The reputation of Pope Pius XII has suffered from an endless series of accusations of collaboration with the Nazi regime before and during World War II. In books such as John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope and others, the Pope and the Roman Catholic church face accusations of moral cowardice in the face of the most twisted regime in modern human history. However, new documentation shows that the Nazis themselves considered Pius and his Church their enemy — because Pius assisted in the flight of Jews from the Nazi genocidists:
Pius XII, the wartime pontiff often condemned as “Hitler’s Pope”, was actually considered an enemy by the Third Reich, according to newly discovered documents.
Several letters and memos unearthed at a depot used by the Stasi, the East-German secret police, show that Nazi spies within the Vatican were concerned at Pius’s efforts to help displaced Poles and Jews.
In one, the head of Berlin’s police force tells Joachim von Ribbentropp, the Third Reich’s foreign minister, that the Catholic Church was providing assistance to Jews “both in terms of people and financially”.
A report from a spy at work in the Vatican states: “Our source was told to his face by Father Robert Leibner [one of Pius’s secretaries] that the greatest hope of the Church is that the Nazi system would be obliterated by the war.”
After the war, the Pope himself acknowledged that he did not speak out consistently against the Nazis, but claimed he held back in order to save more people from their clutches. In light of this new evidence, he may have done his best under the worst of circumstances. Certainly the Nazis understood him as a threat to their plans to wipe Jews off the face of the Earth, and recorded their concerns.
How did Pius get such a bad rap? Part of it comes from the circumstance of having been Pope during the war. The Vatican, after all, sits within Rome — and the Italians who aligned themselves with Hitler had them surrounded. The Swiss survived under similar circumstances by essentially doing the same thing — remaining quiet while doing what they could under the radar.
Now, though, it looks like there may be more to the story than just circumstance. The discovery of these records within the files of the Stasi — the East German secret police during the Communist era — indicates that the smear may have had political motivations. The Telegraph reports that some believe the story got circulated at the direction of Moscow to discredit the Catholics, which they saw as a potential rival in Eastern Europe. If they could paint the Vatican as Nazi sympathizers, then the Poles and other Catholics in the Soviet sphere of influence would discount them as an anti-Communist force.
In the end, of course, the Soviets failed in their strategy. Their smear lived on, unfortunately.