The director of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, said last week Pope Pius XII was a Pontiff “in line with the history of the Catholic Church of the 20th century,” who during the Nazi persecution did not doubt in extending a hand to the Jews hiding in churches, convents, seminaries, and therefore the black legend surrounding him does not have any historic basis.
“Since 1963 the focus has been on Pius XII in search of evidence of his culpability, but nothing has been found,” Mieli told L’Osservatore Romano. “Moreover, studies have brought to light abundant documentation that testifies to how the Church provided Jews with fundamental assistance.”
According to Vatican watcher Sandro Magister, the interview was carried out by Maurizio Fontana and by the director of the L’Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian.
In the extensive interview, Mieli, who is from a Jewish family and whose relatives died in a Nazi concentration camp, underscored the heroic role played by the Church during the Nazi occupation of Rome.
“The Church put herself completely at their disposition: all of the basilicas, all of the churches, all of the seminaries and all of the convents hosted and extended a hand to the Jews. So much so that in Rome, where two thousand Jews were deported, 18,000 were able to be saved,” Mieli said. While the “Church of Pius XII” can’t claim to have saved all 18,000, she can say that she “contributed to saving most of them,” Mieli wrote.
He underscored the witness of Rome’s chief Rabbi in 1944, Isaac Herzog, who said at the time, “The people of Israel will never forget what Pius XII and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion that constitute the basis of an authentic civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history. It is a living sign of divine providence in this world.”
“That same year,” Mieli added, “Sergeant Joseph Vancover wrote: ‘I wish to speak of the Jewish Rome, of the great miracle that thousands of Jews have found. The churches, the convents, the friars and the monks, and above all, the Pontiff, have stepped up to help and save the Jews, snatching them from the claws of the Nazis and their Italian fascist collaborators’.”
Therefore, he rejected claims that the Pope was silent and an accomplice of the Nazi crimes. “Anyone who does not have a prejudiced attitude and makes an effort to get to know Pacelli through the documents cannot help but be surprised by this black legend that has no meaning. Pius XII was a great Pope,” Mieli said.
“If we look at it as a historical event, the black legend is crazy. But I think that, apart from any controversy, every historian worthy of the name—including the case of people like me who are not Catholic—will work to reestablish the truth,” he said.
Mieli said Pius XII paid the price for his anti-Communism, but he “was a Pope in line with the history of the Catholic Church of the 20th century. If you read what he wrote or listen to his recorded speeches you realize how he also criticized liberalism,” he added.
“Be aware,” he said, “I think this black legend’s days are numbered,” because “historians will do justice to Pius XII.”