The complete opening of the Vatican archive concerning the pontificate of Pius XII is of great importance that has been underestimated both in Catholic and public environments. It is a very positive and an important encouragement for the opening of the archives of other popes. .In fact, Pius XII was a very centralizing man and by definition a very “diplomatic” pope. All issues depends on him, directly or indirectly, it is also known that he also filled the role of Secretary of State (Cardinal Maglione had a minor role and only until August 1944 when he died). Moreover, his pontificate was during an absolutely extraordinary period in the presence of a more complex and general war than that of ’15 -’18, with very strong new ideological components (nazism, communism). The understanding and interpretations of the decisions of that time by Pope Pacelli still affect our politics and culture especially for the question as to his attitude towards the Holocaust on which the debate and the search continues forever.
The Vatican-Jewish joint committee
It will be recalled that in the years 1999 – 2000, in a climate of dialogue started by the Council , a joint commission of Vatican-Jewish historians was established (three and three) with the task of making an important contribution to know the facts starting with the examination of the eleven volumes of the “Actes et Documents du Saint Siege relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale ” made public in 1965. The somewhat naïve hope of the Vatican was that the question would be settled by mutual agreement. It was not like that. The historians finished the work by asking 47 questions (see the full text on italian “Adista” of 20.XI.2000) regarding on the position of the pope, largely related to solicitations that came from everywhere to intervene regarding the extermination of the Jews.The documents contained in the “Actes” were considered completely inadequate. Moreover, the historians, asking for the complete opening of the archives, emphasized that the problem of silence on the Shoah could only be framed in the more general position of the pope on the war.
Knowledge of the facts but the “ad maiora mala vitanda
Shortly before the conclusion of the work of the Commission, a weighty volume was published by the well-known historian Giovanni Miccoli “I dilemmi e i silenzi di Pio XII” (“The dilemmas and silences of Pius XII”) (April 2000) .The text is very well documented. We doubt that the position of Pope Pacelli on the Shoah can emerge from really significant documents that modify the opinion that shines through the book (even if Miccoli could only use incomplete sources). The conclusions that emerge from this text are firstly: the Holy See and the Pope were very well informed from the beginning of everything the Reich organized towards the Jews. The network of bishops and the base of the Catholic world were a reliable and effective source. Probably the Vatican had information in quantities and qualities greater than any other subject present on the scene of the war. Secondly: Pacelli was strongly aware of the question and probably very involved but remained silent on extermination (the silence was particularly heavy for the two episodes under the Vatican walls, that of the raid to the “ghetto” of Rome on 16 October ’43 and that of the massacre of Fosse Ardeatine in March of ’44 with 335 murdered). The justification of silence was that of “ad maiora mala vitanda” (“preventing greater massacres”). The pope feared that if he had talked about these things the situation would still be worse. It remains the big question if this justification will stand after the opening of archives in March next year. Can we harshly reproach this position? The book of Miccoli does not dwell, because it was outside his the remit of his research, on the help given by the Vatican and many Catholic organizations, also by direct input of the pope, to Jews and persecuted in the city of Rome and elsewhere (this is a fully established and uncontested point).
Catholics in Germany
The value of Miccoli’s book for us today is to have examined the cultural and religious background of the Catholic world and the Vatican to understand (not to justify) the silence on the Holocaust and other brutalities of the war. A first aspect concerns the German situation. Some strong points of the nazi doctrine – order, rediscovered national pride, claims of the health of the human race against the corruption of democracies and against bolshevik atheism” – were quite common in the conservative Catholic world especially in Catholic regions (Bavaria … ). The enciclical Mit Brennender Sorge of pope Pius XI of march 1937 against nazism was given a lukewarm reception; the views of the hierarchy were substantial, but uninspired, consent or tolerance; critical opinions were mainly directed at abuses of Church rights. The same Pacelli sought to protect these rights with the Concordat (Agreement) signed by him, as Secretary of State, with the vice-chancellor Von Papen (conservative and Catholic) of the new Nazi government in July of ’33.
The Catholic culture and the diplomatic neutrality of Pius XII
But other concepts conditioned the whole approach of the pope and his entourage about the war with which they had to deal. First of all anti-communism, after what happened in the thirties in the USSR, dominated the reasoning. Blocking Bolshevism in the center of Europe was always in the minds of those who led the Church, and this was not much in keeping with the anti-Nazi alliance which, at that time, included the Russians. Furthermore, the conviction was that the war was nothing more than a punishment for humanity who had departed from Christ. The war was seen under these concepts and justified in order to protect their homeland, their families, their own race (this led to accept both armies fighting each other !!). The interweaving of subliminal anti-Semitism of the Catholicism with Nazi anti-Semitism is important. The pope had to be the father of all due to his divine mandate. Pius XII, certainly with many inner torments and doubts, thus came to practice the diplomatic neutrality which appears to us as the chief characteristic of his general attitude during the war. ,This diplomatic route gave him full contacts with all sides. But, from what we already know (and from the other texts that we are waiting to read ) we can hypothesize that the hearing that he got in the many relationships served only to keep him neither on one side or the other of the protagonists of the war. Perhaps Pius XII had the illusion of remaining a point of reference for all, of preserving the role of the Church for the future, of protecting in the meantime the existence of the structures of the Church. Or he expected, as reflected in some texts, that the responsibility to react was the duty t of those bishops and those lay people who sought to intervene with the complaint of evil. Whereas Bishops and lay people expected an intervention at the highest level, accustomed as they were to the rigid hierarchical structure of the Church.
A silence that weighs in the history of the Church
Conclusion: on the one hand there was the “common thinking” on these issues present in the Catholic world (and in Pius XII ) that would be overcome only with the Council. On the other hand there was the abyss that was created between the ambitions of Pacelli to be the father of all but his silence on the massacres and “the objective situations of systematic genocide and mass exterminations, while they were still defended and propagandized, certain concepts and values (homeland, nation, authority) made many Catholics support those who were carrying out the massacres ” (Miccoli). In this way Pius XII, beyond his obvious good faith and good will, lost his position as a leader of the Christian people and also as a witness to the Gospel.
Rome, 8 March 2019
Noi Siamo Chiesa