‘Hitler’s Pope’ a slander on Pius XII

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Photo courtesy of Associated Press

SCHOLARS believe Pope Pius XII’s letters will confirm his innocence during World War 2, with the documents set to be released by the Vatican Secret Archives in 2020 upon the order of Pope Francis.

Stressing that “the Church is not afraid of history,” Pope Francis said the papal documents would balance historical judgment over Pius XII’s pontificate over 60 years ago.

Pius XII has been the subject of criticism by historians for his alleged silence during the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler during World War 2.

The Holocaust systematically killed six million Jews, aside from the Nazi persecution that claimed the lives of millions more Soviet, Polish and Yugoslav civilians; persons with disabilities; and homosexuals.

Church historian Fr. Emil Quilatan said Pius XII, born Eugenio Pacelli, was brave and prophetic in diplomatic negotiations to save the Jews during the Nazi persecution.

“[Pius XII] did at his very best to save humanity that was threatened by persecution and extinction. It was passive because he did so much more than what would others do,” he said.

Quilatan said Pius XII, remained silent to avoid retaliation from the Nazi forces.

“We have to be careful in assessing the situation because the situation was a difficult one. He was silent but he was doing something underground in order to save as many lives as he could,” Quilatan said.

Criticisms on Pius XII’s supposed inaction during the Holocaust were made more popular by John Cornwell’s now-debunked book titled “Hitler’s Pope.”

In its 2008 edition, Cornwell revised his opinion stating that “in the light of new evidence… [t]he circumstances and conflicting pressures were sufficiently complex to allow Pacelli (Pius XII) a measure of benefit of the doubt.”

Echoing Quilatan, Augusto de Viana, chairman of the UST Department of History, said Pius XII was instrumental in saving around 850,000 Jews who were fleeing from the Nazi persecution, even to the point that “the Vatican’s resources were already strained.”

De Viana said diplomatic negotiations with the Nazis were a practical move to secretly provide a haven for the Jews.

“The Vatican was a neutral country. Even Hitler respected the neutrality [kaya] hindi sila pinasok… [P]ope Pius was playing on a tightrope, cooperating with the Nazis and at the same time having secret relations with the allies,” he explained.

Pius XII “remained silent” to prevent the Axis forces from invading the Vatican, de Viana said.  

“[Pius XII] was also careful not to piss off the Nazis or else they will violate the neutrality of the Vatican. He was not condoning but he was also concerned about maintaining the integrity of the Church,” he added.

Quilatan said researchers must exercise prudence and possess the right motives in examining Pius XII’s documents.

“The documents are already available. The problem is prejudice. Once prejudice is still maintained in these researchers, they will always make a wrong conclusion,” he said.

Pius XII served as pontiff from 1939 to 1958.

His image as a passive pope was first propagated by Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” in 1963. It portrayed Pius XII as an indifferent and ruthless cynic who was only interested in protecting the Vatican’s interests.

Pope Benedict XVI opened Pius XIl’s cause for beatification in 2009.

The private letters of Pius XII will be open to researchers in the Vatican Secret Archives on March 2, 2020.

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