The “Final Solution” constituted an unprecedented test of the Christian faith, a religion based on the concept of agape, the love that accords each individual, irrespective of difference, equal respect as a child of God—the love that, as Pacelli had declared in his first encyclical of 1941, quoting St. Paul’s utterance of Christian universality, does not discriminate between “Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all.” Christians were thus faced with a historic moral challenge. Was it not a clear Christian duty to protest and resist the extermination of the Jews, whatever the consequences?
Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, had a long history of anti-Judaism on religious grounds that had by no means abated in the twentieth century. It was not part of Catholic culture to persecute Jews on the basis of Hitlerian racial ideology, let alone condone the extermination of the race. And yet Catholicism appeared, on the face of it, to have links with the very right-wing nationalism, corporatism, and Fascism that sustained anti-Semitism or complicity in anti-Semitism on racial grounds. Practically every right-wing dictator of the period had been born and brought up a Catholic—notably Hitler, Franco, Pétain, Mussolini, Pavelic, and Tiso (who was a Catholic priest). There were isolated but significant examples of Catholic bishops expressing anti-Semitic views even as the persecution of Jews gathered pace in Germany in the mid-1930s. In 1936, for example, Cardial Hlond, primate of Poland, opined: “There will be the Jewish problem as long as the Jews remain.” Pius XI had tardily repudiated racism in his famous encyclical Mit brennender Sorge in 1937, but there was residual anti-Judaism within the treatise, as we have seen. Despite a clear lead from the Pontiff, the Slovak bishops, for example, issued a pastoral letter that repeated the traditional accusations that the Jews were deicides. There was evidence of anti-Judaism, even anti-Semitism, in the heart of the wartime Vatican. The leading Dominican theologian and neo-Thomist Garrigou-Lagrange was a theological adviser to Pacelli and at the same time a keen supporter of Pétain. He was a close friend of the Vichy ambassador to the Holy See. In an infamous dispatch, the diplomat told his government that the Holy See did not object to the Vichy anti-Jewish legislation and he even supplied source notes from Thomas Aquinas which had been assembled by Rome-based neo-Thomists.
* John Cornwell,
Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII
[Ο Πάπας του Χίτλερ: Η Μυστική Ιστορία του Πίου ΙΒ΄],
Penguin Book 2008,