history · science

Kertzer’s New Book on Pius XII and Hitler

The Atlantic features a damning excerpt from David I. Kertzer’s forthcoming book on Pope Pius XII and his negotiations with Hitler.

‘Pius XII and Adolf Hitler had no affection for each other. Yet each man had his own reasons for initiating these talks. The pope placed the highest priority on reaching a deal with the Nazi regime to end the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church in the Third Reich and in the lands that it conquered. For his part, Hitler saw an opportunity to end the papal criticism that had become such an irritant under the previous pope. As Prince von Hessen had told the pope, Hitler saw only two potential impediments to reaching an understanding: “the racial question” and the involvement of Catholic clergy in German politics. Priests and bishops should not be permitted to utter any criticism of Nazi policies.

‘There is no indication that the pope ever brought up the Nazis’ campaign against Europe’s Jews as an issue. (Nor, for that matter, was the pope then expressing any opposition to Mussolini’s own “racial laws” as long as they affected only Italy’s Jews.) As for Hitler’s second concern, the pope repeatedly denied that the Catholic clergy was involved in the political realm. If the pope in fact thought it proper for the Catholic clergy to criticize any of the Nazi regime’s policies other than those that directly affected the Church, he did not insist on the matter.

‘Pius XII had other priorities. As the head of a large international organization, his overriding aim in negotiations with Hitler’s emissary was protecting the institutional resources and prerogatives of the Roman Catholic Church in the Third Reich. If the only goal was to protect the welfare of the institutional Church, his efforts could well be judged a success. But for those who see the papacy as a position of great moral leadership, the revelations of Pius XII’s secret negotiations with Hitler must come as a sharp disappointment. As the war years wore on, in all their horror, Pius XII came under great pressure to denounce Hitler’s regime and its ongoing attempt to exterminate Europe’s Jews. He would resist until the end.’