Church of Spies

The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler


By Mark Riebling

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The heart-pounding history of how Pope Pius XII — often labeled “Hitler’s Pope” — was in fact an anti-Nazi spymaster, plotting against the Third Reich during World War II.

The Vatican’s silence in the face of Nazi atrocities remains one of the great controversies of our time. History has accused wartime pontiff Pius the Twelfth of complicity in the Holocaust and dubbed him “Hitler’s Pope.” But a key part of the story has remained untold.

Pope Pius in fact ran the world’s largest church, smallest state, and oldest spy service. Saintly but secretive, he sent birthday cards to Hitler — while secretly plotting to kill him. He skimmed from church charities to pay covert couriers, and surreptitiously tape-recorded his meetings with top Nazis. Under his leadership the Vatican spy ring actively plotted against the Third Reich.

Told with heart-pounding suspense and drawing on secret transcripts and unsealed files by an acclaimed author, Church of Spies throws open the Vatican’s doors to reveal some of the most astonishing events in the history of the papacy. Riebling reveals here how the world’s greatest moral institution met the greatest moral crisis in history.




SIX MONTHS BEFORE THE SECOND WORLD WAR BEGAN, THE CARDINALS of the Catholic Church convened in Rome. The doors of the Sistine Chapel swung shut, and the Swiss Guards planted their battle-axes against all who might try to enter the conclave, or leave it, before the world’s largest religion had named its new leader. By the next day, 2 March 1939, thousands crowded St. Peter’s Square, staring at the chimney on the chapel’s roof. Twice it churned up black smoke, marking a vote without a verdict. Suspense rose, as usual, when the smoke did not; but for the first time in memory, the spectacle drew a crush of foreign press, whose telephoto lenses reminded one witness of “anti-tank guns.” With Europe drifting toward war, the new pope’s public words might sway opinion, his discreet diplomacy turn events. “Never since the Reformation,” wrote one observer, “had the election of a Pontiff been awaited with so much anxiety by the whole world.”1

At 5:29 p.m., a white plume rose from the roof pipe. Hats flew, cannons boomed, bells pealed. On the balcony of the Apostolic Palace, the cardinal-dean bent toward a microphone. “I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope! Most Revered Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who has taken the name Pius the Twelfth.”2

With hesitant steps, the new pope came to the balustrade. He was majestically tall and deathly pale, with eyes like black diamonds. He raised a hand. The square quieted, and the crowd sank to its knees. Three times he made the sign of the cross. The crowd rose in a clash of sound: bursts of Eviva il Papa! met the sawing cadences of Pacelli, Pacelli, Pacelli! He stood on the balcony, making gestures of benediction, his sleeves spread like white wings. Then, suddenly, he turned and disappeared into St. Peter’s.3

In the palace, Pacelli entered the chamber of a dying friend. Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani tried to raise himself, whispering: “Holy Father.” Pacelli reportedly took his hand and said, “Tonight, let me still be Eugenio.” But the mantle of Pontifex Maximus, claimed by 257 saints and scoundrels before him, had already claimed Pacelli. From the first moment of his election, he wrote later, he “felt all the great weight of responsible cares.”4

Returning to his apartment, he found a birthday cake with sixty-three candles. He thanked his housekeeper, but did not touch the cake. After saying a rosary, he summoned his longtime companion, Monsignor Ludwig Kaas. They left the papal apartment, and did not return until two in the morning.5

One of the pope’s earliest authorized biographers described what followed. Pacelli and Kaas traversed the back passages of the palace, and entered an alcove on the south wall of St. Peter’s Basilica. Between statues of Saint Andrew and Saint Veronica, they came to a door. It opened onto a tunnel, leading to another door, heavy and bronze, with three locks. Kaas unlocked the door with his breviary keys, locked it again behind them, and followed Pacelli down a metal staircase, into the Vatican crypt.6

