Riebling (Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA, 1994), an expert on secret intelligence, compellingly explores the papacy’s involvement in espionage during World War II.
Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) was a political pope, and his was a pontificate of war. He valued science and technology and prefigured many leaders by installing an audio spying system in his library. The Holy See was actually hardwired by renowned Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi. In 1940, the Vatican proposed preventing future aggression with an Economic Union of Europe. The key component was Josef Müller, a Bavarian lawyer whose legal resistance to the Nazis led Heinrich Himmler, after first arresting him for treasonous conspiracy, to invite him to join the SS. Knowing Hitler’s hatred for Catholics, and particularly Jesuits, Müller agreed to join the Vatican in facilitating connections between rebellious officers and England. He acted under orders from Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, chief of German military intelligence, as a double spy pretending to undermine the Vatican. Canaris was part of a wide conspiracy led by Gen. Ludwig Beck. Müller’s travels between Germany and the Vatican included liaisons with the “Orders Committee” of Jesuits and Dominicans and made him one of the church’s most valuable spies, even after his arrest. The pope claimed that Müller’s exploits in smuggling, politics, and confounding the Nazis “worked wonders.” This book has much to surprise, especially the many German officers, separately and together, involved in attempts on Hitler’s life. There were many other “decent Germans” who hated Hitler, but they couldn’t betray their “fatherland.” Pius, vilified by critics who believed he ignored Germany’s atrocities, comes off as a politically savvy man who realized his interference would precipitate Hitler’s mortal overreaction against German Catholics.
Not only a dramatic disclosure of the Vatican’s covert actions, but also an absorbing, polished story for all readers of World War II history.