Was Pope Pius XII’s reputation smeared by the KGB?

The government of Israel may want to consider rethinking its attitude about Pope Pius XII; this is an important matter especially since the Vatican wishes to canonize Pope Pius XII. Until now, there has been a lingering controversy about Pope Pius’s alleged support for the Nazis; Israeli scholars need to revisit and examine this matter with their Catholic counterparts.

Most of Pius’s critics have traditionally been associated with critics from the political and religious Left. In one recent study, a new revelation was introduced in January 2007 by Lt.-Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former head of the Romanian KGB. Pacepa writes that the allegations against Pius XII were really the brainchild of the KGB. In an article published in National Review, Pacepa recalls, “In my other life, when I was at the center of Moscow’s foreign-intelligence wars, I myself was caught up in a deliberate Kremlin effort to smear the Vatican, by portraying Pope Pius XII as a coldhearted Nazi sympathizer.”[1]

Pacepa’s background is impeccable. After he defected to the US in 1978, he became the highest ranking Soviet-bloc defector, claimed that in the late 1950s the KGB began perceiving the Catholic Church as the primary threat to its control over Eastern Bloc countries. Consequently, in 1960 the KGB decided to wage a campaign to destroy its moral authority. Since Pius had died two years earlier, the decision was made to castigate him as a Nazi collaborator. Already dead, he was in no position to defend himself before his accusers. To perpetrate the fiction that the Pope was a stooge of Hitler, Pacepa alleged that the 1964 play The Deputy, which opened the floodgates of criticism against Pius, was written by the KGB and that its presumed author, Rolf Hochhuth, was a communist fellow traveler. He claimed that the basis for the play was documents that Romanian KGB agents disguised as Catholic priests had purloined from the Vatican archives. Those documents, he alleged, were then doctored at KGB headquarters in Moscow.

Former CIA director James Woolsey has vouched for Pacepa’s personal credibility. Pacepa’s memoir Red Horizons formed the basis for the indictment and conviction of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed in 1989. Vindicating the memory of a man who saved 850,000 Jews would go a long way to ensuring that the Vatican and Jerusalem remain the best of allies because of the mutual historical bond both faith communities forged together during the darkest period of Jewish history.

[1] “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican”, National Review Online, January 25, 2007.