Pio XII

Pope Pius XIIOne of the most difficult subjects for any Christian, or any Jew for that matter, is the role of the Roman Catholic Church during the Holocaust. After the deed was done, after six million were killed, one may find a full spectrum of belief as to what the Church, and the pope during that time, Pius XII, did, and did not do.

Nothing brings out the apologists for the Church so much as a new, comprehensive study, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, written by a survivor, Saul Friedlander. Among other things in this work, Pope Pio XII comes in for some rough treatment in the form of truth-telling.

Unfortunately, this ground has been trod before, by some with anti-Catholic agendas. As contrasted with truly objective historians, who seem to be rara avis. So it’s difficult for the amateur to know with much certitude when agendas are being spun, as against when the news just simply isn’t good.

I’m not a Pius XII basher; for one thing, I can’t imagine the stresses this man must have been under as the wartime pope. On the other hand, I do know that Christ’s vicar should have, and could have, done much, much more to place the Roman Church on the side of human rights. But did not.

One may turn to Catholic sources to get extraordinary apologia of that for which there is no excuse. A case in point is the lengthy critique of Mr. Friedlander’s work at First Things.

Reading this defense of the indefensible, one may learn, yet again, how Pius made speeches that angered the Germans, how he personally was a warm and lovable sort, how he helped save the Jews of Rome. But here’s the bottom line: the Church did not put its full weight and majesty against the Germans in their Final Solution.

The Church retained its regal palaces and billions of dollars in property and fine, jeweled vestments. The Church had its heroes; priests who defied the Germans and who died as martyrs. Jesus Christ would have expected no less, than that those who claim to be His intermediaries on Earth act as He did, and sacrifice so that our brothers and sisters might live.

As for what the self-annointed “Christ’s Vicar” might have done but did not? Excommunicate all Catholics who participated in the Final Solution. Withdraw any and all papal sanction given to any part of the German or other national Catholic churches whose officials did anything less than join the resistance. Provide all support possible to the Allies, including espionage.

Just a few examples of what the Pope did not do, except in the most limited (and safe from from reprisal by the Germans) fashion. There is one example, in particular, that stands to damn Pope Pius XII by way of contrast: Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer did what any Christian must do: stand up for the Jews, from whom came salvation in the form of Jesus Christ. Pius, put in its most simple terms, did not.

God will deal (has dealt?) with Pope Pius XII, and it is well beyond my reach to claim that I know that he’s in hell or in heaven. But know this: As a Jew, I know the Roman Church pretty much sat on its wealth and did not use its very real power to save my people. For this I will be very, very skeptical of claims to the contrary. So far, they ring hollow, sort of like a criminal who pleads “guilty with an explanation.”

This is shameful for an organization that claims to be Christ’s body in this world.

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