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Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,349 ratings  ·  130 reviews
Backed by a wealth of new research, John Cornwell tells for the first time the story of the World War II career of Eugenio Pacelli, the man who was Pope Pius XII, arguably the most dangerous churchman in modern history. In the first decade of the century, as a brilliant young Vatican lawyer, Pacelli helped shape a new ideology of unprecedented papal power in Germany. In 19 ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 26th 2000 by Penguin Books (first published August 28th 1999)
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Lewis Weinstein
Cornwell has written a devastating condemnation of Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII). So far, I have read the chapters describing Pacelli's utterly immoral role in bringing Hitler to a position of dictatorial power by passage of the Enabling Act in 1933.

To summarize ... Pacelli was fixated on reaching a Concordat with Hitler that would implement the 1917 Code of Canon Law he had been instrumental in drafting ... He was totally unconcerned with Hitler's destruction of human rights, social ethics
Nov 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
The beatification process has begun to make Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) a saint. Aside from whatever we might think about how saints are created by the church as an institution, I suspect everyone would agree that any saint should have a reasonably spotless reputation.

John Henry Newman, a famous British convert to Catholicism in the eighteenth century, once wrote that “It is not good for a Pope to live twenty years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contra
Robert Beveridge
Jan 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (Viking, 1999)

I feel guilty abandoning this book. The subject matter is tailor made to suit my tastes, and so many reviews of the book have focused, incorrectly, on Cornwell's seeming obsession with attacking the Roman Catholic Church and his methods of research, that I couldn't imagine not liking it when I picked it up. But quite simply, Hitler's Pope is an unmitigated disaster.

This is not to say that many of its critics are not still
Clif Brittain
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've cried twice this year when I read a book. This was one of them. The scene was that rubber-necking German soldiers were driving past the Vatican, their trucks filled with Italian Jewish deportees on their way to certain death. This was happening with the full knowledge of people within the Vatican, including the pope.

Not once during the whole war did Pope Pius XII mention Nazis or Jews, much less condemn Hitler's regime.

At first I thought the title of this book was a bit strong. But if Hitl
Jul 27, 2007 rated it did not like it
On p. 310 of Hitler's Pope, John Cornwell, after numbering the deported Roman Jews at 1,060, notes that "an unspecified number of Jews" were sheltered from deportation by the Vatican. This number is freely available, Cornwell must have known it well: about 5,000. As this would have undercut his thesis (that the diplomacy of Pius XII clearly was only self-serving and did not save lives), he assiduously keeps it from the reader. The book is rife with these sorts of distortions: Kenneth L. Woodward ...more
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-2, religion
One of the enduring controversies of the Catholic Church has been its role, or perhaps more appropriately its lack of role, in speaking out against the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, has been accused of cowardice, anti-Semitism, a lack of concern for worldly affairs, a bias towards Germany, an inclination towards dictatorialism that made him partial to Fascist societies like Franco's Spain and Hitler's Germany.

This book attempts to stip away a lot of the myths surrounding the issue,
Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't all that enthusiastic about reading this book when a friend loaned it to me. I'm not Catholic nor Jewish, nor German nor Italian (Pius XII was Italian). I knew there was controversy over whether Pius had helped shelter Jews in Rome, or had helped the Nazis round them up, or something, but I didn't know any details and figured it was one of those things that would never be resolved.

