Anti-semitism in the Roman Catholic Church
The Church's role in the Nazi Holocaust
Involvement in the Nazi Holocaust:
The precise roles that the Roman Catholic Church played during the
Nazi Holocaust is not known in depth. In particular activities by Pope Pius XII
clear. As Eugenio Pacelli (1876 - 1958), he was the Vatican's envoy to Germany
in the 1920's. As the Vatican's secretary of state, he negotiated a
Concordat with Germany in the 1930s. This granted Roman Catholics freedom of
worship. However, the Church agreed to become much less politically active.
He became pope in 1939 at the start of World War II in Europe.
The pope's policy of neutrality may have been the least worse course. If
he were to attack Hitler or his policies directly, then the Nazis might have
retaliated. "...the Archbishop of Utrecht in July 1942 protested in a
pastoral letter against the Jewish persecutions in Holland. Immediately the
Nazis rounded up as many Jews and Catholic non-Aryans as possible and
deported them to death camps..." 1
Some people have a distorted view of Pope Pius XII because of Rolf
Hochhuth's 1963 play, "The Deputy" in which the Pope was portrayed as
coldly indifferent to the Jews.
There are a few facts that are generally accepted:
||The phrase "righteous among nations" is a term which refers to non-Jews who helped saved Jews from the
Nazis. It could be argued that Pius XII would certainly qualify for this
honor, because he saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from death. One
account estimates 750,000 lives saved. 2 Pinchas E.
Lapide estimated 860,000. 3
||Pius XII did publicly condemn racist oppression -- in his wartime
Christmas messages and at other times. However, the language that he used
was so vague that it did not clearly refer to Nazi atrocities.
||Some Jewish groups, asked the Pope to remain neutral during the war so
that he would be more helpful diplomatically.
||The church did directly condemn the Nazi policy of murdering mentally
and physically disabled Germans in the 1930's. The Nazi's discontinued the
program for a while.
||The Vatican hid 477 Jews during the war. Another 4,238 were hidden in
church monasteries and convents. 4
||The pope spoke to a few select officials in private, encouraging them
to help Jewish victims. 4
||In 1942, Pope Pius XII was preparing a statement condemning Nazi
persecution of Jews. But he decided to not make it public because of
events in the Netherlands. As noted above, Dutch bishops had protested
against the exportation of Dutch Jews, with disastrous consequences.
||"In appreciation of what Pius did for the Jews; the World Jewish
Congress made a large cash gift to the Vatican in 1945; in the same year,
Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem sent a 'special blessing' to the Pope 'for his
lifesaving efforts on behalf of the Jews during the Nazi occupation of
Italy'; and when Pius died in 1958, Israel's Foreign Minister Golda Meir
gave a him moving eulogy at the United Nations for the same reason."
||Although informed of the massive Nazi attacks of synagogues and Jewish
business in on Kristallnacht 1938-NOV, Pope Pius XII issued no
||Although informed during 1940 to 1943 of Nazi atrocities in at least
Austria, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, and the Ukraine, (including
deportations to death camps) he made no public comments. 4
||Pope Pius XII "...never explicitly spoke out against Hitler."
Actually, this is in error. He did condemn Hitler in a speech to the
College of Cardinals, one month after the war ended. 2
||"He refused to join a resolution of the Allies condemning the Nazi
||"He never excommunicated any Nazi," 7
although he did excommunicate some German Catholics who supported cremation
as an alternative to burial.
||"He never declared it a sin for Catholics to participate in the
||In 1941 when asked about proposed anti-Jewish laws in Vichy France,
Pius XII answered that the church condemned racism, but did not repudiate
every rule against the Jews. 4
Recent studies of the Vatican's role during World War II:
In late 1999, the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the
Jews established an international panel, composed of three Jewish and
three Christian scholars from the U.S., Canada and Israel. They were given
the task of trying to evaluate role of Pope Pius XII and the rest of the
Vatican during the Holocaust. The panel was able to search 11 published
volumes of wartime Vatican documents. They found that the Vatican had
received reports of Nazi atrocities as early as 1941-JAN. However, "the pope's responses to reports of
atrocities were missing from the sources they examined." 6
In 2000-OCT, the panel issued a preliminary report, "The Vatican and
the Holocaust," asking 47 questions which can only be answered by
consulting the unpublished Vatican files from the World War II era. They
unanimously asked for access to the records. In 2001-JUN, the Vatican
Cardinal Walter Kasper wrote "in a letter to the group that they would be welcome to
speak with the scholar who is heading the campaign for the beatification
of Pius, but that post-1923 Vatican archives were not available for
'technical reasons.' " It seems that the Vatican archives are
only catalogued up to 1923. Only two staff members are actively involved in
the activity. The panel has decided to temporarily abandon their work,
without issuing a final report.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem,
said: "We're very disappointed ... but I can't say I'm surprised...There
is no transparency in the Vatican and as a result we don't know the answers
to a lot of serious questions. [Vatican knowledge about the Holocaust] was one of the most important
outstanding questions that has not been clarified by historians."
Rev. Peter Gumpel, is a German Jesuit who is assembling documentation to
support the expected beatification of Pope Pius XII. On 2001-AUG-7, he
issued a statement accusing some of the Jewish historians on the Holocaust
Commission of "clearly incorrect behavior," having helped mount a "slanderous
campaign" against the Roman Catholic Church. 7 He
said that he had met with the group and had answered some of their
questions, and offered to answer the rest at a later time. He wrote that "some
Jewish members in the group had systematically affirmed that they never
received answers to their questions." He accused them of having "publicly
spread the suspicion" that the Vatican was trying to hide documents "that
in their judgment could be compromising." There may be a
misunderstanding between Gumpel and the Commission. Expert historians
require documentary support, not just the opinion of one individual. So,
answers by Rev. Gumpel would be insufficient without hard evidence to back
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust," at:
Haroon Siddiqui, "Vatican's role in the Holocaust," Toronto
Star, Toronto, ON. 2001-JUL-26.
Pinchas E. Lapide, "Three Popes and the Jews," Hawthorn Books
(1967). Cited in Ref. 9 below.
Shira Schoenberg, "Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust," at:
"Pope Pius XII and the Nazis," at:
Julie Stahl, "Scholars Suspend Research Into Vatican's Holocaust
Role," CNSNews.com, at:
R.L. Simpson, "Vatican charges it is target of a 'slanderous campaign'
in connection with Pope Pius XII." Associated Press, 2001-AUG-7, at:
http://www.charlotte.com/topnews/pub/vatican.htm (This is probably a
Copyright © 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-JUL-25
Latest update: 2008-FEB-06
Author: B.A. Robinson