Church of Spies
The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler
Basic Books, New York, 2015, 384 pages
Book Review published on: January 19, 2017
Mark Riebling has written an extraordinary work of literature in Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler. In this, his second major publication, Riebling does a fantastic job of delivering his thesis that contrary to public opinion, Pope Pius XII was actively engaged in establishing a covert network to work for peace during World War II. An accomplished academic, Riebling worked as a book editor before serving as the editorial director of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research for ten years. Post-9/11, he cofounded and became the director of the Center for Policing Terrorism, which gave him experience in successfully profiling secret groups. Widely considered an expert in intelligence and espionage, his experience allows him to navigate the networks he writes about in Church of Spies. Riebling’s writing style will capture you quickly. Easy to read, Church of Spies primarily follows the actions of Josef Müller, a German Catholic patriot, who acted as the primary liaison between the German regular army intelligence chief and the Vatican.
This book primarily covers the period starting six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland and continuing through the end of the war. Church of Spies also dives into the history of Bishop Eugenio Pacelli, including how his upbringing as a priest and bishop influenced his actions once he became Pope Pius XII. My one complaint about this book is how Riebling alternates between names—Pacelli and Pius—during the early chapters. I came to the understanding that he did this to help the reader identify the time he was referencing in the pope’s life. Pope Pius XII, as politically motivated as he was spiritually, used his experience while leading the Catholic Church during this tragic time to build networks and influence people to plan a regime change in Germany, through assassination if necessary. Müller carried messages between the regular German army and the Vatican. Acting as an agent for the intelligence chief Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, Müller took extreme risks by flying sport planes between Germany and the Vatican.
I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in World War II history or Catholic Church history. It certainly adds to the understanding of Pope Pius XII’s actions and leadership of the Catholic Church during this horrific and tragic period in our world’s history. Understanding the political sensitivities and the nature of the Nazi Party allowed Pope Pius XII to act and lead in a manner that prevented Adolf Hitler from using the pope’s words and deeds as a reason to begin executing Catholics.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Joe Schotzko, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas