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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 Sept. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670876208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670876204
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.3 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 216,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Amazon Review

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 in the department of history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University. He is a regular feature writer at the Sunday Times (London) and the author and editor of four books on science, including Power to Harm, on the Louisville Prozac trial, as well as Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII and Breaking Faith: Can the Catholic Church Save Itself? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 July 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the enduring controversies of the Catholic Church has been its role, or perhaps more appropriately its lack of role, in speaking out against the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, has been accused of cowardice, anti-Semitism, a lack of concern for worldly affairs, a bias towards Germany, an inclination towards dictatorialism that made him partial to Fascist societies like Franco's Spain and Hitler's Germany.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Good read. A factual account of the man behind the public persona
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Interesting account. Should be read with Dalin's book "the myth of Hitler's pope".
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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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Format: Hardcover
Even the picture on the cover is misleading. Note that the two soldiers in steel helmets are not wearing Nazi insignia (an eagle and swastika on the right breast). In fact the photo was taken in 1927 and shows the future pope leaving a reception for the president of the Weimar Republic.
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Format: Hardcover
Book Review "Hitler's Pope: the Secret History of Pope Pius XII" by John Cornwell (Published by Viking, 1999)
My overall impression was this was a fascinating and well-written book. It raises many fundamental dilemmas, especially for Catholics.
I found the first chapters on the early life of Pacelli a little tedious because the author really had very little interesting material to give us. There were few startling revelations. I think this may be because the Vatican "machine" will have had time to delve into his past and "sanitise" it from an early stage.
In fact the early chapters are mainly the public history of the Vatican in Pacelli's youth, with Cornwell merely speculating as to how this might have affected Pacelli personally.
The middle section is more assured about Pacelli's move into public life as Papal Nuncio in Germany. There is a lot more evidence for Cornwell to utilise. The broad picture is clear. Pacelli was blinkered by his Vatican-centric view of the world in which nothing else mattered except the maintenance of Papal authority over the Catholic Church. This section includes what are probably Cornwell's key findings: letters by Pacelli to the Vatican using vile racist language to describe Jews.
While not wishing to condone such sentiments in any way, I wish Cornwell had explored the context of Pacelli's remarks. We live in an era of anti-racism and equal opportunities legislation. Back in Pacelli's day, even "good" people were so steeped in racist, sexist opinions as to be unaware of them. Pacelli was not the only racist in the 1920's. His racism was instinctive and built in. Was he totally to blame for it? Probably not. Did he realise that his opinions would facilitate the implementation of the Endlösung? Probably not.
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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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