May
26
2017

The Pope's Dilemma - a Review

Posted by Terry Fay, SJ in Our Culture


Source: amazon.comThe Pope’s Dilemma written by Professor Emeritus Jacques Kornberg in the Department of History of the University of Toronto describes how during the 1930s and 1940s Cardinal Pacelli later Pius XII chose to protect the Church from the new laws of antisemitism passed in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy by selecting “institutional values” for the Church rather than “human values” (139). The Pope remained quiet and did not publically condemn the Nazis or the Fascists for persecuting of the Jews. In the 1940s genocide followed persecution in Germany and Italy and also in other European countries such as Poland, Croatia, France, and Hungary.

The Church chose to oppose these policies by “selective opposition” but did not make a public statement condemning antisemitism. Pius XII made it clear that he considered such a public statement as “a spectacular act [that] would possibly do more harm than good” (44).Pope Pius XII. Source: cathollic-convert.com

In the 1930s in a world of dictatorships and authoritarianism, aristocracy and obedience the silence of the Church in the face of public persecution was acceptable. But after World War II the emerging democratic institutions and the growth of  human rights made this silence no longer acceptable. The Poles, Croatians, the Hungarians and French looked to the Church to make a strong public condemnation of these persecutions (153-54). However, the pope and church leaders feared that Jews, Communists, Socialists and Free Masons were bound together ultimately to destroy the Catholic presence in Europe. 

According to Kornberg Pius XII was focused on “the long-range good of the Church” (185) and sought papal neutrality by “pragmatic diplomacy” (189) rather than speaking in a public statement of condemnation which would bring down fearful retaliation on all including the victims. “Religious values were at the heart of the papal mission” (264) and to assure the safety of this mission the Pope sought to protect the institutional church from the evils of dictatorship. In the face of Nazi and Fascist dictatorships which sought to destroy the Church and replace it with their own god of nationalism, the Pope by international neutrality sought to preserve the Christian ideals of love of God and neighbour in the reality of a strong Church.                                                              


About The Author

Terry Fay, SJ is a lecturer in religious history at St. Augustine's Seminary and St. Michael's College.







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Chris Butterill on May 26, 2017 - 3:29 PM

Many thanks Terry for this review of Kornberg's book. I wish you could do another article with a longer discussion of some 'judgement' on what Pius XII did and did not say or do. It is so hard for people today to understand the circumstances back then and condemn him for his silence. I remember as a child though, hearing conversations in school that spoke of his need for silence or the persecution would be worse. They said he had to remain 'neutral' as the pope who serves the world's Catholics.