Expert Answer Forum

Pope Pius XII QUESTION from John Williams March 27, 2000 Dear Ms. Fortin
What is your opinion about the attack on Pius XII by 60 Minutes, John Cornwell and certain Jewish persons? Is there a legitimate question that Pius acted inappropriately? Why is all his actions (done and not done) being placed under the microscope? Sure looking with 50 years hindsight maybe he could have done things better but how about Roosevelt, Churchill, or the Lutheran church in Germany. It seems like Pius did much more of than any of those people/group to help our Jewish brothers. Thank you for your response.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on March 29, 2000 Dear Mr. Williams
I only saw the last few minutes of the Sixty Minutes segment, and I haven't read John Cornwell's book, so I am a bit at a disadvantage. However, I can offer some perspective on your questions.
Please take a look at Fr. Peter Gumpel's rebuttal to John Cornwell's book, which is archived at the EWTN website.
I think it's obvious why people are doing this: they are either misinformed or have an axe to grind with theChurch, or both. They have absorbed the ambient anti-Catholic mentality in the West and are trying to discredit the Church. The main issue is not whether Pius XII spoke up, or whether he did do anything. The record is clear: he did speak out, and he did undertake great pain to save Jews. The question is: did he do enough, and if not, was his alleged negligence morally culpable?
Myself, I think that Pius XII did a great deal for Jews. I don't know if he did all he could-- who can be the judge of that? But he certainly did not bear any ill-will towards Jews, nor did he feel any indifference towards their plight during the Holocaust. He did explicitly denounce the Holocaust in a couple of Christmas messages on the radio, but critics like to underscore the fact that he did not specify that the Jews were especially being singled out. Pius XII was in a tough situation. The treaty between the Pope and the Italy which allowed for the creation of Vatican City did not allow him to intervene in Catholic politics-- and condemning the Axis powers could have been perceived a condemnation of the Holocaust in specific terms as such. The Vatican was anxious to preserve its neutrality. It was surrounded by Italy, which was eventually invaded by the Germans. The pope himself was not afraid of being dragged off to a concentration camp, but people bent on attacking the Church like to think that the Pope and the Vatican's only job is to make moral stands; they also like to imagine that moral stands are always effective or necessary. The Vatican was trying to preserve the Church in countries under Nazi domination as well as save the Jews. Had the Vatican spoken out, it could have given the Nazis the pretext to invade, and then the efforts of the pope would have been brought to a halt, and the pope's voice would have been silenced entirely. The pope also had to consider that Catholics in Nazi- dominated countries were being persecuted at this time, and speaking would certainly have worsened their condition.
So yes. it's very easy to condemn someone for not doing enough in a time of war, fifty years after the fact. People in the late twentieth century live such cushy lives that they are so removed from the realities of war, about the hard decisions you have to make, decisions which affect life and death.
As a Canadian, I am sometimes amused at the accusations which are launched by Americans against the Church, but which apply to their own country, the defender of the Free World, the beacon of democracy. Granted, in this case, it is not an American who blaming the Church, as John Cornwell is a Brit. But his conclusions are eagerly taken up by many Americans. Anti-Catholics point the finger at Concordat with Nazi Germany, yet the United States allied itself with Stalin, a genocidal maniac who measures up to Hitler. They point to the silence and inactivity of the Church, expect Pius XII to have risked his life and his flock for the sake of the Jews, yet Americans would not go overseas and fight for the Jews, and their own government only played a passive role in WWII until Pearl Harbor, at which point it was in their interest to enter the European theater of war. How often do you hear Americans criticize their own government for the things which Pius XII is accused of? I realize that there was more to it than these superficial accusations, but it is only fair that if people don't want to make superficial accusations against their own country, they shouldn't make superficial accusaitons against others.
I just think I should add that the Vatican is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Which country or organization can claim to have done more? If there are any, they are very few in number.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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