World Desk

Pope Benedict XVI’s abrupt decision to resign reminds us of the departure of another pope exactly seventy-four years ago this week, a moment at which the Roman Catholic Church faced a different crisis.

Pope Pius XI had died on February 10, 1939 and the world was on the brink of a second war. As the Nazis massed forces against Europe, in Rome Pius XI was engaged in a last-minute effort to awaken world leaders against Hitler, Mussolini and the Nazi campaign against the Jews. But the pope faced dissidents within the Vatican.

I’ve just finished a book about Pius XI and his challenge to Hitler — The Pope’s Last Crusade — which comes out in March.

Just as now, the Catholic Church was divided among factions that would either modernize and deal squarely and openly with injustice, or retreat, circle in closely and insulate their institution from the outside world…

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