The Vatican's Secretary of State has presented a spirited defence of Pope Pius XII's role during World War II in protecting Jews as a former KGB spy reveals a deliberate super-secret Soviet plan to smear the Pope as an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathiser.
Catholic News Agency reports that in a recent issue of the National Review Online, Lt General Ion Mihai Pacepa, who eventually defected from the former Soviet bloc, recounts how the KGB and the Kremlin designed the deliberate campaign to portray the Pius XII "as a cold hearted Nazi sympathiser".
In February 1960, Nikita Khrushchev approved a "super-secret" plan, codenamed "Seat-12", for destroying the Vatican's moral authority in Western Europe, writes Pacepa.
Eugenio Pacelli, by then Pope Pius XII, was selected as the KGB's main target, its incarnation of evil, because he had departed this world in 1958. "Dead men cannot defend themselves" was the KGB's latest slogan.
The KGB used the fact that Archbishop Pacelli had served as the papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin when the Nazis were beginning their bid for power against him.
"The KGB wanted to depict him as an anti-Semite who had encouraged Hitler's Holocaust," says Pacepa.
Using documents provided by Pacepa, the KGB used these documents to produce a powerful play attacking Pope Pius XII, entitled The Deputy.
It eventually saw the stage in Germany in 1963, under the title The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy. It proposed that Pius XII had supported Hitler and encouraged him to go ahead with the Jewish Holocaust. The German director claimed to have 40 pages of documentation attached to the script that would support the thesis of the play.
The play ran in New York in 1964 and was translated into 20 languages. The play then led to a flurry of books and articles, some accusing and some defending the Pontiff.
Pacepa says the truth has finally begun to emerge with the canonisation process of Pius XII, which was opened by John Paul II.
Meanwhile, Catholic News Agency reports that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, speaking at a Rome book launch, strongly defended Pope Pius XII's wartime actions and said he had coordinated church efforts that saved the lives of many Jews.
He said the Catholic Church as an institution played a part in this effort, working under Pope Pius and following his directives. The church aided all during World War II, but specifically sought to defend and save persecuted Jews, he said.
"They were to be helped in any way possible. This is the premise on which every action of the Pope and his aides was founded, as is demonstrated by the existing documentation," Cardinal Bertone said.
Lisa Palmieri-Billig, the Rome representative of the American Jewish Committee, also spoke at the book presentation. She said there was no question that the Vatican had helped save the lives of Jews, sometimes hiding them inside the Vatican itself.
She noted Pope Pius' strongly worded Christmas appeal in 1942 on behalf of those persecuted by the Nazi regime on the basis of nationality or race.