SULLIVAN’S ISLAND — Distinguished Catholic author Ronald Rychlak, law professor at Mississippi State University, spoke to a full house at Stella Maris Aug. 2. His critically acclaimed novel “Hitler, the War, and the Pope” attempts to clear up decades of misconceptions surrounding Pope Pius XII and reports of his alliance with the Nazi regime during World War II.
“All I tried to do (in this book) was reveal the truth,” said Rychlak. “I feel like it is impossible to review my evidence without concluding that Pius XII was a good man.” The evidence to which Rychlak referred includes research directly from the source of the debate, the Vatican archives.
Rychlak didn’t originally set out to write a book.
“Several years ago a friend of mine commented that the pope during Hitler’s day was a Nazi,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t even know who was pope at that time, so I went to the local library and did some research.”
What began as a bit of research to resolve a friendly debate ended up lasting two years, and after the book’s publication in 2000, Rychlak expanded his study.
“I have continued to work because people have raised new arguments that I did not anticipate,” he said. “In each case, however, I have found that Pius was well-intended and always helpful to those who were suffering. And the guy who called Pius a Nazi has agreed that I am right, so I guess I have exceeded my original goal.”
Rychlak said that when his book went to press back in 1999 there hadn’t been any new material written on the topic since the early ’80s. But in 1999 a book was published titled “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret Life of Pius XII” by John Cornwell.
“I read it and couldn’t believe how different it was from mine,” said Rychlak. “Cornwell commented that his research of Pius had led him to a state of moral shock. I discovered that this was a manufactured charge.”
Following Cornwell’s account, several books on the topic followed. Rychlak’s book has been featured in a debate on C-Span2’s “Book TV.” Rychlak has also had the rare privilege of being referenced and consulted in Pius XII’s beatification report.
“I got a call from Father Paul Molinari, S.J., and Father Pete Gumpel, S.J., the men responsible for the beatification,” said Rychlak. “I had the privilege of reviewing their report before anyone else. In fact, I am scheduled to present a paper at the Vatican this November.”
Despite all of the doors that the book has opened for Rychlak — he now conducts talks all over the United States and Europe — he did it all for the story.
“This story has Nazis, the pope, World War II — real victims, real villain, and real heroes,” he said. “I hope that I tell it well, but regardless, you have to admit that it has all the elements of a great story.”
Msgr. Lawrence McInerny, pastor of Stella Maris, said that hosting Rychlak was truly an experience.
“His book is one of the finest on the subject,” he said. “This is an extremely well-documented book.”
Msgr. McInerny said that he felt that it was important to hold a talk of this nature to clear up the misconceptions.
“I don’t want the church to be confused about the canonization of someone often called an anti-Semite. We are very delighted to have him.”
Rychlak, his wife and six children attend St. John the Evangelist Church in Jackson, Miss.