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February 2001



In our January 2000 number, during the aftermath of the controversy surrounding John Cornwell's book Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, we reprinted an interview which the French Catholic monthly La Nef had conducted with Father Pierre Blet, S.J., an eminent authority on the Vatican documents relating to Pius XII's papacy during the Second World War. In a brief but scathing assessment, Fr. Blet exposed Cornwell as a rank dissembler and manipulator of historical documentation; a man without an ounce of professional credibility or reliability; an ideologue with a broader agenda - the discrediting of pontifical power - which he pursued regardless of historical facts.

We translated the Fr. Blet interview both to set the record straight and to serve as a reference document for readers when challenged by those seduced by Cornwell's profitable distortion of the truth. Yet the Pius XII defamation lobby, which has raged against Pius for forty years and in the process blackened the Papacy and the Church in the minds of countless millions, is nothing if not persistent. And so we find the need once more to present the case for Pius in the face of the latest assault: this time launched by a Joint Historical Commission of Catholic and Jewish scholars set up with unseemly haste in October 1999 by Cardinal Cassidy, despite strong objections from realists within the Vatican. The intention was to settle the controversy and end the attacks on Pius once and for all. However, in a showpiece of cringing postconciliar ecumenism, Cassidy, a career clerocrat and head of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, determined to appease the Jews by not only excluding Vatican experts and pre-eminent European scholars from the six member joint panel but agreeing to appoint four professors who had already published negative judgements on Pius and the Church!

The result, forseen by everyone except Cardinal Cassidy and his advisers, was all too predictable. From the outset the Commission simply looked to cast further suspicion on the Pope and the Church, making all sorts of spurious claims about lack of access to supposedly vital Vatican archives, leaking reports and colluding shamelessly with the international press to produce articles regurgitating the same old baseless accusations about Pius appeasing the Nazis and not speaking up about the Jewish persecution. The Commission's first Preliminary Report in October last year consisted of 47 questions which naturally cast the Pope in a very poor light. Yet after leaking this report to the press in apparent contempt of the Holy See, the Commission then cancelled a meeting with Father Blet while affording Father Peter Gumpel, S.J., perhaps the pre-eminent expert in this matter, only time enough to answer 10 of these questions. This display of unethical and fraudulent behaviour incensed Fr. Gumpel, who told Inside the Vatican:

"I find the Commission disloyal to the Holy See, and academically unacceptable and dishonest. If they wished to have a wide discussion, and to give us the possibility to provide exhaustive answers to each question, the time fixed by them was insufficient. We had the utmost willingness, but the commission decided not to hear all the answers. By what right have they circulated the Preliminary Report, which includes harsh accusations against Pius XII and the Church, without having even heard the answers to the questions they themselves posed? I wonder why they have done this? Did they wish to influence public opinion against Pius XII and the Church? All of this is taking place precisely when we Catholics are making all kinds of efforts to improve relations with the Jewish world."

Moreover, the answers Fr Gumpel gave in response to some of the 47 questions posed in the Preliminary Report reveal the Commission to be as devoid of reliability and credibility as John Cornwell. In Queston 44, for example, the Commission claims that members of the Polish government in exile in London were critical of Pius' role and demands to see a wartime report which the Vatican prepared in defence of its Polish policy. "American Press published this report in English in 1942," said Fr Gumpel. "I have a copy of it! Thus, in the name of truth and open disclosure, six scholars are demanding that the Vatican open its archives to them so they can have a text that has been in the public domain for 58 years." In this regard, one of the three Catholic members of the Commission, Father Gerald Fogerty, who is personally convinced from his studies in archives all over Europe that "no novelties" lie undiscovered in the Vatican Archives, admitted to a Roman news agency that the panel is still in thrall to the widespread myth in Anglo-Saxon culture that there are important unpublished documents in the Vatican Archives. But if this psychological barrier alone was the Commission's major stumbling block, the real source of its blindness, one might view the pattern of incompetence and utter lack of objectivity found in the Preliminary Report less harshly. However, when Fr Gumpel can authoritatively state that what the Commission offers as 'proof' - to support, for instance, it's claim that Pius XII approved Marshal Petain's anti-semitic laws in France - "is an invention…a falsification of history, a real fraud," then it is clear that the real stumbling block here is a deep-seated anti-Catholic animus; the barrier more ideological than psychological.

If the enemies of Catholicism never tire of falsely accusing Pius, and thus the Church, of either doing dastardly things or not doing enough, then we must be equally dogged in defending our own corner by repeatedly refuting these lies. So, in response to this latest offensive - no less hackneyed than Cornwell's attack but perhaps more credible because of the Vatican's own making - readers will benefit from the following reprint of a further critique of Hitler's Pope; a point by point rebuttal of John Cornwell's book which the admirable Zenit news agency obtained from Father Gumpel, one of the most respected authorities on the Catholic Church and the Second World War and postulator of the cause for beatification of Pius XII. Indeed, during a 1999 presentation in Rome of the book The Jews, Pius XII and The Black Legend, by Italian writer Antonio Gaspari, Father Gumpel concluded: "After reading over 100,000 pages of the documents for the process of beatification, I am more and more convinced that Pius XII was a saint." Because of the length of the document and the recognized authority of the source, Zenit wished to make the full Gumpel text available to the general public. It is sure to assist Catholics in countering this relentless, fraudulent, hateful campaign against Pius, the Papacy and our Holy Church.

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