Pope Pius XII & Nazis

The Pope at War By David I. Kertzer (2022) (publisher link)

Article below is taken from NYRB Oct 2022 (link)

Traditional Catholics intentionally distort the history about Pius XII & only point out the good that he did during WWII, glossing over and ignoring the negatives. Recent scholarship has been overwhelmingly critical of his handling of fascism and the Holocaust (not to mention his covering up of priest sex abuse in Germany in the 1930s). The extremes are both inaccurate (he was not working with Hitler, nor did he do everything in his power to denounce the Nazis).

Should outrage and atrocity always be denounced whatever the consequences? And will the answer be the same for a private individual, a political leader, and a spiritual leader? David Kertzer’s The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler examines the behavior of Pope Pius XII in the years from 1939 to 1945, taking account of new archival material released by the Vatican in 2020. It is a meticulously referenced narrative of World War II from the perspective of the Vatican, examining the pope’s relationships with Italy’s Fascist regime, with Hitler’s Germany, with church leaders in countries under Nazi occupation, with ambassadors and envoys, and with his own staff, bishops, and priests. Inevitably, it seems, the narrative focuses on Pius’s many silences: he did not publicly denounce either Hitler’s or Mussolini’s military adventures; he did not denounce the racial laws enforced in Germany, Italy, and the territories their armies occupied; above all he carefully avoided mentioning the Jews in his public statements and did not openly denounce their persecution and slaughter until the war was over.

Michael Hesemann’s The Pope and the Holocaust: Pius XII and the Vatican Secret Archives explicitly sets out to defend the pope’s record, eventually concluding that “Pius XII was the most committed friend and helper of the persecuted Jews in a world otherwise characterized by indifference and half-heartedness.” The book was originally published in 2018 under the assumption that the Vatican must already have released all material of substance regarding the war; a new edition includes an afterword reflecting on the material made available in 2020 and concluding that it contains only small if precious corroborations of Hesemann’s thesis. It is hard to imagine two books offering more radically different readings of the same historical events. Hesemann’s is dedicated to, among others, Father Peter Gumpel, “Relator in the beatification process for Pius XII,” Kertzer’s to his father, Morris, a Jewish chaplain with the Allied troops in Italy in 1944.

Kertzer quickly establishes what was at stake for the Vatican in the 1930s as Italian Fascism and German National Socialism manifested ever more toxic characteristics. After the unification of Italy in 1861 and the seizure of Rome in 1870, which deprived the papacy of sovereignty over extensive territories, Pius IX had excommunicated the leaders of the Risorgimento, declared himself “a prisoner of the Vatican,” and discouraged Catholics from engaging in political life in Italy; a pope who was not the ruler of his own state, he claimed, did not have the freedom to fulfill his responsibilities.

This conflict between the church and the new nation, which caused a deep rift in Italian identity, had finally been resolved in 1929 in the so-called Lateran Pacts between Pius XI and Mussolini, which created the tiny sovereign territory of the Vatican, made Catholicism the “only State religion” in Italy, and offered financial compensation for church properties seized after unification; in return, the pope renounced his territorial claims. For Mussolini, whose ambition was to unite Italy under one party and one vision, the advantage was huge: Catholics no longer needed to have divided loyalties. However, as Fascism became more closely aligned with Nazism, particularly with the introduction of the Italian Racial Laws in 1938, the church faced a dilemma: to denounce these developments might lead to its losing the privileges enshrined in the Lateran Pacts. Expediency and moral guidance were at loggerheads.

A similar situation pertained in Germany. As papal nuncio in Munich in the early 1920s, Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, had warned of the rise of the “fanatically anti-Catholic Nazi Party,” acknowledging that “not a few Catholics are deceived…by this insidious ultra-nationalistic current.” Nevertheless, in 1933, with Pacelli by then in the influential position of Vatican secretary of state—second in command to Pius XI—the church signed a concordat with Hitler, which granted Catholic institutions in Germany freedom to operate and financial subsidies in return for a pledge “to abstain from political activities.” According to the British envoy to the Holy See, Pacelli remarked that he had had “a pistol to his chest”: open opposition to Hitler would lead to the “dissolution of the Catholic Church in the Reich…. The salvation of the souls of twenty million Catholics was at stake.” Church policy, then, was one of compliance born out of intimidation and the conviction that souls could only be saved by the presence of a legally recognized Catholic Church; a return to the embattled and sometimes outlawed condition typical of the early Christian era was not contemplated.

