Introducing: 60 Minutes All Access Learn More +
Unlimited, ad-free viewing of 60 Minutes archives, Overtime and extras

A Saint, Or 'Hitler's Pope?'

Ed Bradley interviews the author of a new book about Pope Pius XII

If author John Cornwell had to pick one glaring omission in the apology issued by Pope John Paul II last week, it would be the pontiff's failure to apologize for one of his own predecessors.

He should have apologized for Pope Pius XII, who during the Holocaust, Cornwell charges, turned his back on Jews throughout Europe, even those in Rome who were trucked right past his window on their way to Auschwitz.

Cornwell, author of the book Hitler's Pope, speaks to Ed Bradley for a 60 Minutes report on Sunday, March 19.

"[Pope Pius'] failure to do something for those [Roman] Jews is absolutely shameful," Cornwell tells Bradley, "and that fits in with a lifetime of his attitude to the Jews, that they deserved everything that was happening to them."

Launch Interactive
The author, a Catholic, says he started out to write a book defending Pope Pius because many believed he did little or nothing to stop the genocide he knew the Nazis were perpetrating. But the evidence, he says, proves the pope was hostile toward Jews.

Cornwell realized this, he says, when he found a letter the future pope wrote after World War I while stationed in Germany as a papal representative. In it, the clergyman describes a Jewish socialist as "pale, dirty, with drugged eyes...vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both intelligent and sly." This is a description not unlike passages in Hitler's own Mein Kampf, says Cornwell.

Vatican priest and historian the Reverend Peter Gumpel counters that Pope Pius did not challenge Hitler on the Holocaust because it would have incited the dictator. "The term Jew worked on Hitler as a red cloth on a steer, and you don't provoke people like that," he tells Bradley. There was nothing Pope Pius could do to save Rome's Jewish population, says Gumpel, because the Vatican was surrounded by Nazi troops and the pope might even have been arrested.

Cornwell's book is totally worthless, says Gumpel, whose job is to determine Pope Pius's eligibility for sainthood. Gumpel says that he is convinced that Pius XII deserves to be made a saint.

But Pope Pius was no saint in the eyes of one Italian Jewish survivor, the only woman out of approximately 1,000 Jews deported from Rome to return alive. "We were right under his window...Nobody came, not even to save a child," recalls Settimia Spezzichino. "[Pope Pius] should have risked himself to speak out...It is unpardonable," she tells Bradley.