With the Pope about to visit Israel, the anti Pope rhetoric is in full force. At last check, our Hitler-Youth-O-Meter (which counts the number of times in coverage of the Pope’s visit that his compulsory involvement in the Hitler Youth is mentioned) tallied around six hundred mentions.
Among the other grievances that the perpetually aggrieved list as their bones of contention are the restoration of the prayer for the Jews in the Extraordinary form of the mass (even though he changed the words before the prayer was used again), the handling of the Williamson affair (an ugly situation made worse by the Pope’s enemies), and his support of the beatification of Pope Pius XII.
This article in the Times Online, which pretends toward concern for the Pope’s safety but in reality is just another effort to criticize the Pope (facts be damned), is a good example of the treatment.
In Israel Benedict XVI’s German nationality, his service in Hitler’s army, his support for the proposed beatification of Pius XII – known in Israel as the “Nazi pope” – and his decision to revoke the excommunication of Richard Williamson, the British bishop and Holocaust denier, have all sparked anger. The Pope was forced to apologise for mishandling the Williamson affair.
General Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s national security council, reflected the views of many Israelis. “It would have been better if the visit wasn’t taking place,” he said. “The Pope’s service in the Wehrmacht is a stain.”
It is the Pius XII comments I wish to focus on. The other complaints, even if completely misinterpreted or exaggerated, are at least based on facts. The Pope did restore the Latin Mass with that prayer, he did lift the excommunication of the anti-Semitic Williamson, and of course he actually was in the Hitler youth. All these facts are misrepresented in order to criticize the Pope, but the Pope Pius XII being “Hitler’s Pope” is simply false or as Damian Thompson would call it, counter-knowledge.
Speaking of Damian Thompson (Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic Herald), there is a terrific counterpoint in the Catholic Herald to the nonsense spewed by critics of the Pope on this point and which is readily repeated by the media. The Herald speaks with Gary Krupp, a Jew and a leading defender of Pius XII.
“Merry and I grew up hating Pius XII,” Krupp explained. “I did two years of personal research before we decided that we should tackle this project. With further research, I was 100 per cent convinced that my past impression of him was completely wrong. I was then angry because I was misled by those who call themselves historians.”
He believes that Pius will eventually be exonerated. All most people know about him is that he was “Hitler’s Pope”, says Krupp: “But if you go to an average person with the information that we have found they can only come to one conclusion – that this guy was the greatest hero of World War Two. We can prove it. We have something on our side – documented proof – where the revisionists haven’t a scrap of paper to support their theories.”
Not all Jews approve of what Krupp is doing. There is a substantial body of opposition among them to the beatification of Pius XII, leading to claims that Krupp does not represent the views of the Jewish mainstream and that he is something of a maverick. Yet he fits neatly into a long line of prominent Jews to defend Pius. These date to at least 1940 when Albert Einstein vigorously defended the Catholic Church as the only institution in Nazi Germany that “stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth”.
Throughout that decade tributes to Pius came from Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president; Moshe Sharett, Israel’s first foreign minister, and Isaac Herzog, the chief rabbi of Israel. Pius granted an audience to 80 concentration camp survivors who wanted to thank him personally for helping to save lives. The chief rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, became a Catholic and took as his baptismal name Eugenio in tribute to the Pope. When Pius died in 1958 Golda Meir, Israel’s foreign minister and future prime minister, praised him for raising his voice “when fearful martyrdom came to our people”.
Since the Sixties most of the evidence in defence of Pius has been unearthed by Jewish historians, most notably by Pinchas Lapide who used Yad Vashem’s records to show that the Church under Pius saved up to 850,000 lives – more than all the international agencies put together.
If critics of the Pope are genuinely interested in truth, they should get their facts straight. Ditto the media. Not holding my breath though.