Abstract

This essay examines the debate regarding Pope Pius XII's lack of protest regarding ethnic massacres during World War II. By failing to publicly expose what was happening to Jews under Nazi occupation, Pius is seen as defaulting on his responsibility as moral leader. The mounting number of books on this subject indicates a persistent level of controversy that has not abated in the decades since the war. Criticisms about the Pope tend to attribute personal motives for his lack of oratory, indicative of malice or indifference. This conclusion is reached because contemporary critics assume that the pontiff, as head of his church, had a liberty of discourse and of personal independence in his style of rhetoric. This study, by contrast, posits the view that Pius was constrained rhetorically by the demands of his office. The statements of the previous pontiffs who were his predecessors indicate that Pius was conforming to a discursive style imposed by papal protocol and consistent with the ornately impersonal linguistic style that characterizes Vatican documents. Applying a rhetorical lens to the pontiff's peculiar reticence provides a way to penetrate the historical impasse surrounding this disputed figure.

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