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Hitler and the Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives That Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church

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Hitler and the Vatican

Inside the Secret Archives That Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church

By Peter Godman

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Format: Paperback / softback, 304 pages
Published In: United Kingdom, 27 July 2007
For years, the policies of the Catholic Church during the rise and terribly destructive rule of the Nazis have been controversial. Pope Pius XII has been attacked as "Hitler's Pope," an anti-Semitic enabler who refused to condemn Nazism, much less urge Catholics to resist the German regime. The Church has been accused of standing by while the Nazis steadily revealed their evil designs. Yet all such arguments have been based only on sketchy evidence. The Vatican has kept its internal workings secret and locked away from scrutiny.

Until now. In February 2003, the Vatican opened its archives for the crucial years of the Nazi consolidation of power, up until 1939. Peter Godman, thanks to his long experience in Vatican sources and his reputation as an impartial, non-Catholic historian of the Church, was one of the first scholars to explore the new documents. The story they tell is revelatory and surprising and forces a major revision of the history of the 1930s. It is a story that reveals the innermost workings of the Vatican, an institution far more fractured than monolithic, one that allowed legalism to trump moral outrage.

Godman's narrative is doubly shocking: At first, the Church planned to condemn Nazism as heretical, and drafted several variations of its charges in the mid-1930s. However, as Mussolini drew close to Hitler, and Pope Pius XI grew more concerned about communism than fascism, the charge was reduced to a denunciation only of bolshevism. The Church abandoned its moral attack on the Nazis and retreated to diplomacy, complaining about treaty violations and delivering weak protests while the horrors of religious persecution mounted. As Godman demonstrates, the policies of Pius XII were all determined by his predecessor, Pius XI. The Church was misled not so much by "Hitler's Pope" as by a tragic miscalculation and a special relationship with the Italian government. Mussolini toyed with the Church, even proposing that Hitler be excommunicated. Yet in the end, when presented with further evidence of Nazi depredations, Pius XI could only comment, "Kindly God, who has allowed all this to happen at present, undoubtedly has His purpose."

Reproducing the key Church documents in full and quoting verbatim conversations between Pius XI and his bishops, "Hitler and the Vatican" is the most extraordinary look inside the secretive Vatican ever written.


While he purports to defend the Vatican against "polemics" and "moralists," Godman's account of the Vatican's failure to oppose Hitler, based on recently released documents, is in some ways as damning as Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning. He focuses on the 1930s and two men, Pope Pius XI and his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII. Neither man comes off well, bound as they were by legalisms, propriety and an almost obsessive desire to maintain the facade of reciprocity embodied in the Vatican's Concordat with Nazi Germany. Both fully recognized that Nazism was incompatible with Christian doctrine, and therein lies the real tragedy of Godman's well-told tale. While Godman, a Vatican scholar and member of the Church's Committee for the Archives of the Holy Office, paints portraits of two tormented but indecisive men, other culprits are the ineffective papal delegate in Berlin, Cardinal Orsenigo, and the Austrian bishop Alois Hudal. This is also a study of the structural and institutional inertia of the Vatican. Caught between the dual threats of Nazism and Bolshevism, popes, German bishops and Vatican authorities failed to articulate a single, coherent, theologically sound and politically savvy condemnation of National Socialism. Like Pius XI's "hidden encyclical" denouncing racism, two highly specific condemnations of Nazism, drafted in 1935 and 1936, were never promulgated for diplomatic and political reasons. One can only read these documents (included as appendixes I and II) with a heartrending sense of what might have been. (Mar. 25) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

This articulate and thoroughly researched book is based on new and never-before-seen documents housed in the Vatican's secret archives. Godman (Latin, Univ. of Rome), an atheist, persuaded the Vatican to open these archives and in February 2003 became the first lay academic granted access. Subsequently, he was named founding member of the Committee for the Archives of the Holy Office. As a Vatican insider, Godman is the first credible scholar to offer a completely new take on the often slandered and misunderstood Pope Pius XII. This book's 14 chapters chronicle much of the Catholic Church's policy toward the Nazi regime before Eugenio Pacelli ascended the papal throne. Many policies, plans, and positions were firmly entrenched under the preceding pope, Pius XI, who preferred diplomacy and silence in the face of Hitler's propaganda and eventual atrocities. Though Pius XI considered documents declaring Nazism heretical, he eventually opted to condemn communism instead. Complete with sample "secret" texts, detailed endnotes, a dozen pages of select bibliography, and complete general index, this title lays the foundation for future debate about Catholicism and Nazism. Recommended for academic libraries.-John-Leonard Berg, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., Platteville Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

EAN: 9780743245982
ISBN: 0743245989
Publisher: Free Press
Dimensions: 15.19 x 22.89 x 1.73 centimetres (0.36 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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