I was wrong about all that. Recent scholarship and newly released documents--official as well as personal c
Brian Griffith
Cornwall's book is a tremendous research effort and highly readable. He started out trying to disprove accusations that Pope Pius XII had stopped his church from protesting Nazi atrocities. But the research leads to a far more painful truth. For any who promote the separation of government from religious values, this book poses hard questions. The Church's agreements with fascist rulers involved a trade: government support for religious institutions, in exchange for church silence on political a ...more
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Eugenio Pacelli, aka Pius XII, engineered further strengthening of the autocratic governing structure of the Roman Catholic Church. That was his be all and end all. A 'Vicar of Christ' on earth in name only, he, in essence, backed the Fascist regime in Italy and the NAZI regime in Italy in order to strengthen his control over the local churches. Though knowing of atrocities committed by the NAZIs throughout Europe and by Catholic priests in Croatia, among other places, he did not condemn the per ...more
Nov 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
Cornwell presents a rather one-sided view of the wartime papacy, and seems to be obsessed with the theme of anti-Semitism, to the detriment of his argument. From the start, he appears determined to condemn Pius' response to the Holocaust. The author himself has admitted since publication that he considers this work to be too damning of Pius. While there is much to be criticised of the papal response, Cornwell leaves little room for consideration of the Pope's other concerns and motivations; his ...more
Feb 10, 2009 rated it did not like it
I gotta admit: I made a valiant effort but this book was mind-numbingly, eye-gougingly(word?)boring. It presents many controversial "facts" which, sadly, even though I am Catholic, I do not care enough to research. Because the Church operates in such a clandestine manner and because religion (like politics) is impossible to talk about without bias, I gave up trying to glean the truth from the opinion.

I don't know who's side the author leans toward and really I was so more interested in the issu
Laurence O'Bryan
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of Pius XII. My eyes have truly been opened to a shameful episode in the history of the Catholic Church.

On reading this I was struck by how little is generally known about Pius's attitude to the Jews, his personal reasons for these attitudes and his support for a fascism based on a twisted reading of the tenets of the Catholic Church.

If anything, after reading other histories of the era, John Cornwell was even handed in his take on Pius XII.

The facts of Pius XII dealings with t
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Many view Cornwell's bias against the Catholic Church as making him too subjective to be a good historian. However, this book is meticulously researched. It makes me want to vomit to think that this slimeball, Eugenio Pacelli, is a candidate for canonization. "Sono limacce."

Excommunicate me already!
Lynn Vannucci
May 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Covering up child abuse, and apparently moving ever closer to canonization for Pius XII too.
Daniel Kukwa
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Between this book and the recent "In the Closet of the Vatican", the judgement of a rotten, prideful, hypocritical, hubris-filled Roman Catholic Church is made with succinct clarity. At its heart is a man who believed himself to be a saint, and stood by as one of the greatest crimes in human history passed him by without any word spoken against it. After reading this book, the idea that Pius XII could be declared a saint should be sealed in a lead coffin and shot into the depths of space. ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
I tried to read this... I really did.

This book was written for people who know a lot about Church law and the workings of the church. I spent so much time looking things up that for me there was no flow to the book.

Give the book a shot, it has some interesting points to make. But for me it was like doing homework.
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
I've long been aware that Pope Pius XII was, at the very least, overly friendly to the Nazis. Indeed, the "Real Odessa" explains in some detail how his Vatican enabled many war criminals to escape. So, I was looking forward to this expose of the man. Sadly, from the introduction, you realise that this biography is going to pull its punches as the author explains how he wanted to exonerate Pius XII but ended-up convinced he did favour the Nazis. Indeed, the book does demonstrate this but every po ...more
Jun 03, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely well-researched and informative with a clear aim toward fairness and objectivity. A very interesting, seemingly balanced account of the life and career of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII. The writing tends to be dry and repetitious but fascinating details keep the story flowing. As just one example: The role of Devil's Advocate was removed from the beatification process in 1983. Talk about tampering with the jury!

I simply must relate my favorite, laugh-out-loud-funny entry. It is repres
May 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Cornwell takes every opportunity to infer Pacelli's policy and personal faults (more often than not by conjecture), as he rose to power in the Vatican . The author also allocates any (rare) favourable decision by the Church to Pius XI (Pacelli's predecessor) and anything negative to Pacelli, Pius XI's right hand man. As for Pacelli's approach to the rising Hitler juggernaut in the 1930's, and his attitude as Pope during WWII, the question that needed to be asked and answered is what would have b ...more
Brian Ross
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Very thought-provoking, and I can see why this book was so controversial. The title and cover picture are more provocative than is his thesis (although his thesis is certainly provocative), and I recommend the 2008 edition which includes an updated author's preface.