The air was hot and dank, moist from the nearby Tiber. A passage curved into the vault, shelved with dead popes and kings. Pacelli gathered his cassock and knelt before a low, box-like structure, which encased an earthen hole. There he pondered and soon after made his first choice as pope. His undersecretary of state later deemed the decision one of the “stars which lighted his arduous way . . . from which he drew strength and constancy, and which gave rise, as it were, to . . . the program of his pontificate.” By this choice, Pacelli sought to solve the most vexing of the Vatican’s mysteries—and the ghosts he met on this quest would become his guides.7

THE RIDDLE PACELLI RESOLVED TO ANSWER WAS AS OLD AS THE Church. Sometime in the first century, Saint Peter had gone to Rome, led a church that upset the state, and died on a cross in the Vaticanum, a marsh known for big snakes and bad wine. The infant Church had then gone underground, literally into the catacombs, and the first pope’s successors had prudently kept secret the site of his grave. Romans, however, had long whispered that Peter was buried beneath the high altar of the basilica bearing his name. Rumors centered on a pile of masonry and other unknown materials, twenty feet wide and forty feet deep. No one knew what lay under or inside this mysterious core. Some said it held gold and silver, which medieval pilgrims poured down a shaft. Others said it concealed a bronze casket containing Peter’s bones. No one had ever mounted an expedition to test these tales. By the Vatican’s own account, a one-thousand-year-old curse, detailed in secret and apocalyptic documents, threatened the worst possible misfortune for anyone who disturbed the rumored site of Peter’s grave.8

But in 1935 Pacelli had broken the taboo. Pius the Eleventh asked for a plot beneath the high altar, and accommodating his coffin required enlarging the crypt. Pacelli, who among his other duties was grand chancellor of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology, decided to increase the crypt’s headroom by lowering its floor three feet. At two and a half feet, papal engineers had brushed the earth from something unexpected: the facade of a mausoleum, decorated with friezes of cranes and pygmies—a pagan allegory of the duel between life and death. The Vatican crypt lay above a lost necropolis, a city of the dead, untouched since imperial times.9

Pacelli, believing Peter’s bones might lay within, asked to dig deeper. Pius Eleven refused. His cardinals called the project sacrilegious; his architects thought it dangerous. If excavators damaged the piers supporting Michelangelo’s massive dome, the largest church in the world could collapse.

But Pacelli, more than any previous pope, put faith in science. As a pious Catholic in a liberal high school, taunted about the injustice done Galileo, he learned a compensatory reverence for adventures of reason. “O scanners of the skies!” he enthused. “Giants when you measure stars and name nebulae.” He praised both pure science and its uses: His panegyrics to railroads and factories read like outtakes from Atlas Shrugged. No engineering problem would daunt him, no pious curse prevent a quest. “The heroes of research,” Pacelli said, would not fear “the stumbling blocks and the risks.” Now, on his first night as pope, kneeling at the blind mouth of the halted dig, Pacelli decided to make a full exploration.10

The quest prefigured, in miniature, the epic secret enterprise of his pontificate. For here, at the site of this bold project, his aides would meet, with his blessing, to plot an even bolder one. That second venture, like the first, revealed the signatures of Pacelli’s rule. Both projects showed a fetish for secrecy. Both relied on German exiles, German lay operatives, and German Jesuits. Both entailed breaches between overt words and covert acts. Both put the largest church in the world at risk. And both would culminate in controversy—making Pacelli’s reign seem so ill-starred that some thought he had actually come under the coffinraider’s curse.

