Pope Benedict XVI is expected soon to declare that his predecessor, Pope Pius XII, lived a life of “heroic virtue.” The declaration is the first step in the canonization process, i.e. “listing” among the Saints.
After the Second World War and through his death in 1958, Jews and others hailed Pius XII as a hero for resisting the Holocaust, despite the difficulties he faced. However, by the 1960s, leftists began to slander this righteous man, first suggesting in a fictional play that he had collaborated with the Nazis, then actually accusing him of having participated in the Holocaust by not speaking out enough against the Nazis. By the 2000s, an author of a widely reviewed book accused Pius XII of being “Hitler’s Pope,” yet he could only find the Pontiff guilty of one alleged error: failing to support adequately a Christian Democratic party in Germany before the Nazi Party (National German Socialist Party) won the election, even though liberals usually object to any interference in politics by the Church.
Pius XII’s critics seek not only to discredit him and the Catholic Church, but all Christianity, especially all Christian conservatives. They imply that Fascism and Nazism is an outgrowth of Christianity because they accuse Christians of anti-Semitism. These liberals wish to cover up the left-wing origins of the totalitarian ideologies of Fascism and Nazism that elevate the State above all, including the Church. Instead, the left tries to discredit Christian conservatives by associating their beliefs with those that led to the Holocaust.
Pope Benedict XVI has acted boldly by asserting the truth, that his predecessor as Bishop of Rome acted heroically in defiance of the Nazis, which did much to prevent the slaughter of even more Jews and resistors of the Nazis.
Before the War, Pope Pius XII spoke out in an encyclical against Statism, obviously condemning Nazism. Because the encyclical was banned in Nazi Germany, the Allies leafleted it out of airplanes over German skies as part of their propaganda campaign. Pius XII continued to criticize the Nazi regime during the war, despite the difficult position he was in as the head of state of a neutral country totally surrounded by the Axis Powers. The Pontiff had to be careful to avoid losing his neutral status, lest Adolph Hitler retaliate. The Nazis considered deporting the Pope and physically threatened him. Indeed, the Fascists even bombed Vatican City in 1943!
Jews and others, like the German clergy, urged Pius XII not to speak out openly against the Nazis out of fear of retaliation, which they knew from their own experience. The Pope was mindful of what had happened to the Dutch Bishops who had spoken out forcefully against the Nazis: Hitler retaliated against them by interring many Jewish converts to Catholicism in the Netherlands in concentration camps, some of whom were murdered. It is unlikely that the Nazis would have listened to the Pope’s pleas anyway.
Therefore, Pius XII did what he could, by acting more than speaking. Before he became Pope, as Vatican Secretary of State, he had established an organization that funded an airline for thousands of escaping Jews. As Pontiff, he offered the Nazis the Vatican’s gold as a ransom for the Jews. The Pope discretely urged the cloistered monasteries and convents to make the extraordinary step of throwing open their doors in order to take in Jews hiding from the Holocaust, at the risk of being executed by the Nazis. Tens of thousands of Jews, as well as resistance fighters and downed Allied pilots were saved in Italy alone, where the influence of the Catholic Church was strongest and Italians shared Pius XII’s belief that racism was contrary to Italian mores. Although 67% of Jews were killed in the Holocaust in other European countries, 85% of them were saved in Italy. The Nazis slaughtered hundreds of Italian civilians in retaliation.
Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII, is a hero whose Christian example debunks the liberal myth that Christian conservatism shares an origin with Fascism. Pope Benedict XVI has reaffirmed his predecessor’s example, thereby defending this holy man from calumny, and reminding everyone that the left’s association of Christian conservatism with Fascism and Nazism is based upon ignorance of the origin of its own ideology.