Source: Essay by Sean Gannon, TJP
"... recent critics of Vatican policy such as Gary Wills, John Cornwell, James Carroll and Daniel Goldhagen have focused attention on the issue perhaps most damning from a modern perspective - Pius XII's undoubted anti-Semitism - arguing that what Cornwell calls Pius's "secret antipathy" toward Jews helps explain his lack of action on their behalf. Yet the fact is that, however abhorrent, Pius XII's anti-Semitism was utterly unremarkable for a churchman of his time, and was certainly no deeper than that of Pius XI, against whom he is most frequently unfavorably compared regarding his response to Nazism. For example, in 1919 the future Pius XI reported from Poland that the Jews were "perhaps the strongest and most evil influence" there, while 13 years later as pope, he told Mussolini that the Jews of central and eastern Europe posed a threat to Christian society. Even the unpromulgated encyclical, Humani generis unitas, drafted by Jesuit theologians as Pius XI's definitive condemnation of anti-Semitism, warned of "the spiritual dangers to which contact with Jews can expose souls" and stated that Judaism formed an "authentic basis for the social separation of the Jews from the rest of humanity."
Pius XII's anti-Semitism is certainly a stain on his record. But there is simply no evidence that it played any part in determining his wartime decisions. In this, he contrasts starkly with other Catholic authorities whose anti-Semitic ethos led them to directly help the Nazi cause.
Here in Ireland, the Catholic Church's endemic anti-Semitism had more indirect, yet still devastating, consequences. Irish Catholicism had, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, published and preached against the Jews as a deicidal nation which had endured for 2,000 years as "the worm in the rose" of Christendom. And in a country where notions of Irishness and Catholicism were inextricably entwined, the Jews, as enemies of the Church, were by definition enemies of the State, and so religious and non-religious anti-Semitic motifs were synthesized to create one national anti-Jewish ideology. So "Jewish finance" was characterized as a means of enslaving the Irish Catholic nation while Freemasonry and Communism were presented as Jewish-driven vehicles for what Ireland's leading anti-Semitic ideologue Fr. Denis Fahey (most of whose books were prefaced and approved by prominent members of the Irish hierarchy) called "the destruction of Catholic civilization through the perversion of hearts."
Thus Ireland's Rome-based Catholic clergy could warn the Irish ambassador to the Holy See in 1946 that Jewish influence was not just "anti-Christian [but] anti-national and detrimental to the revival of an Irish cultural and religious civilization" - an attitude which may partly explain the Irish colleges' apparent refusal to shelter Jews during the round-up of Roman Jews three years earlier, even as 4,500 were being hidden in other Catholic institutions, 10% of them in the Vatican itself.
The Irish government's response to the increasingly desperate pleas of the chief rabbi of Mandated Palestine and former Irish chief rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog (ironically, one of Pius XII's first defenders) to use its influence to rescue small groups of French and Hungarian Jews was, in the words of historian Shulamit Eliash, "tepid and unenthusiastic." And, mindful of the "numerous protests regarding the number of alien Jews who [had] established themselves" in Ireland, the Ministry of Justice (which had the final say on refugee visas) implemented throughout the Nazi era an immigration policy which explicitly excluded those with what were termed "non-Aryan affiliations."
So while just one Irish Jew actually perished in the Holocaust, one wonders how many of her Continental co-religionists died as a result of Ireland's institutionalization of societal anti-Semitism, which resulted in fewer than 70 Jewish admissions between 1933 and 1945.
It is, then, surely time to let the matter rest."