- Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich
Between 2003 and 2006, the Vatican opened its archives from the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939). This made available millions of pages about Eugenio Pacelli, who served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 until 1929 and as Papal Secretary of State from 1930 until he became Pope Pius XII in 1939. Today, unfortunately, he is known to many as "Hitler's Pope" due to his perceived silence about the genocide during the Second World War. This book should go a long way towards changing that.
In Pope and Devil, Hubert Wolf reports on this newly available material and gives the reader a fresh view of Pacelli and the Vatican's response to the rise of Nazism. The first part of the book focuses on Pacelli's years in Germany. As nuncio to Bavaria, Pacelli's first task was to present Pope Benedict XV's peace plan to the German government. Unfortunately, it was not accepted. Wolf argues that this "traumatized" Pacelli, and the lesson he took from it was about the need for the Holy See's "absolute neutrality in political and military conflicts." Here Wolf comes up short.
During the war, Pius XII cooperated with the Allies by providing them with information about German troop movements and by supporting extension of the Lend-Lease Program to the USSR. He also involved himself in German efforts to overthrow Hitler at the start of World War II. Late in the war, President Roosevelt thanked the pope for the "frequent action which the Holy See has taken . . . to render assistance to the victims of racial and religious persecutions." These facts overwhelm Wolf 's after-the-fact psychoanalysis.
In fact, of greatest interest in this first section of the book are Pacelli's reports back to Rome in which he expresses his concern over the rise of National Socialism and his horror over the spread of antisemitism. As early as 1923, [End Page 196] he warns of Hitler's hatred of Jews and Catholics. The following year he calls Nazism "perhaps the most dangerous heresy of our time."
The second part of Wolf 's book deals with the 1928 condemnation by the Roman Holy Office of that "particular hatred which today commonly goes by the name of anti-Semitism." Wolf explains that this came about as a result of a Catholic reform movement that aimed to facilitate Jewish conversions, in part by purging the reference to "the perfidious Jews" in the Good Friday liturgy. Pope Pius XI approved the statement condemning antisemitism, but the Church did not change the Good Friday prayer until the 1960s.
Wolf argues that a 1928 change in the liturgy would have helped combat antisemitism better than did the direct statement by the Roman Holy Office that year or Pope Pius XI's 1937 anti-Nazi encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge. It should be noted, however, that when the Good Friday prayer was written, "perfidious" did not have the pejorative connotation that it now carries—it simply meant "non-believing." Thus, this was a prayer that people who did not believe in Jesus as savior be converted so that they could share in eternity. That is a far cry from the type of antisemitism that would come to dominate Germany in the following decade.
The most important section of Wolf 's book is his examination of the connections between the German bishops, the Catholic Center Party, and the negotiations leading to the concordat (the agreement signed by representatives of Germany and the Holy See not long after Hitler's rise to power). Critics often claim that Pacelli stripped the German bishops and the Center Party of their power and signed the concordat in order to strengthen the papacy. As this reviewer wrote in an academic paper published in 2001, that thesis never stood up to close scrutiny. In 2001, however, one had to rely on witnesses and circumstantial evidence to...