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The deputy Relié – 1964
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Once you realize Hochhuth's biases, the book becomes entirely predictable; all you have to do is pretend that you live in a world where the Nazis won and decided to blame the Pope for not using his mystically awesome Pope-powers to stop them from committing genocide.
I've been reading and hearing about The Deputy for years. In almost every book on Pius XII, it gets mentioned, and if the author is anti-Pius, the acknowledgment will include a statement about how they found The Deputy to be challenging and enlightening. Since one should always check the original sources, I decided to read The Deputy and I was surprised to find that this is really an awful book on so many levels. It is awfully written, awfully plotted, awfully sourced and awfully surprising in its awfulness.
The first surprise - which amazingly has never been mentioned in the many books on the Pius Controversy that I've read - is that the Protestant former Hitler Youth playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, selects an SS officer as the moral paragon to compare Pope Pius XII against.
Why has no one ever mentioned this obvious bit of "excusing by accusing"? Why aren't there any discussions of The Deputy framed around the obvious psychology of excusing his past and country by presenting a "noble SS officer" and making the issue about how the Pope in Rome did not stop Germans from murdering Jews?
The play is equally awful in its shallow melodrama. The villains of the play are unreservedly villainous; the heroes are noble, through and through. The exemplary SS officer, for example, doesn't merely spill state secrets to the Papal Nuncio, he actually hides a Jews in his apartment and drops off food for other Jews being sheltered in Berlin.
Awww.....such nice SS officers.
One can imagine that this is the image of the SS that the young Hochuth formed as a Hitler Youth, and undoubtedly cherished thereafter. The SS really weren't the villains, they would have been noble, if only they had been permitted, but the Pope - who actually did shelter Jews - is the real villain.
In contrast, the "Doctor" character, patterned on Dr. Mengele, is a dime-store villain, who delights in vivisection, blasphemy, murder, and pulling the wings off of butterflies because he is a villain. No attempt is made to depict a character more rounded than Snidely Whiplash in "The Adventures of Dudley Do-Right."
The story opens with noble SS officer Kurt Gerstein breaking into the papal nunciature in the summer of 1942 to tell Nuncio Orsenigo about the gas chambers and crematoria. Orsenigo refuses to hear out the noble Nazi because, according to Hochhuth, he is a bland apparatchik, indifferent to the truth, although the reader might think that it would have been quite reasonable for a member of a persecuted church to have been wary of such an obvious SS entrapment scheme, a "honey trap," that dangles a frothing at the mouth SS officers with state secrets before him, particularly in, you know, Nazi Germany.
Although Orsenigo does not listen, the Jesuit priest Riccardo Riccardo, SJ, does. Riccardo is a good Jesuit, we learn eventually, because he is disaffected from the Pope, and agrees with Hitler, who supported the Los von Rom movement, that one can be a good Catholic only so long as one is not an ultramontane Catholic. By the way, there are Jesuits just crawling through this book with their, you know, clandestine, clannish, conspiratorial pulling of the strings of human history. That's right, the Protestant Hitler Youth makes a big nod to the German volk tradition of anti-Catholic anti-Jesuitism.
Riccardo listens to Gerstein and is convinced by this frothing at the mouth stranger. And why shouldn't he be convinced? After all Gerstein is an Obersturmfuhrer SS, and if you can't trust an SS Obersturmfuhrer, you might as well pack it in and go home.
Seriously, this is the great play that had such an effect on changing the world's opinion about Pius XII?
Riccardo eventually meets Gerstein in his home and meets the Jew Jacobson who Gerstein is protecting in his apartment. (Yes, seriously, the SS officer is protecting a Jew.) Riccardo gives Jacobson his passport so that Jacobson can flee Germany, and off Jacobson goes, only to show up in the final act, because this is a melodrama where that kind of thing happens.
We also get a scene of delightfully daffy SS professionals unwinding while bowling and making broad jokes about furnaces.
