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Rome Reports

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Vatican diplomats of the twentieth century: Criticisms of working in silence

In times of war, many Vatican diplomats were judged by the world and criticized for their apparent inactivity. Additionally, several were even accused of being accomplices with totalitarian regimes.

The most well-known case was that of Pope Pius XII, who was accused of antisemitism for failing to protect Jews during the Nazi occupation in Italy. Time proved that while he opted to keep his actions secret, he was working to help hide Jews and continue with matters of the Church.

DOMINIEK OVERSTEYNS
L'Opera della Chiesa

"After Italy's occupation, Rome's Jewish population increased. On June 4, 1944, there were about 9,930, out of which 6,300 received help. That's almost two-thirds."

This policy of working in silence was a common practice amongst the Vatican diplomats of World War II, being used in places like Budapest and Istanbul. 

Angelo Rotta and Giuseppe Roncalli, the future John XXIII, hid thousands of refugees in embassies and houses rented under diplomatic protection.

ROCCO PEZZIMENTI
LUMSA University (Rome)

"You can't just rent out 25 homes without informing the Holy See. Msgr. Verolino was directly in contact with other Eastern European nuncios, including Msgr. Roncalli, who later became John XXIII. They prepared passports so that Jews could flee to Palestine. The Holy See knew about this. So they weren't your typical rebels, but rather they were part of a much more strategic and complicated strategy.”

More recently we have the case of Pio Laghi in Argentina. During the dictatorship, he attempted to save several prisoners of war, including Che Guevara's brother.

LUIS BADILLA
Vaticanist

"Laghi had many problems with the Argentine Church, which considered that the dictatorship was carrying out a necessary and just task."

Cardinal Antonio Samoré was crucial to Argentina. His work served to calm tensions with Chile and avoid a war in the late 1970s.

Although there were exceptions, the diplomats normally worked in complete silence. This was certainly the case for Pope John Paul II who had a powerful and explicit style of conduct. The Polish pontiff, barely a year after being elected, traveled to his native Poland. There he met with leaders like Lech Wałęsa, icons of the struggle against totalitarian communism. These actions; however, almost cost him his life.