During a recent lecture, a visiting professor at Fordham College at Rose Hill offered a new perspective on the man who is sometimes derided as “Hitler’s Pope.”
Pope Pius XII wanted to see Hitler defeated, and saw the United States as the only hope for accomplishing that, according to Gerald Fogarty, S.J., a visiting professor at Fordham who delivered the annual Loyola Chair Lecture on Sept. 23.
Father Fogarty delivered a wide-ranging presentation on the international situation that guided the actions of church officials including Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would become Pope Pius XII in 1939.
In the book he is writing on U.S.-Vatican relations, Father Fogarty will address some criticisms of Pius XII, who is seen in some circles as indifferent to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust.
His new book won’t paint a definitive portrait of Pius XII, Father Fogarty said. It will paint him in shades of gray. But one aspect is certain, Father Fogarty said: “It’s very clear he wanted the defeat of Hitler.”
Pius XII had a pro-American tilt that guided many of his actions, such as declining to speak out against the Soviet Union, which was allied with the United States in World War II.
At the time, the church was overcoming its aversion to “Americanism,” a term encompassing the church-state separation and religious pluralism of American society.
Pacelli was interested in building more ties between the Vatican and the United States because the church was under siege in other countries including Spain, Mexico and Germany. It was only thriving in America.
In this period, Father Fogarty said, “You find the Vatican starting to look at the United States as the one thing that’s going to save them.”
“He saw the United States as the only hope for defeating Hitler,” he said, referring to Pius XII.
When Pius XII spoke out in 1942 against the extermination of peoples because of their race or nationality, he avoided specific mention of the Jews because that’s how popes typically speak, he said. They enunciate broad principles without getting particular.
“They make a general statement that holds up in any similar circumstances,” he said.
Everyone knew what Pius XII meant, the same way everyone knew what Pope John XXIII meant when he spoke out in 1962 against a resort to arms in international conflicts, Father Fogarty said.
The pope never mentioned any particular country, but his statement was clearly prompted by the Cuban Missile Crisis, he said.
Father Fogarty, a 1964 graduate of Fordham, is William R. Kenan Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He has joined Fordham for the 2008-2009 academic year as Loyola Professor in the Department of History.
In researching his new book, Father Fogarty recently hit a jackpot of information on this time period. In August, at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., he uncovered 354 boxes of correspondence between James Clement Dunn, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, and William Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services.
Father Fogarty expects it to shed new light on the debate over Pius XII.
“I knew this material existed in 2000, but I couldn’t get any clue as to where it was,” he said.