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Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII Hardcover – 15 Sep 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st Uk Edition edition (15 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670876208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670876204
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.3 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 224,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In the early 1990s, John Cornwell undertook a study of one of the most controversial Popes in Catholic history: Pope Pius XII. Known as the "icebox Pope", Pius XII, the Roman born Eugenio Pacelli, was elected Pope on the eve of the Second World War and ruled with unprecedented power and autocracy until his death at the height of the Cold War in 1958. Pacelli refashioned the role of Pope as a position of unrivalled absolutist power, in his papal edicts and dealings with the most influential figures in 20th-century history, from Hitler and Stalin to Roosevelt and Churchill. Most controversially, Pius was accused of contributing to the fate of the Jews under the Nazis in his sympathetic dealings with Hitler as papal nuncio to Germany throughout the 1920s.

The result of Cornwell's decision to write about Pius is his magnificent and shocking book Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII.The author explains that he had initially set out to vindicate Pius's career and as a result obtained access to hitherto restricted documents held at the Vatican. The results of his research, however, left him "in a state I can only describe as moral shock." Cornwell's study "told the story of a bid for unprecedented papal power that by 1933 had drawn the Catholic Church into complicity with the darkest forces of the era ... from an early stage in his career Pacelli betrayed an undeniable antipathy towards the Jews ... his diplomacy in Germany in the 1930s resulted in the betrayal of Catholic political associations that might have challenged Hitler's regime and thwarted the Final Solution." The subsequent account is an engrossing read, revealing a picture of a fascinating but repellent figure, who fashioned an aura of saintliness in the pursuit of ever greater power and authority.

Wherever an authoritarian or reactionary decision was taken by the Church Pacelli was there, signing the Serbian Concordat that aided the onset of the First World War, signing the Reich Concordat with Hitler in 1933, trivialising the Holocaust and even supporting Croatian Fascism throughout the Second World War. Hitler claimed that the Concordat of 1933 would help the Nazis "in the developing struggle against the international Jewry", a situation compounded by Pius's destruction of Catholic opposition to Nazism and refusal to speak out against the Holocaust.

Hitler's Pope brilliantly captures the ascetic, fastidious Pius, from his hypochondria and querulousness to his offhand anti-semitic and racist remarks--such as his request that the Allies should desist from deploying "coloured" soldiers in the relief of Rome in 1944. Cornwell is "convinced that the cumulative verdict of history shows him not to be a saintly exemplar for future generations, but a deeply flawed human being from whom Catholics, and our relations with other religions, can best profit by expressing our sincere regret." -- Jerry Brotton

About the Author

John Cornwell is Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, and an award-winning journalist and author. His THIEF IN THE NIGHT: THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL I (1989) was a world bestseller. He has written on Catholic issues for many publications including the Sunday Times, Independent, Observer and the Tablet. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Eugenio Pacelli was described routinely, during his pontificate and after his death, as a member of the Black Nobility. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Peter Claver Toalster on 27 Sep 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author selects his vocabulary with the intention of setting Pius XII In an unfavourable light. What he has succeeded in doing, in my opinion, is in showing a man who, in his anxiety to resist the efforts of Communism in Russia, Mexico and Spain to destroy his Church, made an alliance with a power which, although hostile to Communism, was equally hostile to the Church of Rome and indeed to all forms of religion, and thereby rendered himself powerless to make an effective stand against it.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 April 2000
Format: Hardcover
Take two subjects of perennial interest - World War Two and the papacy - and combine them. You should be on to a winner. John Cornwell almost does it here - but not quite. To take the positive side first, the book is awesome in its detail and the apparent thoroughness of its research. The negative side is that this isn't a "warts and all" picture, but one that concentrates almost exclusively on the "warts". Hindsight is used far too often and John Cornwell makes the fatal mistake of judging one period by the standards of another. The picture of Pius XII that emerges to the reader who can pick his or her way through all this is one of a rather sad man whose priorities were in entirely the wrong order at a time when it was vitally important to have them right. I'm not sure that that's what John Cornwell intended.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith on 23 July 2008
Format: Paperback
Cornwall's book is a tremendous research effort and highly readable. He starts out trying to disprove accusations that Pope Pius XII stopped his church from protesting Nazi atrocities. But the research leads to a far more painful truth. For any who promote the separation of government from religious values, this book poses hard questions. The Church's agreements with fascist rulers involved a trade: government support for religious institutions, in exchange for church silence on political affairs. As the 1933 Concordat with Nazi Germany said,