Riccardo goes off to Rome - where somehow Gerstein manages to meet him - to hector his father and religious superiors and, eventually, the Pope, about the need for the Pope to make a forceful protest against the Jews being killed in Nazi death camps, specifically and without circumlocution, and not as a general proposition. No one, however, thinks to interrogate Riccardo about why Riccardo is criminally indifferent to the fate of the Gypsies, Poles and Russians who are also being worked to death and/or shot and/or put in the gas chambers. They simply don't matter in the moral urgency of Riccardo's universe.
Likewise, no explanation is given about the political or military or strategic implications of such an announcement or how the Nazis would react in taking reprisals against Jews, Poles, Russians, Jewish Catholics, German Catholics, etc. All we know from Hochhuth's characters is that A Protest Would Have Changed Everything!!! (Apparently, Hochhuth thought that along with a protest would have gone an "interdict." (P. 298 ("Who then claim that the Nazis would not have drawn back if during the war Pius had threatened them with the interdict?")
Seriously, Hochhuth's big plan was that the Pope should deprive all German Catholics of the Sacraments during wartime when they were being subjected to aerial bombardment? And he thinks that Hitler would have said, "Achtung! German Catholics are not able to save their souls through access to the sacraments. This is a disaster! We must stop committing genocide! The Pope has outfoxed me again!"
This is a plan that only a Protestant former member of the Hitler Youth could think up.
Speaking of fantasies, Hochhuth's condemnation of Pius depends on an inflated sense of the Pope's power, which is totally in keeping with the theme that this play was written by an anti-Catholic intoxicated on the paranoid delusions of Jesuit conspiracies rampant in pre-World War II Germany and in the Nazi Party. Thus, he has Riccardo explain that he cannot take confession - in the anti-Catholic world, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic - because the SS and the Vatican are conspiring with each other:
//You would have to refuse me absolution for I cannot repent. Please understand me, Father General. For the past three months ever since Rome has been occupied by the Germans, I have hoped that at last the SS and the Vatican would come together in a bloody clash. Instead the most ghastly thing of all is happening - they are not even jarring one another. They live together, harmoniously, in the Eternal City - because the Pope does not forbid the murderers of Auschwitz to herd their victims into trucks beneath his very windows."// (p. 163.)
So, the best thing that could happen in the eyes of Hochhuths' "good Catholic" is that Romans and Germans start killing each other, and how do we think that might turn out? Further, notice how Hochhuth simply plants the proposition that the Pope could forbid German soldiers from doing something. Apparently, Hochhuth has some super-secret document that puts the Pope into the SS chain of command.
Playing into the cultural anti-Catholic baggage, Hochhuth has Riccardo arrive in Rome on the day that Pope Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin. (p. 95.) This event is absolutely gratuitous since, as Hochhuth points out in his concluding essay, the consecration actually occurred the previous October of 1942.
//"Fontana: Because the Pope this morning consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin. A very tiring ceremony. Right after came my audience - and then the decoration suddenly came my way - I had no idea.
Ricardo: Mama would have been very happy - how we miss her in the house and everywhere...."// (p. 95.)
The question is why is this necessary to the play? Now, admittedly this a great, bloated whale of a play, clocking in at 8 hours, but apparently it is important to move things around so that we get a reference to what a Protestant would view as an excessive, strange, cultish bit of a Papist superstition. If you've read anything on how Protestants viewed Catholics during the Kulturkampf, then mark the boxes on your anti-Catholic bingo card. Also, notice the reference to "Mama being proud"and ask, "what would she have been proud of?" The medal or the consecration? If the latter, that plays perfectly into Protestant tropes about Catholicism being a religion for women.
Riccardo underscores the criticism of Catholic doctrine with this:
//Riccardo (bitterly amused, takes a glass from his father): "The things they think about in Rome! Take poverty, for instance, which, in practice, means that as a nation's churches grow in number, so do its prostitutes. Naples and Sicily - centers of vice beneath the windows of the Vatican. Instead of helping, we debate how frequently a married couple may cohabitate. Or if a widow may remarry. And now to top it off, the dogma of the Virgin. Does he have nothing else to do?"// (p. 96.)
Yeah! What is up with the Pope and those Catholics being concerned about Catholic doctrine! They should be more like, you know, Protestants! And Nazis!
