Pius XII, the New Vatican Archives, and the “hypologists”

A response to Prof. Kevin Madigan, of Harvard University’s Divinity School, and Prof. David Kertzer of Brown University.

Pope Pius XII is pictured at the Vatican in a file photo dated March 15, 1949. (CNS file photo)

Church history is a very strange phenomenon. It does not matter whether your academic position classifies you as an historian. If you are a Christian you risk having the label “apologist” put on your work, if you defend any aspect of Christian history—no matter how compelling and unassailable the evidence you advance. Conversely, if you are not regarded as an “apologist,” a glaze of impartiality protects you, even if your research is shallow and simplistic, hiding many errors, omissions and biases.

In fact, “apologists” can be right or wrong, good or bad historians, depending on their research and quality of analysis. Many gifted researchers and historians have been improperly assailed as “apologists,” because their rigorous and sound conclusions directly challenge the claims of Christianity’s ideological detractors.

Sometimes such detractors present themselves even as objective historians, working with records, files, documents and archival materials in a supposedly even-handed manner. Yet these detractors are actually propelled by their ideological convictions and predetermined theses. They cut and paste documents and employ selective and out-of-context quotations from them. They hide essential documents, or parts of documents, which contradict their ideological roadmap. Were they to acknowledge them, their prejudices would immediately be exposed. That was the case in the debates surrounding America’s involvement in the Cold War, and it is reflected in other fields today—not least the well-known, if increasingly floundering, attacks against Pope Pius XII. We should invent a neologism for such a category of scholars—that of “hypologists”.

The methodological problems of ideological agendas

Professor Kevin Madigan, of Harvard University’s Divinity School, has written an essay for Commonweal (Nov. 2, 2020) defending an August 27, 2020 article by Brown University’s David Kertzer, published in The Atlantic. The latter concerns Pius XII, the Roman Curia and the Finaly affair (a post-War custody struggle involving two baptized Jewish boys). Madigan felt the need to defend his Colleague after Kertzer’s Atlantic essay was seriously criticized. In particular, Madigan felt the urgency to answer “apologists”who maintained that Kertzer’s claims were tendentious, misleading and erroneous. Among the “apologists” Professor Madigan inveighed against was me, after my full-page critique of Kertzer’s claims appeared in the September 4 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

My essay was merely the first response to Kertzer’s erratic accusations about the alleged anti-Semitism of the Roman Curia under Pius XII – a bias, according to Kertzer, evident in the newly released Vatican archives of Pius XII’s pontificate.

In my response to Kertzer, I discussed another of his claims – that of the uncomfortable truths supposedly hidden by the four Jesuit editors of Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège (ADSS), the Vatican’s 12-volume collection of primary wartime documents, published between 1965-19811. The four Jesuits, Kertzer argues, deliberately chose not to publish documents which would reveal the alleged anti-Semitic bias of the Papal curia. An excised note by Fr. Tacchi Venturi and the elimination of another one by Mgr. Angelo Dell’Acqua, according to Kertzer, are the smoking-gun proofs for his allegations.

Since the opening of the archives of Pius XII’s pontificate, last March 2, some historians—first Germany’s Hubert Wolf, and now Kertzer—have made sensational charges in the media based on a tiny handful of documents—out of the millions now available—depicting the Holy See in the worst possible light.

But a fuller, more accurate examination of these documents reveals quite a different picture. For instance, nobody noticed the crucial discovery made possible by the recent opening of the “Pope Pacelli files” – the 170 archival positions (“posizioni”) entitled “Ebrei” (Jews), involving more than 2800 dossiers ordered by name (each of them involving a number of persons). This is amply documented in the newly published, Le Bureau: Les Juifs de Pie XII [The Office: The Jews of Pius XII], the 400-page work of Dr. Johan Ickx, Director of the Historical Archives of the Vatican Secretariat of State, revealing hundreds of new documents, painstakingly gathered and digitally organized2.

But sometimes it is better to bury records under the sand. For instance, Professor Hubert Wolf’s allegations invaded the media this spring, right after the Vatican archives opened, but then immediately had to close after just five days because of the pandemic. After a mere four days (excluding the first one spent on filing bureaucratic and personal data upon the first archival visit), Wolf and his team of researchers announced they had “discovered” how anti-Semitism had supposedly driven Pius XII’s conduct during the War and Holocaust, and how counterfeit the ADSS were. Wolf was publicly challenged by distinguished historians for his rushed claims; but nonetheless many people took his allegations at face value.

After the Vatican archives temporarily reopened in June and re-closed at the end of July (and will re-open this month, maybe on a very restricted basis) – David I. Kertzer followed suit, with his Atlantic article. Like Wolf’s claims, many media outlets reported Kertzer’s accusations without the slightest critical scrutiny, and without raising any essential questions: how many days did these two scholars actually work in the Vatican archives before their results were presented as “definitive” by the world press? How many documents did they have which actually validated their alleged ground-breaking discoveries and “truths”? Were they interpreting the documents correctly—or seriously distorting mere fragments of them (exactly what they accused the four Jesuit editors of Actes et Documents of doing)?

Fr. Tacchi Venturi: A “papal advisor”?

One of the documents Kertzer discovered had been partially edited in the ADSS3 . It is a draft of a diplomatic note meant for the German Embassy to the Vatican. It had been prepared by the aforementioned Fr. Tacchi Venturi, the Jesuit who had negotiated the Lateran Pacts signed on February 11, 1929 between Italy and the Holy See. The draft by Tacchi Venturi was a personal initiative. As an “ambassador-at-large” for Pius XI, he fully belonged to the previous generation of churchmen, like Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, the Secretary of State whom Eugenio Pacelli had succeeded in February 1930. Nonetheless, after Pacelli had succeeded Pius XI, Tacchi Venturi still hoped to get a position in the Curia, namely among the close collaborators of the new Pope, Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli himself.

But Fr. Tacchi Venturi was denied this privilege. In fact, contrary to Madigan’s assertions, Tacchi Venturi was not a “papal advisor” to Pius XII. The Papal inner circle, as the Vatican documents clearly show, consisted of the Cardinal Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione (until his death in the summer of 1944), and by ten other assistants—the monsignori: Domenico Tardini, Giovanni Battista Montini (the future St. Paul VI), Giuseppe Malusardi, Giulio Barbetta, Angelo Dell’Acqua, Corrado Bafile, Giuseppe Di Meglio, Antonio Samoré, Pietro Sigsmondi and Armando Lombardi.

Within this inner circle, Mgr. Angelo Dell’Acqua dealt with the most vital questions related to the endangered Jewish community. No Vatican document shows that Fr. Tacchi Venturi had an important diplomatic or advising role to Pius XII. Certainly, under Pope Pacelli, Tacchi Venturi accomplished many important tasks related to keeping in touch with the Italian authorities in many Jewish cases. No doubt his past experience was considered important, since he had fulfilled the role of advisor under Cardinal Gasparri and Pius XI. But nothing similar happened with their successors. This is not surprising since every new “Administration” (even a Papal one) renews its list of top officials. This point explains why Tacchi-Venturi’s draft (as we are going to show) never reached Pius XII but was dealt with only by Maglione’s and Tardini’s and Montini’s subordinates, who decided to dismiss it. Hence, no “papal advisor” of Pius XII existed outside the circle of the monsignori cited above. That’s why Madigan’s assertions are both inaccurate and naive.

Madigan’s “epic” narrative about the Nazi roundup in Rome

In his essay Professor Madigan writes: “The only insight we have had into Pius’ decision-making on the matter [the Nazi roundup of Rome’s Jews, on October 16th, 1943, and the Pope’s reaction] had come from a narrative published in the ADSS of the meeting the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione, had with the German Ambassador to the Holy See, Ernst von Weizsäcker. That account of the meeting,” Madigan continues, “whose meaning is disputed by scholars, was, in my view, already quite damning.”

In reading Madigan’s words, common sense would ask: “Why? Who? Which? Where?” Why is Maglione’s account disputed? Who disputes it? Which counter-arguments are brought to dispute it? Where, exactly, can we find evidence of the dispute?

Four “double-W’s” suffice to mark the missing points. It would be fair for Madigan to explain who disputes Maglione’s verbatim notes of his conversation with the German Ambassador. It would be fair to explain why these notes are disputed. It would be fair to tell us exactly what point of Maglione’s account is disputed. And, finally, it would be fair to get some further indication about where we could find evidence of such a debate.

The truth is much clearer than Madigan reveals. The account of October 16, 1943, a handwritten memo by Maglione (retrievable in the ninth volume of the ADSS4 ), was prepared on the spot soon after the Cardinal’s conversation with von Weizsäcker. In a nutshell, the document shows the following:

  1. Having known about the Nazi roundup in the early morning of October 16, 1943, Maglione, acting on the urgent instruction of Pius XII, summoned the German Ambassador von Weizsäcker, imploring him to intervene in favor of Rome’s Jews, “those poor people” [in Italian: “quei poveretti”] in the name of humanity and Christian charity.”
  2. The German ambassador, who was already informed of the roundup, emotionally answered that he was expecting for Maglione to ask him why he was still at his post. Cardinal Maglione replied he was not going to ask that, at a moment of crisis like this, but repeated his impassioned appeal, in the name of the Pope: “Your Excellence, you who have such a gentle and loving heart, please try to save so many innocent people. It’s a suffering beyond words that in Rome, under our mutual Eternal Father’s eyes [Von Weizsäcker was a Lutheran] many people are made to suffer only because they belong to a certain race.”
  3. After some reflection, the German ambassador asked what the Vatican would do, should things continue that way. “The Holy See,” Maglione replied, “would prefer not to be put in the need of expressing its disapproval.”
  4. Orders for the deportation of the Roman Jews, von Weizsäcker warned, came from the very highest source (i.e.: Hitler); hence one had to think about the consequences which a demarche by the Holy See would unleash. The ambassador then said: “Will Your Eminence set me free not to report this conversation?”  Maglione, in leaving the ambassador free to report or not to Berlin, replied, “At any rate, the Holy See must not be put in need of protesting. Should the Holy See be obliged to protest, it would rely on Divine Providence for the consequences.”
  5. Hence the ambassador, Maglione concluded, had to “do something for the poor Jews.”

The Maglione-Weizsäcker conversation is not retrievable in the German archives simply because, as we have seen, the German ambassador preferred not to report it to Berlin. He had shown the same behavior a month earlier in another case of rescue5).

In the following days (exactly the 17th and 28th of October 1943), von Weizsäcker wrote several telegrams, imbued with “tactical lies,” assuring his superiors that in the Vatican, even after the roundup, all was going well and the Pope would raise no protest6. Hence, before the ADSS appeared, historians working only with the German archives7, ignoring the Maglione-Weizsäcker conversation, were led to completely misjudge the situation. But even after Maglione’s account was published, many of those historians inexplicably retained their previous assumptions, perhaps downgrading the reliability of a “Vatican source.”

Such a naïveté is better evidenced by a simple fact: Cardinal Maglione’s account has been confirmed by the British sources. Here follows the text of a telegram British Minister to the Vatican Francis D’Arcy Osborne sent to the Foreign Office on October 31, 1943:

As soon as he heard of the arrests of Jews in Rome Cardinal Secretary of State sent for the German Ambassador and formulated some form of protest: The Ambassador took immediate action, with the result that large numbers were released … The Vatican intervention thus seems to have been effective in saving a number of these unfortunate people. I enquired whether I might report this and was told that I might do so but strictly for your information and not on account for publicity, since any new publication of information would probably lead to renewed persecution.8

The conclusion is that Osborne’s telegram, never quoted by Madigan, confirms Maglione’s account, refuting Madigan’s claim that the Cardinal’s notes are disputed among scholars, since “the Vatican’s attitude towards Italian Jews remained hostile.”

Being an “hypologist” burying facts under the sand is as hazardous to scholarship as being a misguided apologist.

The “Actes et Documents” (ADSS) collection according to Madigan

In his prosecutorial manner, Professor Madigan writes that “Kertzer also confirms suspicions about choices made by the ADSS’s four Jesuit editors,” who supposedly selected only documents favorable to the Vatican, omitting the embarrassing ones.

The test-case is a draft written by “Jesuit papal advisor Pietro Tacchi Venturi.” According to Madigan, the four editors of the ADSS completely “cleansed” the document and chose to publish those parts of the document “that spoke positively of Italy’s Jews, but otherwise utterly misrepresented the Vatican debate by expunging anti-Semitic material.”

These assumptions are simply untrue for the following reasons:

a.) The part of Tacchi Venturi’s document “cleaned” in the ADSS does not belong to “anti-Semitic material”, as it is very easy to verify by comparing the original with the edited text of the ADSS.

b.) Whoever has a good familiarity with the ADSS knows that many of the documents the ADSS editors decided not to publish are anti-German and pro-Jewish. We restrict the instances to the following:

  1. A letter from Cardinal Hlond on the violent persecutions in Poland, which pushed Maglione to summon urgently the Congregation of the Extraordinary Affairs (December 21, 1939).
  2.  A message sent from Bordighera by a Mr. X to the St. Raphael Society bureau in Prague for getting visas for endangered Jews to Brazil (February 16, 1940).
  3.  A report from papal nuncio, Andrea Cassulo, to Maglione on giving aid to Romanian Jews (February 3, 1941).
  4.  Two telegrams from Maglione to the Nuncio in Italy (respectively June 19 and 27, 1941) reporting the gratitude of the Polish Red Cross and Polish Ambassador to the Holy See for the papal assistance to the persecuted Polish people (both Jews and Catholics).
  5.  A report from the papal nuncio in Berlin about the measures adopted by the Gestapo against the Catholic Church in Austria (July 2, 1941).
  6.  An additional report from the papal nuncio in Berlin about the Nazi measures against the German bishops, accused of encouraging their worshippers to boycott Hitler’s fight against the Soviets (August 18, 1941).
  7.  The first report about the Lisbon Nunciature’s direct involvement in giving help to the refugees and to the Jews (November 28, 1941).
  8. A telegram from Cardinal Maglione to the Nuncio in Berne about the aid to Jews and the praise of the Pope coming from the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress (March 27, 1942).
  9.  A direct Vatican intervention in favor of the Croatian Jews on the Dalmatian coast (August 26, 1942).
  10.  Papal instruction to intervene in favour of the German Jews (October 7, 1942).
  11. A letter from Zagreb’s Grand Rabbi Freiberger praising Pius XII (March 16, 1943).
  12.  A letter from Maglione to Cassulo transmitting a list of Jewish families of Transnistra in need of help (June 23, 1943).
  13.  A letter from Maglione to the Nuncio to Germany Orsenigo, requesting an intervention in favour of Rabbi Alberto Orvieto, the dean of the Italian Rabbis, who had been deported to Germany (May 5, 1944).
  14.  The gratitude officially conveyed by the US authorities for the work carried out by the Holy See for the Jews in Slovakia.

Many more examples could fill far more pages. But the few lines above are sufficient to dismiss Hubert Wolf’s, David Kertzer’s and Kevin Madigan’s thesis about the faulty omissions committed by the editors of the ADSS.

This is not even to mention the incoherence of the allegations against the Jesuit editors: Kertzer and his followers assume that cleansings and omissions in the ADSS give evidence of the anti-Semitic bias of the Curia. But does it make any sense to “cleanse” the ADSS, only to make the incriminatory documents fully available in the archives later on? Why, if the Jesuits were determined to suppress supposedly embarrassing documents, did they not undertake a “laundry operation” by destroying the most compromising files forever? Why jeopardize the Vatican’s reputation by making all the documents available? Why preserve documents into the archives, if they showed so decisively the anti-Semitism of the pontifical Curia, with the risk of revealing how much artifice was in the editorial work of the ADSS? That’s not logical, nor in any way a convincing proposition.