Toward the end of the 1930s Pius XI became increasingly uneasy with this accommodation. In 1937 he arranged for an aggressive criticism of Nazism to be read out in German churches, and in 1939, to Mussolini’s consternation, he was known to be preparing an encyclical condemning racism and anti-Semitism, which he was to present on February 11. He died on February 10. His speech had already been printed, but Pacelli ordered all copies to be destroyed—in response, Kertzer claims, to pressure from Mussolini; as a matter of normal protocol on the death of a pope, insists Hesemann, who quotes Goebbels’s concern when Pacelli was elected Pius XI’s successor on March 2: “a militant pope who proceeds skillfully and cunningly,” the Nazi leader wrote in his diary. Kertzer quotes Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s foreign minister, who was certain that Pacelli was the Germans’ preferred candidate for the papacy, because he was “very conciliatory.” Kertzer offers far more in the way of Italian background and atmosphere: after the new pope’s coronation ceremony, an Italian military police band played “Giovinezza,” the Fascist anthem, which includes the words “Mussolini has remade [Italians] for tomorrow’s war.” “Fascist Italy looks on the new pope with confidence and sympathy,” enthused Corriere della Sera.

Hesemann provides a chronology whose entries for the first months of Pacelli’s papacy give an indication of his book’s focus:

  • April 5: Pius XII asks Brazil for 3,000 visas for German Jews.
  • June 6: Pius XII again asks Brazil for 3,000 visas for German Jews.
  • July 12: Pius XII once again seeks to obtain Brazilian visas for 3,000 German Jews; 7 inquiries follow between July and December.

The chronology does not mention that on March 15, barely two weeks after Pacelli’s election, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, while on Good Friday, April 7, Italy began its invasion of Albania. Pius XII did not condemn either aggression. “Rome’s Catholic newspaper,” Kertzer tells us, “published the text of a telegram that an Italian bishop had sent praising the Duce for the invasion.” The pope “has given those around him to understand,” reported Diego von Bergen, the German ambassador to the Vatican, “that he sees no reason to interfere in historic processes in which, from the political point of view, the Church is not interested.” On April 20, 1939, the pope sent the Führer birthday greetings, and the Catholic churches of Germany rang their bells in celebration. As for the visas that Pius was asking the international community to provide for German Jews, these were specifically for Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Hesemann invites us to believe that this stipulation may have been a coded request for visas for all Jews; Kertzer shows how throughout the 1930s church opposition to the racial laws had been restricted to requesting exemptions for Catholic Jews.

The pope’s silence did not mean that he wished to stay out of world affairs. “Pope Pius XII,” Bergen reported in mid-May, “has the desire to go down in history as a ‘Great Pope’…as a messenger and accomplisher of peace.” In order to achieve this honorable goal, Hesemann claims, he was obliged to appear neutral and hence to avoid criticizing Germany. Bergen’s comment came in response to the pope’s call in May 1939 for a peace conference in Europe, which aroused little enthusiasm. At the same time, however, the Führer initiated secret negotiations with the pope. These negotiations, Kertzer says, are the most important revelation to emerge from the newly released archives: a series of meetings of which there is no mention in the twelve-volume collection of documents relating to the war that the Vatican published between 1965 and 1981.

Prince Philipp von Hessen, a German aristocrat married to a daughter of the king of Italy, was put in touch with the pope through unofficial channels, and the two met in great secrecy on May 11. The pope complained that Germany was not respecting its concordat with the church, and that it was harassing priests and closing Catholic schools and seminaries. Hessen asked the pope to put in writing his commitment to keep Catholics out of politics; he also mentioned the many reports of sex abuse committed by priests, an issue Hitler would repeatedly bring up to intimidate the church. Previously, Kertzer informs us, in response to police investigations in Austria, Pacelli had told the local church authorities to “burn all archival material concerning cases of immorality of monks and priests.”

