My how times have changed. During the Second World War a German Chancellor should have been rebuked and denounced by a Catholic Pope regarding the slaughter of Jews that he was perpetuating. That Pope, Pius XII, famously kept silent and never once even criticized Hitler for his extermination of European Jewry. Fast forward sixty years and now we have the incredible specter of the reverse happening: a German Chancellor is reaching out to a pope to teach him morality. When you think about it, that's unbelievable. Andrea Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, calling Pope Benedict the XVI on the phone and demanding that he do the right thing. "The pope and the Vatican must make absolutely clear that there can be no denial of the Holocaust," Merkel said.
Why would an elected leader of the German people denounce hate-filled holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson but the pope will not? Yes, the pope did, in response to Williamson's comments, proclaim his utter opposition to holocaust denial in a January 28th statement. But he has yet to simply kick the bishop back to where he belongs, a state of excommunication from the Catholic Church.
To make matters worse there is the curious phenomenon of the Church demanding that the Yad Vashem museum revise its displays pertaining to Pope Pius XII if Benedict is to visit Israel. Incredible. The Jewish people are to lie and revise history, whitewashing the sins of 'Hitler's Pope,' in order to receive his successor on an official pilgrimage.
The Catholic Church has come a long, long way from their anti-Semitic past. This was done primarily through the courage of three of the four last Popes, great men all, beginning with the John XXIII, continuing on with John Paul II, and culminating in the warm friendship offered to the Jewish community by Pope Benedict. So why would the Pope undermine the warm and outstretched hand he has offered the Jewish community by demanding that the sins of his predecessor, the unrighteous Pius XII, be expunged by his victims?
Just a few years ago a memo, dated October 23, 1946, came to light in which Pius had given instructions to Church authorities not to return to their relatives Jewish children who were placed in the care of the Catholic Church during the holocaust in order to save them from extermination. The memo stated: "Children who have been baptized must not be entrusted to institutions that would not be in a position to guarantee their Christian upbringing." It also makes it clear that Pius himself had approved this criminal policy: "It should be noted that this decision taken by the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office has been approved by the Holy Father."
But even before this recent revelation of Pius as mass kidnapper came to light, the moral cowardice of the Pope was well established. Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell and The Battle for Rome by Robert Katz convincingly demonstrate that Pius's failure, far from being merely a product of a personal prejudice against the Jews, was indicative of a far wider and more serious flaw: an almost callous indifference to the value of human life in favor of papal authority and the preservation of Church property. An autocrat who told the Roman curia repeatedly that their job was not to give him advice but to follow his orders, there is ample evidence for Pius as a collaborator with the Nazi government in their occupation of Rome. When the Nazis committed the heinous war crime of executing 335 Roman citizens, many of them Jews but the vast majority Catholic, in reprisal for a partisan attack against Nazi troops, Pius was implored to publicly protest and protect his personal flock. As usual, he refused to say anything that might upset the Nazis. It seems that neither the love of G-d nor the love of his fellow man could ever move Pius to publicly condemn Hitler, with whom he had famously negotiated, as papal nuncio, a 1933 treaty which the Fuhrer praised to his cabinet on July 14th of that year as being "especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry."
Pius even granted a secret audience to Supreme SS Polizeifuhrer Wolff, who had served Himmler as Chief of Staff and was in 1943 serving as the chief of German persecution apparatus in occupied Italy. That Pius realized he was doing something that others would regard as scandalous and immoral is attested to the fact that the meeting took place in great secrecy and Wolff came dressed in disguise. Years later, Wolff had this to say about the meeting: "From the Pope's own words I could sense the sincerity of his sympathy and how much he loved the German people."
The coup de grace, of course, was how Pius XII watched quite literally as the Germans, on 16 October 1943, rounded up more than one thousand Jews of Rome, nearly all of whom would perish by gas a few days later at Auschwitz. A special SS contingent had been brought in for the roundup, and since many of them had never seen the great city, used the roundup of the Jews as a partial tourist excursion. This brought them to St. Peter's Square, where many of the trucks actually parked, not more than 300 feet from Pius's window. Even as the Jews were herded aboard cattle trains and taken to their death, Pius dared not upset the Germans by offering any kind of protest. His strict policy of neutrality was upheld as the Jews of his diocese were sent to their death literally before his eyes.
But while he did not prize the lives of Jews, there was one thing that Pius did esteem and that was the bricks and mortar of his Churches. As the British and American armies geared up for a massive offensive in the Spring of 1944 to capture Rome, Pius suddenly found his voice. He condemned the allies for bombing the eternal city and ordered his American bishops to launch public relations offensives in the United States to pressure the Roosevelt government not to cause destruction to the sacred monuments of the city. This while the Nazis were gassing more than ten thousand people per day.
Pope Benedict is cut from completely different cloth than Pius. He is a G-dly man who has reached out to the Jewish community in genuine friendship and warmth. It is time for this courageous leader to unequivocally denounce holocaust-denying bishops and morally compromised Popes.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. They have just last week launched their national initiative 'Turn Friday Night into Family Night.' www.fridayisfamily.com.