Running through the play is the buried assumption of the paranoid anti-Catholic conspiracy monger, the same attitude that inflamed so many American anti-Catholics, the assumption that Catholics were all set to rise up and take power at the moment the Pope gave the command. Thus, Hochhuth has Riccardo's father say to the Pope:
//"Your Holiness, may I ask in all humility: Warn Hitler that you will compel five hundred million Catholics to make Christian protest if hoes on with these mass killings."//(p. 204.)
Hah, my mother's uncle -who she remembers in the 1930s going on about how the Catholics "all have guns in the church basements" - would have understood and agreed with this point. All the Pope had to do was tell German Catholics to rebel or protest or do who knows what and the war would have ended in a fortnight, without any reprisals against anyone.
Except that that is not the way it works. There is no general provision in canon law or Catholic doctrine for "uprisings on command of the Pope," no matter what paranoid conspiracy fantasists may think.
The Pope pens a condemnation that is vague and general, i.e., like all Vatican pronouncements, and this doesn't satisfy Riccardo, who tells the Pope:
//"you Holiness, what you have set your name to grants Hitler unrestricted license to go on treating the Jews as he has always done..."// (p. 217.)
Because Hitler was just waiting for the Pope's permission.
Previously, Riccardo had explained how the Pope was actually responsible in some way for the Holocaust:
//'Just read the ghastly details from Poland and Rumania published two weeks ago. How shall we ever find apologies for our silence. (sic) And those bells! They ring and ring as though the world were Paradise. What sheer unfeeling idiocy to offer this earth to the Blessed Virgin's heart. Does not the Pope who holds within his hand five-hundred million Catholics - twenty per cent subjects of Hitler now - does he not share responsibility for the moral climate of this world? How can he have the audacity...."// (p. 97.)
It all is too much for Riccardo, who decides to pin the Jewish star on his cassock. That, in turn, is too much of a sacrilege for the Pope - a Jewish star on a priest's cassock! - who banishes Riccardo from his sight, with words that would have cheered the coldest heart of a German Protestant during the Kulturkampf:
//"Rebellion in these rooms! Disobedience and arrogance - Protestantism.// (p. 219.)
So, the Los von Rom ("away from Rome") movement, lauded by Hitler and supported by Protestants, is finally vindicated by demonstrating that only a Catholic who severs ties with Rome can be a righteous Catholic. Catholic priests who are good become Protestants,says the Protestant German former Hitler Youth member.
Riccardo then accompanies some Jewish Catholics to Auschwitz where he meets the Dr. Mengele villain who is a sadist, through and through, and who, in classic villain trope, intends to taunt Riccardo until he denies God. Riccardo also meets Jacobson - remember him from the first part of this review? - who didn't make it out of Germany. Gerstein is there also, because when he isn't visiting the Pope, naturally, he works in Auschwitz. Gerstein has a scheme to get Riccardo released, but Riccardo decides to have Jacobson go in his place, but Mengele uncovers the plot. Shots ring out! Gerstein survives; Riccardo dies; Mengele cackles.
Like I said, this ia a B-grade melodrama that must throw the red meat to people who already are half-convinced that Catholics are controlled from Rome and were somehow really responsible for the Holocaust.
Hochhuth offers a hit or miss bit of potted history to justify his drama, which he claims is substantially accurate. The problem is that it is mostly nonsense that makes its argument from the rhetorical appeal of putting sentences together and making great leaps of speculation.
For example, although I've been reading contemporary anti-Pius books, I'd never heard of Gerstein. It seems that modern authors keep their distance from this SS saint. It appears that there was a Kurt Gerstein who was in the SS. He was captured after the war and wrote a confession exposing Auschwitz - although if Auschwitz was so well-known, what did he think he was exposing? Gerstein claimed that he tried to tell the Papal Nuncio, but never got in to seem (because, jeepers, he was an SS officer) and that he told other notables about what was happening at Auschwitz in the summer of 1942. There is absolutely no corroboration for any of this. There are statements from some anti-Nazis that they knew Gerstein to be a member of the Confessing Church and that he went to meetings of opponents of Nazism and was a true-blue Nazi opponent.
