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Anti-semitism in the Roman Catholic Church

The Church's role in the Nazi Holocaust

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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 are not 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:

Positive items:

bulletThe 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
bulletPius 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.
bulletSome Jewish groups, asked the Pope to remain neutral during the war so that he would be more helpful diplomatically.
bulletThe 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.
bulletThe Vatican hid 477 Jews during the war. Another 4,238 were hidden in church monasteries and convents. 4
bulletThe pope spoke to a few select officials in private, encouraging them to help Jewish victims. 4
bulletIn 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.
bullet"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." 5

Negative items:

bulletAlthough informed of the massive Nazi attacks of synagogues and Jewish business in on Kristallnacht 1938-NOV, Pope Pius XII issued no public criticism.
bulletAlthough 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
bulletPope 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
bullet"He refused to join a resolution of the Allies condemning the Nazi crimes." 2
bullet"He never excommunicated any Nazi," 7 although he did excommunicate some German Catholics who supported cremation as an alternative to burial.
bullet"He never declared it a sin for Catholics to participate in the slaughter." 2
bulletIn 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

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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 refused. 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." 6

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 them up.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust," at: http://users.binary.net/polycarp/piusxii.html
  2. Haroon Siddiqui, "Vatican's role in the Holocaust," Toronto Star, Toronto, ON. 2001-JUL-26.
  3. Pinchas E. Lapide, "Three Popes and the Jews," Hawthorn Books (1967). Cited in Ref. 9 below.
  4. Shira Schoenberg, "Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust," at:
  5. "Pope Pius XII and the Nazis," at: http://members.nbci.com/ottaw0/popepiusstart.html
  6. Julie Stahl, "Scholars Suspend Research Into Vatican's Holocaust Role," CNSNews.com, at: http://news.crosswalk.com/partner/
  7. 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 temporary posting).

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Copyright © 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-25
Latest update: 2008-FEB-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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