The Pope, Christmas, and the “Fake News” about Hitler

Note: Among the many anti-Catholic slanders that are common in our culture, none is more pernicious – or foolish – than that the Church and Pius XII were somehow guilty of failure to speak and act against Nazism. Today’s column shows how in three consecutive Christmas messages – rightly reported by The New York Times of all sources – fair people at the time believed the pope was the ONLY moral voice speaking out. And acting. Defending that historical record is important, but so are similar battles today. That’s only one part of what were about at The Catholic Thing. We need your help to engage in this and many other current questions. The need is clear. The means available. Please, if you haven’t already, click on the DONATE button above (or here) and select one of the several easy ways to make your tax-deductible contribution to this work. Today. – Robert Royal

In his December 24, 1940 Christmas radio address to “the city and the world,” Pope Pius XII condemned Nazi Germany for its “illegal use of destructive forces against noncombatants, fugitives, the elderly and children; a contempt for human dignity, freedom and life that gives rise to actions that cry out for vengeance before God.…”

New York Times editorial on Christmas Day acknowledged that the Pope’s “moral order, in a word is in complete contradiction to Hitler’s order.”

One year later, the Holy Father’s Christmas address to the College of Cardinals denounced the Nazis for violation of rights of minorities. There can be no place, he said, for “(1) open or subtle oppression of the cultural and language characteristics of national minorities; (2) contradiction of their economic capacities; (3) limitations or abolition of their natural fecundity.”

And once again the New York Times’ Christmas Day editorial not only applauded the pope’s statement but declared, “The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. . . .[He] is about the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all. . . .[H]e left no doubt that the Nazis aims are also irreconcilable with his own conception of a Christian peace.”

In his 1942 Christmas address, he affirmed: “the Church would be untrue to herself, she would have ceased to be a mother, if she were deaf to the cries of suffering children which reach her ears from every class of the human family.” He also demanded that the opponents of the Nazis make “a solemn vow never to rest until valiant souls of every people and every nation arise in their legions, resolve to bring society back to its immovable center of gravity in the Divine Law, and to devote themselves to the service of the human person and of a divinely and noble human society.” This vow, he concluded, must be made in the name of the war victims, “the hundreds of thousands who through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.”

Once again the Times editorial board praised the pope: “No Christmas sermon reaches a large larger congregation than the message Pope Pius XII addresses to a war-torn world at this season. This Christmas, more than ever, he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent. The pulpit whence he speaks is more than ever like the rock on which the Church was founded, a tiny island lashed and surrounded by a sea at war.”

Pius XII speaking on the radio, 1942

The editorial also pointed out that the pope is not a political leader but “a preacher ordained to stand above the battle, tied impartially. . .to all people and willing to collaborate in any new order which will bring a just peace.” And concluded, “Pope Pius expresses as passionately as any leader on our side war aims of the struggle for freedom when he says that those who aim at building a new world must fight for free choice of government and religious order.”

What you have just read is not “fake news.” The fact is, the Church was an unrelenting foe of Hitler. It’s the anti-Catholic propaganda, coming first from the Soviets and more recently from intellectuals, that is fake.

If any further evidence were needed, Peter Bartley’s new book Catholics Confronting Hitler is an extraordinary readable and comprehensive, and describes Catholic resistance movements and rescue work in the Vatican and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe – and how it was often undertaken in collaboration with Jews and Protestants.

Catholics paid for their resistance: bishops were exiled or murdered, priests and active laymen were incarcerated or executed in death camps. With the pope’s blessing, the German Catholic hierarchy repeatedly denounced from pulpits the Nazi euthanasia program, as well as its neo-paganism and anti-Semitism. They hid and assisted Jews, and in 1943 the bishops “issued a joint statement deploring the wholesale eviction and murder of Jews.”

In France, underground papers written by Jesuits and approved by the pope, exposed Nazis evils, particularly racialism, and encouraged resistance, even against the puppet Vichy government.  Papal nuncios in Slovakia, Hungary, the Balkans and occupied countries of Western Europe, faithful to the pope’s orders, protested publicly whenever Jews were arrested or rounded up for deportation. Their actions often caused delays and suspension of deportation orders and permitted tens of thousands of fleeing Jews to find havens in Church facilities and Catholic homes.

The future Pope St. John XXIII was apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece during the war, and he saved the lives of countless Jews in Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. He rescued at least 50,000 Jews by issuing them baptismal certificates.

In addition to underground efforts, the Pontifical Relief Commission, created by Pope Pius XII, distributed food, medical supplies and clothing to hundreds of thousands of displaced people. The Vatican Information Bureau, Bartley points out, “enabled 2 million people to be put in touch with loved ones missing or incarcerated as prisoners of war or in concentration camps.” Also, “friendly countries had to exceed their quotas of Jewish refugees when they arrived on their shores bearing documents signed by Vatican officials.”

These responses to Nazi oppression led Albert Einstein to acknowledge, “only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty.”

And at a September 2008 international conference, Jewish scholars and rabbis told Pope Benedict XVI that Pope Pius XII had helped save nearly 1,000,000 Jewish lives.

So why does the myth persist of the “silence” of the Church? For the same reason that other anti-Catholic myths have found a place in our culture. In this case, it’s more than just “fake news,” because when the Church’s heroic efforts at rescue are ignored or even transformed into their very opposite, it’s out-and-out lying prompted by the Father of Lies.


George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.