Gerard Noel

A failure of papal nerve

This is one of the most devastating but, at the same time, restrained and balanced indictments, among the many that have appeared, of the conduct of the Roman Catholic Church in the face of the Holocaust. It is restrained in that it avoids extreme positions, let alone emotive language, even disagreeing with the expression ‘Hitler’s Pope’ as an apt description of Pius XII; but it is devastating in the unremitting detail, including some new revelations, with which it makes its clinically incisive approach to this painful subject.

The book breaks important new ground in two directions. It first of all assesses the wartime pope not, as in most similar works, in isolation from but in intimate connection with the Church as a whole, both at that point in history and within the overall context of its heavy inheritance of anti-Semitism. It also takes a new direction in making a bold suggestion as to how the Catholic Church can do two necessary things: make sufficient moral restitution to the Jews for its role in the Holocaust and also, by addressing an entirely new look at the New Testament, unburden itself for ever from its ugly anti-Judaic past.

Not a word is wasted in a book that can be read only with profit by all, including those Catholics who like myself are concerned with and interested in Pope Pius XII. I had a private audience with him soon after the war which actually came about by accident; it was nonetheless an awe-inspiring experience to stare into the luminous eyes of that extraordinary man from the other side of his desk in the solitude of his study at Castel Gandolfo. It was the beginning of a life-long fascination, continued years later, when I translated the long first volume of the 12-part Acts and Documents of the Holy See and the Second World War.

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