Pope Pius XII acted against the Nazis, but he did so prudently. Prudence is a virtue closely allied with wisdom. It is usually best appreciated in its results rather than in its execution.
The storm of controversy The Deputy generated and continues to generate is almost certainly the largest furor ever raised by a play in the history of drama. Hochhuth himself, an instant celebrity at the age of thirtyone, added to the storm’s intensity when he came to the United States in 1964 accompanied by an unusual amount of media coverage, together with a great outpouring of emotion.
the play in 1964, The New York Times stated that its “facts may be in dispute;
the history imperfect; the indictment too severe.” The Jesuit magazine America
condemned the play as “an atrocious calumny against the memory of a good and
courageous world leader occupying the Chair of Peter during one of the great crises
of humanity.” Cardinal Francis Spellman called the play “an outrageous desecration
of the honor of a great and good man, and an affront to those who know his record
as a humanitarian, who love him and revere his memory.”
The Pope may have, at times, been restrained
(not “silent”), but he was not inactive. He was certainly prudent. In order to
be effective in assisting the Jews, he often had to act surreptitiously. Had he
been too outspoken, he most likely would have invited swift and severe retaliation
from both the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany. On January 24, 1943,
Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop instructed Germany’s ambassador to
the Holy See to advise the Pope that if he spoke out against the Third Reich,
“Germany does not lack the physical means of retaliation.” When Hochhuth was asked
in an interview whether the Pope should have protested publicly, granted that
his vocal opposition would have prompted retaliation, his answer was categorical:
“Absolutely.” Hochhuth had little affection for prudence.
Concerning the persecution of the Jews, Pope Pius XII said to Archbishop Giovanni Battista (later Pope Paul VI), “We would like to utter words of fire against such actions; and the only thing restraining us from speaking is the fear of making the plight of the victims worse.”
In The Pope and the Holocaust,
researchers John Rader and Kateryna Fedoryka provide evidence that Hitler had
targeted both Popes Pius XI and Pius XII because of their pro-humanity efforts,
which included stern repudiations of anti-Semitism. It was only too clear that
the Pope could be most helpful if he remained alive and acted covertly. It is
now well-known how nearly every Catholic convent in Europe was hiding Jews, and
that the Vatican was instrumental in forging thousands of documents, especially
in Southern France, to facilitate their emigration. The Pope was involved in the
systematic work, done by nuncios throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, of enlightening
the heads of governments in Catholic countries about the true and murderous meaning
of the word “resettlement.”
The Jewish community has not been silent about what Pope Pius XII did for his persecuted brethren. In October of 1945, the World Jewish Congress made a financial gift to the Vatican in recognition of the work the Holy See performed in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions. Dr. Israel Goldstein of the same World Jewish Congress said, on the occasion of Pope Pius XII’s death:
The Jewish community told me of their deep appreciation of the policy which had been set by the Pontiff for the Vatican during the period of the Nazi-Fascist regime to give shelter and protection to the Jews, whenever possible.
On the same occasion, Golda Meir cabled her condolences to the Vatican:
When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths.
In February of 1945, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, and his wife, Emma Majonica, were baptized into the Catholic Church. Zolli took the name “Eugenio,” Pope Pius XII’s Christian name.
Pope Pius XII acted against the Nazis, but he did so prudently. Prudence is a virtue closely allied with wisdom. It is usually best appreciated in its results rather than in its execution. For this reason, an observer may not recognize the prudence of a wise man at the moment he is acting prudently. But history offers us 20/20 hindsight. And history has shown that Pope Pius XII acted prudently. It also attests that he acted not only courageously, but also heroically.
For more information on Pope Pius XII’s role in World War II, call CUF’s Catholic hotline at (800) MY–FAITH or click here to view our FAITH FACT entitled “A Friend in Word and Deed: Pope Pius XII and the Jews.”
Donald. "Prudence." Lay Witness (July/August 2005): 14-15.
Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.
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