In This Review

The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965
The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965
By Michael Phayer
Indiana University Press, 2000, 301 pp.

A comprehensive and deeply disturbing volume. Phayer describes in detail Pope Pius XII's preference for quiet diplomacy with Hitler and his regime, his anxiety about the Catholic Church's fate, his solicitude for Germany's Catholics, and his conviction that communism posed a greater threat than did Nazism. Pius not only failed to make public his knowledge of Nazi atrocities against Poles or the Croat massacres of Serbs and Jews; when Rome's Jews were sent to Auschwitz in 1944, he focused only on protecting the city from Allied bombings and a possible communist insurgency. And Pius was no exception -- many church authorities also failed to speak out.

Phayer then looks at postwar Germany, where church leaders acknowledged individual German accountability while pleading for leniency on war criminals. His account is especially critical of Bishop Aloysius Muench, President Harry Truman's liaison officer between the U.S. military government and the German Catholic Church. Yet Phayer avoids blanket condemnations and sets events in their proper historical context: he is careful to praise such figures as Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher (later appointed Vatican ambassador) who failed to persuade the pope of the Holocaust's importance. Nevertheless, he leaves the reader with a sense of scandal and shame -- and with a (relatively) happy end that came much too late: finally, the church's formal renunciation of antisemitism in 1965, after John XXIII's brief papacy.