The Secret History of Pius XII
Viking, $29.95, 430 pp.
One approaches with skepticism and apprehension a work whose author describes his "moral shock" at the very subject about whom he is writing. Such feelings are exacerbated by a tendentious title which, on one hand, characterizes Pope Pius XII as some kind of subservient ally or stooge of Adolf Hitler, and, on the other, with its reference to "secret history," reduces itself to the level of a supermarket tabloid. There is no author or historian who can write totally objectively, and such an antiseptic approach would not be desirable in any case. It is rare, however, that any author reveals the level of his bias even before the reader takes up the book, but this is what John Cornwell does in Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII.
Nevertheless, this is a fascinating book which enlightens while it enrages, accuses while it challenges, offends while it searches for truth. Cornwell’s research includes sources as diverse as the beatification testimony for Pope Pius XII, Vatican archives up to the year 1922 dealing with Pacelli’s early career in Germany, and a variety of governmental and scholarly studies concerning the 1933 concordat between the Holy See and Nazi Germany. It is perhaps Cornwell’s most damning allegation that Pacelli, then the Vatican’s secretary of state, was instrumental in making a deal whereby the Catholic Center Party, then the only political obstacle to Hitler’s one-party rule, would...