ROME, JUNE 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The relator of the cause of beatification of Pope Pius XII describes the memoirs of U.S. diplomat Harold Tittmann as a “gust of salutary truth.”
Tittmann’s book “Inside the Vatican of Pius XII,” newly published by Doubleday, offers an eyewitness accounts of how and when the Holy See and Pope Pius XII himself acted in regard to Nazism, but it covers the evolution of relations between the Pope and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Peter Gumpel, who has read the book, talks about its novel contributions and historical context.<br>
Q: Can you explain the history and context of the circumstances referred to in Harold Tittmann’s book of memoirs?
Father Gumpel: Tittmann was a war hero. A pilot in the First World War, he was brought down and seriously wounded. Because of his wounds, he lost his right leg, a kidney and half a lung.
He entered the diplomatic service in 1920. He worked in the U.S. Embassy in Paris and then for 11 years, from 1925 to 1936, in Rome. After a period in the Department of State, in 1939 he was transferred to Geneva.
In 1940 he was sent to Rome as assistant to Myron Taylor, personal representative to the Holy See appointed by Roosevelt. When Italy declared war on the United States in December 1941, Tittmann sought refuge in the Vatican, which he left only in 1944 with the arrival of the Allied troops.
His memoirs are very interesting because he was an eyewitness. He had daily contacts with Secretary of State Luigi Maglione, with Domenico Tardini, and with Giovanni Battista Montini, and he often met with the Pontiff, Pius XII.
Q: What relevant novelties does this book contribute?
Father Gumpel: For those who are familiar with the material in the archives and who have specialized in the study of this historical period, there are no great novelties.
Tittmann’s correspondence with the United States confirms the Holy See’s absolute independence in its opposition to the Nazis and its endeavor to support the victims of the conflict.
For those, instead, who are not familiar with the archive material and have only read books that are hostile to the Holy See, Tittmann’s volume is a gust of salutary truth. In this connection, the volume takes on notable importance to make the general public know how much and in what way the Holy See worked in those years.
Q: What were relations like between the Holy See and the U.S. government at that time, when the Nazi regime dominated Europe?
Father Gumpel: Despite a certain anti-Roman and anti-papal culture spread by Protestant groups, relations between the Holy See and the U.S. government were good.
Before the outbreak of the second world conflict there was already parallel action between Pius XII and the U.S. government to avoid the war. Pius XII and Roosevelt also acted in agreement to avoid Italy entering the war.
Pacelli met Roosevelt personally during his visit to the U.S. in 1936. Relations became more intense when Roosevelt named Taylor as personal representative to the Holy See. This was the context in which Tittmann worked.
Q: When the United States decided to support the Soviets in the struggle against Hitler, many American Catholics asked the Holy See if this was possible. What was the Pontiff’s response?
Father Gumpel: As soon as Hitler attacked Russia in 1941, a serious problem arose with American Catholics. The Soviet Union needed war materiel and Roosevelt agreed to provide it.
The problem was due to the fact that in 1937, Pope Pius XI had published the encyclical “Divini Redemptoris,” which prohibited Catholics from giving any help to the Bolsheviks. Roosevelt asked Pius XII to find a solution to this problem.
The Pontiff decided not to intervene publicly, but he gave instructions to apostolic delegate Amleto Cicognani and, more specifically, to Archbishop John Timothy McNicolas of Cincinnati, to inform American Catholics with a letter that the attitude to the Communists remained that way, but that it was not against the Russian people.
The Nazis’ aggression was pounding the Russian people, who had to be helped. This is why Catholics did not oppose aid to the Russians.
Q: What was Tittmann’s opinion in regard to Pope Pius XII?
Father Gumpel: He had an excellent opinion of him. Tittmann writes that Pius XII was “a charming man,” with great spiritual gifts.
“Pope Pius XII was often described as a political Pope. … Very possibly, the future will rate him a saint,” Tittmann states.