Another meeting between Hessen and the pope took place on August 26, 1939, only three days after Germany signed its nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. Thus when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, Pacelli was likely afraid of compromising these talks. Despite intense pressure from Poland, a predominantly Catholic nation, as well as from France, Britain, and the US, he did not condemn the attack. In a meeting with Hessen on October 24 the pope reflected, in Kertzer’s account, that

“it would be a blessing for everyone”…if the “moral conflicts” now faced by Germans loyal to the church were eliminated. The Reich’s Catholics would then no longer feel any conflict in their dual loyalties to church and state.

This was less than a year after Kristallnacht and at a time when the first reports of German atrocities against Jews in Poland were beginning to emerge.

Hesemann makes no mention of these secret negotiations. In contrast, he describes at length a visit to the pope in October 1939 by Josef Müller, acting on behalf of various German military officers who were conspiring to kill Hitler. They asked the pope to vouch for them to the British authorities so that the outline of an acceptable peace agreement could be drawn up before they struck. The pope agreed to do this, and the conspirators’ insistence that he not speak out against Hitler in the meantime, so as not to make him suspicious, is one of the reasons, Hesemann claims, why over the next four years Pius offered no public criticism of the Führer. Kertzer does not mention the meeting with Müller or the agreement with the conspirators, perhaps because there is no reference to either in the official archives he is working from. The sources Hesemann quotes are all postwar memoirs or reconstructions; there appears to be no statement about the agreement by Pius himself, though he remained pope until his death in 1958.

“October 20 [1939],” runs Hesemann’s chronology: “Pius XII condemns racism in his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus.” Available online, the encyclical is some 12,000 words long and expressed entirely in generic terms. The need for universal brotherhood is declared and the cruel state of the world abhorred, but no culprits are named and no victims identified. Hesemann glosses: “Especially the victims of war and racism, the pope concluded, therefore had an unconditional ‘right to compassion and help.’” In fact, the text speaks only of victims of war, not of racism. Hesemann quotes a New York Times headline—“Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism”—to show that the pope’s appeal had been “understood correctly.”

Kertzer mentions the positive response to the encyclical from German newspapers, quoted, significantly, in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. In general, he explains, with “a mixture of opaque theological language and moralistic bromides,” the pope had a habit of scattering “nuggets that both sides would be able to point to as supporting their cause.” Readers who wade through Pius XII’s encyclicals and speeches will be tempted to agree. In a meeting with German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop on March 11, 1940, the pope reminded him that unlike the previous pope, in his encyclical he had “taken care not to offend the Germans.”

Ribbentrop’s visit to the Vatican, for which the secret negotiations with Hessen had prepared the way, can be used to gauge how these two authors use a single source, in this case the notes that Monsignor Domenico Tardini, an important figure in the Vatican’s Secretariat, took down from the pope after his strictly private meeting with Ribbentrop. Hesemann elaborates:

The pope asked the minister point blank whether he believed in God. “I believe in God, but I belong to no church,” Ribbentrop replied impertinently. “You really believe in God?” the pope repeated his question incredulously…. “I cannot help doubting the truth of these words!” Ribbentrop assured him that neither he nor the Führer was an enemy of the Church, but they would reject “political Catholicism.”… All the people without exception were on Hitler’s side. “Political Catholicism most decidedly not,” the pope interjected coolly…. Germany’s military goal was peace, [Ribbentrop said]…. “What this peace is supposed to look like is evident in Poland, where you are massacring priests and Jews,” Pius XII retorted.

Tardini’s notes are available online in Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la période de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. The relevant points read, “[Ribbentrop] said he believed in God but belonged to no church.” There is no mention of point-blank questions, impertinence, or expressions of papal incredulity. When Ribbentrop speaks of all Germans being on Hitler’s side, the pope merely observes, logically, that in that case “there is no political Catholicism”—no Catholic opposition to Nazism, that is. No mention is made of Jews or massacres. In short, there is no indication that the pope got tough with Ribbentrop. Kertzer’s version quotes Tardini’s notes verbatim, then goes on to consider Cardinal Luigi Maglione’s meeting with the German minister. Maglione, Pius XII’s secretary of state, was supposedly concerned that the pope was being too lenient with Hitler. Reporting on the two meetings, Ribbentrop remarked, “I found [the pope] to be cordial, conciliatory, educated and well informed…. By contrast, I found in the Cardinal Secretary of State an enemy of German National Socialism.”

