22 April 2009

Pius XII would have resigned papacy if kidnapped

I am very fond of “What ifs?” and alternate histories. Okay a lot of ideas may be ludicrous but they still can be fun to consider. Even more interesting of course are real life rather than speculative contingencies. Telegraph carries a report on what the Vatican would have done if the Pope had been arrested by the Nazis during WWII.

According to documents in the Vatican's Secret Archives Pope Pius XII told senior bishops that should he be arrested by the Nazis, his resignation would become effective immediately. The bishops would then be expected to flee to a safe country – probably neutral Portugal – where they would re-establish the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and appoint a new Pontiff.

"Pius said 'if they want to arrest me they will have to drag me from the Vatican'," said Peter Gumpel, the German Jesuit priest who is in charge of researching whether Pius should be made a saint, and therefore has access to secret Vatican archives. "the person who would leave the under these conditions would not be Pius XII but Eugenio Pacelli" – his name before he was elected Pontiff – thus giving permission for a new Pope to be elected.

Hitler had considered kidnapping the Pope but this is the first time that details have emerged of the Vatican's strategy should the Nazis carry out the plan."It would have been disastrous if the Church had been left without an authoritative leader," said Father Gumpel. "Pius wouldn't leave voluntarily. He had been invited repeatedly to go to Portugal or Spain or the United States but he felt he could not leave his diocese under these severe and tragic circumstances."

Vatican documents, which still remain secret, are believed to show that Pius was aware of a plan formulated by Hitler in July 1943 to occupy the Vatican and arrest him and his senior cardinals. On 6 September 1943 – days after Italy signed the September 3 armistice with the Allies and German troops occupied Rome – Pius told key aides that he believed his arrest was imminent.

SS General Karl Otto Wolff was told to "occupy as soon as possible the Vatican, secure the archives and art treasures and transfer the Pope, together with the Curia so that they cannot fall into the hands of the Allies and exert a political influence." Some historians have claimed that General Wolff tipped off the Vatican about the kidnap plans and that he also managed to talk the Fuhrer out of the plot because he believed it would alienate Catholics worldwide.

Consideration is being given to the canonisation of Pius XII and these revelations will be seen as an attempt to bolster the case for declaring him saint. Pius’ role during WWII is, to say the least, controversial ( a huge understatement!) but for another time


Julia Phillips Smith said...

Hmm...hadn't heard any of this before. Jams - you're my breaking news source! I should say so that the arrest of the pontiff would have backfired incredibly. The aquisition of the art would not have been worth the trouble.

Maddy said...

I much prefer your 'what ifs' to mine.

jams o donnell said...

It would have been an utterly stupid move on the part of the Nazis regardless of the Pope's sympathies (or not)

jams o donnell said...

Glad you liked it Maddy!

Liz Hinds said...

That's interesting - and then you end it with that teaser about his controversial role in WWII!

jams o donnell said...

That would have taken a long time to write Liz and really does deserve a proper post at some time.