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Robert Leiber

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Title: Robert Leiber  
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Subject: Pope Pius XII, Ludwig Kaas, Josef Müller (CSU politician), Leiber, German Resistance to Nazism, Loris Francesco Capovilla, Cesare Orsenigo, Pope Pius XII and the Roman razzia
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Robert Leiber

Robert Leiber, S.J. (10 April 1887 – 18 February 1967), close advisor to Pope Pius XII, a Jesuit priest from Germany was Professor for Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome from 1930-1960. Leiber was, according to Zuccotti, "throughout his entire papacy his private secretary and closest advisor".[1]


Before 1924, Leiber worked with Ludwig Pastor on the publication of his 20-volume Papal History. From 1924 until 1929, he was advisor to Eugenio Pacelli while he was Nuncio in Munich and in Berlin. While Professor at the Gregorian, he continued advising Pacelli, who was then Cardinal Secretary of State. After Pacelli was elected to the papacy as Pope Pius XII in 1939, Leiber helped and advised him until the Pope's death on October 9, 1958. Leiber assisted the Pope in researching the topics for his speeches and radio messages.

Leiber was one of an "impromptu band of willing Jesuits" whom Pius XII employed "checking and double-checking every reference" in his written works.[2] Leiber, stationed at the Pontifical Gregorian University, three miles from the Vatican, complained after Pius XII's death that he was often expected to "drop whatever he was doing and hasten to the Vatican", taking public transportation.[2]

As the Pope's trusted Private Secretary, Leiber acted at the intermediary between Pius XII and the German Resistance. He met with Joseph Muller, who visited Rome in 1939 and 1940 to obtain assistance from the Pope in acting as an intermediary between the Resistance and the Allies in the lead up to a planned coup against Hitler.[3] Later in the war, Leiber remained the point of contact for communications from Colonel-General Ludwig Beck in the lead up to the 1944 July Plot.[4]

After World War II, Pius XII charged Leiber and Bea with investigating the activities of Gertrud Luckner (later declared Righteous among the Nations), the pioneer of a German Catholic philo-Semitic and pro-Israel movement.[5] The Holy Office in 1948 issued a monitum (warning) to the group, due to its concerns that the group's pro-zionist activities were "encouraging religious indifferentism (the belief that one religion is as good as the next)".[5] Leiber concluded in April 1950 that there was nothing theologically wrong with the work of Luckner; Bea went further, actually affirming it.[5][6]

In an October 1958 meeting, Leiber turned down a position offered by new Pope John XXIII in light of his health, suggesting Augustin Bea instead. He authored several books and articles on Church history and on the Reichskonkordat. After suffering acute asthma attacks for many years, Robert Leiber died in Rome in 1967.

Addressing Vatican students, I congratulate you for being under the sun in the shadow of the Vatican, was one of his favourite quotes.

Ratline involvement

Main article: Ratlines (history)

According to Phayer, Leiber "sparked new life into Hudal's plan" to set up a "ratline"—an escape route from Europe for fascists. Leiber wrote to the Austrian bishop around the time of Operation Barbarossa, telling bishop Hudal to "look at the [ratline] mission as a crusade".[7] According to a history professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Leiber had no direct authority to correspond with Hudal as such, but "Leiber's role as one of Pius XII's closest confidantes allowed the German Jesuit to act as the pope's intermediary and messenger".[8] Hudal maintained contact with Leiber and other Vatican officials during and after the war.[9]

Despite (or because of) his historical training, Leiber destroyed all of his personal papers before his death, rather than leave them for posterity.[10] Leiber confided to van Room that he had destroyed his papers because he feared they "would cast Pius in an unfavorable light".[11]

Leiber was in the confidence of German ambassador to the Vatican, Ernst von Weizsäcker (later tried at Nuremberg), who informed Leiber that the priest-assistant of Cesare Orsenigo was a member of the Nazi party.[12]

Statements on Pius XII and the Holocaust

After the war, Leiber became actively involved in the debates over the legacy of Pius XII during the Holocaust, frequently writing and speaking publicly,[13] always as a "staunch defender" of Pius XII.[14] Leiber wrote an article, published on March 27, 1963 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the main argument of which was that Pius XII had little, and generally unreliable information about the Holocaust.[15]

As Lieber related to Dutch historian Ger van Roon, Leiber believed that Pius XII chose not to speak out about the Holocaust because he "wanted to play the peacemaker during the war" by maintaining Vatican neutrality and independence.[13] On this point, Leiber and Francis d'Arcy Osborne, another contemporary close to Pius XII, are in agreement.[13] During the war, Pius XII's surrounding himself with German advisers—including Leiber, but also Ludwig Kaas, Pasqualina Lehnert, and Augustin Bea, his confessor—attracted the attention of US State Department historian George Kent and others, who questioned Pius XII's neutrality on the basis of this germanophilia.[16]

Leiber asserted in 1961 that Pius XII personally ordered superiors of church properties to open their doors to Jews.[17] As exhaustive studies of Susan Zuccotti and others have shown, no written evidence of this has yet emerged.[17] Historians such as Phayer argue that those Catholic institutions in Italy and elsewhere that admitted Jews did so "independently, without the Vatican's instructions".[17] For his statistics on the number of Jews he claimed Pius XII to have saved, Leiber relied on fellow Jesuit Beato Ambord; the original compilation of the numbers is unknown.[18] A more recent study by Dwork and Pelt concurs with Zuccotti, concluding: "Sam Waagenaar challenged Leiber. On the basis of our research, we find Waagenaar's refutation convincing. Pope Pius XII did nothing. Many convents and monasteries helped—but not to the extent that Pius's close associate Robert Leiber claimed".[19]

Above all, Leiber denied that the disbanding of the German Catholic Centre Party had been a quid pro quo for the signing of the Reichskonkordat.[20] Leiber wrote in 1958 that "[Pacelli] wished that [the party] could have postponed its dissolution until after the signing of the concordat. The mere fact of its existence, he said, might have been of use at the negotiating state".[20]



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