Monday, June 2, 2003

Another twist in the Pius XII controversy:

Why did he help Nazis escape?

Yet there is one important Holocaust-related matter where I think Pius clearly did act at variance with traditional Catholic teaching about justice and how the ends must never justify the means. I am referring to Pius's role in assisting Fascist war criminals to escape to South America. By and large, Pius's advocates have played the ostrich when it comes to the Vatican's "ratline." Denying Pius's complicity in the church's smuggling of Nazi and Croatian Fascists out of Europe flies in the face of incontrovertible evidence. Uki Goni's The Real Odessa (Granta Books, 2002, second edition) provides the conclusive documentation. Using previously unavailable material from the Public Record Office in England and from the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration, Goni clearly demonstrates that Pius knew that ecclesiastical institutions in Rome were hiding war criminals. "The British that the pope secretly pleaded with Washington and London on behalf of notorious criminals and Nazi collaborators," Goni writes. Why did Pius help these murderers escape justice? Because he was convinced they would carry on the fight against communism elsewhere. It turns out that Pope Pius was one of the first cold-war warriors.

In fact, the ratline conforms to a pattern of Vatican postwar action. Pius sought clemency for Arthur Greiser, who had murdered thousands of Polish Catholics and Jews (the Poles executed him anyway); and for Otto Ohlendorf, head of one of the notorious Nazi mobile killing squads (U.S. Military Governor General Lucius Clay rejected the pope's appeal, saying that Ohlendorf was guilty of specific, heinous crimes); and for other mass murderers. After the war, the U.S. State Department complained that the Vatican was uncooperative in expelling suspected war criminals from Vatican City. The Vatican knew that Croatian Fascists brought looted gold with them from Yugoslavia after the war, but did not report this to the Tripartite Commission for the Restitution of Monetary Gold.

What do these jarring facts tell us about Pius? Why would the leader of a church that supported the state's right to use capital punishment plead for the lives of mass murderers? If Pius was so saddened about Europe's Jews—as he wrote Bishop Preysing in 1944—why did he later help their killers escape? Why have advocates for Pius's canonization failed to address the ratline issue? Wouldn't it be better for them to admit the facts and then place these failings in the full context of Eugenio Pacelli's life? Perhaps his advocates can make an argument that, because of the Communist threat, the ratline does not disqualify Pius from sainthood. That argument has yet to be made, however.