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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The opening of the Holy See's archives on the pontificate of Pius XII will not only utterly debunk the myth of Pius XII as "Hitler's Pope" but will "enhance Pius XII's reputation and will reveal to the whole world Pius XII's true greatness," a leading researcher is predicting.
"All the major allegations against Pius XII have already been convincingly answered. No reputable scholar now believes Pius XII was ever 'Hitler's Pope' — on the contrary, he was Hitler's fiercest enemy," William Doino, author of the acclaimed 80,000-word annotated bibliography on Pius XII, is confidently professing in an exclusive interview with Church Militant (see below).
Underlining the scandalous role liberal Catholics have played in the defamation of the wartime pontiff, Doino notes that "Catholics have invariably been Pius XII's harshest critics, while many Jewish and Protestant writers — and even some agnostic and atheist ones — have written about him very responsibly and sympathetically."
Attacks against both Pius XI (who reigned from 1922–1939) and Pope Pius XII (who reigned from 1939–1958), for being Nazi sympathizers, actually began in Soviet communist journals and their outlets throughout the world, Doino observes. "But no fair-minded person at the time took them seriously because they knew they were communist propaganda, intended to defame the Catholic Church," he adds.
This is because many Jewish historians know their history far better than Catholics do, but more perniciously because "very liberal Catholic dissenters" have exploited the "Hitler's Pope mythology to strike back against the Church and weaken its moral authority because they oppose Catholic teachings, usually on abortion, contraception, chastity, marriage, same-sex relations, women's ordination and gender ideology," Doino explains.
World-renowned sociologist Professor Rodney Stark, an agnostic, had already warned that the "historical libel" against Pius XII "has been mainly propagated by alienated Catholics, while the most compelling support for the pope has come from Jews."
Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide testifies that Pope Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands," observes Stark in his meticulously researched Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History.
Recounting his 2003 interview with the late Sir Martin Gilbert, Doino reveals to Church Militant that the pre-eminent Jewish historian and expert on the Holocaust had confirmed to him that the Catholic Church under Pius XII did, in fact, save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
On March 2, the Vatican Apostolic Library will open its archives on Pope Pius XII's pontificate between 1939 and 1958. Over 150 historians and researchers have signed up to access the archives, Vatican officials said Thursday.
Vatican chief librarian Cdl. José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça told reporters "the Church has no reason to fear history" and academics of any faith, ideology or nationality could apply for access to investigate the archives.
The prefect of the archive, Bp. Sergio Pagano is warning that the process of studying approximately 16 million documents from six different archives will be measured in years, not days, weeks or months, and will require patience. No "scoops" are expected in the near term, he stressed.
Doino is also cautioning that the opening of the archives "will not prevent anti-Pius ideologues from announcing they have found some supposedly damaging document in the newly released archives — for this has happened numerous times before, only to learn that the document or documents in question have been distorted beyond recognition and that Pius XII was entirely innocent of the charge."
An expert on Pope Pius XII, Doino's extensive research and meticulous documentation has shown how Pius XII and his closest associates vigorously opposed the totalitarian regimes of their day, and how much the Holy Father did to rescue persecuted victims, above all the Jewish community, at a time when racism and anti-Semitism were rampant and deadly, and support for persecuted minorities was in short supply.
Doino is the lead contributor to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, an anthology which includes a rebuttal of the libel against Pius XII by distinguished Jewish historian Rabbi David G. Dalin, senior research fellow at Brandeis University.
Pope Benedict XVI moved Pius XII closer to beatification in Dec. 2009 when he pronounced Pius XII "Venerable" based on the recommendation of the committee investigating his cause for sainthood.
Like his predecessors, "Pope Francis has consistently praised Pius XII and denounced the dishonest campaign against him," Doino commented.
The full interview follows.
Church Militant: The renowned sociologist Rodney Stark sees the defamation of Pius XII as an anti-Catholic conspiracy and a product of anti-Catholic bigotry. Stark is an agnostic. Do you agree with Stark?
