In an interview in The Bulletin (Philadelphia, Sept. 27, 2008), the author of Hitler's Pope stated that since the publication of his book, his views have changed, noting:
"While I believe with many commentators that the pope might have done more to help the plight of the Jews, I now feel, 10 years after the publication of my book, that his scope for action was severely limited and I am prepared to state this," he said. "Nevertheless, due to his ineffectual and diplomatic language in respect of the Nazis and the Jews, I still believe that it was incumbent on him to explain his failure to speak out after the war. This he never did."
Others would argue that the author's insistence that Pope Pius XII should have taken a more public stance against Nazism has never made much sense. The Pope lived in Vatican City, a militarily indefensible neighborhood in Fascist Rome. Any time he wanted, Hitler could have sent German troops already in Italy to silence the Pope. In spite of that, the Vatican's open opposition to Nazism compares favorably to that of Switzerland, protected by its mountains and an army that included virtually all adult Swiss males, and Sweden, protected from invasion by icy cold waters and Hitler's need to ensure that nothing happened to his supply of Swedish iron ore.
Instead of making a public statement that would have been sneered at by Hitler and flashed across the front pages of newspapers in the US and UK for a single day and then faded into oblivion, Pope Pius XII did far more good in secret, issuing orders and encouraging others to protect European Jews. Scholars, obsessed themselves with mere words on paper, attach too much value to them. Deeds are better. And having done nothing wrong, the Pope had nothing to explain after the war.
One final note. The assumption that Pope Pius XII could accomplish much by making a single statement before he would be kidnapped and perhaps killed by Nazi soldiers assumes that the Europe of the 1940s was the Europe of the Middle Ages. That's far from true. For centuries, secularists and academia had labored to undermine the Pope's authority, even over Catholics. They can't suddenly turn around and say, "Oh, we've made a mess of things. Why don't you speak up and straighten them out?"
A case in point. Today's popes are often attacked for criticizing something quite similar to Nazi anti-Semitism. Using almost identical arguments, unborn babies are dehumanized and killed. Anyone who criticizes the Pope, or indeed any Catholic, for denouncing abortion has no right to criticize the Pope of World War II, even if he did only one tenth as much as he actually did to save Jews.
The Catholic church, I might add, did for more to save Jews than Europe's much vaunted universities. According to one account I read, half of Rome's Jews found shelter in the Catholic facilities. Pope Pius XII even issued secret orders allowing Catholic nuns to hide Jews deep within nunneries in places that were off limits to anyone who wasn't a member of the order. How many Jews found refugee in the university campuses of Europe? How many secret orders to hide Jews were issued by university presidents? I don't know of a single one. Perhaps the author of Hitler's Pope should devote himself to a new book entitled Hitler's Professors.
--Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II