Backed by a wealth of new research, John Cornwell tells for the first time the story of the World War II career of Eugenio Pacelli, the man who was Pope Pius XII, arguably the most dangerous churchman in modern history. In the first decade of the century, as a brilliant young Vatican lawyer, Pacelli helped shape a new ideology of unprecedented papal power in Germany. In 1933 Hitler became his negotiating partner, an agreement was arranged that granted religious and financial payments to the Catholic Church in exchange for their withdrawal from social and political privilege, ensuring the rise of Nazism.
This devastating account of the ecclesiastical career of Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958), who became Pope Pius XII in 1939, is all the more powerful because British historian John Cornwell maintains throughout a measured though strongly critical tone. After World War II, murmurs of Pacelli's callous indifference to the plight of Europe's Jews began to be heard. A noted commentator on Catholic issues, Cornwell began research for this book believing that "if his full story were told, Pius XII's pontificate would be exonerated." Instead, he emerged from the Vatican archives in a state of "moral shock," concluding that Pacelli displayed anti-Semitic tendencies early on and that his drive to promote papal absolutism inexorably led him to collaboration with fascist leaders. Cornwell convincingly depicts Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli pursuing Vatican diplomatic goals that crippled Germany's large Catholic political party, which might otherwise have stymied Hitler's worst excesses. The author's condemnation has special force because he portrays the admittedly eccentric Pacelli not as a monster but as a symptom of a historic wrong turn in the Catholic Church. He meticulously builds his case for the painful conclusion that "Pacelli's failure to respond to the enormity of the Holocaust was more than a personal failure, it was a failure of the papal office itself and the prevailing culture of Catholicism." --Wendy Smith
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