Simple question. I was just wondering how the Catholic church positioned itself politically at the time of world war 2. Did it align with the Allies, Axis, or neither? Did the pope choose sides between the Allies and the Axis, if so which side?
When asked this question, I do like to point to one little-examined incident in 1942. In July of 1942 the Dutch bishops actually did send a letter to the Nazi government protesting, specifically, the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
Now, as a respectful, thoughtful group of individuals, what do you think the Nazis did? Did they stop sending Jews to the gas chamber? ... I don't think so. In fact, this letter corresponds to a dramatic increase in the rate of detainment and deportation of Dutch Jews including one, now canonized, Edith Stein.
Now, admittedly, this was in 1942, so it clearly does not excuse silence from before that time, right? I'll agree wholeheartedly, except that I'll point out that Pius XII wasn't silent. Quoth the Third Reich's Chief Security Service:
(And I think it also worth noting that Pacelli was consecrated Pius XII in March of 1939, ten years after the Vatican was subjected to Mussolini's government, and five months before Hitler invaded Poland.)
But let us look to those who have been persecuted, and see whether they felt that Pius XII supported Hitler. Quoth the chief rabbi of Jerusalem:
And then there are the numbers:
(Just in case anyone is counting, Schindler is at
So, what do I see? Pius XII preached against Hitler, but he realizes that his flock will be put to the wolves if he preaches too readily. So, instead, he works behind the scenes to keep safe as many as he can.
No, he did not, and it has cost him and the Catholic church a lot of moral leadership and capital since then.
The Wikipedia article Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust is very thorough on this topic actually. However, I want to explore two issues that it only briefly touched on.
One is the protestation of the Pope that any condemnation he could have made against the treatment of the Jews would have only made their plight worse. However:
From these facts its very hard to see how the condition or plight of the Jews, or any prisoner of the Nazis', could have gotten any worse.
It's also important to note that WWII brought about a significant change it the way that Jews were regarded throughout the world, particularly in Europe. Antisemitism isn't a new thing, and it wasn't a new thing during WWII. At various times the Catholic church even endorsed it.
I'm in no way saying that the Catholic church, or Pope Pius XII, endorsed what Hitler did, but it needs to be pointed out that the world view of Judaism was very different before and after WWII. This difference indeed contributed to the silence and timidity of the Vatican on denouncing the actions of the Nazis.
It's also important to note that the Pope, while timid, was a Jewish sympathizer and was afraid that the actions he took would engender a German retaliation. Because of this he made plans for his own de facto resignation should he be taken prisoner and for the movement of the Holy See to Portugal.
Finally the Vatican has throughout the 19th and 20th centuries tried to maintain a stance of neutrality on international conflicts. Ultimately whether you agree with this or not (it's criticized even today), the actions of Pope Pius XII can be seen as a continuation of this policy and a strong mental fortitude to do what he perceived to be the right course of action.