Pope Pius XII: Architect For Peace, Margherita Marchione (Gracewing, 2000, 330pp, plus notes and index, RRP $39.95. Available from AD Books)
Perhaps no twentieth century Pope has aroused so much debate as Pius XII, the Pope who reigned during the Second War War and its concomitant atrocities. The bulk of the debate centres upon Pius XII's supposed silence in the wake of the Holocaust. His critics accuse Pius of maintaining silence and doing nothing while six million Jews were massacred by the Nazis.
This understanding has become "the received wisdom", although it gained currency only after Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy was produced in 1963. Hitherto, Pius was lauded by Jewish and other leaders for his role in saving lives, exemplified by the numerous tributes published at the time of Pius's death in 1958, a mere five years before the release of The Deputy.
Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace is one of the growing number of works written in defence of Pius's wartime record, the other major one being by Pierre Blet SJ. The author, Margherita Marchione, is a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini, professor emerita of Italian language and literature at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and author of more than 30 books. Each of the work's sections focuses upon a particular topic, such as Prisoners of War, the Holocaust and Historical Background. Short contributions from a range of scholars, including Fr Peter Gumpel SJ and Pierre Blet SJ, are also included. The last section of the work contains an extensive selection of documents.
Many of the points made by Marchione concur with those made by Blet, particularly the axiomatic thesis that Pius XII deliberately avoided making a blatant and specific condemnation of the Nazi treatment of Jews as such a statement, rather than helping them, would have only goaded the Nazis into intensifying the Holocaust. This very scenario happened when the Dutch Bishops publicly voiced their opposition to the Nazi treatment of Jews: the Nazis retaliated by rounding up Holland's Jewish converts to Christianity, including Edith Stein. Most significant in this regard is the testimony of Sr Pasqualina Lenhert, who stated that the Pope did in fact draft a fiery denunciation of the Nazis' treatment of Jews, but he decided against issuing it in the wake of the Dutch Bishops' statement and the retaliatory actions on the part of the Nazis it provoked.
Furthermore, many Catholic bishops throughout occupied territories urged Pius XII not to make statements, lest the Nazis use these statements as an excuse to unleash further persecutions. However, when dealing with Nazi satellite states, particularly those that were governed by Catholics, Pius was more vociferous. The historical evidence strongly suggests that interventions Pius made, for example, with Admiral Horthy in the case of Hungary, were instrumental in saving lives.
Pius put his energies and Church resources into surreptitiously saving Jewish lives. Convents, monasteries and other Church buildings hid large numbers of Jews, particularly in Italy, the country that along with Denmark, saved the highest percentage of its Jewish people in WWII. Pius himself ensured that Church funds were used to help those engaged in rescuing Jews. He also "put his money where his mouth was": by the end of the war, Pius XII had exhausted his considerable aristocratic patrimony in helping others, to the point where his personal linen was ragged.
One of the more interesting observations Marchione makes throughout the work is that Pius XII is condemned in the popular mindset for his supposed silence when other organisations, such as the Red Cross, which also knew of the Nazi atrocities, did not speak out for precisely the same reasons as Pius. Marchione suggests that many of the denunciations of Pius XII are part of a broader trend by forces within a hedonistic, secularist society, to discredit the Catholic Church.
Michael Daniel teaches at a Melbourne independent college.