The pope’s appeals for peace fell on deaf ears: in April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway; in May 1940 France was the target of the German blitzkrieg. On June 10 Mussolini declared war on France. “The Holy Father is a little too easily resigned to playing only a passive role in the drama that is ravaging Christianity,” complained Vladimir d’Ormesson, the French ambassador to the Vatican, when Pacelli did not condemn the invasion of his country. “It is impossible to understand the pope’s actions,” concedes Kertzer, “without recognizing he had good reason to think the church’s future would likely lie in a Europe under the thumb of Hitler and his Italian partner.”

In short, at this point in the war it would have required an act of faith to believe that Germany’s enemies could prevail; thus there was no public call for Catholics to dissociate themselves from Nazism and Fascism. To the contrary, Italy’s leading Catholic daily, Avvenire, published an exhortation from the archbishop of Bologna to the effect that “we all owe, following the law of our Faith, the most complete, fullest obedience” to the war effort. “The time of war,” announced the Rivista del Clero Italiano, “is not the time for discussion or for dissent, but for harmony, obedience, action.”

On the day Italy attacked France, L’Osservatore Romano had reproduced war bulletins from both sides in the conflict, but under pressure from Italy’s ambassador, Bernardo Attolico, Pius ordered that the edition be pulped and not appear, with the excuse that its printing presses had failed. In general, the scope of the Vatican paper had already been severely curbed. “Its columns,” commented Sir Francis Osborne, the British envoy to the Vatican, “are now almost entirely devoted to information of a religious nature, and it no longer makes any attempt at enlightenment or comment on world affairs.” On September 4, 1940, speaking in the Vatican to the lay organization Catholic Action, Pius encouraged its members to be “perfect citizens,” ready “to give their life for…the Fatherland.” It’s hard to see how this can be squared with claims to neutrality. On October 28, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Greece.

Hesemann includes none of this material, focusing instead on the Holocaust, Pius’s support for Catholic Jews attempting to escape Germany, and his many appeals for peace. On November 26, 1941, in an audience with the pope, the military chaplain Don Pirro Scavizzi delivered the first eyewitness confirmation that the Nazis were massacring Jews. The victims had to stand “on the edge of…graves or pits, where they are then mercilessly mowed down with machine-gun salvos and afterward thrown into these pits.” Pius was appalled. Scavizzi continued to send evidence of further massacres over the following year, during which large-scale deportations of Jews began in many European countries. The pope made no public statement.

Hesemann cites events in Holland as proof that this was in fact a “prudent silence.” In July 1942, in response to the deportation of two trainloads of Jews, the heads of the Catholic and Reformed Churches protested to the Nazis and threatened to publish their protest in a joint pastoral letter. The Germans reacted by saying that if they refrained from doing this, baptized Jews would be exempt; the Catholic archbishop Jan de Jong had the text published and read to congregations in his diocese anyway. The Germans promptly rounded up Catholic Jews, claiming that this was a “countermeasure against the July 26 pastoral letter.” Pope Pius, Hesemann maintains, wisely chose to save lives rather than look for approval by condemning atrocities.

Here is the core of the argument between these two books. Having concluded that denunciation was at best pointless virtue-signaling, at worst a spur to further carnage, for the rest of his book Hesemann sets out to list, at great length, those many heartening occasions when Jews found refuge in churches and monasteries and the pope might be said to have been involved. Kertzer, on the other hand, offers a wide-ranging examination of the circumstances in which the pope’s decisions were made throughout the war, pointing to a pattern of behavior that oscillated between the pathetic and the grotesque.

A creeping anti-Semitism was the norm. In 1943 Pius was asked by Monsignor Angelo Roncalli to persuade the Slovakian government to allow a thousand Jewish children to emigrate to Palestine, thus avoiding their deportation to the death camps. Pius, however, was opposed to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, and his staff asked for an opinion from Monsignor Giuseppe di Meglio, another member of his Secretariat. In his advice Meglio reflects that until recently Jews had not been eager to go to Palestine, because while, among Christians, they found it easy to make profits, “if, on the contrary, all and only the Jews come together, one has an enormous gathering in of…swindlers, while lacking those to be swindled.”

