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Pope Pius XII - Fascists and Nazis

Pius was the ultra-Conservative pro-Fascist Pope who (as Cardinal Pacelli) in 1929 signed the notorious Lateran Treaty with Mussolini, and later collaborated with Hitler and turned a blandly incomprehending ear to the appalling crime of genocide systematically applied by his Nazi allies in their concentration camps and gas chambers. Pius XII was, to paraphrase Lord Macaulay, the hope of the stern and unbending Tories, the medievally minded traditionalists in the Roman Curia.

There are some who maintain that the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli, should have taken advantage of the opportunity of meeting with President Roosevelt to allay the indignation of American Catholics at the Vatican's conciliatory attitude in the matter of the Abyssinian War. But this is a view that has no basis. In any case, the Vatican's alleged attitude of appeasement towards Fascism is a myth; Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli both saw in the conquest of Abyssinia a spark which might ultimately cause a worldwide conflagration. The only time a Pope complained about any act of Fascism was when Pope Pius XII expressed his annoyance that Mussolini chose Good Friday (1939) to invade Albania.

It is known that Pope Pius' hatred for Communism made him share the ideas of the fascist leaders of Italy, Germany, Spain, and other countries. While denouncing Nazi and Fascist ideologies in abstract terms and without mentioning names, like his predecessors, Pius XII took great pains up to the eve of warto exalt with words of high praise the Duce and his government.

It is significant that in December 1939, only several months after the Second World War broke out, the Pope, in speaking before the College of Cardinals, addressed the following appeal to the governments of the bourgeois countries participating in the anti-Hitler coalition: "Let us terminate this fratricidal war and unite our forces in the struggle against the common enemy - atheism" (viz., the USSR). This was pursued continuously after the Second World War in the Vatican's active participation in maintaining the Cold War.

On Christmas eve, 1939, US President Franklin Roosevelt asked Myron Charles Taylor, to be his personal representative to Pope Pius XII. This very controversial move, which in many ways represented the crafty and purposeful FDR at his best, led to what was termed the "Taylor Mission". Taylor also brought the first documented proof of the Holocaust to the Pope and his senior advisors.

Although as early as 1942 the Vatican received detailed information on the murder of Jews in concentration camps, the Pope confined his public statements to expressions of sympathy for the victims of injustice and to calls for a more humane conduct of the war. Despite the lack of response by Pope Pius XII, several papal nuncios played an important role in rescue efforts, particularly the nuncios in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Turkey. It is not clear to what, if any, extent they operated upon instructions from the Vatican.

Pope Pius XII was not sympathetic to the Nazis, and Pius XII spoke out against Nazi racism both before and after he became pope. Pius XII instructed papal diplomats to aid persecuted Jews in the occupied nations of Europe, he contributed money to aid desperate Jews, he opened Catholic facilities in the Vatican and in other parts of Rome and Italy to shelter thousands of Jews from the Nazis, and he gave direct face-to-face orders to protect Jews from the Nazis.

In Germany, the Catholic Church did not oppose the Nazis' antisemitic campaign. Church records were supplied to state authorities which assisted in the detection of people of Jewish origin, and efforts to aid the persecuted were confined to Catholic non-Aryans. While Catholic clergymen protested the Nazi euthanasia program, few, with the exception of Bernhard Lichtenberg, spoke out against the murder of the Jews. In Western Europe, Catholic clergy spoke out publicly against the persecution of the Jews and actively helped in the rescue of Jews. In Eastern Europe, however, the Catholic clergy was generally more reluctant to help. Dr. Jozef Tiso, the head of state of Slovakia and a Catholic priest, actively cooperated with the Germans as did many other Catholic priests. A number of Catholic clergy and institutions, as well as many individual Italians, aided Jews by offering sanctuary or the means to escape the Nazi dragnet. These actions appear to have happened spontaneously, or at the least, without any explicit instructions from the Vatican leadership. Pope Pius XII failed to show moral leadership. There is no evidence that any official policy of rescue originated in or was coordinated by the Papacy or its office even though it was informed of the impending German actions.

The Pope, although cautious with Vatican neutrality, stepped closer to the line when calling for peace. Responding to Roosevelt's April 1943 call for the Italians to rise up in revolt, Pope Pius XII only warned, "Salvation and justice are not to be found inrevolution, but in evolution through concord."

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