Hitler’s Pope: The Urban Legend

Q. I have heard that Pope Pius XII was in league with Hitler during World War II. What happens to papal infallibility in this case?

A. First of all, as surprising as it may seem NOTHING happens to papal infallibilty for two reasons.

(1) Papal infallibility refers only to the Doctrine that the Holy Spirit protects the Catholic Church from error by preventing the Pope from TEACHING error about FAITH AND MORALS to the WHOLE CHIURCH. The Doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope is all about protecting the Church’s Teaching NOT Behavior of the pope.

(2) Pope Pius XII was NOT in leage with Hitler. That is a scurrilous lie. We know there have certainly been wicked popes in the history of the Catholic Church. But the Holy Spirit protected His Church from error by preventing them from teaching heresy. Popes are NOT ordained to sinlessness. The holiness of a man has not always been the reason for election to the throne of Peter.

So the Doctrine of Infallibility is not touched because Pope Pius XII never taught heresy to the whole Church. And Pope Pius XII was one of the Heros of the Holocaust.

Yes, Hitler was baptized Catholic but he was apostate. He had no “in” with the pope.

Pope Pius, in his position as Secretary of State for the Vatican before his election as pope, DID have diplomatic relations with the Reich. THAT WAS PART OF HIS JOB. We would never accuse the American Ambassador to Germany of “being in league with Hitler” simply because he had diplomatic relations with Germany. That is ridiculous. Besides Pius was a determined enemy of the Reich as was his pope, Pius XI.

The following is excerpted from Elizabeth Altham’s essay:

Catholic Heroes of the Holocaust

Eva Fogelman interviewed more than three hundred rescuers, and checked their stories with the Jews they saved and with official records. She wanted to understand what motivated people to risk their lives to help others. She concluded that in many cases the critical motive was religious faith: the conviction that Christ would want them to do this.


But what of the official Church? In the past year there has been a fresh irruption of stories about the alleged inaction of the hierarchy, and especially the “silence” of Pope Pius XII, stories worse in some ways even than Rolf Hochhuth’s scurrilous 1963 play, “The Deputy.” Even The New Yorker, in its April 7, 1997 edition, printed an article that asserted Pius and the hierarchy turned their backs on the Jews; and journals such as The Catholic Times and The National Catholic Register (owned by the Legionaries of Christ) in reporting the progress of a document on the Holocaust being prepared by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, treat the question as open.

Probably the most systematic and comprehensive study of the Pope’s and the hierarchy’s handling of the Holocaust is Pinchas Lapide’s 1967 book, Three Popes and the Jews. Lapide, an Israeli diplomat, was a member of the Palestinian Brigade that found many interned Jews in Italy at the end of World War II. After exhaustive research, Lapide concluded that at least 700,000 Jews, and more likely 860,000, owed their lives directly to the Church; he also concluded that Pius simply could not have done more than he did. The suggestion that Pius ought to have spoken more forcefully he treats with near derision; he quotes many Jewish leaders, many of them rescued by Catholics, to the effect that more forceful speeches would certainly not have caused the Nazis to moderate the persecutions, and would most probably have induced them to intensify them.

Not that the Pope was silent. As early as April 1935, as Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli addressed 250,000 pilgrims at Lourdes: “These [Nazi] ideologues are in fact only miserable plagiarizers who dress up ancient error in new tinsel. It matters little whether they rally round the flag of the social revolution…or are possessed by the superstition of race and blood.” He was responsible for the final wording of Pius XI’s March 1937 encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge (“With burning sorrow”), and made it more strongly antiracist. The encyclical, the first ever written in German, was read in all German churches on Palm Sunday; the Nazi Foreign Office characterized it as “a call to battle…as it calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the Reich.”

In 1938 Italy passed its first anti-Jewish laws. Pius XI condemned them. He took action, as well. In January 1939 he asked the ambassadors to the Vatican to procure entry visas to their countries for German and Italian Jews. He also called a German bishop to Rome to plan a resettlement project in Sao Paulo. Presumably his Secretary of State was involved in these initiatives (General Ludendorf wrote: “Pacelli was the live spirit which stood behind all the anti-German activities of Rome’s policy“; but he would not be Secretary of State much longer. Pius XI died in February.

Cardinal Pacelli was elected as Pius XII in March. As one of the standard first steps in the persecution, Jews were now banned from the learned professions. The new Pope invited many to the Vatican and offered to help them to emigrate; many accepted, and Pius intervened with the diplomats of other countries to obtain entry visas for them.

Italy declared war on France on June 10, 1940. The Pope was determined to keep the Vatican neutral, and to make it a refuge. He brought the diplomats of nations at war with the Axis into the Papal Hospice of Santa Marta, close to the Holy Office and the German College. He assigned the Holy Office to develop its contacts throughout Europe into a chain of agents who would deal with intelligence, prisoners of war and refugees. One of the most fascinating rescuers of the war, Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, Primo Notario of the Holy Office, thus became involved early on in the Vatican’s information-gathering and humanitarian activities—informally, also, as he lived in the German College, next door to the diplomats’ new quarters.

Also during June, some 500 Jews left Bratislava on a small boat bound for Palestine. Four months later the boat tried to enter the harbor at Istanbul and was denied permission. An Italian patrol boat picked up the passengers and took them to a prison camp on Rhodes. Warned that they were to be handed over to the Germans, these Jews sent one of their number to Rome, where he obtained an audience with the Pope. Pius intervened with the Italian government and all 500 were interned in southern Calabria, where they survived the war.

Pinchas Lapide reports arriving at Ferramonti-Tarsia to find 3,200 Jews, mostly refugees from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. “They had been not only saved by papal intervention but also fed, clad and looked after at Vatican expense by two papal emissaries who set up a kosher kitchen, organized a school for the children….”4

But do the Pope’s efforts qualify him as a rescuer, as someone who risked his life to save Jews? In 1940 Martin Bormann prepared “Operation Pontiff” on Hitler’s instructions. Pius was to be imprisoned in a monastery on the Wartburg. Lapide thinks it probable that Pius knew of the plan. If so, it did not deter him. As the Nazi persecution of the Jews intensified, and as it spread to the countries occupied by German forces, so did Vatican efforts at rescue and shelter. And Pius instructed the European hierarchy to follow his lead. “There is no doubt,” says Leon Poliakov, a Jewish historian of the Holocaust, “that secret instructions went out from the Vatican urging the national churches to intervene in favor of the Jews by every possible means.”

-Elizabeth Altham: Catholic Heroes of the Holocaust;http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/heroes.htm

-Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p.101.

-Pinchas Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1967), p.110


One Response

  1. Throne of Peter Is a Catholic tradition.
    The latest Pope made a big blunder. He later came back after conversing with Bishops or other Catholics. He replied that the statement he made referred to something in the past; which everyone in the world recognized it was a coverup. The Bible says “God keep a watch over my mouth”. Be slow to speak.

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