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Hitler and the Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives That Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church Hardcover – March 16, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
While he purports to defend the Vatican against "polemics" and "moralists," Godman's account of the Vatican's failure to oppose Hitler, based on recently released documents, is in some ways as damning as Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning. He focuses on the 1930s and two men, Pope Pius XI and his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII. Neither man comes off well, bound as they were by legalisms, propriety and an almost obsessive desire to maintain the facade of reciprocity embodied in the Vatican's Concordat with Nazi Germany. Both fully recognized that Nazism was incompatible with Christian doctrine, and therein lies the real tragedy of Godman's well-told tale. While Godman, a Vatican scholar and member of the Church's Committee for the Archives of the Holy Office, paints portraits of two tormented but indecisive men, other culprits are the ineffective papal delegate in Berlin, Cardinal Orsenigo, and the Austrian bishop Alois Hudal. This is also a study of the structural and institutional inertia of the Vatican. Caught between the dual threats of Nazism and Bolshevism, popes, German bishops and Vatican authorities failed to articulate a single, coherent, theologically sound and politically savvy condemnation of National Socialism. Like Pius XI's "hidden encyclical" denouncing racism, two highly specific condemnations of Nazism, drafted in 1935 and 1936, were never promulgated for diplomatic and political reasons. One can only read these documents (included as appendixes I and II) with a heartrending sense of what might have been.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Drawing on archival sources, many of which have only recently become available, Godman presents a thorough, evenhanded picture that challenges simple descriptions of Pius XII as "Hitler's Pope." Neither flattering nor sensational, Godman's is a complex portrait of a human institution, made up of persons with a variety of mixed motives, in a difficult political context. Godman shifts attention to the papacy of Pius XI and locates failure to clearly condemn National Socialism in a politics of caution, diplomacy, and anticommunism rather than sympathy. He depicts Austrian bishop Alois Hudal, a member of the Holy Office (known as the Inquisition, 1542-1908), as an appeaser and anti-Semite who became the Nazi Party's "court theologian." Eugenio Pacelli, the career diplomat who became Pius XII, is depicted as suffering "a martyrdom of patience." Convinced that the Vatican could have spoken earlier and more forcefully against the Nazi racism, Godman commendably focuses on a measured presentation of evidence that equips careful readers to make informed judgments about the period and meaningful conclusions about its significance today. Steven Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
Documentary history is a poor guide to 'thoughts and motives of the actors involved', so the outcome falls necessarily falls short of the author's ambition. After reading the book one is no closer to knowing why certain decisions were taken, and opportunities missed, than at the beginning. There are no 'smoking guns' in the Vatican Archives: positive evidence that Eugenio Pacelli (later Pius XII), was 'Hitler's Pope', or that the Vatican was a 'cove of anti-Semites'. The pattern that emerges, however, is one no less damning: it is pattern of administrative bungling, wishful thinking, procrastination, and in the end, ineptness. «Rotten compromises», to use Margalit's (On Compromise and Rotten Compromises) definition, were struck by the bucketful, or if one prefers: It was a clear case of Tuchman's March of Folly (The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam).
John Cornwell's accusation of Eugenio Pacelli centres around the fact that the Vatican signed a Concordat soon after Hitler, his hands still dripping blood, had grasped power in Germany. Surprisingly, Godman fails properly to explain what drove the Vatican's policy in the face of such obvious facts. That Pacelli's influential predecessor Gasparri, was in favour, or that Pius XI was «prepared to negotiate with the devil, if it were a question of saving souls» - showing a Churchillian consequentalist streak - is not good enough. The Pacelli that emerges from the book is one of an overly cautious bureaucrat, never fully using even the limited degrees of freedom he had at his disposal: correct, cautious, opportunist to a fault, his fault was «excess of prudence or lack of courage» (pg. 74) - yet he did take action in 1933. All other bungling was to flow from that action.
