Seeking the Facts
Rychlak's quest to learn the truth about Pius XII began as the result of a conversation with his faculty colleague
George Cochran. About nine years ago in the hallway of the University's Lamar Law Center, Rychlak recalls,
"Cochran said, 'You know, the Pope was a Nazi'."
Rychlak had never heard of the controversy surrounding Pius, he said, but a day or two later he went to the public
library and found a book about Christian rescuers of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. "This, I thought, would tell me
what had happened and let me discuss the issue with some knowledge."
The account, however, raised more questions. "The book referred to the ambiguous leadership of Pope Pius XII
and caused me to think that there might have been something to George's accusations. I needed to know more.
"I had always wondered how Hitler could take over a society like Germany, and I wanted to learn more about the
Nazi era, so I began reading all I could about Hitler, the war and the Pope."
Quest Leads to Rome
What Rychlak originally considered as a weekend, evening project began to evolve into something
much bigger. It led the professor to numerous books at many libraries, other sources and translations,
and finally to Rome and the Vatican archives -- the same records researched by Cornwell.
"I had been working on my book of the same topic for several years when Cornwell's came out,"
said Rychlak. "I was able to look deeply into it (Cornwell's book), and as I did, it became apparent
that Hitler's Pope was not a work of honest scholarship and was written to justify a conclusion that had
been reached in advance."
Rychlak traveled to Rome in December 1999 at the invitation of the Vatican. "They gave me an
office on Vatican property, and I went through the archives, looking at the materials that Cornwell says
left him in a state of moral shock," Rychlak said. "Everything I read, saw, every witness I spoke to
was positive. I went to Cornwell's book, to the footnotes, to see where the bad stuff was. It turns out
there was none. Cornwell's evidence simply does not back up his claims. There is no other way to
Evidence in Context
About his own book, Rychlak emphasizes that it is not an attack on Cornwell; it's an evaluation of
Pope Pius XII's wartime record, something others have tried to do before, as the professor explains
in the book's preface:
Many people have tried to evaluate Pope Pius XII's wartime record. Too often, however, the focus
has been on individual episodes or limited periods of time. To evaluate properly his performance, one
must begin by looking at all of the evidence in context. I did this by taking world events as we know
them to have been and looking at Pius XII's actions, inactions, silence, and statements in the context
of their time.
Rychlak's book is laid out much like a legal argument. The first 17 chapters provide the factual
background. "Here I use historical accounts, original documents and expert commentary to lay out the
evidence," he said.
The 18th chapter takes the evidence previously established and applies it to 10 questions typically
raised regarding Pope Pius XII's behavior during the Holocaust. "This (the 18th chapter) is like a
closing argument," Rychlak explained. "The epilogue is a direct rebuttal to the Hitler's Pope book.
"Pius XII was a lawyer, and I think the way things are going, he needs a lawyer to make his case.
The problem has been that people look at parts of the history out of context, and they draw wrong
conclusions. When charges are rebutted, they shift to new charges. Those new charges can be
rebutted, but soon the charges can mount up so much that readers (or jurors, if you will) are left with
the feeling that there must be something to the charges.
"I refused the defensive position except in the epilogue," Rychlak continued. "I made the
affirmative case. Having done this, I think that I have presented a compelling case for 'my client'."
Explaining the Myth
So if in fact Pope Pius XII was not cozy with the Nazis, how could the myth have reached such
"Everyone, even Cornwell, acknowledges that the Pope undertook many initiatives to help Jewish
victims of the Nazis," said Rychlak. However, following World War II, Communist propaganda
dictated disregard for all religions, especially those of international proportions.
"This propaganda spread to the West during the 1960s, fueled by the play The Deputy by Rolf
Hocchuth, a fictional account promoting the idea that Pope Pius remained silent while Jews were being
The play came out about the same time as Adolph Eichmann's trial, Vatican II and publication of The Diary of Anne Frank.
"Great attention spiced the myth, and it just took off," Rychlak said.
Cornwell's book has drawn new attention to the subject, but Rychlak may well have the last word.
According to Princeton University Professor Robert George, "Rychlak has buried the myth under
an avalanche of facts .... [He] has done more than anyone else to set the record straight."