The Pope's Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI's Campaign to Stop Hitler

The Pope's Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI's Campaign to Stop Hitler

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by Peter Eisner
     
 

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A conspiracy within the Vatican—to stop an outspoken Pope

In 1938, Pope Pius XI was the world's most prominent critic of the Nazi Party. To make his voice heard, Pius called upon an American Jesuit, John LaFarge, to write a papal encyclical—the Vatican's strongest decree—publicly condemning Hitler's murderous campaign.

But conservative members

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Overview

A conspiracy within the Vatican—to stop an outspoken Pope

In 1938, Pope Pius XI was the world's most prominent critic of the Nazi Party. To make his voice heard, Pius called upon an American Jesuit, John LaFarge, to write a papal encyclical—the Vatican's strongest decree—publicly condemning Hitler's murderous campaign.

But conservative members in the Vatican like Cardinal ­Eugenio Pacelli toiled in secret to suppress the document from appearing. Pacelli, who would become Pope Pius XII, colluded with ­others to keep the finished encyclical from reaching the increasingly-ill Pope.

Peter Eisner, award-winning reporter and author of the critically acclaimed The Freedom Line, reports shocking new evidence (released only recently from Vatican archives) of this deceit.

An astonishing tale of intrigue and sedition, The Pope's Last Crusade is a compelling journey into the heart of the Vatican. A truly essential work, it brings new light to one of the most critical junctures in modern history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Eisner (The Freedom Line) resorts to dramatization and speculation (“The pope woke up... feeling as well rested as he had in recent days”), undercutting his efforts to persuade readers of the accuracy of his account in this less-than-thrilling tale of the little-known efforts by the Vatican to counter the Nazis before WWII. Pope Pius XI has been all but eclipsed in historical memory by the contentious reputation of his successor, Pius XII, who is regarded as having done far less than he could have to counter Hitler and to rescue the Jews of Europe from concentration camps. According to Eisner, the Vatican’s track record might have been different if Pius XI had lived to deliver a speech in 1939 condemning the German regime—that speech would have been based on the thinking of the Rev. John LaFarge, an American, who, two years earlier, had written a book (Interracial Justice) calling for church action against racism, and whom Pius XI had commissioned to write a papal encyclical on the same subject. Putting aside the author’s what-ifs, Eisner has done history and the Vatican a service by retrieving from obscurity a significant episode in Catholic-Jewish relations. Agent: Flip Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar. 1)
Kirkus Reviews
The story of the race to compose a last top-secret encyclical against Nazi racism before the death of Pope Pius XI. Notwithstanding the spate of current works on the tragic shortcomings of Pius XII during World War II, journalist and producer Eisner (The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II, 2004, etc.) refocuses the spotlight in this relevant study on his predecessor, who did speak out against anti-Semitism and the threat of Nazism--though he was silenced by an untimely death in 1939. Pius XI, an activist pope since 1922 under whom the Vatican ultimately became an independent city-state achieving political and financial stability, had been deeply moved by an American Jesuit priest's 1937 book Interracial Justice, about his work among poor Maryland blacks, and summoned the author, Rev. John LaFarge, to the Vatican in 1938. In his 80s, Pius XI had a serious heart condition, yet the growing Nazi menace demanded action: The year before, Pius had issued an important encyclical, With Deep Anxiety, slamming the Nazis for racist policies and oppression of Catholics; now, aware he was on death's door, Pius was determined to go further in a new message he urged LaFarge to write swiftly and in secret. Eisner traces LaFarge's work in Paris over the summer of 1938 and his missteps in confiding in the pope's Superior General Ledochowski as a go-between, a shadowy figure who allowed the document to languish while the pope grew more ill. Ledochowski, like the pope's secretary of state Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII), believed that the pope was imbalanced and that communism (and Jews) was the menace, not Nazism. Eisner closes with excerpts from LaFarge's powerful encyclical and the chilling suggestion of what might have been the outcome had it been published. An exciting reminder of how Vatican machinations continue to haunt history.
Voice of Reason
“Gripping. ... Finally, the story of a lost opportunity that could have affected the course of history can now be told.”
Library Journal
Much has been written about Pope Pius XII and his actions during World War II, most famously by John Cornwell in his provocatively titled Hitler's Pope. Speculation continues among historians about how differently things might have turned out for Europe had that pope taken a stronger stance against Nazism and Italian fascism. This book focuses on his predecessor, Pius XI. It has now become known that, with the help of American priest John LaFarge, he was ready to take that stronger stance in the days before his death in 1939. Pius XI specifically asked LaFarge, whose writings on American racism the pope had read, to draft a strongly worded encyclical against racism and anti-Semitism. Unfortunately it never saw the light of day. Using LaFarge's journals and recent releases from the Vatican archives, Eisner (The Freedom Line) tells the story of LaFarge's clandestine recruitment for the task and the intrigue surrounding the encyclical's ultimate suppression. VERDICT This engrossing look behind the scenes of the Vatican at a pivotal moment in world history will appeal to history buffs. It would make a great book club read as well, where a lively discussion over one of the great "what ifs" of history could be had. [See Prepub Alert, 9/20/12.]—Brett Rohlwing, Milwaukee P.L.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062049148
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/19/2013
Pages:
292
Sales rank:
633,132
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Eisner has been an editor and reporter at the Washington Post, Newsday, and the Associated Press. His books include the award-winning The Freedom Line and The Italian Letter, which he wrote with Knut Royce. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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