But a crucial source definitely proves that the conspiratorial views about the ADSS, advanced by Professors Wolf, Kertzer, and Madigan are wrong—the diary of one of the four Jesuit editors of the ADSS, Fr. Robert A. Graham. In his diary entry of October 20, 1973, we read the following:

At this moment I have the bozze [in Italian: the drafts] of volume VIII, humanitarian work for 1943. Schneider says I should now prepare the introduction, which will have to be very good, because of the nature of the documentation, naturally on the Jewish question and relief in Rome. I said there is the whole documentation of letters sent to the Pope after Oct. 16 (none of which indicated the knowledge of what was in store). And then the whole list of appeals [for the] Jews, arrested in the fall of 43.9

As we have seen, Fr. Graham’s diary clearly informs us that volumes eight and nine of the ADSS Series (whose numbering of the drafts was still to be defined) would contain “the whole documentation” especially on the papal work after October 16, 1943. In fact, in his personal notes, Fr. Graham writes that, in preparing the volumes for 1942-43 nothing had been neglected of the available Vatican documentation, especially on the subject of the Nazi anti-Jewish roundup in Rome.

Hence, Fr. Graham’s diary strongly contradicts the thesis of an omissive behavior of the four Jesuits in editing the ADSS in order to keep the papal curia’s supposed anti-Semitism secret.

The “archival chaos” of Vatican papers on the Second World War

Madigan writes: “Napolitano exhibits pronounced difficulty handling the anti-Semitic language that Kertzer found in two documents drawn up in 1943 by Dell’Acqua and Tacchi Venturi […]. Napolitano downplays the significance of the way these documents were buried by suggesting that the four Jesuit editors of the ADSS were stymied by the ‘archival chaos’ supposedly prevailing when they began their work in 1965. But there’s no record of any such chaos at the time, and all the editors were intimately familiar with the Vatican archives.”

In fact, a record to the contrary exists, even if Madigan has no skills in reading Italian to find that out. Many years ago, two of the four Jesuits, Fr. Pierre Blet and Fr. Robert A. Graham, recounted the whole story about how the ADSS’ project began.10.

Blet’s description about the ADSS’ editing illustrates the point. “Some problems,” he said, “came from the situation we found in the archives. The archive of the Congregation for Extraordinary Affairs had not been reordered for the years 1939-1945, in such a manner as to allow our research work. Records were (and still are) right where they had been put for current affairs. Summing it up, it was not an historical archive. It was Fr. Angelo Martini [a Church historian who was another of the four Jesuits, together with Blet, Graham and Schneider] who asked for the keys to the archivist, and who picked up, bit by bit, the boxes we needed.”

Fr. Blet noted that until 2001 there did indeed exist a Vatican “archival chaos” in the records for the years 1939-45. No correction of his account has ever come from the Vatican or from elsewhere. Nothing looks more novel than what Madigan ignores.

Neither is Madigan’s assertion true that the four Jesuits of the ADSS were “intimately familiar with the Vatican Archives.” Had Madigan only scrolled through some internet engine, he would have discovered that the four Jesuits of the ADSS (Pierre Blet, Robert A. Graham, Angelo Martini and Burkhart Schneider) came from very different scholarly experiences. As Fr. Blet himself put it:

For sure, we were different persons, but regarding the way of publishing, on the methodology to adopt, we decided everything at our first meeting, in ten minutes, thanks to our respective skills. There were particular questions to solve: foreword, documents’ header, editing, compiling the register. But all of them were solved easily. There was no problem in the choice and selection of material. We only wondered if a document dealt with the War or not. If it did, we would publish it.

Hence, scholarly different experiences had led to a brand new project: the Acts and Documents of the Holy See on the Second World War in twelve volumes. But it is untrue that the four Jesuits were “intimately familiar with the Vatican archives” as Madigan maintains. Clearly, all of them were Church historians but on specific topics (Martini on Pius IX, Blet on the diplomatic history of the 16th-17th centuries, Graham on the Second World War, Schneider on general contemporary Church history). Consequently, none of them could be “intimately familiar” with the archives of the Congregation of the Extraordinary Affairs for the years 1939-45. In fact, the expression “Vatican archives” is meaningless without focusing on the exact archive and the exact period of reference. Moreover, the four Jesuits did not work in the historical archive of the Secretariat of State (which would come into being only in the middle 1980’s!), but in the Secretariat’s rooms leased to them by Vatican officials, working on records taken from the current archives and given them bit by bit by a jealous chief-archivist of the Secretariat of State—a bureaucrat himself.

The alleged anti-Semitism in Dell’Acqua’s and Tacchi Venturi’s memos

The groundless assertions by Madigan, following Kertzer—about a malicious methodology in the ADSS editing—needs to be addressed. A document by Tacchi Venturi, Madigan says, gives clear evidence that omissions in the ADSS were aimed at hiding the anti-Semitism of the “closest advisors” of Pius XII.

The draft in question was written by Tacchi Venturi (who, as mentioned, was not a “close advisor” to Pius XII) and partially published in a footnote of the ninth volume of the ADSS11 (footnote 1 on page 611) but, contrary to Kertzer’s and Madigan’s assertions, omissions were not aimed at hiding curial anti-Semitism. A simple comparison between the two texts (the published and the original) reveals that the parts omitted were the following:

  1. Italians’ resentment toward the humbler Jewish classes;
  2. Demographic data updated to 1941;
  3. A mention of an “infiltration phenomenon”—Jews who “contrary to their racial spirit” had married Aryan women; and Aryans who had married Jewish women;
  4. The demographic data on these marriages, taken from the statistics provided by the Italian authorities;
  5. The very high social positions reached by Italian Jews before the racial laws;
  6. The incomprehensible conduct of the Germanic authorities, who had begun to deport Italian Jews to camps—an offense against the Italian people who suffered at seeing the Germans “adopt measures contrary to their character;”
  7. The unnecessary deportation of the Italian Jews, since the Fascist racial law was sufficient to contain “the small [in a numerical sense] Jewish minority within their just borders;”
  8. The injustice of the measures adopted by the Germans against the Jews, who would have lavished “disdain upon those who had thought to order them;”
  9. The confidence that the German government would decide to “desist from the deportations of Jews;”
  10. The incomprehensible determination of the Germans to “return to a question that Mussolini’s government had considered already outdated” by the law of 1938, which had “provided a remedy for the serious indisputable inconveniences caused by Judaism;”
  11. The necessity for the Catholic Church not to be silent, if “the harsh measures against the small Jewish minority” were to be renewed—namely against “men and women who are not guilty of any crime.”

