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Hitler plot to kidnap Pius XII revealed

Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler gave one of his generals a direct order to kidnap Pope Pius XII during World War II, but the officer did not obey, Italy's leading Roman Catholic newspaper reported yesterday.

Avvenire, which is owned by the Italian Conference of Roman Catholic bishops, said new details of the plot had emerged in documents presented to the Vatican in favour of putting the controversial wartime Pontiff on the road to sainthood.

The Australian, which has taken up the story from the Italian newspaper, says elements of alleged plots to abduct the Pope during Germany's occupation of Italy have already emerged in the past from some historians, but Avvenire's full-page report said its details were new.

Avvenire said Hitler feared the Pope would be an obstacle to his plans for global domination. It said the dictator wanted to eventually abolish Christianity and impose National Socialism as a sort of new global religion.

The newspaper said a plot that was codenamed Operation Rabat had originally been planned for 1943, but was not carried out that year for unspecified reasons.

It said that in 1944, shortly before the Germans retreated from Rome, SS General Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff, a senior occupation officer in Italy, had been ordered by Hitler to kidnap the Pope.

According to the paper, Gen Wolff returned to Rome from his meeting with Hitler in Germany and arranged for a secret meeting with the Pope. Gen Wolff went to the Vatican in civilian clothes at night with the help of a priest.

The newspaper said Gen Wolff told the Pope of Hitler's orders and assured him he had no intention of carrying them out himself, but warned the Pontiff to be careful "because the situation (in Rome) was confused and full of risks".

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had already fallen and a German-backed puppet regime was set up in northern Italy. The German occupation of Rome was in its dying days. Allied forces were advancing on the capital, which they liberated on June 5, 1944.

As a test of Gen Wolff's good faith, Pope Pius asked him to free two Italian resistance leaders who had been condemned to death. Gen Wolff arranged for them to be released, the paper said.

Avvenire said the details of the plot were in testimony Gen Wolff gave before he died in Germany to Church officials accumulating evidence to back efforts to have Pius eventually made a saint.

But the reports of Hitler's contempt for Pius have contrasted with other versions by historians and authors who have depicted Pius as being pro-German and have accused him of intentionally turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

The Vatican's procedures to put Pius on the road to sainthood have not been slowed or shelved despite concerns from Jews, and they will enter a new phase in March when Vatican historians will begin discussing many volumes of documentation.

The Vatican maintains that Pius did not speak out more strongly because he feared it would worsen the fate of Catholics and Jews, and that he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

Pius's pontificate has been one of the trickiest problems in post-war Catholic-Jewish relations.

In 1998, there was widespread Jewish discontent with a Vatican document called We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah, which effectively absolved Pius of accusations that he facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.

Pope John Paul, has strongly defended Pius and once called him "a great Pope".

Hitler plot to kidnap Pope revealed (The Australian 16/1/05)

Avvenire (In Italian)
Pope Pius XII (Vatican Website)
We remember: a reflection on the shoah

Catholics join latest debate on Pope Pius XII (CathNews 7/1/05)
Vatican set to publish documents from World War II archives (CathNews 10/6/04)
Lutherans on board for Pius XII smear reversal (CathNews 4/4/03)
Vatican archive opening gets more attention from media than scholars (CathNews 18/2/03)
Delay in release of Vatican war documents (CathNews 19/12/02)
Pius XII's secret efforts on behalf of Jews (CathNews 5/8/02)

Critics of Pius XII ignore Vatican archives (Catholic World News 14/1/05)

17 Jan 2005