Yesterday, Paul O’Shea’s excellent piece of work “A Cross Too Heavy: Eugenio Pacelli” arrived on my desk. It is an excellent piece of historical work. Paul’s own historical accounts are, from what I have read thus far, very sound. Yet as an author on this subject, he does feel bound to give a personal moral judgement on Pius at the very end of the book. It is a conclusion I respect, even if I do not share it whole heartedly:
How do I judge Pope Pius XII and his role during the Holocaust? I believe the historical record shows that he was a saintly man who honestly believed he did what he could to save the Jews of Europe. But Eugenio Pacelli was not perfect; he had flaws and he made a number of tragic errors. Perhaps his greatest flaw was his inability to see beyond the theological and social reality in which he had lived all his life, to a vision of the Church that was embraced by his successor. His blindness was not that of wilful ignorance or of not wanting to know; it was the fervently held belief that the mission of the Universal Pastor of Chrsit’s Chuch, entrusted to him by Almighty God Himself, made him accountable to God for the preservation and salvation of the Catholic Church so that its mission in the world could continue. Nothing, not even the deaths of millions, could be allowed to stand between the Pope and this God-given task.
The historical record demonstrates that Pius sincerly hoped that the bishops of the local churches across Europe would act according to their consciences and rescue Jews and others threatened with danger and death. It must have pained him greatly that so little was doe. He was utterly convinced (as far as I can ascertain from the limited documentary evidence available) that his role precluded him from any direct form of condemnation of the extermination of European Jewry in the same way that he believed his role precluded him from condemnation of Soviet atrocities. I admit to seeing logic in his thinking – neutrality in action and a strict public adherance to impartiality – but I cannot accept the moral argument underpinning it. (page 328)
He acknowledges that “in the official church responses to the murder of Europe’s Jews, the Pope did not once write or speak a specific word” (page 322) and says that we have to face the fact that “Pius XII did not speak out clearly because he did not want to” (page 332). Perhaps, in light of his moral judgement on page 328 quoted above, this was not the best way to put it. Paul himself writes that “he never once counter-ordered rescue work or halted any act of resuce of Jews”(p. 322) and that “it was very unlikely that Pius XII would ever have made such a statement. I suspect he would have considered it too dangerous — not for himself, but for others” (page 323). That may not excuse Pius XII’s decision, but it does at least help us understand that his silence wasn’t because of a cold heart toward the Jewish people.
All this merely gives the background to the main point of this post, which is that sometimes the judgement of Pius XII’s failure to speak out on behalf of Jews is exacerbated by erroneous evidence. One such piece of erroneous evidence came to light today.
There was a report that circulated in many papers a few days ago about a telegram from American diplomat Harold Tittmann about a meeting he had with Pius XII. The telegram is dated “October 19, 943” – that is, three days after the October 16 “razzia” or roundup of Roman Jews. (Nb. It is estimated that 7000 of the 8000 Jews living in Rome were hidden from this raid by Catholic churches, convents and homes). The point is that Tittmann does not mention anything in his report which would indicate that Pius had any concern for the Jews who were victims of this very recent atrocity. You can read the entire telegram here – and in fact I suggest you do before you go any further with reading this post, because it will put things in perspective.
Here is the conclusion that Times Online drew concerning this “evidence” of Pius XII’s “silence”:
In another telegram a year earlier, dated October 19, 1943, Harold Tittmann, the US Ambassador to the Holy See, reported to Washington that Pius XII had appeared indifferent to the fate of more than a thousand Jews rounded up in the Rome ghetto and sent by train to Auschwitz. Instead of showing “indignation” over the deportations, Pius XII had shown more concern over reports of “communist gangs roaming in the environs of Rome”, Mr Tittmann said, an apparent reference to anti-Fascist partisans.
In fact, Tittmann did NOT report that the Pope appeared “indifferent” to the fate of Romes Jews – he himself doesn’t even mention it either! Astounding, given the fact that this event happened on October 16 and the telegram dated “October 19” says that his meeting was “today”.
Incorrect Date on Pius XII Document Explains Silence
Pope Couldn’t Be Indifferent to Raid as It Hadn’t Happened Yet
By Jesús Colina
ROME, FEB. 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Pope Pius XII was again in the news this week, as researchers presented two documents that were interpreted as putting the Pope in a negative light regarding his response to the Holocaust.
As ZENIT reported Monday, a brief document was presented as a new find dated Oct. 19, 1943. The document is a telegram from American diplomat Harold Tittmann on his meeting with the Pope.
The document does not mention the Oct. 16 raid on the Jews of Rome, wherein more than 1,000 of the city’s Jews were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz.
Given that Tittmann’s report does not mention the raid (though theoretically it had happened just three days before), and instead reports Pius XII’s concern about Communists in Rome and his desire to keep the Eternal City in peace, headlines reported the Pope’s “indifference” to the Holocaust.
However, there is a basic problem.
In a statement sent to ZENIT, Professor Ronald Rychlak of the University of Mississippi explains that Pius XII could not have expressed concern about the roundup of Roman Jews because it hadn’t happened yet. Rychlak is the author of “Hitler, the War, and the Pope.”
He explained: “The transcribed message to Washington from Harold Tittmann is dated Oct. 19, but this is a mistake. Vatican records show that the meeting between Pius and Tittmann took place on Oct. 14.
“In fact, L’Osservatore Romano of Oct. 15, 1943, reported on page one — top of the first column — that Tittmann was received by the Pope in a private audience on Oct. 14, 1943.
“Apparently a handwritten ’14’ was misread as a ’19’ when the documents were typed. The Pope did not mention the roundup of Jews because it had not yet happened!”
Rychlak noted that what the Pope did express to Tittmann was his concern “that a group of Communists would commit a violent act and this would lead to serious repercussions. Of course, he proved to be exactly correct the following spring.”
That Pius was more concerned about the Communist threat than the Nazi threat is, I think, well proven. Paul O’Shea’s book gives ample evidence on this. Nor can we deny the tragic truth that if you go looking for a public, unambiguous denouncement of the murder of the Jews by the Nazis from Pope Pius XII, you will not find it. There was not such clear public statement. I was speaking the other day to an elderly Jewish gentleman who was in the Polish resistance during the war, and he said they listened daily for such an dennouncment and it never came. We cannot deny this fact. Nor can we deny that the reason for this lack of a clear public statement is, as Paul O’Shea concludes, because Pius “did not want to” make such a statement. The reason he “did not want to” is up for debate – I am personally convinced that he did not want to because he believed the negative consequences would outweigh the benefit of silence. This, I think, was a mistake. But he did not “not want to” out of any lack of care for the fate of the Jews. And – as this example of the mis-dated telegram shows – we must be very careful about any historical “evidence” we might use as proof of any such “lack of concern” for the fate of the Jewish people on the part of Pius XII.