Why did Pius XII stay silent on the Holocaust?

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Pius XII was elected pope months before the outbreak of World War II. His response to the war, and public silence with regard to the Holocaust, have often made him the subject of historical controversy.

Emilio Artiglieri is the president of an association promoting the study of Pius XII's life and pontificate. He says that more than two years after the Vatican opened its archives from the World War II era to scholars, it emerged that the Pope opted for silence to avoid persecution from the Third Reich so as to allow the Church to covertly provide humanitarian aid to those in need.

President, Pius XII Association

There was already a precedent. Pius IX was forced into captivity at one point. That's why it was a possibility that the pope not only be stopped from carrying out his ministry, but that his condemnations would not lead to anything beneficial to these persecuted people in this unfortunate situation.

One such way the Pope supported persecuted persons was by establishing an office within the Vatican to use the Church's network to connect both Jewish and non-Jewish individuals to their families after separations caused by deportations, deployments, and forced migration. At the end of World War II, at least 40 million people were estimated to have been displaced from their home countries.

President, Pius XII Association

This information office for prisoners of war was very important to give families the chance to track down their loved ones. We have many very moving letters from mothers, fathers, who write to the pope to ask him for their help, to try to track down their loved ones which they have no news of.

While critics say the Pope did not openly condemn Nazism in order to secure safety for the church and clergy in Europe, Artiglieri insists that the Church's activity during the war demonstrates that Pius XII did not prioritize the Church's interests over humanitarian needs, and always supported people persecuted by the Nazis. 

President, Pius XII Association

In the Vatican and in the Lateran [basilica], many many Jews were hosted, but also non-believers. In the Lateran, Pietro Nenni was hosted, the leader of the socialist part who at that time was very anti-clerical, but even being against the influence of the Church he was harbored in the Lateran basilica, and they put him in priest's clothes to hide him, as they did with many others.

Pius XII was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, meaning that the Church has already certified his “heroic virtues,” and has ruled that the controversy surrounding the pope should not impede his path to sainthood. 


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