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Pius XII as a 'Righteous Gentile'

1/14/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Scholar Ronald Rychlak Defends Wartime Pope

JACKSON, Mississippi, JAN. 14, 2006 (Zenit) - Despite what some modern critics say, Pope Pius XII launched a multifaceted response to the Nazi campaign against the Jews.

So says, Ronald Rychlak, an adviser to the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations, University of Mississippi law professor and author of "Righteous Gentiles: How Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis".

Rychlak shared with us some of the information he has amassed in defense of Pius XII and the Church, and how Catholics can respond to detractors.

Q: How is this book different from those that have previously defended Pope Pius XII? What new information does it reveal?

Rychlak: In "Righteous Gentiles" I directly respond to arguments made by the critics of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church during the Nazi era. I generally tried to avoid doing that in my last book -- "Hitler, the War, and the Pope" -- because I wanted to lay out the facts chronologically and just as they happened.

Philosopher Michael Novak, author of the foreword to "Righteous Gentiles," pointed out that over the past five years there have been so many books and articles that set forth arguments against the Church that a book responding to them had become necessary.

That's what I have tried to do with this book: address each and every argument that has been lodged against Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church during the Holocaust.

As for new information, the first chapter of "Righteous Gentiles" sets forth 18 new pieces of evidence that have come to light in recent years. Each one casts a positive light on Pius XII and the Catholic Church.

The book also discusses Pope Pius XII, the Germany clergy and other rescuers from nations throughout Europe. Those topics have not, for the most part, been discussed in other recent pro-Pius XII books.

Q: How did Pius XII and the Catholic Church respond to Nazi aggression?

Rychlak: Pius XII's response was multifaceted. He opened buildings throughout Rome, providing food, shelter and clothing to all those in need. He also made many statements in opposition to the Nazis and in support of the Jews.

His first encyclical, "Summi Pontificatus" -- released just weeks after the outbreak of war -- expressly mentioned Jews and urged solidarity with all who profess a belief in God. Allied forces later dropped thousands of copies behind enemy lines for propaganda purposes.

In his 1942 Christmas statement, Pius spoke on behalf of "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."

His 1943 encyclical "Mystici Corporis Christi" explained: "Our paternal love embraces all peoples, whatever their nationality or race." He went on to say that Christ, by his blood, made Jews and Christians one "breaking down the middle wall of partition ... in his flesh by which the two peoples were divided."

Pius XII also used his representatives throughout Europe to intervene on behalf of Jewish victims. He sent open telegrams complaining to collaborating governments and commiserating with the persecuted.

He established the Pontifical Relief Commission which distributed food, medicine and clothing in 40 countries during the war, and he created the Vatican Information Office which supplied information about missing persons and helped reunite families -- all without any discrimination on the basis of race, religion or nationality.

Many Catholic rescuers were inspired by the repeated appeals in support of Jews that were broadcast on Vatican Radio. Some rescuers even testified to direct papal orders that they received to help victimized Jews.

The Pope's position, like his means of inspiring the resistance, was well understood during the war. The New York Times reported that because of him, "hiding someone 'on the run' became the thing to do."

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, following a 39-year investigation into Pius XII's life, concluded that the only way to save the Jews was with "secret but efficient ways to shelter them, provide them food and clothing, and move them to neutral countries. Pius XII did this in a manner unequaled by any state or organization."

Q: What did you find in your research of Church archives, especially the confidential Vatican report on Pius XII?

Rychlak: I was able to draw upon documents that I saw for the first time in March 2003, when I traveled to Rome to examine materials from newly opened Vatican archives. I returned to Rome in April 2004, at which time I was given ...

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