William Doino: Having reviewed Dr. Stark's invaluable work, I agree that the engine driving the attacks against Pius XII is a deep-rooted anti-Catholic bias. However, there are different levels of this bias, and one has to distinguish them from each other, especially in terms of motivation and intensity.
The first group of Pius XII critics are sincere, if quite underinformed. They are not anti-Catholic and would be shocked if anyone accused them of being so. They just don't realize that, although they have good intentions, the myths they are circulating about Pius XII are, objectively speaking, anti-Catholic. I have found that a large percentage of this group, because they are honorable people, are willing to change their minds about Pius XII once they see the evidence.
The second group of critics are comprised of often very liberal Catholic dissenters who have seized upon the Hitler's Pope mythology to strike back against the Church and weaken its moral authority because they so oppose fundamental Catholic teachings, usually on abortion, contraception, chastity, marriage, same-sex relations, female ordination and gender ideology.
Their primary interest is not honoring the tragedy our Jewish brethren suffered during the Holocaust, but rather, in employing this anti-Pius narrative to exploit that unspeakable suffering, in hopes of advancing their "progressive" agenda inside the Church by discrediting Pius XII — and with him, they believe, all popes who uphold traditional Catholic teachings. To say this is a terrible abuse of the Holocaust, which profoundly dishonors the Jewish community for partisan liberal purposes, would be an understatement.
In fairness, not all liberal Catholics dishonor the memory of the Holocaust in this way, or unjustly attack Pius XII. One of the most inspiring articles ever to appear in defense of Pius XII was written by the late and very progressive Bp. Raymond Lucker, titled, "A Strong Leader, a Holy Man." And others on the Catholic Left, even if they are in the minority, have strongly repudiated the Deputy Hitler's Pope Myth.
The third group of critics are hard-core and ideologically driven secularists who not only oppose the Church's teachings, but believe all religion, especially Catholicism, has been a blight upon mankind, and so mindlessly repeat the falsehoods against Pius XII — all the better to indict what Voltaire called "that infamous thing" — the Roman Catholic Church.
CM: Why have Jews often been more supportive of Pius XII than Catholics?
WD: That's a very important question, for the media often portrays the Jewish community as almost uniformly critical of Pius XII, with his only defenders being Catholics; whereas in truth, as Father Michael O'Carroll, one of Pius XII's earliest and best biographers, pointed out, Catholics have invariably been his harshest critics, while many Jewish and Protestant writers — and even some agnostic and atheist ones — have written about him very responsibly and sympathetically.
Many Jewish historians have been so fair-minded toward Pius XII because they know their own history far better than Catholics do. One need only examine the records of the wartime Jewish community and newspapers and agencies to see how highly they thought of Pius XII, for everything he and the Catholic Church did for them during the War (notwithstanding failures and betrayals by sinful Catholics who did not live up to their Christian calling at that time).
CM: There has been enough documentary evidence to dispute the scurrilous claims against Pius XII. Why have books like Hitler's Pope been so successful? How does one account for the dominance of the anti-Pius narrative?
WD: The good news is that there is already a mountain of evidence, much from independent and non-Catholic sources, demonstrating what an outstanding and humane pontiff Pius XII was, living in almost impossible times for any pope. I predict there will be even more evidence of that kind after a substantial review as the new archives are thoroughly analyzed — though this will take time, by reputable scholars, not sensationalists looking to make headlines. If someone does try to implicate Pius, I predict the charges will be quickly disproven, just as the other accusations against his honor.
In addition to the factors I have already outlined, I believe there are far too many people who engage in guilt transference and are willing to scapegoat a single, innocent person for the sins of others, and in this case, the target is Pius XII. The great Jewish historian, Jenő Lévai, famously said of Pius XII and the Holocaust, that it is a "particularly regrettable irony that the one person in all of occupied Europe who did more than anyone else to halt the dreadful crime and alleviate its consequences is today made the scapegoat of others."
