GATES -- Pope Pius XII has been the subject of heated controversy for decades, but the late pope was almost universally esteemed during his lifetime, according to Gary Krupp, founder of the non-sectarian Pave the Way Foundation, which seeks to bring about peace by improving interreligious relations. Since 2006 Krupp, who is Jewish, has been seeking to publicize evidence that he said proves Pope Pius XII was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
Approximately 100 people gathered Aug. 16 at the privately run St. Padre Pio Chapel in Gates to listen to Krupp lecture about Pope Pius XII with local scholar Franco Oliveri. A member of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece, Oliveri has doctoral degrees from Harvard University and University La Sapienza in Rome, Italy, and has been researching and lecturing about the Holocaust for more than 30 years.
"The basic question to be answered today is, was Pope Pius XII Hitler's pope, or was he in fact the archenemy of Hitler and the Nazi regime?" Oliveri asked at the beginning of the presentation.
Until 2006, Krupp believed the former was true.
"I grew up hating him," Krupp said of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in March 1939 and died in October 1958.
Krupp grew up in Queens, where it had been common knowledge among his Jewish peers that Pope Pius XII had stood by and remained silent while Hitler exterminated millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Krupp held that view until 2006 when, at the request of Archbishop Antonio Franco, the apostolic nuncio to Israel, Krupp and his wife began researching Pope Pius XII. Archbishop Franco asked Krupp and his wife, Meredith, if the Pave the Way Foundation would encourage the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem to revise a placard in the museum that contained negative information about Pope Pius XII. The couple met with and interviewed Holocaust survivors as well as experts on Pope Pius XII, and, with the backing of the Pave the Way Foundation, hired experienced historians to examine historical records, many of them from the Vatican Archives.
"We now know that all of these things that I grew up thinking were true are absolutely not true. Pope Pius XII did everything he could to save Jews," Krupp said.
Krupp and the historians dug up numerous articles that appeared in such publications as The New York Times and L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, in the 1930 and 1940s and document the pope and the Vatican's efforts to save Jews. These articles document the pope speaking out against Hitler and the Nazi regime as often as he could without making things worse, Krupp said. The pope also asked cloistered monasteries throughout Europe to open their doors to Jewish refugees, and fleeing Jews even took refuge inside Vatican buildings and even the pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, he said. He also facilitated the distribution of false baptismal documents to many Jews, which saved them from deportation, Krupp said, noting that dozens of newspaper articles from the 1940s quote Jewish leaders who praised the pope for his wartime efforts. Images of many of these articles and records appear in Krupp's book, Pope Pius XII and World War II, The Documented Truth: A Compilation of International Evidence Revealing the Wartime Acts of the Vatican, which was distributed to people at the Aug. 16 lecture.
"Up until five years after he died, everyone adored this man, literally adored him. We have documentation, newspapers from every Jewish organization in the world, all praising him," Krupp said.
That sentiment began to change in 1963 with the production of a play called "The Deputy," which portrayed a hypocritical pope who did nothing to stop the Holocaust. In later years a number of books maligning the pope were published, including John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope in 1999, but Krupp said the authors of these books have not spent any significant amount of time in the Vatican Archives and don't have physical evidence to prove their claims. Documents that prove the pope frequently interceded on behalf of Jews, however, are readily available to those who search for them, noted Oliveri, who emigrated to the United States from Italy when he was 13.
"The tide now changed because of all the information that we're sharing with the entire world," Oliveri said. "There's still a ton of information that's out there."
Susan Fish said many lifelong Catholics, herself included, never realized Pope Pius XII was the subject of so much controversy. Fish, who belongs to St. Pius Tenth Parish in Chili, said she wanted to hear Krupp and Oliveri's talk so she would be well-informed and able to share what she learned with others.
"I think that this is something that's going to be used to bring a lot of people together," she said of the presentation.