Born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, known as Pope Pius XII (2 March 1876 9 October 1958). In the entire history of the Papacy, there are few figures as controversial as Pope Pius XII (2 March 1939 - 9 October 1958) Infamously called "Hitler's Pope", he is sometimes condemned for his supposed silence and complacency regarding Nazi Germany and its atrocities, The Quisling of Christianity who let minorities be massacred under his watch to further his Church's position. Reality was quite different.
Before he became Pope, he served as Papal Nuncio in the Kingdom of Bavaria, in the final years of the First World War. During this time, Monsignor Pacelli was highly critical of the Spartacist Rising and the brief Bavarian Soviet Republic which was erected there. He wrote to Monsignor Pietro Gaspari, his predecessor that, "the capital of Bavaria, is suffering under a harsh Jewish-Russian revolutionary tyranny". After the crushing of the event, he worked as a diplomat in the 20s, trying to help the persecuted Church (Catholic and Orthodox) in Russia. At the start of the 30s, he was critical of Catholic parties for entering an alliance with the Socialists and like Franz von Papen, favored the right over the socialist-communist left. Monsignor Pacelli disliked Nazism for its authoritarianism, its clampdown of traditional Church foundations but even in the 30s, he made references to the Jews "whose lips curse [Christ] and whose hearts reject him even today". In July 1933, as Cardinal, he oversaw the controversial Reichskonkordat which aimed to preserve Church autonomy in Germany, and in effect broke Nazi Germany's diplomatic isolation, as it was the first diplomatic treaty of any kind signed by the Hitler government. Upon becoming Pope, he promulgated a policy of impartiality and neutrality, even when the Nazis invaded the staunchly Catholic Poland, which as critic Michael Phayer pointed out, was perceived by the Polish clergy as a betrayal. In 1939, he ended his predecessor's ban on the French Far-Right party Action Francaise, famous for being virulently antisemitic. As a Pope, he was believed to have regarded Communism as a greater evil than Nazism, citing Stalin's invasion of Poland alongside Hitler, and regarded Germany as a bulwark to halt the spread of the USSR westwards and while he outwardly condemned Antisemitism, he allowed Philippe Petain's Vichy France to pass racist laws without opposition or comment. Later, in October 1941, Harold Tittmann, a US Delegate at the Vatican asked the Pope to unambiguously condemn German Antisemitism and persecution of Jews which Pius XII refused citing neutrality.
Behind this public front of diplomacy, however Pius XII engaged in Playing Both Sides. He established contacts with the German Resistance and the Catholic Church played a part in hiding several Jews. Contrary to his nickname of "Hitler's Pope", Hitler is recorded as having said Pius XII and the Catholic Church were "Nazism's greatest enemy" and according to one apocryphal story, once actually tried to kidnap Pope Pius XII from within the Vatican. The reason for such hatred on Hitler's part, is very well known to modern-day historians: Using Churches as hiding grounds for hunted minorities, issuing fake passports for war refugees and in general doing everything within his power to protect the targets of the Holocaust from Hitler's wrath would logically anger the Fuhrer to quite an extent. Whether these actions were the work of independent clergy were operating on their own or if it was encouraged by Pius XII himself, is not fully established by independent researchers since the Vatican Archives are still kept out of reach, though in 2014, Pope Francis ordered it open to the public well before the statute expired so as to clear the air.
The general view among Historians is that Pope Pius XII followed a pragmatic course, hoping to prevent Nazism from marching into the Vatican or bombing it via air-strike by maintaining a front of neutrality, which nonetheless allowed the Church's Network to save nearly thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. Critics argued that as the most powerful religious leader, at a time when most of Europe and America was highly Catholic, Pope Pius XII could have and should have done more by taking a public stand against Hitler and his antisemitic massacres in the early part of the war. They also note (as does Pope Francis) however, that in many ways, the silence towards racist pogroms conducted by the Nazis is a charge that can be addressed to the Allied Powers as well, notably the controversy regarding the bombing of the railway tracks to Auschwitz. Few historians argue on any serious level that Pope Pius XII was truly "Hitler's Pope". The hagiographic view is that he was truly saving Jews and did what was right in his position, the more critical view was that he was short-sighted and lacking in true political vision and was more concerned about the survival of the Church as an institution during the war.
Clearly he did a damn good job of pretending to be inactive, because after the war, the myth of Hitler's Pope was propagated, despite the blatant evidence to the contrary, by works such as The Deputy, which established an inaccurate cultural image of him as a weak and hypocritical Pope.
He was also evidently a big fan of cinema and television, even writing some studies about it.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Historical Villain Upgrade: He's usually portrayed as, at best, remiss and unwilling to help, and at worst, as a full-on Nazi sympathizer. Neither are true.
Appears in the following works:
- The play The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy, which kickstarted the whole Hitler's Pope thing. Also see its film adaptation, Amen.
- The Scarlet and the Black features him in small capacity, showing him as neutral in the conflict.
- James Cromwell portrayed him in a Italian made-for-TV film called Pius XII: Under the Roman Sky. It's centered around the attempted kidnapping of His Holiness.