, Pius was told of the mass
extermination (uccisioni in massa) of Jews from Germany, Poland, and
the Ukraine while the military chaplain Father Pirro Scavizzi personally
reported to Pius of the almost-total elimination of Jews through mass
Notwithstanding these disturbing revelations, in November 1941,
Pius XII told the new Spanish ambassador José Yanguas Messia that he
had a “special love” for the Germans, adding that he had “nothing

122. Murphy with Arlington, La Popessa, 197.

123. Stehle, Eastern Politics of the Vatican, 1917-1979, 215.
124. Nuncio in Paris to Cardinal Maglione, 20 June 1939, in Records and Documents of
the Holy See Relating to the Second World War: The Holy See and the War in Europe,
March 1939-August 1940, I: 169.
125. Patricia Marx Ellsberg, “An Interview with Rolf Hochhuth,” in Delzell, The Papacy
and Totalitarianism between The Two World Wars, 115.
126. Blet et al., RDHSWW, 86-87; Ronald J. Rychlak, Hitler, the War, and the Pope
(Columbus, Miss.: Genesis Press, 2000), 138.
127. Father Scavizzi to Pius XII, 12 May 1942, ADSS, VIII, 534.


against” Germany, which he “loved and admired,” nor against the

Hitler regime, although he acknowledged he was saddened by some of
its measures.128 He diplomatically chose not to catalog the Nazi abuses,
convinced these would soon reach Berlin. Determined not to anger
and alienate Hitler’s Germany, the pope would not go beyond his
general condemnations of war and desire for the end of suffering in
public. He did lament the evils affecting not only soldiers and other
combatants but entire populations: the old, innocent, peace-loving, and
those bereft of all defense. “To the powers occupying territories during
the war, We say with all due consideration: let your conscience guide in
dealing justly, humanely . . . with the peoples of occupied territories,”
the pope noted in his Easter message of 1941. “Do not impose upon
them burdens which you, in similar circumstances, have felt or would
feel to be unjust.”129
In the autumn of 1942, foreign diplomats at the Vatican
representing Brazil, Poland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the
United States urged the pope to say more about the oppression of the
Poles and Jews, but Pius proved reluctant to do so. The British
representative was particularly distressed and on 13 December 1942,
noted in his diary “The more I think of it, the more I am revolted by
Hitler’s massacre of the Jewish race and . . . the Vatican’s exclusive
preoccupation with the effects of the war on Italy and the possibilities
of the bombardment of Rome.”130 His long-awaited Christmas message
of 1942 offered only an indirect criticism of the brutal Nazi policy,
expressing concern for those who without fault, and sometimes only
because of race or nationality, have been consigned to death or to a
slow demise.131
The Allies, the Poles, and the Americans pressed the pope to say
more, but Pius XII consistently refused to do so. The pope and curia
resented the pressure of the Chargé d’Affaires of the United States
Harold H. Tittmann, Jr., to openly and explicitly denounce the Nazi
atrocities, well aware that the United States had refused to alter its
restrictive immigration policy and open its door to the persecuted Jews.
Pius XII explained why he could not and would not say more, providing
a rationale that reflected Gasparri’s sentiments:
First, there are over forty million German-speaking Catholics. If I should denounce the
Nazis by name as you desire and Germany should lose the war, Germans everywhere
would feel that I had contributed to the defeat, not only of the Nazis but Germany
herself; for the German population not to be able to make the distinction between the
Nazis and the fatherland would only be human in the confusion and distress of defeat.
I cannot risk alienating so many of the faithful. One of my predecessors, Pope Benedict

128. José M. Sánchez, “The Popes and Nazi Germany: The View from Madrid,” Journal of
Church and State 38 (Spring 1996): 374.
129. Principles for Peace, 714.
130. Wistrich, Hitler and the Holocaust, 139.
131. Principles for Peace, 804.