So, that all seems weird. Maybe he was an SS plant. Maybe he was a conflicted patriot. We probably should take the declarations with a grain of salt because they were obtained during the de-Nazification trials, and there was a trade in Nazi opponents giving clearances to their friends. Also the courts concluded that there was an insufficient basis on which to find Gerstein to be a Nazi opponent.
So, all that probably explains why the anti-Pius forces leave Gerstein out of their presentations.
Consistent with his presentation of the "saintly SS officer" is Hochhuth's attempts to excuse Germans wherever he can. For example, despite the fact that Bishop Hudal is usually cited as evidence for the Vatican's pro-Nazi leanings, in that Hudal provided passes for Nazis to escape Europe, Hochhuth attests to Bishop Hudal's bona fides: "This letter alone (we cannot compare it with anything from the pen of an Italian bishop because no Italian bishop ever protested openly against the persecution of the Jews) should be enough to shield Bishop Hudal from the condemnation hurled at him only because he, like almost all the clergy, was duped by Hitler for a while. A further point in his honor: he hid Jews in the monastery dell'Anima."// (p. 327.) On my point about Hochhuth's apparent crypto-Nazi bias in the play is the fact that Hudal was also famous for penning a work that attempted to explain how Catholicism could accommodate National Socialism. I learned tonight from listening to Dietrich von Hildebrandt's Memoirs - My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich - that Hildebrandt, a Catholic Nazi-fighter when it could have cost him his life - had nothing but contempt for Hudal because of this effort to sell the anti-Christ to Catholics. Note, though, that Hochhuth prefers to make the moral center of his play an SS officer and he defends the honor of a Nazi-apologist. The coincidences of Hochhuth's sympathies and antipathies seem marvelously coordinated. Thus, Pius who hid thousands of Jews under the nose of the SS doesn't merit Hochhuth's approbation, but a Nazi and a Nazi-sympathizer do.
Hochhuth seems even more insistent about protecting the Soviets from moral question. Thus, he floats the notion that the Germans were responsible for massacring the Poles at the Katyn Forest, and he argues, twice, that the Russians were innocent victims of Nazi aggression:
//"Riccardo: Permit me, Your Eminence - the moral right, surely, is on the Russian side, without a doubt. They are waging a just war! They were attacked, their country devastated, their people carried off, slaughtered. If they are threatening Europe now, the blame is only Hitler's."// (p. 115.)
Excuse me, but......what????
Hitler launched his attack on the Soviets in Soviet Poland. Hitler could attack the Soviets in Poland because in 1939 the Soviets and the Nazis had formed a pact to divide Poland. If the Soviets had not colluded with the Nazis to divide Poland, there would have been no World War II and no Holocaust. To describe the Soviets as "innocent" and engaged in a "just war" is akin to describing the "property rights" that one thief has against another in the property they have jointly stolen.
For all his vaunted self-claims of research, Hochuth makes repeated errors. For example, Hochhuth claims that Hoss - the Commandant of Auschwitz - studied for the priesthood. This is not true inasmuch as Hoss rejected Catholicism in his teens, joined the German Army at 17, and rejected his family's plans that he study for the priesthood when he returned from World War I. Likewise, Hochhuth claims that the Pope protested a couple of bombs accidentally dropped in the Vatican gardens, which killed no one. I spent some time looking through the New York Times archives for his incident, and it seems that during the German occupation of Rome, a single plane circled the Vatican, deliberately bombed it, and left. The Vatican issued what Hochhuth would consider a vague and general statement about the importance of respecting its neutrality, but did not name anyone. Months later, the Vatican indicated that it knew who was responsible, and there was speculation in the paper that the culprit was a fascist anti-clerical leader. It is an odd incident, but nothing like what Hochhuth claims.
In short, Hochhuth is unreliable and something of a kook. Before reading this book, I assumed that Hochhuth would come off as a Leftist. In reading this book, I formed the impression that Hochhuth was more of rightwing German nationalist. It seems that recently he has become a friend of Holocaust denier David Irving, which I don't find surprising from this play. One would be well-advised to never base any argument on some factoid found in this book without first fact checking the claim.
