‘Hidden Encyclical’ No Longer Hidden
The unpublished Vatican document that lambasted Nazis’ anti-Semitism, and the U.S. priest who played a key role in writing it.
Peter Eisner describes the attempt of Pius XI to issue a document condemning racism and anti-Semitism.
— Did Pope Pius XII, the leader of the Catholic Church during World War II and the subsequent decade, suppress a landmark Vatican document that his predecessor, Pius XI, had commissioned, a document that would have unambiguously criticized racism and anti-Semitism? And did that document — an encyclical, in Vatican parlance — actually exist?
Historians and theologians have been asking these questions for decades.
The so-called hidden encyclical has played a role — contrasting the attitudes and personalities of the two popes —since the end of the war. The document and mystery surrounding it has helped shape the legacy of Pius XII, an austere, cautious man who was praised during the Holocaust for saving many Jews from the Nazis but later came under attack for supposed indifference to the fate of the continent’s endangered Jews.
Peter Eisner, a New Jersey-born author and journalist who lives in this Washington suburb, had not been familiar with the controversy surrounding the hidden encyclical when, a few years ago, a friend told him about it, and about John LaFarge, the American priest who had written most if it.
Eisner, who had earlier written a book with a WWII theme, was hooked.
“This is a natural,” thought Eisner, who proceeded to spend two years working on “The Pope’s Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI’s Campaign to Stop Hitler” (William Morrow). “I realized there was an American character in it,” he said. In other words, an entry point for U.S. readers into the labyrinth of the Vatican hierarchy. READ ENTIRE REVIEW