The archival studies show clearly that - albeit at a leisurely pace - the Vatican's Holy Office did ruminate the issue of condemning Nazi ideology. After 'nudism' ('naturism' would have been the better word) had been disposed of, for this was the Holy Office's most pressing concern as Hitler rose to power, it got around to studying the ideological foundations of Nazism. It did a good job at that - behind hermetically sealed doors. But in the end it became the victim of its own ambition. By following insider counsel of perfection and trying to conflate Communism, Fascism, and Nazism in one swell ideological swoop of condemnation it failed to act altogether.
Godman tries to lay some of the blame for this bungling at Pius XI's door. In fits and starts, however, the man did try to confront Nazism, and in the end, on his death bed, he did publish «Mit brennender Sorge», the only Vatican uttering on the matter, just as in 1931 he had published «Non abbiamo bisogno» against Mussolini. And he did order a diplomatic intervention in favour of the Jews. It would have been Pacelli's job to build a policy on such occasional yet consistent prodding. He did not.
Godman casts out for a villain, and finds him in Alois Hudal, an Austrian titular bishop, whom at one point Hitler wanted to appoint «Court Theologian of the Nazi Party». Hudal if anyone, argues Godman, was the «appeaser», forever dreaming of cleansing the Nazi Party of its «radical left», and finding an accommodation with the «conservatives» to fight Communism. Hudal was a two-bit actor at the margin of the Vatican bureaucracy. If he did have some influence in the Holy Office in the beginning, Godman fails to show him on the bridge as the Vatican Ship ploughed through treacherous theological waters.
Hudal's fate unwittingly proves the case against the Vatican and Pacelli. Here was clear insubordination by a marginal figure, whose main role was to be the head of Santa Maria dell'Anima - the «German national church at Rome». The high sounding title belies the political irrelevance of the outfit. It was the place for German Catholics in Rome to gather and pray in their national language, and for the German Bishops to stay when in Rome. Godman never shows that the German Bishops ever bothered to involve Hudal in their dealings with the Vatican, or vice versa, that his titular superior, Cardinal Pacelli, ever employed him in a political role. Hudal after the war seems to have helped Eichmann escape, and was finally ousted from Anima in 1952 "under Allied pressure" (pg. 170).
Condemnation of Hudal's books, or even quiet removal from Anima, would have been unobtrusive signals that the Vatican was not trying to «appease» Hitler. Munich's Cardinal Faulhaber had accused him of «stabbing the German Bishops in the back», yet he failed to get this obnoxious busybody out of the way. Pius XI, whom Godman wants to be non-indicted co-conspirator in the Vatican's inaction before WWII, did suggest putting Hudal's book on the Index. Pacelli toned down the punishment to a short note in the Osservatore Romano, indicating that the book had not been previously authorised by the Church. Such was the prudence of Pacelli.
Pacelli's behaviour prior to WWII is a good indicator of his moral courage during the war. In its two thousand years of reign the Church had outlived all its opponents. Pacelli called it «persistent martyrdom of patience» - others may have a different opinion. As a strategy it certainly served the Church well, if at the price of moral leadership. Whatever Pius XII's «values» - to use a much overused term - he did agree to, or acquiesce in more than his share of «rotten compromises». That's a matter between him and God. Nothing, however, in Godman's book justifies him as saintly example to the world.
Nevertheless, on one side of the fence you have your critics; James Carroll, Gary Wills, Daniel Goldhagen, Michael Phayer, and many others. And on the other side of the fence, you have your defenders; David Dalin, Ronald Rychlak, Margherita Marchione, and many others. Both sides claim to have the real story and the evidence to back it up. But when you have such conflicting views, who can you really trust? I suppose one could always read both sides of the argument, evaluate the evidence and form an objective opinion. But not everyone has the time to conduct so much research. Moreover, I'm sure that those faithful to Pius XII have very little interest in reading books like "Hitler's Pope." Likewise, critics of the Vatican can't be too thrilled about books like "Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace," either.
