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

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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 ...

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

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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

Voice of Reason
“Gripping. ... Finally, the story of a lost opportunity that could have affected the course of history can now be told.”
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)
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.
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062222978
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 394
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Eisner has been an editor and reporter at the Washington Post, Newsday, and the Associated Press. His 2004 book, The Freedom Line, was the recipient of the Christopher Award. Eisner also won the InterAmerican Press Association Award in 1991, and was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 for his role as producer at the PBS news program World Focus. Eisner's other books include The Italian Letter, written with Knut Royce, which traces fraudulent U.S. intelligence prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 19, 2013

    The year was 1938. Hitler was in complete power, leading Nazi Ge

    The year was 1938. Hitler was in complete power, leading Nazi Germany on a campaign through Europe, to spread his views. In the Vatican, Pope Pius XI, who was slowly declining into failing health, sought the assistance of an American Jesuit Priest, John LaFarge. LaFarge was a scholar, whose expertise on racial injustices perfectly fit into the Church's views on the situation. His goal was to publicly denounce the Nazism and anti-Semitism that he feared would destroy the teachings of the church. Coming from the Pope, the highest leader of the Catholic Church, this condemnation of Hitler could potentially impact the views of other world leaders, and in turn, World War II itself.
    Of course, this process was easier said than done. Pius XI found himself in the midst of an Italian government that seemed to be, whether out of fear or agreement, embracing Hitler's Germany. They even invited the leader to visit their country. Pius XI would have nothing to do with the fanfare of Hitler's arrival. Instead, he retreated to a private Vatican estate, outside of the city, in a quiet protest. Met by resistance from even members of his own church who would rather keep peace with Hitler than provoke him with a damning proclamation, Pius XI stuck to his guns, to denounce what he knew was wrong.
    I've always been fascinated by the many pieces to the giant puzzle that is World War II. This time in our history seems to show the best and worst aspects of our world, and I think there are many things to be learned. I was unfamiliar with the story of Pope Pius XI, but with all of the recent  actions taking place in the Vatican, it seemed like a good time to delve deeper into the church's history. I was immediately drawn to Pius's unassuming, humble ways. He really comes off as a kind of quiet force. This book gives interesting insights into the mysterious protocols and inevitable politics of the Vatican. Despite its rather brief length, the book is detailed, suspenseful account of this Pope's history making actions.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    It is time that the truth was told about the last ditch efforts of Pope Ratti and Father LaFarge's efforts to thwart both Hitler and Mussolini.

    Eisner's brilliant book on the efforts of Pope Pius XI and Fr. LaFarge to expose Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini's march toward World War II and their anti semetic plans is very well written and as exciting a read as any spy novel.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2013

    These reviews have urged me to buy the book and read it as soon

    These reviews have urged me to buy the book and read it as soon as possible.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2013

    'Bout time.....

    'Bout time.....

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2013

    Good Historical read

    Interesting take on the effects of the Catholic Church during the horrors of Hitlers methods of trying to seize histories greatest past.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    excellent

    a behind the scenes story of what did and did not happen at the vatican that could have changed the events of WWII.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 19, 2013

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