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Vatican Response to Hitler's Pope

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Setting the record straight about a recent book

L'Osservatore Romano - 13 October 1999)

A book with the provocative title Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (London: Viking, 1999) was recently published in Great Britain and the United States of America. Translations of this work have also been released in other countries or will be soon.

The author is Mr John Comwell, who in various articles, some of which appeared before the book itself went on sale, claims: "I have attempted to write the first scholarly and honest appraisal of Pius XII" (The Sunday Times, 12 September 1999, p. 5). It is public knowledge that John Cornwell, a journalist, has no academic degrees in history, law or theology. It is no surprise, then, that the book he wrote (a harsh indictment of the person and work of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope from 1939 to 1958), has already been criticized from every angle by world-renowned scholars.

In this regard it is necessary to clarify and correct what Mr Cornwell has publicly claimed about his research in the Vatican Archives of the Secretariat of State of His Holiness, precisely in those of the Holy See's Section for Relations with States.

1) Mr Cornwell says that he is the first and only person to have access to these Archives. This statement is completely false. In fact, many people have had access to these Archives, even before Mr Cornwell consulted them. It should further be pointed out that Mr Cornwell's research was limited to two series of documents: Bavaria (1918-1921) and Austria (Serbia, Belgrade: 1913-1915).

Obviously, neither the book's author nor anyone else has ever had access to documents regarding the period not yet open to the public (from 1922 on).

2) Mr Cornwell says that he worked "for months on end" in the aforementioned Archives. But this statement does not correspond in any way to the truth. In these Archives, in fact, precise notations are carefully made and kept regarding the day and length of time (hours and minutes) that individuals are allowed to consult them. These records show that Mr Cornwell was admitted to the Archives from 12 May 1997 to 2 June 1997, hardly "for months on end", but for a period of about three weeks. They also show that in this very limited time period Mr Cornwell did not come every
day and that on those days when he did come his visits were very brief.

3) In open contradiction to the truth, Mr Cornwell has also said that the documents he found had been kept strictly confidential until he began his research. In this regard he is referring specifically to a letter sent on 18 April 1919 by the then-Nuncio in Bavaria, Archbishop Pacelli, to the Secretariat of State. Concerning this document he adds that the letter remained hidden in the Vatican Archives "like a time bomb”.

In truth, the aforementioned letter (only a few sentences of which are quoted by Cornwell, and those out of context) had already been published in 1992, that is, seven years before the publication of Cornwell's book. The complete text of this document appeared in E. Fattorini's book, Germania e Santa Sede: Le nunziature di Pacelli tra la Grande guerra e la Repubblica di Weimar (Bologna-Societa Edit. II Mulino, 1992, pp. 322-325).

4) These facts had to be pointed out to warn readers about Mr Cornwell's publication, lest they be surprised by what he claims about materials kept in these Archives.


Version: 20th March 2008

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