Guerrilla Pope: Why the Vatican Was Silent
In the face of Nazi persecution and acceleration of the fascist police state, very few voices were recorded to have openly opposed Hitler and the injustice of the regime. Well known are small groups such The White Rose, and The Edelweiss Pirates. One moral authority that is highly criticized for not speaking out against the inhumane activities of the Nazi party was the Pope, leader of the Vatican and the entire Catholic religion.
Because of seeming complacency during his rule between 1939 and 1945, Pope Pius XII was often referred to as “Hitler’s Pope.” However, according to Mark Reibling in his recently published account, the Pope’s outward silence and diplomatic relationship with Hitler was a deliberate cover for a covert active resistance against the Nazis. Pope Pius established a network of spies and was also complicit in the planning and organization of three assassination plots against the Fuhrer. He even secretly contracted a discreet recording system to collect recordings of leadership that would visit the Vatican(2015).
Catholics were of the many groups that were heavily persecuted by the Third Reich. Many bishops, priests and church figures were harassed and deported. Some were sent to concentration camps. Hitler also suspected that the Catholic Church was actively trying to overthrow him(which turned out to be true).
The Pope actively set up a secret intelligence network of diplomats that traveled freely between the Vatican and the Catholic Bishops in Germany, who would act as courier, communicating instructions and intelligence to various resistance groups in Germany. Pope Pious Describes the courier system:
The first question, involves the courier service between the Holy See and the German bishop. The matter is vital, since a courier link is the only way to get secret messages… It’s about a courier, not officially from the Holy See, but who is, however, quite trustworthy. He will travel once a week. He will leave Rome on Saturday and arrive on Monday in Berlin. In the reverse direction, the Holy See will receive messages from Berlin on Monday. This weekly Rome-Berlin Link is Reliable. We have the best proof of the secrecy of this connection from the time of the encyclical Mit brennender sorge. Nobody knew anything.”(Reibling 2015, 20-21).
This courier network allowed secret communications back and forth between intelligence services of the United States and the German resistance.
One of Key Operatives working for the Pope was Joseph Muller. As the Pope’s intelligence executor and intermediary he helped orchestrate several plots against the Fuhrer’s life including the famous briefcase assassination attempt by Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg(Reibling 2015, 192). Muller was also the coordinator between Admiral Wilhelm Canaris chief of German Military Intelligence (Abwehr). The Abwehr was the center for the strongest and most likely (though ultimately unsuccessful) chance for a coupe to overthrow Hitler. It was through the Pope’s intelligence network that support between the allies, Britain and United States, were negotiated, and would have been instated if the assassination had been successful(Reibling 2015).
One other group allied with the pope were the Orders Committee of Jesuits. The Jesuits acted unofficially on behalf of the Pope, assisting in resistance wherever they could.
On the surface the Pope deliberately restrained his urge to speak out against the atrocities that the Vatican was well aware of. He believed that his voice would not only force Catholics to choose between Germany and the Catholic Church, but it would also cause further persecution of Catholics in Nazi occupied territory. It would also give away the secret intentions the church was engaged in to overthrow the Nazi regime.
Riebling, Mark. Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2015.
“Author Debriefing: Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler.” Spy Museum.org. 13 Oct 2015. http://www.spymuseum.org/multimedia/spycast/episode/author-debriefing-church-of-spies-the-popes-secret-war-against-hitler/