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Pio XII tra guerra e pace: profezia e diplomazia di un papa (1939-1945) (review)

From: The Catholic Historical Review
Volume 90, Number 1, January 2004
pp. 150-151 | 10.1353/cat.2004.0021

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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 150-151

Pio XII tra guerra e pace: profezia e diplomazia di un papa (1939-1945). By Matteo Luigi Napolitano. [I volti della storia, Vol. 12.] (Rome: Città Nuova Editrice. 2002. Pp. 296. £18,00.)

Matteo Luigi Napolitano (b. 1962), an expert on church and state and on treaties and international politics, is a professor at the University of Urbino, Italy. The title of this work, "Pius XII between War and Peace," is derived from the description of the pope ("Uomo di pace e papa di guerra," p. 97) by Domenico Tardini, later papal secretary of state for Blessed Pope John XXIII, while the subtitle emphasizes "the intimate connection between prophecy and diplomacy in the work of Pius XII, in whom theological thought and political action reciprocally reinforced one another" (p. 191). In five chapters of this study of Vatican foreign policy, Napolitano undertakes a thorough historical analysis of the character and behavior of Pius XII as found in the archival documents of the Vatican and of the warring nations as well as in the secondary sources. What emerges is Pacelli's steady pursuit of peace and his tireless intervention for the victims of the war, thereby undermining the myth of the pope's alleged silence.

Starting with the birth of that allegation in Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy (1963) and underscoring its shortcomings in blurring the lines between theater and history (chap. 1), Napolitano moves on to examine the pope's initiatives in the context of the turmoil of the polemics which have developed since that time and shows how the Vatican responded to such a charge with the publication of its documents relating to World War II (chap. 2). By placing the challenges to the Vatican's foreign policy in the context of that war, the author is able to demonstrate how the pope was able to shape a policy which was diplomatic and prophetic, as Pacelli, mindful of St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy (2:4 on God desiring the salvation of all persons), sought to prevent war and, with its outbreak, tried to cope with its forward thrust, especially from the fall of France to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (chap. 3). Meanwhile, Pius XII's attempts to gain humanitarian assistance for the victims of the war in Greece, as a duty arising from charity, and his efforts to steer a neutral course between the dictators and the allies after the entrance of the United States into the war reveal much about Pacelli's approach (chap. 4). Yet, despite the lack of co-operation by the warring powers with papal efforts, not to mention the role of the fabricated documents circulated by Virgilio Scattolini, which have distorted the pope's contributions, it is Napolitano's view that the Catholic Church under Pius XII did as much as it could to help the Jews during the Holocaust and to end the war (chap. 5).

Certainly, with more documents being released, those who advocate Hochhuth's thesis are losing ground as the objective evidence demolishes their view. Having become interested in Pius XII, Napolitano involved himself in the writings of those Jesuits, especially Robert A. Graham, who edited the documents about the actions of the Holy See during World War II. Many of their conclusions have appeared in La Civiltà Cattolica, and the author recalls them to reinforce his conclusion that the views of John Cornwell, Saul Friedländer, Guenther Lewy, Susan Zuccotti, and others against Pius XII are groundless as compared to the documentary evidence and the writings of historians like Michael Feldkamp, Martin Gilbert, Jacques Nobécourt, Ronald Rychlak, and Andrea Tornielli. In fact, Napolitano's critical and persuasive study reminds one of Hans Jansen's recent work, Pius XII (2003), which has documented chronologically the persistent papal protests against the Nazi persecution of the Jews.


Vincent A. Lapomarda, S. J
College of the Holy Cross


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