Such sentiments were hardly surprising given the church’s long tradition of ghettoizing the Jews, a practice Pius never distanced himself from. The ghettoes of the Papal States had only been opened with the unification of Italy and the pope’s loss of sovereignty. Although the church condemned racism, the French ambassador to the Vatican reassured Marshal Philippe Pétain, the anti-Semitic head of the Vichy government, that it nevertheless acknowledged that a “Jewish problem” did exist. Father Tacchi Venturi, a Jesuit who liaised between the Vatican and Mussolini over the Italian Racial Laws, encouraged the pope to speak out against killing Italian Jews, claiming that such brutality was not necessary precisely because the laws “had successfully kept the Jews in their proper place.” In a sermon reported enthusiastically by Corriere della Sera in March 1941, the bishop of Recanati and Loreto referred to Mussolini as “the Man sent by God” and lamented that Italy’s enemies were supporting “the descendants of those Jews who had crucified Jesus.” The war effort and the “Jewish question” were thus linked. While never speaking out on the treatment of the Jews, in May 1941 Pius lectured four thousand members of the organization Girls’ Catholic Action on “the dangers of immorality in the areas of women’s fashion, sport, hygiene, social relations, and entertainment.”

Given all the evidence of systematic genocide that the Vatican was receiving by 1942 from Scavizzi and other sources, it is hard to see how the fate of the Jews could have been worsened by denunciation of German atrocities. In December 1942 the Allies prepared a joint declaration and asked Pius to sign onto it. “From all occupied territories,” it read,

Jews are transported under horrible, brutal conditions to Eastern Europe…. Those able to work must slowly work themselves to death in the labor camps. The weak and the sick are allowed to freeze and starve, or they are murdered en masse.

Pius did not sign. “He felt,” reported the American envoy Harold Tittmann, after speaking with the pope about his subsequent failure to condemn Nazi atrocities in his Christmas message, that “there had been some exaggeration [in Allied reports] for purpose of propaganda,” and he must not appear to be on the Allies’ side.

In the same month the Vatican premiered the film Pastor Angelicus, a documentary that championed Pius as a tireless peacemaker. Osborne, the British envoy, remarked on the irony of the pope’s willingness to negotiate with Hitler, when “in Hitler’s new world there will be no room for the Catholic religion.” On page 24 of an inordinately long Christmas message that year, Pius did speak of “hundreds of thousands of people who, through no fault of their own and solely because of their nation or their race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.” There was no mention of Nazis or Jews. Pius seemed “pained and surprised,” commented Osborne, that the words had not satisfied his critics.

What is evident from both these books is that Mussolini and Hitler were indeed extremely anxious that Pius not speak out; presumably they feared an awakening of Christian consciences. As Kertzer points out, “A large number of the men murdering the Jews…thought of themselves as good Catholics.” If the concern was to save souls, it would surely have been important to warn them that this was an evil far greater than “immorality in…women’s fashion.” Or did the pope fear, as Kertzer surmises, “that denouncing the Nazis would alienate millions of Catholics and risk producing a schism?” Most of the Protestant churches in Germany, after all, were wholly supportive of the Nazis. Did Pius perhaps believe that Hitler could exterminate the scores of millions of Catholics in the Reich and its occupied territories—a very large percentage of the population—as he was seeking to do with the Jews, who represented about one percent? Hesemann cites Ribbentrop’s warning Hitler in 1943, when Germany was invading Italy, that “if we attack the Vatican, we will surely have a civil war in Germany, just one hour after the first bomb is released.” If Catholic feeling was so strong, might not the pope have fruitfully assumed a more active spiritual leadership?

The tide of the war turned. Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was halted by the Red Army. Now the pope worried that a Communist victory might be worse for the church than a Nazi victory. The Allies made rapid progress in Africa and landed in Sicily. Mussolini was deposed and an armistice declared between Italy and the Allies, in response to which the Germans invaded Italy. The pope, who had said nothing about the relentless bombing of London, not to mention many other European cities, pleaded with President Roosevelt that Rome at least be exempt from bombing and asked if Italy could be spared an Allied invasion. Meantime he regularly gave his blessing to audiences of German soldiers passing through the Eternal City.

On October 16, 1943, the Nazis rounded up 1,259 Roman Jews for deportation and held them in a military college compound not far from the walls of the Vatican. “The Holy See,” Maglione told the new German ambassador, Ernst von Weizsäcker, “would not want to be constrained to say a word of disapproval.” The pope made no public statement but the Vatican did protest that there were some Catholic Jews among the victims; at no point is there any indication that Pius appreciated how grotesque such distinctions were. Of the 1,007 Jews loaded into Auschwitz-bound train cars on October 18, sixteen survived.

