VIENNA (Oct. 10)
The Vatican has issued a ringing defense of the World War II-era pope and forcefully rejected charges that he was a pro-Nazi anti- Semite who failed to help Jews during the Holocaust.
The Rev. Pierre Blet, the Vatican’s leading historian on the World War II period, told a news conference at the Vatican on Friday that Pope Pius XII “certainly was not” an anti-Semite.
“He helped the Jews,” said Blet, a French Jesuit, who held the news conference along with senior Cardinal Pio Laghi.
“The public silence [of Pius XII] was the cover for a secret activity through Vatican embassies and bishoprics to try to stop the deportations,” Blet said.
These activities, he said, helped save hundreds of thousands of lives.
The news conference was held to present the Italian edition of Blet’s book, “Pius XII and the Second World War in the Vatican Archives.” The book is a selection of documents included in 12 volumes edited by Blet and other Vatican historians between 1965 and 1981.
Publication of Blet’s book comes amid controversy over possible Vatican plans to beatify Pius and amid mounting calls by Jewish groups to open the Vatican wartime archives to outside researchers. The beatification process is the last step before someone is made a saint.
Blet’s book follows a furor raised by a new biography of Pius XII by British author John Cornwell, who claimed to have had access to secret documents.
Cornwell’s book, “Hitler’s Pope: the Secret History of Pius XII,” charges that Pius XII, who held great sympathy for Germans and Germany, was a deep-seated anti-Semite who favored Hitler’s rise to power.
Blet attacked Cornwell and his arguments, saying it is clear that Cornwell “is not a historian.”
“There is no doubt that Pius XII liked Germans but saying he was a Nazi sympathizer is something else,” he said.
Blet and Laghi said Pius XII had not known about the extent of Hitler’s plans to eradicate the Jews from Europe.
“You have to be careful when judging the past not to use the criteria of the present,” said Laghi. “There were no satellites at the time.
“The Nazis kept things secret and hidden for as long as they could.”
Laghi and Blet also reiterated the Vatican’s long-standing position that Pius XII chose to work behind the scenes to help Jews after bishops in Poland and Germany warned him of the possible repercussions should he “raise (his) voice too loud.”
To support this position, Blet quoted from a 1943 speech by Pius: “Every word I say which is addressed to authorities … has to be seriously thought out and measured in the interest of those very people who are suffering so as not to involuntarily make their situation even more grave.”