The role of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War has been very contentious ever since the 1963 premiere of Rolf Hochhuth's play, The Deputy: A Christian Tragedy, which depicted the pope has haughty and unmoved by the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. Since then, he has been characterized on the one hand as "Hitler's Pope" (the title of a 1999 book by John Cornwell) and on the other hand as the "Architect for Peace" (the subtitle of a 2000 book by Margherita Marchione).
The subject of Pius XII's wartime actions has regularly surfaced in official interactions between the Catholic Church and the worldwide Jewish community. For instance, the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee met in the Vatican in March 1998 shortly after the publication by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews of We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. That document's defense of "the wisdom of Pope Pius XII's diplomacy" [fn. 16] sparked intense conversation, especially about the need for free access to the Vatican diplomatic archives for the period. Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, then president of the Commission, proposed the formation of a team of Jewish and Catholic scholars to explore the state of the question.
The resulting "International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission" was appointed to review eleven volumes of previously published Vatican archival material and to prepare a list of questions that could not be resolved from them. On October 26, 2000, this Commission issued "The Vatican and the Holocaust: A Preliminary Report," listing dozens of questions that perhaps could be addressed by unpublished documents in the Vatican archives (see below).
As the first decade of the new century unfolded, numerous books about Pius XII and the Shoah were published, ranging from harsh condemnations to more balanced assessments to hagiographic defenses. Unpublished materials in the Vatican archives were catalogued and incrementally made available to researchers. And the ecclesiastical process to investigate Pius XII's candidacy for sainthood proceeded. The possibility of canonizing the controversial pope periodically troubled Jewish-Catholic relations. Some urged that no action be taken until all the relevant historical evidence was accessible but others argued that aspects of Pius XII's life and papacy beyond his wartime role had to be considered, such as his theological contributions and support of scientific biblical research.
On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree recognizing Pius XII's "heroic virtues," a standard description of those candidates for sainthood deemed worthy of the title "Venerable" and whose candidacy now proceeds to the step of beatification. This action has reopened the question of Pius XII's decisions during the Holocaust.
This page is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive compendium about these matters, but to present primary and secondary materials as further developments unfold. Unsurprisingly, opinion pieces range across the spectrum. Essays or articles are presented here because of the prominence of the author or the distinctive perspective or information that is offered. The inclusion of a particular item does not mean that the views expressed are endorsed either by the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations or Saint Joseph's University.