Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Pius XI and Pius XII

I saw a good post at On Faith today by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield .... Pope to Skip Israeli Holocaust Museum .... and it made me think again about Pope Pius XII and the Nazis (B16 won't visit the Holocaust Museum because there Pius XII is accused of silence on the Holocaust).

Benedict wants to have Pius XII canonized and the postulator in charge of promoting the case is said to have uncovered a nun's 1943 diary note that says Pius urged Catholic religious houses to give hospitality to Jews hiding from the Nazis.

On the other hand, a 2008 article in TIME stated ....

Over the past decade, historians have stepped up debate over the Vatican's actions before and during the war. Pius' defenders say that speaking out more would have made matters worse for Jews, while critics say he was too cautious, at best. Before becoming Pope, Pius, then known by his birth name, Eugenio Pacelli, served as both the Vatican envoy to Nazi Germany and later as the Vatican's secretary of state. Indeed, even while Benedict and most of the church hierarchy stand firmly behind Pius, Italian Jesuit scholars say they have recently turned up documents showing that Pacelli's secretary of state office in 1938 put its focus on saving Jews who converted to Catholicism, a revelation likely to reinforce opposition to Pius.

There's more ammunition on both sides of this debate, but whether Pius XII did secretly help save some from the Holocaust or not, one thing can be agreed upon ..... he did not speak out publicly against it.

Some say keeping silent was the only thing a Pope could reasonably do given Pius XII's situation, but as I was looking around the net I came across something interesting - Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII and Two Different Responses to Hitler’s Anti-Jewish Laws. This blog post is a comparison of how differently the two Popes who served while the Nazis were in power reacted and acted in response to growing anti-Semitism. It made me want to look up Pius XI, and here's a bit of what Wikipedia says of him in that regard ....


Pope Pius XI (Latin: Pius PP. XI; Italian: Pio XI; May 31, 1857 – February 10, 1939), born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, was Pope from February 6, 1922, and sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on February 11, 1929 until his death on February 10, 1939 .....

Pius XI responded to ever increasing Nazi hostility to Christianity by issuing in 1937 the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge condemning the Nazi ideology of racism and totalitarianism and Nazi violations of the concordat. Copies had to be smuggled into Germany so they could be read from the pulpit .....

While numerous German Catholics, who participated in the secret printing and distribution of the encylical, went to jail and concentration camps, the reaction in the Western democracies remained silent, which Pope Pius XI labeled bitterly as "a conspiracy of silence". As the extreme nature of Nazi racial antisemitism became obvious, and as Mussolini in the late 1930s began imitating Hitler's anti-Jewish race laws in Italy, Pius XI continued to make his position clear, both in Mit brennender Sorge and in a public address in the Vatican to Belgian pilgrims in 1938: "Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we [Christians] are all Semites" These comments were subsequently published worldwide but had little resonance at the time in the secular media ......

The fascist government in Italy had long abstained from copying the racial and anti-Semitic laws and regulations, which existed in Germany. This changed dramatically in 1938, the last year of the pontificate of Pius XI, when Italy introduced anti-Semitic legislation. The Pope asked Italy publicly to abstain from demeaning racist legislation, stating, that the term “race” is divisive but may be appropriate to differentiate animals. The Catholic view would refer to "the unity of human society", which includes as many differences as music includes intonations. Italy, a civilized country, should not ape the barbarian German legislation. In the same speech, he counter-attacked again the Italian government for attacking Catholic Action and even the papacy itself. .....

Pius XI fought the two ascendant ideologies of communism and fascism. His success in fighting them was limited and there is much controversy over the concordats he entered with European regimes to improve the situation of the Catholic Church. At the outset, it was clear that he found communism to be the greater of the two evils but in his later years, there is no doubt that he was repelled by the momentum of Nazi Germany, not only in its opposition to the Catholic Church but also in the ferocity of its attacks on the Jewish people. Whatever the results of his activism, Pius XI did not sit by idly and was fully engaged until the end ....


Which Pope did right? I cast a vote for Pius XI. I think Pius XII should have taken a public stand against the Holocaust, and here's a quote from the blog post I mentioned above, with which I agree ....

Though I empathize with the quandary that Pope Pius XII was in, I tend to agree with critics that he should’ve followed his predecessors example and made an explicit statement against the Holocaust. Costa-Gavras noted in his movie Amen that the Catholic Church took a stand to stop the Nazi policy of euthanasia of the mentally ill. At another time, gentile wives of Jewish men protested as a group the roundup of their husbands and the Nazis released them. Though there would be consequences to taking such a public stand, the enormity of the Holocaust made it an imperative that any spiritual leader should’ve spoken out against it. Though Pius XII probably felt that his diplomatic skills were what was needed to save the thousands of lives sheltered in Catholic churches, the millions that died in concentration camps demanded more of an explicit stand.


Blogger Jasper said...

I cast 10 votes for Pius XI. There are many facts that prove that at the end of his papacy - seeing with whom he had come to alliances - he distanced himself more and more from Hitler and fascism, and tried to do so openly and "officially".
But he was hampered by Pius XII., at the time cardinal Pacelli, and like-minded in Rome to maintain good relations with the murderous nazi gangs.

As stated above: "… the enormity of the Holocaust made it an imperative that any spiritual leader should’ve spoken out against it", and I'm almost convinced that if Pius XI. hadn't died early in 1939, he would have finally spoken out loudly.
And I think it's often underestimated what consequences this could have had.

8:00 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I agree. Thanks for the comment.

11:44 AM  

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