XV in the First World War, through an unfortunate public statement of the type you
now wish me to make, did just this and the interests of the Church in Germany
suffered as a result. Second, if I denounce the Nazis by name I must in all justice do
the same as regards the Bolsheviks whose principles are strikingly similar; you would
not wish me to say such things about an ally of yours. . . .132
The Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, paved the way for Italy’s
surrender that September, prompting a German drive into the
peninsula from the north and occupation of Rome on 10 September.
Hitler threatened to enter the Vatican, indicating that at the war’s end
concordats would disappear, and he would settle his accounts with the
church. Rumor circulated of a Nazi plot to seize the Vatican, kidnap
the pope and cardinals in curia, and hold them hostage as Napoleon
had done in the previous century.133 In fact, in September 1943, Hitler
allegedly ordered the seizure of the pope, but was supposedly
dissuaded from doing so by subordinates, so Pius remained in the
Vatican throughout the German occupation. However, the Germans
ordered the arrest of the Jews in occupied Rome and began to
transport them to concentration camps. Pius instructed Monsignor
Alois Hudal, the rector of Santa Maria dell’ Anima, who championed
reconciliation between Catholicism and Nazism, to complain to the
German commander,134 General Stahel, while his secretary of state,
Cardinal Maglione summoned the German ambassador, protesting the
arrest and deportation of the Jews. No public protest was issued.135
In a letter of 30 April to the Bishop of Berlin, Konrad Count von
Preysing, who had earlier asked the pope to issue an appeal on behalf
of the persecuted Jews, Pius responded that his 1942 Christmas
message had referred to what was being done to non-Aryans under
German occupation. “We have spoken briefly but we have been well
understood,” wrote the pope. Many disagreed, including the novelist
Albert Camus, who sought an unambiguous public defense of the
victims, which he never heard.136 Pius XII appreciated the plight of
the persecuted, but added, “as the situation is at present we are
unfortunately not able to help them effectively in other ways than our
prayers.” However, he promised to raise his voice on their behalf again,
if it was necessary and circumstances permitted.137 More or less the

132. Harold G. Tittmann III, ed., Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an
American Diplomat during World War II (New York: Image Books, 2004), 124-25.
133. In this regard see Dan Kurzman, A Special Mission: Hitler’s Secret Plot to Seize the
Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII (New York: Da Capo, 2008).
134. The archive of the German National Church Santa Maria dell’ Anima along with the
papers of its rector Alois Hudal remains closed.
135. For two contrasting assessments of Pius XII’s behavior during this incident, see
Susan Zuccotti, Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy (New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), and Ronald J. Rychlak, Hitler, the War, and the
Pope (Columbus, Miss.: Genesis Press, 2000).
136. Pinchas Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), 230.
137. Burkhart Schneider et al., eds., Die Briefe Pius XII an die Deutschen Bischöfe,


same pledge was transmitted to the numerous Jews worldwide who

wrote the pope urging his intervention on behalf of the victims of Nazi
crimes.138 Giovanni Montini, of the secretariat of state, and later Pope
Paul VI (1963-78) instructed the apostolic delegates in the various
countries to verbally assure the petitioners that the Holy See would do
what it could on behalf of the persecuted.139
Pius XII did seek to provide help for the Nazi victims without
inciting the wrath of Hitler and his henchmen. Thus, although the
pope did not publicly denounce the round-up of Jews or razzia
conducted “under his very windows,” on 16 October 1943, he publicly
preserved his diplomatic neutrality, filing a personal protest with the
German ambassador calling for a cessation of these arrests.140 In the
fourth act of “the Deputy,” Father Riccardo blurts out that a Vicar of
Christ who witnesses the deportation of Jew “and who keeps silent for
reasons of state . . . such a pope is a criminal.” 141A harsh judgment
ignoring the papacy’s behind-the-scenes efforts and protests, which
saved many Italian Jews, with a good number living in the extra-
territorial religious houses including the Seminario Romano and the
basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura, which enjoyed diplomatic
immunity.142 Others have disputed the claim, concluding that by his
failure to publicly protest the Nazi actions including the massacre of
335 Italians in the Ardeantine Caves on 24 March 1944, Pius XII
substituted “immoral silence” for the “moral leadership” of Pius XI,
and his quest for conciliation compromised the ethical mission of the
church. Although variously evaluated, Pius XII rigidly adhered to his
public neutrality as allied forces in the peninsula advanced on Rome
from the south. The German commander, General Albert Kesselring,
proposed that Rome be considered an open city and withdrew his
forces. In June 1944, when the Allies entered Rome, Pius clung to his
neutrality claiming that the mutual collaboration of the contending
parties had saved the Eternal City, with some suggesting that the pope
had played a key role in its preservation.

