The idea that Pope Pius XII did little to oppose Nazi persecution of Jews is a lie perpetrated by communist sympathizers, according to a University of Mississippi law professor.
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 told an audience in the 12th-Floor Lounge 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 around it, said Rychlak, who is an adviser to 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 this was also a time of serious tension between the Catholic Church and the Soviet Union, and that Hochhuth and many of his associates had ties to the Communist Party.
“Hochhuth said he went to Rome and got secrets from a cardinal at the Vatican. He would never give the name of the cardinal at the Vatican,” 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. “They’re making stuff up about—of all things—the Holocaust. I just think it’s outrageous.”
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 termed 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 actual 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 overcompensating and hiding something.
In Deus Caritas Est, Father Koterski noted that the 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 he added that the church’s teaching on social justice encompass more than just economics.
“The problem with most of our teaching of the Catholic social tradition is that we tend to silo these matters. So you get some people who prefer just the economics, and treat life issues as if they didn’t matter as much. Similarly, you sometimes find people who think only of political matters and changes in the political agenda. And, sadly, you find people who deal only with cultural issues,” he said.
“Part of Pope Benedict’s clear insistence, both here and in Caritas In Veritate, has been to say we may not silo these issues; the only way we’ll teach them authentically is if we teach them together.”
“Suspicion and Conspiracy: Defending the Reputation of Noble Individuals” was sponsored by Fordham, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and the Path to Peace Foundation. His Excellency, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, introduced the speakers.