Sometimes history is more than history. The Holocaust, for instance, isn’t just an event in the past. It is a gaping wound in humanity. For healing to occur, we must recognize all that happened.
This has been the constant position not just of Pope Benedict XVI, but also of Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI, Pope John XXIIII — and Pope Pius XII.
The topic has reached saturation coverage in the news media because, in an interview taped in November for Swedish television, a Lefebvrist bishop denied that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Bishop Richard Williamson claimed that historical evidence denies the gassing of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. He also alleged that no more than 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II.
On Feb. 4, the Vatican reiterated once again its denunciation of Bishop Williamson’s opinion and said that the bishop would have to “distance himself in an absolutely unmistakable and public way from his position” in order to be given an episcopal ministry.
Bishops from around the world condemned Bishop Williamson’s remarks on the Holocaust. Bishop Williamson apologized.
Why is someone’s mistaken notion of history so offensive? Because it isn’t just a mistake about history. It becomes a mistake about a people’s dignity.
Far from denying or minimizing the Holocaust, the Church has been its sworn enemy from the very beginning.
Sister Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., has dedicated herself to research that continually seems to uncover enlightening new evidence. Where others characterize the beliefs of the time in a speculative way, she records the words of that time with precision.
She’s the scholar from the Religious Teachers Fillipini order who has written extensively about the Holocaust. She published a sampling of her work in the Register: Excerpts:
The Australian Jewish News (April 16, 1943) quoted Cardinal Gerlier, who sheltered Jewish children, saying that he was obeying Pius XII’s instructions by continuing to oppose France’s anti-Semitic measures.
On Sept. 3 and 9, 1942, The New York Times reported that the Catholic Church denounced the concentration camps in letters read aloud in church pulpits throughout occupied France.
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, speaking at Lourdes as Pope Pius XI’s delegate to France, on April 29, 1935, described the Nazis as “possessed by the superstition of race and blood,” and declared that “the Church does not consent to form a compact with them at any price.” Describing the speech, The New York Times headlined its story: “Nazis Warned at Lourdes.”
Cardinal Pacelli would later become Pope Pius XII.
In a report filed with the U.S. State Department in 1939, Alfred Klieforth, U.S. consul general in Berlin, described Cardinal Pacelli’s views: “He opposed unilaterally every compromise with National Socialism. He regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person. He did not believe Hitler capable of moderation, in spite of appearances, and he fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand.”
On Dec. 25, 1940, The New York Times was impressed enough with Pope Pius XII’s words to make them the basis of an editorial on the subject of the Nazis’ evil.
When Pius XII wrote his first encyclical in 1939, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York reported on Oct. 27: “The unqualified condemnation which Pope Pius XII heaped on totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government in his encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, caused a profound stir. … Few observers had expected so outspoken a document.”
The editors of The New York Times were impressed enough with the encyclical’s condemnation of racism and totalitarianism that they decided to print the entire encyclical.
Michael Tagliacozzo, a Jewish historian and eyewitness, wrote: “Pope Pacelli was the only one who intervened to impede the deportation of Jews on Oct. 16, 1943, and he did very much to hide and save thousands of us. It was no small matter that he ordered the opening of cloistered convents. Without him, many of our own would not be alive.”
Throughout World War II, Pius XII continually condemned Nazi policies. He so provoked the Nazis that they called him “a mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”
Truth is necessary to unity. The facts about the Holocaust must be acknowledged for the good of both. To misrepresent the facts of the Shoah is to deepen the wounds that need to heal.
And to misrepresent the role of Pope Pius XII in the Holocaust is to introduce tensions into the center of a situation where, in Sister Marchione’s words, “a diplomat steered a careful course through chaos.”