Another point to ponder, under the heading of "tells" showing a deeply ingrained anti-Catholicism, is found in all of Hochhuth's references to burning people. References to burning, and the crematorium of Auschwitz are found throughout the text. Characters are always describing the horrors of the chimneys and the burning of bodies. The evil Doctor threatens to burn Riccardo alive. Other characters talk about the horror of people who are not entirely dead when they are cremated. But the purpose of the crematoria was to dispose of dead bodies, even bodies of victims who were shot or hung. So what gives? One would think that the horror would be the actual instrument of death - the gas chamber - and the metaphors of death would involve gas and gassing (but that might raise the uncomfortable fact that Gerstein supplied the Zyklon B to Auschwitz.)
The answer is that it seems that, in some deeply buried connection, formed in his earliest development, Hochhuth associates Catholicism with burning heretics. Hochhuth makes his atavistic connection perfectly clear when he has the evil Doctor observe:
//"A civilization that commits its children's souls into the safeguard of a Church responsible for the Inquisition comes to the end it deserves when for its funeral pyres it plucks the brands from our furnaces for human bodies. Do you admit that? Of course not. (Spits and pours a glass of brandy for himself.) One of us is honest - the other credulous. (Malignantly.) Your Church was the first to show that you can burn men just like coke. In Spain alone, without the benefit of crematoria, you turned to ashes three hundred and fifty thousand human beings, most of them while alive, mind you. Such an achievement surely needs the help of Christ.") (p. 249.)
Notice the further example of a "hit and run" bit of historical slander: the actual number was more like 3,000 over 400 years, according to recognized historians, and after an opportunity to recant, and a trial, and never for racial reasons. Nonetheless, by this noxious bit of slander, Hochhuth is able to shift the burden of the Holocaust to Catholicism, viz, it was really Catholicism that provided the model for the Holocaust, Catholicism set the standards that the Nazis merely followed.
Finally, Hochhuth repeatedly emphasizes that no Catholic bishop was sent to a concentration camp. Perhaps not, but the Nazis didn't have to send people to concentration camps to exercise their rule of terror. The Nazis could - and frequently did - send the friends and relatives of their targets to the concentration camps. This happened to Catholic priests under Bishop von Galen and Bishop von Preysing; those bishops would preach against the Nazis, and fairly quickly the Nazis would be rounding up priests. The Nazis could also stir up "mob" action to physically assault Bishops and their residence, which is what happened to Cardinal Innitzer and Bishop von Galen. The Nazis could simply have people murdered, as occurred with the national leaders of Catholic Action. And then there is the salutary example of Bishop Sproll, as described by Guenter Lewy in The Catholic Church And Nazi Germany :
//One bishop, Dr. Johannes Baptista Sproll of Rottenburg, also refrained from voting on April 10, but not because of objections to Hitler's annexation of Austria. As he later explained to Cardinal Bertram, "I gladly welcomed the Anschluss of Austria and celebrated it with a general ringing of bells. Besides other general considerations, I was led to this attitude by my emotional sympa- thies."155 But since a "yes" vote meant electing men he considered hostile to Christianity and Church, and since he did not want to negate his approval of the Anschluss by voting "no," Sproll stayed away from the polls. This led to hostile demonstrations and the bishop had to leave town. A request of the government to the Vatican to have Sproll recalled from his diocese was turned down by Pacelli. Ambassador Bergen reported that Pacelli, nevertheless, "according to all indications did not approve of the Bishop's actions" and that in clerical circles Sproll's conduct was called "very inept."156 When Sproll, allegedly in accordance with express instructions from the Holy See, returned to Rottenburg on July 16, his palace was broken into and ransacked by a mob. The Bishop refused to leave again but he was eventually forcefully removed by the Gestapo and banished from his diocese.157 It appears that Sproll was the only higher Church dignitary who failed to vote "yes" on April 10.//
Of course, mentioning these facts would tend to obscure the dramatic force of the argument for people who already associate Catholicism with the "whore of Babylon."
The bottom line is that this is a long-winded, poorly written bit of melodrama that distorts the historical record for a polemical purposes based on an appeal to bigotry. This play is "Jud Suss" for anti-Catholics. This play competes in the bad writing and bad history department with Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. The only way to explain the popularity of either of these bloated, poorly written and stupid texts is that they feed the self-conceit of a certain class of people by telling them things they already think they know.