The eleven points above are those parts of Tacchi Venturi’s document not published in the ADSS. Among them, points seven and ten could conceivably raise questions about an anti-Semitic bias. Without denying the fact that Tacchi Venturi belonged to an earlier generation of Churchmen, affected by traditional anti-Judaism (though the Holy Office had condemned anti-Semitism on March 25, 1928), we have to keep in mind the circumstances: Tacchi Venturi was writing in a Nazi-occupied Rome, with Italian Authorities completely subjugated to Hitler until June 1944, the date of the liberation of the capital.

In such circumstances Tacchi Venturi sent to the Vatican a self-made draft of a diplomatic note that, in his mind, could be forwarded to the German Ambassador, von Weizsäcker, in hopes of preventing the worst for Italian Jews. The gist of that document (prepared also in a German version) was that the deportation of Roman Jews, which had happened weeks earlier, was a point of dishonor for the Germans. The Italian racial laws were mentioned in this context. For Tacchi Venturi, they sufficed by themselves to “resolve” the Jewish question in Italy, hence no deportation needed. In this framework, one could not understand the German wish to solve by deportation “a question that Mussolini’s government considered already outdated.”

The eleventh point of the draft was canceled by its proof-reader, Mgr. Dell’Acqua, together with other parts of it. As we know, on that point Tacchi Venturi expressed the necessity for the Catholic Church not to remain silent before “the harsh measures against the minimal Jewish minority” namely against “men and women who are not guilty of any crime.” If Dell’Acqua deleted this point, it is argued, this is proof of his anti-Semitism.

As we know, the text by Tacchi Venturi (prot. 7769/43) had been given on December 19, 1943, by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, to his assistant, Domenico Tardini, during an audience. The acronym “Eae” in the accompanying sheet means Ex audientia Eminentissimi, i.e. Maglione, not the Pope (since in this case it would have been “EaS”, Ex audientia Sanctissimi); and not “Eaedem=The same”, as Kertzer mistakenly reports in the appendix of the first version of his essay in The Atlantic. Tardini entrusted the draft to Dell’ Acqua with the following comment: “It seems to me that in this verbal note there is much verbosity and dissonant notes!”

Dell’Acqua studied the document and made some remarks:

One thing is the persecution of the Jews which the Holy See rightly deplores, especially when it is carried out with certain methods; and it is quite another thing to be wary of the influence of the Jews: this may be a very opportune thing.

It was therefore necessary to make distinctions, according to Dell’Acqua: having disagreements with the Jewish community, over theology or public affairs, for example, did not mean remaining passive or “silent” about the brutal Nazi persecutions against them. Was this an anti-Semitic attitude, as Kertzer and Madigan seriously allege? The actual text of his thoughts reveals something quite different than what Kerter and Madigan assert. Dell’Acqua wondered why the Pope would limit himself to intervening on behalf of Jews of Italian citizenship, but not on behalf of any foreigners, both Jewish and Catholic, many of whom were also living in Italy at the time.

Dell’Acqua then asked whether it was right to speak openly in an official note about the mistreatment inflicted on Jews by the Germans and their shameful ways, as Tacchi Venturi suggested. From this Kertzer and Madigan pinpoint evidence of Dell’Acqua’s anti-Semitism and of the “silence” of the Church. But the truth is read immediately afterward: “I don’t think expressions of this kind can serve to achieve the purpose.” And what was that purpose, two months after October 16, 1943? To not compromise the network of rescue and aid that had been activated throughout Rome, by the Holy See and its companions, to ensure that Jews and targeted people of all backgrounds, escaped arrest and deportation. Astonishingly, Kertzer and Madigan do not take into account this crucial fact.

Dell’Acqua also observed that on several occasions Pius XII had already spoken out against racism and the “racial question” in his widely publicized messages and speeches. But was it appropriate to threaten a new intervention? “Won’t it get the opposite effect?” If we return to the “Nazi Rome” of 1943, the meaning of this question will be better understood. The aim was ad maiora mala vitanda: to avoid worse evils, two months after the “black Saturday,” of October 16, when the Nazis raided Rome’s Jewish quarters. One word too many, and the rescue network in Rome, hiding and protecting thousands of Jews, would be broken forever.

Both Kertzer and Madigan then forget that the Vatican protest mentioned in Maglione’s account of October 16 is reflected, as we have seen, in the British archives.

It should also be added that Monsignor Dell’Acqua “rejected” Tacchi Venturi’s proposal for another reason: the Vatican had already written about the “racial question” twice in confidence to the German ambassador to the Holy See. A first letter to get information on the Jews deported from Rome; a second letter asking not to proceed with the arrest and confiscation of the properties of the Jews of Venezia Giulia (the operational area controlled by Hitler). Kertzer and Madigan are silent about these two confidential letters; but there is ample trace of them in the aforementioned ninth volume of the ADSS. Dell’Acqua therefore thought it appropriate to write again to the German ambassador to the Vatican about the tragic situation of the Jews; and he suggested (Kertzer again overlooks this) that some influential person should approach Marshal Graziani (Minister of War of the Italian Social Republic), to advise Mussolini to act with caution on the Jewish question. “But we should also let the Jewish Signori know to speak a little less and to act with great prudence.”12

This last sentence of Dell’Acqua for Kertzer is yet more contemptuous proof of anti-Semitism. But it is not so if we keep in mind the lines that immediately precede it.

