As millions of Americans prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Daily Beast’s James Carroll has a festive piece accusing the Catholic Church of a “shameful bid to rewrite Holocaust history.” The problem: Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration that Pope Pius XII, who “knew early on of Hitler’s plan for the Final Solution of the ‘Jewish problem,’ and never raised his voice against it,” was a figure of “heroic virtue.” This, Carroll contends, is a “Big Lie” comparable in kind, if not in degree, to Adolf Hitler’s:
Pius XII is not to be held responsible in any way for the millions of Catholics, and other Christians, who, in the absence of his challenge to conscience, either actively participated in the genocide or did nothing to inhibit it. Neither is he charged, more perplexingly, with any responsibility for those senior Catholic officials who helped run the infamous post-war “rat line,” enabling the escape of Nazi war criminals (like Adolf Eichmann) to Latin America.
The archives that might bolster Vatican claims for Pius XII’s extraordinary interventions for hundreds of thousands of Jews have not been open to researchers. Records so far made public show a timid, if anguished, figure—a man who had come to loathe Hitler, but who restricted what opposition he could muster to inconsequential gestures behind the scenes. Heroic? It was one thing for Pius to have said nothing about the fate of innocents in distant countries, but, in October 1943, more than a thousand Jews were rounded up in the Roman Ghetto at the foot of Vatican hill, within sight of the pope’s windows, and still he did nothing.
To Carroll, Benedict’s praise for Pius is worse than a Pope attempting to spare his Church embarrassment. Crassly calling Benedict “a German inclined to minimize guilt,” Carroll accuses him of nothing less than an attempt to “destroy the evidence” of “a broad cultural failure, of something corrupt in the civilization that grew out of Christendom”—in other words, the roots of the Holocaust in Christianity itself.
No serious observer can deny that Christian anti-Semitism is real, has a long history, or that Christians participated in the Holocaust. In January, the Catholic Church rightfully earned a black eye for revoking the excommunication of unrepentant Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson. But there is reason to suspect that it is the Left, not Pope Benedict, who is rewriting history.
In 2005, Rabbi David Dalin (hardly a Catholic apologist) released The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, in which he argues that Pius has been the victim of a smear campaign by historical revisionists. Reviewing Dalin’s book, the American Spectator’s Sir Martin Gilbert writes that Pius opposed the Third Reich’s mass roundup of Jews every step of the way, from protesting to German ambassadors and complicit governments to coordinating widespread efforts to provide Jews with shelter and fake identification, even taking in several thousand Jews in his own summer estate.
The Daily Beast’s readers might be surprised to learn that Pius “was the first Pope to have shared a Sabbath dinner in his youth at a Jewish home,” that “he helped draft Pope Benedict XV’s powerful papal denunciation of anti-Semitism in Poland, which insisted that the Christian law to love one another ‘must be observed and respected in the case of the children of Israel,’” or that he was such an outspoken critic of Nazism well before the Holocaust that Nazi Germany lobbied against his rise to the papacy.
The story of the Church and the Holocaust is a dense one, and surely critics will find things to object to in Rabbi Dalin’s account of it. But it’s awfully hard to square James Carroll’s version with the reaction of Israel’s future Prime Minister, Golda Meir, to news of Pope Pius’s death:
When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.
Delegitimizing religious opinions by smearing faith as irrational and hateful is a major front in the Left’s war on conservatism, and they have found that playing up the anti-Semitism angle has the added benefit of pitting Christians and Jews against one another. But while we may disagree over the significance of the birth we’re celebrating this Friday, we should recognize our shared values, and their importance to our shared country.