CONTINUUM £20 (220PP) £18 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

Pius XII: The Hound Of Hitler, by Gerard Noel

A holy fool for the Führer

Few popes in modern times have so polarised opinion as Pius XII, leader of the Catholic Church during the Second World War. His silence, in the face of compelling evidence as early as 1940 of the Holocaust, has seen him condemned as an anti-Semite, a Fascist sympathiser, and a moral coward. One biographer labelled him "Hitler's Pope". The Church's response to the charges has been equally extreme. It is planning to canonise him.

One of the biggest obstacles to reaching any balanced view of Pius has been the Vatican's refusal to open the relevant sections of its archives. Its excuse is a limp one – that they haven't been catalogued.

Into the embittered gap between the two sides has stepped Gerard Noel. A former editor of the Catholic Herald and vice-president of the Council of Christians and Jews, he has fine credentials as a mediating force. And his sources are strong, if unorthodox. Many are oral, but stretch back through his contacts with senior churchmen to the day when, as a 22-year-old student in 1948, he found himself granted a private audience with Pius XII at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

Noel produces a devastating psychological portrait of a flawed individual quite unsuited to his circumstances. Pius was a hypochondriac and depressive. He moved out of the family home aged 38, and soon found a surrogate mother in the formidable nun, Mother Pasquelina, who ruled his household and his papacy, after his election in 1939, as a result of an an intimate relationship that was chaste but thoroughly unhealthy.

In his public policy, first as the Vatican's ambassador to Germany, then the Church's Secretary of State, and finally as Pope, Pius XII placed all his faith in treaties. Inspired by the Vatican's 1929 Concordat with Mussolini, he aimed, at the expense of every other human consideration, to negotiate similar agreements with right-wing dictators around Europe. The partnership of authoritarian rulers and an authoritarian church would, he believed, bring social stability and provide the context for Catholicism to impose moral order.

In order to get Hitler in 1933 to sign a piece of paper every bit as worthless as the Munich agreement, Pius was prepared to ignore the misgivings of his German bishops and then disband the only credible political opposition to Hitler's rise – the Catholic Centre Party. When the folly of what he had done hit home, Pius retreated into silence throughout the war and imagined illnesses thereafter.

It was a combination of his spectacularly bad political judgement and deeply damaged psyche that made Pius such a disaster as wartime Pope, Noel argues. He was a vain and unworldly innocent who, too late, became aware of the true nature of the threat Hitler posed. He tried then to make reparation by, Noel authoritatively shows, offering Vatican protection to many Italian Jews who would otherwise have been sent to the concentration camps. "Hound of Hitler" feels like an overstated title for an otherwise well-balanced book. "Hitler's Fool" might be more appropriate.

Peter Stanford's latest book is 'Teach Yourself Catholicism'

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power