Adolf Hitler to use the cover of a peace mission to Pope Pius XII for spying purposes failed to deceive the Vatican.
The amazing tale was related in Civility ('attolica, a Jesuit fortnightly which is often said to reflect Vatican views, by Fr Robert Graham, a specialist in the history of Pope Pius XII and the Second World War.
He tells how Domenico Russo, an emigrant Italian journalist, an ardent Catholic and antiFascist, made several journeys with permis sion of highly-placed Nazis in an effort to draw Pope Pius XII to call for a peace conference in Lisbon.
Armed with exceptional travel permits from Nazi authorities and possibly funded by the Germans, Russo travelled from Paris, where he was working, to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland. Ilk travels brought him into contact with many influential journalists and also with his boyhood friend, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, one-time nuncio to Paris and later Vatican Secretary of State.
The object of Russo's efforts, Fr Graham said, was to create a climate in which Pope Pius could call a peace conference over which he would personally preside. All these efforts, however sincere on the part of Russo, came to naught.
Fr Graham argued that Russo was really a dupe of the Paris branch of the Gestapo, and was used by them as an unsuspecting tool to gather information they deemed useful for their own purposes. He operated under the authority of Hermann Keller, an unfrocked Benedictine abbot, who was a Gestapo official in Paris and a favourite of Ileinrich Himmier, head of the Nazi SS.
Keller used Russo as a source of informa
tion on people who were advocating a movement for peace, Fr Graham said. In the prevailing atmosphere of 1942, Fr Graham wrote, "a papal intervention would not have been seen as impartial or dictated by humanitarian sentiments, but rather as a tendentious position favouring one of the other side, depending on the military situation of the moment.
"In 1942-43 Pope Plus XII If RS in no way disposed to do anything that night 'save Hitler' by making an appeal for peace. Nor, contrary to press reports of that time, was Hitler disposed to listen to any call by the Pope for a peace conference."