Later the same month the pope agreed to the publication of a joint German-Vatican statement in L’Osservatore Romano to the effect that the Germans had “respected the institutions and activity of the Roman Curia as well as the sovereign rights and integrity of the Vatican City State.” It was the pope’s prudence, Hesemann claims, that stopped the Germans from continuing their raids. “Many hundreds more [Jews],” Kertzer clarifies, “were wrested from their hiding places over the next months of German occupation.” On November 30 the Fascist authorities, propped up by the Germans, ordered that all Jews in Italy be rounded up. Replying to an appeal from the archbishop of Ferrara that the Vatican intervene, the pope’s Secretariat replied:

The Holy See, as it had done in the past, tries in the current circumstances as well to aid the non-Aryans [that is, Jews] to the extent it can, particularly those in mixed families…. If nothing else, one will always be able to say that the Holy See has done everything possible to help these unfortunates.

Hesemann claims there was an order from the pope that church institutions open their doors to Jews. Citing examples of Jews turned away by monasteries and convents, Kertzer remarks that

there is no evidence the pope ever directed church institutions to take in Jews, and many did not, [though] he was aware that among the large number of refugees concealed in Rome’s religious buildings were many Jews.

Rome was bombed, and the Allies eventually occupied the city. Reading Kertzer’s account and poring over a hundred pages of notes in which he quotes the words of cardinals and diplomats in the Vatican, one has the impression of a pope who lacks any clear vision, moral or political, and who is deciding how to behave from one moment to the next, while nevertheless giving great attention to his public image and nursing the illusion that he might one day be an important peacemaker. Four days after the Allied landing forty miles south of Rome at Anzio, Osborne reported that Pius had requested that “no Allied coloured troops would be amongst the small number that might be garrisoned at Rome.” The pope condemned the Allied bombing of the city, particularly after the Basilica of San Lorenzo was struck on August 13, 1943, but later Monsignor Tardini warned him that this response was damaging Vatican credibility: “We give the ‘news’ on Vatican Radio…but only of the killing of civilians, without saying anything of the military objective hit. With this, is Vatican Radio truly remaining ‘impartial’?”

Every decision appears to have been made on the basis of the merest expediency. It would be unwise, Tardini persuaded Pius, for him to become involved in peace negotiations with the Allies after their capture of Sicily, since the British and Americans would doubtless “commit countless arbitrary and unjust actions against the Germans,” who would thus accuse the pope of “having taken part…in Germany’s defeat,” which would make “the future conditions of Catholicism very difficult in Germany.” And so on. Rather than throwing his weight into the struggle in any positive, coherent way and leaving “the consequences…to Divine Providence,” as Cardinal Maglione once proposed, the pope preferred, in the words of Osborne, engaging “in multifarious charitable activities and in indulgence of his weakness for oratory.” “I fear,” d’Ormesson had remarked as early as 1940, “that his personal character is not equal to the dramatic situation found in Europe today.”

Concluding his dense, convincing, and deeply disturbing book, Kertzer laments the postwar construction of a “well-scrubbed historical narrative” aimed at rewriting the Vatican’s actions during the war, with Pius XII “presented as the heroic champion of the oppressed.” Hesemann, who very much supports that narrative, laments “the lies about Pius XII [that] still divide Christians and Jews.” No doubt the fight over the pope’s record and the church’s involvement in the war will go on, especially in light of the present pope’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, his insistence that NATO largely provoked the conflict, and his remark that “there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in the abstract.”

Nevertheless, one wonders what impact, if any, this may have on the faithful. In my forty years in Italy I have never had any inkling that the Vatican’s miserable war record, its proven financial corruption, or its coverups of widespread sexual abuse make any dent in the commitment of its supporters. One is reminded of Boccaccio’s tale in The Decameron of the Jew whose Christian friends wish him to convert but who insists first on going to Rome to see the Pope himself. On his return, the Jew remarks that in Rome he found only corruption and priests who seek “to reduce the Christian religion to nought and drive it from the world,” yet Christianity thrived. Precisely this paradox convinces him that “the Holy Spirit must be…its foundation and support…. Therefore let us go to church and…let me be baptized.”