Have you ever heard about the secret espionage operation that ran through the Vatican during WWII? Oh, you didn’t? Well, you are not alone. Almost no one has.
Silence in Response to Evil?
In fact, I would imagine it must have been incredibly frustrating to be a Catholic in the 1940’s. So many men and women suffered at the hand of incredible evil and fought heroically to defeat that evil with almost no word from the pope. For the most part, in the midst of Hitler’s worldwide atrocities and all the inhumanity that came with it, Pope Pius XII, who was one of the most prominent moral voices in the world, was completely silent. For decades, Pope Pius XII has been blamed for doing nothing to stop the genocide.
But what if he did and we just didn’t know about it?
Mark Riebling tells us a very different story in his book, Church of Spies. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli had served in Berlin before becoming Pope Piux XII. Because he witnessed the 3rd Reich gain power, he was well aware of the danger the Nazi’s proposed to human rights and to Christianity.
Pope Pius VII and “The Resistance”
During his time in Germany, Cardinal Pacelli met a series of men who would later become “the resistance”. As Hitler took power, these men, some lay Catholics, some religious, started passing information through the Pope to European countries that were vulnerable to invasion such as France and Switzerland. They also passed information to the Allied forces about Hitler’s impending attacks in the west. The treachery was great as there were spies on every side. Nazi spies existed in the priesthood. The resistance experienced many close calls as they tried to keep cover.
The Church was far from neutral.
Riebling even reports that Pius received early reports massive death camps in Europe. Upon reading the report, he threw his hands to heaven and wept like a child. It was after receiving this news that the pope wrote his most condemning statement of the Nazi regime. His team pleaded that he tear it up so that Hitler would not increase his oppression. The pope heeded their plea and the letter never made it out of his office.
Based on the teachings catholic just war theory, the Pope and his circle of spies made the decision that the only way to restore Christian freedom to Europe was through the assassination of Adolf Hitler. And they tried. Many attempts were made on Hitler’s life by the “Church of Spies,” while they communicated with Britain a plan of peace and government that would be put in place upon his death.
Yes, the pope and his spies were pretty B.A.
Today, we know the end of the story. Hitler had the “luck of the devil,” dodging (somehow) every possible assassination. In the end, the devil’s luck ran out when the very evil that filled Hitler made a mockery of him as he took his own life.
A History of Defending The Truth
The story of Pope Pius and the “Church of Spies” is a thrilling reminder that the characters of Catholicism are anything but vanilla. In every time and in every generation, saints rise to the occasion to stand for truth through the avenue necessary to the time and often unseen.
What’s God calling you to? It may be more daring than you think.