The idea that Pope Pius XII did little to oppose Nazi persecution of Jews is a lie perpetrated by communist sympathizers, according to a guest lecturer.
Ronald Rychlak, associate dean at the University of Mississippi School of Law, spoke on March 21 at the Lincoln Center campus. He said the communists besmirched the Pope to sow division between Jews and Catholics.
Working from the research he conducted for his book Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Our Sunday Visitor, 2000), he said that Pope Pius XII was rightly lauded in the days after World War II for his efforts to save Jews from extermination.
Many Jews, including the city of Rome’s chief rabbi, took refuge at the Vatican as the war raged, said Rychlak, who advises the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations.
In addition, Pope Pius XII passed along messages to the British on behalf of Nazi officers contemplating the overthrow of Hitler, as depicted in the 2008 film Valkyrie.
“Pinchas Lipade, the Israeli consul in Italy, said, ‘The Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives during the war than all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations put together,’” he said. “[Lipade] put the number at 850,000.”
It was only after the 1963 publication of the play The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth that questions about the Pope began to surface.
Rychlak noted that there were serious tensions between the Catholic Church and the Soviet Union, and that Hochhuth and several associates had ties to the Communist Party.
“Hochhuth said he went to Rome and got secrets from a cardinal at the Vatican, but he would never give the name of that cardinal,” he said. “I’ve been at the Vatican. I know some cardinals. None have ever given me any secrets.”
The publication of John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (Viking, 1999) has kept the story alive. Rychlak called it academic fraud for its use of mistranslations, quotes taken out of context and misrepresentations.
For example, the cover photo was misdated as 1939 instead of 1927 for the United Kingdom edition and cropped and darkened for the United States edition. The effect makes the Pope look as if he is being saluted by Nazi soldiers, which he is not.
“We see people who are misusing the history of the Holocaust to advance their agenda,” he said.
Joseph Koterski, S.J., associate professor of philosophy at Fordham and editor in chief of theInternational Philosophy Quarterly, hosted the event. He addressed the issue of suspicion as it relates to the present.
In the 2006 encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI provided a model for refuting what he called the three masters of suspicion: Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, Father Koterski said.
A key technique of discrediting others is to question their motives instead of their arguments, he said. This works because if the accused responds in too measured a tone, he may come across as unsure of himself. Respond too vigorously, though, and he comes across as if he is hiding something.
In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict responds to Marx’s contention that the Catholic Church is not sufficiently concerned with the economic plight of people by acknowledging part of Marx’s argument. But the Pope added that the church’s teaching on social justice should encompass more than just economics.
“The problem with our teaching of Catholic social tradition is that we tend to silo these matters. Some people prefer just the economics, and treat life issues as if they don’t matter as much. Some people think only of political matters and sadly, other people deal only with cultural issues,” he said.
“Part of Pope Benedict’s clear insistence has been to say we may not silo these issues; the only way we’ll teach them authentically is if we teach them together.”