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SAN DIEGO, June 13, 2010 ( - The 
Telegraph in the UK and other newspapers recently reported 
about a letter written by Pope Pius XII to President Roosevelt. 
In this letter, dated August 30, 1943, the pope begged 
President Roosevelt to spare Rome from Allied bombing. At a 
time of devastating clashes between American and German forces 
in Anzio, Monte Cassino and elsewhere, the pope rightly feared 
the Americans would bomb Rome and thus likely destroy the 
hundreds of church properties in Rome and the Vatican, destroy 
priceless Vatican treasure, and even the very symbols of Catholic 
identity and power, from the basilica of St. Peter’s to the lives 
of the pope, the curia, and thousands of other members of the clergy.

Pope Pius was certainly preoccupied with protecting Rome. So 
much so that he seems to have neglected worrying about other 
things, like protecting lives, preventing mass murder, and 
saving souls, for instance.

When Berlin’s Bishop Preysing pressured the Pope to speak out 
against the murder of the Jews, the Pope replied that to him 
the most pressing issue was maintaining the Church’s unity 
and the trust of Catholics on either side of the conflict. 
To the pope, the murder of millions of Jews was less important 
than causing the millions of Catholics fighting in the German 
armed forces some moral anguish. When a correspondent for 
L’Osservatore Romano asked the pope whether he was not going 
to protest the extermination of the Jews, the pope answered, 
“Dear friend, do not forget that millions of Catholics serve 
in the German armies. Shall I bring them into conflicts of 
conscience?” <1>

He also wrote to Bishop Preysing that he felt he had to do 
whatever was necessary, including sacrificing his moral 
standing, to maintain the safety of Rome. And at least with 
Sir Francis D’Arcy Osborne, the British Ambassador to the Vatican, 
the pope had lost his moral standing. It’s not too surprising 
then to know that Osborne wrote, “I am revolted by Hitler’s 
massacre of the Jewish race on the one hand and, on the other, 
the Vatican’s apparently exclusive preoccupation . . . with the 
possibilities of the bombardment of Rome.”<2> Osborne had been 
frustrated with the pope for a long time. He had written to 
the pope on September 1942 asking him to condemn the 
extermination of the Jews of Europe. But the pope did not 
allow himself to get entangled in any such public denunciations. 
As Osborne wrote to him, “A policy of silence in regard to 
such offenses against the conscience of the world must necessarily 
involve a renunciation of moral leadership.”<3> Still, the pope 
would not budge. The British and the Americans continued to 
pressure him until they finally got the pope to make the first 
of his two declarations that could be construed as some sort of 
condemnation of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. The 
vehicle for the first of these was the pope’s Christmas 1942 
message, broadcast over Vatican Radio and heard by millions of 
people. In this tepid and innocuous message, delivered at a time 
when millions of Jews had already been murdered, the pope spoke 
for about forty-five minutes on other topics, and only at the 
end uttered a few sentences lamenting that “hundreds of thousands” 
of innocent human beings “were doomed to death”. The pope chose 
not to mention that those doomed to death were Jews, or that the 
ones killing were Germans, or that what was happening was mass 
murder. As always, this was delivered in that typical Vatican 
language so vague and obtuse no one really understood what was 
being said. As the German ambassador to the Vatican reported to 
his superiors after a similar communiqué, “There is less reason t
o object to the terms of this message . . . as only a very small 
number of people will recognize in it a special allusion to the 
Jewish question.”<4>

Pope Pius also seemed to have forgotten to instruct the faithful 
listening that murdering Jews was a crime and a mortal sin, which 
meant millions of Catholics went on merrily murdering Jews with a 
clean conscience. They never heard from the infallible vicar of 
Christ or the vast majority of the clergy that being a part of 
the machinery of extermination was a guaranteed ticket to hell. 
Aside from the crimes committed by clergy before, during and after 
the Second World War, and the colossal moral failures of the Church 
vis-à-vis the Holocaust, the Church also failed miserably as a 
pastor of souls.

Gabriel Wilensky


1. Statement of Dr. Senatro on March 11, 1963, at a public 
   discussion in Berlin. Quoted in Guenter Lewy, "The Catholic 
   Church and Nazi Germany," p. 304
2. Quoted in Garry Wills, "Papal Sin," p. 66
3. Owen Chadwick, "Britain and the Vatican during the Second World War," p. 212-213
4. Weizsäcker to the Foreign Ministry, October 28, 1943, PA Bonn, Inland IIg, 192

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