AS PACELLI PRAYED IN THE VATICAN CRYPT, LIGHTS BURNED LATE at the most feared address in Germany. The five-floor mansion at 8 Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, Berlin, had once been an art school. The Nazis had turned its sculptor’s studios into jail cells. At the grand front staircase stood two guards with pistols and nightsticks. On the top floor worked Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Hitler’s terror corps. In an adjacent office, Himmler’s Vatican expert toiled at a typewriter, preparing a dossier on the newly elected pope.11

Storm Leader Albert Hartl was a defrocked priest. He had a round face, round glasses, and a knob of hair that looked like a Mohawk top-knot. His wife described him as “taciturn, strict, evasive . . . very moody.” He had become a priest after his freethinking father died, to please his pious mother. Trouble ensued when his superiors found him “unsuitable for dealing with girls.” He left the Church mysteriously, after betraying his best friend, a fellow priest, to the Nazis.12

“He claims that he woke up one morning in January 1934 in the Gestapo headquarters in Munich,” a postwar debriefer wrote, “covered with black and blue marks and in intense pain. One foot revealed a large wound and his head was completely swollen and suppurative. His lips were blue and bloated and two teeth were missing. He had been beaten unmercifully but remembered nothing, he claims.” Standing over Hartl was a tall man with the oval face of a “fallen angel.” SS spy chief Reinhard Heydrich explained that Hartl had been “beaten and poisoned by fanatics of the Church.”13

Heydrich asked him to join the Nazi secret service. As chief of Unit II/B, Hartl would lead a team of ex-priests who spied on anti-Nazi Catholics—“to harass and hem them in, and finally to destroy them.” As Hitler himself had said, “We do not want any other God but Germany.” Hartl joined the SS on the spot. As a colleague recalled, he then served “with the whole hatred of a renegade.” Hartl wrote in his updated CV, “The fight against the world I knew so well is now my life’s work.”14

The new pope’s election gave Hartl a chance to shine. He hoped senior leaders, even Hitler, would read the SS Pius-dossier. Hartl culled secret and public sources, filtered the facts through his own experience, and used the short form busy policymakers preferred.15

Pope Pius XII (Cardinal Pacelli)


2 March 1876 born in Rome

1917 Nuncio in Munich—intense cooperation in Vatican peace efforts

1920–29 Nuncio in Berlin

1929 Cardinal

1930 Cardinal Secretary of State—travel in America and in France.

Attitude towards Germany.—Pacelli was always very pro-German [sehr deutschfreundlich] and known for his excellent knowledge of the German language. But his defense of official Church policy has often led him to duel National Socialism on principle.16

The duel had begun with a deal. When the Nazis took power in 1933, Pius the Eleventh praised Hitler’s anticommunism, and accepted his offer to formalize Catholic rights. Pacelli negotiated a concordat, funding the Church with annual tax revenues of 500 million marks. “The Pope by signing this concordat pointed the way to Hitler for millions of heretofore aloof Catholics,” Hartl wrote. But by mid-decade, Hitler found the concordat a hindrance. Pacelli peppered Berlin with fifty-five notes protesting breaches. It became clear, as one SS officer said, that “it would be absurd to accuse Pacelli of being pro-Nazi.”17

Pacelli’s public statements disturbed Berlin. The 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety) accused the German state of plotting to exterminate the Church. The most cutting words, Nazi analysts noted, came from Pacelli’s protests: “hatred,” “machinations,” “struggles to the death.” With those words, Hartl thought, Pacelli “summoned the whole world to fight against the Reich.”18

Worst of all, Pacelli preached racial equality. “Christianity has supposedly gathered together all races, whether negro or White, into a single, big family of God,” Hartl sneered. “Hence the Catholic church also rejects anti-Semitism.” Speaking in France, Pacelli had condemned the “superstition of race and blood.” As a result, Nazi cartoonists drew a hook-nosed Pacelli cavorting with Jesse Owens and rabbis, while, Hartl claimed, “the entire Judaized USA press praised Pacelli.”19

These doctrines were dangerous because they were not just rhetorical. The secret police found Catholics “ideologically un-teachable” in their continued patronage of Jewish merchants. As the SS noted, “in exactly those districts where political Catholicism still holds sway the peasants are so infected by the doctrines of Catholicism that they are deaf to any discussion of the racial problem.” Catholic farmers changed a sign saying “Jews not wanted here” to read: “Jews very much wanted here.”20

