Pius XII deceived Nazis about allegiances, author says

True to his word, Alvarez's free lecture Tuesday of last week, at the University of San Francisco's Gershwin Theater offered nary a mention of space creatures. But the author did manage to weave in tales of renegade priests, gullible politicians and maverick pornographers.

According to Alvarez, co-author of a recently published book with the same title as the lecture, Nazis in Germany during the '30s and '40s viewed the Vatican as a serious threat. He said the Nazis believed that the Vatican "controlled a worldwide intelligence network and enlisted a coterie of international spies."

What frightened the Nazis the most, the author said, was the possibility that German Catholics would follow the Vatican's teaching that divine law was superior to any state or individual's authority.

This doctrine was anathema, Alvarez said, to "emerging Nazi beliefs."

The Nazis attempted to control the Vatican by creating both a long-term and a short-term plan. According to Alvarez, the long-term plan involved "renegade priests" — either established clergy with Nazi sympathies or young, fervent non-clergy members.

These "renegades" would enter seminaries until they were finally ordained as Nazi bishops.

The short-term plan involved undermining the Catholic Church's moral authority by using "show trials" in which priests were brought before Nazi tribunals on trumped-up morality charges involving financial or sexual indiscretions.

Where the Nazis failed, the author believes, was both in underestimating the clandestine nature of the Vatican and in overestimating its influence. According to Alvarez, Pope Pius XII was such a firm believer in secrecy that only seven people in the entire Vatican knew his stance on Nazi Germany.

With such a tightly knit hierarchy, it was impossible for outsiders to gain influence in the Vatican.

The Nazis also failed to realize that the Vatican was operating from a position of weakness, not strength.

The Vatican's perception was "of being under siege of mortal enemies out to eliminate or marginalize" it, said Alvarez, who is a scholar-in-residence at the National Security Agency.

According to Alvarez, the Vatican actually used the German ambassador to the Vatican, Ernst Von Weiszacher, to curry favor with the Nazis and to spread misinformation about the Pope's allegiances. Those allegiances, Alvarez said, had always been with the Allies.

The conflicting messages coming from the Vatican, as well as its air of secrecy, created an "army of confidence tricksters," gossip-mongers and low-rent writers who used the web of confusion surrounding the Vatican to form a cottage industry of yellow journalism.

One such scam artist, according to Alvarez, was Virgilio Scattolini, a former playwright and pornographer turned journalist, who used his apartment to publish a spurious anti-Vatican paper that he distributed in over 25 countries.

During a brief question-and-answer period, Alvarez fielded queries about the pope's allegiances and the Vatican's role in the fate of European Jewry.

When asked about Pope Pius' well-documented "pro-German reputation," Alvarez said that "although the pope was certainly pro-German in his appetites" (e.g., art, culture, and food), and although "he surrounded himself with German advisers," the pontiff's personal tastes had "no political ramifications and in no way impacted his policies."

When Alvarez was asked if his book is a repudiation of the long-held belief that the pope acquiesced to the fate of European Jewry, he said, "I guess you could say that.

"I believe that the idea of the pope's collaborating with the Nazis is a historically inaccurate perception," Alvarez said.

When the final questioner asked the author why the pope had not done more to help save the Jews, Alvarez said, "The Vatican existed on pins and needles. It depended on the Italian government for everything: food, water, electricity."

The Vatican, he said, "couldn't afford to go out on a limb and make such a risky move, especially since no one else was offering a finger to help them.

"The Vatican and the pope felt that they had no one to turn to for help but themselves."