Similarly, in his memoir, But for the Grace of God, Msgr. John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, who worked with Pius XII to rescue endangered Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation of Rome — and who recounted Pius XII's heroism to me in an exclusive interview — contrasted his personal wartime efforts with Pius XII with the post-war legends about the pontiff, commenting:
Never, in those tragic days, could I have foreseen, even in my wildest imaginings, that the man who, more than any other, had tried to alleviate human suffering, had spent himself day by day in his unceasing efforts for peace, would — 20 years later — be made the scapegoat for men trying to free themselves from their own responsibilities and the collective guilt that obviously weighs so heavily upon them.
CM: Apart from books with provocative titles like Hitler's Pope and The Hound of Hitler, what are some of the other books or journal articles that were seminal in the creation and dissemination of the anti-Pius XII narrative?
WD: Attacks against both Pius XI and Pius XII for being fascist-Nazi sympathizers, and then, in the case of Pius XII, for supposedly remaining "silent" during the Holocaust, actually began in the early and mid-20th century in Soviet communist journals and their outlets throughout the world. But no fair-minded person at the time took them seriously because they knew they were communist propaganda, intended to defame the Catholic Church and Christianity in general; and because they also knew that Pius XI and Pius XII were strenuous opponents of totalitarianism and its manifold evils — including racism and anti-Semitism.
But many academics and intellectuals who came of age in the 1960s were far less informed and fair-minded — not to mention influenced by a cultural revolution against the "establishment" (especially the Church) — and that's when the anti-Pius XII campaign went into high gear. After the 1963 play, "The Deputy," appeared — caricaturing Pius XII as silent during the Holocaust — it was followed by a whole slew of books trying to substantiate the play's thesis. Among those in English were Guenter Lewy's The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, Carlo Falconi's The Silence of Pius XII, Saul Friedländer's Pius XII and the Third Reich, Robert Katz's Death in Rome and Black Sabbath, and, a little later, John Morley's Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews.
After these books were comprehensively refuted by superior scholars, John Cornwell tried to breathe new life into the calumny with Hitler's Pope (1999), and that was followed by a new round of books assailing Pius XII: Papal Sin by Gary Wills, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust by Michael Phayer, Under His Very Windows by Susan Zuccotti, The Popes Against the Jews by David Kertzer, Constantine's Sword by James Carroll, and A Moral Reckoning by Daniel Goldhagen.
But these books were also thoroughly critiqued, and their main arguments against Pius XII disproven as chronicled in The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (2004) to which I contributed an 80,000 word annotated bibliography, which I hope to update in the future.
The best news is that modern scholarship has taken a decisive shift in favor of Pope Pius XII. I predict this development will continue, now that the last remaining archives of Pius XII's pontificate are being opened.
CM: In contrast to the discredited anti-Pius XII books, which ones are scholarly and historically sound?
WD: In addition to The Pius War, the most important ones in English to read are these: Three Popes and the Jews by Pinchas Lapide, The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators by Anthony Rhodes, Pius XII: Greatness Dishonored by Michael O'Carroll, The Myth of Hitler's Pope by Rabbi David Dalin, Hitler, the War and the Pope by Ronald J. Rychlak, Eugenio Pacelli — Pius XII (1876–1958): In the View of Scholarship, edited by Peter Pfister, Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling —particularly unique, in that it recounts Pius XII's alliance with the anti-Nazi German resistance, and his personal involvement in no less than three daring plots to overthrow Hitler, Dr. Michael Hesemann's magisterial book, The Pope and the Holocaust (now in German, to be translated into English by Ignatius Press this fall) and Pope Pius XII and World War II: The Documented Truth: A Compilation of International Evidence Revealing the Wartime Acts of the Vatican by Gary L. Krupp.