1939-1944 (Mainz: Grünswald. 1966), 241; Karl Otmar von Aretin, The Papacy and the
Modern World, trans. Roland Hill (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970), 213.
138. The telegram of Rabbi Hertz to Pius XII on 23 December 1942 was typical of the
numerous pleas to the pope. ADSS, VIII, 756.
139. See Montini’s note on how to respond to petitioners seeking papal assistance for the
persecuted Jews, ADSS, VIII, 757.
140. ADSS, IX, n. 368.
141. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews, 230.
142. Recently an article in the 14 January 2008 issue of the Catholic World News reported
that an organization devoted to interreligious understanding has uncovered a large amount
evidence to rebut the charge that Pope Pius XII was indifferent to Jewish suffering during
the Holocaust. The Pave the Way Foundation announced the discovery of a large quantity of
evidence showing that Pope Pius XII actually worked to save the lives of Jews. Gary Krupp,
the group's president, reported that much of this evidence was already “available publicly
but simply not known.”


Throughout the Second World War, Pius XII adhered to the

Gasparri doctrine vis-à-vis the Nazis, and only when the conflict ended
did he finally denounce their regime as “satanic” and openly
condemned the “crimes” they committed. Anticipating criticism of the
papacy’s policy, he defended his action by declaring “We ourselves
during the war, particularly in Our Messages, never ceased to set forth
the uncompromising standards and demands of both humanity and the
Christian faith against the ruinous and inexorable application of
National Socialist doctrines, which even went so far as to make use of
the most refined scientific methods to torture and kill persons who
often were quite innocent. . . .”143 Some saw this as a desperate
attempt to re-write history, while others remained convinced that the
pope believed his circuitous language and limited actions had clearly
denounced Nazi principles and policies, thereby helping alleviate the
plight of the victims. Critics saw things differently, complaining that
during the war and the genocide, Pius XII issued no forthright
condemnation of Nazi aggression, expressed no explicit public outrage
against their racism that violated Christian principles and culminated in
genocide, nor assign responsibility for the war.
Clearly Pius XII did not follow the example of his namesake in the
nineteenth century, Pius IX (1846-78), who adamantly refused to
negotiate with the Kingdom of Italy which was angelic in comparison to
the satanic regime of Nazi Germany. “It is useless to talk of
conciliation,” Pius IX told a group of Romans who sought some
compromise and reconciliation between church and state in Liberal
Italy near the end of 1871. He made clear that “the Church can never
conciliate itself with error and the Pope can never separate himself
from the Church. No, no sort of reconciliation is ever possible between
Christ and Belial, between light and darkness, between truth and lies,
between justice and usurpation.”144 Locking himself in the Vatican,
Pius IX’s actions followed his words. He was admired and emulated by
Pius XI who felt constrained to pursue a critical and confrontational
course against the immoral Nazi regime. Both believed that one can sin
not only by what one does, but also by what one fails to do. Neither was
found wanting in this regard and quickly—some said too quickly—
condemned the evil they perceived, and have been criticized for
subordinating diplomacy to morality. Those who sought an alternative
to their combative approach looked to Pacelli, a disciple of Gasparri,
trained as a diplomat and generally inclined to pursue the more
cautious path of Leo XIII and Benedict XV.
A substantial element in the secretariat of state and the curia

143. Pius XII’s Allocution to the College of Cardinals, 2 June 1945, in Delzell, The Papacy
and Totalitarianism between The Two World Wars, 172.
144. Discorsi del Sommo Pontefice Pio IX Pronciati in Vaticano ai Fedeli di Roma e
dell’Orbe dal principio della sua prigionia fino al presente, 4 vols. (Tipografia G. Aurelj,
1872-78), I: 283-84.


