- Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich
As professor of Church history at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster since 1999, Hubert Wolf has distinguished himself as one of the leading representatives of the younger generation of Catholic Church historians in Germany. Particularly noteworthy was his appointment in 2008 as director of a long-term project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to produce a critical online edition of the reports that the papal nuncio to Germany Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, filed with the Vatican secretary of state between 1917 and 1929. But the subject of Wolf's Pope and Devil—ably translated by Kenneth Kronenberg—is not the highly controversial Pius XII, but rather Pius XI, supreme pontiff from 1922 to 1939, for whom Pacelli served as cardinal secretary of state from 1930 until his own election as pope in February 1939.
Born Achille Ratti in 1857, Pius XI possessed a mercurial personality that sharply contrasted with the cautious and measured manner of his successor. It was Pius XI who sharply denounced racial antisemitism, and demonstratively left Rome on the occasion of Hitler's visit in May 1938. And it was Pius XI who denounced Mussolini's 1938 Manifesto della razza, declaring (reportedly with tears in his eyes) before a group of Belgian pilgrims later that summer: "Antisemitism is inadmissible; spiritually, we are all Semites." Finally, it was Pius XI who invited John LaFarge, a young American Jesuit travelling through Europe in summer 1938, to draft a papal encyclical on racism and antisemitism that—for reasons we still do not know—never saw the light of day. All of this stands in sharp contrast to the policy of Pius XII, whose training as a papal lawyer and diplomat dictated more cautious and measured responses to developments in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and whose silence on the Nazi murder of European Jewry has landed him at the center of a passionate controversy over the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.
Wolf's purpose in Pope and Devil is to set the record straight on Pius XI on the basis of two sets of documents released from the Vatican Secret Archives in 2003 and 2006. To be sure, not everything the Vatican has for the period from 1922 to 1939 was made available, and much of what was released was already [End Page 466] available in one form or another. Still, the documents make it possible to reassess the policies of the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Germany during the years that preceded the outbreak of World War II in the light of valuable new evidence. The book deals with five discrete topics, ranging from Vatican attitudes toward Weimar Germany before the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s and the role that the Vatican played in the conclusion of the Reichskonkordat in summer 1933 to the Roman Curia's response to the persecution of German Jews in the 1930s and the incompatibility of the Catholic world-view with Nazi ideology. Much of this is not new and only confirms the general outlines of what has emerged as the historiographical consensus on the Church in the Third Reich. For example, in his discussion of the Reichskonkordat, Wolf argues that although the Vatican—and in particular Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli—certainly had a legitimate interest in securing the legal status of the Church in the face of what it perceived as a revolution not all that different from what had happened in Soviet Russia, the conclusion of the Reichskonkordat took place against the background of a long history of Vatican antipathy toward political Catholicism and its distrust of the German Center Party.
The most interesting and in many respects most revealing chapter of the book deals with the Amici Israel (Friends of Israel), an organization of priests and high-ranking Church officials founded in February 1926 ostensibly to pray for the conversion...