Hartl traced the tough stance to a dark cause. A friend from his ordination class, Father Joachim Birkner, worked in the Vatican Secret Archives, ostensibly researching sixteenth-century Church diplomacy. Birkner was in fact an SS spy. He fixed on Pacelli’s Jesuit aide Robert Leiber, who some called “the evil spirit of the Pope.”21

“Father Leiber has told the informant that the Church’s greatest hope is that the National Socialist system will be destroyed in the near future by a war,” the SS reported. “If war does not come, Vatican diplomacy expects a change in the situation in Germany, at the latest, after the death of the Führer.” Birkner’s report coincided with a plea by Pacelli for Christian heroes to “save the world” from pagan “false prophets,” which Hartl considered a call to resist Hitler.22

Pacelli, then, seemed at the very center of a war against the Reich. The war would not end soon. “So long as there will be a Roman church,” Hartl warned, “its eternal political claims will bring it into combat with any ethnic-conscious state.” At issue was not whether the new pope would fight Hitler, but how.23

Hitler agreed. As Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels recorded: “4 March 1939 (Sunday). Midday with the Führer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the Concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli’s election as Pope. This will surely happen when Pacelli undertakes his first hostile act.”24

ON SUNDAY, 5 MARCH, PIUS PICKED UP THE TELEPHONE ON HIS desk to tell his most trusted aide that he was waiting. Father Robert Leiber entered the papal quarters. Known in papal Rome as “the little asthmatic,” the fifty-one-year-old Bavarian Jesuit had the air of a melancholy elf. Though he spoke to Pius twice daily and read nearly everything that crossed his desk, no one knew his title. He was variously described as “an agent for German questions,” a papal librarian, a professor of Church history, and a “sort of scientific secretary.”25

In fact, he had no title. “Father Leiber was never a Vatican official,” a Jesuit colleague said. “He was a close collaborator of the Pope, but he was never officially admitted to the Vatican as a member of the Vatican.” Leiber kept an office in the Vatican, but did not appear in its directory. He was an unofficial official.26

Leiber’s lack of a title made him ideal for secret work. As one priest who worked for American intelligence during the Nazi years later explained, “It is evident that official authorities may not be made coresponsible if we make errors or fail. They must be able to declare that they never knew what is being said and done.” Since Leiber did not work for the Vatican, it could deny involvement in whatever he did.27

Helpfully, Leiber knew how to keep his mouth shut, as fellow Jesuits noted. Especially on Church politics, one who knew him said, “Father Leiber takes an attitude of absolute secrecy.” In that respect he seemed the very model of a papal aide, as described by the fourteenth-century Pope Sixtus the Fifth: he must know everything, read everything, and understand everything, but he must say nothing.28

When Leiber did speak, he was straightforward. “His word is sharp as polished steel,” one diplomat said. In the 1920s, when Pacelli was apostolic nuncio in Munich, Leiber had even called out the future pope for living with a Bavarian nun, Pascalina Lehnert. When a cardinal inspected the nunciature, Leiber described the living arrangements as inappropriate; Lehnert, by her own account, liked to see Pacelli “in riding dress, which suited him extremely well.” Learning that the cardinal conveyed the complaint to Pacelli, Leiber offered to resign, but Pacelli said, “No, no, no. You are free to think and say whatever you feel. I am not going to dismiss you.”29

Yet the candor that attracted Pacelli drove others away. A fellow priest called Leiber’s manner cutting, even hurtful, adding: “You see, he became a little bit strange.” Asthma drove Leiber to try “living cell therapy”—injections of finely ground tissues from freshly slaughtered lambs. Some described him with a Latin quip: Timeo non Petrum sed secretarium eius—“I do not fear Peter [the pope], but his secretary scares me.”30

On that Sunday morning, Leiber brought Pius an urgent memorandum. Munich Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber had long pushed the Vatican to publicly resist Nazism, which violated principles that must stand, like the eternal stars, above compromise. But now, in a letter captioned “Most Respectful Suggestions,” Faulhaber urged a truce.