The Finaly case, Roncalli and Pacelli

On the Finaly case, regarding the two orphaned Jewish brothers, baptized by a Catholic guardian and taken to Spain to escape French law which had assigned them to an Israeli aunt, Kertzer (followed by Madigan) highlights the alleged insensitivity of the Holy See, whose relationship with the Jews would change, he claims, only with John XXIII, and later with Paul VI and Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate declaration.

Things are obviously much more complex if we look at the Jewish sources used for the book Pacelli, Roncalli e i Battesimi della Shoah (Pacelli, Roncalli and the Shoah Baptisms), which I wrote with Andrea Tornielli13.

We know from Jewish sources that the bishop of Grenoble and the archbishop of Lyon collaborated with the judicial authorities in tracking down the Finaly brothers in Spain. A secret Jewish-Catholic agreement was then concluded on March 6, 1953. The Jewish sources narrate that the French clergy had already intervened with the Spanish clergy and were at the point of taking the children back home. From the same sources we know of dual approaches in French Judaism regarding the Finaly Affair: The Rabbinate wanted to maintain dialogue with the Vatican, while other organizations would have fought it publicly, to be exploited by the media.

Another text is also revealing, dated May 25, 1953, from the French archives. They are instructions which Ambassador Georges Bidault prepared for the Quai d’Orsai (the French Foreign Ministry). They read: “On the religious level, the instructions given by the Vatican to the Nunciature to encourage the return of the children testify to the approval, granted with knowledge of the facts, by the Holy See, to the agreements intervened.”

Jewish sources inform us about other key circumstances in the Finaly affair. For instance, Katy Hazan has revealed that “since July 1945 the Higher Council of Jewish Youth had asked the nuncio [Mgr. Roncalli] to try to recover them. That demand has remained unanswered.”14 This proof seems to comply with Roncalli’s written agendas. At the entry on February 20, 1953 (Roncalli was leaving France for his new post as Cardinal of Venice), we read the following: “February 20, 1953. Afternoon, farewell visit to President Auriol who was, as always, very amiable. He told me about the Finaly affair, to which I showed that I gave it no importance.”15

The Finaly affair, agendas’ editor Étienne Fouilloux has written, “does not seem to move the Nuncio”, who is leaving France for a new pastoral mission16. In fact, no reference is found in Roncalli’s agendas about his conversation with the Finaly family’s lawyer Maurice Garçon, at the personal request of the French President Auriol17. Why did Roncalli give “no importance” to the Finaly affair? Foilloux observes that it was “an ambiguous consideration (disinterest or appeasement?)”. For sure, in February, the emotion unleashed by the Finaly affair had reached its peak. A confidential note by Mgr. Montini to French Ambassador Wladimir d’Ormesson, quoted in the latter’s diary on February 26, 1953, informed about an agreement between Cardinal of Lyons Pierre-Marie Gerlier and the French Grand Rabbi Jacob Kaplan, to put the Finaly brothers in a “neutral house”. On March 5, Gerlier and Kaplan agreed to put the Finalys (who had been transferred to Spain) in care of a great Jewish family. Anyway, Montini highlighted that the Holy See considered it important that the Finalys conserved their Catholic religion18. But, as the following negotiations would show, before the official doctrine stood the political necessity for both parties to close a delicate period for Catholic-Jewish relations in France. On this point, I should keep my original thesis of the “two ways”—for the Holy See maintaining the Holy Office’s Doctrine was as important as adopting a sort of “pastoral flexibility” in the concrete cases19.

As to Pius XII, we know that, right in the midst of the Finaly affair, Jerusalem’s Grand Rabbi Isaac Herzog asked his Paris Colleague, Rabbi Jacob Kaplan, if his aid was needed, since Pius XII had personally promised him to give back all the Jewish children who still were harbored in Catholic institutions and families20.

That the picture is much more complex than Kertzer and Madigan suppose, is proven by a witness such as Vittorio Segre, press officer at the Israeli Embassy in Paris at the time: “It is logical to assume that there was support from the Vatican for the initiative implemented by Cardinal Gerlier through Miss Ribière, former secretary of De Gaulle, charged with tracing the Finalys. The story has had a very strong impact in the press.” And regarding this case, there was never “a conflict between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community.” “In fact,” says Segre, “Miss Ribière worked in complete freedom, without encountering obstacles in the hierarchies. There were difficulties, but they came from a much lower level.”21.


Obtaining truth from historical archives is an undertaking much more complex than reviewing them for merely a few days. It is virtually impossible, in fact, for any scholar or group of scholars to accomplish this task in such a short period of time.

Since the last remaining archives of Pius XII were opened in March, sensational stories have circulated in various media as if everything about Pius XII was already said and done.

Painstakingly obtaining historical truth is something quite different—much more complicated and more challenging than “creative history”. It ultimately demands time, patience, dedication and the capacity to research, examine and fairly evaluate millions of newly-released documents. Save for Dr. Ickx’s promising new work, this has not yet begun in any substantial way, least of all by Professors Kertzer and Madigan.