"In consideration of the guarantees afforded by the conditions of this treaty, and of legislation protecting the rights and freedom of the Catholic Church in the Reich ..., the Holy See will ensure a ban on all clergy and members of religious congregations from political party activity."

Cornwall explores the unfolding implications of this split between loyalties. As Hitler later said, "When they attempt by any other means -- writings, encyclicals, etc. -- to assume rights which belong only to the state, we will push them back into their proper spiritual activity." And as Pope Pius XII would later explain, the Church must avoid "being compromised in defense of Christian principles and humanity by being drawn into purely man-made politics ... the Church is only interested in upholding her legacy of Truth. ... The purely worldly problems, in which the Jewish people may see themselves involved, are of no interest to her."

Cornwall is the best kind of scholar, driven by a personal and spiritual need to understand the truth. The questions he pursues are directly relevant today, for Christians, Muslims, or anyone. To what extent has the goal of protecting religion from the world served to protect governments from moral opposition? What have we learned about the role and aim of religion in the world?

--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story
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Format: Hardcover
Fascinating book on overlapping power interests of the Vatican and national-socialism, originally intended by the author as an apology, but turning out to be an indictment of the gifted Eugenio Pacielli (Pope Pius XII).
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By GerryP on 3 Jan 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In their ratings of this book some reviewers seem to be confusing their disagreement with Cornwell's interpretation of the life of Pius XII with their own. Of course the title of this book is provocative and probably misleading but this thoroughly-researched account raises some difficult issues. Pius XII was undoubtedly 'between a rock and a hard place' in managing his relations with Nazi Germany. For me the main question was how much he was prepared to risk the total destruction of the Vatican as an independent state against speaking openly about Nazi atrocities. Cornwell clearly sets out the context and actions of the various parties concerned - its for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Can I suggest that before reading this book you read "A Thief in the Night" also by John Cornwell. It was written before Hitler's Pope and is an account of the death of John Paul I. In that context it gives a good account of the workings of the Vatican.
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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 14 May 2009
Format: Paperback
While John Cornwell in the beginning of his book calls Eugenio Pacelli `a man of meticulous conscience', he arrives ultimately at a most severe verdict of `a hypocrite'.
Pope Pius XII was a man with many obsessions: his personal power within the Catholic Church, his universal power base through the Church, his image on the world scene, the problems with `God's mother', chastity, women and the Jewish question, among others.

Personal aspects - power
As a member of the Vatican bureaucracy E. Pacelli fought for an authoritarian Church directed by this institution. He despised democracy ('the mindless ruling of the masses') and the parliamentary system. Rigid governments, rigid centralization and rigid treaties (like concordats) were supposed to introduce an era of stable order and peace.
When he became pope he defended the ideology of papal primacy, in other words `the fascist Führer principle'. As he explained it himself: `I don't want colleagues, but people who will obey.'

Jewish problem
Pacelli was a long-standing anti-Semite, based on the conviction that there was a link between Judaism and the Bolshevik plot to destroy Christendom.

Christian love
Christian love was far away from his thoughts. He stood on the basic viewpoint of war not peace, congratulating Spain's Franco with his `Catholic' victory.
As a matter of fact, `Christian love' has never been an important item in Church policies from Saint-Augustine vomiting on the Manicheans over the Crusades to the Inquisition and the `catholic wars'.

God's mother
The clear contradiction between the fact that Jesus was born in a human way and the fact that he should be considered as the son of God has obsessed the Catholic Church for millennia.
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