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With Burning Sorrow

The death of the Holy Father John Paul II has brought many Roman Catholics to reconsider some of the papacy’s recent actions. John Paul II disappointed many with his staunchly conservative theology, but few could help but admire his consistency. Presented with a choice between expediency and conviction, this pope more than once chose his beliefs.

This has not always been the case with the Bishop of Rome. John Paul II traveled to Jerusalem in 2000 to worship at the birthplace of his faith, but mostly to apologize for the shameful actions of his predecessors. It was necessary and overdue.

As a young man, John Paul II resisted the Nazis, at one point even carrying off on his back an injured Jewish woman condemned to the death camps. The throne of St. Peter had no such man in 1939.

Pius XII grants a blessing.

Pius XII, born Eugenio Pacelli, had served as Vatican Secretary of State before his election in 1939. During 13 years’ service as a papal diplomat in Germany, he had become fixated on the need for a new concordat, an agreement between church and state outlining the rights and responsibilities of each.

The German church had resisted Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, denying sacraments to Nazi activists. Yet Pacelli pushed the treaty forward, signing it in 1933 without Vatican approval and without Nazi agreement to protect the rights of Jewish converts to Catholicism. This gave Hitler his first triumph of international diplomacy and effectively destroyed his only political opposition, the Catholic Centre Party.

Pius XI in full ceremonial.

As soon as Hitler had squeezed enough political advantage out of the concordat, the Nazis returned to persecuting Catholics. Urged by the German bishops, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical “With Burning Sorrow” on Palm Sunday, 1937. From every pulpit in Germany, priests spoke against the regime’s policies. Pius XI damned Hitler as “a mad prophet possessed of repulsive arrogance.”

Yet the impact was not what it could have been, for Pacelli had softened the condemnation. The Nazis began conducting show trials of Catholic clergy on manufactured morality charges, infuriating the pope, who summoned the American Jesuit John Lafarge to draft an even more damning encyclical. “On the Unity of the Human Race” is a powerful condemnation of racism, a roar of outrage from the world’s leading spiritual authority aimed directly at Adolf Hitler.

Pius XI, afflicted by heart disease, called for the final draft to be brought to his deathbed for his signature. But he expired before completing this final act. Pacelli was elected in his place in February 1939, and took the name Pius XII. As his first official act, he had the fiery encyclical consigned to the Vatican’s secret archives where it remained for the next 20 years.

When war broke out that fall, Pius XII proclaimed the Vatican’s strict neutrality. The pope did condemn the German invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands, but as reports of mass killings of Jews began to pile up in the late summer and fall of 1941, Pius XII made no public statements. The papal nuncio in Switzerland provided a detailed report of the SS special action groups then slaughtering people in Russia and Ukraine. Father Pirro Scavizzi gave even more details on the death camps of Poland, even making what in retrospect is probably an accurate assessment for the time (1942) of 2 million murdered. Pius XII did nothing.

Allied and neutral governments begged the pontiff to speak. He refused. Even within the Vatican, discontent grew as the killing increased. The Vatican’s own newspaper questioned the silence, to which the pope responded, “Do not forget that millions of Catholics serve in the German armies. Shall I bring them into conflicts of conscience?”

Despite the lack of leadership, other Roman Catholics made their own moral judgements.

“Why,” came the anguished cry of Father Salvatore Rufino Niccacci, who rescued over 300 Jews in Assisi, “have You not given us a leader who would have stood up to the devil who twisted Your cross?”

The Game Variant

Next to the supreme questions fumbled by Pius XII and handled so well by Kolbe, Delp, Niccacci and Wojtyla, a game about World War II is mere trivia. Yet we’ll provide a new variant anyway, as Pius XII’s lack of character had a direct impact on the course of the war.

Click to download.

Add the new political marker “With Burning Sorrow” to John Prados’ Third Reich, in each scenario. When drawn, the Vatican has released the encyclical “On the Unity of the Human Race.” German influence is reduced by one in Spain, Poland and Hungary. Germany and Italy immediately lose 10 BRP each from its base value. If Croatia has not been created, it can never be created. If Italy is not at war with a major power, the cost to declare war on a major power is now 20 BRP for Italy.