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Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust

F.G. Stapleton seeks to understand why the Pontiff of 1939-58 has been called ‘Hitler’s Pope’.

In his introduction to Nazareno Padellaro’s biography of Pius XII (formerly Eugenio Pacelli) Daniel Rops places this Pope in the pantheon of great pontiffs, next to Innocent III, Gregory VII, Pius IX and Leo XIII. In summarising his spiritual uniqueness in having challenged both Nazi racialism and Stalinist materialism, he comments that Pius was ‘a beacon amidst the wilderness of the earth, a signal of hope, an earnest of better things to come’.

When Pius died in 1958, few would have challenged this appraisal. For Catholics and many non-Catholics alike, this gaunt, aesthetic, devout, intellectual man, immaculately clothed in white cassock, zuchetto and cross-emblazoned red papal slippers, was the very personification of what a Pope should be. He had raised Pope Pius X (1903-1914) to the Sainthood and it seemed only a matter of time before he too would swiftly pass through the process of canonisation. Yet in 1999, John Cornwell published a new biography of Pius XII. In a highly critical text, he wrote that

The parable of the good Shepherd in the Gospels tells of the pastor who so loves each of his sheep that he will do all, risk all, go to any pains to save one member of his flock that is lost and in danger. To his everlasting shame, and the shame of the Catholic Church, Pacelli disdained to recognise the Jews of Rome as members of his Roman flock. 

In fact to Cornwell, Pius XII was ‘Hitler’s Pope’.

How can such enormous differences in historical assessment be explained? 

The Historiographical Division

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