Nun Defends Man Some Called 'Hitler's Pope'
BY NAVID IQBAL
MADISON -- Pope Pius XII did not condemn the Nazis during the Holocaust because he wanted to save lives, the Morristown-based author of a new book about the pope said at Drew University on Sunday afternoon.
If the pope had condemned the Nazi Party outright, "the Nazis would have gone after him. He would have been kidnapped," Sister Margherita Marchione said during a book-signing of her latest work, "Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs (1939-1945)." (Paulist Press 2006)
"All the people he saved would have been caught."
Marchione, a resident of Villa Wash, a Religious Teachers Filippini academy in Morristown, has been an outspoken advocate for the canonization of Pius XII, which would elevate the controversial pope to sainthood. Her new book discusses the letters written to the pope by family members who were prisoners of war during World War II.
At 84, her efforts to clear Pope Pius' record have led some people to call her the "the fighting nun," said Regina Mezei, the president of the New Jersey Chapter of the Fulbright Association, which organized the event hosted at Drew University.
Marchione, standing at about 5 feet tall, just cleared a podium as she spoke to more than 60 people at Mead Hall on Sunday before signing copies of some of the 50 books she has authored. At the end of the 45-minute talk, a tear settled on her cheek.
She received resounding applause from the crowd, which included some Drew University students, educators and fellow Fulbright alumni.
When the Holocaust occurred, she was a 19-year-old teacher in Baltimore, she said in response to a question. She said she and others here did not know what was going on overseas.
"Really, it was shameful," she said. "We didn't know anything at all."
In 1957, Marchione, a Little Ferry native, met Pius XII. Forty years later, she became his defender -- so much so that she wants to see something beyond Pope Benedict XVI's initiation last year of the process by which he would become a saint.
The beleaguered record of the late pope would be "cleared"through federal recognition, she said. She said she would try to get her book or other scholarship that defends Pope Pius XII into the Congressional Record.
Marchione's latest book describes the wartime humanitarian efforts of Pope Pius, who continues to be blamed for ignoring Jewish persecution during the Holocaust. Even at what would have been the 130th birthday of Pope Pius, which was marked earlier this week, a polemic about his role -- or lack of one -- during the Holocaust rages on.
Marchione said criticism of the pope began after he criticized communism. A communist newspaper, she said, printed an article that questioned why he kept silent.
The pope also had been criticized in fiction such as Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play, "The Deputy," which later was made into a movie.
The criticism ignited again in the late 1990s. Books such as "Hitler's Pope: the Secret History of Pius XII," (Penguin 1999) written by Roman Catholic author John Cornwell, accused Eugenio Pacelli -- who became Pius XII in 1939 -- of sympathizing with the Nazis and of helping Adolf Hitler come to power.
Like Marchione, other scholars dispute these contentions.
In 2005, Rabbi David G. Dalin, a history teacher at Ave Maria University, wrote "The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis" (Regnery Books), which argued against Cornwell's contentions. Dalin suggested that Pius XII should even be named a righteous Gentile on Israel's Holocaust memorial.
"No one did more to save Jewish victims of the Holocaust"than the Vatican, Marchione said on Sunday.
She said the Vatican had developed a "an underground railroad" that helped prisoners of war communicate with their loved ones. The POW families sent nearly 2 million letters to the Vatican appealing for help. The stories of these letters make up the crust of "Crusade of Charity."
The late pope, Marchione said, "resented, rebelled and contacted the Nazis" as they were capturing Jewish people in Rome to send to the Auschwitz death camp. Pope Pius XII threatened to publicly condemn the Nazis, who stopped the deportation after one day due to his threat, Marchione said. She said many Jewish men even showed their appreciation to the church by joining the Vatican Army, which grew from 400 at the start of the war to 4,000 when it ended.
"He so provoked the Nazis they called him a mouthpiece for the Jewish war criminals," she said.
While he condemned "specific acts of the Nazis," he could not make a broader condemnation because it would jeopardize the Jews and others who were rescued by the Church, Marchione said.
"All experts agreed if the pope had more directly attacked the Nazis, more lives would have been lost," she said.
"There were limits to the power of the Vatican in face of a world power with military domination over a continent."
Evidence such as this is what disputes the claim that Pope Pius, who died in 1958, was an anti-Semite, Marchione said.
"In the name of justice, Pius XXII's efforts must be acknowledged," she said. "He directed the greatest rescue program in the history of the Catholic Church."