First read Peter Steinfels. Then talk about the Vatican and the Third Reich.
First read Peter Steinfels’s superb piece in the current Commonweal on the crisis of attrition in the Church. On the big issues for Catholicism in the United States — and why bishops (and other Catholics) don’t talk enough about the big issues — it strikes me as exactly right.
If you’ve done that and are looking for something completely different you might take a look at the Journal of Modern History, June 2010 issue. (I couldn’t find an open link — you can access it through many university libraries with a university identification.) There William Patch has an unusually lucid summary of the ongoing stream of books on the relationship between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. The polemics around the topic have attracted attention, of course, but the real story is access to a wide range of new sources as the Vatican (and other bodies) slowly open their archives for the 1930s and 1940s. Patch’s conclusions:
1. The highest Vatican officials — including Eugenio Pacelli, Vatican nuncio to Germany and then Pope Pius XII — did not display a sympathy for Nazism over Communism. Instead, consistently, they condemned both. They muted public criticism of Nazism because of fears that many German Catholics would abandon the Church, obviously a decision that can be critiqued, but their anti-communism did not blind them.
2. Anti-Semitism among even those Catholic leaders — German, American, French — strongly opposed to Nazism was more significant than previously realized. Of course Anti-Semitism was evident among political leaders as well, but the Anti-Semitism among church officials has a casual, everyday currency that jolts the contemporary reader, and makes the discussion of Catholic-Jewish relations at the Second Vatican Council even more surprising.
3. Pius XII certainly knew about the Holocaust in 1942-43 but he did not know much more (indeed perhaps less) than Roosevelt or Churchill.
4. Intriguingly: fierce Vatican opposition to the Soviet Union, and the influence of this opposition on figures such as George Kennan, may have played a role in jumpstarting the early cold war.