The Pope's Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War

By Jacques Kornberg

© 2015

Pope Pius XII presided over the Catholic Church during one of the most challenging moments in its history. Elected in early 1939, Pius XII spoke out against war and destruction, but his refusal to condemn Nazi Germany and its allies for mass atrocities and genocide remains controversial almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War.

Scholars have blamed Pius’s inaction on anti-communism, antisemitism, a special emotional bond with Germany, or a preference for fascist authoritarianism. Delving deep into Catholic theology and ecclesiology, Jacques Kornberg argues instead that what drove Pius XII was the belief that his highest priority must be to preserve the authority of the Church and the access to salvation that it provided.

In The Pope’s Dilemma, Kornberg uses the examples of Pius XII’s immediate predecessors Benedict XV and the Armenian genocide and Pius XI and Fascist Italy, as well as case studies of Pius XII’s wartime policies towards five Catholic countries (Croatia, France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), to demonstrate the consistency with which Pius XII and the Vatican avoided confronting the perpetrators of atrocities and strove to keep Catholics within the Church. By this measure, Pius XII did not betray, but fulfilled his papal role.

A meticulous and careful analysis of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope, The Pope’s Dilemma is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the Catholic Church’s wartime legacy.

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Product Details

  • Series: German and European Studies
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 424 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.1in x 9.0in
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  • PUBLISHED MAY 2015

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    Regular Price: $41.95

    ISBN 9781442628281
  • PUBLISHED MAY 2015

    From: $31.46

    Regular Price: $41.95

Quick Overview

A meticulous and careful analysis of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope, The Pope’s Dilemma argues that Pius XII’s refusal to condemn Nazi Germany and its allies was driven by the desire to keep Catholics within the Church.

The Pope's Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War

By Jacques Kornberg

© 2015

Pope Pius XII presided over the Catholic Church during one of the most challenging moments in its history. Elected in early 1939, Pius XII spoke out against war and destruction, but his refusal to condemn Nazi Germany and its allies for mass atrocities and genocide remains controversial almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War.

Scholars have blamed Pius’s inaction on anti-communism, antisemitism, a special emotional bond with Germany, or a preference for fascist authoritarianism. Delving deep into Catholic theology and ecclesiology, Jacques Kornberg argues instead that what drove Pius XII was the belief that his highest priority must be to preserve the authority of the Church and the access to salvation that it provided.

In The Pope’s Dilemma, Kornberg uses the examples of Pius XII’s immediate predecessors Benedict XV and the Armenian genocide and Pius XI and Fascist Italy, as well as case studies of Pius XII’s wartime policies towards five Catholic countries (Croatia, France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), to demonstrate the consistency with which Pius XII and the Vatican avoided confronting the perpetrators of atrocities and strove to keep Catholics within the Church. By this measure, Pius XII did not betray, but fulfilled his papal role.

A meticulous and careful analysis of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope, The Pope’s Dilemma is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the Catholic Church’s wartime legacy.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: German and European Studies
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 424 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.1in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    ‘In this study, Kornberg offers a refreshingly different perspective on the motivation of Pius XII, which has not been explained satisfactorily by other historians.’


    Peter C. Kent
    The Catholic Historical Review vol 102:04:2016

    ‘The volume reflects the author’s singular mastery of five decades of literature, exploiting the published documentary collections as well as recent scholarship that presents archival material available only for the last fifteen years.’


    Mark Edward Ruff
    Holocaust and Genocide Studies vol 30:03:2016

    ‘A meticulous and careful study of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope and a significant contribution to the debate over the Catholic Church’s wartime attitude and legacy.’


    Andrea Di Stefano
    Journal of Church and State vol 59:02:2017

    ‘Jacques Kornberg has crafted a masterfully researched, carefully argued, highly readable scholarly monograph that adds greatly to the historical literature concerning Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.’


    Richard Gribble
    Canadian Journal of History vol 52:01:2017

    “Kornberg, professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto, has given us an original and balanced analysis of Pius XII’s moral leadership that is as compelling as a novel. It will inspire much thought about dilemmas of church-state conflicts that we face in our increasingly war-struck world.”


    Nancy L. Roberts
    Catholic News Service, October 12, 2015

    ‘Upon reading Kornberg’s record of Pius XII’s response to German genocidal acts, one understands Francis’s logic in terms clear and astonishing.’


    Norman Ravvin
    The Canadian Jewish News, January 4, 2016

    ‘Kornberg’s work represents a monumental compilation of materials, both primary and secondary sources, reflecting a lifetime of study on the role that organized religion plays in our world.’


    Beth A. Griech-Polelle
    Contemporary Church History Quarterly vol 21:04:2015

    ‘This is a well-researched, meticulously argued scholarly treatment of Pius XII’s wartime legacy.’


    J.P. Blosser
    Choice Magazine vol 53:03:2015

    "Pope Pius XII occupies the center of one of the great historical (and historiographical) controversies of our time. His relationship to the fascist regimes and his conduct during the holocaust remain the subjects of ongoing, well-reasoned, and often painful arguments. In The Pope’s Dilemma: PiusXII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War, Jacques Kornberg carefully and with an admirably even hand traces many of the polemics surrounding the pontiff. "


    Roy Domenico
    The American Historical Review, Volume 123, Issue 1, 1 February 2018

    “In a book that reads like an exciting detective thriller, Jacques Kornberg examines Pope Pius XII and the Nazi regime of terror in Europe. Did the Pope resist the Nazis or acquiesce by failing to protest loudly and clearly? Could he have done more to rescue the Jews of Europe who begged him for his assistance? Why has world opinion shifted from praising Pius in the post–Second World War years to excoriating him, starting in the 1960s? Kornberg’s book leads us through the maze of evidence with remarkable clarity and intellectual suspense.”


    Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College, and author of 'The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany'

    “For many years, historians have awaited the opening of the Vatican’s archives for the reign of Pope Pius XII, unsure how the documentation therein will challenge our interpretations of the wartime church. Until that day arrives, Jacques Kornberg’s magisterial survey, written in distinguished and elegant language, provides a valuable analysis of the numerous conflicting theories about Pius XII and his policies that have appeared over the course of the past fifty years.”


    John S. Conway, Professor Emeritus of History, University of British Columbia, and author of 'The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-1945'

    The Pope’s Dilemma is a serious accomplishment by a historian who has spent years studying Pius XII in great depth. Jacques Kornberg has a fine grasp of the theology of the period and has truly incorporated it into his attempt to understand the choices Pius XII made during the Holocaust.”


    Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C, James J. Kenneally Distinguished Professor of History, Stonehill College, and author of 'Hitler's Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism'
  • Author Information

    Jacques Kornberg is Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Toronto.
  • Table of contents

    Introduction: An Approach to the Controversy

    1. Demolition of Pope Pius XII’s Reputation

    2. The Vatican and Nazi Germany: The 1933 Concordat

    3. Pius XII and World War II: The Catholic Belligerent States

    4. Catholic Anti-Jewish Attitudes: Achille Ratti, Eugenio Pacelli, and Others

    5. The Debate over Pius XII’s Priorities, and a Conclusion

    6. Pope Pius XII and His Predecessors: Different Popes, Similar Policies

    7. Religious Good Trumps Moral Good

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