Hans Küng: Yes, for the first time in May 1948 in Castel Gandolfo close up. Two years later, I was in St Peter's Square for the definition of the dogma on the Assumption of Mary into heaven and, of course, on other occasions. More than once I spoke in St. Peter's into the same microphone as Pius, when the pilgrim crowds flocked to Rome in 1950 for the Holy Year.
sueddeutsche.de: What impression did you form of the Pope?
Küng: I admired him then. Pius XII was an extremely impressive figure. In many areas, he did well: first concessions on the vernacular in the liturgy and a progressive encyclical on biblical exegesis. But the first doubts came to me in Rome.
sueddeutsche.de: What sparked your concerns?
Küng: When he forbade worker priests and dismissed the leading elite of French theology, people like Henri de Lubac (Cathcon-who held erroneous views on grace and nature) and Yves Congar, both later Cardinals and also Teilhard de Chardin (Cathcon-God forbid that he should ever have become a cardinal given what he wrote on the relation between God and nature).
sueddeutsche.de: Pius XII. Today, he is especially controversial because he did not publicly denounce the Holocaust, about which he was clearly in the picture. Were you already interested in that in Rome?
Küng: No, only later in 1963. These doubts first came to me with Rolf Hochhuth’s drama "The Representative - a Christian tragedy".
sueddeutsche.de: Meanwhile the Catholic Church seeks to represent the Pope as a helper of persecuted Jews. The Holy See has published numerous documents that show the assistance given to the Jewish community and the Nazi critical statements of Pius. How do you see his role in retrospect?
Küng: On the whole, despite all of this, there remain concerns that Pius failed on the question of Judaism and the Holocaust, because he has not used his power as a prophetic witness. He was silent on all and every German crime, although he knew perfectly well from 1942 mainly through the Berne Nuncio and Italian military chaplains. Even his German confidant, Sister Pasqualina, pleaded with him about the Holocaust - in vain. Pius refused to publicly criticize the largest mass murder in history. Against this fact, one cannot simply cite documents.
sueddeutsche.de What would such a "prophetic witness" look like?
Küng: As Clemens von Galen, Bishop of Munster, successfully protested against euthanasia, so Pius should have protested against the annihilation of the Jews. He should not have treated Judaism as a Quantité négligable (negligible quantity; note Red.). For him, the suffering of the Jews was not so important as there were other priorities.
sueddeutsche.de: What was important for Pius?
Küng: In difficult times, he wanted to preserve the Catholic Church as an institution, ie the Curia, hierarchy, schools, associations and other bodies. The struggle for human rights and democracy was profoundly alien to Pius throughout his life.
sueddeutsche.de: Didn’t Pius remained silent about Nazi crimes to prevent harm to the church?
Küng: He was certainly in a predicament and in a conflict of conscience. But we must not forget that he had already earlier seen Nazism as a potential partner.
sueddeutsche.de: Can you give examples?
Küng: 1931, two years before Hitler seized power, the then Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli urged the Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning from the Centre Party to go into coalition with the Nazi party. Then he concluded on 20 July 1933 an unfortunate Reich Concordat with the Nazi regime. Hitler saw this as a first and extremely important recognition for his foreign policy. As far as internal German politics was concerned the agreement integrated the Catholics and the reluctant German episcopacy as well as the clergy into the Nazi system.
sueddeutsche.de: What was the role of the fear of communism withi Vatican in the prelude to this agreement with the Nazis?
Küng: Germany should be happily built up as a bulwark. You need to say to the good of the man who would later be Pope he correctly interpreted earlier than most other Russian dictator Josef Stalin. But he has, on the other side, he perceived the Nazi system as less bad than the communist one.
He was aware of the affinity between his own authoritarian ecclesiastical understanding - it was anti-protestant, anti-modern, anti-liberal and anti-socialism - and the fascist understanding of the state. With regard to the notions of "unity", "order", "discipline," "the leader principle" he recognized the similarities with Nazi ideology. The Nazis wanted to enforce at the level of the state similar things to the Catholic Church on the religious-supernatural level.
sueddeutsche.de: Pius died in 1958. A few years later, the Second Vatican Council renewed the church (Cathcon- renewal, what renewal?). Are there still significant after-effects of the Pius pontificate?
Küng: One wonders whether the Curia in these days is not again moving in the footsteps of Pius XII: centralized, authoritarian, inquisitorial - and not ecumenical, open-minded and tolerant, as successor of Pius, John XXIII wanted.