He worried that Hitler would break the German Church away from Rome. Many German Catholics “believed in” the Führer—not as Catholics, but as Germans. “Catholics admire Herr Hitler as a hero, despite his hatred for the Church,” Pacelli himself had noted. Faulhaber saw a danger of schism in “the country which gave us the Reformation.” Forced to choose between Hitler and the Church, many German Catholics would choose Hitler. “The bishops,” Faulhaber warned, “must pay particular attention to the efforts to establish a national church.” Unless the Vatican sought an accommodation, Hitler might nationalize the Church, as King Henry the Eighth had once done in England.”31

Meanwhile, the Nazis had themselves become a church. “Their philosophy is a de facto religion,” Faulhaber said. They had their own sacramental rituals for baptism and confirmation, marriage and funerals. They changed Ash Wednesday into Wotan’s Day, Ascension Day into the Feast of Thor’s Hammer. They crowned the Christmas tree not with a star, but with a swastika. The Nazis even made “the blasphemous claim that Adolf Hitler is essentially as great as Christ.”32

Faulhaber wanted to discuss these bad omens with the pope. Since he and the Reich’s three other cardinals had come to Rome for the conclave, Pius invited them to “surface some ideas” in an audience the next day. The meeting, however, posed a problem for Pius, because he distrusted one of the cardinals he invited to attend it.

The primate of Vienna had caused a scandal the year before. When Hitler annexed Austria, Cardinal Theodor Innitzer had said the Church supported the Nazis. Pacelli, then Vatican secretary of state, recalled Innitzer to Rome and made him sign a retraction. Now, as pope, Pacelli remained unsure about Innitzer. The good-natured and sentimental Austrian seemed vulnerable to pressure. With war looming, all who entered the pope’s library wanted to leave it saying that God was on their country’s side. If Innitzer did not publicly twist the pope’s private words, Nazi propagandists might do so for him.33

Pius therefore decided to make a private transcript of the cardinals’ audience. A master verbatim source would help him refute any distortion of his views. To that end, early in his pontificate, Pius equipped his library with an audio spying system.34

THE POPES AUDIOSURVEILLANCE WOULD REMAIN ONE OF THE VATICANS best-kept secrets. Only seven decades later would the last living member of the Church’s Nazi-era underground, German-Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, confirm it. By then, Gumpel had spent forty years managing the case for Pacelli’s sainthood.

“There was a hole made in the wall,” Gumpel said. “I happen to know this, and on a very high level. . . . [T]he matter is certain. I investigated this, from the immediate environment of the pope.”35

Audio spying came of age just as Pacelli became pope. Over the next few years, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt would all make covert recordings; only days earlier, a sweep of the Sistine Chapel had found a hidden Dictaphone; and the Vatican’s own audio prowess matched that of any secular power. The Holy See was hard-wired by Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio.36

Pacelli himself had earlier hired Marconi to modernize Church headquarters. Marconi had built, for free, a telephone exchange, a radio station, and a short-wave link to the papal summer villa. Rome, for its part, annulled Marconi’s marriage, allowing him to remarry and have a daughter, the aptly named “Electra.” A few Marconi engineers still worked for the pope, under a Jesuit physicist who ran Radio Vatican. They did what Church documents called “institutional tasks,” such as recording the pope’s speeches, and “extraordinary services,” such as bugging his visitors.37

On paper the job did not seem daunting. The Radio Vatican team knew the site and could control access to it. The pope received visitors in the Papal Library. It shared a wall with two anterooms, where the Marconi-Jesuit techs could work unobserved. Yet with the German cardinals scheduled for an audience on 6 March, the installers had only a day to survey the target, make an entry, insert a microphone, run wires to a listening post, and test the system.38

