cover image The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler

The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler

David I. Kertzer. Random House, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-0-8129-8994-6

Drawing on recently unsealed documents from the Vatican archives, Pulitzer winner Kertzer (The Pope and Mussolini) delivers a devastating look at how Pope Pius XII put the preservation of the Catholic Church ahead of “courageous moral leadership” during WWII. The new evidence includes notes from secret meetings between Pius XII and a Nazi envoy that centered on the treatment of German Catholics while ignoring the invasion of Poland and other matters, and reports from the pope’s nuncios across Europe that reveal just how much he knew about the Holocaust. Kertzer also reveals that when tensions arose between Italian Fascists and the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the pope ordered it not to publish articles that were “in apparent contrast with the supreme interests of the country.” Despite the urgent pleas of priests, rabbis, and Allied diplomats, Pius XII refused to condemn “the Nazis’ ongoing extermination of Europe’s Jews,” including the deportation of more than 1,000 Roman Jews to Auschwitz in 1943 (only 16 survived). Kertzer acknowledges that Pius XII initially had legitimate concerns that the Axis dictators would soon be in control of Europe, and therefore needed to tread lightly, but as the tide turned and evidence of atrocities mounted, his approach never changed. “As a moral leader,” Kertzer concludes, “Pius XII must be judged a failure.” Scrupulous and authoritative, this is a damning case built by a master prosecutor. Photos. Agent: Wendy Strothman, Strothman Agency. (June)