Several decades after being smeared by Communist disinformation, the greatest pope of the last 150 years is finally getting his due from the secular press, as this story from the Catholic Herald reports.
Major historians such as Sir Martin Gilbert have demolished the myths first perpetrated by the Soviet Union
“Fake News”, about which we hear so much at the moment, is as old as human communication itself. It’s fuelled by Original Sin, and its birth and growth is hardly a surprise to the Church. For if anyone has felt the sting of fake news – with all its menacing consequences – it has been practising Catholics.
As Rodney Stark amply documents in his work, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History, few institutions have been the victim of “fake news” more often than the Roman Catholic Church.
Just one of many examples is the scurrilous campaign to defame Pope Pius XII. At the end of the Second World War, Pius was praised for his moral leadership, strong opposition to Nazism, and interventions which saved many persecuted Jews.
Not long after the fall of the Third Reich, however, a new world struggle emerged, between Christianity and Communism. “In this case, legends grew,” wrote historian Owen Chadwick in The Tablet, and “propaganda fostered them – propaganda in the first instance by Stalin’s men in the Cold War, when the Vatican appeared to be part of the American anti-Communist alliance and Stalin wished to shatter the Pope’s reputation … Stalin had a political need to make this Pope contemptible.”
The Soviet propaganda against Pius was expanded by playwright Rolf Hochhuth, author of the 1963 play, The Deputy, which bitterly caricatured Pius as silent and indifferent during the Holocaust. Hochhuth energized an anti-papal campaign which reached a crescendo with the publication of John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope (1999).
Though the allegations against Pius XII were ably answered by eminent historians like Chadwick and Sir Martin Gilbert—as well as first-hand witnesses who worked with Pius to combat Nazism and the Holocaust – the campaign against him had a damaging effect. As Chadwick lamented: “It is still believed by many people that Pope Pius XII was a friend of the Nazis, or that he said nothing at all against racial mass murder during the War.”
Those people apparently included a BBC reporter who, during Pope Francis’s visit to Auschwitz in July, told viewers: “Silence was the response of the Catholic Church when Nazi Germany demonised Jewish people and then attempted to eradicate Jews from Europe.”
But now something remarkable has happened. After strong protests from concerned Catholics, led by Lord Alton and Fr Leo Chamberlain, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) has found that the report “did not give due weight to public statements by successive Popes or the efforts made on the instructions of Pius XII to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution, and perpetuated a view which is at odds with the balance of evidence.”
While this correction might seem like brief and passing news, for those of us who’ve fought to clear the good name of Pius XII, it constitutes a major victory.
After years of protesting outrageously slanted reports and documentaries on Pius XII’s alleged complicity in the Holocaust – and having our heavily-documented rebuttals ignored – here, at last, was progress.