For generations, the world suspected that during the Nazi regime the Vatican was in step and sympathy with Hitler and his cohorts. Pope Pius X11 was more than a conciliator. He was a comrade-in-spirit, though not in arms, with the Third Reich in return for keeping the Catholic Church in practice and in power in Germany.
John Cornwall’s book, Hitler’s Pope, which recounts the machinations and deal-making that Pope Pius instigated and instituted during that dark period in history details the facts with precision and prowess. A Catholic and a Catholic scholar, Cornwall originally set out to do a biography of Pope Pius sanctioned by the Vatican. He was allowed to sift through the Vatican archives, originally to write a book lauding the Church’s efforts, particularly Pius, in saving Jews and other victims of the Nazis. What he ultimately discovered was far from what he had intended to write. The book is an indictment not only of Pius X11, but also of the Vatican, which he claims aided and abetted the Nazis in order to maintain the Vatican’s influence over the Catholic Church.
Currently the debate rages over the determination of Pope Benedict XV1 to elevate Pius to sainthood. Those who are critical of the beautification of Pius X11, believe that the Vatican’s failure to open up its archives to prove that Pius made a concrete effort to help the Jews and other victims of the Nazis are numerous. Those who support the Vatican’s intention, the defenders of Pius–who was the Vatican secretary of state in the 1930s, say that his reticence to speak out against Nazi atrocities was sound diplomacy, and that speaking out more directly against the Nazis would have “made things worse.”
Frankly, how much worse could the Pope have made things worse back then if he had tried to dissuade the Nazis from murdering millions of Jews, when they were already being herded into cattle cars and shipped to death camps? The debate could be easily solved if the Vatican would agree to open its archives of that period to prove that either Pope Pius X11 was in cahoots with the Nazis or to exonerate him from years of accusations and suspicion. As it is, information found in national archives in the United States demonstrates that the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustasche transferred gold into Vatican coffers in exchange for the escape of several high-ranking Nazi war criminals. Other documentation found in the United States archives shows that many assets taken from Jews ended up in Vatican bank vaults. As of now, the Vatican has refused to open its Archives.
One of the most ludicrous statements in support of the beautification of Pius X11 was issued recently by the Vatican. “Sainthood,” a Vatican spokesman said, “is based on the Pope’s Christian life and not his historical record.”
Following that twisted logic, the ASPCA should give Hitler a medal for his kindness toward animals. After all, he adored his dog, Blondie, and even spared her the fate of being homeless and hungry when he killed himself and his mistress, Eva Braun, in his bunker. He poisoned Blondie. Or, perhaps the American Society for Inventors should award Osama bin Laden a special prize for his innovative use of box cutters to down multiple airplanes and kill thousands of people.
One of the conditions for sainthood in the Catholic Church is if the candidate has witnessed a miracle. On that basis, Pope Pius X11 qualifies. The miracle he witnessed was to have been elected Pope despite the knowledge of his colleagues (as they had viewed the Vatican archive) that he was a virulent anti-Semite and a Nazi collaborator.