Afterall, is there any historical doubt that Pope Pius XII did not publicly condemn the wholesale slaughter of Jews by the Nazi regime? I haven't seen any document stating otherwise. Sure, he made blanket condemnations pronounced in the garb of generalities, but that's not what Hochhuth's play addresses. It's a simple question we must ask: should, as some consider, the highest moral authority on the planet straddle the fence in an attempt not to offend anyone, or should we expect a public condemnation of evil on such a grand scale? This, in my view, and in sum, is the dilemma the play poses to each reader.
Soviet-style propaganda--fiction presented under the guise of
history with the intent to mislead and misrepresent. This play
entrapped many-readers and historians alike. Its power proved so
great that it is an historic event of the 20th century.
I avoided THE DEPUTY when researching its antidote & counterpoint,
THE GLORY OF THE OLIVE.[...].Getting facts to achieve true
historical perspective and understanding proved an imperative goal.
Having achieved that, I can now address a portion from my second project,
THE PIUS PREDICAMENT, and a major problem arising from THE DEPUTY.
It intrigues me that no one has noticed Pius has become a scapegoat for
the guilt of the Holocaust. Consider the following:
1)Aside from the Resistance and courageous individuals, FDR,
Churchill,the Protestant churches, the Jewish religious groups
did little or nothing. Check #4 below.
2)Thanks to Pius' leadership, silent or spoken, 80% of the
Roman Jews never reached the gas chambers.
The problem is THE DEPUTY lacks historical perspective. How so? Hochhuth
took a post-war issue and made it a war-issue. True, the Holocaust
happened during the War and rumors abounded. Yet it was post-war, because....
1) the War was the prime focus.
2) the Holocaust was an effect of the war.
3) the Holocaust was secretly enforced.
4) the Holocaust was officially known in late 1942 near the war's end.
Pius was able to marshal support in Rome because he had the religious leverage
with the many institutions; it coincided with his (4) knowledge of the Holocaust
from his inquiries with FDR and the German occupation & plans to seize Jews in Rome.
For a quick, reliable resource, I recommend Dr. Marchione's paperback,
Did Pope Pius XII Help the Jews?.
Don't miss David Dalin's
The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany
A Special Mission: Hitler's Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII.
In The Deputy, the Catholic Church is not blamed for the holocaust; the reader understands that the Germans were perpetrators. And he does not excuse Protestants and others for their refusal to act during this terrible time. Students of the Holocaust know that there was more than enough blame to go around in terms of those who did not speak.
What Hochhuth does is to state historical truth regarding Pope Pius XII's refusal to speak. Pius XII was the Deputy of Christ from 1939 to 1958. Between 1939 and 1945, though the Pope was completely aware of what the Germans were doing (mass murders), he never once spoke to criticize the Germans or ask them to stop the murders. This is uncontrovertible fact.
Riccardo Fontana, the fictitious priest (and hero) in The Deputy, represents the finest qualities in man. He is that rarest of creatures, a truly good man. His passion for truth and justice leads to his numerous efforts to persuade Pius XII to action. That he is unable to reach the Pope makes his efforts heart-breakingly tragic.
Riccardo is a Catholic who cannot understand why the Pope (whom he knows personally) does not speak out against one of the worst horrors in the history of mankind. For Riccardo, speaking out is not enough. He demonstrates through action (he is willing to die and actually does) that words of condemnation alone are not enough. That is why Pius XII's unwillingness to speak (much less to act) is seen as such a devastating moral lapse.
I suggest that the reviewers who feel that The Deputy is blatantly anti-Catholic read the play again, in its entirety!
Pius XII was one of the finest popes in the history of the Church. He did more for the Jews than any of you liberal nincompoops have ever done. The truth is that he saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives behind the scenes of the Vatican. It takes a lot of courage to defend someone who has been unjustly vilified by others. It is very difficult. The liars and the hypocrites, on the other hand, are always on the offense first, looking to justify and elevate themselves with the public, often profiting from the endeavor. They always have the advantage. To ruin someone's reputation can bring them fame and fortune, whether it's unjust or not.