He shows in some detail how the book disproves the charges against the then Msgr. Pacelli — now the Venerable Pius XII — including the charge that the concordat between the Vatican and the Nazi government was the latter’s first international agreement. It wasn’t, having been proceeded by the League of Nations recognizing the government, among others things.
The story is not entirely uncritical, however, and this is one of the interesting insights in the review.
An underdeveloped theology toward Judaism prevailed at the time, and Wolf believes it hampered even good men like Pius XI. Though justly praised for his famous 1938 declaration, “Anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually, we are all Semites.” Both that statement and a similar one 10 years earlier were weakened by simultaneous cautions against Jewish faith and culture.
Pius XI’s 1928 statement condemned “with all its might” that “particular hatred which today commonly goes by the name of anti-Semitism.” But what precipitated it were efforts by the Friends of Israel, a Catholic organization, to cleanse the traditional Good Friday liturgy of its insensitivities toward “unbelieving” Jews.
After internal discussion and debate, the pope refused, believing any such changes might compromise the church’s evangelical mandate. The Friends of Israel organization was dissolved — albeit with the accompanying condemnation of anti-Semitism — and its ecumenical concerns were not properly addressed until the Second Vatican Council.
George Weigel’s review of the book appeared yesterday.