When Pope Pius XII died in 1958, he was honored across the world, with the New Yorker leading the praise, calling him a “great pope.”
That perception rapidly changed, however, in the 1960s. The pope who had been universally acclaimed for speaking out against the political evils of his age was now assailed by the establishment for his “silence” and passivity during the Holocaust. The Vicar of Christ who had been hailed for fiercely resisting fascism and Nazism was now said to have facilitated both. And the Pontiff who had been honored for upholding truth, justice, and the rights of man was now accused of abetting Nazi war criminals.
Those closest to Pius XII knew these charges to be false—and said so at the time—but their voices were drowned out by an aggressive new campaign against Pius.
Many blamed the radical change of opinion on a play, The Deputy (1963), which caricatured Pius XII as an aloof, venal, and timid prelate, obsessed about the Vatican’s financial interests in Germany while remaining indifferent to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. However, as the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet bloc, Ion Mihai Pacepa, revealed, The Deputy was but the centerpiece of a massive campaign designed to discredit not only a deceased pope, but the papacy, the Catholic Church, Christianity, and even religion itself.