Over half a century following the death of Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), controversy still surrounds his policies. The debates surrounding Pacelli have taken on a new urgency since Pope Benedict XVI’s recent (2009) proclamation of Pacelli’s “heroic virtues” and beatification, the penultimate step toward his proclamation as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Charges of Pacelli’s “silence” during the Holocaust led Pope Paul VI to allow four Jesuits access to his papers and the publication of the eleven volume series Actes et Documents du Saint Siege relatifs a la seconde guerre mondiale (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965–1981). As this selected documentation did not end the call to make the full archival record available, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in February 2003 and September 2006 respectively, opened those materials generated during the papacy of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), including documents from the Munich and Berlin nunciatures.
What kind of leader was Pacelli? What animated him? What key decisions did he make in the name of his church, and what were the concrete historical outcomes of these decisions with regard to persecuted Catholics and Jews in Nazi and Axis-occupied Europe, and, after the war, with regard to war criminals? Panelists will suggest answers to these historically crucial questions by focusing on three key areas: the never-published 1938 encyclical Humani generis unitas against racism and anti-Semitism (Frank Coppa); Secretary of State Pacelli’s position toward Catholics defined as Jews by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws (Suzanne Brown-Fleming); and Pacelli’s position toward Nazi and Axis war criminals, many of whom escaped to South America via Italy (Gerald Steinacher). Peter Kent will provide the first response from the perspective of his scholarship on Pope Pius XII as one of the first “Cold Warriors,” and Susan Zuccotti will conclude the roundtable by providing the second response in the context of her scholarship on the Vatican and the persecution of Italian Jewry during the Mussolini regime, World War II, and the Holocaust.