Thursday, November 21, 2002

Nun Week continues:

A profile of Sister Margherita Marchione, 82-year old Italian scholar, and defender of Pius XII

She has several titles in print on the subject of Pope Pius XII, including a biography "Pope Pius XII, Architect for Peace." Two books tackle head-on the history of the Holocaust in Roman Catholic Italy and the Pope's role. "Consensus and Controversy: Defending Pope Pius XII" and "Yours is a Precious Witness: Memoirs of Jews and Catholics in Wartime Italy" make a strong case for the pro-active role the Vatican and Italians took to save the Jews. Even in her autobiography, "The Fighting Nun: My Story," she devotes more than two chapters to setting the record straight.

She holds an unabashed reverence and respect for Pope Pius XII. In her long career in religion and academics, Sister Margherita has made many trips to Rome and met several popes. But Pius XII is the pope of her youth and the spiritual leader to whom she feels the closest affinity. She knows his sister and has close associations with his family.

She is open about her bias. However, when Pope Pius XII's relationship with Hitler and the Nazis was questioned, Sister Margherita marshaled her formidable skills as a researcher and writer to provide evidence to counter what she saw as slander. She is more balanced in her response than those who revile him.

The British historian John Cornwell, in his book, "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII," claims that the pope's silence during the Holocaust condemned thousands of Jews to death by the Nazis. He further argues that the pope cut deals with Hitler in order to save German Catholics from persecution by the Nazis. Ultimately, Mr. Cornwell condemns Pope Pius XII as an anti-Semite who was a willing agent to Hitler's master plan.

"Absolutely untrue!" bellows the tiny sister. In person and in her writing, she builds a dramatic counter argument based on extensive research, most of it primary documents, diaries and interviews of firsthand accounts from Italian lay people, religious and Jews. She has faced off with Mr. Cornwell on several occasions on radio and television programs and has successfully faced him down.

Sister was in Birmingham at EWTN the same day I was, getting ready to tape a show with Johnette Benkovic after mine. She is tiny and she is formidable.

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