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Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius Xii Hardcover – 15 Sep 1999
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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
This biography discusses Pope Pius XIII's wartime silence over the Holocaust and exposes the patent anti-Semitism that led to his fateful concordance with Hitler - a partnership that smoothed the Nazis' path to power and saw the Vatican immensely enriched, financially and politically. In examining Eugenio Pacelli's early career and subsequent rise to papal apotheosis, the author firmly indicts a Pope whom many regard as the most powerful churchman in modern history; one never held to account for the conduct of himself or his church during one of humanity's darkest hours.See all Product description
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This book attempts to stip away a lot of the myths surrounding the issue, most importantly concerning Pacelli's negotiating of the Reich Concordat in the 1920s, an issue which led directly to the dissolution of the Catholic Centre Party, one of the major obstacles in Hitler's path to power. Pacelli firmly believed that the Church had no business getting embroiled in political issues, that the Church should be above all such worldly affairs. As a result of this attitude he pursued a strictly neutral stance throughout the war, refusing to condone or condemn one side or the other, even when the evidence of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews of Europe was becoming impossible to ignore.
Pacelli pursued a very authoritarian church, with all power stemming from the Pontiff, unlike the more collegiate course that was occasionally offered as an alternative. Bishops, archbishops, cardinals, all had very little power to act indendepently of their Pope - and their Pope insisted that all representatives of the Church remain above politics. As a result of this attitude, Pacelli was far more sympathetic to the authoritarian states than the democracies - his attitude towards Mussolini, Franco and Hitler is telling.
I'm sure this is not the final word on this issue - the author himself has actually distanced himself from some of his conclusions here, admitting that it is difficult to see, even with the benefit of history, what good could have come from Pacelli speaking out; that his scope for action was limited; that the Pope himself was in a difficult position, in the middle of the capital of Italy, a country at war, an ally of Hitler, that Hitler even contemplated invading the Vatican and abducting the Pope.
But the inevitable damning fact is that the Church could have spoken up and damned the consequences. It did so in Hungary and Poland, where direct action and influence from the Catholic Church had enormous impacts. The Catholic Church was in an unrivalled position to influence the hearts and minds of millions upon millions of people within Europe, within Germany and Italy and all the Axis countries, and it failed to draw upon that currency, even when Jews were being taken from the very heart of Rome, right beneath the Pope's gaze.
"Now't as queer as fold, eh!"
It was also a pleasure to read such well written history.