In this new preface, Cornwell denies that he is saying that Pius XII was pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic, as apparently many of his critics claim. He argues instead that, due to his upbringing, personality, beliefs, and especially his agend
David Zerangue
I started reading this book with the knowledge that the author had been 'defrocked' regarding the accusations he made. My goal was to read this from an historical perspective.
From an historical point of view, I was not disappointed. It provided insight into further details of the second world war. In fact, the accounts of the atrocities committed (such as in Croatia) were quite illuminating.
The author's accusatorial stance regarding Pius XII was easy enough to ignore. However, the final two chap
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
While several of the reviews for this book suggest that this is a damning account of Pius xii, I found it to be measured in it's writing and in it's claims. There is ample evidence to support the 'claim' that Pius had negative feelings towards Jews, however this narrative manages to explain this bias largely as a result of the times and society which produced Pius, all without excusing the negativity itself. Obviously this does not explain the shameful manner in which the Vatican handled knowled ...more
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is one of a number of works that have reached the conclusion that Eugenio Pacelli, in various key positions in the Roman Catholic Church, played a key role in consolidating Hitler's rise to power, and suppressing objections to the Holocaust. Cornwell presents a convincing case, based on many sources, that Pacelli did this largely as part of a modern (since 1850) movement to turn the Church into an autocratic dictatorship. In my opinion, he sometimes over reaches in his conclusions, but my " ...more
Barbara Marincel

Actually, I'm not finding this book to be a biased slam at Pius XII, although I am only halfway finished so I may need to revise that statement later. What I like about the book thus far is that it really delves into the diplomatic background behind the Vatican's Concordat with Hitler and Pacelli's reasons for for desiring it--along with Hitler's underlying motives.
The author also explains the title of the book, which is somewhat misleading. It is not meant to imply that Pius was Hitler's pupp
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is well researched and tells the story of a deeply hypocritical and power hungry pontiff who was so conceited he required priests to be on their knees while talking to him on the phone and made a propaganda film about himself while the ovens of the concentration camps were burning. He disbanded the catholic resistance organizations in Germany while they were protesting against Hitler's rise to power and commanded Catholics not to stand up to Hitler. Had he not done this, the Final Solu ...more
Nov 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: shelved
The connection between Hitler's mass murders and the Pope and fellow Catholics who made deals with him, allowing the slaughter of millions of innocent Jews, struck me as an interesting read. While the facts are interesting, Cornwell's very detailed account of what happened is so incredibly dry that it took me over three months to get past the 100 page mark. This book is much like reading an incredibly boring history book, equipped with millions of footnotes. I may pick it up again later, but for ...more
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII” by John Cornwell is a fascinating but disturbing book about Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), who reigned from 1939 to 1958 and was the pope during the first nine years of my life. This 1999 book was well-researched (using recently released Vatican documents from that period), and informative. It was a good followup for me to “The Pope and Mussolini” by David Kertzer about Pope Pius XI, his immediate predecessor, which I read in seven months earlie ...more
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This the 3rd book I have read about the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. And all are consistent in it's moral failings throughout history. This books speaks to one pope's in particular, Pachelli. And his may go down in history as one of the most egregious, if true. The case the author makes is strong and raises serious questions about Pachelli's sainthood. Questions that cannot be ignored. ...more
Denise DeRocher
Jan 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and enlightening WWII history of a little-known relationship between the Nazis and the head of the Catholic church at that time - explains a lot about Catholic-based anti-Semitism.
Kenneth Barber
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book traces the life and career of Pope Pius XII. As a young priest, Pacelli was taken into the Vatican to work in the office of the Secretariat of State. He worked on the new codification of Papal Law. He also served as papal nuncio in Germany in the 1920’s. While in Bavaria he witnessed the excesses of a short lived Communist rule. From this he developed a lifelong hatred of Communism. In his work on the codification of papal law and his work with PiusXI, he developed the philosophy that ...more
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John Cornwell is a British journalist, author, and academic. Since 1990 he has directed the Science and Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he is also, since 2009, Founder and Director of the Rustat Conferences. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (University of Leicester) in 2011. He was nominated for the PEN/Ac ...more

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