Personally, I thought Susan Zuccotti's "Under His Very Windows" was one of the more balanced books on the subject. But even after reading Zuccotti's book, I still felt like I needed a bit more information, so I gave Godman's book a try. Although it's not as comprehensive as I would have liked it to be (the author does not write about the Vatican's conduct during WWII - a major disappointment), it is, however, fairly unbiased, and contains enough information to give the reader a better understanding of the relationship between the Vatican and The Third Reich during the 1930s.
The Vatican's relationship to The Third Reich, according to Godman's findings, was not as black and white as many critics and defenders tend to portray it. It was far more complex. To make his point, Godman illustrates the various religious, diplomatic and political dilemmas that faced the Vatican during the 30s. Although neither pope Pius XI nor Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (who later became pope Pius XII in 1939) shared Nazism's radical views on race and religion, they nonetheless signed a treaty with The Third Reich in 1933 - mainly to ensure Catholicism's place in Germany - as they had done previously with other European countries. The individual who orchestrated this controversial treaty (Reichskonkordat) was Cardinal Pacelli.
But as much as Pius XI and Pacelli deemed Nazi beliefs heretical, their efforts to make that clear to the public was very lackluster. If anything, the concordat between the two parties appeared more like some kind of a Vatican approval, which the Nazis fully exploited. Two years later, however, after realizing that terms of their agreement had been violated, the Vatican decided to draft a condemnation, which was later twice modified to include fascism and communism as well. However, instead of releasing this condemnation straight to the public, the draft was put on the shelves. Yet, even as the Vatican became increasingly more and more anti-Nazi, so to speak, they never visibly demonstrated it to the public. It's as though they kept everything to themselves. If the Vatican feared speaking out against the Nazis, then why would they even consider explicitly condemning anti-Semitism, for example?
So the question is: why did the Vatican remain in silence? After all, they weren't so silent with communism. And why not excommunicate Hitler - and idea that even the fascist Mussolini proposed? Was their fear of communism really that much greater than Nazism? Did the Vatican see the Third Reich as a potential ally in fighting communism? Were there hopes that things would work out through diplomacy? Perhaps yes on all accounts, but to what degree? If the Vatican so opposed the Nazis, but yet continually resisted to explicitly condemn them, then how on earth were Christians suppose to know about the Vatican's stance, especially when many clergymen, like, Bishop Alois Hudal, openly supported the Nazis? In fact, after WWII, many of those same clergymen, like Hudal, organized escape routes known as "ratlines" for war criminals, providing them with necessary documents to escape to countries like Syria and Argentina.
Pius XI (not to be confused with Pius XII) stated that anti-Semitism was inadmissible, but with very little emphasis. So little, that the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, didn't even bother publishing it. And what did his successor Pius XII do besides hiding in silence? Was silence forced upon them, or was it some kind of desperate diplomatic tactic? Whatever it was, it was not effective - not for anyone except for the Third Reich who took full advantage of it.
Perhaps then, we can understand the argument that Pius XII was "Hitler's Pope." His silence and lack of visible resistance against the Nazis made him Hitler's IDEAL pope: a pope that said too little and did too little. Yet at the same time, we can also understand the notion that Pius XII was an "Architect for Peace," that is: an overly cautious diplomat who did his best to avoid any kind of conflict that could potentially instigate further violence. Was this passiveness or optimism? Cowardice or heroism?
The one problem I found with this book is Godman's perplexing word association between Nazism and Neo-Paganism. Exactly what does the author mean when he calls Nazism a Neo-Pagan religion? Does he simply mean a new religion? Or literally a pagan religion? This doesn't make sense to me, considering the fact that The Third Reich emphasized on Positive Christianity. So where does this concept of Neo-Paganism come from? Roman Catholicism has many pagan elements within its religion, but no one calls it paganism. To me it seems like the author is trying to surreptitiously distance Nazism's affiliation to Christianity, which is uncalled for. Let's face it: no one in the Western World would attempt to distance Al-Qaeda's ties to Islam. Godman needs to elaborate on this whole neo-paganism etymology. Overall, however, this is a reasonable book. I just wish it was a bit more comprehensive.