I would also recommend three other specialized works: Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War by Owen Chadwick, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics by Michael Burleigh, and The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust by Sir Martin Gilbert — all cover different aspects of the Church during the 20th century, and are supportive of Pius XII.
CM: What has the hierarchy of the Catholic Church done to challenge this 'fake history' — particularly at a time when Pope Francis has criticized the phenomenon of 'fake news' and the proliferation of 'post-truth'?
WD: The Catholic hierarchy's record here is much better than most people are aware of. As I document in The Pius War, as soon as the attacks against Pius XII commenced, the Vatican began publishing strong and well-documented articles in L'Osservatore Romano demolishing the allegations, and detailing how often Pius XII had condemned the fascist-Nazi heresy, and consistently worked to protect and rescue its victims, above all persecuted Jews. The Holy See also published 12 volumes of wartime documents, edited by four distinguished Jesuits.
In addition, St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have all consistently praised Pius XII, and denounced the dishonest campaign against him. Francis has been particularly strong in this regard. Early in his pontificate, he said that we all need to remember that, before his detractors assailed him, Pius XII was the "Pope who led the Church during World War II" and was recognized "as the great defender of the Jews. He hid many in convents in Rome and in many other Italian cities, and also in the residence in Castel Gandolfo. Forty-two babies, children of Jews and other persecuted who sought refuge were born there, in the pope's room, in his own bed."
Francis continued: "I get 'existential hives' when I see that everyone takes it out against the Church and Pius XII," notwithstanding how much was done to rescue Jews, even as so many others turned their backs on them. In his June 5, 2017 address at Santa Marta, Francis praised Pius XII for his wartime heroism and charity. As L'Ossservatore Romano recounted: "In giving safe haven to persecuted Jews during the Second World War, Pius XII offered an example of how to perform acts of mercy: through sharing, feeling compassion for another person's suffering, taking personal risks, without fear." Indeed, said the Vatican newspaper, Pope Francis "held up his predecessor as a courageous model" to follow.
CM: What do you believe the ultimate results will be from the last remaining archives of Pius XII, to be released on March 2?
WD: I believe they will only enhance Pius XII's reputation, and as Vatican archivist Bp. Sergio Pagano recently stated, will reveal to the whole world, Pius XII's true greatness.
All the major allegations against Pius XII launched over the years have already been convincingly answered. No reputable scholar now believes Pius XII was ever "Hitler's Pope" — on the contrary, he was Hitler's fiercest enemy (as I documented in my article, "Pius XII's Duel with Hitler"). And I think any questions which skeptics still have about his pontificate will be decisively answered in his favor, once all the remaining archives from his pontificate are studied in a dispassionate manner — exactly what has been missing from the Pius debate for so many years, though I believe things are significantly changing.
CM: Finally, tell us about your role in assembling such a prodigious bibliography on Pius XII.
WD: There have been several major influences that led me to do it. The first was Fr. Robert Graham, SJ, the foremost expert on Vatican conduct during World War II, whose writings in defense of Pius XII left a profound impression upon me as a young man. I could not believe that there were so many canards being thrown at Pius XII, in the face of so much unassailable evidence to the contrary, and was distressed to see so few Catholics defend Pius XII, so I decided to join the debate, hoping to make a difference.
Second, meeting and becoming close friends with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, and learning about her heroic husband, Dietrich, and his great admiration for Pius XII, taught me that those who said Pius XII was a bad man, pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic, were contradicting the personal witness and judgment of Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of the greatest men of the 20th century, who was marked for death by Hitler precisely because he was a fearless enemy of Nazism and anti-Semitism.
Third, interviewing those who had worked with Pius XII to combat the Third Reich and rescue Jews, like Msgr. Carrol-Abbing, gave me insights from firsthand witnesses that has inspired me to carry on their message.
Finally, my father, who was a Jesuit-trained Catholic lawyer, instilled in me an overriding sense of the importance of innocence and truth in a world overflowing with madness and untruth.