Vatican Told Nuncio to Forgo Praise of Hitler

Professor Sees Signs of Opposition to Nazism in 1930s Archives

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ROME, MAY 1, 2003 ( The recently opened Vatican-archives material relating to the interwar era continues to refute the theses that accuse Popes Pius XI and Pius XII of acquiescence to Adolf Hitler.

In an interview published by the newspaper Il Giornale, professor Matteo Luigi Napolitano, who teaches church-state relations at the University of Urbino, Italy, described the Holy See’s position vis-à-vis the Nazi regime.

«Letters in the Vatican Archives confirm the idea that the Concordat between the Holy See and Nazi Germany, signed in July 1933, did not ratify peace between the Church and state,» Napolitano said. «In fact, the indications provided by the documents lead, instead, to opposite conclusions.»

A case in point is Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, the papal nuncio in Berlin. Elected dean by the other ambassadors, he was to deliver the New Year’s address to the highest authorities of the Reich. He had to submit the text of his speech well ahead of time to his superiors in Rome.

On Nov. 25, 1933, Archbishop Orsenigo sent a draft of the address (catalogued as Entry 604, p.o., fascicle 113) which he was to deliver before Paul von Hindenburg, president of the Reich, and Hitler, the new chancellor.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, replied a few days later, on Dec. 1.

The cardinal (the future Pius XII) deleted the entire paragraph on Hitler and suggested, on behalf of the Pope, «that the praises contained in the address» should «undoubtedly be moderate, in consideration of the grave difficulties to which the Church is now exposed in Germany.»

In the draft of an address for year-end 1936, Archbishop Orsenigo described Hitler as «‘Duce’ [leader] of the German people.»

In the coded reply, which Cardinal Pacelli sent on behalf of the Pope, the nuncio was told to «eliminate the words ‘Duce of the German people'» and to «delete» all the part that praises the Führer’s activity.

Again in 1936, Archbishop Orsenigo asked instructions from Rome regarding an invitation from Hitler to attend a Nazi Party meeting in Nuremberg, along with the entire diplomatic corps.

The coded reply of the Vatican secretary of state was: «The Holy Father thinks it is preferable that your Excellency abstain, taking a few days’ vacation.»

In the draft of the 1937 New Year’s address, Archbishop Orsenigo made reference to the Olympics held in Berlin in August 1936, but Cardinal Pacelli asked him to delete it. 1937 was the year of the encyclical «Mit Brennender Sorge,» which assailed the Nazi regime.

Later, in April, the nuncio was invited along with the diplomatic corps to a reception for Hitler’s birthday. The nuncio asked the Vatican if he should attend. «The Holy Father thinks not. Also because of the position of this Embassy,» was the reply.

«The Holy Father believes it is preferable in the present situation if your Excellency abstains from taking part in manifestations of homage toward the Lord Chancellor,» Cardinal Pacelli’s reply reads, dated April 8.

The 1938 New Year’s address was the most sober delivered by Archbishop Orsenigo. It focused on peace; in fact, on the need to attain «real peace.» Cardinal Pacelli approved the address and made no corrections.

The text was reported in the U.S. press and interpreted «as a clear sign that Pius XI wanted to warn Hitler,» professor Napolitano explained.

He said the document clearly shows that the Vatican noted «Archbishop Orsenigo’s action was correct, precise and direct. From the Vatican secret letters, a Cardinal Pacelli emerges who is very far from getting on well with Hitler.»

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