The relationship between the 20th-century popes, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation is often the subject of discussion. Some publications have given hasty and not always correct answers to questions raised. In this article we will deal with two pontiffs considered by some historians as antithetical; different in character and sensibility, but who had in common a great respect and love for the Russian people, even considering the historical period in which they lived.
Pius XII and the Soviet Union
The legend about Pius XII’s silence in the face of Nazi crimes generally goes hand in hand, in publications hostile to him, with another false interpretation, according to which he avoided publicly condemning Hitler so as not to weaken the struggle he was waging against Bolshevism and Russia. The documentation on the matter – already published beginning in 1965 in the 12 volumes of Actes et Documents – and now made available to scholars after the opening of the Vatican Archives relating to the pontificate of Pius XII, proves beyond doubt this thesis is baseless.
When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, the U.S. president was faced with the question of whether or not to help Stalin economically – as he was already doing with Britain – who was now allied with the Western powers against Hitler. This fact constituted for many Americans a real “case of conscience,” but Catholics especially rejected the idea of U.S. collaboration with Stalin’s Russia. On the Catholic side, the possibility of such cooperation was rejected on the grounds that Russia persecuted religion and, in particular, Catholics. Moreover, Pius XI’s encyclical against communism Divini Redemptoris, dated March 19, 1937, was used in support of this opposition. It stated: “Communism is intrinsically perverse, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.” President Roosevelt, in order to weaken the opposition of American Catholics to his plan to help Russia, asked the pope, through his representative Myron Taylor, for an “authentic interpretation” of the above passage, and also to give his assent – tacit, of course – to Allied-Russian collaboration to bring down Hitler’s regime.
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