- A Cross Too Heavy: Eugenio Pacelli, Politics and the Jews of Europe, 1917–1943, and: Vatikan und Shoa: Die Haltung des Heiligen Stuhls zu debn Juden von der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus bus zum Heiligen Jahr
The flood of books about Pope Pius XII continues unabated. But since no new documentation has appeared in the last ten years, and the papers of the Vatican Secretariat of State, a major indispensable source, are still secreted in the Vatican archive and are not yet released for public scrutiny, it is clear that many of these new books are not the result of new historical analysis or research. Instead, the character and policies of Pius XII are used as part of an ongoing controversy about the authority and governance of the Roman [End Page 410] Catholic Church. The participants seek to prove either the urgent need for reform of an outdated authoritarian institution, or regard Pius as an example of prudent leadership at a time of great political and military danger. With regard to his stance toward the Nazis’ persecution and mass murder of the Jews, many vocal critics have turned Pius into a scapegoat. They believe a less silent pope, with more active engagement, could and should have prevented, or at least mitigated, the Holocaust. But is there historical evidence to substantiate such far-reaching claims, or is this purely the product of wishful thinking? On the other hand, are those seeking to defend Pius doing so in order to exonerate the institution at whatever cost to historical candor? Both books under review attempt to answer these questions.
Paul O’Shea is a young Australian scholar who rejects as superficial the widespread accusations that have depicted Pius as Hitler’s pope, too lenient toward the Germans, an antisemitic bigot, insensitive to the fate of Hitler’s victims, or motivated only by a calculating political opportunism. Instead, O’Shea concentrates on seeing Pius as the inheritor of a long theological tradition, enshrined in the Vatican’s centuries-old stance, whereby the Jews were seen as a renegade people, deserving of conversion but remaining a witness to God’s eternal mercy. O’Shea’s main contention is that centuries of Christian Judeophobia and antisemitism culminated in the papal silence during the Holocaust. On the other hand, O’Shea notes, Pius cannot be dismissed as a bystander. He agonized over every word he uttered on the fate of the Jews, and his discreet actions on behalf of individuals saved many lives. But the widely held expectation that the papal moral influence would be resolutely and loudly deployed was disappointed. The burden of O’Shea’s critique is that he shares this disappointment. He is therefore critical of Pius for not protesting more forcefully, since “there is a moral duty to speak out in the face of evil, regardless of the consequence.”
O’Shea is hardly the first to advance such an opinion, but he fails to point out one all-important factor. For any far-reaching, let alone successful, measures to assist the Jews in war-torn Europe, the Catholic magisterium would have had to undertake a major reversal of its theological position, to abandon its historic anti-Judaic stance and to embrace the theology first adumbrated in 1965. But no such alteration took place. Nor is there any evidence that Pius XII would have supported such a major theological revision. This process only began after his death. O’Shea’s contribution is to show how the Vatican’s mind-set, its entrenched conservatism, and the pope’s own theological training, all combined to reinforce a consistent, if now regrettable, attitude of regarding Jews as second-class citizens or the victims...