Vatican unveils exhibition on controversial WWII Pope

4th November 2008, Comments 0 comments

In efforts to temporarily appease critics including Jewish groups, the personal items of Pope Pius XII are put on display.

Vatican City -- In a new Vatican exhibition, Pope Pius XII's more mundane belongings - his heavily worn shoes and portable typewriter - have gone on show.

Among the exhibited items are radio transcripts in which he purportedly denounced totalitarian rule, including Nazism, during World War II.

"The purpose is to allow the general public to get to know the full life of Pope Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII)," Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences President Walter Brandmueller told reporters, Monday.

"In part it serves to counter some of the malign interpretations that try to cast a shadow on the figure of Pope Pacelli," he added.

Brandmueller was referring to criticism by some historians and Jewish groups that Pius failed to speak out against the Nazi massacre of the Jews during the Holocaust.

Photographs, items of clothing, gifts and documents on display at the exhibition venue - the Braccio Carlo Magno wing of St Peter's colonnade - chart Pius's life from his 1876 birth in Rome to an aristocratic family.

It follows his years as a Vatican diplomat, including stints in Munich and Berlin as a Papal Nuncio, or ambassador. In one letter to his brother Francesco, the future pope recounts the 1919 occupation by Communist revolutionaries of the Nuncio offices in Munich.

"On that occasion Pius was threatened with a pistol pointed to his head," Pius biographer Andrea Tornielli said.

The violence and anti-clericalism that surrounded the establishment of the short lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919 is said to have influenced Pius' strong anti-Communism stance - a feature of his papacy that lasted from 1939 to his 1958 death.

But the exhibition also touches on what the Roman Catholic Church and other supporters of Pius say is his opposition to Nazism and his efforts to safeguard Jews.

These include documents highlighting the then Cardinal Pacelli's contribution as Vatican Secretary of State to the "With burning Concern," the 1937 issued encyclical by his predecessor Pius XI in which totalitarianism and anti-Semitism are condemned.

Transcripts exhibited, include part of Pius XII's papal Christmas radio message of 1942. Current pontiff Benedict XVI, referred to it when he defended his predecessor's record in an Oct. mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pius' death.

In that "emotional" broadcast, Pius, according to Benedict, made explicit his concern for the mass deportation and murder of the Jews.

The exhibition does not contain Vatican archive material on Pius' war time pontificate that historians say may help finally clear the lingering ambiguity on Pius' role.

This includes an exhibit at Israel's state Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, in which Pius' photographs appears with a caption that imply that he had remained silent during the persecution of Jews.

Last week the Vatican said such records would only be made available at the earliest, by 2014.

The delay, which the Vatican says is necessary to ensure proper catalouging of the documents, is likely to see the controversy around Pius continue.

Pope Benedict appears to have put on hold attempts to make Pius a saint.

The German born pontiff has taken time for "reflection" on whether to authorize Pius' beatification - an important step towards Roman Catholic sainthood - the Vatican said last month.

The exhibition: Pius XII the man and his pontificate 1876-1958 will be held in Rome until Jan. 6, 2009. It will later move to Germany, in Munich and Berlin, and then the United States.

DPA/Peter Mayar/Expatica

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