They considered microphone-concealment locations in the library. Picture frames, table lamps, braces below table legs, the telephone, overhead lights—all offered possibilities. In the end, as Father Leiber recalled, the team chose a system that operated “through a contrivance which made it possible to hear everything in the room next door.” They drilled a hole, and miked it.39

Most likely on the night of 5–6 March, Vatican Radio technicians set to work. To avoid staining the anteroom floor, and to collate their gear for quick exit, they unrolled a rubber mat. On it they set their tools: drills and bits, pipe-pushers, collapsible ladders. Because power tools would draw attention, the team used hand-turned drills. They worked in shifts, each man cranking hard, then resting while another spelled him. At the highest turn rates, however, even hand drills made a telltale din. The techs decided that greasing their bits would reduce the noise. A Jesuit reportedly went to fetch some olive oil, perhaps from the papal apartments. The team then wet its drill heads, and the work progressed quietly. But as the bits warmed, so did the coating oil. Soon the site smelled like fried food. To evacuate the odor, the team had to pause and open a door onto the Cortile del Pappagallo, the Courtyard of the Parrot.40

Finally, after some tense and tiring hours, they broke through to the library side. Using a small bit, the techs made a pinhole—creating a passage for audio pickup and a wire. Book spines on the library wall presented natural concealment cavities. It remains unclear whether the techs hid a microphone in a hollowed-out book, which Father Leiber possessed, or whether they enlarged their side of the wall to fit the device. In any case, they apparently used a teat-shaped condenser microphone. They plugged it into a portable pre-amplifier that looked like a brown leather briefcase.41

From the pre-amp they ran wires to the recording post. A stable link of coaxial cables passed through a tunnel, beneath an oak grove in the Vatican Gardens, and into a ninth-century dragon-toothed tower. There, amid frescoes of shipwrecks with Jesus calming the storm, Jesuits operated the largest audio recorder ever built. Bigger than two refrigerators stacked on their sides, the Marconi-Stille machine registered sound on ribboned razor wire, which could break free and behead the operators. They worked it only by remote control from a separate room. A half-hour recording used 1.8 miles of spooled steel.42

On the morning of 6 March, the available evidence suggests, an operator flicked a wall switch. A white lamp on the machine lit up. The operator waited a full minute to warm the cathodes, then moved the control handle to the “record” position.43

PIUS ENTERED THE PAPAL LIBRARY AT SIX MINUTES TO NINE. AT about that moment, from a cubbyhole in the courtyard of San Damasso, Monsignor Enrico Pucci saw the four cardinals enter the Apostolic Palace. Each wore a red skull-cap, a red sash, and a gold pectoral cross. The cardinals navigated a warren of halls and courts and then rode up a creaking elevator. It opened onto a red-velvet waiting room, decorated with medallions of recent popes. The papal maestro di camera, Arborio Mella, led the cardinals into the library.44

The corner room overlooked Peter’s Square. Bookcases ran along the walls, and above them hung twelve paintings of animals. A crystal chandelier pended the ceiling. The room had one plush rug. Three dark portraits by Dutch masters stared down from niches. A mahogany table extended toward the three windows, their curtains parted to let in knives of white light.45

Pius sat at a desk, hands clasped, silhouetted by sunbeams. He wore a white cap and red slippers without heels. Only the golden cross on his chest adorned his snow-white robes. By turns they bent to kiss his ring: Adolf Bertram of Breslau—Faulhaber of Munich—Josef Schulte of Cologne—Innitzer of Vienna.

They settled into the cane-backed chairs that faced the pope. A crucifix shared the desktop with ziggurats of documents. Nearby sat a gold-plated rotary telephone, with finger-holes in royal blue. A silver plaque declared the desk a gift from the German bishops for his twelve years as papal agent in Germany.


