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"Hitler's Pope" by John Cornwell

  • Category(s): Modern Popes
  • Created on : 10 March 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


John Cornwell has cast light upon a subject shrouded with mystery to this day: namely why did Pius XII not condemn Hitler’s anti-Semitic regime more firmly during his own Papal reign?

1. Opening Words

This work of serious biography by a highly esteemed writer and journalist, is entitled with these words signifying this Second World War Pope and pre-war Vatican Diplomat in Germany of such high rank, was somehow in Hitler’s pocket. Of one thing we can be sure, this Pius XII was not ever in the pay of the Nazis and Fascists. Surely not even Cornwell argues that Hitler “controlled” Pacelli before his papacy and during it – life is just not like that, and certainly not with the raging totalitarianism of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Catholicism then and now stands for sorrow for all our sins and the Nazis were a party crying out loud for this process, but would never go down on bended knee. They were fanatics of the worst kind and unbridled atheists. Such men and women were not an attractive proposition to convert to Catholicism in any era and certainly not this one where they held such terrible sway. Pacelli knew perfectly well the only way for the Nazis was death in the ruins of Berlin and he was correct. They had to be subjugated and erased – they had no worth. They were evil personified he believed in his heart and he saw their downfall come about.

2. Pius XI, Pius XII, The Pre-War Years And The War

This history is well known and Cornwell no doubt goes properly through the story. There is no doubt Pius XI was against Fascism and Pacelli was his right hand man in the 1930’s. For the contribution of R.A. Lamb Esq. in my properly prepared essay based on his synopsis for the Vatican and the Dictators (never published as a book), see the essay no. 106 issued by Temon Estate Ltd. Also see R.M. Lamb’s essay on Pius XII no. 92 again released by Temon Estate Ltd. Finally, R.A. Lamb’s book: Italy the Brutal Story – (Chapter 3) (Italian Jews under the Nazis) (John Murray 1993) brings into focus this passage of history and the outcome is not without good reflection upon this wartime Pope. I will not repeat the analysis in those works.

This period has been trawled over more than several times by writers and historians. Does Cornwell mistakenly link the collapse of the anti-Nazi opposition and this premature death to Pacelli’s pre-war diplomacy? This Vatican Diplomat did not rule Germany the Nazis did from the 1933 elections. There is no point banging your head against a brick wall. Diplomacy must be conducted with civility and protocol, or the dignity of international relations and States is lost. The Vatican was a City State representing Catholicism. Pacelli did perform this role of representing the Papacy in 1930’s Nazi Germany in a very seemly and modest manner, and obtained a much appreciated breathing space for Roman Catholic Germans to 1939. What could he have done for the Jews in the 1930’s as the appalling debacle began to unroll? Again there are no prizes here for being right, and short of an Anglo-American onslaught which was not then on the cards, the Nazis had a free run to dig their own graves. The earthly tomb for the Jews, where their “light” would never go out, would be constructed simultaneously by their persecutors.

3. The Post-War Period

Cornwell concentrates upon certain features of interest to myself:

The silence of Pius XII in the 1945-1958 period of his Papacy regarding his wartime conduct and pre-war policies both to Nazi Germany.
Maria Goretti – Saint of Chastity


Taking the last first, Goretti is an example of a child aged 11 who was murdered in 1902 in Italy. As the account goes she resisted her sexual assailant, and he repeatedly stabbed her in his rage. Thus, her defence to this indecent assault lead to her unlawful killing. Yes it is unwise to resist such marauders as is widely known then and now. Even the street robber should be given what he wants within reason. The result of not acceding to the robber’s demands is likely to be serious injury or death – it is not worth the risk to refuse to placate these villains. Clearly Maria was an exceptionally brave girl and valued her chastity above all else, even her own life. She was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and she would have known Our Lady’s prayers by heart. She was canonised on 24th June 1950 by Pius XII. Somehow Cornwell writes at page 346 in his book, that this Pope’s support for Goretti and her canonisation was not corroborated by his reluctance to oppose the extermination of the Jews. This is simply a non sequitur and I pray in aid the literary works of R.M. Lamb Esq. and R.A. Lamb Esq. referred to in paragraph (2.) herein. Goretti’s heroic conduct should never be used to show inconsistency by Pius XII in his wartime and pre-war policies. He had his position to defend and she had hers. Pius XII modelled his Papacy on Goretti and Our Lady.


Next his post-war silence: Pius XII was a deeply religious Roman Catholic Bishop of Rome from 1945-1959 and during the war. Such Bishops must examine their consciences in a very searching way. Had he committed serious sin from 1933 to 1945 in those very troubled years? No, he had held the Catholic Church and her Papacy together, despite great suffering Worldwide. This was not a local difficulty, but a massive tyrannical hegemony that was only defeated by the Anglo-American alliance with the vital Soviet push into Germany. Those Soviets were no friends of Pius as he well knew. He dare not meddle and he had the foresight to let providence bring the allies of the West and East together to defeat this dreadful Nazi menace. He was Vicar of Christ and no Prime Minister of Britain or President of the USA. He acted with scrupulous delicacy and modesty and was prepared to suffer the scourging of historians. What mattered to him was the priesthood – he was the Holy Father and no politician. He could so easily have baited the bear. Some priests do take risks e.g. John Fisher, Thomas à Becket and Romero. Maybe it has become fashionable to do so. Even Priests move with the times. There was no one way of behaving in the Nazi hurricane and storm. Pacelli chose his course. Who has the last word? Cornwell makes out a compelling case in this book for his accusation that Pius XII did not do enough to oppose Hitler. I will concede that. There were no winners in WWII – too many civilians died in Europe, Japan and Russia. Pacelli did not please his conscience. He is inscrutable to this day, but he did pronounce the Glorious Assumption of Mary on 1st November 1950 and canonise Maria Goretti in the same year. By those two acts he defined his Papacy and any failings over the Nazis were put right. Thank you John Cornwell for starting the debate. Our Lady most gracious advocate will finish it.