(Note: The Author wishes to express his personal gratitude to Marilyn Mallory for her great work in revising this essay, which was written directly in English. Marilyn was pivotal in rendering the essay much more readable for an English-speaking public. Dr. Mallory is author of Vatican Rescue: Pope Pius XII and the Jews, in two volumes—a docudrama and a companion scientific essay. To Marilyn goes the Author’s personal appreciation for her patience, her pertinent remarks and the great amount of time she spent in reading this essay. Of course, the Author considers himself as the only one responsible for the opinions expressed and for the eventual errors.)


1 Actes et Documents su Saint-Siège (hereafter: ADSS), edited by P. Blet S.I., R. A. Graham S.I., A. Martini S.I., B. Schneider S.I., 12 voll. (one in two tomes), Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965-1981.

2 J. Ickx, Le Bureau. Le Juifs de Pie XII, Paris, Lafon 2020.

3 ADSS, vol. 9: Le Saint-Siège et le victimes de la guerre, Janvier-Décembre 1943, Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1973, p. 611, footnote 1. See also doc. 473.

4 Notes of Cardinal Maglione, 16th October 1943, ADSS, vol. 9, doc. 368.

5 See Notes of Cardinal Maglione, 20th September 1943, with an Annex by Mgr. Montini of the same date, ADSS, vol. 7: Le Saint-Siège et la Guerre Mondiale. Novembre 1942-Décembre 1943, Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1973, doc. 410.

6 See: R. A. Graham S.I., La strana condotta di E. von Weizsäcker ambasciatore del Reich in Vaticano, in “La Civiltà Cattolica”, 2 (June 1970), pp. 455-71; J. Nobécourt, “Silence” de Pie XII, in Dictionnaire Historique de la Papauté edited by Philippe Levillain, Paris, Fayard 1995, 2 volumes. Italian edition: Dizionario Storico del Papato, Milano, Bompiani 1996, pp. 1183-1189.

7 See for instance: S. Friedländer, Pie XII et le IIIe Reich, Paris, Editions du Seuil 1964, p. 144.

8 Osborne to Britain’s Foreign Office, October 31, 1943, tel. 400, Public Record Office, Kew, UK, FO 371: FO 371 – Foreign Office: “Political Departments: General Correspondence from 1906-1966”, Political Southern: Vatican/37552: “German Ambassador to the Vatican”, Code 57 file 3592, “1943”. On Anglo-Vatican relations see: O. Chadwick, Britain and the Vatican during the Second World War, Oxford, Oxford U.P., 1986.

9 Diary of Fr. Robert A. Graham S.I., Entry of October 20, 1973. This entry was published for the first time in M. L. Napolitano, Pio XII tra guerra e pace. Profezia e diplomazia di un papa (1939-1945), Roma, Città Nuova 2002, p. 203 and footnote 97).

10 See R. A. Graham S.I., Alle origini degli Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège, in A. Riccardi, Pio XII, Roma-Bari, Laterza 1984; M.L. Napolitano, Pio XII e il Nazismo. Il “silenzio apparente” e l’“azione segreta” del Pontefice, “Nuova Storia Contemporanea”, 2001, vol. 5 , pp. 149-156; M. L. Napolitano, Pio XII tra guerra e pace cit., p. 69.

11 ADSS, vol. 9: Notes by the Secretariat of State, October 1943, doc. 370; The Secretariat of State to the German Embassy, 18th October 1943, doc. 377; Notes by Mgr. Montini, 25th October 1943, doc. 387; Fr. Tacchi Venturi S.I. to Cardinal Maglione, 25th October 1943, doc. 390; Fr. Tacchi Venturi S.I. to Cardinal Maglione, 29th October 1943, doc. 401; Cardinal Maglione to the German Ambassador von Weizsäcker, 6th November 1943, doc. 416; Notes by Mgr. Montini, 9th November 1943, doc. 419; Note by the Secretariat of State, 15th November 1943, doc. 426; Cardinal Maglione to the German Ambassador von Weizsäcker, 26th November 1943, doc. 441; The Secretariat of State to the German Embassy, 1st December 1943, doc. 449; Notes by Cardinal Maglione, 20th December 1943, doc. 473.

12 Segreteria di Stato, Città del Vaticano, Archivio Storico della Sezione Rapporti con gli Stati, Congregazione degli Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari (AA.EE.SS.), Periodo Quinto: Pontificato di Pio XII, Parte Asterisco, “Italia”, Pos. 1054, f. 1105r.

13 A. Tornielli-M.L. Napolitano, Pacelli, Roncalli e i battesimi della Shoah, Casale Monferrato, Piemme 2005.

14 K. Hazan, Récupérer les enfants cachés: un impératif des œuvres juives dans l’après-guerre, in «Archives Juives» 37/2 (2nd sem. 2004), especially pp. 23 ff.

15 Anni di Francia. 5.2, II. Agende del nunzio: 1949-1953, edited by Étienne Fouilloux, Bologna, FSCIRE Giovanni XXIII 2006, Entry of February 20, 1953, p. 656.

16 Ivi, p. 479.

17 See the entry of February 5, 1953, ivi, p. 651, footnote 779. On Wladimir d’Ormesson’s Journal see: S. Gauthier, Au plaisir de Dieu, au service de l’État. L’ambassade près le Saint-Siège de Wladimir d’Ormesson au prisme de son journal (1948-1956), dissertation of the “École Nationale des Chartes”, 2018.

18 Ivi, p. 656, footnote 793.

19 Étienne Fouilloux well resumed my thesis in his edition of Roncalli’s Agendas. Ivi, footnote 10 at pp. 6-7.