supported the cautious policy outlined by Gasparri, and pursued by

Pius XII during the Second World War. They, like Pacelli, deemed it
dangerous and unwise to denounce the Axis regimes’ racist policies
publicly, providing them with the pretext to dismantle the concordats,
endanger the institutional church, and create consternation among
German Catholics. It made political sense but some found it morally
questionable, complaining that this caution compromised the Holy
See’s moral mission by allowing expediency to triumph over ethics. It
was Hochhuth’s pinpointing of this dichotomy between the moral
imperative of the Holy Father to denounce evil and the diplomatic
response of Pius XII to the Nazi regime before its downfall that
accounts for the impact of his drama rather than its literary quality or
historical accuracy. The critique of Hochhuth and his drama145—which
has become embroiled in the “Pius War”—has not undermined this
A historical analysis of the dichotomy between Pius XII’s moral
code and pragmatic policies vis à vis Nazi Germany, dramatically
expressed by Hochhuth, has been explored by José Sánchez with
greater objectivity if less literary flair. Sánchez concludes that Pius XII
was torn between two roles: diplomat and pastor.146 Sir Francis D’Arcy
Osborne, the British representative to the Holy See, writing to his
Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, proved more critical and partisan,
commenting in October 1942 that “A policy of silence in regard to such
offences against the conscience of the world must necessarily involve a
renunciation of moral leadership.”147 Others applauded Pius XII’s
pragmatic approach, which was seen to save lives and avoided the
vengeance of the Fuehrer. Furthermore, the papacy’s wartime
“silence” about Stalin’s genocides worked to preserve the Western
alliance with the Soviet Union and was criticized by the fascist states
but not the Allies.
It is difficult to assess how helpful or detrimental this conciliatory
and diplomatic course proved for the numerous victims of Nazi abuse
and what consequences would have flowed from a more
confrontational policy. Critics have charged that Pius XII’s openly
expressed determination to preserve good relations with the Nazi state
subordinated morality to diplomacy, and contributed to the muted
criticism of its genocide and aggression. Others have made broader as
well as outrageous accusations, depicting Pius XII as indifferent to Nazi
and Fascist anti-Semitism, or even an anti-Semite himself.148 This

145. Michael Feldkamp, “Hochhuth Exposed,” trans. John Jay Hughes. Association of
Contemporary Church Historians (Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchliche Zeitgeschichtler)
Newsletter - July-August 2007-Vol. XIII, no 7-8.
146. Sánchez, “The Popes and Nazi Germany: The View from Madrid,” Journal of Church
and State 38 (Spring 1996): 376.
147. Wistrich, Hitler and the Holocaust, 139.
148. In this regard see John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New


charge against Pius XII is without foundation—even Rolf Hochhuth

did not accuse Pius XII of this evil.149 Nonetheless, this and other
accusations persist, energizing those determined to defend or denigrate
this pope and his pontificate.
Although the controversy continues, a broad consensus has
emerged among those not ideologically committed to a positive or
negative assessment of the policies and performance of this pope. Pius
XII’s public record has been fully scrutinized and variously evaluated as
that of Pius XI, and clearly the conciliatory course of Papa Pacelli
towards the Reich departed from the confrontational one of Papa Ratti.
Discounting the evidence to support this contention, some defenders
of Pius XII steadfastly refuse to admit the differences in their policies
often and openly acknowledged by Pacelli himself. Furthermore, most
objective observers concur that though Pius XII was determined to
preserve his public neutrality during the course of the war, and proved
discreet and indirect in his criticism of Nazi abuses and atrocities, he
was not indifferent to the plight of the persecuted, nor was he Hitler’s
We know what Pius XII said and did not say, what he did and did
not do in public and in private, and we also have his detailed
explanation of why he responded as he did to the Nazi atrocities.
Furthermore, we also know that his policies reflected the sentiment of
a majority of the curia and a good part of the German hierarchy.
Finally, although Pius XII recognized that the moral role of the Vicar of
Christ took precedence over his political and diplomatic concerns, he
sometimes did not adhere to this priority, accepting what he perceived
as the lesser of two evils.150
As nuncio, secretary of state, and later as pope Pacelli sometimes
allowed political considerations to prevail over moral ones. While he
deemed the Nazis to be anti-Catholic, subversive, and dangerous when
they were a rather weak movement in the early 1920s,151 when they
became a major political force in the early 1930s, he urged Heinrich
Brüning, the Reich Chancellor and Center Party politician, to form a
coalition with them to prevent a Bolshevik takeover. Brüning thought
this was papal policy, but found that Pius XI remained fundamentally
opposed to the Nazi movement and its ideology.152 During World War
II as well, Papa Pacelli’s diplomatic focus often restricted his moral
mission, refusing to openly condemn Nazism’s evil actions including its

