'Nazi' Pope helped Jews flee Holocaust
By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 1:51am BST 31/03/2007
Pius XII, the wartime pontiff often condemned as "Hitler's Pope", was actually considered an enemy by the Third Reich, according to newly discovered documents.
Several letters and memos unearthed at a depot used by the Stasi, the East-German secret police, show that Nazi spies within the Vatican were concerned at Pius's efforts to help displaced Poles and Jews.
In one, the head of Berlin's police force tells Joachim von Ribbentropp, the Third Reich's foreign minister, that the Catholic Church was providing assistance to Jews "both in terms of people and financially".
A report from a spy at work in the Vatican states: "Our source was told to his face by Father Robert Leibner [one of Pius's secretaries] that the greatest hope of the Church is that the Nazi system would be obliterated by the war."
La Repubblica, the newspaper that discovered the papers, said they were sent to the heads of the Stasi, after the Second World War.
The revelations they contain will help to clear the name of Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, who has long been criticised for turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. During the war, the British Foreign Office even described him as the "greatest moral coward of our age".
In 1999, John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope suggested that Pius XII, who had been the papal envoy to Germany before the war, was sympathetic to the Nazis.
In addition, an international Catholic-Jewish historical commission, set up by the Vatican, said it was clear that Pius knew of widespread anti-Jewish persecution. However, the commission was forced to disband before it finished its work, and one member said it had run up "against a brick wall" from the Holy See.
In his defence, the Pope always maintained he did not speak out further against the Nazis for fear of putting more people in danger.
Over the years more documents have come to light as the Vatican has opened its secret archives to scholars in an attempt to clear what it sees as a communist-funded smear on Pius's name.
Giovanni Sale, the author of Hitler, The Holy See and the Jews, said Moscow had deliberately funded operations to discredit the Vatican after the war. "I have said for 10 years that the Church fought the Nazis on all fronts," he added.