  • "A page turning book....Fascinating."—The Wall Street Journal
  • "A groundbreaking new history of the Vatican-German resistance....Writing with the craft of a novelist and the conscience of a meticulous scholar, Riebling has produced a masterly account."—National Review
  • "A remarkable book....[Riebling] has written what is one of more important books on intelligence of the year."—Washington Times
  • "An amazing book that combines the rigor of history with the storytelling of a novel."—War on the Rocks
  • "[A] blockbuster of a book which not only defends Pius XII...but utterly demolishes the Black Legend by showing in intricate and meticulously documented detail...that from the very start of the war the Pope cooperated secretly with anti-Nazi forces in Hitler's thousand year Reich who sought, first, to remove the Führer from power; and when that failed, to kill him.... Riebling's book is beautifully written, and reads like a novel.... [R]iveting."—Catholic World Report
  • "While the Pope hesitated to publicly provoke Hitler in foolhardy way, he had no hesitation in secretly opposing the Third Reich and its crimes. The record of the assistance Pius XII provided, through his representatives, to the German resistance, and the actions they took, under his guidance, is extraordinary. Without minimizing the complicity of individual Christians, or the role of Christian anti-Semitism, Mark Riebling shows that the Vatican took a very powerful stance against the Nazis. It is especially important for Jewish people-and I am Jewish myself-that this information is now being gathered for all to see."—Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Winston Churchill
  • "[F]ascinating...offers a compelling narrative of the actions taken by Pope Pius to stop Hitler from carrying out his campaign of world domination and ethnic cleansing. Backed by a mass of carefully compiled documentation, Riebling shows that Pius cooperated in a variety of plots, initiated by patriotic, anti-Nazi Germans, to assassinate Hitler and replace the National Socialist regime with a government that would make peace with the west."

    Breitbart News
  • "Church of Spies shows, with significant research to back it up, that Pope Pius the Twelfth was not, in fact, Hitler's Pope, as he has wrongly been called, but quite the contrary, an enemy of Hitler's who worked behind the scenes against him. Mark Riebling documents how people of faith linked arms against evil that was Nazism and did not turn a blind eye against it. This is a fascinating, riveting, and a deeply important corrective to the false narrative about the Catholic church during World War II."

    Eric Metaxas, New York Times #1 bestselling author, nationally syndicated radio host
  • "In this exciting and original work, Mark Riebling has unearthed vital new sources, and he writes elegantly and persuasively on a fascinating subject that has remained hidden in history's shadows."—Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich: A New History
  • "In Church of Spies, Mark Riebling provides a groundbreaking and riveting account of Pope Pius XII's secret war against Hitler. This richly documented book makes an important contribution to contemporary scholarship about Pius XII and to our understanding of the historical legacy of his pontificate."

    Rabbi David Dalin, author of The Myth of Hitler's Pope
  • "Church of Spies sheds light on the secret actions and covert war waged by Pius, the Vatican, the German Catholic Church, and various German Catholic citizens against Hitler and the Nazis.... By weaving together numerous storylines in a chronological fashion from 1939 to 1945, the history of this period reads more like an exciting popular fiction spy novel than an academic work.... [A]n extremely readable and interesting work."—H-Net
  • "Riebling recounts in a fast, readable style the fumblings, betrayals, and bad luck that plagued attempts to remove Hitler. Through it all, he shows the Vatican looming in the background-the only support on which the conspirators could count, the only consistent contact they had with the Allies, and one of the few moral centers to which they could look."—Joseph Bottum, Washington Free Beacon
  • [Church of Spies] adds a mass of new evidence to what we know, now, about what the Pope and the Church did to deal with the mortal threat to civilization posed by Hitler and German National Socialism.—George Weigel, author of First Things

On Sale
Sep 29, 2015
Page Count
384 pages
Basic Books

Mark Riebling

About the Author

Mark Riebling is a path-breaking writer on secret intelligence. The author of Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA, he lives in New York.

Learn more about this author