Hitler’s Pope at it again?

A new piece of evidence, or alleged evidence, has surfaced in the campaign to paint Pope Pius XII as a willing accomplice of the Nazis. From the story, in the New York Times, this new evidence is described thusly:

The one-page, typewritten directive, dated Oct. 23, 1946, was discovered in a French church archive outside Paris and made available to The New York Times on the condition that the source would not be disclosed. It is a list of instructions for French authorities on how to deal with demands from Jewish officials who want to reclaim Jewish children.

There is evidence alluded to in the story that, while it is unsigned, it had the (at least) tacit approval of the Pope, Pius XII at the time. All of this would be unexceptional, except that it involves a battle now raging for and against the pending beatification of said Pius.

The essence of the argument against the church, assuming that the document is real, is that French church authorities did not return some Jewish children to their families after the war. The overall context is that the church in France saved many Jewish children from the Holocaust, quite a few were baptized, many others had lost their parents in the Holocaust. Some unbaptized children were not reunited with their families.

“Hitler’s Pope” is the appelation used by those who believe that the church should have done much, much, more to protest the Holocaust and protect the Jews of Europe. See, especially, this diatribe in book form by John Cornwell, “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII”. The church at this time makes an easy target, at least from the comfort of the 21st century America.

My opinion is that the church proved itself unworthy of the name church of Christ by what it failed to do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer proved that point, and it’s nothing to do with being Reformed, Lutheran, or Catholic. It’s to do with being Christian. That, however, does not make Pius XII “Hitler’s Pope.” It makes him, just as I am, and you are, fallen creatures; imperfect, trying to do good and coming up short.

This new revelation might be genuine; it might not. What I would ask those harsh critics of the Catholic Church to reflect on is this: would those children have been better off had they not been baptized and saved from the Nazis? And, of those who were not baptized but were not released to their families, is it perhaps the case that many, if not most of those who had lost their immediate families, might have been better off staying where they were until they had reached adulthood?

This is not to exonerate the church for its failures. But we owe it to our fellow Christians to at least consider the whole picture before we so readily condemn them.

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