Jesuit Father Pier Blet, together with Jesuits Angelo Martini, Burkhart Schneider and Robert A. Graham, is co-editor of the 12-volume work Acts and Documents of the Holy See During the Second World War.
Asked about accusations about Pope Pius XII in March 1998, Pope John Paul II responded, “A sufficient answer has already been given; just read Father Blet's book.”
The book is a collection of all the material on the subject stored in the Vatican's secret archives, opened for the project by order of Pope Paul VI.
Father Blet spoke with the ZENIT news agency about the newest allegations made against Pius XII.
ZENIT: What is your assessment of John Cornwell's book?
Father Blet: Cornwell's book is very confusing. It's not really a historical analysis. There are no documents to back up his theories. Pius XII is charged with very serious accusations, without any real proof.
According to Cornwell, Pope Pius XII actually facilitated Hitler's rise to power because, by signing the concordat between the Holy See and Germany, he accepted the dissolution of the Central Party, which effectively removed any opposition to the Nazi's rise to power.
Beside the fact that at the time Pius XI was Pope, and he was the person responsible for signing that document, there is no proof to support that theory. In fact, it seems that [Cardinal Eugenio] Pacelli [who would become Pius XII] was very much against the decision of the German Catholics to dissolve the Central Party. To base the accusations against Pacelli as a supporter of Nazism on this “hypothesis” seems to me, quite frankly, exaggerated.
And what about the signing of the concordat with the Third Reich?
What else could have been done to protect the Church in Germany? Refusing to sign the concordat with the Nazis would have meant abandoning Catholics into the hands of the new [political] power and there would have been no possible line of defense.
The Holy See was not naive regarding Hitler's regime. Referring to the concordat, Pacelli once confided: “I just hope they don't violate all the clauses at the same time.”
Cornwell claims that Pacelli was anti-Semitic.
Regarding the relationship between Pius XII and the Jews, there is a great deal that the British author ignores. He only quotes the negative documents against Pius XII while systematically avoids mentioning the numerous messages of thanks from many Jews saved by the Church.
As far as the [accusation of] silence is concerned, we know very well that any public protest against Nazism would have provoked a disaster. Not only against the Catholics but, especially, against the Jews. Cornwell claims that the only public protest of Pius XII was that of Christmas 1943, but he doesn't mention the Consistorial Address of June 2, 1943, when Pius XII strongly protested in favor of innocent persons being sent to their death. In this very speech, Pius XII explained that his protest could not be any stronger “because we must to be careful not to harm those who we want to save.”
Cornwell claims that Pius XII was convinced of a connection between the Jews and communism.
That's an old story. Pius XII is accused of being obsessed with communism and, as a consequence, he wasn't able to see the Nazi menace. The fact is that he was very conscious of the dangers of both communism and Nazism. Regarding the Bolsheviks, when American Catholics questioned economic assistance to the Soviet Union, Pius XII intervened by saying that the prohibitions he had mentioned in the encyclical against communism did not apply to those circumstances. Thus, he demonstrated that he wasn't motivated by political ideologies.
In reality, I think Cornwell's book doesn't just want to discredit Pius XII. It's actually more an attack on the Catholic conception of the papacy. In fact, in the book he protests against the way bishops are appointed by the pope. He criticizes the First Vatican Council's declaration of infallibility as well as the definition of Marian dogmas. According to Cornwell, all popes are dictators. In the last chapter he criticizes John Paul II because, in his opinion, he has governed the Church in an even more authoritative manner than Pius XII.
The Italian Paulist Press just announced the release of your own new book,
Unlike Cornwell, I limit myself strictly to the documentation. It's a synthesis of the 12 volumes of documents published by the Vatican Press, where you can see what the Holy See did during the Second World War, day by day and hour by hour. Specifically, it demonstrates how Pius XII did everything possible to promote peace, first by trying to avoid the occupation of Poland, then by trying to keep Italy out of the war. Vatican diplomacy tried to convince Mussolini to abandon the Axis.
Regarding the Jews, the documentation clearly shows how Pius XII carefully considered what would be the best way to help them. He wanted to make a public declaration, but even the Red Cross dissuaded him, because a public statement was useless, especially against a regime like Hitler's and, in the end, it only would have caused more harm to those he wanted to save.
My book also shows how Pius XII was very worried about the situation of German Catholics. A declaration against Germany would have provoked a severing of ties with the Pope and would have played into the hands of Nazi propaganda, which portrayed Pius XII as an enemy of Germany.
Pius XII knew the nature of Nazism very well. The son of the French ambassador in Rome has said that, in a luncheon with the Pope, one of the guests remarked that perhaps it was better after all to have Hitler in power than the Prussians. Pius XII quickly interrupted and said: “You don't realize what you're saying.
The Prussian generals do have their defects, but the Nazis are diabolical.”