York: Viking, 1999), 296-97, and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, “What Would Jesus Have Done?
Pope Pius XII, the Vatican and the Holocaust,” The New Republic, 21 January 2002, 24.
149. Patricia Marx Ellsberg, “An Interview with Rolf Hochhuth,” in Delzell, The Papacy
and Totalitarianism between The Two World Wars, 115.
150. Karol Jozef Gajewski, Inside the Vatican, November 1999, 51.
151. See his telegrams to Gasparri, 14 November 1923, and 24 April 1924, cited in Besier,
The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 33-34.
152. Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany, 95.


genocide when it appeared it might triumph, but denouncing it as

satanic when it was defeated. In the post-war period, Pacelli’s Vatican
placed pressure on Alcide de Gasperi, leader of the Christian
Democrats, to forge an alliance with the Neo-Fascists to block a
possible Communist victory in Rome,153 and in the pope’s words to
“avoid having the cossacks watering their horses in the fountains of St.
Peter’s Square.”154 Jacques Maritain, the postwar French Ambassador
to the Holy See, noted the pope’s ongoing preoccupation with
communism, adding “this attention to the political is too much
considering the essential role of the church.”155
Although Pius XII’s fear of communism was one of many reasons
for his reluctance to speak openly about the abuses of Nazi Germany,
he did offer some general criticism couched in language not readily
understood by the masses and apparently chosen to avoid arousing the
Reich regime. We should also remember that his attempt to appease
the Nazis was not restricted to the Holocaust, but was employed in
response to the Nazi Kirchenkampf or broader battle against the
Church.156 Furthermore, while he stoutly defended this stance in the
public arena, in the fifth year of the war as in the first, he privately
expressed greater reservation about the course he pursued than most
of his apologists would admit—though not as many as his critics have
These critics, in turn, contend that we will not know the truth
concerning Pius XII’s motives and actions until the opening of his
papers in the Vatican Archive (1939-1958), with some suggesting that
this Archive remains closed to hide “dirty secrets,” and “devious
motives” ignoring the fact that eight decades of closure is the normal
Vatican procedure. Indeed, in light of the controversy, Pope Paul
permitted the publication of the most pertinent documents as early as
1964 in the eleven volumes of the Actes et documents du Saint Siège
relatifs a` la seconde guerre mondiale.158 Unfortunately, both advocates
and adversaries have explored these volumes selectively, often only to
support their pre-established positions based on religious, ideological,

153. Sandro Magister, La politica vaticana e l’Italia, 1943-1978, 167-75; Von Aretin, The
Papacy and the Modern World, 194-96.
154. John Pollard, “The Vatican, Italy and the Cold War,” in Religion and the Cold War,
ed. Dianne Kirby (London: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003), 114.
155. Michael Phayer, Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Cold War (Bloomington, Ind.:
Indiana University Press, 2008), 262.
156. Karol Jozef Gajewski, Inside the Vatican, November 1999, 50-54.
157. In this regard see Pius XII’s letter to Archbishop Frings in Cologne, 4 March 1944, in
“Lettres de Pie XII aux Evêques allemands, 1939-1944,” in Actes et documents du Saint
Siège(ADSS ) Relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, 1981), Vol. II, n. 119.
158. Conversation with Father Graham during the course of a symposium on Vatican
diplomacy at the University of New Brunswick, in which we both participated in the autumn
of 1991.


political, and psychological considerations, transcending the thought

and policies of Pius XII. It is unlikely that the opening of Pius XII’s
archive will produce startling revelations or reverse what we have
learned about this pope and his policies over the past half century, for a
wide series of sources provide the basis for the present historical
assessment. Access to his archive should reinforce the objective studies
of this pope and the scholarly narratives of his pontificate at the
expense of the adversarial and apologetic ones, and play a part in
bringing the “Pius War” to an end.