20 See, for instance, Procès-verbal de la réunion du 19 Mars 1953 de la Commission Finaly, Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, RGP.11, Moshe Keller Collection about the Finaly Children, File Number 20, passim.

21 See A. Tornielli-M.L. Napolitano, Pacelli-Roncalli, p. 140.

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About Matteo Luigi Napolitano 1 Article
Matteo Luigi Napolitano Ph.D. (full CV) is Professor of History of International Relations, Diplomacy and International Politics at the Università degli Studi del Molise (Campobasso, Italy); he is also an International Delegate of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences. He has written many essays on Vatican diplomacy during the Second World War and the Holocaust (three of them translated abroad).


  1. Pius was the first target of the enterprise which claims victory today in both Church and society. Those who have unjustly calumniated him unceasingly have engineered their mendacity to eviscerate Roman Catholicism and bring the West to the precipice of Marxism — all accomplished with the enthusiastic participation of revered academics and precious clerics.

  2. Your detailed article demonstrates, once again, that our blind trust in historians is misplaced.
    Historians, like all researchers, are believed to be honest – that they seek truth and disclose it.
    You point out, beautifully, the fallacy of this belief.
    I am reminded of the historical investigation inherent in Josephine Tey’s novel “The Daughter of Time,” where she exposes the deliberate lies told in order to crucify an individual.
    Thank you for this masterful expose’ of deliberate lies by historians.

  3. I would make the point that discernment is needed in almost any written document, whether history, polling results and even proposed scientific data. In particular newpapers are filled with bias and commentary hidden as news. However, the history of History books etc is that many are full of bias, it’s really not new. In particular anti catholic history has been going on for centuries, so reader beware. The classic is history books that blame the Catholic Church for the fall of the Roman Empire.

    I will digress for a moment into scientific world. A pharma company CEO made a comment that they were interested in data published in science PHd dissertations since they seemed to provide valuable discoveries. When they tried to replicate the results they could not, implying the dissertations findings etc. in effect were bogus.

    For any history book suggest checking out the reputation of the writer, his biases and reputation. Even good writers can make mistakes, the best documents are those that go thru a rigorous peer review. Also before buying a book it is not a bad idea to check out reviews on Amazon.

  4. The existence of the Vatican “ratline” that enabled Nazis to escape punishment by fleeing to places like Argentina is a serious obstacle to the progress of the pope’s cause for canonisation. It should not require any degree of hindsight to make men able to see that allowing murderers to escape justice is not by any means an act of heroic charity, The existence of the “ratlines” is an enormous scandal, and it beggars belief that a body claiming to be uniquely Christian should actively enable and assist criminals guilty of the most heinous and barely credible savagery to escape their just deserts.

    Opposition to Communism is no excuse – to protect wicked men from punishment, because Communists are among their enemies, sends the message that any crime is permissible, and even excusable, if it is committed by anti-Conmunists. That identitarian defence of anti-Communist evildoing is a travesty of Christian morality.

    With moral delinquency such as the ratline in its past, it is hardly a surprise that the Papacy twiddled its thumbs and played the Bad Samaritan by crossing to the other side of the road while thousands of minors were being preyed on by its unholy clergy and its unholy religious.

    If Pius XII had real jurisdiction over Mgr Hudal and his kind, why did the Pope not condemn and stop their Nazi-assisting activities ? What sort of papal authority is it, that permits or tolerates evildoing, rather than preventing it ? Such Papal benignity to such activities leaves the average Catholic, when quizzed about such things, in an impossible position. For why would any sane & decent person, once aware of such repulsive Roman skullduggery, want to join a body whose leading moral and doctrinal authorities saw no moral objection to helping Nazis ?

    Or does the persecution, torture and murder of millions of people not matter to Rome ? The efforts made to obtain the canonisation of Queen Isabella the Catholic, and the deafening silence over trivia such as whether burning Jews alive is really compatible with the Teaching of Christ, suggests that Rome is “totes kewl” with acts of inhumane savagery carried out by the command, or with the sufferance, of its candidates for canonisation.

  5. Professor Matteo Luigi Napolitano’s response exposes with exemplary thoroughness the shallowness and shoddiness of aptly named “hypologists” whose biases provide fodder for celebrity commentators and media journalists, many of whom have been raised on a diet of anti-Catholic ideology at schools and universities.
    In recent times “Apologetics” has been manoeuvred, because it is a necessary instrument of presenting the Catholic faith, into “boo”-word status by leftist propagandists in order to disarm criticism.

  6. It seems that Professor Madigan has committed the very error he cautions against at morning prayers in Harvard’s memorial church in 2018 (https://hds.harvard.edu/news/2018/03/07/kevin-madigan-eighth-commandment-and-second-amendment). To quote him, “Instead, I aim this morning to ponder what it means to read, and in particular, what it means to read well; even more precisely, how we ought to read authoritative religious and national texts honestly—in other words without misrepresentation or otherwise “bearing false witness,” as, indeed, it seems obvious the Eighth Commandment.” If he “read well” and “honestly” doing his due diligence to fully understand Pope XII’s position regarding Italian Jews, he may have overcome any personal bias in favor of giving the pope the benefit of recognizing his compassion in the context of the threat of Hitler. Diplomacy & compassion was practiced then and is called for now as we look back on the pope’s response in those threatening times. I invite Professor Madigan to literally practice what he preached at morning prayers and to refrain from the judgment he accuses the pontiff of so many years later. The documents when read in depth paint a different picture than his accusations.

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